263 – Joy and Tragedy

1926 delivered work, success, theft, birth, and death. Joy and Tragedy. Was it a “normal” year? Doesn’t that happen every year?

The ripple effect metaphor helps us remember that the closer we are to the center of the ripple splash, the more the events impact us. The ripple splashed very near in 1926.

For Tom and Catherine Gallagher, 1926 began with optimism.

Their daughter Kathleen was age 3. Catherine, age 26, found out she was “expecting.”

Tom, age 32, was on a roll. Cole’s Women’s Store was doing great business. In January, Tom was busy planning a remodel, the quarterly banquet, and an upcoming fashion show.

The Sedalia Democrat – March 12, 1926

In March, Cole’s celebrated its 6th anniversary in Sedalia. It was the culmination of planning for the store’s remodel, the February fashion show, Tom’s visit to New York market, and the planning dinner for employees at the Hotel Liberty.

In addition, Cole’s had recently begun an alliance with other stores around the country to enhance their purchasing power. With offices in New York and Europe, Cole’s in Sedalia had direct access to the best fashions.

W.J. Riley, Insurance

While Tom Gallagher continued to thrive at Cole’s Women’s Shop, his father-in-law Will Riley had difficulties starting a new career late in life. In 1926, William Riley was age 62.

When Prohibition began in 1920, William Riley’s wholesale liquor and beer distributorship ceased to exist. Riley, with a partner W.D. O’Bryan, had purchased Scotten Drug Company and operated it as Sedalia Drug Company. In 1923, Will Riley bought out his partner to become sole owner.

By 1926, William Riley was advertising himself as an insurance agent. I don’t know what happened to Sedalia Drug Company, but by 1926 it’s off the radar. Will was an agent for automobile casualty insurance. The policies pay if you get run over, lose one or both hands, lose one or both feet, or eyes too. Automobiles were dangerous, as we saw when Josie Riley got run over and dragged by a neighbor’s Ford.

William Riley’s insurance office was in Rooms 9 and 10, Katie Building at 219 South Ohio Street. The Katie Building was developed and owned by E.G. Cassidy, Will’s brother-in-law, old boss, and mentor. The Katie Building was named for Cassidy’s daughter Katie Cassidy.

Edward Cassidy and his son-in-law John McGrath also had an insurance agency in Rooms 9 and 10, Katie Building.

The Katie Building – 219 South Ohio Street, Sedalia

Around town

While Tom Gallagher was busy at Cole’s and Will Riley was trying to re-make a career, there were the hum-drum events of everyday life.

  • Kathleen Gallagher smashed her fingers in the car door. If you’ve ever done that, you know it hurts.
  • Tom Gallagher had several nasty bouts of illness – influenza and pneumonia.
  • Will Riley complained when the city was going to cut down trees to widen neighboring Barrett Street.
  • Will’s brother John Riley died in Kansas City.
  • Will’s older sister Kate Cassidy died. She was the wife of Ed Cassidy, Will’s mentor. Will was very close to Kate.
  • The Rileys were selling some home furniture – a dining set, four rocking chairs, etc.


In October, as Catherine’s due date approached, she spent increasingly more time at her parents’ home. Her mother Josie was a big help with household chores and watching young Kathleen, age 3.

Since Catherine was frequently at the Riley home, Tom was often there too. He was visiting Sunday evening, October 3, when his new 1925 Buick was stolen while parked out front. Do you think he left the keys in the car? If he did, I’ll bet he could have kicked himself.


Catherine’s due date had arrived. Thomas Paul Gallagher, Jr. was born at 11:30 am Thursday, October 28, 1926. Tom would soon get nicknamed “Buddy,” a name that stuck with him throughout his life.

Birth – Thomas Paul Gallagher, Jr – 1926


Since baby Tom’s birth on October 28, Catherine had remained in St. Mary’s Hospital. She was suffering from a severe infection.

By Saturday, November 6, Catherine’s condition was somewhat improved. There was hope she might be released the next day. Alas, her condition worsened. Baby Tom was healthy, and had been released to his father. Tom was baptized at Sacred Heart on Sunday, November 7, but his mother wasn’t there.

Catherine Rose Riley Gallagher died at 3 a.m. Monday November 8, 1926. She was 26 years old.

The Monthly Visitor – November 1926

Funeral services were held at Sacred Heart Church at 9 o’clock Wednesday, November 10, Rev. Christian Daniel presiding. Catherine was buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Cause of death

Catherine died of an infection from childbirth. The medical reason was “Puerperal Sepsis, ten days after child birth.”

Puerperal sepsis (PS) is a postpartum pelvic bacterial infection contracted by women after vaginal or abdominal delivery. The condition is identified by fever at 1 day postpartum, although more rapid and severe infection leading to death may occur. Puerperal sepsis has been recognized as a major contributor to maternal and newborn morbidity since ancient times.

Analysis of a Streptococcus pyogenes Puerperal Sepsis Cluster by Use of Whole-Genome Sequencing – Journal of Clinical Microbiology

Puerperal sepsis is still today one of the leading causes of mortality at childbirth, especially in developing countries. It’s often treated with antibiotics, which were still a few years in the future in 1926.

What to do?

Tom Gallagher had lost his wife. Kathleen, age 3, and Buddy, newborn, were without a mother. This was a very difficult situation.



One thought on “263 – Joy and Tragedy

  1. Brenda Teply April 19, 2023 / 3:20 pm

    A very sad post indeed.


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