Feb. 22, 1918 – Oct. 9, 2019
Carolyn McConnell Wells (Carol) died Oct. 9, 2019, with her daughter, Julia Nesom by her bedside, as Julia read Evening Prayer.
Carolyn was born Feb. 22, 1918, to Edith Lower McConnell and William McConnell in Somerton, Pa. Carolyn was predeceased by her parents, sisters Edith and Ellen, daughter Eleanor, and her husband Tom Henderson Wells (Commander, USN, Ret, PhD).
A life-long feminist, Carolyn’s earliest memory was sitting on a curb as her mother went into the polling place to cast her ballot, the first time women had the national vote. This memory of equality in law, fought for and won, was formative for the later woman. Carolyn later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Penn State (1940) where she was inducted into Phi Mu Fraternity, a sisterhood she maintained to the end. She later worked in publishing for the Presbyterian Church and then in the statistics department of Campbell Soup.
With the beginning of WWII, she was a volunteer airplane spotter where she monitored the skies for aircraft traffic and danced to Artie Shaw at Philadelphia’s Stagedoor Canteen. She learned that the Navy was looking for female college graduates to serve as commissioned officers and was selected in the first class of 96 women who began military service as a midshipman and later commissioned as officers (Lt. Jg).
As a naval officer, Carol was stationed in Boston, Mass., with her duty to brief maritime captains on convoy signals for commercial ships headed to the USSR. Her time of service initiated a life-long, patriotic affection for the military services, especially the United States Navy.
In Boston, Carol met a young Naval Lieutenant from the USS Lexington (CV-2). His was the first Texan accent she had heard. She was the first female officer he’d ever seen. After a brief courtship, the Lexington was sent back into the war, carrying Lt. Wells back to the Pacific Ocean. The Lexington was badly damaged and later scuttled, sending Lt. Wells back to the United States to await another ship. He telegrammed Carol from San Francisco and proposed marriage. They were later married in her parent’s home with her two sisters (commissioned officers in the Army and Coast Guard) and his two brothers (commissioned officers in the Army and Navy) present. She stood before the love of her life in her dress white uniform as her wedding dress. A year later, Carol was pregnant with her first child, Lucy. The Navy had never previously dealt with a pregnant officer and she decided to resign her commission. This opened a new phase in Carol’s life – Navy wife, mother and homemaker. During this time, she moved the family nine times across the United States and for a two-year assignment in Cartagena, Colombia. Six more children were born to Carol and Tom during these moves, with little Eleanor dying shortly after she was born at Fort Omaha, Neb. Carol moved the family to Atlanta, Ga., where Tom earned his Ph.D. after retiring from the Navy. The last move was to Natchitoches in 1963, where she established permanent roots.
Carol and Tom bought the oldest house in Natchitoches, large enough for the whole family with multiple children in each bedroom. In Natchitoches, Carol was very active in social and political activities. She was a democrat and Tom, a republican. Many discussions of politics occurred around the kitchen table. But history remained the centerpiece of family discussion with their home being the main topic, as it still stands as a living testament to the rich history of this state.
Children soon grew up and moved away and life was becoming a contented routine when Tom died as the result of a traffic accident. Carolyn was left with two children to raise and the necessity of finding a job. She recognized that she needed a graduate degree to work in history so quickly earned her Master’s Degree in social studies from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. Her thesis, “Domestic Architecture of Colonial Natchitoches,” was the result of her love of Natchitoches and her passion for history. In her professional career as an archivist at NSU, Carol published numerous articles in historical journals, edited historical journals and archived the lives and people of many families in Natchitoches.
Carol’s other passion was the genealogy of her family and that of her late husband. She brought the critical eye of a trained archivist to genealogy, demanding rigorous documentation for every bit of family lore, often resulting in a revision to supposed “facts.” Carol published dozens of books of courthouse records of interest to genealogists. She was extremely proud of helping found the Natchitoches Genealogical and Historical Society. Carol drove her car across the eastern United States visiting countless courthouses until she was in her early 80s.
At 91 years, Carol determined that she should no longer drive and employed Glenda Howard as her driver. Carol and Glenda became best friends. Glenda’s patience was often tried by Carol’s insatiable curiosity, resulting in exploring many roads in Natchitoches Parish unknown to both of them. Carol would plot routes on the parish map while awaiting her friend’s arrival; Glenda striking forth in faith and with no small trepidation.
Carol’s love affair with Natchitoches architecture and her home continued with Natchitoches conveyance records translations by her granddaughter, Emily (also a historian). Carol worked on a historical manuscript of her house right up until the end.
Carolyn M. Wells is survived by her children, Lucy, Sarah and partner, Catherine, Tom and wife, Mary, Chris and Wife, Brenda, Julia and husband, Guy, and Peter and wife, Jill; also grandson William and granddaughters Carol Anne, Beatrix, Audrey, Sarah, Genevieve, Emily, Morgan, Molli, Sophie, Abigail and Olivia; and her great-granddaughters, Morgan, Molli, and Magdelena and great-grandson Matthew and wife, Jacy.
Heartfelt gratitude to Wanda Holden, Hospice of Natchitoches and the staff of Community Care of Natchitoches, especially Jackie Blake, a nurse. In lieu of flowers, donate to St Hilda’s Anglican Catholic Church of Natchitoches, St. Judes Children’s Hospital or Natchitoches Genealogical and Historical Society.
Achievements and Honors
1973 Natchitoches Woman of the Year
2014 Association for the Preservation of Historical Natchitoches Living Legend
2014 City of Natchitoches Treasures