Interview with Tracy Lawson, Ohio Writer

This is my first interview, here on Ohio Women’s History Project and I am starting with Tracy Lawson, whom I met at the recent Ohio Local History Alliance Conference. Tracy is an Ohio based writer who is known for her most recent work “Pride of the Valley,” which is a historical account of her ancestors. Tracy won “Best Non-fiction History,” in 2012 from the Ohio Professional Writer’s Association. In 2013, she was selected to present at Ohioana Book Festival. She also holds a 5-star selection from Reader’s Favorite Book Reviews. Tracy has written in several genre’s which you can find on Amazon and by clicking the book photo above. The following is the Q&A format I submitted to her:

  1. How long have you been a writer and what made you choose to go in this direction?

I always wanted to be a writer, from the time I learned how to read. But I finally found the time to try when my daughter was in high school. My first book was published in 2012, and since then I’ve published six more, and have two in progress.

  1. What plans do you have for your next book?

My next book is historical fiction, based on events in the life of my 6x great grandparents. I’ve written nonfiction history books, and also thriller novels, so this is like the perfect mash-up of what I like to write—a thrilling tale of a woman thwarting a conspiracy that could have changed the course of the American Revolution.

  1. What struggles did you face while working on your books?

I sometimes wrestle with writer’s block or, perhaps it’s better called writer’s insecurity. First drafts can be messy, and often the story doesn’t fully develop until it’s been through a few drafts. It can take a while for the story that’s in my head to emerge on the page.

  1. What woman in history has inspired you and why?

When I was younger, I found the story of Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, fascinating. It showed just how vital it was to be able to communicate, read, and study to develop one’s mind. I’m also a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, both as a pioneer and as an author.

  1. What woman in your ancestry inspired you and why?

Anna Asbury Stone, the subject of my current work-in-progress, inspired me      because she was willing to risk her safety—not only to come to the aid of her husband and brothers, but to deliver a dispatch to General Washington while she was being pursued!

  1. What advice would you give young women about tackling their future?

Don’t be afraid of hard work and don’t expect to land in your dream job right away. Study something that will allow you to earn a living and support yourself. My daughter loved dance and theater—but she majored in economics in college, and is now in grad school and planning to be a college professor.

  1. When you think of the upcoming 100th anniversary passing the 19th amendment, what sticks out in your mind?

Wow this is a tough one. I wonder what the women who fought for our right to vote would think if they could see the candidates we have to choose from. I think they’d be disappointed.

Tracy Lawson

Ohio Writer Margaret Peterson Haddix

This time I am not giving you an account of an Ohio Woman in History but a female writer from Ohio who writes children’s books. I chose her book, “Uprising” which is about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire which occurred on March 25, 1911. This tragedy occurred in New York and claimed the lives of 146 people (123 women and 23 men). The majority of the victims were between the ages of 14-23 years old. Ms. Haddix chose to do a historical fiction to discuss this terrible incident by focusing her story around three women who might have been involved. She carefully researched her book in great detail (which she tells you in an author’s note at the end).

This included a strike that occurred between the months of 1909-1910. This strike demanded many things, hoping to make working conditions fairer and safer. The union caved too quickly and did not even secure a “closed” shop which would have meant that Triangle could not hire non-union workers. Shortly after sending the strikers back to work, the “promises” quickly faded. It is odd that the union wasn’t called to the mat in court, as well as the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. Had the union succeeded in securing rights for the worker’s this horrible event would not have happened.

The story which unfolds is beautifully told. Ms. Haddix breaks the story up by the three girl’s names, so that we hear each of their voices. One is a Russian Jew, Yetta; then there is Bella an Italian that had recently arrived and finally there is Jane, a wealthy young American woman ripe on the heels of the suffragist’s movement. At first none of them even know each other but through various events are brought together. At the end, only one of them will survive and this is not a secret as you are told this at the beginning of the book. And, like with “The Nightingale,” by Kristen Hannah (another historical novel but about German occupied France) the ending is a surprise.

The story has romance, it is of course ripe with suspense and the characters all have self-reflection. In the end, the writer tells us how she knows what happened to the other two characters. This is Ms. Haddix’s way of answering all of the reader’s questions. The most significant is “How could she possibly know.”

