Wonders by Women | Adelphia Binga

The St. Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

“Wonders by Women” is an article published in the St. Paul, MN Daily Globe on 2/10/1889, featuring my 3rd great-grandmother Mrs. Adelphia Binga. This is a comprehensive article, where she speaks freely about many aspects of her life. It’s written for the reader’s entertainment, as the journalist describes everything in detail, poking fun at Adelphia through his manner of questioning and quirky depictions of her home, appearance and mannerisms.

“In a small house… lives an old lady who is quite a character in her way.  The house in which she lives is a two-story frame on a stone foundation, the upper story being partially in the roof.  The house stands about three feet below the sidewalk and to arrive at the front door, it is necessary to jump off the sidewalk and then climb up the stairs.  The lady of the house…is pleasant looking, stout and inclined to be talkative.  Over her head is a knitted woolen cap which comes down over her neck and ears…Her brilliant dark eyes flash from behind big gold spectacles and are shaded by well-shaped black eyebrows.  A large straight mouth with deeply curved wrinkles at the corners, reveals, when opened a set of small teeth, and a heavy wrinkled chin gives an air of firmness to a face which could not fail to strike the observer as one of considerable intelligence…Such is Mrs. Binga to look at.  But it is in conversation that she reveals herself.  She is a great inventor and as she says, has invented more things of use to man and beast than any other woman.” Wonders by Women, St Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

Mrs. Adelphia Binga

The journalist writes a detailed account of several inventions she claims as hers. He probes her about the origin and uses of the herbal medicine she manufactures and sells from a an East Indiana Avenue location, reported as being her home. He also describes Adelphia’s daughter with children, touting the elixir and her mother’s medical prowess.

“The reporter asked what the “Balm of Gilead” was?  “Ah!” she replied, her face beaming with delight, “it is the greatest medicine in the world.”  “Yes,” put in her daughter who entered at that moment,  followed by a number of children, “she beats all the doctors in the world, she saved my baby’s life two or three times last winter…”What is the balm good for Mrs. Binga?,” asked the interrogator. “Good for!” she said. “Good for-everything!  It is the greatest blood purifier in the world. It cures catarrh, all kidney disease, bruises, sprains, headache”…”consumption, sore throat, rheumatism-oh! everything”…”Is it a secret recipe of your own?”  “Why, it’s nothing but what God Almighty places around in the woods, right handy for everybody.”  Wonders by Women, St Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

Research shows that the East Indiana Avenue house is not the Binga’s residence.  They reside at 878 Park Avenue on White Bear Lake from 1887 until 1889. William’s barbershop is located at 24 E. 4th St. in downtown St. Paul and in 1889, they relocate to 266 State Street where William dies in 1890 and his funeral is held in the home.

Based upon the article’s depiction, it’s possible that the East Indiana Avenue house is Adelphia’s medical office and retail business location. The following description of the front room and basement reads like a hospital or physician’s treatment room and manufacturing facility.

“The front room is furnished with two large beds a few chairs and a table, on which are some children’s toys and a few cheap ornaments.  On the walls are hung advertising pictures…The basement is occupied by a kitchen, in which are numerous pots, kettles, cauldrons, retorts and other paraphernalia for the manufacture of the “Balm”.”  Wonders by Women, St Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

The St. Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

Curiosity led me to attempt identification of the daughter speaking in the article. My research shows that Adelphia and William had 9 children, consisting of 5 girls and 4 boys.  The current line-up is as follows: Adelaide b. 1845, Victoria b. 1947, Charlotte b. 1849, Moses b. 1851, James b. 1854, Martha b. 1856, Mary b. 1859, Jesse b. 1865 and Walter b. 1867. Victoria and Walter died very early in life; I haven’t found any death records or other information regarding Victoria. The two oldest girls marry young, establishing large families in East Saginaw, MI. In 1889, the two younger girls Martha and Mary are in their 30’s and it’s plausible that one of them is the noted daughter. In the article, Adelphia reminisces about her children saying,

“You know I have married off three daughters and given two sons a start in life-married ’em all from my own door.”  Wonders by Women, St Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

