Sunday, March 22, 2015

Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month - a fitting time to honor the women in my family tree. When I started researching my family tree, I did not know anything about the lives or accomplishments of my ancestors. Researching these real people has been fulfilling to me as I’ve learned about the fascinating lives of those who have come before me. They were a part of history, and also helped to shape who I am today.

This post focuses on just a few of the women in my family tree who had remarkable aspects of their lives.  But, all women in my family tree deserve to be honored. All of these women were daughters, were wives, were mothers; they all lost something; they all persevered and they all lived. They all deserve a 'high five'.  Unfortunately, even in my own family tree the lives of my female ancestors are overshadowed by their male counterparts.  For many of my female ancestors, I don't know much about them except their names and who they happened to be related to.

Today, all women should be honored and attention should be paid to continued gender inequality around the world. But I also want to draw attention to some of the struggles and strength of women throughout history and within my own family tree.

Josephine Martin (1845-1899)
Josephine Martin, c. 1870s

My great-great-grandmother Josephine Martin was a fascinating woman and accomplished more in her short life than most people do in their lifetime. First and foremost, she was a wife and mother of 12 children. She was also a very active Women's Suffrage activist. Additionally, she was a Temperance activist; she was politically active and ran for political office; she worked as a committee clerk for the state legislature with her daughters; she was a school teacher; she worked as a buggy driver; she was a newspaper journalist; she was a popular speech giver; she was a farmer. She had much energy and strength of character to accomplish so many things, while also raising her large family. She was not meek or subservient and in her time went against her father, her husband, her pastor and her community; but still maintained respect and dignity. In her lifetime, she was described as "sharper than lightning". 

In addition to her accomplishments, she also went through tragedy. One of her children died as a baby during an epidemic. In 1888, her house burned down in the middle of the night and the whole family escaped unharmed, but lost all of their possessions. Her contemporaries remarked that she had maintained a cheery disposition throughout the rest of her life until her death at the age of 54 - "she was always ready with a pleasant or witty expression under the most irritating circumstances".  Much more about her life is in an earlier post - Pioneer Feminist.

Artinecia Riddle (1830-1917)
Artinecia Riddle, c. 1880

My great-great-great-grandmother Artinecia Riddle was a courageous woman and a sturdy pioneer. She was married young but was widowed at the age of 20. In 1851, she left behind everything she knew and crossed the Oregon Trail as a 20-year old widow with her infant son. During her crossing on the Trail, she performed a surgical operation on a man that had been shot because there was no one in the train with any surgical or medical skill. She settled in the frontier of southern Oregon and soon remarried and had 15 more children. As opposed to other white settlers, Artinecia and her family became friendly and close to the local Native Americans and they were also fluent in the Chinook dialect that they spoke. In 1855, war broke out between the whites and the local Indians. Artinecia was hired by the government to work as an interpreter between the military and the local tribes. She fulfilled this role with bravery while living in a military camp between 1855 and 1856.

She continued living in southern Oregon and thrived as a farmer, while raising her 16 children. Her second husband died in 1877, and the 47-year old widow continued to run the family farm and raise her children on her own. During the 1870s, she was also documented as being a supporter and activist (a "staunch coworker") of the Women's Suffrage movement.

In old age (in about 1914), she was filmed and appeared in a silent movie made to promote the Rogue River Valley of southern Oregon, where she lived. Her movie was presented at the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Abigail Tilton (1842-1929)
Abigail Tilton, 1858

My great-great-great-grandmother Abigail Tilton was the daughter of a Baptist minister and was one of the oldest children in a very large family. When she was 15, her mother died in childbirth. Until her father remarried two years later, Abigail was the oldest woman in the household and was instrumental in caring for her 9 younger siblings. Although her family did not have much money, her father wanted all of his children to have excellent educations. After her public school education was over, Abigail attended two different seminary schools. She then worked for about 4 years as a school teacher.

She was married at the age of 22 and then focused on raising her family. One of her children, Helen, had a mental illness and Abigail devoted herself to caring for her daughter for the remainder of her life, until she died at the age of 86.

Patricia Bixby (1928-2008)

Patricia Bixby, 1946
My grandmother Patricia Bixby was a strong woman and a great source of inspiration to me. After high school, she worked as a secretary. She married my grandfather at the age of 20 and continued working for 2 years to support her husband while he was in graduate school. She then quit her job to raise her children and devoted her time on her family. Sadly, after nearly 20 years of marriage she discovered that her husband had been unfaithful to her and was having an affair with another woman. 

After an emotionally tumultuous time, she made the difficult decision to divorce her husband and start her life anew. After the divorce was finalized in 1968, she took a course and went back to work as a secretary. She continued working and supporting herself until she retired at 60.