Naturally, I knew about this piece of history and as it happened, it came up at least twice, prior to reading this, while I was judging National History Day. Since I had purchased the book a year prior, at Ohioana, I knew I needed to sit down and pour over the pages which were now begging to be read. While reading this book, another issue kept gnawing at me that always has since our factories were signed over to China under the Clinton regime. What a waste! For years since the trade agreement was signed and our small towns (quite a few in Ohio, including Middletown which you read about in “Hillbilly Elegy” by another Ohioan, J.D. Vance) have been turned into meth labs and are screaming for answers to bring back a dwindling economy stolen from them 20+ years ago. All the work that these men and women went through, several decades ago, to create: fair wage laws, equal employment, age limits and humane working conditions; completely lost by the stroke of a President’s hand. Now, American factories are in communist countries, third world environments that have none of these rights at hand.

When I read this book and I hope many of you will as well, I think particularly of 146 workers who died in vain. What would Yetta think if she saw that what the striker’s worked for only became a temporary fix? What has happened to unions that were there to protect the worker’s jobs? I keep wondering if the unions had caved just like they did at the end of the shirtwaist worker’s strike. Max and Isaac, the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Company are just two CEO’s not unlike those of our big corporations today. These multimillion dollar companies, today, are no more interested in their employees or even their customers. Perhaps we have better laws now to protect employees from a fire breaking out in a building but there are just different issues at hand in this generation. As I am a therapist in my day job, I often hear employees talking about how 1. They can’t talk to Human Resources anymore because they are in another country or state (different time zones). 2. They are expected to work off the clock (or on salary) and take text messages and phone calls 24/7 in some cases. That is to say, whenever the boss has a question. Meanwhile, as a customer, when was the last time you called a corporation and actually spoke to a receptionist? Likewise, how often did you get the right person on the phone or had to call back several times. How long was it between the time you first called the company, till the time you got your answer?

Serious questions that politicians always fight about to get votes but never really solve.

Florence K Harding – Marion, OH

Her favorite painting of herself

Florence Mabel Kling – Harding (August 15, 1860 – November 21, 1924 Leo/Hera) was the 29th First Lady of the United States. When searching for a book to read about her, my first First Lady to do an article on, I chose the book by Katherine A.S. Sibley. The reason being that there was a lot of controversy associated with the Warren Harding presidency (posthumously) and this book came from a more positive angle. I wanted to find out more about Mrs. Harding as a woman. As I began to read her story, I realized I had so many things in common with her. I was able to identify with her life (pre-White House years) and could empathize with some of the ways in which she behaved as a mother and grandmother; in her time period.

Florence was not a stranger to controversy, it met her every step of the way from the moment she was a frisky young adult of 19 and married the wrong guy. She was meant to become a concert pianist and study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Instead, she eloped (they could never find records of a marriage certificate) to Henry Atherton De Wolfe. He was a drunk and this lasted six years. In the meantime, however, she gave birth to her only child Marshall Eugene. Being a divorced woman in 1886 and a single mother at that, her father decided that it was in her best interests to let he and her mother raise the child. They took over and allowed her to spend time with her son but he made the decisions as to how the child would be raised. Florence lived alone and made a living off of giving piano lessons.

She met Warren G. Harding four years later and he was five years younger than she. He owned the “Marion Star,” when they met. They married a year later and Florence immediately went to task in becoming, not just his wife, but his business partner as well. This would continue throughout their marriage. Mr. Harding tried to take an interest in her son, who continued to be raised by her father and it made somewhat of an impression on Marshall.

Marshall would go on to Michigan State to study journalism and played football there as well. He made some attempts at going into business but eventually became like his own father instead. At 34 years old, he died of alcoholism an tuberculosis. His own father had died by this point as well. At his death he left a widow (Esther Naomi Neely) with a young boy, (George) and girl, (Eugenie) to raise. Mrs. Harding would keep in touch with this family (Esther eventually re-married) and she gave monthly checks to Esther for child support.

In this time period, people did not divorce and the gossip columns and social media outlets of today were, thankfully, unavailable at that time. When Warren G. Harding became the 29th president in 1921, Mrs. Harding circumvented any knowledge of her previous family from getting into the press. As she was a newspaper woman herself, she played to the journalists by becoming their friends and gave them information but refused to do interviews. In return, they respected her anonymity. Mrs. Hardings grandchildren were never at the White House. She did not visit them, during the time they were in office but she did maintain correspondence with their mother.

