Question of the Week: Who was a groundbreaking woman in your family?

+9 votes
755 views

Today (March 8) is International Women's Day so let's celebrate the women in our tree! :)

Who was a groundbreaking woman in your family?

asked in The Tree House by Eowyn Langholf G2G Astronaut (1.3m points)
reshown by Chris Whitten
It depends on what is considered groundbreaking.  If I take it to mean doing something outside what we might consider "normal", I think of two women who travelled "across the world" on multiple-week sea voyages, whilst heavily pregnant, not knowing what was awaiting them when they got there.  One in particular who comes to mind is my great-great-great-grand aunt, who made the journey across the ocean from England to the Colony of New South Wales in the early 1830s with her then husband and their five children.  Isabella didn't make it all the way to Sydney town before the baby decided his time to join the world was while the ship was still mid-Indian Ocean.  I'm not sure if there was regular stop for resupply, or re-watering, or some other reason, or if they just happened to stop at one of the islands out there, but junior made his appearance on that island, completing the journey most likely squalling most of the way.  Isabella went on to have two more children (to that husband) in the colony.  She also had another three children to her second husband, but did not survive the birth of her last child, a son, dying just ten days after  he was born in what is now Tasmania.  In her time in Sydney Isabella and her mother (also involving her father, and her brothers) held musical evenings, entertaining even the "highest" in the colony, right up to the Governor and Lt Governor, taught music, ran a boarding house, and so on.  

The other who comes to mind travelled from Scotland to the Colony of New South Wales in the late 1860s, starting the journey a short time after losing her husband to a drowning incident in a Scottish lake.  We don't know if the husband was originally meant to travel as well, but Margaret packed up her six children, whatever goods she could bring, and her pregnant belly, and set off.  A short while after arriving (a couple of months) her last daughter (of marriage one) arrived, the first Australian-born of that line.  Three years later Margaret was married again, having three more children before that husband also died leaving her a widow for the second time.  Nothing daunted, she went on the marry for a third time two years later.

While maybe not startlingly groundbreaking in the way of someone making scientific discoveries, or inventing someone, they did step out of their ordinary lives and do something most of us wouldn't consider.  (I mean, it's a drag packing up and moving at any time, but while pregnant and NO AIR or train TRAVEL.  Not even a steam ship.  SAILING ships, seasickness, storms, children under the age of ten cooped up on a vessel not much larger than half my house .. did I mention children under ten years of age?  Illness, death, squabbling .. and not just the children.)
Cora Mae Brown Beach

She wrote a book called The Women of the West.

She also started the DAR in Wyoming and carried out the Census in Wyoming.

Her husband started the American Legion in Wyoming.

What a wonderful question and thread. Thank you! heart

More eccentric than groundbreaker, but my great-grandmother Caroline J Anders Leonard was said to be "not very domestic" but was always reading some book.   She learned to speak fluent French from their immigrant French farmhand that had fought at the Battle of Waterloo.
I have a cousin that operates a back-hoe.  :D
I have an ancestor [[Wilkinson-2670|Mary (Wiliknson) Furnas] who arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in Feb 1763 and is said to have given birth to her first son while they waited in the harbor for permission to disembark.  It is hard to imagine a transatlantic voyage in that tip period, much less in the final stages of pregnancy.

My mother, [Stanley-3940|Dorothy Jean (Stanley) Moore] at age 18 was the first woman pilot to fly solo out of Huntoon Airport in Topeka, Kansas in 1946.  She never flew professionally, becoming a meteorologist and then a stay-at-home mom.  Later, she became a free-lance photo journalist, mostly for local papers, covering local or regional events.  She did write travel pieces for the Kansas City Star-Times.  She was a founding member of the Kansas Trail Council. At age 65, she took a solo back-packing trip to Alaska to celebrate her retirement, sleeping in a deck chair on the ferry and then staying in "youth" hostels.

Another ancestor, [Teetzel-11|Julia Ann (Teetze) Street] is said to have walked through the "wilderness", there was a very rough "road" with only an axe for protection to file the deed request in Ottawa, Upper Canada (Ontario) in about September 1821.  I wish I could confirm if she really made this trek.  If she did, she had to leave her small children at home with her husband.
Joyce - my groundbreaker great aunt was a Dorothy Jeanne (Raymoure-4), too! She served with WAC during World War II (not as a pilot, though) so your story made me smile. She lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan and also spent time up in Alaska and wrote quite a bit of poetry about it. She lived with her WAC war buddy "Charlie" for many years and helped quietly pave the way for queer people in our family. She didn't marry until later in life to a man who'd been a business associate most of her life. She survived a double-mastectomy relatively early in life due to cancer and took up genealogy mid-life so I've greatly benefited from her research over the years as I've picked up the same passion.

