Essie Monroe, Modern Woman

I stumbled upon Essie Monroe’s name while looking for another resident interred at Laurel Grove South. She immediately piqued my interest. Who was this woman amongst the sea of men at the National Negro Business League Convention in 1915 in Boston? She was there with the likes of L.M. Pollard and G.H. Bowen, who had also traveled from Savannah to attend. The annual report listed her profession as an undertaker, and she turned out to be that and more.

Essie was a Southern woman, through-and-through, but with a very modern attitude. Her great-grandparents on her mother’s side were from South Carolina. Her grandmother, Hester, was her mother’s mother and was born in Georgia, as were Essie’s mom and dad, Andrew and Matilda (Jackson) Monroe. Essie was born in Savannah abt 1884 while her father worked as a porter for the Mer. Natl. Bank, and her mother ran a music school from their home at 607 West Broad Street. Maybe it was living on West Broad Street and seeing the thriving men and women of business day-in and day-out, including her own mother, that made Essie so self-possessed.

1900 Census listing Essie and her family living at 607 W. Broad Street

Essie was a college freshman in 1903-04 at the Georgia Industrial College for Colored Youths, now Savannah State University.

When she returned from school, she began teaching at her mother’s music school, but by 1915 Monroe Undertaking Co. was born, and Essie was headed to the National Negro Business League Convention.

Monroe Undertaking was a family affair, evening involving her new husband, Toland Edwards, who was about 6 years her junior. But her father died on January 21, 1924 and her brother, Andrew Monroe Jr, was dead by age 27 in 1932. This left Essie at the helm, where she ran Monroe Undertaking, in later years called Monroe Funeral Directors.

Toland died in 1946, and was buried in Laurel Grove South in the same plot as his parents.

Essie pressed on and kept Monroe Funeral Directors going until at least 1955.

From a 1955 Savannah directory where Monroe Funeral Directors was still listed at 611 W. Broad with Essie as the owner

Essie L Monroe Edwards died on April 2nd, 1959 and was buried in her father’s family mausoleum. She was very likely the only woman, Black or white, to own an undertaking business in Savannah in 1915. For this, she is Savannah’s modern woman.

Her Death was reported in JET.

Essie’s death was listed in JET.

This is Essie’s burial card for Laurel Grove South.

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