Monday, March 01, 2010

Fearless Females - In Honor of Women's History Month

Katherine Juanita Johnston

I never met Katherine Johnston Archer my paternal grandmother. My parents divorced before I was born and my mother refused to let me have any contact with my father. As an adult, I corresponded with him and learned something about his family. From him I learned Katherine had nine children starting in 1912 and ending in 1936; 24 years of pregnancy, breastfeeding and diapers. I learned Katherine separated from her husband for three years, taking the children and returning to her parents in Memphis, Tennessee. According to my father, “too many children” was the reason for her early death in 1940 at only 43 years of age.

I wonder how the loss of a mother at such a young age affects the development of the children and the dynamics of the family. Were the grandparents, the grandmother especially, the surrogate mother? Did the grandparents resent the father for the toll he took on their daughter? Did the older children take the responsibility of raising the younger? I remember my mother telling me about having two of the youngest siblings, teenagers at the time, living with her and my father right after their marriage and how hard that was for her. Perhaps the loss so early bound their family together tightly, but hampered the development of new family relationships.

Catherine’s photo above, perhaps her wedding photo, presents the image of a refined, beautiful, perhaps well-to-do young woman with her hair up, a pearl necklace and a beautiful taffeta silk dress. Her Irish heritage shows in her beautiful complexion or maybe that is the excitement of her wedding. What happened to her after her wedding? Where is she in 1920 and 1930? The family seems to have disappeared, swallowed by the poverty caused by the depression. One day soon I hope to be able to post the answer to these questions; to honor Katherine and her ultimate sacrifice.

Check back tomorrow for the next installment of Fearless Females.

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