Diversity in the Notarial Archives: Women

The records of the Clerk of Civil District Court’s Office, which date back to the 1700s, represent the rich history of New Orleans and its diverse communities. Our archives can be used for property, family history, architectural, and landscaping research.

Wilhelmina Von Behren and Jennie Tujague Von Behren, Notaries

In celebration of the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage with the passing of the 19th Amendment, it is appropriate to include women in the discourse of diversity in the Notarial Archives Research Center.

Traditionally, the position of notary was held by men, and some of the earliest notaries in Orleans Parish were also Clerks of Court. In the 1920s, female notaries who were commissioned in Orleans Parish began executing notarial acts. By 1928, only 25 states allowed women to be notaries. Interestingly, these early female notaries were employed in Orleans Parish and belonged to professional organizations in a time when Louisiana had not yet ratified the 19th Amendment.1 This signifies a forging of a path for the influx of women notaries in the decades to come.

According to the National Notary Association, more than two-thirds of America’s notaries were women as of 2015, a statistic that should be celebrated. 2

Two early women notaries were sisters-in-law and colleagues: Wilhelmina Von Behren and Jennie Tujague Von Behren. There are over 275 volumes containing Wilhelmina Von Behren’s notarial acts and over 85 volumes of Jennie Tujague Von Behren’s. They notarized documents related to property including acts of sale and mortgage acts. Comparatively, other early female notaries have significantly fewer volumes, usually about two to three volumes. Additional early women notaries include but are not limited to: Alice Allen, Emma Cornay, Marguerite Ferchaud, Margaret Gaudin, Corinne Hereford, Anna W. Matthews, Anna McCay, and Irma de Villeneuve.

Wilhelmina Von Behren, photo courtesy of Brian Preto
Jennie Tujague Von Behren, photo courtesy of Brian Preto

Wilhelmina Von Behren began her practice as a notary in 1922. Jennie Tujague Von Behren worked in her sister-in-law’s office, usually signing notarial acts as a witness.

Von Behren, Wilhelmina. 1939 Nov 4. Vol 80A, Act 66. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

Jennie Tujague married Wilhelmina’s brother, Henry Von Behren. A 1941 sale/resale indicates that the couple bought their house from Jennie’s mother. The act of sale was notarized by Wilhelmina Von Behren.

Von Behren, Wilhelmina. 1941 April 4. Vol 99, Act 108. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Survey of property acquired in a Sale/Resale from Emma Tujague to Security Building & Loan Association.
Von Behren, Wilhelmina. 1941 April 4. Vol 99, Act 107. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

However, around 1954, Jennie Tujague Von Behren separated from her husband. As pictured below, the judgment was signed by a judge on June 17, 1954, which decreed the separation from bed and board between them.

Jennie Tujague, wife of Henry E. Von Behren VS. Henry E. Von Behren, 1954 March 30. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

On June 23, 1954, Milton J. Montgomery passed an act of settlement of community, in which Mr. Von Behren transferred his rights, share, and interest in the property to Ms. Jennie Tujague Von Behren.

Montgomery, Milton. 1954 June 23. Vol 72, Act 148. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

This is just one of numerous examples indicating the connection between the Civil and Land Records Divisions of the Clerk’s Office and how these documents, together, give a more complete story.

Prior to the separation of Jennie and Henry Von Behren, Wilhelmina Von Behren fell ill. Her acts end in January of 1944, right before her passing. Jennie Tujague Von Behren carried on her sister-in-law’s practice and began executing notarial acts a few weeks later on February 23, 1944.

Signature page of Jennie’s first act as notary public. Von Behren, Jennie. 1944, February 23. Vol 1, Act 1. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

Wilhelmina Von Behren’s obituary lists her residence as 2627 Wisteria Street. The act of sale involving the property before notary, Harry L. Loomis, Jr., is located in the Research Center.

Times-Picayune, 28 Jan. 1944, p. 2. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current.
Loomis, Harry. 1931, April 15. Vol 211, Act 19. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

The act indicates that Ms. Wilhelmina Von Behren was a femme sole, which holds the legal implication that she was an unmarried woman of legal age who was “…acting on her own regarding her estate and property…”3

Wilhelmina Von Behren’s obituary also mentions that members of the Professional Women’s Club were invited to attend her funeral. The New Orleans Business and Professional Women’s Club was chartered in 1924 by another female notary, Judith Douglas, then later amended by Lilia Dubuch in 1928.

Douglas, Judith. 1924 March 18. Act 12. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

The New Orleans Business and Professional Women’s Club lists its purpose as “…to establish a home for those interested in women in the economic field, especially for those interested in bringing about better conditions for business and professional women…” and “…to bring about a greater solidarity of feeling among business and professional women and to stimulate co-operative effort among them.” Perhaps most impressive was that the charter was executed entirely by women.

Join the Clerk of Civil District Court’s Office in celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage and women’s participation in leadership and professional roles, not just in Orleans Parish but throughout history.

The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining to women. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn more about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.

Sources:

1. https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2015/10/notaries-then-and-now

2. https://notarypublicseminars.com/women-as-notaries/

3. https://www.thoughtco.com/feme-sole-3529190

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