Let’s Talk Clovis: Maude Kirkpatrick Bell, 1895-1959

(Clovis Museum)

Albert and Ella Kirkpatrick arrived in Clovis in 1895. They rented the upstair rooms of the 1891 Southern Pacific Railroad Depot east of Fourth and Clovis avenues. Ella delivered twins on April 19, 1895. The doctor delivered Maude without realizing it was a double birth and returned to Fresno. Her twin brother was stillborn. Brothers Carl (1897?) and Claude (1903) would follow.

Albert was a master carpenter and built his house at 530 Woodworth, south of the 1893 Methodist Church on the southwest corner of Woodworth and Fifth. He would enlarge his home by “sliding/attaching” a four room house that was nearby. He was elected to the first Clovis Board of Trustees in 1912 and served as Recorder and Justice of the Peace. He, dressed in his carpenter’s apron, performed marriages in front of his Pollasky Avenue shop.

Maude was a beautiful and talented child. She took piano lessons and would practice for hours.  During the evening, her mother would stand beside the piano and hold an oil lamp (no electricity available). Maude became an accomplished pianist.

Claude, Maude’s youngest brother, wrote a wonderful article about his family. It was published in “Those Were the Days” that was compiled by CUSD Clovis Adult Education in 1976. Claude recalled that Maude did not learn to ride a bike until she was 16 or so. He would help her balance but she “wobbled” a lot. One time she left the Methodist Church and lost control as she crossed Fifth and ended up bruised and battered in the thick hedge of Judge Burke’s home on the northwest corner of Fifth and Woodworth.

I quote Claude’s remembrance of his brother Carl taking Maude for a ride on his motorcycle: “She wore a tan colored divided skirt, that buttoned down the front. She undid the buttons which made the skirt into big pantaloons and rode the motorcycle ASTRIDE! She was a member of the Baptist Church (northeast corner of DeWitt and Fourth) and was for a long time its official piano player, playing for the choir and for the congregational singing. Some church member saw her riding the motorbike. They promptly called a deacon’s meeting where a vote was taken whether she could properly be retained as church musician after such disgraceful behavior. She, however, was only reprimanded and admonished to mend her ways, and was permitted to continue playing the piano for church services.”

Claude began his electronic career in 1915 and would eventually teach engineering courses at the University of California, San Diego.

Maude graduated as the Valedictorian from Clovis High School in 1914 and after two years at Fresno Normal (now Fresno State), began teaching eighth grade at Clovis Elementary. Brother Claude was in her class and he stated: “I couldn’t call her Maude in class and I didn’t want to call her Miss Kirkpatrick, so I made a great thing of not calling her at all.”

She was principal of Nees Colony School for a time and returned to Clovis Elementary as acting principal (did not qualify as principal since she had not graduated from a four year school with a teaching degree). She taught at Clovis schools from 1917-1941.

Maude received a note from Frank Bell (future owner of Clovis Lumber Company and Tollhouse Lumber and Mill) on Sept. 29, 1916 requesting her to join him at a W.C.T.U. (Woman’s Christian Temperance Union) function. The organization was founded in 1873 and was the first mass organization that “linked the religious and the secular through concerted and far-reaching reform strategies based on applied Christianity.”

Frank and Maude were married on April 26, 1918. She called out “lover” to Frank as she died on July 2, 1959. Their sons, Eugene and John, were active community leaders in Clovis.

The Bell family is a part of our rich heritage.