Sneider, Ida Bertha Bahm Odom
Likely sometime around 1930, the clerk of the Port Arthur, Texas congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scrawled the words “Negro Blood” in the “remarks” column of Ida Bertha Bahm Odom’s membership record. The clerk marked Ida’s daughter Nona’s record the same way. There is no indication what prompted such a designation or how the clerk came to believe that Ida was of Black African descent. All surviving public records describe Ida as white, but her family tree indicates a more complex racial story than that. The clerk’s note eventually meant that Ida’s case went to the highest governing bodies of the Church before she was allowed temple admission, an indication of the ongoing challenges that the faith’s racial policies presented to members like Ida and Nona who passed as white but who also had African ancestry.
Latter-day Saint missionaries William Farley and William E. Karren baptized Ida Odom into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on May 23, 1910, in Tangaipahoa Parish, Louisiana. Ida was three months shy of her eighteenth birthday when she converted and was already a wife and mother. Ida’s parents, Margaret Alford and Orin Bahm, had been members for several years and now Ida and four of her siblings joined them in their new faith. Ida and her daughter Nona, however, were the only two family members to eventually have their membership record noted with racial suspicion.
Ida was born on August 2, 1892, in Loranger, Louisiana, an unincorporated community in Tangipahoa Parish, in the southeast portion of the state. Census records listed the entire Bahm family as white; only Ida’s church membership record, after she moved to Texas, hinted otherwise.
There was an incident however, in April 1917, that suggests that some people in Loranger were aware of the family’s more complicated racial history and did not like it. Schoolmates of Ione and Belle Bahm, Ida’s younger sisters, attacked the Bahm girls as they walked to school one morning and severely beat Ione about the head. Ione was taken to a medical center for treatment where her condition was “not regarded as serious.” A local paper stated that the attack was motived by “recent objections from Loranger citizens to the enrollment of certain citizens in the Loranger school because of a dispute as to their race.” The school board refused to intervene and left the decision in the hands of the courts. The resolution of the case is not clear, but the incident itself indicates a simmering concern over the Bahm family’s racial identity.
Indications of Ida’s mixed-racial heritage are in fact traceable to Ida’s paternal grandfather Alexander Bahm, a man who the 1860 census identified as mulatto. The same census listed Ida’s great grandfather, Hypolite Pierre Bahm, as mulatto and additional research indicates that mixed racial marriages and slavery were a part of Ida’s ancestry as well. Even still it is not clear how lingering suspicions about Ida’s racial identity showed up on her Latter-day Saint membership record after she moved to Texas.
Ida married Timothy Tyra Odom, a white man, in May 1906, in Tangipahoa Parish. She was a few months shy of her fourteenth birthday when she wed Odom, a marriage that would have required consent from her parents according to Louisiana civil law due to her age. Louisiana law additionally prevented mixed-race marriages, making it likely that Ida was accepted as white at least at the time of her marriage. Two years after her marriage, Ida gave birth to her only child, Nona Margaret. Ida was baptized two years after that but her husband Timothy did not convert.
By 1920, the young couple had moved to East Baton Rouge, a nearby parish, where Timothy worked as a packer for Standard Oil. The couple lived with three additional roommates, two of whom also worked for Standard Oil, a likely indication of their meager circumstances.
In 1925, a local newspaper reported that Ida and Timothy had filed for divorce, a process that dragged on for the next nine years. During that time, the court ordered Timothy to pay fifty dollars per month in alimony to Ida even as another report mentioned a custody dispute, likely over Nona even though she was on the cusp of turning 18 when the divorce proceedings began.
As her divorce dragged on, Ida moved to Port Arthur, Texas with Nona. The mother and daughter had often visited Ida’s sister, Ione Resch, there, a sibling who likely offered a safe place for the two to land and begin to reestablish themselves. By 1931, Ida had become the Executive Housekeeper of the LaSalle Hotel in Beaumont, Texas and her divorce was finally granted a year later. She was welcomed into the Port Arthur Latter-day Saint congregation as early as 1930 where a church census identified her as divorced.
In June 1932, within a few months of her divorce being finalized, Ida married Charles (Carl) Adolph Sneider, a fellow Latter-day Saint who also identified as white.
In August 1939, Ida and her sister Belle traveled to Salt Lake City to receive their temple rituals and be sealed to their parents. In doing so, however, Ida’s racial ancestry again became a matter of concern, this time reaching the highest levels of Church authority. J. Reuban Clark, a member of the faith’s First Presidency, recorded in his office diary that “a woman whose father and mother had been through the Temple was applying to go through the Temple herself. She was from the Southern States Mission, and Church records showed that opposite her name someone had placed the endorsement, ‘negro blood.’” Clark did not mention Ida by name, but the details he shared match Ida’s case so precisely, as does the timing of his note, that there is little doubt that his entry referred to Ida.