This is an interesting point about Mrs. Harding. A lot can be said about her pushiness toward her daughter-in-law; giving advice on how to raise the children. She was frugal with her child support (it was a lot in those days but she could have afforded more than she did). Florence would also send hand-me-down dresses (of her own) to be used as fabric to make Eugenie’s clothes. I am sure Esther did not appreciate all the meddling but we don’t really know because only Mrs. Harding’s letters were preserved. We do know though that Mrs. Harding began to regard Esther in more of a confidante type of way, telling her more intimate details about her life. I see this as a bit narcissistic though, and while I am empathic toward Mrs. Harding, I can still imagine this might be the case. She had no real relationship with Esther, other than her letters and money. They rarely saw each other from what I can detect in this book. So, for her to be so forward, appears a bit narcissistic or entitled to do so. In the end however, Mrs. Harding left a great fortune to her grandchildren and they were only in their mid-20’s at this time.

With regard to her marriage to Mr. Harding, Florence faced many struggles. He was a philanderer, like many presidents before and after him. Still, she remained strong and stalwart and it appears he did appreciate this. While he was not faithful, it does seem that he respected his wife very much and took her opinions. He nicknamed her “The Ducchess,” which she evidently enjoyed hearing. While Mrs. Harding is not given the credit that Eleanor Roosevelt would receive (she was only in office for two and a half years); she was just as involved in politics and in advising her husband. Meanwhile, Mr. Harding, had two major affairs – one to a woman who was married herself and best friends with the Hardings. The other woman was more clandestine and produced a child. However, the only child of Warren G. Harding, (Elizabeth Britton) was not proven with DNA results, and published in the New York Times, until 2015 (using Ancestry.com). So in the book I read, written by Ms. Sibley and published in 2009, she continues to state that it was highly unlikely (since the Hardings were married for 32 years and never had a child). This was an affirmed belief by all of the doctors involved with the Hardings at that time as well. Nonetheless it was true but the DNA was done posthumously as Ms. Britton did not wish to clear it up for herself. Ah, secrets and lies!!

The Daily Star’s thoughts on the First Lady:

Mrs. Harding is far better looking than her pictures…her smile is the essence of sweetness and graciousness, while her photographs often give her the appearance of sternness

It appears that President Hardings time in office was somewhat similar to that of President Trump now. He brought a lot of friends with him to the White House who assumed a great many roles. Some of them did take advantage of their positions but it seems as if they kept the President in the clear. How this would be handled now, since President Harding was a Republican, I would assume he would get the same treatment as President Trump. President Harding differed though because he was well-liked by the public at that time and this was in great part to his wife’s role in orchestrating public events. Mrs. Harding, began inviting the public to the White House and in fact this became the precedent that has continued to this day. Of course at that time, the fear of terrorists was unheard of. The Hardings actually went out and met with the public – and shook all of their hands – when they were present for these occasions. The public were also offered food and drink. Large soiree’s occurred during the Hardings time in office as well. People who throw good parties, have great numbers of friends. Especially when you are making them feel welcome in the highest office of this country.

Florence took her role to heart and was not just involved in planning parties and decorating the house. Suffrage was ratified right before they went into office and so Mrs. Harding was the very first wife to vote for her own husband. She was very involved in helping Warren choose cabinet members (some of their friends) and writing the speeches he would present. She was involved with women’s concerns and took part in the conditions faced by female criminals and creating a Women’s Prison. She had gatherings with women journalists at the White House. She invited notable women to the White House such as Madam Curie. Not only was she involved with raising awareness toward women and their issues, she was also passionate about war veterans. She toured many hospitals and gave public functions for soldiers and their families. Florence and Warren Harding had a great love for animals. While their family did not include children of their own, they did have several dogs and a horse. As a result, philanthropy toward animal rights was another great cause they both shared. Ms. Sibley took offense to this though, in writing that Florence had no problems with wearing a fur coat. In that time period, it was normal to wear furs and being “Politically Correct” was unheard of. While people enjoyed pets and wanted to protect them, the issue of non-pet animals was really not a concept at that time. I don’t feel confused by this at all.

