Penelope Van Dyke Johnson Allen (1886-1985) was the daughter of Jas. Whiteside Johnson (1861-1908) and Sue Coffin Cleage (1865-?, of Chattanooga. Her paternal grandparents were Col. Abraham Malone Johnson (1830-1903), the founder of St. Elmo, TN, and his wife Thankful Whiteside (1838-1890), who was a daughter of James Anderson Whiteside (1803-1861), an entrepreneur and the developer of Lookout Mtn., and Mary J. Massengill (1812-1843), both also of Chattanooga, and a granddaughter of Solomon Massengill (1782-1814) and Mary (Polly) Chamberlain (1788-1872), of Grainger Co., TN.
During her long and eventful lifetime, she was a dynamic force in TN genealogy and the preservation of state and local historical records and was acknowledged as well for her considerable research and expertise on the history of the Cherokee people and for her extensive collection of early Cherokee documents. She was also a journalist, a politician, a suffragette, and an active participant in a host of civic and patriotic organizations in TN and nationally. A lifelong member and officer of the DAR, she was able to secure the organization's support in the 1930s for a statewide W.P.A. project she directed to collect and preserve the local public records of her native TN, many of which had reached the point of advanced deterioration.
She published a number of genealogical and historical books based on her archival research of early TN documents and also authored a long series of newspaper columns that dealt with the pioneer families of E. TN. For her many efforts, she received no small number of awards and tributes over the years. It is said that she was enormously proud of the fact that she descended from some 14 Revolutionary patriots, among them Ninian Chamberlain (1718/1719-c1798) and his son Jeremiah (1740-1829), of Jefferson and Grainger cos. in E. TN. In her later years, Penelope apparently developed a keen interest in the history and culture of Tibet, though she continued as well to cultivate her flair for American genealogy in the broadest sense.
It is, of course, by no means difficult to find information on line about Penelope Johnson Allen, her life, and works; indeed, there are several websites that recount her many accomplishments or list her publications. What follows is simply a tentative chronology of her life drawn from those and other sources. It is primarily an attempt on my part to sistematize diverse and sometimes conflicting pieces of information.
Penelope Van Dyke Johnson Allen: Chronology
1886:Born, Chattanooga, Hamilton Co., TN (27 Oct.; at the residence of her paternal grandparents, Col. Abraham Malone Johnson and Thankful Anderson Whiteside)
1887:Moved with parents to a house in St. Elmo, a suburb of Chattanooga founded by Col. Johnson
1890s:Student, First District School, Chattanooga, Hamilton Co., TN
1900:Census, Hamilton Co., TN
1904:Graduate, Chattanooga H.S., Chattanooga, Hamilton Co., TN; represented St. Elmo in the Chattanooga Spring Festival, having been crowned “Queen of Love and Beauty”
1904-1905:Student, Mrs. Starrett's School for Girls, Chicago, IL
1905-1908:Student, Western College, Oxford, OH
1908:Death of father (15 Mar.); traveled in Europe (Summer); returned to St. Elmo
1908-1909:Teacher, North St. Elmo Elementary School, Hamilton Co., TN
1909:Married Samuel Boyd Allen of Knoxville, TN (17 Feb.); moved with husband to Knoxville
1910:Census, Knox Co., TN
1911:Birth of daughter Penelope Van Dyke Allen, Knoxville, Knox Co., TN (31 Jul.)
1912-1915:Lived, along with husband and daughter, in Tate Sprgs., Grainger Co., TN (while Samuel B. Allen managed the Tate Sprgs. Hotel)
1913:Became a member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR); she was a life member, later serving as state chairman of genealogical records and state historian, TN Society, DAR; won several awards of merit from both the national and state DAR over the yrs.
1916:Moved to Williamsburg, VA
1917-1918:Supervisor, DuPont Shell Loading Plant, Penniman, VA
After WWI:Returned to live in Chattanooga, TN; was active in the Kosmos Club, the Tennessee Press and Authors Club, and the Garden Club of Chattanooga, as well as the Episcopal Church (her grandfather had built the Thankful Memorial Episcopal church as a memorial to her grandmother, Thankful Whiteside); was a member of the woman’s board of the Lincoln Memorial University, state chairman of the press committee of the League of Women Voters, etc., etc.)
