March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the many women across the course of history whose passion and reserve brought about immense change. From the fight for suffrage on the streets of London in the early 1900s, Rosa Park’s bravery in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the women who bravely accepted new roles and responsibilities in the face of war. When life was tough and change was needed, our ancestors didn’t shy away from the challenge.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, we wanted to acknowledge the women from your families who made history and were pioneers of their time. From simply surviving during times of immense desperation to leading the way in science, politics, arts and literature, it is an honour to share these customer stories. We’re encouraged to know that the tenacity and determination of these women continues to run in the family.
Heather Potter, UK Customer
My great-grandmother, Annie Windsor, was born into poverty in the East End of London in 1863. She never learnt to read or write. She had eight children, two who died in infancy, and were buried in pauper graves. Her husband died suddenly at 43. Annie remarried to be able to keep her family together, working at home making 1000 matchboxes a day for 1s 6d (one shilling, sixpence), and deplored this terrible exploitation of women.
Through her courage, love and determination, her remaining children survived the worst of what society had to offer. Her two oldest sons would take on her fight for social injustice, and play a major role in the forming of the Independent Labour Party, with one becoming a Labour MP for Bethnal Green. At his early death, he was described as “a rugged man who lived and died for his people”. Annie was a survivor, and wouldn’t give up even when she went blind. She died at 90.
I never met Annie, she died just after I was born. She is my hero and she is beside me every day. Her name will not be on any list of emancipated women, so I salute you and God bless you, Annie Windsor.
Julius Aurich, German Customer
My mother, Margarete Aurich (nee Wolfrum) was certainly a pioneer of her time.
Born in Hamburg in 1915, she was evacuated to Bavaria during the war. She came back to Hamburg after the end of the war in 1945 as a warrior widow with a six-year-old child. Since she had not learned a profession, it was not easy for her or her family. On the way to my grandparents, she saw someone collecting metal from the rubble. She spoke to the gentleman and was told that the scrap could be sold. She had an idea.
She began collecting metal with a coal sack and sold it as scrap at a scrap dealer. After some time, she bought a Schottsche cart. She collected up to 500 kilograms of scrap through the streets. It was very unusual for a woman to do such a heavy physical job. In 1946, she successfully passed the driving test and bought her first pickup truck (an old tricycle). She passed exams to identify the metal, became self-employed, and started her own business. After 30 years, my brother-in-law took over the company. I think my mother was, at the time of the war, the only scrap dealer in Germany.
Yasmin Wooldridge, Canadian Customer
My x2 grandmother Ellen Jane (Trusty) Bond-Andrews was married at 17 and widowed at 35, with five children to care for under 16 years. She had to keep everyone fed, clothed and housed, mostly alone. She never remarried and lived independently until she died at age 63. She lost two of her children and another two became estranged from her as adults. She only had a relationship with her surviving daughter, my great grandmother. She also stepped in as a foster mother to my orphaned great grandfather. Sadly she died in a pauper’s grave, shared with two little girls (non-related). I admire her courage, her strength and determination to bring up five, then four, children by herself in Victorian England when single women were marginalised by society.
Alexandra Rudhart, German Customer
My grandmother, Ingrid Ahlmann (born Rosenow), was alone after the war. She was only 25 years old, then a widow with three children. She did not want to be dependent on others and had a strong desire to make a life for her and her children. When she heard that institutes in Kiel and Flensburg needed white mice for research purposes, she set up her own mouse breeding station in an old garage. A scaffold, insulation mats, an oven, and “delivery cells” for the pregnant mice made sure that they bred successfully. Within a short time she was known as the ‘mouse lady’. She travelled to Kiel by public transport in the form of a motor boat with cabin. At that time she got DM 1.20 for a white mouse. Once on one of these crossings, the cardboard box the mice were kept it was soaked and several mice escaped onto the boat, leaving the other ship passengers a little agitated.
Renee Hales-Annison, Australian Customer
When my x3 great aunt, Annette Kellermann stepped out onto Revere Beach, Massachusetts in 1907 wearing a fitted, one-piece bathing suit that ended in shorts above her knees, it caused quite a scandal. The police were called and she was arrested for indecency because at the time, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming.
In a 1953 Boston Sunday Globe article, she recalled the incident, stating: “We were all terribly shocked, especially my father, for I was his innocent protected little girl. But the judge was quite nice and allowed me to wear the suit if I would wear a full-length cape to the water’s edge.”
She was one of the first women to wear a one-piece swimsuit and inspired others to follow her example. Soon her swimming costume became so popular that she started her own fashion line of one-piece bathing suits and the “Annette Kellermanns”, as they were known, were the first step to modern swimwear.
Her original costume is now on display in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, Australia and I am very proud of my connection to this brave, trailblazing woman.
Theresa Barker, UK Customer
My great-great grandmother, Ellen Barber came to York with her husband, William Ambrose Barber from Nottingham around the late 1890’s. William soon became a joiner at a local funeral director and Ellen qualified as a midwife in January 1905. Both Ellen and William were well known in their local area of the poverty slums of Hungate, York, with people referring to them as the couple where ‘one brought you into the world, and other one took you out’!
At some time around the 1930s, Ellen safely delivered triplets, something that, in those times, must have been quite a rare thing. She was very well respected as a midwife, and I am inspired by how well thought of she was in her profession – what she must have witnessed and dealt with when helping mothers in the slum areas. To have the calmness and ability to safely deliver triplets, I think, was amazing.
Jo Lynne Varner – US Customer
My grandmother, Ruth Helen Jines Varner, was a barrier breaker. Born in 1904, she eventually made her way to Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri. She excelled and went to work in the banking and railroad industries as an ace telegrapher before she was 21. She rose in the ranks of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad to become the first and only female agent at the Hope, Arkansas, depot. As a young single woman, she bought herself a new car. A woman ahead of her time, she worked full time and was able to raise three children with her husband on the family farm in southwest Arkansas. I have so many memories after she retired, of going to the local cafeteria for lunch, where we would inevitably run into some of the ‘train men’ as she called them. They were always so happy to see Miss Ruth. Growing up, she was an example of a strong, independent woman who expected the same of her granddaughter (me). She told me to always be able to ‘take care of yourself and never let a man run over you and tell you what to do.’ And she most definitely walked the talk. She is buried in a cemetery that runs parallel to a train track. At her burial service, a train went by unexpectedly and blew its whistle just as the last amen was said.