A journalist asked First Lady Mrs. Harding about women in politics and this is her short but typical response to the press:

What do you think of women in politics?” “I believe it is a good thing under certain circumstances

A separate item of interest I noted from reading this book, was the support and affiliation with the Native American tribes during their travels in office. I thought to myself, “When was the last time we heard of a President smoking a peace pipe?” For that matter, when was the last time we saw photo ops with the Native American people? Presidents don’t attend Pow Wow’s or even talk about these people, not unless there is a protest. I hadn’t thought of that until I saw a photo in this book and read about the time the Hardings spent with the Native Americans.

Émile Coué

Unfortunately, another struggle with the Hardings marriage was the health and wellness of both of them. Florence almost died in office and Warren did die. Mrs. Hardings health was an issue throughout their entire marriage but came to an almost fatal blow within the first year of the presidency. The top doctors were called in and lived there for many months. One of them was Dr. Boone (an ancestor of Daniel). She was a great fan of a French motivational health speaker at that time, Émile Coué and would use his mantra: Every day, in every way I am getting better and better. This worked and she would eventually heal, though the sickness would continue to come and go. By the time her husband died, she began to lose interest in remaining and she followed him a year and three months later.

Warren’s death would even become a controversy as well, much later. It was surmised that she orchestrated this by poisoning him. The theory is based on the fact that she did not want an autopsy. Many family members do not do this when they are assured by their doctors as to the cause.  I find this reasoning hard to believe as there were nurses in the room when he died and a doctor was by his side up until the last half hour. I also find this hard to believe when you look at the emotional toll it took on Florence and how quickly she would follow him. Doctor’s today, attribute his death to being a mistake of his doctor’s who assumed it was one thing and ignored other signs (but also as they were not as knowledgeable at that time). My feeling is that Florence died of a broken heart, loneliness, and giving up her will to live.

We often want to search for posthumous theories, to try and understand or to make history fit with our own concerns in modern day times. Sometimes this makes good sense but many more times, it is best to let a “cigar just be a cigar,” to rephrase a Freudian quote.

What I also enjoyed, in reading about Florence K. Harding, is that she was a follower of the occult and enjoyed talking to psychics and astrologers. She was very well aware that Warren would win the presidency but also that he would die in office. Yet, even though people do believe in metaphysics and the supernatural, it doesn’t take away the excitement when it is proven and he is announced as the next President. Nor, does it eliminate the pain when the person does die as predicted.

Pioneer Women of the Ohio Valley

This photo is the inset of the book, “American Grit” Edited by Emily Foster – University Press of Kentucky

Women’s rights were of little importance to early settlers of the Ohio Valley. Survival in a territory inhabited solely by Native Americans, who’s land they had “purchased” (approved for passage by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787). Women were given the task of “dealing with them,” while their husbands were off clearing the land, building homes or foraging food.  Of course missionaries were in the territory shortly before purchasing land was allowed and so the first “white” child to be born in the Ohio Valley was a German girl. Her name was Johanna Marie Heckewelder, born in Salem, near the Muskingum River on April 16, 1781.

Much like what I had read in the book “They Saw the Elephant,” about women travelling cross country to California for the Gold Rush – 1849, women made their living the best they could. In the case of Ohio settlers though, women and men were working together – for the most part – as a team. Unfortunately the division of labor meant that women would do anything that was needed but not so for the men. This means that men did not step over into “women’s” roles so it was not entirely equal. Early pioneer women might be called upon to “fell trees,” or build homes, or clear a path to their homes but they still had to cook the meals, give birth, and tend to the children at the same time. How they compared to the California women is that they figured out how to make money or barter for goods so that they could have food to put on the table for their children. The California women might not see their husbands for months on end (while they hoped to win the “lottery” at that time which was a chunk of gold). The Ohio women had their husbands nearby, though not always.

Constructing a Lean-to

It was interesting to note, but not surprising, that Depression was a big issue in this time period. Many times these settlers had purchased land in lots that might include 120 acres. This meant being close to town was not always the case. And, as such, these folks would become very isolated from a social life. They lived in fear of the Natives due to an inability to communicate and, after British soldiers left the valley in 1812, a wave of kidnappings and raids began (between 1812-1825), leading to the “Indian Wars.” If this weren’t enough to worry about, until their home was built, living in a lean-to meant being in fear of wildlife. Sometimes men deserted their families and women were left to figure it all out, on their own, with their children. In other cases, women had to become nurses or healers and had the additional task of figuring out which herbs would work best to cure what ailed their spouses.

