The Sisters in Black

March 8, 2022, Local Historian Carol Robertson White

The Rutherford County Historical Society gets many requests from various people researching genealogy, photos, and places in Rutherford County and Tennessee. Some people that contact the society will ask specific questions on the services we offer, request copies of specific images, pages from documents, books periodicals, manuscripts, newspaper articles, and obituaries. Some folks just like to stop by the Ransom School house museum to relax, have a cup of coffee, and chat. We have those regulars that come every weekend or some that just stop by for a one time visit.

In August 2021, we received a Facebook message followed up by an email from Rick Matri who stated he was researching the Wardlaw Sisters in Black that once taught at the Soule College. In November, 2021, Rick Matri of Virginia came to Murfreesboro to research and met with Frank Caperton to obtain a scan of photograph that we had on file at the Rutherford County Tennessee Historical Society of the Soule Collrge Commencement class of 1898.

Virginia Wardlaw was the head mistress for the Soule College which was located on Maple Street approximately where the Murfreesboro Housing Authority stands today. Her sister, Mary Wardlaw Snead was also on staff as an instructor. The sisters operated the school from 1892-1907. The school prospered and the curriculum was well advanced. The third sister, Caroline Snead Martin came to the school, along with her daughter Ocey, and weird tales began to occur. Several of the local authors wrote about the sisters: Elisabeth Howse Ridley and Greg Tucker wrote about the sisters in their books, and several newspaper clippings addressed the sisters strange ways. Soule College, as well as the sisters, began to suffer financially and the sisters were dismissed. They fled Murfreesboro, along with Ocey, owing rents and other bills.

Virginia Wardlaw leaves Tennessee for Montgomery Female College in Christiansburg, Virginia. The college revives under her leadership. However, the college closes in 1908 and the Wardlaw sisters leave for New York. In November 1909, Ocie Martin Snead was murdered in a bathtub, supposedly for insurance money. The Wardlaw sisters were indicted for murder and a trial set. Virginia Wardlaw literally starved herself in prison, feeding her food to the rats, and never stood trial. Caroline Snead was sentenced to a mental institution for her part in the murder.

A lot has been printed about the Wardlaw sisters in newspapers, books, magazines, websites, etc. I am very excited about Rick Matri’s documentary and cannot wait to see it. He has read all the articles, books, etc. and done extensive research. I think he has some surprises in store for us.

You can buy the books and research newspapers to discuss your own stories or theories with Rick Matri. Here’s one I’ve recently read available in Kindle on Three Sisters in Black: The Bizarre True Case of the Bathtub Tragedy by Norman Zierold, April 10, 2018.

I am hoping that once it is said and done that Rick Matri will come back to Murfreesboro and present his findings to the Rutherford County Historical Society at one of our Monday night monthly meetings. You can follow along with him on his Facebook page as he collects the facts, shares his findings, props, and sneak peak at the video.

Sneak peak at part of the video link below:

Please contact Rick Matri if you have anything to add to his research: [email protected]

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