Leaders decided to consult Ida’s patriarchal blessing as a solution to the problem. Among spiritual promises, these blessings frequently included a designation to a tribe of Israel. According to Clark, Ida’s blessing indicated that “she was of the lineage of Israel through Joseph and Ephraim.” As a result, Clark wrote, “We decided that under those circumstances she could not be denied admission to the Temple.” Clark made his note on August 18, 1939, and ten days later Ida received her rituals in the Salt Lake Temple.
Ida and Charles moved to Houston, Texas by 1940 where they appear together the following decade in a church census record. It is not clear if their marriage dissolved sometime after that but Charles died in 1959 in Los Angeles, California, while Ida continued to live in the Houston area until her death in 1965.
Ida passed away at the age of 72 at her home in Houston with her daughter Nona living with her at the time. Members of Ida’s civic and church communities fondly remembered her at her death. A Mrs. Mamie Carnegie placed a memorial in her honor at the Port Arthur, Texas Community Home and she was remembered in her obituary as a “life-long and active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” She was a member of the Maplewood Ward in Houston where her bishop, Thoes Webb, officiated at her funeral.
Aside from a singular note from the ward clerk in Port Arthur, Ida seems to have passed as white. That note somehow came to the attention of the faith’s First Presidency in 1939, but did not prevent her temple access. She and her daughter were the only known members of the Bahm family to have their membership records tagged with a suspicion of African ancestry. Ida’s parents received temple admission and her siblings baptized on the same day as Ida may have also escaped suspicion. The exception may have been her brothers Wallace and Robert who do not appear to have been ordained to the priesthood. In any case, Ida’s story illustrates the challenges and inconsistencies of racial boundary maintenance and the fraught nature of Latter-day Saint racial policies.
By Angelica Mathis
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Texas State Part 3, Segment 2, CR 375 8, box 6935, folder 2, image 163, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Texas State Part 4, Segment 1, CR 375 8, box 6936, folder 1, image 70, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 United States, 1900 Census, Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish.
 “School Girl 15, Beaton by Boys and Sister,” The Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana) 05 April 1917, 4.
 United States, 1860 Census, Louisiana, St. Tammy. Alexander was listed as white in the 1870 census. See United States, 1870 Census, Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish.
 United States, 1860 Census, Louisiana, St. Tammy; United States, 1870 Census, Louisiana, Tangipahoa Parish; “Rene Baham (1766-1842), WikiTree, accessed Dec 2021; Rene Baham, sale of property and slaves to James P. Guinault, September 4, 1820; Sale of property and slaves by René and Emancipation of two slaves, Act of Emancipation, September 7, 1820. See also, Marshaleigh Orr Bahan, "Jean Baptiste Bahan and Francoise Guillory," New Orleans Genesis, Vol. XLII, No. 165; United States, 1850 Census, Louisiana, St. Tammany.
Tangipahoa Parish marriage, Volume 8:73, Clerk of Court, Amite, Louisiana, May 3, 1906.
 United States, Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, Nona Margaret Matthews.
 United States, 1920 Census, Louisiana, East Baton Rouge, Precinct 2.
 ”In District Court: Suits Filed,” State Times Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisianan), 2 June 1925, 13; ”In District Court: Suits Filed,” State Times Advocate, 15 June 1925, 13; “Courts Jefferson County: Divorce Suits Filed,” Beaumont Journal (Beaumont, Texas), 2 March 1932, 8; “Courts Jefferson County: Divorces Granted,” Beaumont Journal, 4 April 1932, 12.
 “LSU Coed is Star in Amateur Plays in Texas,” State Times Advocate, 14 September 1925, 13; Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960, (Polite Baham) Hypolite Bahm, 10 May 1930, Tangipahoa Parish, Loranger, certificate no. 6928, State Archives, Baton Rouge, Family History Library, microfilm 2,312,071, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “Port Arthur Brevities,” Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas, 7 January 1931, 7; “Courts Jefferson County: Divorces Granted,” Beaumont Journal (Beaumont, Texas), 4 April 1932, 12.
 “Sneider,” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1960, CR 4 311, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 Bahm Family Tree, profile for Ida Bertha Bahm, undocumented marriage, Ida and Carl Sneider, June 1933; United States, Texas, Houston, World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Carl Adolph Sneideer, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.
 Devery S. Anderson, ed., The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011), 254. Century of Black Mormons is grateful to Brent Watson for sharing this reference.
 United States, 1940 Census, Texas, Harris County, Houston; “Sneider” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1950, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 California, United States, Death Index, 1940-1997, Charles Adolph Sneider, 6 January 1959, State of California, Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics; Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976, Ida Bertha Sneider, 7 March 1965, State Registrar Office, Austin, Texas, Family History Library, microfilm 2,117,751, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
 “Local Deaths: Sneider,” Houston Chronicle (Houston, Texas), 8 March 1965, 16.
 “Bahm,” Presiding Bishopric stake and mission census, 1914-1960, Wallace Eckford Bahm (1930 LDS Census) and Robert Edwin Bahm (1955 LDS Census), Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
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