A more formal lean-to

American Grit, is a book edited by Emily Foster (University Press of Kentucky), which is based on the letters and journals of Anna Briggs Bentley. Anna was a woman who came from Maryland and was raised in a somewhat affluent household. I say somewhat because her father, Isaac Briggs – a friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, just didn’t seem to be very good with money management or good ideas. When he died, he left the family deep in debt. Anna, the oldest child, and her husband left Maryland to try and establish a life in Ohio.

Anna and her husband, quickly learned how to establish roots in Ohio – which would have been hard for a woman used to servants. In their case, they were nearer to other people and she seemed to be very good at petitioning family or guests travelling in her direction to bring her things. She, like other women, also became handy in the art of bartering.

Anna’s family was of the Quaker faith and so, on top of building a homestead, she was eager to get this community going as well. What is interesting about this book is that while she was properly educated, she is poor at spelling and grammar which the editor, Ms. Foster, chose to leave in. Therefore, I found it quite humorous that Anna was chosen to be a schoolmarm for the children of their village. I imagine if any of her students went off to college, they would have been prepared for a rude awakening.

Geauga County couple

If you would like to read learn more about early pioneer life in Ohio or many other states around the country, there are a lot of books written about this. The Ohio History Museum, in Columbus, features many artifacts from this time period as well. The first chapter of the book “The History of Ohio’s Daughters” subtitled “Buckeye Women,” by Stephane Elise Booth gave a very good account of this time period. She mentions several women in this chapter and what they were able to accomplish as a Pioneer Woman in the Ohio Valley.

Jerrie Mock – Newark, Ohio

(November 22, 1925 – September 30, 2014: Sagittarius/Artemis)

Forget Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to fly solo across the ocean, Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo AROUND THE WORLD! Yet no one really knows about her, save for flying enthusiasts. In fact, I wonder if we would even know about Amelia, had she not died in mysterious circumstances and become a legend.  And as the author Nancy Roe Pimm points out, in the book “The Jerrie Mock Story,” when Jerrie made this harrowing journey, fraught with many obstacles along the way, too many other important events overshadowed a first for women. Would this have happened in today’s society? Probably not. Women who were the first to do things in the past, were heroines but it was not quite as fascinating then as it is now. Books were rarely written about them and when they were, they faded into the back of the shelf, until now, when so many women are trying to dust off their jackets or create them from scratch.

Nancy’s book did justice to Jerrie’s flight because she really makes it exciting for a person to read and feel that they are a part of the journey. While it is a biography for young readers, I didn’t get the sense that it was for a kid. I mean I didn’t feel like one reading it. It actually reminds me a little bit of a Nancy Drew story, except the heroine isn’t fictional and there is no mystery, just a lot of complications which create suspense. The latter is what captivated me about Jerrie’s story. I had to keep telling myself “She makes it, don’t worry.” I was able to read the story in one day which is the nice thing about a 113 page book for young readers. It reads like a short story. Nancy also puts little snippets of information in the book, right when Jerrie is in that part of the world, so you can learn additional information. I had no idea that there were once seven wonders of the “Ancient World.” Only one is still in existence. I knew there was “seven wonders of the world,” but not an ancient world. She also provides a timeline at the end of the book, which is helpful for someone wanting to write a blog article and not wanting to search through the book all over again for dates.

It is also interesting because Nancy wasn’t shy about telling us about the disgruntled relationship between Jerrie and her husband Russ. You can imagine that whenever a woman is in the limelight, it is going to frustrate their partnership on some level, especially in 1964. I wondered where this was going and the author was careful with this by noting that while Jerrie was upset, she pointed out that she also missed her husband. I can empathize with the situation. If it weren’t for Russ pushing Jerrie and remaining focused on her journey, she might not have been the first woman to fly solo around the world. Many times when people are on a long trek to become a first at something, they often have coaches to keep them on track. This generally causes a lot of friction. While I have never been a pilot, I have ridden up to sixty miles on a bike and with a lot of people. I know how you can get upset with your coach when you are tired, cranky, hungry, physically exhausted; naturally you want to slap them sometimes. It can be a testimony of a really good relationship when it can withstand such pressures as she went through like this with her husband. When I looked at the timeline in the back of the book however, Jerrie and Russ would end up divorcing fifteen years later. Since her daughter would have been around 18 years old at that time, she obviously waited until all her children were adults, which was the “right” thing to do at that time.

