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Women’s lot in the past

Posted: January 9, 2014 10:05 a.m.
Updated: January 10, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Women have certainly achieved a higher place in society than in the past. They are educated, liberal and independent. Most modern women, however, have no idea how little power women had in the past. Society was a masculine one.

My grandmother illustrates this phenomenon well. She, of course, had no Social Security or retirement although she certainly worked, being the mother of 12 children. The best she could hope for was to have a descendent take her into the home in old age. Great horrors to her were a pauper’s burial and the Old Folks’ Home. Neither she nor my mother were educated or viewed education as important for women. In fact, my mother probably thought she was extremely lucky to have a male protect and lay the rules for her. She certainly thought reading was a waste of time and assured me, “Boys do not like smart girls.” When my father died, he left her with a 3-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter and an executor to determine how much money she received. Since the executor was a son-in-law, the husband of one of his nine children by his first marriage, I am sure he held tight purse strings. Whatever was left would have become part of his own holdings. She did not question this arrangement for getting food and clothing. Men, after all, were the only intelligent ones!

My Grandmother Latimer seems the most unusual person to give financial advice to someone with a doctorate. In fact, I do not remember her at all. The mother of 12 children, she was poor and poorly educated. She died when I was 2 years old; however, I have seen pictures of her, a typical pioneer woman. Her hair was pulled straight back, and she constantly wore a serviceable apron to “save her dress.” Her frame was raw boned, illustrating the fact that her children were always fed while she did without. In fact, my mother remarked that my grandmother said the rear end of the chicken was her favorite piece, probably because no one else would have consumed it. The question still exists of how she gave me, someone who knew her only second-hand, astute advice in finance.

Grandmother Latimer had saved the astronomical sum of $100 to bury herself, something she did not want her seven girls and five boys to have to do. That sum, she thought, kept her secure and safe for a proper burial. At age 85, with all her children married and with families of their own, her burial was her final responsibility. With the Depression, the banks closed, and Grandmother’s fortune was lost. I doubt if anyone had a true idea just how devastating the loss was to her. Before the banks reopened, Grandmother died, and her children assumed the financial obligation occasioned by the death of their mother.

My family was also poor, but not as poor as the other family members. So, Grandmother Latimer had come to live with us after the death of my father, leaving Mother with two babies. Years later, when I was a teenager, Mother called me and said, “Come here, Laura Jean, I want you to see something. I have a check.” Now, even today’s teenagers like sound of “check” because it means money to spend. I quickly answered her call. She showed me a check for 10 cents, the final repayment of Grandmother’s fortune, when divided among her 12 children and “heirs.” That check for 10 cents taught me the fickleness of fate and folly of man who believes he is prepared for the future.

It gave me a wonderful financial lesson!

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