What’s in a Motto?

Over the past seven years I have been a tour guide at the Salisbury House. In all that time, I am still finding objects that I have questions about. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, with over ten thousand artifacts in the museum!

The other day I was looking at the Weeks family crest or coat of arms. The Weeks crest is located in several places in the museum. They appear on the main stair runner, the Great Hall, in the Library on the light sconces, and also on the family’s finest dinnerware on display in the Breakfast Room.

The crest has three battle axes on a field of crosses. At the bottom of the crest is a motto: Cari Deo Nihilo Carent. At first I thought that the first and last words started with G’s. But on closer inspection, I realized that the words started with C’s. 

crest 1

Weeks crest on the family’s dinnerware

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Weeks crest on a wall sconce in the Library

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Weeks crest on stair runner

 

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Detail the Weeks crest on the stair runner

 

I had heard that Carl Weeks had made up his own family crest in the 1920s, but was this actually true? I had a real mystery to solve.

Did Carl, in fact, create his own Weeks family crest and motto? Or was there an existing Weeks family crest and motto that had been historically associated with the Weekses? Finally, what did the motto actually mean?

When I was in grade school I had taken Latin so I recognize some of the words. Also while being an altar boy, I had to learn all the payers for the Catholic mass in Latin – which, to this day, I can still recite. My next step was to go online and see if I could translate the Latin to English. 

I knew that Deo was God and Nihilo meant nothing. If you strictly translate the words the motto reads, Dear God Nothing Lacking. But Latin is not that easy. The position of the words can make that sentence mean something completely different. Additionally, certain prefixes or suffixes can give the word a different meaning and change the overall interpretation of the motto. 

During my search online, I came upon a site called “House Of Names,” and searched for the Weeks family crest. It was there that all my question were answered.

According to this website, the motto Cari Deo Nihilo Carent has long been associated with the Weeks family. In fact, the crest pictured on the website matches the crests included in the Weeks family collection.

from site

Here was the answer! Carl did not make up his own crest or motto – he used the historical Weeks family logo and crest in his design of Salisbury House. The full meaning of Cari Deo Nihilo Carent reads, “Those dear to God want nothing.”  

As you can see we are constantly learning new things about Salisbury House. Sometimes what we thought was true is, in fact, not the case. 

All About Edith

Our ability to reconstruct the past hinges on the existence and accessibility of primary sources. The Salisbury House archives contain a preponderance of Carlalia (Carl memorabilia), but we lack commensurate material about his better half: Edith Van Slyke Weeks. We’re trying to change this. Recent research has yielded new images and newspaper articles about Edith, and these sources help flesh out a portrait of a well-educated, well-traveled woman.

Edith was born to the Van Slykes of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1882. The family later moved to Des Moines, where Edith completed high school.

1885s Edith Van Slyke Weeks c. 1885Edith c. 1890

Young Edith graduated from North High School around the turn of the twentieth century. Pictured below is her report card from North High School from the late 1890s. Clearly, Edith possessed considerable academic abilities.

 

1899_Edith Van Slyke report card North High School

The importance of education was a central concern for the Van Slyke family. Indeed, Edith’s mother Eva, graduated from Iowa State University in 1874. Edith continued the tradition of well-educated Van Slyke women with her graduation from the University of Michigan in 1903.

1907 Sorosis

During her time in Ann Arbor, Edith joined the University of Michigan’s chapter of Sorosis, a women’s social and educational club.

In 1907, a blurb about Edith appeared in a Sorosis booklet printed to commemorate the club’s twentieth anniversary (left). Her name appears alongside the other alumnae of her year.

By this time (1907), Edith had met and married Carl Weeks. The couple, according to family anecdotes, first met around 1904 when Edith walked into the Des Moines pharmacy where Carl worked. Overcome with affection, Carl followed Edith to Europe around 1905.

Following Edith’s European sojourn, the pair courted through 1906 and walked down the aisle in February 1907.

1907 edith on wedding day_hi resEdith on her wedding day: February 27, 1907

Edith’s life after her marriage comes down to us in even more fragmented terms. Still, photographs from family albums and newspaper articles suggest a woman who cared deeply for her family, actively engaged in her local community, and generously supported the arts.

We imagine that Carl snapped the photograph below during the early years of their relationship. If Carl was the photographer, his shadow is visible towards the bottom of the frame. The photo’s location remains uncertain, but it’s clear that Carl and Edith often commemorated family events on film.