Her husband Russ was apparently more competitive about this journey than Jerrie. As you read the story, you find that Jerrie would have liked to have spent a lot more time in some of the places where she landed. It was her first time to be around the world (which also makes this solo flight all the more spectacular in that she didn’t practice) and she really wanted to take in a lot more scenery than she was able to. Had Russ not pushed her, she may not have won the race. I have not mentioned before but at the same time she was in the air, a woman from California was also doing the same thing. She was Joan Merriam Smith who was 27 years old to Jerrie’s 39. Joan was taking the exact same flight that Amelia Earhart took and she did succeed but only returned to California a few days after Jerrie. Unfortunately, Joan died in an airplane crash one year later.

So what kind of obstacles did our heroine endure? At the onset of her flight, just as she went into the air from Port Columbus, she hears the traffic controller state that this will be the last we ever hear of her. What a terrible thing for him to say but thank goodness, she had a strong constitution and didn’t let this sway her. If that weren’t bad enough, every leg of the journey, some idiot journalist was asking her stupid questions about Amelia Earhart – even wondering if she were afraid she would die too. Just like today, the poor woman had to suffer the endless throngs of insensitive reporters who have never learned tact and decency among celebrities. In Cairo, she was stalled by a ticket agent who didn’t believe she had her own plane and wouldn’t let her through. Naturally, this would be straightened out after a couple of phone calls.

The technical issues began immediately. First there was a radio transmission failure as well as brakes that didn’t work. Unfortunately, it sounds as if the latter were probably sabotaged. I thought it was quite funny to realize that the radio transmission for long distance was a cable of 100’ which Jerrie had to drop from the plane, allowing it to hang, in order for it to work. Another obstacle was assuming she was landing in Cairo, and as her wheels touched the ground she was greeted by the military who weren’t too excited to see her. This was because she flew into a secret Air Force base accidentally.  Mid-way over the South China Sea; there was the smell of gas. This required switching gas lines and it sounded like turning the engine off for a bit, which was a very risky undertaking. I kept wondering why things kept going wrong, though I also realized this was 1964 and planes were different than.

The nice thing about every stop along her journey was how wonderfully she was treated in each of the countries she would land in. I was the most surprised about this as I couldn’t imagine this going so well in today’s difficult world. Of course, each stop included ambassadors, statesmen, people who had been alerted long before she left home and who had already approved her stop over. Her journey was charted out by a retired military general and between him and the other people, including her husband, who were anxious to have a successful voyage; the trip seemed as if it was meant to be.

The funny thing about choosing to write about Jerrie for this blog is that I am afraid of flying. It is no accident that I purchased this book, well over a year ago, while meeting the author at Ohioana book festival. I had put off reading it because I was afraid I would be sick as I usually am when I am anywhere near an airport. I haven’t even flown since 9/11, which I never make a secret about, though I began getting sick on flights way before that. Fortunately, as I read this book, I felt very calmed by her spirit, which I felt was captured in this book. It reminds me of a couple of flights I have been on in the past, where the pilot was very re-assuring and as a result made the journey very enjoyable. I know if I had been in Jerrie’s shoes, hearing all that stuff about Amelia Earhart would have grounded me for sure. I would have panicked and seen it as an omen – that the topic kept being brought up. That kind of negative talk can cause many people to self-sabotage but Jerrie Mock was undeterred because she was that kind of woman. She was strong, brave, and yet modest and confident. Unlike Amelia, she didn’t have that egotistical side to her nature. While she relished the limelight, she wasn’t caught up in it. I don’t see this as a coincidence. Jerrie was very careful along this journey and did not take any risks with weather. She trusted her instincts, which is pointed out a couple of times in the book. On one such occasion, pre-solo flight, the trip she turned down with other pilots ended in a disaster.

What I see that appears to compare quite frequently with the Ohio women that I write about, is the spiritual side of their natures. When I think of all the women I have read about, from around the world, until I took on the task of writing about the Ohio Women’s History, I didn’t even think about the spiritual component as I read their stories. Yet, time and time again, I continue to read and to have the sense that the Gods were working in sync with them. Perhaps it is our culture, here in Ohio, or the authors of the books or a little of both. Grandma Gatewood, Jerrie Mock, Sarah Worthington, and others, I feel as if their journey was guided by a higher power. Was it them or were they chosen to do what they did?

