The Women who built America…homage to our ancestor, Isabella Bland Austin…. from one of my cousins.
I suppose I will recall these days of setting up the family tree in Ancestry.com as a job well done while leading my ordinary life the year I was 72. Yesterday, using those skills I learned as a historian, I took one family line back to 1620. If you know your American history you know that’s the year the “Pilgrims” landed at Plymouth Rock. Some folks date our US feast day of Thanksgiving to that occasion. Although it is no longer considered “politically correct” in some quarters, some school children still dress up as Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers as well as Indians on Thanksgiving.
Our history is complex for sure, but “Whites” did not eradicate “Reds” as has been suggested, nor the reverse. Some Whites appear to have behaved rather badly, many others not so. Ditto the Indians, now called Native Americans or AIAN (American Indian Alaska Native) by the Census Bureau which counts them.
My children and grandchildren are proud of their heritage which includes everything from soup to nuts. My lineage is mostly German, Dutch and English. Their dad’s was Scots, English, German, American Indian, and Welsh (think Appalachia).
Because she had eight sons in service, Matilda Shew, my kids paternal grandma, was invited to Christen the U.S.S. Papago in the Charleston Harbor during WWII. Matilda Shew was mostly American Indian, although her family did not discuss this fact very much before the great consciousness rising of the past few decades. I could go on and on about my children’s father, but will stop there. His story will be written by another, probably my daughter, who has begun her own investigations of her family tree which take her through Indian Tribes, Indentured servants to Jamestown. All the “immigrants” since 1620 are on my side.
I have taken one ancestral line back to the Pilgrims, and discovered on the way the ninth great-grandfather who was a juror in a Witch trial, the great-grandfather who fought in the War of Independence as it was known in those days, and countless women who bore many children. Over half of these women lived to their sixties or seventies. Great Grandma Schmidley (yesterday’s post) had 15 children and lived into her seventies. Two of my great grandmothers, born in the nineteenth century, lived until the 1970s. My Grandma Schmidley had six kids and died with ALS at about age 68. (Aunt Marge took care of her until she died.)
The “Victorian” family, at least in the US, is mostly a myth. Except among Roman Catholics, the birth rates began to decline at the beginning of the eighteenth century, before the women’s movement, before the introduction of contraception such as the pill, before Margaret Sanger (who was mostly concerned with the pregnancies of immigrant women).
Women had many ways to deal with pregnancy and abortion was one of them. Laws (Comstock) regulating abortion were introduced to stop upper and middle class women from having sex outside marriage and/or aborting the “right sort of fetus.” It all falls under the rubric of Eugenics. And yes, I wrote a couple of graduate papers on this topic for both of my M.A. degrees.
So our US history isn’t always pretty, but it is interesting. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. At any time, women did the best they could, with what they had. It’s no wonder however, that some of their descendents finally said, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not taking it any more.”