Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Texas 200 Years Ago... And Last Night.

In Texas 200 years ago:


Old Woman in a Shoe picture found here
A good friend, a woman who was born and raised in Texas, passed away a few days ago.  She came north after WWII and had been here so many years by the time I met her that she no longer had a Texas drawl.  

In her memory, I started to research her family tree, which has its roots firmly in Texas soil back 150 years.  Some of her ancestors were 
Texas freedom fighters.  One was a Justice in the Texas Republic appointed by Sam Houston himself.       



Two Teenagers named Polly and Margaret



However, another of my friend's forebears, a great great grandmother named Margaret, was born in 1815 and married in 1830, at age 15.  Her first child was born later that same year, in 1830.  She went on to have 14 children over the next 27 years.  Six months after her last child was born, she died at age 43, no notations as to cause of death.

Eight months after her death, her husband remarried.  He had three children with the second wife, and the second wife died within a few weeks of the birth of that last child.  

Then there is great great grandmother Polly.  She was born in 1806, and the records show that she married in 1821, seemingly at age 14.  She also had 14 children, one right after the other, over a period of 22 years.  Her last child was born in late 1844, and she died in January 1845, at age 38.  Her widowed husband quickly remarried and then had 3 children with his second wife.   

The Lives of Women

These two women aren't unique.  Almost every family that I have studied has similar stories, not just in Texas or in the South, but all over the United States:  Women were married in their teens, sometimes at age 14 or 15, they started to have kids right away and had them for decades.. until they either died or were somehow lucky enough to survive.  If their husbands died when they were still young, they often married again, and started having a second family of children.  Many women, even young teenaged women, married older men who had been widowed, leaving 8, 10, 12 kids.. So these other women, some young, some "middle aged" (25 or 26 or even 30), married the man, took care of his kids by the first wife and then gave the man more kids.

As I looked at those family trees, I wondered what it was like to be a young woman, 16 or 17 years old, pregnant with her first child.  I would bet that every young woman knew someone, an aunt, a sister, a cousin, perhaps her own mother, who had died in childbirth. What kind of fear did these women feel as they approached the time to give birth?  

Too many of us have forgotten...

Too many people have forgotten what the lives of women were like before birth control, before the availability of safe abortions, and before women had some control over their lives and their bodies.  All of us, women and men, need to think about what it would be like to be that young girl, married at age 15 or 16, perhaps to a kind, hard-working man, perhaps to someone less even-tempered and compassionate, having no say in how many children you have.  Your job is to just keep getting pregnant and just turning out kids... every year or two, one more, then another, then another kid.. again and again. 

People who had 18 or 19 kids didn't get their own reality shows back then.  There was nothing unusual about these huge families, and there was nothing unusual about a young girl 15, 16, 17, married and pregnant.

Without effective means of controlling their own bodies, women's lives were just a blur of pregnancy, childbirth, pain, and child rearing and housekeeping.. until they died, often at age 35 or 40.  They didn't have much opportunity to become legislators, judges, doctors, lawyers, or even teachers.

Texas Last Night:  Why there is such a hubbub about Reproductive Rights in Texas.. and everywhere.

That's ultimately what the chaos in Texas, the filibuster by Wendy Davis, the attempt to keep reproductive freedom and safety for the women of Texas, is all about:  Women's bodies still work the same way, and, now that science and medicine have given women the means to control their own reproduction, their own bodies, women need to maintain that control.

Freedom over our own bodies can be too easily taken from us.  Most women instinctively know this.  Too many people, some women, but mostly men, do not understand this.  Many younger women may not understand this.  Or perhaps some people do understand it and they want women to go back to the days of Polly and Margaret:  Married and pregnant at age 16 or 17, churning out one kid after the next like a breed sow.  No time to be a Senator, a scientist, ... or perhaps the next President.     


Other comments about Texas State Senator Wendy Davis's stand last night: 
Wendy Davis, SB 5, and the Night the People Screamed out the Clock
For your reading pleasure (?), here is the text of SB5:
PDF of Senate Bill 5 

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