Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms!
I was thinking about my family tree and the moms that fill it’s leaves and support it’s branches. There are women of such strength and character. Women who lost children, lost husbands, lost homes…they survived what life threw at them…most of them worked to help put food on the table and they managed to keep their families together. If anyone thinks women are the weaker sex, they’ve got another thing coming!
Looking at my own tree, a couple of women stand out.
Marie (Pacheco) Cosma…Marie was the pillar of the family, someone everyone I interviewed remembered. Even my own Mom thought Marie was her grandmother (she was really her great aunt). Marie came to Hawaii as a child in 1882, married there, had a couple of kids in Kilauea, then set off of Oakland, CA in 1906. She lost one baby…a child that was dropped by his grandmother.
Marie was a midwife and healer. She delivered most of the babies in the Pacheco and de Braga families. She was the doctor who came around with her black bag filled with remedies derived from the Portuguese and Hawaiian traditions. She tended to wounds and diseases. I remember one cousin telling me of how she was born with one leg shorter than the other and how she went to Marie every day for a special massage. Her legs eventually evened out.
She was an adviser to her relatives. She helped out the other moms where she could. She was someone you consulted when you didn’t know what to do with a problem on the homefront.
All the children knew “Auntie Cosma” or “Grandma Cosma”. She made an impression with everyone she met.
Auntie Cosma’s wedding photo, 1893, Kilauea, Kauai, HI
Then, there is Madeleine (Mazeres) Menaud. Madeleine left France alone around 1880–remarkable in itself. Single women didn’t travel alone unchaperoned at that time. She married very quickly after arriving in San Francisco, had a child, and then, her husband left her all within three years of coming to America.
She filed for divorce under the premise of desertion. She was alone in San Francisco with a baby. Madeleine went to work in a laundry so she and her baby could survive. She remarried but that marriage did not last. Her brother, Charles, arrived in 1885. He helped where he could, but a letter that he sent back home around 1890 told the story. Life was harder than he anticipated in San Francisco.
Madeleine struggle on her own in city doing what work she could. She remarried in 1900 to a founder of the town of Fresno, California, Romain Menaud. From that point on, her life was much more pleasant. Though, her early struggles must have played on her health. She died at the age of 60 in 1925.
We really didn’t know Madeleine’s story until I found an article about her divorce in an old newspaper. I can’t help but think how difficult it must have been for her. Recently, I found some documents that might be her first husband. If these records prove true, then it appears he left her for another woman. Within a year of the divorce, he was remarried and having children.
How painful this all must have been for her! She was alone in a strange country, divorced, and raising a child. The divorce alone would have made her an outcast in some circles. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for her trying to raise her child by herself. But, it speaks to her inner strength. She must have been one tough cookie!
Madeleine ca. 1890
And last, my own great grandmother, Margaret (Jones) Jackson. Margaret ended up being a mother more than once. When she was 9 her mother died in child birth. Her grandmother came to live with them, but she died within a year. This left Margaret to raise her two younger sisters who were 7 and 3 years old as her older siblings were already setting off on their own lives.
Margaret married in 1904. She had a 3 week old son when the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco. She, her husband, and baby survived, though they lost everything else.
They resettled in Oakland where they had 4 more children. The marriage was not going well by the mid 1920s. By 1930, Margaret and Harry Jackson were divorced. It was a messy divorce where at one point Harry tried to burn the house down so she couldn’t have it.
Margaret raised her youngest two daughters alone. She never remarried.
But this wasn’t it for Margaret. Two of her daughters had difficulties with their own marriages (well, three of them…but there were no children involved with the third). Margaret stepped in as surrogate mother as their marriages crumbled and the children needed a stable force to watch over them.
Granny, as she was remembered, had a lot to deal with in life. I remember my Grandmother saying that her mother’s hair turned gray over night. Not sure if that is true, though she was completely gray by the time my Mom was born in 1936. She certainly had enough in her life to turn her hair gray! It makes me happy to know that sometimes she let lose. She liked her beer and sometimes drank a bit too much, got up on a table, and danced a jig. She once told my grandmother that you should smile more because you get better wrinkles from smiling than crying. Anyone who went through her struggles and was still smiling must have been a great woman!
Granny, 1930, with grandson, Donald
I am sure there are many examples of woman of strength who fit the word Mom with all it’s meaning in my tree. But, these three stand out for their strength, their courage, and the barriers they broke through at a time when many women were barely a first name on a census record.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com