Honor Thy Foremothers

Honor Thy Foremothers

March's spotlight on women's history illuminates the often-unsung heroines in our family trees.

Even a math-challenged person like me can figure out half of all our ancestors were women. But despite the numbers, many genealogists find it easier to focus their research on men-after all, men signed the documents and men were the major players in our history books.

National Women’s History Month, celebrated every March since Congress made it official in 1987, is the perfect time to change research gears. Of course, we hope you celebrate women’s history all year, but March provides extra opportunities to memorialize the feminine branches of your pedigree chart through special events, online exhibits and TV programs. We’ve prepared this planner for learning about your mother’s, grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ worlds:

• Start with the National Women’s History Project <www.nwhp.org>, where you’ll find a quiz, details on commemorative events and profiles of this group’s National Women’s History Month honorees for 2006. You also can shop for goodies such as Robert P.J. Cooney’s book Winning the Vote (American Graphic) and a Rosie the Riveter action figure (see the box on the opposite page for more news on Rosie).

• Celebrate International Women’s Day <www.internationalwomensday.com> March 8 by visiting a historic site near you. The National Register of Historic Places lists many sites of importance to women’s history and takes you on digital tours of them at <www.cr.nps.gov/nr/feature/wom>. In Jackson, Miss., for example, you can explore the home and gardens of renowned 20th-century writer Eudora Welty. Or if your travels take you to San Francisco, stop by the groundbreaking Woman’s Athletic Club (now named the Metropolitan Club), incorporated in 1915.

If female relatives’ name changes and absences from genealogical records leave you pounding your head against a brick wall, learn about their lives by researching social history.

• Get a refresher course on ladies’ legacies at the Women’s International Center’s online overview of Women’s History in America <www.wic.org/misc/history.htm>. Here you’ll learn about social issues that affected your female ancestors, such as early attitudes toward women, their voting rights and their legal status throughout US history. In 1839, for example, Mississippi became the first state to let a married woman own property separate from her husband’s. New York followed suit in 1848 and Massachusetts in 1854.

American Women’s History: A Research Guide <frank.mtsu.edu/~kmiddlet/history/women.html> gives you citations to more than 2,100 print and online reference sources (including collections of primary sources, such as letters and diaries) for furthering your research. You can browse indexes organized by state and subject, and follow links to more online listings, such as government documents, newspapers and oral histories.

• “What a negligent creature I am, I should have been keeping a journal all this time to show to my rebel brothers,” wrote schoolgirl Alice Williamson, who lived in Union-occupied Gallatin, Tenn., when she started her diary Feb. 19, 1864. Peruse her writings and those of her contemporaries on Duke University’s Civil War Women site <odyssey.lib.duke.edu/collections/civil-war-women.html>, an online collection of manuscripts, diaries and links to other Civil War resources.

• Don’t forget to check out The History Channel‘s lineup <www.historychannel.com/exhibits/womenhist>. You can tune in throughout March to watch in-depth programs on women who changed the world and the social revolutions your female forebears witnessed.

— Sharon DeBartolo Carmack

Through Rosie-Colored Glasses

During World War II, legions of women answered the call to throw down their aprons and work in factories making war machinery. Now the city of Richmond, Calif., has joined with the National Park Service to honor them. The Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park <www.nps.gov/rori> started with a simple memorial in October 2000. Then President Bill Clinton signed a law establishing the park, and organizers began developing historic sites all along Richmond’s waterfront.

The city was a hub for America’s Herculean effort to win World War II, as thousands of men and women, who supported 56 wartime industries, ballooned Richmond’s population from 24,000 to 100,000 within a few years. Ultimately, 3 million women worked in war plants across the country, many finding they enjoyed earning incomes, learning new skills, contributing to the public good and proving themselves in traditionally male jobs. These “Rosies” also discovered the realities of unequal pay, child-care conflicts and postwar pressure to return to their “proper” places at home.

Park exhibits will show how Rosies participated in the war effort and changed society. Much of the park — including a former Ford Assembly Building requisitioned to churn out jeeps and tanks instead of passenger cars — is still being developed, but you can visit several other parts now: the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, a waterfront trail featuring historical markers, and the SS Red Oak Victory <www.ssredoakvictory.org> (open three days a week during its restoration). Next to the boat in Shipyard No. 3 sits Richmond’s only remaining Whirley crane, a 110-foot boom workers used to place massive sheets of iron on the sides of battleships.

Even more important than artifacts are the memories of those who witnessed the historic home front effort. The park’s foundation is collecting stories from Rosies and people who knew them — if you’d like to tell your tale, go to <www.rosietheriveter.org> (under Rosie & Oral History, click Share Your Home Front Story) or call (800) 497-6743. See the first sampling of stories, photos and artifacts at <www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/home.htm>.
 
From the April 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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