Patricia had her share of tragedy and sadness in her life. Two of her children died as babies and two more children died as relatively young adults. Her only brother died when she was 16, all of her other siblings predeceased her, and she lost her marriage through adultery. In spite of what she went through, she was one of the most positive people I have ever known and continued to have an infectious smile and inner joy that radiated to those around her. Even on her death bed she was continuing to smile at those around her. Her simple strength has been a major source of inspiration to me in my life.

Maxamillia Bouseman (1808-1868)
Maxamillia Bouseman, c. 1850

My great-great-great-great-grandmother Maxamillia Bouseman was born in Ohio and later lived in Illinois. She married young and had ten children. Then in 1851, she and her family left their life behind and moved over the Oregon Trail. In Oregon, they lived in a frontier environment. She and her family became quite friendly with the local Native Americans that lived near them. She and her family also became well versed in the language that they spoke. The tribe also had their own names for her and her family. Maxamillia was called "Mulagolan" (which meant “mother”).

Sadly, the harmony in the area did not last as conflicts arose between the Indians and other white settlers. By 1855, it had culminated into war. In late 1855, after the war had just begun, Maxamillia left by herself on horseback to visit the tribal encampment and plead with them to not go to war. Many of the other settlers asked her not to go, fearing for her safety. But she insisted that she would not be harmed and she went anyway. Later, after the war was in full swing, some soldiers arrived at her home and told her she would probably not be safe at home. She lost patience and responded to them: “You gentlemen seem to forget that those two boys back there are lying dead through your incompetence, and as to leaving my home again, all I ask of you is to leave my boys with me, and we will take care of ourselves.” She then remained with her children in their home in spite of the wartime concerns. 

Baefje Pieters (c. 1620-1680s)

Baefje Peters was from Amsterdam, Netherlands and migrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City), when she was young.  She was married in 1641 and raised a family of at least two children.  They later moved to Beverwijck (now Albany), New York.  During her marriage, Baefje was apparently the primary breadwinner for her family.  She owned and operated a tavern in Beverwijck, while her husband had no occupation. 

Baefje's first husband died and she remarried during the 1670s.  Sadly, her second husband was apparently abusive and a drunk.  Fortunately, in 1679 she took it upon herself to leave the situation and separated from her husband.  Three years later, he repented and agreed in court to not mistreat her anymore and would avoid drunkenness in the future. 

Rachel Field (1780-1851)

My ancestor Rachel Field was born in 1780 in Pennsylvania.  She was raised as a Quaker.  Rachel married Levi Willits in 1797, when she was 17.  At the time, she was disowned from her faith for marrying Levi, who was not a Quaker.  I do not know anything about her marriage.  But I can only speculate that because she risked being disowned she had married for love (or at least by her own choice), as opposed to many of her contemporaries. 

Rachel had 9 children.  She and her family later lived in Ohio and Indiana.  Her husband died in 1827 and she remarried to William Kirlin, who survived her.  Rachel died in 1851 at the age of 71.

Marye Du Trieux (1617-c. 1670s)

My ancestor Marye Du Trieux was a pioneer of New York City and was also one of this nation's first female business owners.  As a child, in about 1624, She moved to New Amsterdam (now New York City) from Amsterdam.  Marye married twice and had 8 children.  She was first acknowledged as owning and operating a tavern in 1644.  She continued operating her tavern for at least 20 more years and also worked as a trader.

More about her life is in an earlier post - banishment and an illegitimate child

Marie Bradley (1881-1973)

Although not a direct ancestor, Marie Bradley had a fascinating life.  Marie was the first cousin of my great-grandmother Vera Merriman.  She was a child labor activist.

Marie was raised in southern Oregon but decided that she wanted to pursue a higher education.  She eventually attained her bachelors and masters degrees.  She put herself through college by teaching school. Then she quickly turned her attention to investigation and activism in the child labor issue.  In 1907, she moved to Washington, DC and was hired by the US Bureau of Labor, where she worked as a special agent to investigate working conditions for children and women.  During most of that time she investigated the glass industry, where children aged 6-10 often worked 10-12 hour days. 

Marie later married a fellow child labor investigator and remained active in labor causes for most of her adulthood. 

Martha Woodson (1795-1859)

My great-great-great-great-grandmother Martha Woodson was born in 1795 in Virginia.  She married her first husband, Anthony Jones, in 1809 when she was only 13 years old and he was 28.  They had 4 children were together and were married until he died in 1824, leaving her a 28-year old widow.  Martha remained unmarried for 7 years, continuing to raise her children. 

Then in 1831, Martha remarried.  She was 35 years old and her new husband, Archibald Fletcher, was 19 years old - 16 years her junior.  In fact, Martha's new husband was the same age as her oldest son Albert Jones.  I assume that this arrangement must have been a little odd and maybe even scandalous.  But I also hope that marrying a much younger man was a result of her own independence and her own choice in a husband.

Sarah Crenshaw (c. 1761-1846)

My great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Sarah Crenshaw was born in about 1761 in Virginia.  She was married to John Wallace in 1780 when she was 19.  Surviving records suggest that her marriage caused something of a scandal and was not approved of by her father.  Although we don't know why, we can assume that her marriage was her own choice and hopefully because of love. 

