Walter Wooldridge Sr. was born on August 7, 1859, in Hanover County, Virginia. According to his death certificate, his parents were Thomas D. Wooldridge and Fannie —. Research has turned up no records for Thomas D., but a woman we believe to be Fannie appears in the 1880 census; at that time, she was married to a man named Wilson Caton. Living with them were Rosa Caton (likely Rosa Wooldridge Stokes), William Simms, Walter Wooldridge, and Nellie Simms. Based on various records, it seems probable that Fannie’s maiden name was Simms or that she had been married once before, though likely not to Thomas D. Wooldridge, who may in fact have been Thomas J. Wooldridge, a white physician, born in 1829 in Hanover County.
Little is known about Walter’s early life except that he attended school through the fourth grade and learned to read and write. In 1880, he was living on Louisiana Street in Fulton and working in one of Richmond’s tobacco factories. He appears to have married Ella Valentine of Goochland County that same year. By 1900, the couple was living in the Fairfield district of Henrico County with their seven children: two daughters, Fannie G. (b. 1881) and Effie L. (b. 1882); and five sons, William Thomas (b. 1885), Walter Jr. (b. 1891), Edgar Richard (b. 1894), Hugh Robert (b. 1896), and Cullen Haywood (b. 1900). They would welcome their final daughter, Maud E., in 1904. (At least two other children, Luther E. and Ida Belle, both born in the 1880s, did not survive to adulthood.) Walter was still employed as a tobacco factory laborer, as was his eldest son, William.
Ten years later, in 1910, the family was living at 1200 N. 33rd Street. We initially thought they had moved into the city from the county, but their property likely fell within the bounds of the area annexed by Richmond from Henrico in 1906. One of their neighbors in 1900 was J. B. Schaaf, a white butcher; his name appears on an 1889 map at the corner of 33rd and P Streets (the Wooldridges lived on the corner of 33rd and R), and he is listed at an address (3216 P Street) that matches that location in 1910.
By 1920, Walter had left the tobacco factory behind, as had William and Edgar (in 1910, all three had been working as stemmers, perhaps at P. H. Mayo & Bros., Walter Jr.’s employer in 1917). He was now, at the age of 60, laboring on an unspecified farm, likely not far from home, as they lived near the city limits and urbanization had not yet encroached on all nearby farmland. His wife, Ella, does not appear to have worked outside the home.
While all their children but Maud were over the age of 18 in 1920, six of them lived at home with the family. Edgar was employed as a driver; three years earlier, according to his WWI draft registration, he’d been working for Fleming & Christian Company, wholesale grocers, before joining the army. Hugh was working for a railroad shop, and Cullen was employed as a porter for a drugstore. Effie, the second eldest daughter, had married Harvey L. Lee in 1904 but was divorced and back at home in 1920, working as a cook for a presumably white family. Fannie had also married in 1904. She and her husband, Pryor Matthews, were living just a couple of blocks from the Wooldridge family home in 1920, at 1312 N. 34th Street. William and his wife of 14 years, Alice Ann Wood, lived nearby as well, on Selden Street in Woodville.
Five years later, on June 27, 1925, William died of cardiac asthma at age 40, leaving Alice to raise their seven children on her own. He was buried at East End, as was his sister Effie, who died of pneumonia on December 22, 1928. Their mother, Ella, passed away the following year, on November 27, 1929. She too was buried at East End.
Walter Wooldridge would live another 11 years. In 1930, he and Walter Jr. were the only ones left at 1200 N. 33rd and likely sold the house around this time. By 1935, he had moved in with his youngest son, Cullen, now a letter carrier, who lived on N. 27th Street in Church Hill with his wife, Celia Carroll, and their son, Cullen Jr. Walter died five years later, on August 24, 1940, at age 81. He was survived by six of his children, all of whom but Hugh still lived in Richmond and environs (Hugh had joined the Great Migration and moved north to Philadelphia; Edgar was farming for himself in Sandston by the early 1940s). With the exception of Hugh and Cullen, all the Wooldridge children are buried at East End.
Research by Erin Hollaway Palmer, April 2018, and UR student Ian Craig, fall 2017
- Born: 7 August 1859
- Died: 24 August 1940
- Birth Place:
- Death Place:
- Spouse: Ella (Valentine) Wooldridge
- Children: Cullen H. Wooldridge, Edgar Richard Wooldridge, Effie (Wooldridge) Lee, Fannie (Wooldridge) Matthews, Hugh Robert Wooldridge, Maud E. (Wooldridge) Randolph, Walter Wooldridge Jr., William Thomas Wooldridge
- Other Family:
- Address: 1200 N. 33rd Street
- Documents: Census reports (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940); death certificate
- Military Service: