Chambers, Margaret

Title

Chambers, Margaret

Description

Margaret Chambers, a boarding house operator and entrepreneur, was a fixture at 59 Cooper Street for two decades beginning in 1893.

Biographical Text

Margaret Chambers, a boarding house operator and entrepreneur, was a fixture at 59 Cooper Street for two decades beginning in 1893. In addition to the home she owned at 59 Cooper, between Front and Point Streets, her boarding house business extended at times to two adjacent row houses and other addresses in Camden. In this way she cultivated an income independent of her husband, a saloon keeper sometimes at odds with the law.

How Margaret came to be in Camden is a mystery. Born in south-central Ohio in 1854, she lived in her home community through a first marriage and gave birth to three children. But sometime after the death of her first husband, in 1884, she moved east, possible joining other extended family members in the Philadelphia area. By 1889, she had married John Chambers, a Camden saloon keeper.

In the years following their marriage, John Chambers seemed to aspire to greater respectability as he opened the John Chambers Hotel and Restaurant, at Broadway and Division Streets, in 1891 and the next year became the proprietor of the Exchange Hotel at Second and Market Streets. However, he had already drawn the attention of local authorities for not strictly following the requirements of Camden's retail liquor license by serving drinks by the pitcher. In 1895, he was charged with assault and battery (although ultimately found not guilty) in a dispute over a customer's payments for drinks. In 1897, he was arrested again for selling alcohol on Sundays.

Margaret Chambers, meanwhile, took steps to assure an independent living. In 1893, she purchased in her own name a three-story brick row house at 59 Cooper Street, across the street from the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company. In addition to two sons from her previous marriage, by 1895 six boarders lived in the 11-room home. Her husband, John Chambers, appears to have been an inconsistent presence; although he continued to be listed intermittently in Camden city directories, census takers did not find him at 59 Cooper Street in 1895, 1900, 1905, or 1910. During 1900 and 1901, at least, he lived across the river in Philadelphia and Margaret began representing herself in public records as a widow, representing separation or desertion. In 1901, she went to court in Philadelphia to attest that her husband was unfit to renew a liquor license he then held for 600 Beach Street in that city.

Margaret struggled to keep up with the taxes on her Cooper Street boarding house, but she nevertheless expanded her business by 1910 to include two adjacent row houses (57 and 61) and another boarding house at 1724 S. Fourth Street. By this time 60 years old, she employed a chamber maid to assist with the laborious effort of housing and feeding her boarders. She rented primarily to single people who worked in nearby businesses and industries and sometimes to widows or couples, some with children.

Margaret Chambers persisted in Camden until 1913, around the time when the Victor Talking Machine Company purchased and demolished houses in her block to build its new headquarters office building at Front and Cooper. By this time she also had obtained a divorce from John Chambers, whose fate is otherwise difficult to trace in public records due to other individuals with the same name. During the summer of 1913, Margaret spent six weeks revisiting her home community in Ohio. Although she returned to Camden, by November she was back in Ohio and was married for a third time, to a local farmer and landholder. She lived the remainder of her days in Chillicothe, Ohio, and died in 1934.

Time period on Cooper Street

1893-1913

Location(s) - Cooper Street

59 Cooper Street (owned)
57 and 61 Cooper Street (operated as boarding houses)

Location(s) - Other

326 Market Street (boarding house, 1892)
1724 S. Fourth Street (boarding house, 1910)
Chillicothe, Ohio (before and after residence in Camden)

Occupation

Boarding house operator

Birth Date

July 1854

Birthplace

Chillicothe, Ohio

Death Date

1934

Associated Individuals

Augustus Miller, first husband (in Ohio, died 1884)
Jacob Worth Miller, son (a civil engineer, died of tuberculosis in 1905 while living at 59 Cooper Street)
Charles Miller, son (insurance agent in 1910)
Mary E. Miller, daughter
John Chambers, second husband
Jenice Butter, live-in chamber maid employed in 1910
Nora Butter, milliner, daughter of Jenice Butter
Alise Butter (child), daughter of Jenice Butter
Gottfried Frick, third husband, in Ohio
Audrey L. Menuez, niece, in Philadelphia
Known boarders in Camden, 1893-1910:
Gideon York
Albert Hoey
Nancy Joyslin
Sallie Walker
Charles Brownlow
Thomas Jutt
Marie/Maria Sterling, play writer
Franklin Smith, bookkeeper
William Watson, produce salesman
Carrie Broonie, pen raiser
Richard Obee, play writer
Charles Twitchell, machinist
Charles Carpenter, machinist
Louis Glover, machinist
Benjamin Westhoff, machinist
Edwin Madden, house painter
William Banker, foreman
Mary Banker
Isaac Stein, cabinetmaker, house painter
Emma Stein, operator, pen works
Evalyn Senyard, paper box maker
Elsie Senyard (child)
John Seaman, pull over, shoe factory
Estella Seaman
Russell Seaman (child)
Harry Green, carriage painter
Madge Green
Ruth Green (child)
Jessie Bartlet, mechanical draftsman
Victor Philips, ship wright
Burkley Philips, ship wright

Sources

Camden and Philadelphia City Directories (Ancestry.com)
New Jersey and U.S. Censuses (Ancestry.com)
Newspaper reports in the Camden Daily Telegram, Camden Morning Post, Philadelphia Times, and Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette (Newspapers.com)

Research by

Charlene Mires

Posted by

Charlene Mires

Collection

Citation

“Chambers, Margaret,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed November 29, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/36.

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