1919-1923:Reporter, "Chattanooga News" (became society editor and later served as a general assignment reporter, courtroom reporter, political writer, magazine editor, sports writer, and advertising sales representative)
Before 1920:Actively participated in the women’s suffrage movement during the period culminating in the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (made several trips to Nashville to that end)
1920:Census, Hamilton Co., TN (St. Elmo)
1922:Nominated as the Hamilton Co. Democratic candidate for the TN State Legislature (May; lost in a tight election; served as vice chairman of the Hamilton Co. Democratic Woman’s Club)
1923:Divorced husband Samuel Boyd Johnson
1923-1929:Traveling advertising agent and salesperson, Chattanooga Medicine Co.
1927:Published article on St. Elmo, TN, "Chattanooga News" (4 Jun.)
1929:Became the publicity agent for Chickamauga Park, Chattanooga, TN
1930:Census, Hamilton Co., TN
1930s:Directed, with the support of the DAR, a statewide project to collect, copy, and preserve local public records in TN for the W.P.A. (the project continued until 1945 and reportedly produced some 1,500 published volumes of TN county, Bible, and cemetery records)
1933-1937:Wrote the weekly genealogy column "Leaves from the Family Tree" for the "Chattanooga Times" (in each column, she focused on a particular pioneer family of the E. TN region)
1934:Published article, “Old Fort, Benton, Tennessee, on Antiquities Tour Today,” "Chattanooga Times" (18 Apr.)
1935:Published "Historical Chattanooga: A Guide Book"; also published "Tennessee Soldiers in the Revolution"
1938:Guest at the observance of the Centennial of Cherokee Removal, Chattanooga, TN (20-22 Sep.)
After WWII:Active in the Volunteer Chapter of U.S. Daughters of 1812 (of which she became state president), the Hamilton Co. Historical Society, the Tennessee Historical Society, the Tennessee Historical Commission, the Chattanooga Area Historical Assn., the National Society of Colonial Dames in America in TN, the Daughters of Colonial Wars, the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs (of which she served as state press chairman), the Chattanooga Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the Junior League of Chattanooga; she also worked with the Society for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities in the restoration of the Cravens House, on the side of Lookout Mtn., and chaired a committee to design a flag for the St. Elmo Elementary School
1947:Published "Tennessee Soldiers in the War of 1812"
1950:Mentioned as serving at that time as genealogical records chair of the TN DAR
1962:Published “Pioneer Settlers of the Chattanooga Area” as a supplement to John P. Brown’s "Pioneers of Old Frontiers"; an endowment fund established in her honor by the Tennessee Society of the Daughters of 1812
1966:The Tennessee State Library and Archives purchased from her an extensive collection of original Cherokee documents from the 1830s and 1840s, which she had amassed over the years from research in TN, NC, and OK (a second collection was acquired by TSLA from her estate in 1998)
1967:Published "Genealogy of a Branch of the Johnson Family and Connections"
1970:A portrait of her was commissioned by the Chattanooga Area Historical Assn. (later hung in the State Library in Nashville and also included in a special exhibition of portraits of prominent TN women)
1971:A piece about her (incl. portrait), “Penelope Van Dyke Johnson Allen: An Appreciation,” was published in the "Tennessee Historical Quarterly" 30 (Fall), 329-30
1976:Honored, along with five other distinguished authors, by the dedication of trees planted in Audubon Acres, Chattanooga, TN
About 1978:Moved to Life Care Ctr., East Ridge, TN, where she taught genealogy classes to fellow residents of the nursing home
1982:Published "Leaves from the Family Tree" (compiled primarily from her 1933-1937 "Chattanooga Times" genealogical columns)
1985:Died, Chattanooga, Hamilton Co., TN (9 Jan.; bur. Forest Hills Cem., St. Elmo, TN)