Friday, July 4, 2008

Did They Know Their Independence?

[This post was written for the 51st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

While most of my fellow genea-bloggers participating in the 51st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Independent Spirit will undoubtedly "name names" and describe specific male or female ancestors, I've decided to focus on the "spirit" rather than the person.

If you've been reading this blog over the past year, you know that there is a long line of women in my family who overcame many challenges and did so in their own way. Either by death or divorce, some of these women were left to fend for themselves and navigate life armed only with their wit, scrappiness and savvy. They raised children on their own, put food on the table, held down one or more jobs - all in a day when doing so was not the norm and often frowned upon.

And some of these women with families intact still had a sense of independence and freedom that other women dare not pursue. They had careers or they were engaged in their communities through volunteer and political works. And they had opinions - strong ones that were vocalized frequently. No shrinking violets were they.

What I find most true about all these women, is that if you ever asked them questions such as: "Do you consider yourself a feminist?" or "Were you a women's libber?" or "Did you march in the Suffragette movement?" - these women would never admit to being extremists, which is how they pictured women involved in these movements.

I've often thought why this is so. Did they not want to risk losing the life they had worked hard to build? Were they concerned about the opinions of their families and neighbors? I think that their lack of identification with a specific movement proves their independent spirit. These women were not about to be shaped and molded as men or their peers thought was best.

My mother, grand-mother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother all used their common sense and inner sense of self to guide them. They did not need to carry a placard, or to march, or to protest. And they certainly never asked permission - whether it was to move long distances with several children and no money or to tell their clergyman what they thought of their churches' teachings on women, sex, children, or justice.

And from whom did they learn what power they had? In my family, the women mentioned above are not along a mother-daughter line. It is more mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, etc. type of line. Perhaps their own mothers were absent and so they learned from their mother-in-laws? Or being truly independent, they just saw a problem and went to work trying to solve it.

From whomever they learned this wisdom, I'm just thankful they did. My life, and the lives of many of my family members would not be the same. And to answer the question, "Did they know their independence?": of course they did. But they'd never let on. They all knew that their independence could be achieved from within existing social, political and family structures. They were more comfortable being on the inside and making change there, than being on the outside and pointing out what was wrong.

They knew. Believe me, they knew.


looking4ancestors said...

Happpy 4t of July, T!. I enjoyed your "Independent" perspective of the COG topic - "Independent Spirit". Your post about your female ancestors was thought provoking.


Apple said...

It sounds like their independence was born of need. When the need arose they took the bull by the horns and got done what they had to. In this way my mother was independent, however I don't think that she ever had the spirit that the women in your family had and that makes me a bit sad. Funny that you mention that this spirit wasn't passed on mother to daughter as Mom and I look at life very differently.