[Reposted for Fearless Females-Women’s History Month. March 18th, Shining Star]
I originally wrote this for Women’s History Month. Marie Cosma was the family midwife, seamstress, a woman many referred to as Grandma. I think she is probably the woman in my tree that most people remembered and remarked on her many talents…
Every genealogist has a female ancestor who stands out. She may be someone who achieved great things. She may be a simple person who touched many hearts. Whatever her essence, she is surely to be remembered in a loving way by relatives. In my family tree, that woman is Maria (Pacheco) Cosma.
“Auntie Cosma” was what everyone called her–whether she was their aunt or not! Marie (Pacheco) Cosma was a woman who touched many lives. It’s difficult to find a Pacheco cousin born before 1940 who does not have a kind memory of her.
Maria was born in 1874 in Achada, Nordeste, Sao Miguel Island. Both her parents were Portuguese–natives of Sao Miguel Island. Her father, Jacinto Pacheco, died by the time she was 7. Marie was the only surviving girl out of 8 children.
When she was 8, her widowed mother and five brothers boarded the SS Hansa, which was bound for Hawaii. She spent the rest of her childhood on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. There she met Joaquim Jacinto da Camara (aka John Cosma). They were married in Kilauea in 1893. Marie was just shy of her 19th birthday.
Joaquim and Marie immediately started a family. Marie’s first child was born two year after their marriage. Tragedy struck their family in 1899. Baby Theodore was dropped by an elderly relative and died from the fall. Marie would go on to have six more children.
Joaquim worked on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. Like many early plantation laborers, he was paid in gold. They saved what he earned. By 1907, they were able to leave the sugar plantation life behind. Marie, Joaquim, and their children boarded a ship for California sometime in 1907. They bought land on E. 25th Street in Oakland and built the home where they would spend the rest of their lives. They also built others which they rented out. The street would be filled with Portuguese natives and their descendants for decades to come.
A Woman Of Many Talents
Saying that Marie was a wife and mother doesn’t do her credit. Marie would not be defined by the narrow terms of turn of the century America.
Somewhere along the line, Marie was taught traditional healing arts. This was probably as a child on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. Quite possibly, this teaching included a blend of Portuguese and Hawaiian traditions. She also learned midwifery. In Oakland, she would be known as the family doctor and midwife. She tended the sick and delivered many of the Pacheco babies. Marie was known to grab her black bag and leave the house at all hours of the night. When they needed her, she came.
Marie was also knowledgeable in healing physical problems. One child was born with a leg that was shorter than the other. Marie worked on her daily. She used simple methods of massage and pulling on the shorter leg. Modern medicine would probably scoff at this, but it worked!
There was still more to Marie! She was a gifted seamstress as well. She sewed all of her daughters wedding dresses and did whatever sewing needed to be done for the family.
Incidentally, she hated house work! (There’s something I can relate to!) While that was something that the turn of the century woman was expected to make a priority, Marie found it pointless. With everything else she was doing, it seems impossible that she would have time to keep her house spotless as well.
Ahead Of Her Time
This may not seem so amazing by today’s standards except that Marie began raising a family in 1895! It was a time when women were beginning to test the waters of independence. Many had accepted their right to formal education, but had not gotten very far in the employment arena. Their world revolved around marriage, children, and a well run household.
Though never acquiring a formal medical education, Marie met the needs of her community. It couldn’t have been easy for her considering that she was had 7 children to raise. In addition to this, when their oldest son was killed in a hunting accident, Joaquim and Marie took over the care of his two children. Marie was 47 when they took in his daughters aged 5 and 2.
Despite all this, Joaquim and Marie felt the need to help others coming from Hawaii. They sponsored several Portuguese family and friends who needed a place to stay while in transition. The table was always set for extras and someone was always rooming with them.
She Will Be Remembered
When we have long passed on, we would like to believe that at least those closest to us will remember us. Marie (Pacheco) Cosma not only found her way into the hearts of those who knew her well, but also future generations who would come to know her through family lore. She was an amazing woman who raised her family and took care of kin. She wasn’t educated, yet she was wise beyond book learning. The good she did in this world is immeasurable. She was truly a remarkable woman!
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com