Friday, March 15, 2013

Fearless Females: She's Newsworthy

Women's History Month Fearless Females blog prompt: Newsmakers? Did you have a female ancestor who made the news? Why? Was she famous or notorious? Did she appear in the social column?

Mary Anna Ruth Harvey Shepard
January 7, 1847-September 10, 1936

My great great-grandmother, Mary Anna Ruth Harvey Shepard (Granny Shepard) had her "moment in the spotlight" when she was interviewed by a reporter from the Macon Telegraph in the early 1930s. I would think that it would have been pretty unusual that the Macon newspaper would be interested in a story about a woman who lived in the little town of Dexter, Georgia that was some 60 or so miles away. The interesting thing about her, and what sparked the article, was that, at the time, she had 105 descendants. Mary was born in 1847 so she would have been in her mid-80s when this interview took place. She had been a widow for almost 20 years.

Here are a few interesting excerpts about life in the late 1800s:

...."I had a hard time raising my children, too, she said. They're living in paradise and don't know it. I came along just after the war (To Mrs. Shepard there has been but one war, that between the North and the South) and I know about hard times. I raised my family right down here in the 'Piney Woods,' when the nearest store was at Cochran or Dublin. There was no such town as Dexter then. All this country was wild.
"We never knew what it was to buy a pair of stockings. I knitted all my husband and children had. And I spun and wove the cloth to make their clothes, too." "And dyed it, too, ma," interrupted her daughter. I can remember helping to beat up walnut hulls and hunt for gall berries to make their clothes, too."
"We raised sheep and cut the wool off them and wove the cloth, and dyed it and I made all my husband's clothes and my boys', too. We would beat up walnut hulls and boil them and strain them to dye brown with. And we would go down to the branch and break off the gall berry bushes and boil them to make a black dye. The gall berries were gathered in the spring, when they were green."
"There was plenty of wild indigo, growing in the woods in those days. Some folks raised it at home to dye things with, but we got ours from the woods. It dyed blue. And sometimes I would but a little copperas and it dyed a sort of golden brown. Pine bark would make a sort of purple dye.
"Law me alive!" she sighed, "Some of my grandchildren think it is terrible because they have their wages cut. But they don't know anything."
"That they don't!" agreed Mrs. Shepard, "Too much money is not good for anybody. I never had much of it, but I have been blessed to raise such good children and to have so few deaths in the grandchildren, there have only been six deaths.
Not only is the mortality rate low in the Shepard family, the longevity of the family is remarkable. Octogenarians predominate. Mrs. Shepard's mother, Mrs. Jane Harvey, lived to be 86 and most of the members of the past generations lived for more than their allotted three-score and ten years. *

Mary Anna Ruth Harvey Shepard was married to Thomas Hansel Shepard and they were the parents of nine children including my great grandmother, Mary Jane Shepard Thomas. Mary Anna Ruth, too, lived beyond her "allotted three-score and ten years," having passed away on September 10, 1936 at the age of 89.

*The article ran in the Macon Telegraph circa 1931-1933 and was titled, "Dexter Woman had 105 Descendants, All But 12 Living in Same Locality". It was written by Susan Myrick. The excerpts in this post were copied from a reprinting of the the article in the book Dexter, by Amy Holland Alderman.

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