The Julia Montgomery Memorial Oak in Palmer Park
In March 1923, an oak tree was planted in Palmer Park to honor the death of Julia Blocker Montgomery, a nearby resident. The Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the tree in memory of Montgomery, who often played with children in the park. She had reportedly told friends, “I wish I were an Oak Tree that I might live forever.” The tree, missing the original iron fence and plaque, can still be found in the park; when you walk into the park through the arch, the tree is on your left, on the side with the playground.
Montgomery had been a school teacher for fifty years in Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas, where she was “one of the leading women educators in the state," noted a May 1897 Times Picayune article. Julia had started a school in Mobile, Alabama, to support her family after her husband returned from service in the Civil War "broken in body and fortune." She was a mother of seven children, including Virginia Montgomery, described as a leading artist in the city and the designer of the Confederate monument in San Antonio. Montgomery retired from teaching at the age of 80 but remained a leading figure in civic organizations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and was invited to give public speeches and recitations of her poetry, which appeared in newspapers in New Orleans and Texas.
Montgomery’s birthdays in her later life were noted consistently in the Times Picayune as the Daughters of the American Revolution celebrated their oldest member. A 1919 article commemorated “New Orleans foremost club woman” and the “beloved chaplain” of the DAR, noting her birth month “always brings her a succession of affectionate testimonials from friends and fellow members in the city’s clubs and patriotic societies who delight to do honor to their beloved co-worker.”
She made national news when she became the "oldest college student in the nation" at the age of 85, taking courses at Tulane in Spanish. She also continued to offer music lessons in voice, piano, and guitar, and was described as a "suffrage leader," finally receiving the right to vote two years before her death.
Montgomery died in November 1922 at the age of 91 and was buried in Metairie Cemetery. Her obituary revealed an even more remarkable life -- if true. She was born on a plantation near Carrollton, Mississippi, in 1831. Her family, claiming “squatter sovereignty,” had taken the land from the Choctaw Indians without government approval or paying any money.
Her maiden name was Blocker, and she claimed an incredible heritage: she was part Native American and her great-great grandmother was Pocahontas; part French and a descendant of Marie D’Ammonnett, a lady in the court of Marie Antoinette who had fled the French Revolution and used her jewels to buy the land that is currently the site of Petersburg, Virginia; and part Austrian, descended from Prince Von Blucher.
Prior to being a teacher, she worked as a newspaperwoman and had interviewed celebrities like Oscar Wilde, who "expostulated on the homeliness of pots and pans" and "regretted" that they were "not more beautiful," she told a reporter.
The obituary closed with an excerpt from one of her poems, “Stand and Salute as the Flag Goes By”:
The mind and the heart and the loyal soul
Are far above Time’s haughty control
And throw o’er the form of more than four score
A mantel of love that will last forevermore