I don't know much about the life of Sarah.  She had 11 children and remained married to John Wallace for 65 years.  Their youngest daughter Harriet Wallace suffered from a disease that made her crippled from the age of 5.  Apparently she was crippled in her feet, legs, hands and arms and was not capable of walking or standing.  Still, Sarah continued to raise and nurture their daughter.  In 1821, Sarah wrote a letter in which she tenderly described an illness that Harriet was suffering from and how she tried to coordinate Harriet being able to travel to visit relatives.  Harriet was at that time 23 years old, and it is the last reference to her being alive.  She probably died not long after.

In about 1835, when Sarah was in her 70s, their house burned to the ground and the family managed to escape unharmed, but they lost all of their belongings.

Sarah Dearborn (1778-1864)

My ancestor Sarah Dearborn spent all of her life in New Hampshire.  She married at 21 and had 12 children.  In her life, Sarah displayed independence from her husband by having different religious views and attending a different church.  Her husband, Josiah Tilton, was a member of the Baptist Christian denomination.  Sarah, on the other hand, was a member of the Congregational denomination.  They disagreed on account of minor differences between the denominations, and attended different churches.  Sarah's independence made an impression on her children.  Her son remarked that while her husband Josiah was "sometimes disagreeable", Sarah was "amiable and easy tempered".  Her son also noted that she was an accomplished singer with a "powerful voice and high pitch".  He also described her as "a woman of great executive ability, physical force, clear, strong mind and naturally high tempered yet pleasant". 

Lydia Dunham (1836-1869)
My great-great-great-grandmother Lydia Dunham was born and raised in Indiana, but moved to Iowa with her family as a teenager.  She was married on her 19th birthday to Irvin Thurston, a doctor.  They moved to Minnesota, where she remained for the rest of her life.  She had 5 daughters.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about Lydia.  In 1862, her husband enlisted as a surgeon in the Civil War.  Until he was discharged three years later in 1865, she remained behind in Minnesota to manage their farm and raise their daughters.  She was reunited with her husband, but continued to experience loss.  In 1867, their 8-year old daughter Cora died from an illness - which must have been tragic for the family.  Sadly, in spite of being married to a doctor, Lydia suffered from consumption (tuberculosis) and she died in 1869, at the age of 33 - her daughters were then 12, 10, 5 and 1.  Afterward, the family was in a difficult situation and Irvin feared that he would have to split up the family and send his daughters to various relatives, because he could not care for them by himself.  Fortunately, Lydia's elderly mother Vashti Dunham sent Irvin a letter giving him her blessing to remarry so that the family could remain intact.  Irvin eventually did remarry and was able to keep his family together.

Although I don't know much about Lydia's personality or life, I do know that she must have been an accomplished horseback rider.  In 1865, she won the award for Best Lady Equestrianship at the county fair. 

Christina "Dora" Lilienthal (1834-1921)

My great-great-great-grandmother Christina Lilienthal was born in northern Germany.  As a young woman, she left her family and moved by herself to Denmark where she married and began raising a family.  Although they were relatively comfortable in Denmark, the situation became uncertain for her family when Prussia gained control of the area and began drafting all available men into the army.  In 1871, her husband Christian Kling suddenly fled to America to avoid being conscripted into the Prussian army.

Christina must have been in a difficult situation, having been abandoned by her husband.  She had 5 young children aged between infancy and 10 years.  She spent the next year in Denmark, but eventually decided to follow her husband to America.  In 1872, they left their home forever and went by ship to England.  They made their way to Liverpool, England and boarded a ship named "City of New York", bound for the US.  They arrived in New York City in October 1872.  It must have been difficult for her to have made this journey with only her 5 young children, with no knowledge of the languages or the customs of the countries that they passed through. 

Eventually, Christina reunited with her husband.  They then moved out west to Iowa and then Minnesota, where they remained.  When Christina and her children made the trip over the Atlantic Ocean in 1872, they were the last of my ancestors to have moved to America from their homelands.

Susan Sthreshley (1774-1846)

Susan Sthreshley was not my direct ancestor, but she was the sister of my ancestor William Sthreshley.  Susan spent her life in Virginia and Kentucky.  She married Daniel Preston in her youth. They had no children; although she helped to raise her orphaned niece.  Susan and her husband were wealthy, and owned slaves.

Susan's husband predeceased her and she continued managing her home in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.  Susan wrote her will in 1844 and died in 1846.  Susan's will was interesting because she left none of her estate or property to her family or relatives.  Instead, she left all of her property to her slaves and to her church.  She also directed that her slaves be freed and allowed to move to Liberia, Africa if they desired.  Although she unfortunately did not free her slaves during her lifetime, Susan's directions in her will reflect a strength and independence of character to do exactly as she wished.