I have copies of court documents dated 1886. They are the history of my Great, Great Grandmother’s struggle to keep the bare necessities in order for her children to have food in their stomachs and a bed to sleep in at night.
My Great, Great Grandfather owned a liquor store in what was then called Riverpoint, Rhode Island. Like any businessman he had creditors who would have been paid from receipts his wife would garner through running his business after he died. However, those creditors, being intelligent men of their times, didn’t believe that a woman could run a business. To protect their investment, they closed the liquor store and forced her into court in a bankruptcy proceeding.
The court appointed a guardian to protect her interests. On her behalf, he petitioned the court to allow her to keep her household goods. They consisted of dishes, pots and pans, bed linens and furniture. She had 5 children she had to care for although, my great grandfather was nearly an adult. There was no mention of money with which to buy food, just the normal household goods that we all use daily.
After the petition, there is no further mention of what happened, but we know she married a man with tuberculosis who was many years her junior. She was 44, he was 26. By then the store was in her name. Good thing, because he died shortly after.
How she managed to accomplish taking control of the business and her own destiny on some level is lost to us over time. As is the very necessity for this type of struggle in this day and age. We, thanks to more than a century of advances in Women’s Rights, are no longer confined to the role of chattel. We are not property.
Those advances, that we take for granted, exist because of decades of Democratic and Republican Politicians that could be convinced to help further our rights by passing amendments guaranteeing those rights to women. Frankly, the Women’s Movement was aligned more often with the Right than the Left so it seriously surprises me that today’s Right is working so hard to erase some of the very standards they helped establish.
Conservative women, like Michele Bachmann, have benefited from those decades of struggle and yet, she appears to feel the need to set that movement back. How far back remains to be seen, but I see little difference in her attitudes than those of the men who felt that my great, great grandmother was incapable of running a business without the guidance of a man.
We’ve all ready seen the attempts to interfere with women’s rights over their own bodies. How far is she willing to go? Does she consider herself subservient to her husband, or equal? Who exactly makes the decisions within that relationship? Is she simply following the bidding of Marcus Bachmann, or are we seeing the ridiculousness that is Michele?
It was a mere 5 generations ago that my female ancestors struggled with their lives in a way that none of us can begin to understand. It’s not something I’d like to see any hint of returning. I have to ask myself just exactly how important is all this when I go to the polls. What is the legacy that we could be leaving our granddaughters if we stand idly by while others vote the likes of a Michele Bachmann into the Oval Office?