Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Celebrating Women's History Month

     When I was seventeen my "Auntie" Carolyn, my Mom's childhood best friend gave me a gift of a genealogy kit for Christmas. Carolyn was a passionate family historian and she often shared the thrill of her hunt with me and when I showed interest...well she thought to start me off on that road. Little did I know it would lead to a life long pursuit. I love a mystery. I love history. I love to research. Once you catch the scent of the trail you are hopelessly ensnared!

     One of the things I discovered early on was that the focus of family history is on the patriarchal line...that is, on the life and accomplishments of the man. A woman took a decidedly supporting role as first the property of her father and eventually the property of her husband. All too frequently I found little personal information about a grandmother except for how many children she had given birth to, sometimes not even her first or maiden name was to be found. With a fairly high mortality rate women were often lost in childbirth and husbands with a full house of children needed to find a replacement fast- sometimes 2-3 wives in quick succession. Being a genealogist that craves personal information over just names and dates I was driven to discover my grandmothers. I have searched for years in town or family histories, in newspapers, or private family documents. It has become my quest of sorts to give these overlooked women a voice. Not a lot was documented is the plain truth.

     I thought to celebrate Women's history month I would share some of the stories I have found; some of the gleanings from the lives of these extra-ordinary women who loved, supported, encouraged, cooked, cleaned, protected, nursed, washed and cared for their families. They too helped forge this country. They had incredible courage, perseverance, and strength. They should take their rightful place which is next to their husbands, not behind.

"Don't Mess with Momma"

     A woman's first instinct is to protect her family and all she holds dear so no doubt she will use any weapon that is near at hand when she goes on the attack. This is a story I came across of one Mrs. Josiah Wheeler (first and maiden name still being researched!) who lived on Bean Porridge Hill, Westminster, Mass. As the story goes, they were having a terrible time with a mischievous visitor to their farm...a hungry bear intent on helping himself to their barnyard animals and garden. The bear would normally plunder during the dark of night but one day, perhaps due to hunger or emboldened by the thus far easy pickings, he struck during the day.
     Mrs. Wheeler was alone in the kitchen and her husband was working far afield that day when she heard the chickens making a great fuss. Stepping to the door she caught sight of the large bear slowly approaching the farm yard. Without much forethought she dashed from the house straight towards the great bear screaming at the top of her lungs, making wild gestures with her arms and then "flirting violently an immense apron, which she chanced to have on, almost in the face of the unwelcome visitor!"
     Apparently the bear was quite disconcerted by this weapon of choice and just stood there for a moment in "meditation" before turning on his heels and high-tailing it back to the woods as fast as he could go. Mrs. Wheeler had saved the day with a flapping sail of an apron and a whole lot of attitude!

Found in the History of Westminster, MA by Heywood.

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