Bennett E. Bridgewater, left, who trained as a barber after his service in World War I, poses in his shop circa 1927. The photo was taken by John Hermann Herring with his new portrait camera. Allen and Connie Ballard, who contributed this rare photo, believe the woman Bridgewater is working on is his wife, Ona, and that the other woman is his wife’s sister.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
When Bennett E. Bridgewater posed in his Hannibal barbershop circa 1927 for a picture taken by John Hermann Herring with his new portrait camera, he had no idea where life would take him. He did, however, know from where he came.
Born in Arkansas in 1895 to parents who would ultimately migrate to the Salt River basin in Ralls County, Mo., Bennett Bridgewater learned early the value of hard work.
In 1909, at the age of 14, he was working nine hours a day, 5 ½ days a week as a dye cutter at the Star Shoe Factory in Hannibal for $3 a week. When he was 16 he went to work in a Montgomery County, Ill., coal mine and worked there along with his father and brothers for the next seven years.
His opportunity to leave the coal mine behind came at the invitation of his government, which tapped all available young men of his generation in 1918 to fight the Germans during the World War. He left the coal mine, joined Regiment Co B, 114th Engineers and headed for France, where he fought through the Meuse-Argonne engagement – the deadliest of all the war campaigns.
There are suggestions that he may have been partially disabled during the war, but regardless of his condition, he returned Missouri. He trained as a barber, and that is the primary profession he would follow for the remainder of his career.
Starts a family
Ona Kinkeade, who in 1920 was living with her sister’s family at 4034 Shaw Ave, St. Louis, and was working as a clerk in a nearby 5 and 10 cent store, won Bennett Bridgewater’s heart. By 1922 they were married. They would move to Hannibal, and ultimately have three sons, Richard, born around 1923; Billy, born around 1927; and Jimmy, who was born in 1934.
But before his family started to grow, Bridgewater started laying a financial foundation by utilitizing his long-established work ethic, combined with patriotism born of his participation in his country’s fight for freedom.
The 1922 Hannibal City Directory listed Bennett (and wife Ona) Bridgewater, as a barber, 527 S. Main; residence same.
In 1923, while working as a trained barber, he also operated a second business, that of a tire and auto supply store, located at 525 S. Main St.
He placed the second shop up for sale, and the following advertisement was published in the Sept. 27, 1923 edition of The Current Local, Van Buren, Mo:
“For sale: Or will trade for a small farm, Tire and Auto Supply business in town of 18,000 population, cheap rent, including living rooms. Must quit business on account of health. Address, Bennett E. Bridgewater, 525 S. Main St. Hannibal.”
In 1925, Bennett and Ona were living at 411 N. Third St. Four years later, the Hannibal city directory reported that Mr. Bridgewater operated a barber shop at 606 S. Main, where the family also made its home.
Move to Arizona
Perhaps it was the stock market crash of 1929 that influenced the Bridgewaters to pull up roots in Hannibal and move to Arizona, or maybe the move was to help out with Bennett’s lingering health issues.
But whatever the reason, the Bridgewaters packed up their two young sons and moved to the Phoenix area, where Bennett once again opened up a barbering business.
Times were tough, to be sure, during the Great Depression, but Bennett Bridgewater held fast to his conviction that any man trained in a trade should be able to make a living even during challenging economic conditions.
His shop was located at 2495 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix. In addition to his own barbering work, he operated a second business in the same building: Giving violin lessons and repairing broken violins.
He was much troubled by what he perceived to be a lack of work ethic existing among his fellow citizens during the Depression. He openly questioned whether public assistance offered to those without work was just “too easy,” and was creating a society of men who just didn’t want to work.
He was proud of his country and proud of his status as a Republican. And wasn’t afraid to express his opinion on those topics. Two advertisements he placed in the Arizona Republic newspaper stand as witness to his views:
1933 “Disabled veterans, be patient, soon as Japan repays the 50 million China borrowed from us, you should get a ‘new deal.’ Hair cutting, 25 cents; finger waiving, 25 cents; Fitch shampoo 25 cents; Shop operated by 50 percent Disabled veterans, 100 percent republican, 2495 E. McDowell Road, E.B. Bridgewater. June 8, 1933, Arizona Republican
1935 “Wanted Saturday barber. If you don’t believe in the constitution of our Government don’t apply. E.B. Bridgewater, 2405 E. McDowell.” Arizona Republic, Sept. 5, 1935.
Makes a challenge
In 1937 he took to the newspaper again:
“Any white American male citizen who has been on relief in Arizona four years and hopes to be on four more may (if qualified) have my job one year.
“My job,” he explained, “is really two jobs. There are available jobs as 1. Barber and 2, violin teacher.
“Here is opportunity – or is relief more attractive?”
Will provide pupils”
This advertisement caught the attention of a reporter who wrote a story, which spread across the country via the Associated Press.
“The barber actually proposes giving up his livelihood. He will have to find another job, for he has a wife and three young sons to support,” the newspaper article reported.
“I am doing this,” he said, “because I have children. I’m worried about this country and I’d like to find out what is going to happen to them.
“I can’t kill the hopes in my children,” Bridgewater went on. “I tell them there is opportunity just as long as they are able to do something.
“No able bodied man who can work at some trade should ever lack a job. The trouble with this country” is a lack of ambition in the people to do some definite thing, Bridgewater said.
A year later, he reported that he had no response to his job offers.
50 years of marriage
Ona and Bennett Bridgewater celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1971. They were apparently a couple of faith, members during their early years in Phoenix of the Creighton Community Church.
Their sons successfully raised, they settled into a comfortable retirement there in the Phoenix area. But their lives wouldn’t end peacefully.
Ona, 82, and Bennett, 81, were both killed in a two-car accident in June 1976 in Phoenix. In addition to their sons, they were survived by six grandchildren.
Special thanks to Allen and Connie Ballard for sharing this photo, and providing biographical information as to the Bridgewater and Herring families.
To prove to his son Billy (in chair) his contention that “no able bodied man who can work at some trade should ever lack a job,” E.B. Bridgewater, 43, of Phoenix, Ariz., offered to turn his barbershop over to a qualified unemployed man and seek work himself. Son Richard looks on. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO/ St. Louis Post Dispatch July 5, 1937