You get a new jigsaw puzzle for Christmas. Excited to start, you extract the box from the hermetically sealed plastic wrap, jostle off the lid and dump the pieces out on the dining room table. First, you locate the corners and start to build the edges. Little by little, the picture begins to form and you pretty much know how the rest is going to turn out…you just have to keep plugging away. Then you realize you have more holes than remaining pieces.
The desire to complete the puzzle might tempt you to cram in any old puzzle piece and be done, but we know that doesn’t work. So you get on our hands and knees and look under the rug to see if any of those missing pieces ended up down there. Your search becomes increasingly bizarre and despairing. After checking the dog bed, the box (again) and the microwave, you abandon the puzzle for a while although you still scowl at it when you pass by your dining room table.
Ultimately, you may decide to manufacture your own pieces and jam those in. After all, you know what the picture should look like. That feels a little like cheating to me, especially when the remaining pieces don’t even look like they came from the same box.
Since December, the mystery of Juanita Jones, the wife of my man from the suitcase, has kept me awake at night. I’m going to do my best to describe the Juanita puzzle I started…maybe you can see where I have gone wrong. Perhaps you will spy the edge of a jigsaw piece underneath my coffee cup.
Juanita Pipkin was born on August 9th, 1918…we were born 62 years and 2 days apart. When you met her we were at her graveside, next to her husband of 56 years at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville. When I first met her, she was a young woman, captured forever in mid-blush in the film negatives from the suitcase.
My understanding of Juanita was limited to the intersections between her and her husband, recorded in marriage and census records. She was the wife of a conservative member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, connected by marriage to a family with a long history of involvement with the Church. Her own family, the Pipkins were also long standing members of the SDA. A devoted Christian wife, who in her younger days, lowered her head and blushed whenever a camera was pointed at her. In later pictures, she met the camera lens straight on; the blush is gone, but the reserve remains.
Let’s dive in a little to the family history I know, although it’s the sort of history you would get at a dinner party, or a funeral, by way of a gossipy aunt. This aunt, who has taken it upon herself to give you the scoop on everyone from the corner of the room, passes along the facts with no real context, but waggles her eyebrows quite a bit, hinting at juicer information, unspoken but acknowledged.
Juanita, or Wyneda as she is listed in the 1920 census, was born to Dewey and Helene Pipkin in 1918. In 1920, Juanita and her parents lived in the house on 24th Ave with Juanita’s two aunts (Irene and Ophelia) and her Grandparents (Lenora and Thomas). In 1921, they would be joined by Juanita’s younger brother, Richard. Somewhere between 1922 and 1930, Helene and Dewey divorced. When Juanita was 12, Dewey married Clera Mae Keaton in 1930.
Divorce in 1920’s America was rare – 8 couples per 1000 divorced. If you enjoy tables and charts, feel free to explore 100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics, provided by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, based on data collected by the Bureau of the Census. Between 1916 and 1930, the majority of divorces were granted to the wife. In Tennessee, the percentage of divorces granted to the wife was 69-73%. The most frequent grounds for divorce were ‘cruelty’ and ‘desertion or abandonment’.
I don’t know the reason Helene and Dewey divorced, but I hope they were both happier for it. Thanks to my friends at the census bureau, I know by 1930 Helene was living in Palm Beach, soaking up the sun and working as a seamstress and later as a beautician. Enjoy those beach pajamas, Helene!
In 1933, Juanita and her family moved to Collegedale, Tennessee, where she attended the Southern Junior College in the college preparatory program. Today, the Junior College is known as the Southern Adventist University and is considered the most conservative of the Seventh-day Adventist schools in North America.
“I will develop high standards of personal health, wellness, and entertainment and will promote the same for other members of the university community. I will avoid alcohol, tobacco, improper drug use, and sex outside of marriage.”
-Excerpt from the current SAU’s Student Commitment to Responsible Conduct
Eighty-three years ago, during Juanita’s enrollment, the Southern Junior College was a tad more specific about the expectations of the student body. Let’s take a closer look at the rules and regulations that Juanita was expected to live by. The following are taken directly from the General Regulations section of the Southern Junior College’s 1934-1935 School Catalog.
Students are expected to refrain from all improper behavior; from profane or unbecoming language; from the use of tobacco and alcoholic drinks; from card playing; from attendance at pool rooms, theaters, dances or places of questionable amusement; from having or reading pernicious literature; and from having or playing cheap popular music.
I believe I experienced all 13 of the above delights within my first two weeks at college.
Improper associations, flirting, strolling together, surreptitious meetings, escorting on the campus, loitering about the buildings or grounds cannot be permitted since these things militate against success in school work. Young ladies may receive gentlemen callers in the home parlors with the permission of the Dean and the approval of parents or guardians.
This privilege is granted only to students who are sufficiently mature, and whose general conduct and record of scholarship are satisfactory. Note writing and sentimental correspondence between students in the College is a violation of the principles of the institution.
A fine of five dollars will be assessed against any student who without permission is found on a fire escape or roof of any building, or who enters any room or building by window, transom, or by use of pass keys or other improper means.
Now I am thinking about it, the majority of the time I was violating these rules, I was on a roof or a fire escape, usually the roof of my dorm or the roof of my friends house and the fire escape outside the theater building. Maybe these guys were onto something…
No jewelry such as bracelets. rings. or lockets may be worn. All extremes in thin waists, length of skirts or sleeves, high heels, and low necks should be avoided and in the whole wardrobe health, good taste, modesty and economy should be considered.
The overall health of my wardrobe in comparison hovered around ‘just getting over the flu’. I wore pyjama pants and overalls for all four years, although this may have been something to do with being a theater major.
