“Oh yes I am wise But it's wisdom born of pain Yes, I've paid the price But look how much I gained If I have to, I can do anything I am strong (strong) I am invincible (invincible) I am woman.”
— Helen Reddy
There are many prominent names one associates with the Women’s movement, Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem, and these are just a couple from the 20th century. I was thinking about the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote in this nation a century ago, and my thoughts went to a much more provincial, “out of the way” place, my own little hometown of White Springs, Florida. What caused these thoughts? As macabre as it might sound to some, not all, a short stroll through Riverside Cemetery in White Springs, and a stop at the Waldron plot.
In that plot surrounded by a little wall made of Suwannee River rock lies the mortal remains of a family who was woven into the history of our little town on the banks of the Suwannee and into the state of Florida. As I stood there for a bit, thoughts, faces, snippets of conversations went through my mind.
I thought of the Miss Jean Waldron who lived well into her nineties. Miss Jean, born during the Victorian era in 1885 in White Springs, Florida and lived a big part of her life in the home now occupied by my first cousin, Rhett Bullard on U.S. 41. Her father, the late Oliver Newnan Waldron built the home, and it is on the national registry. There is a connection here between the passage of the 19th amendment and Miss Jean’s life, as well as that of her sister, Mrs. Mollie K. Kilpatrick.
Before these ladies had a right to vote, before they had the right to outright own land in their own name, before any of that came about, they trained at Emory in Atlanta, Georgia, and became nurses and both joined the United States Military, the Army, and “shipped out” to France and served the nation during the First World War (1914-18). Talk about being “ahead of their time,” and the adventures they had.
By the time, I knew them as a young boy going to the elementary school next door, they were both elderly women, but I loved my visits with them. The stories, they had such wonderful stories. Stories about what it was like to go over to Europe on a ship. Stories about what France was like when they arrived as young nurse. Stories about Miss Jean serving as a private duty nurse to my paternal great-grandfather, when she came back from the First World War. Stories about Molly Kate’s husband, the late Mr. Kilpatrick, and how they met. I remember they always referred to him as “Killy.”
The stories they shared about attending the gubernatorial inauguration of the late Governor Spessard Holland Sr. Their first cousin was Mrs. Spessard Holland Sr. The stories of their move to “Miamuh” and when they began work at a brand new and burgeoning, then Jackson Memorial Hospital. In retirement, they spent the winter months at their home in Miami and during the spring and summer months, they lived in White Springs.
Most of the time our visits would include a cold Coke float, lots of hugs, and lots of stories. I loved the stories. “Miss” Jean’s eyes were occluded with cataracts, but she would sit and play the old upright which sat on the north wall of the breezeway hall, and often times we would sing.
“Into the Woods my Master Went” and “This is my Father’s World.” At the time, being a child, I loved them, because they were good friends of my family, and they were wonderfully sweet and great storytellers, I keep going back to that word, but I do feel one of the strengths of the South as a region has been the individuals who passed along history, comedy, tragedy, and they did with telling stories, and the stories were not abbreviated with LOL either, you sat, you listened, and you asked questions, always politely.
Never once in our conversations, and we shared many, did either of these ladies ever mention that all the while they were risking their lives for their nation, they didn’t have the right to vote for the individuals who were affecting changes in the world. The stories were more about the human condition of friends, of family, how their mother died as a result of a stroke pumping water during the Great Fire that swept most of White Springs from the map in 1911. How “Miss” Jean had to run the pigs out of the school where she taught in town and wrote a letter to the Trustees about needing help with them. She told of her running one out of the building and it was carrying a child’s lunch in a basket in its mouth as it ran.
Well, in my mind’s eye, I can see all of them, “Miss” Jean, Mrs. Molly Kate, and their youngest sister, Mrs. Elizabeth “Libby” Maltby. She was the only one of the ladies who had a child, Jim, who now lives in Sarasota and, this is hard to believe is a senior citizen. I can remember when Jim and Pam were in college at FSU before they married.
So many landmarks, so many anniversaries, so many memories as intertwined as the wild grapevines that grown in north central Florida’s woods. Great memories of good friends and thoughts of the right for women to vote in this nation. Thank you readers for this indulgence, as I took a trip down memory lane this week. I can remember Miss Jean was born in early July, I think July 10, 1885, because I remember with clarity when they celebrated her 90th birthday at the White Springs United Methodist Church. They asked her on that occasion what she wished for, and with a laugh she said “a husband.” She had a great sense of humor.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.