The Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center

Keyword Site Search

← Back to Blog

Artifact of the Month: Illuminations of a Life, Lillian McPherson Rouse’s Scrapbooks

Posted by on November 19, 2012

I have never been able to get into scrapbooking. I know as a mother I should have been diligently collecting and saving photos and mementoes of my kids’ lives. I feel a little bad about this, but just a little.

I am, however, glad Lillian McPherson Rouse compiled several scrapbooks that are now owned by the MAH. They give us a personal, first-hand look of life in Santa Cruz County that spans the 20th Century.

A teacher, mother, business woman, and world traveler, Lillian McPherson Rouse (1908-2005) was a well-known resident. The daughter of Fred D. McPherson, Sr., publisher of the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Lillian married pharmacist Robert P. Rouse in 1933 at the church her great-grandfather founded. Lillian was a supporter of the MAH and was instrumental in starting it. She often visited exhibitions and attended programs.

In 2001 a colleague and I visited Lillian at her home in Watsonville. While we talked about the happenings at the MAH, Lillian pulled out her scrapbooks, encouraging us to thumb through them.

I immediately loved the beautifully weathered books, literally bulging with memories. The pages were worn with age, resembling vellum leaves from a medieval illuminated manuscript.

As I looked through the scrapbooks, I was struck by what a grand life Lillian led. There were many newspaper clippings about Lillian’s family, dance cards from the 1920s, photographs that spanned decades, various trip itineraries, and dozens of invitations to soirees. There was all this documentation of the amazing things I imagined Lillian experiencing.

At the time of this visit, I had been going through a challenging time in my life. You know when you’re in a funk and can’t seem to get out of it? As I looked through the pages of Lillian’s “charmed” life, I realized her older sister accompanied her to many events. Lillian mentioned to us the close bond she shared with her. The two ladies must have been the toast of the town.

The McPherson Family, 1930

While Lillian continued to chat with us, I flipped a page and saw an obituary of Mary Belle McPherson Walker. She had died while giving birth to her third child in 1939. I looked up at Lillian in wonder. If this lady endured sadness as big as the loss of her sister, then why was I feeling so sorry for myself?

About 2 weeks after my visit with Lillian, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter; she turned 11 years old this month. Sorry Sofia, I haven’t finished your scrapbook or any scrapbook. But I learned how to keep pushing through from someone who did.