Mattie Mallory’s Orphans: The Story of the Meyer Children

Mattie Mallory’s Orphans: The Story of the Meyer Children

By Phil Sutton

The orphanage was founded in Oklahoma City around 1898 and had several locations in the Oklahoma City area until it ultimately located in the area that would become Bethany.

Mallory cared for many, many children over the years. Four of the children who benefited from her kindness and love were the four Meyer kids. Their father left Elva, Zona, Caroline and Zenas at the orphanage sometime in the late 1800s.

CAROLINE MEYER (LEFT), ZENAS (Z.P.) MEYER (CENTER) AND ZONA MEYER CORNELIUS. PHOTO TAKEN IN THE EARLY 1900S.

An “s” was added to their surname when they entered the orphanage and the Meyers name stuck and unofficially became their last name.

The 1900 U.S. Federal Census listed 22 children in the Oklahoma Orphanage on Pottawattamie Street. Four of those children were Elva (age 14), Zona (age 12), Caroline (age 9) and Zenas (age 5).

Years later, the family’s explanation for the children being left by their father centered on the death of the children’s mother while giving birth to Zenas. Their father attempted to raise the children but found it difficult to earn a living and care for four young children. He left the kids in Mattie Mallory’s care and never returned.

By 1903, Mallory had moved the orphanage to Council Grove (later Bethany). Mattie’s orphanage was located in the exact spot where The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital Chapel is situated today. Mallory’s monthly publication, The Guide, listed 36 girls and boys living at the orphanage in 1903. Elva, Zona, Caroline (“Callie”) and Zenas were on that list.

The 1910 Federal Census once again captured Caroline and Zenas as residing at the orphanage, but Zona had left the orphanage in 1907 when she married Arthur L. Cornelius. It is unknown what became of Elva.

What happened to Zona, Caroline and Zenas after they left the orphanage?

Zona and her husband lived in the Oklahoma City area and had three children. The only mother figure that Zona ever knew as a child was Mattie Mallory. Out of respect for Mallory and her kindness, Zona gave her first-born child, Agatha, the middle name “Mallory.”

Arthur died in 1951 and Zona Cornelius worked part time for the Anna Maude Cafeteria in Oklahoma City for over 20 years. She died in 1970 at age 81.

Mattie Mallory stressed the importance of education with the children under her care. Caroline Meyers took that message to heart and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

In the 1930s through the early 1950s she was a professor of history at Tulsa University (TU). When she died in a car accident in 1954, she was the head of the history department at TU.

Zenas Phill Meyers, better known as Z.P., became a successful commercial photographer in Oklahoma City. He served as an aerial photographer in Europe while serving in the Army in World War I. When he returned to Oklahoma, he opened Meyers Photo Shop.

CAROLINE MEYER (LEFT), ZENAS (Z.P.) MEYER (CENTER) AND ZONA MEYER CORNELIUS. PHOTO TAKEN IN THE LATE 1930S.

He operated Meyers Photo Shop for decades before retiring and selling the business in 1962. Z.P. Meyers was a talented and skilled photographer. He was the first commercial photographer in Oklahoma to earn the Master of Photography certification from the Professional Photographers of America Association. He served as the president of the Oklahoma Professional Photographers Association from 1938-39.

Today, the images he captured with his camera are preserved in a photography collection at the Oklahoma Historical Society. The Society has some 750,000 negatives and prints that were created by Z.P. Meyers and his Meyers Photo Shop.

His many photographs of Oklahoma City buildings, street scenes and the city skyline provide a rich pictorial history of the city as it changed over the years. Zenas Meyers died in 1970 at the age of 76. His images are used today for research and to illustrate books about the history of Oklahoma City and Oklahoma.

Editor’s note: The author, Phil Sutton, is the grandson of Zona Meyers Cornelius and the son of Agatha Mallory Sutton. He is the great nephew of Caroline Meyers and Zenas Meyers. Sutton is currently writing an article for the Oklahoma Chronicles publication that will more fully explore the life and photography career of Z.P. Meyers. This author would like to thank The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital, especially Carol Gray, for documenting and preserving the story of Mattie Mallory and her orphanage. “Mother” Mattie Mallory was a true lifeline for many children without a home or family.

Comments are closed.