Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Women in History - what they teach us all

This is women in history month.  How could I not blog just a bit about the many women I've been privileged to write about through the years.  You can also visit a number of bloggers connected with women writing the west who are making March a special time to remember women's history.

Jane Herbert Sherar, who with her husband Joseph, and the help of Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute people, helped build a bridge across a remote river to open up settlement into Eastern Oregon.  She also helped build a bridge between cultures as this true story unveils how it is possible to live with integrity with your neighbors even when you don't share the same history or religion or even traditions. Jane lived in Central Oregon in the 1860s through 1906 when she died of an infection that today would be treated with antibiotics.  Times have changed.  This was the story that helped me come to terms with my own childless-ness and taught me that if you pursue your goal with strength, flexibility and faith you will find your sweetness to the soul and may touch the lives of others in the process.

Cassie Hendrick Stearns Simpson.  Here was a woman who in the 1890s headed west with her new husband, her mother and her sister.  What a honeymoon that must have been.  Arriving in Hoquiam, Washington, Cassie soon found herself embroiled in poor decisions.  She acts on some of those desires and has to live with the consequences.  What I loved about discovering her life was how she redeemed herself with her daughter and also how she gave back to the community by working tirelessly to raise funds for the refugees in World War I.  Today, we can all visit Shore Acres state park on the Oregon Coast and see the garden her husband developed for her. Five acres of absolute beauty and respite.  Cassie reminded me that we all make mistakes and it's what we do about them that matters.

Emma Wagner Giesy.  The only woman who with 9 male scouts set out in 1853 to find a new site for their religious colony.  They headed to the northwest, Willapa Bay Washington.  Things didn't go so well but she did deliver a baby in October and a in January of 1856, a baby girl was born.  She had two more children after that and when I included her daughters in the novels a descendant said "I loved the book, but you made up the part about the girls, right?  She didn't have girls, only boys."  I shared the information I'd gotten in my search and she recognized the names.  "We never knew they were related to Emma," she said.  "We only heard about the boys."  Maybe that's why Virginia Woolf wrote that "women's history must be invented, both uncovered and made up."  Emma taught me the importance of being clear about what matters in your life and having the courage to act on that.

My own grandmother is a part of this women in history month too.  She was an early photographer at the turn of the century and eventually owned her own studio in Winona, MN.  She was 20 years old.  The year was 1912.  How she got there and what happened afterwards is the rest of the story but I'm hoping people will find the set, A Flickering Light and An Absence so Great worthy reading time.  I'll be participating in One book One Community reading in Sherman County this month, spending a day at the high school hoping to get kids interested in their own family stories but also in the photographs that frame their lives.  Lots of stories inside a photograph.  If you scroll down, you'll see some photographs of my grandmother, Jessie Ann Gaebele.  I wrote about her in part to discover memory DNA, the things we carry with us from ancestors that are more than what's in physical characteristics.

There'll be more!  But most of all, remember your own women in history and write about them.