In case an enterprising young student realized that all the pleasures of life could legally be obtained off college grounds, this gem was snuck in at the end.
Students are advised not to bring automobiles or motorcycles to the College. Experience has demonstrated that in many cases irregularities detrimental to the student’s progress have resulted from the use of automobiles while in school.
“The College does not accept those students whose main purpose in attending college is to increase their earning capacity, nor those who seek primarily social enjoyment or competition in intercollegiate sports. It desires rather those students whose purpose is to achieve high excellence of scholarship combined with a deep and unaffected piety.”
-Excerpt from the Southern Junior College’s 1934-1935 School Catalog
Doesn’t that sound like fun? I realize college is not supposed to be all fun and games, and I expect a conservative religious school would frown upon booze, sex and general exploration, but I was surprised about the ‘job’ part. It was made very clear to me at age 13, when I was introduced to the American public school system, that for the next 5 years every decision I made would directly affect my ability to go to college, obtain a college degree and get a well paying job.
In her four years in the college preparatory program, Juanita would have completed the following courses:
- New Testament History
- English I – IV
- Word History
- Home Economics (required for girls)
- Bible I-IV
- American History and Problems of Democracy
- 4 of the following: Music, Printing, Bookkeeping, Chemistry, Latin, Physics, Shorthand, Typing or Home Economics II
Course Description – Home Economics I
Home Courtesies; the house-selection, care and use of furnishings and equipment; the family laundry; child care; health of the family; personal grooming; care of clothing; construction of undergarments and school dress; preparation and serving of breakfasts and of suppers or luncheons; the normal diet.
Confident in the construction of her undergarments, Juanita Pipkin graduated from the college preparatory program in May of 1936.
Three years later, she married John Paul Jones. A description of their ceremony appeared in the March 15th edition of the 1939 Southern Tidings, an SDA newspaper based in Collegedale, TN.
This is where the Juanita trail started to fade. There were mentions of her here and there in The Triangle, the Southern Junior College’s campus newspaper and she was named as the attendant of Miss Mildred C. Wood in the “Wedding Bells’ section of a later issue of Southern Tidings. Incidentally, Miss Wood also included “The Sweetest Story Ever Told” in her prenuptial music, so Juanita may have been a trendsetter in the ‘simple but attractively decorated’ wedding scene.
As I continued my research on the Joneses, Juanita faded further and further into the background, spotted in print alongside her husband in various directories, but very few personal documents other than her entry in the Social Security Applications and Claims Indexes. I was able to verify her date of death as November 12th, 2004 from the U.S., Social Security Death Index and her grave marker in Woodlawn Memorial Gardens.
I knew more about her death than I did her life after marriage. There are no letters to or from her in the suitcase, and based on her clothes, the pictures in the suitcase depict her into the 1940’s but no further.
I hoped her obituary would give me a little more information about her life…and, boy was I surprised at what I found.
This is Chet Atkins. He was the recipient of 14 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (as the youngest inductee in history) and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.
In the late 1950’s, Chet became Manager of Operations at RCA. He opened RCA Studio B, the first permanent record-company office on Music Row in Nashville, considered the building that spearheaded the music industry’s migration to Nashville and birthplace of the Nashville Sound. By 1968, he was the Vice President of RCA records. During his tenure at RCA, he produced hits for the majority of RCA’s Nashville acts, including Elvis Presley, played for JFK at the White House in 1961 and recorded 48 studio albums.
He is considered one of the most successful guitarists in history and one of the most influential producers in Country Music. Here is another picture of Chet from 1969, named Instrumentalist of the Year at the CMA first annual awards presentation, sharing a joke with a lovely lady directly to his left.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce to you…Juanita Jones.
I know. I know!
My Juanita Jones? Surely not.
I found Juanita’s obituary in the November 13th, 2004 issue of the Tennessean.
November 12, 2004. Preceded in death by her husband, John Paul Jones. Her husband had been employed by the Seventh Day Adventist Southern Publishing Association before his death in 1995. Mrs. Jones was a private secretary for Chet Atkins, and after that, worked for a number of years for CASH BOX, which was a music industry magazine. She had resided in the Mariner Health Care Center, as a result of a stroke, which occurred approximately 2 years prior to her death.
I realize that an obituary can be less than accurate. It’s entirely possible that the last half of this obituary is about another Juanita Jones, paired with our Juanita due to a lazy copy-writer’s hasty Ask Jeeves search.
In my next post, I will detail everything I have found out about the Juanita Jones who started her career as the private secretary to Chet Atkins and went on to manage the first Nashville ASCAP office, serve on the first Country Music Association Board, become Second Executive Vice President of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Services, and serve as member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and the Gospel Music Association.
With that tease, I will leave you with a song recorded by Stu Phillips and produced by Chet Atkins. From the Nashville Scene section of Billboard Magazine, Oct 7, 1967: The new Stu Phillips release rings a recognizable bell in this area. It’s titled “Juanita Jones.” Nashville’s Juanita Jones heads the ASCAP office in this city. Naturally, the tune is licensed by ASCAP….”
I fear I am at risk of constructing my own pieces to fit the puzzle. The Juanita I thought I knew was a shy conservative, lower-middle class housewife. We are halfway through and the pieces that remain don’t seem to fit. Next week, we’ll compare the pictures of Juanita published in various magazines and newspapers with my collection of photographs. We’ll read every snippet from the celebrity magazines and Billboard articles. You’ll come to your own conclusions and I welcome them in the comments. Hopefully, someone out there can accurately confirm or disprove my findings.
Personally, I am still struggling with the feel of it…but there’s something in these images that makes me wonder whether the picture on the front of the box was entirely accurate in the first place.