Susan Maesen, a volunteer at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village, was thrilled when she stumbled upon a gray box containing a collection of hand-drawings dating back to roughly a century ago.
“I could not believe my eyes when I found them!” Maesen said.
The drawings were found amidst boxes stacked with newspaper clippings, albums filled with black-and-white photographs and a purple heart belonging to James W. Varden, of Zephyrhills (see related story).
The drawings were created by Winifred “Winnie” Bridge Latham, a beloved local elementary school teacher and artist. She lived next door to Maesen’s grandparents on Church Avenue.
Latham, known locally as “Miss Winnie,” died on April 14, 1963.
Maesen speculates the Miss Winnie’s drawings were donated to the museum by the Dayton family of Dade City.
One of the Daytons — George — was a former state senator. He served as a pallbearer at “Miss Winnie’s” funeral.
“Miss Winnie’s” artistic skills were widely known, in her community.
“Her favorite subjects were her parents, self-portraits and shots with animals,” Bill Dayton told The Tampa Tribune, in a story published in 1980.
When she died, at age 81, she was living alone in a frame house that was surrounded by an overgrown garden, directly across from the First Presbyterian Church.
Dewey Hudson, of Dade City, told The Tampa Tribune, that “Miss Winnie” was his second-grade teacher in 1906.
“She was an excellent teacher and an elegant lady,” Hudson recalled.
“Miss Winnie” received her teacher’s certificate in 1903 and taught elementary school for 20 years.
Her work in the classroom was “characterized by fidelity, patience, duty in every detail,” according to a local newspaper report.
Much of her influence stemmed from her father, Fred Bridge, who came to Pasco County after serving as a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War.
He was a well-read, educated man.
However, the Bridge family’s connection to the Union Army meant they weren’t always well received by their new neighbors in the former Confederate States of America.
Miss Winnie’s drawings and diary entries offer a glimpse of life in Dade City, during the days when a horseless carriage was first spotted on the city’s streets.
“Yes! There was an automobile in town today… Papa saw it. But I didn’t!” she wrote in her diary.
She memorialized her views on the adoption of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote: “The reason for the women’s movement, as for all great movements, is social advantage.”
Her father died in 1922 and her mother died a few years later.
“This is all very hard,” she wrote in her diary. “I’m afraid I’m losing control of my mind.”
In 1933, she married the Rev. C.W. Latham, a Presbyterian minister. She was 52.
He died in 1936, and after that, she mostly stayed inside her home.
The box of old drawings, though, offer a reminder of a woman who touched the lives of schoolchildren and used her artistic talents to help chronicle the life and times of Dade City, of nearly a century ago.
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published December 14, 2022