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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-01-05 20:44
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Musing on the world view of the women...

Even before I started digging into my family history, I've loved old things. (A couple of my husbands used to grimace when I would say that.)

Where other people would look at a table with scratches on it, and head for the sandpaper, I don't have to have everything pristine. A gently loved piece of furniture or quilt just has a feeling that money cannot buy. If it's come down through the family, so much the better.

I lived in a house during my third marriage that was built right after the turn of the century for the then-mayor of Argenta (now North Little Rock), Arkansas. We went to an estate sale at the house, and found out the home itself was for sale. We bought it on the spot.

I used to stand at various windows in the house, looking outside and wondering what the view held for the first woman who stood in that spot. Was the mighty oak tree I saw just an acorn then? Had she planted it? What did she think about as she stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and looking out the window?

As I gather information about the women in my family tree, those kind of questions sometimes take me off the main path on my journey onto a side road. Sometimes I stop in my research about *her* and take a look at the place in history where she was.

And I wonder all sorts of things. Didn't the women in the 19th century know - surely, they did - that every time they gave birth, it could be a moment of both life and death? What was it like to live in a home with a dirt floor? Which kid got in trouble if the firewood was wet?

For far too long, women's views of their living history were given short shrift by authors of history books. That's why I was so delighted to see the publication of Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, by Lillian Schlissel, in 1982. I snagged a copy of it and devoured every page.

It was that book that gave me perspective on why on earth a woman would agree to pack up and ride, walk, bump, jolt and swim hundreds or thousands of miles west from home when she was pregnant. According to Schlissel, and borne out by the diarists themselves, although pregnancy during an overland voyage may have been a topic of discussion, it certainly didn't prevent women and their families from making the journey.

That was illustrated in my own family tree with Cynthia Ann Ashmore, whose husband, John Burris, decided that moving 400 miles from Lawrence Co., TN to Pope Co., AR in the fall of 1838 was a grand idea. Since child number 6 and daughter, Saba Ann, was born in February 1839 in Pope County, my guess is that Cynthia was either in her late first or early second trimester of pregnancy when the ox drawn wagon train started its trip.

Now I wonder about that trip - was there a ferry on which you could cross the Mississippi River? Or was that why you crossed in the fall, when the river was lower?

After I read Women's Diaries, I went in search of other "diary" books, and found Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier, by Joanna L Stratton, published in 1981.

More words from the mouths of women who lived it.

I have now discovered the trilogy of diaries edited and compiled by Kenneth L Holmes that comprise all three volumes of Covered Wagon Women. The series contains partial and complete diaries of women who traveled west during the years of 1840-1851.

How I would love to find a diary in my own family...Be still, my heart.