1909 Diddy 1909

 Like many families even today, the Weeks photo album took a decided turn towards Toddlerville after the kiddos started to arrive. Charles (1908), Bill (1910), Hud (1912), and Lafe (1918) were regularly photographed with their mother.

1910 Edith and...Charles & Edith, c. 1910

1910 Edith Charles BillEdith, Charles, & Bill, c. 1910

1913s Edith.boys.motorcycle

Bill, Charles, Hud, & Edith, c. 1913

1918 Edith Lafe 39th StEdith & Lafe, c. 1918

By the time Edith and Carl started making plans to build Salisbury House in the early 1920s, four rambunctious boys were roughhousing about the Weeks family home.

weeks FAMILY 1921

The Weeks Family in 1921 – Clockwise from Edith: Lafe, Bill, Carl, Charles, & Hud

In addition to photographs of the immediate Weeks family, our archives also include an interesting image of Edith on vacation in Havana, Cuba in the late 1920s or early 1930s. She was pictured with an unidentified friend at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famed watering hole for American expats, including Ernest Hemingway. We wonder, in fact, if the Weekses and Hemingway met in Cuba.

1930s Edith Weeks In Havana, Cuba

Salisbury House was completed by 1928. Edith, with her academic training in art history and love of the subject, likely played a central role in acquiring the family’s stunning collection of fine furnishings and artworks.

Edith’s personal interests also emerged in her community involvement. She belonged to a variety of organizations and women’s clubs in Des Moines. A 1928 Des Moines Register article included a photograph of her (second from left) alongside fellow committee-members of the city’s Fine Arts Association.

1928 Fine Arts Club

In 1931, Edith hosted a meeting of ladies involved in the Iowa Association of Women’s Clubs. Dozens of women gathered at Salisbury House for tea and other activities.

1931 Federation of Womens Clubs

Edith also lent her support to charitable organizations. Below, she was pictured (on right) with other prominent Des Moines women at a charity ball in 1931.

1931 The Register 11.26.31 Charity Ball

Edith was again pictured in the Des Moines Register in 1934 alongside a piece from the family’s art collection painted in the style of English artist George Romney. Here, the photograph was accompanied by an article about a meeting of the Des Moines Women’s Club, hosted by Edith at Salisbury House.

1934 Register With Romney

In addition to photographs and articles related to Edith’s community involvement, she was also pictured in the Register with family members. The photo below showed Edith with her mother on Mother’s Day 1935.

1935 with Mom

Although we have added some  Edith-related images and articles to our archives in recent months, we still lack significant sources related to the later years of her life. Details about her, particularly during the 1940s and up to her death in 1954, remain elusive.

The last image we have of Edith Weeks dates to the first half of the 1950s. She and Carl were seated in the Great Hall of Salisbury House. Edith has lost a significant amount of weight, which may have indicated a marked decline in her health.

1950s carl and edith 1950's

The photographs and articles included here expand our cache of primary sources about Edith Van Slyke Weeks. Still, we hope to learn more about this remarkable woman’s life.

The Sons of Salisbury House

Today, Salisbury House operates as a museum.  Our world-class collections include an incredibly array of art, rare and limited edition books, historic documents, artifacts, furnishings – the list could go on and on.

What can get lost, sometimes, in this catalog of treasures, is the family who first called the House home.   Our newly-installed exhibit aims to illuminate their story.

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The Weeks family moved into Salisbury House in 1926.  Charles, the eldest, was eighteen.  Lafe, the youngest, was eight.   This new exhibit focuses on the Weeks sons’ early lives and continues through their adult years.

A wealth of photographs, many of which have never been available for public viewing, figure prominently in the exhibit.

The image below is part of a larger collection on display of Weeks family stereographs taken around 1919-1920.

Frosty

Despite its damage, the stereograph below offers a rare, intimate portrait of Carl and Edith, the boys’ parents.

Edith carl

William’s room, which previously functioned as meeting space, has been refurnished.  Additional exhibit panels continue the story of the sons of Salisbury House here as well.

Wrap up panel

Ultimately, the story of the Weeks boys resonates with families everywhere.  Aspects of their lives, especially the splendor of their home after 1926 were unique, but the rhythms of life common to most families emerge as well.  Incorporating the Weekses’ narrative into the broader fabric of the museum enhances the richness of Salisbury House.  Come by for a visit to view all of our treasures!

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