Bessie Bendt nee Foster

IF you want to find out more about the local history of Kintyre or post some interesting stories then here is the place! All contributors welcome! You can also check out the Historic Kintyre and Down Memory Lane websites.

Bessie Bendt nee Foster

Postby bill » Wed Mar 13, 2019 6:04 pm

Looking Back: Bessie Bendt made a name for herself as Sioux Falls' first 'conductorette'


Eric Renshaw, For the Argus Leader
Published 11:10 AM EST Mar 2, 2019


Bessie Bendt was a trailblazer in Sioux Falls as the city's first 'conductorette' during World War I.

Bessie Foster was born in Campbeltown, Scotland in 1894. At the age of 18 she came to the United States and ended up in Sioux Falls. After arriving, she was employed as a nursemaid by T.J. Billion, then went on to work as a housekeeper for two wardens at the State Penitentiary.

She met Otto Bendt around the time the first world war had become inevitable, and the two fell in love. They were married in August of 1917. Otto was working for the city’s electric trolley company, the Sioux Falls Traction System, or SFTS, when he was called to military duty in June of 1918. Bessie needed something to keep her busy and wanted to help keep the city going while so many of its working citizens had been called overseas.

Bessie met with Roger Mills, who was in charge of operating the Sioux Falls Traction System, and suggested that she could become a conductor. Roger said he’d have to think about it, but called her back the next day. He told her, “You’ll have to do a man’s work, but you’ll get a man’s pay.” On September 12, 1918, Bessie made her first run as Sioux Falls’ first "conductorette." Her job was to make sure that everyone who had a ticket got it punched, and that everyone who paid in cash knew to put it in the fare box.

Every day, Bessie would wake up at 5 a.m., have a quick breakfast, then hustle downtown to be at her job by 6 a.m. She wore a uniform she made herself, along with a hat provided by the company. Tucked under the bill of her hat were several spare fuses meant to keep the car going. If the car blew a fuse, Bessie would jump down from the car, pull the arm that connected the car to the overhead electric line, replace the fuse, and reconnect the arm. She would then get back up onto the trolley. Bessie did this job for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for $65 a month. This adjusts to around $1,200 a month in 2019 dollars.

Looking Back: Zip Feed Mill was state-of-the-art facility when it was built in 1955

When Bessie wrote to Otto, who at the time was in France, he didn’t believe her and told her to send him a paycheck as proof. She did and he cashed the check, confirming her story’s veracity. Meanwhile, Bessie ran the trolley on her regular route out to Sherman Park.

On one outing, Annette Mills, the wife of SFTS owner Frank Mills, stepped onto Bessie’s car. Her habit was to hand her fare to the conductor who, knowing her identity, would hand it back to her. Bessie had been warned of this by Roger, Mrs. Mills’ son. Bessie was handed the fare and told Mrs. Mills where the fare box was. The fare was reluctantly put in the slot. When Bessie relayed this story to Roger, he told her; “Bessie, you get a raise in pay for that. You sure made her toe the mark.”

In 1918, when men began returning from the war, women were expected to step aside and return to homemaking. Bessie didn’t make a fuss, but she definitely made an impression on those on the Sherman Park run. When Otto returned from the army in June of 1919, he was chagrined to find that she was known by so many people on the streets downtown. They’d call her Bessie even though, at the time, it was customary to call a woman by her last name or risk invoking the wrath of the husband for casual familiarity.

Bessie and Otto’s only son, Lee, was born on April 4, 1921. Otto had not been particularly healthy during the war, and his health did not improve much in the years to follow. In April of 1931 he had gallstones removed and never completely recovered from the surgery. He returned to the hospital a few days before dying on January 31, 1932. Bessie took jobs doing housework to support herself and Lee. She made ends meet with odd jobs in the evenings. When he was old enough, Lee helped out as best he could.

Looking Back: Alick's family grocery survived for 70 years near current-day Sanford Health

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lee enlisted as soon as he could. Bessie said she thought it was the right thing to do. He helped her with household expenses, but this was more important. Lee returned from the war, then went on to the next war in Korea.

On December 19, 1964, Bessie died after a long illness. Her obituary didn’t mention any of her adventures coming to America alone, or with the Sioux Falls Traction System. Let this brief explanation of her life fill in some of those gaps.
........................................................................................................................................................
https://eu.argusleader.com/story/news/b ... 023860002/

There is a photograph of Bessie in the original article at the above address.

Wonder if anyone knows of her ,the only Foster I knew of was Davie.
I know my Summer'll never come
I know I'll cry until my dying day has come
Let the Winter roll along
I've got nothing left but song
User avatar
bill
Forum Addict
Forum Addict
 
Posts: 4122
Joined: Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:55 pm
Location: Bonnie Corby


Return to Local History and Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests