In the photograph, a gaggle of girls crowds together on the porch of a clapboard building, located in or near Yankton County, South Dakota. All are dressed informally in simple cotton dresses. Several wear sailor-style neckerchiefs, a nod to the ongoing war abroad, and one dons a cap. Their short sleeves suggest warm weather; in southeastern South Dakota, this may have been anytime from May through September. Two squirming kittens can be spotted on the girls’ laps as they all lean together, their eyes on the camera.
From left to right sit Helena Nelson, Marguerite Miller, Andrea Nelson, Louise Nelson, Edith Nelson, and Mary Nelson. Helena, Andrea, Louise, and Mary were sisters; Edith was their cousin, and Marguerite was a close friend and neighbor in Township 93, near present-day Tabor. At some point, all attended the Southern State Normal School in nearby Springfield, where they gained the credentials needed to teach at the local country schools.1
What, exactly, was the Bee Hive? In September 1918, Andrea Nelson wrote in her diary that, following a barn dance held in honor of a local soldier home on furlough, “Jim, Anne, little ones, Helena, Mary, and I stayed at the Beehive from three till morning.” Although Andrea’s guest list indicated that all present in the photograph were guests at this particular dance, it must not have been the same occasion, as, “About five Jim took Helena on to town, as she was to start by car with Kecks at six for the fair at Huron. The rest of us had a late breakfast. Then went to church.”2
She made one more mention of the Bee Hive in her diary when, several weeks later, she wrote, “Julia called up from Yankton after school. She said that a lady would be at the Beehive tomorrow night to demonstrate the preparation of sugar beets. She wanted us to come up.”3 This suggests to me that the Bee Hive may not merely have been a clever nickname for a friend’s home, but may actually have been a sort of social club or church-based organization – a place where one might stay the night but also take part in educational programs. I wonder if any locals still recall the name.
This photograph most likely dates to the summer of 1918. Mary, the youngest of the girls, pictured at far right, was fourteen that summer,4 and although her skirts still seem a tad shorter than those of the others, her hair is in the same style of twist as that of her seventeen-year-old sister, Helena.5 Andrea, the eldest at twenty-one, died unexpectedly late that year.6 This photograph was likely tucked away as a memento of a happy time when all were together for a lighthearted slumber party.