The St. Paul Daily Globe, 2/10/1889, p. 12

Martha marries David Gordon on 2/25/1874 in Chicago, IL and they settle in East Saginaw, MI for several years. The 1880 Census lists them in Howell, MI where David works in a dye shop and Martha is listed as a tailoress (seamstress). They adopt a son named George, born on 7/24/1877 in East Saginaw, MI. They later relocate to 371 Broadway in St. Paul, MN, where David dies sometime before 1892. From all indications, Martha’s not the daughter speaking in the article. Mary weds J. Henry Dandridge on 12/18/1878 in Detroit, MI and settles in East Saginaw, MI. They have one child named Adolphus, so it seems, Mary isn’t the daughter speaking either.

I suspected the speaker could be a daughter-in-law. Moses weds sometime before or during 1878. In 1880, they live in Cincinnati, OH, at 37 East 6th Street. Moses is a barber and his wife is at home with the children. NOTE: Moses’ wife is listed as Mrs. Binga. The 1880 census lists them as having two daughters Mabel 2 years old and Estella 9 1/2 months. The youngest girl is listed as having lung disease and may not have survived. The 1881 Cincinnati City Directory lists them in a house at 312 Longworth Street. Interestingly, Moses invents and patents an upgrade to an existing street sprinkling apparatus under the name M. William Binga. I haven’t found any other census records or directory listings for Moses’ family beyond 1881. So far, there isn’t enough information to determine if Moses’ wife is the daughter-in-law speaking in the article. Adelphia’s second oldest son, James born in 1854 resides in Jackson, MI with his wife Mary and are listed in the 1894 Michigan State Census as having no children.

Adelphia’s first born daughter, Adelaide Binga-Cotillier having several young children could have been visiting at the time of the interview. She’d given birth to a daughter named Addie in 1888 who’d have been about 7 months old at that time. I believe that Adelaide is most probably the daughter noted in the article.

Adelaide Binga Cotillier

Adelaide Binga-Cotillier

This article is an important and very exciting find. I found it on the Library of Congress website, in the Chronicling America  newspaper database. Adelphia’s account of her birth situation is fascinating and upsetting, revealing why she’s been so hard to identify. Adelphia Seymour-Powers-Binga is clearly one of our family’s most intriguing ancestors. I can’t express how fulfilling it is have information divulging details about the appearance, mannerisms and accomplishments of a distant ancestor. My discovery of this information gives me a strong sense of Adelphia’s origins and general character. I’m very grateful about this amazing find that has pierced a small hole through a seemingly impenetrable genealogical brick wall. To read the article click here.

©2012, C. Rae White

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About C. Rae White

I'm a proud 6th generation Detroiter, a creative who loves working with my hands and a fashion fanatic with a thing for shoes, bags and jewelry. I'm a family researcher who loves discovering the details of my ancestors lives. Thanks for stopping by!
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3 Responses to Wonders by Women | Adelphia Binga

  1. The real question is and I hope you can find out more, are their any royalties due from her claimed inventions. Black folk back then (and even still today) were never given their fair due when it came to patents and inventions. I hope you find more information. Good luck.

  2. C. Rae White says:

    Thanks for stopping by and for the all the likes, you rock!!

    Adelphia was a very accomplished woman, owning/managing property in Detroit and Windsor, CA; she had produce farming and mining interests in Montana and conducted a produce and fish retail business. I’m sure she made lots of money during her lifetime, but if she’d made a bundle of money on any one of those inventions/patents, the family would’ve talked about it for generations. I had no idea she manufactured and sold an herbal medicine, let alone all the inventions she claimed.

    Family stories recount that she was called “the Jewish doctor”, as being a midwife. I never heard nor imagined that she’d actually performed surgery. This article makes it clear that she considered herself a doctor, even without formal medical education and certification. In any case, she was a very fascinating woman and I’m very proud to be her 3rd great grand-daughter. Thanks so much for your interest and encouragement. I greatly appreciate your readership.

  3. Pingback: A Scandal in the Family | Life is Good

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