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Dearest daughter mine and dearest mother mine, Happy belated International Women’s Day! When I think of extraordinary women, there you both are and as I collect images of the women we came from, it seems only right to put each of us right at the center. Maybe I’ll write more about them individually as this Women’s History Month goes on, but first I just want to gather their wonderful faces around us.

Look at these women. Their lives spanned four centuries. They were born on three continents. A few lived their entire lives close to their birthplaces, but most spent much of their lives in faraway new places like you both have. In all three centuries before your move to Hawai’i you had ancestral women uprooting and moving from one continent to another or across the United States. Elizabeth Goldsberry migrated as a child with her parents from North Carolina to western Missouri by wagon before 1850. When she was 45, Maria (Milnes) Mills and her husband James left Derby, England and moved to Virginia with nine children, ages 4 to 23. And Emily (Wright) Oliver joined her father on his Quaker mission work, traveling to Syria in the 1890s, where she stayed to teach at a Friends school, married Daniel, and spent the rest of her life as his partner and support in the Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage in Ras el Met’n, Lebanon. I’ve always loved that in a still patriarchal world, Emily was given equal billing in the naming of the school!

Abby (center) and the mothers: Top row center – Mom, Kim (Withers) Brengle, born in Germany; Top row left – paternal grandmother, Natalie (Munson) Brengle (1919-2009), born in Pennsylvania, died in Maryland; Top row right – maternal grandmother, Celia Oliver, born in Lebanon; 2nd row left – Natalie’s mother, Katharine (Townsend) Munson (1891-1970), born and died in Pennsylvania; 2nd row right – Celia’s mother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993), born in Maryland, died in Massachusetts; Bottom row left – Dad’s paternal grandmother, Katherine (Curtin) Brengle (1884-1952), born in Pennsylvania, died in Maine; Bottom row center – Katherine Munson’s mother, Elizabeth (Bispham) Townsend (1862-1947), born and died in Pennsylvania; Bottom row right – Mom’s paternal grandmother, Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare (1914-1975), born in Oklahoma, died in Missouri
Kim (center) and the paternal grandmothers: Clockwise from top row center – paternal grandmother, Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare (1914-1975), born in Oklahoma, died in Missouri; Esther Jane’s mother, Stella Lee (Owen) Miller (1881-1942), born in Missouri, died in Kansas; Stella’s mother, Esther Clementine (Bodenhamer) Owen (1854-1925), born in Missouri, died in Kansas; Esther Jane’s paternal grandmother, Amanda Jane (Hahn) Miller (1849-1942), born in Ohio, died in Missouri: Clemmie’s mother, Elizabeth Jane (Goldsberry) (Bodenhamer) Hamilton (1833-1888), born in North Carolina, died in Missouri; Esther Jane’s stepmother, Orpha (Litsey) (Carrington) Miller (1886-1975), born and died in Kansas; Esther Jane’s sister (my godmother), Marjorie (Miller) Willbern (1901-1987) born in Missouri, died in Kansas; my Dad’s paternal grandmother (and the only female ancestor I have an image of on that side of the family!), Alice Christine (Sheeley) Stephenson (1878-1958), born in Indiana, died in Kansas.
Celia (center) and her mothers: Top row center – Celia’s mother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993), born in Baltimore, died in Massachusetts; Top row left – paternal grandmother, Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), born in Yorkshire, England, died in Lebanon; Top row right – maternal grandmother, Mary Carroll (Hill) Mills (1876-1937), born in Maryland, died in New York; 2nd row left – Emily’s mother, Mary Ann (Deane) Wright (1841-1884), born in Surrey, England, died in England; 2nd row right – Elsie’s paternal grandmother, Maria (Milnes) Mills (1825-1892), born in Gloucestershire, England, died in Virginia; Bottom row right- Mary Carroll Mills’ paternal grandmother, Anne Elizabeth (Snowden) (Hall) Hill (1808-1857), born and died in Maryland; (These last two get complicated, but they’re the earliest images I’ve found!) Bottom row center – Ann Elizabeth Hill’s grandmother-in-law, Eleanor (Carroll) Brent (1737-1788), born in Maryland, died in Virgnia; Bottom row left- Last but not least, the earliest straight matrilineal ancestor I’ve identified. Catherine (Nuth) Johnson (1757-1811) was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother or fifth great grandmother, born in London, died in Washington, DC.

There were talented painters on all sides–Katharine Brengle, Alice Stephenson, and Elsie Oliver. Your Quaker grandmothers, Emily Oliver and her mother Mary Ann Wright, were both teachers. Some came from lives of privilege made possible by slavery. Anne Elizabeth (Snowden) Hill and Eleanor (Carroll) Brent both came from wealthy families with many enslaved workers. (Something I’m working to learn more about). Catherine (Nuth) Johnson was President John Quincy Adams’s mother-in-law.

You know well that all families are complicated, and these women’s families were no exceptions. Some endured hardships, wars, losses of parents, husbands, children. There were divorces and health challenges. Some died quite young, but most lived long lives. I think of them as mothers and grandmothers. I picture them with their little people and know there was so much love and laughter. That comes to us from all sides, so keep loving and laughing! You’re both strong and wise, funny and smart, edgy and opinionated, stubborn as can be and full of love. All these mothers and grandmothers, greats and many, many greats shared those traits and must be so proud of you. I know I am.

Sources

  • Portrait of Ann Elizabeth (Snowden) (Hall) Hill, Private Collection.
  • Portrait of Eleanor (Carroll) Brent, (Mrs. William Brent), oil on canvas by John Wollaston, ca. 1755-1756, Georgetown University Art Collection.
  • Portrait of Catherine (Nuth) Johnson, (Mrs. Joshua Johnson), oil on canvas by Edward Savage, 1796, Massachusetts Historical Society.