 

Post-script: There are plenty of YouTube videos about Jerrie Mock and even another book that I learned about while watching a video. “Three-Eight Charlie,” was written by Jerrie Mock and more recently was enhanced as a special 50th anniversary commemorative edition. The newer version is thanks to graphic designer Wendy Hollinger and artist Dale Radcliff who along with publishers Phoenix Graphix included maps, weather charts and additional photos.

I am including this video below which is an interview with Jerrie Mock by Carol Ann Garratt for Women of Aviation Week 2014. Jerrie died later that year on September 30th in her home in Florida; at the age of 89. She was survived only by her daughter Valerie, the last of her three children (I assume there were grandchildren as well but I am thinking of those who were alive when she took this voyage).

Hillbilly Elegy – Middletown, Ohio

ma-and-pa-sonI just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, 2016. If you remember Ma and Pa Kettle, the first four episodes are about their eldest son who went to college. This could be based on the story of J.D. Vance (except they don’t have potty mouth). In fact, my own paternal family came from the hills of Kentucky, making their way up Daniel Boone Forest (Lauren and Lee Counties) before moving to Obetz, Ohio.  My Great Grandfather left after killing someone to protect his family from the victims family. However, of the people I grew up with, J.D.’s family makes mine look like the Queen’s cousins. While his family was plagued with drugs and alcohol, mine changed the spellings of their last name, for all the children they had from playing around. Of course no one could figure that out since 1. The last name was quite unique but 2. A lot of illiteracy came into play. Why I am including this story here on Ohio Women’s History is that the main character of the book is Mamaw (prn: Ma’am-maw), Bonnie Vance. A woman of exceptional and very unique character (though not for an Appalachian woman), it was because of her hard work and I’d say intelligence that helped her grandson escape poverty and make a name for himself. ma-and-pa-w-gun

Bonnie was a woman who found herself pregnant in high school and ran off to marry her husband. She then learned that this man was a raging alcoholic, yet she stood by him for many years before he finally got his act together. Her own children, including J.D.’s mother continued the genetic trend with alcohol and now drugs as well. J.D. went from home to home, like a foster child, except in his case it was his mother’s succession of boyfriends. Bonnie took him in from time to time and the last three years of his childhood would be spent with her. Over the years, she and her husband worked diligently to make up for what was lost with their own kids and to try and turn the family crisis around.

I didn’t have any relatives or “family” who could match Bonnie with her talk but I did know a lot of Appalachian women whom I truly adored and respected. What endeared me to Bonnie’s story was that she did remind me of Ma Kettle and beneath that rough exterior was a woman who would do whatever it took to make sure that her grandson succeeded in life. As I am also the first in my family to go to college and then get a graduate degree, I can empathize with the struggles of going from welfare and living in the “sticks” or out in the “boondocks,” to living in California and dealing with culture shock from this experience. Appalachian women may have had it rough but these women are what we would call “street smart” today. Though they didn’t live on any streets, they grew up with a sense of loyalty to their kin that most people can’t really relate to in this day and age. J.D. Vance is able to capture this sense of love and respect through an incredible memory that seemed to photograph each scene of his life and then write it down in such a way that you feel you are right there in their living room.

Unless you know exactly when your kin “crossed the pond” and took a look at lady liberty for the first time, then you just might be of Appalachian folk yourself. This is not exactly what we were called when I was growing up; this term is merely a Politically Correct word which established itself among the liberals of today. In fact, the women that are still with me refer to themselves as “hillbilly and proud to call myself that.” There is no shame in being a hillbilly, there is only shame if you choose to get caught up in the chaos and surrender to living out the terms “White Trash.” Of all the survivors of abuse, drugs/alcohol, child molestation, that I have met and had the pleasure to work with, those who rose from the ashes of despair and chose to not allow their trauma to be a part of their lives ever again – except to educate and teach others – all have started from humble beginnings.

I would be proud to have known Bonnie Vance and I chose to put her on this website list of heroic Ohio women of history because of her hard work and dedication to her family. She was a transformed woman of history who brought her family to where they are today. And this, no doubt, will transform the future generations of her family. Hillbilly Elegy should be a must read for children raised in Appalachian communities (via school districts) as it will be a book they can relate to and as such, will give them hope that they too can succeed.

J.D. Vance and his Mamaw, Bonnie Vance

J.D. Vance and his Mamaw, Bonnie Vance