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By Linda Emley
March is national Women’s History Month and Thursday, March 8 is International Women’s Day.
Both of these are recent additions to our calendars. The first National Women’s week was designated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. His presidential message began as following, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920 and women were given the right to vote. It would be many years before women would actually feel equal. In the 1960s and ‘70s, we heard the term “women’s lib” a lot but my generation never felt the full impact of being second-class citizens thanks to the many women that fought for equal rights before our time.
When I started researching family history 40 years ago, it did not take me long to realize that the names of some women had forever been lost in time. Women were not listed on the U.S. Census until 1850, so sometimes it’s hard to trace your female ancestors before this time frame. Women were always someone’s wife or someone’s mother, but they were seldom known for their own accomplishments.
The 1881 Ray County History book is a good example of the early days of women’s history. The term “women” is only listed 10 times and most of these were in reference to the rights of a married woman. It was interesting that the word “lady” was used to describe most women.
There are no biographical sketches about women in the 1881 history book, but there are stories about the women that stood by their man. The following are some examples of the ladies mentioned in this book.
“Mr. Duval lost his wife in 1874. She was an excellent lady, and a fitting companion for her husband.”
“Mr. Deacy was married in 1875, to Miss E. Hawkins, a native of Ray County, and a lady in every way worthy of her excellent husband.”
“B. Frank Davis was married in 1871, to Miss Mary Bohannon, daughter of Colonel Louis C. Bohannon, of Ray County. She is a lady of intelligence and refinement, and by her amiable, affectionate disposition contributes to the happiness of her husband.”
All three of these ladies were described as being complimentary to their husbands.
Some of the other ladies were lucky because they got to be “amiable”.
“John T. Patton was married to Miss Margaret Emmerson, an intelligent, amiable lady, of Ray County.”
“Benjamin F. Duncan was married in 1867 to Miss Sarah E. Buchanan, a native of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. She is an educated lady, of amiable disposition.”
There are 14 “amiable” women listed in the 1881 book, one of which was my great-great grandmother Louisa Ann.
“David Kell was married to Miss Louise Clarke, of Ray County, Missouri, in 1870. She proved a most excellent wife, and devoted mother. Three children were born to them: Edward, Reuben and Ella, who were early deprived, by death, of their mother’s loving care.” Mrs. Kell died in 1878.
“She was very popular, and highly esteemed for her amiable character. Her untimely death was deeply mourned by her many friends and relatives.”
I looked amiable up in a dictionary and it said, “having or showing pleasant, good-natured personal qualities; friendly; sociable: agreeable; willing to accept the wishes, decisions, or suggestions of another or others.” Yes I think any man in 1881 would be happy to have an “amiable” wife.
There was a wonderful story about Mr. Hunt’s mother, but her name was never mentioned. “Mr. Hunt’s mother, who lives with him, through seventy-three years of age, retains a strong active memory and is in excellent health. This estimable old lady remembers vividly many interesting anecdotes and incidents connected with pioneer life in the county.”
I wanted to know his mother’s name so I looked up the 1880 census and found James R. Hunt, but his mother was not living with him. The only Hunt lady old enough to be his 73-year-old mother was Elizabeth Hunt, who was living with her son John in 1880.
So the search continues for the unnamed estimable old lady that was James Hunt’s mother.
We are lucky we live in a modern world where the value of a good lady is appreciated because behind every good man, there is a good wife or at least a good mother.
You can contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org or see her in person Wednesday through Saturday during business hours at Ray County Historical Museum.