Tag Archives: Virginia Edmunds

The Mothers Club

Every woman that is the Mother of one child or children, should get a pension, it does not make any difference who she is, a Mother is enough.  Soldiers draw a pension, why not a Mother? 

So declared Barren County native Virginia Edmunds in a 1915 letter to her sister.  Foretelling today’s proposals to enact a “Marshall Plan for Moms” struggling with work, childcare and healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, she reminds us that over generations, Kentucky women have grappled with what most see as the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of their lives.  They have grumbled and protested, but they have also campaigned, organized, survived and even triumphed in the experience of motherhood.

Take Bowling Green native Lida Calvert Obenchain, married in 1885 and the mother of four children in ten years.  Though fiercely proud and protective of her brood, she despaired at the plight of the “tired, overworked housekeeper”—the all-in-one “cook, scullion, nurse, laundress, charwoman, dining room servant, and chambermaid” tasked with care of the “new baby that is laid in the cradle every two or three years.”  She became a convert to woman suffrage as a way to protect the interests of all such women, and cited with approval an idea of author and reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman to establish cooperative kitchens to supply families with prepared food and other domestic assistance.  Like Virginia Edmunds, she called for tangible measures to back up the routine paeans her culture offered to motherhood.

Virginia, however, was quick to point out that she would have done it for free.  She had spent “the best part of this life in bringing up a family” and had “not a word to say against it, for it was my duty, and I took pleasure in it.”  On February 12, 1925, a group of Bowling Green women with the same approach organized the Mothers Club to enhance their experience of both the duties and the pleasures of raising children.  They adopted their club constitution with a view to “appreciating the advantages of friendship; believing in mental, spiritual and physical development; and recognizing the value of training our children for future citizens.”

Mothers Club yearbook, 1928-1929

Over its 73-year existence, the Mothers Club fulfilled its mission with programs, social activities, and civic uplift.  Its first year included programming on “Care of Children’s Teeth,” “Food for the Pre-School Child and School Lunches,” “Heredity and Environment,” “Music for Children,” and “Adapting Discipline to Individual Temperament.”  The club, recalled member Ruth Brown Denhardt, was “a very staid organization” when she joined in 1947.  Dressed in their hats, gloves and best dresses, members addressed each other as “Mrs.” and presented programs assigned to them by a committee, not chosen by themselves.  Children and husbands were guests at an annual picnic, and members also conducted a book exchange. 

As their children grew older and social conventions less formal, Mothers Club members turned increasingly to literary and educational pursuits at their meetings.  Through charter memberships and reunions, nevertheless, they maintained the bonds between those who had joined the club as harried young mothers and left it as grandmothers.  Like today, shared understandings in challenging times sustained them.  Harriet Downing, the wife of WKU President Dero Downing, joined the club in 1952 and valued the friendships she made as much as the “many valuable lessons on motherhood” she absorbed from the programs.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections about mothers, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“It will make you feel warm for a while”

How are you de-stressing these days?

Sick, stressed, tired, anxious – these physical and mental states are all too common as we enter the second year of the 2020s.  What to do?  Self care takes many forms but, as generations of Kentuckians tell us, some of them never change. 

They can be as simple as Arthur Milem’s plan for decompressing when he returned to Covington after his World War I service in France.  “I am going to do nothing,” he declared in a letter to his girlfriend, “but eat and sleep for a month.”  For Bowling Green’s Sallie McElroy, worrying about her fiancee in Missouri and restlessly awaiting their marriage, her chronic headaches and blues could be relieved during the winter of 1858 with a walk along her beloved Drakes Creek.  There, this lover of nature found herself heartened at the thought of spring.  “Soon the birds will be warbling on every bough – the sweet flowers will awaken from their long, cold sleep, & the bright glad sunshine will play on the hilltops all day long!” she rhapsodized in her journal, the writing of which was itself a way of collecting her thoughts.

And who hasn’t felt invigorated after a long soak in the tub?  Even in 1830, when bath water came cold from the spring, Rebecca Condict wrote her sister-in-law Mary in Ohio County that a gentle dousing would work wonders.  “You must commence at your head,” she instructed.  “Put it on with your cloth or pour it on if you can stand it,” and “have some one to rub your back where you can’t rub.”  Even if bathing didn’t cure Mary’s ills, she counseled, “it will make you feel very warm for a while.”

Those desiring more formal therapy could, like WKU Director of Libraries Margie Helm, pursue a regimen prescribed by a professional.  In 1960, she received an encouraging letter from Dr. Edmund Jacobson, a director of Chicago’s Foundation for Scientific Relaxation, after she reported favorably on her progress in combatting fatigue, insomnia and social anxiety.  (In addition to Jacobson, who pioneered the techniques of progressive muscle relaxation and biofeedback, the Foundation’s Board included meat and cold cut king Oscar Mayer – a nice example of synergy, comfort food lovers might say).

That the mind possessed its own healing powers was the belief of Virginia Edmunds, who in letters to her sister Laura in Barren County in the 1910s mentioned such up-to-date balms for the soul as yoga, meditation and holistic health.  Grateful for the “good Karma” that had settled upon her home in San Diego, she reflected on the wisdom of living in the moment.  “We have wished, at times,” she wrote, “for Aladdin’s lamp or for a magic ring, or for a rug on which we could be wafted away to lands of our heart’s desires.  Yet we all have a lamp and ring and rug – only, we do not use them.  The world is full of delights which are ours for the asking – but, we do not ask.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for collections containing these materials, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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