Not my relative, but I wish she was.  Mary McKeehan Patton made gunpowder for the Americans during the Revolution (War of the Revolt).     https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/McKeehan-25

My dad's mom was a single mom all her life, and chose to raise my dad single handed after his birth in 1926, as an illegitimate child.
She didn't give a hoot about what other people thought about her, or about her choices. Among other things, she would pick up horse manure from the paved street (for her potted plants), and regularly chatted with the city's originals, both things much to my fathers dismay. He was greatly embarrassed by this as a child, but later in life, he just laughed at it. She went everywhere she needed to go on foot, in order to save a little money, with which she was able to spoil my dad rotten. As an example, when my dad had had his swimming lessons in the harbor basin, she often waited there for him, with a thermos with coffee and Danish pastry. Danish pastry from the previous day could be had very cheap in those days at the bakers.
He lost her when he was just 15. All alone with no close family, he stayed determined to go through with his education as a locksmith, married my mom in 1947, and he was the best dad anyone could wish for. They were married for 65 years.
Louisa May Alcott, 6th cousins 6 times removed. She was an abolitionist and wrote Little Women which I remember was a requirement to read when I was in high school. Loved it. Also Lucy (Mack) Smith, mother of Joseph Smith Jr. He was considered a prophet and founded the Mormon religion.

30 Answers

+2 votes
My husband's paternal grandmother, Mayme, started her own church back in the early 1900's. We have her Altar Bible & other such things of hers.
answered by P. Elliott G2G1 (1.4k points)
+2 votes
My maternal grandmother, Annette Elizabeth Steele Long born in 1890, was one of the first female police officers in Knoxville TN. She was outspoken in her later years and proud of her genealogy. She completed the requirements for our family’s admission into the DAR.
answered by Sally Hester G2G Rookie (260 points)
+2 votes
My 3X great grandmother, Mary Ann Beaver was born in  Tennessee in 1825. She was married to Stephen H. Redding in Arkansas in 1840 where they lived for just over 5 years when they left Arkansas for Kansas and then Missouri. Their 4th child was born in Missouri. It's unclear when the plan was created to join a wagon train headed for the Oregon Territory, but in 1847 they were prepared to leave. But before they got underway, their two year old son died. It must have been  difficult to leave, but they were soon on their way. When the wagon train reached the Platte River crossing near Casper, Wyoming, a notoriously difficult crossing that claimed many travelers and livestock, her husband of 7 years drowned. Mary Ann decided to continue on to Oregon, aided by other families on the train, but by her own incredible strength made it to their destination.  She was married not long after reaching Oregon and had 4 more children, and after 13 years was divorced. She lived another 33 years in what had to be incredibly harsh conditions and is a testament to being a survivor. She was a true ground breaker. Her headstone says:

Pioneer of the Oregon Trail
answered by Katherine Cline-Bowman G2G1 (1.4k points)
+1 vote
Margaret Irvine Irvine-598 - Suffragette, friend of Vida Goldstein who travelled back to London after moving to Australia to obtain rights for women to work. (also Married to Prime Minister of Australia - A Fisher)

Also her Mother who did books/accounting for Prime Minister Son-in-Law after running her own business after her husband died.
answered by Karen MacDonald G2G1 (1.3k points)
+1 vote

Well, I think several of them used a plow. I think that meets the original definition of groundbreaking. :-)

answered by Bill Vincent G2G6 Mach 3 (38.6k points)
+1 vote
Victoria (Claflin) Martin was the first Women to run for President of the United States. She was an American leader of the sufferage movement and ran in 1872.

We are both descendants of Daniel Claflin (B: 25 Jan 1674.
answered ago by John Claflin G2G Rookie (230 points)
+2 votes
My great-aunt Mary Helen Byck was a community and political leader in Louisville, KY. She ran her family's clothing store while her husband was away for WWII and after he died in 1960. She and her husband founded the Louisville Orchestra, and she helped start several other arts and medical organizations in the city. She was a founding member of the Kentucky Human Rights commission. She was very active in the Democratic Party, including being one of nine members of the site selection committee for the 1972 Democratic Convention.
answered ago by Bill Flarsheim G2G Crew (850 points)
+2 votes

My grandmother. She was one of a kind! Born a socialite and the granddaughter of a lumber baron, her mother never wore a pair of pants in her life. When my grandmother began visiting her soon to be in-laws, she noticed the women deferring to the men, feeding them first, eating later, ever subservient. She wasn't having that. When she married my grandfather in 1935 she soon realized he was going to leave regularly for days at a time to hunt and camp in the woods with the men. So she learned to shoot. "If he's going to spend so much time in the woods, then I'm damn sure going with him." Pretty soon she was the one on the front page of the newspaper with the biggest buck!Frances Geraldine Williams Reid and husband, circa 1950. Sheridan, Arkansas

answered ago by Allison Peacock G2G Rookie (260 points)
edited ago by Allison Peacock
0 votes
Elizabeth Andrew Warren (1786–1864).

She was a Botanist and Marine Algoligst based in Cornwall.

A distant cousin to me.  1st cousin 7x removed.
answered ago by Jayzen Bennetts G2G Crew (480 points)
0 votes

Hmmm. What an inspirational thread. I can think of two.

The earliest is Barbara Wagner Heyer 1711–1789, a six-great-grandmother and one of the rare female DAR ancestors. You can read her DAR entry here. (Her son, a five-great-grandfather, is A055109; her husband, though his entry is disputed, is A055111.)

You would think providing beef to the U.S. forces would be no big deal, but she was in the greater Charleston area, a Tory enclave, when the Battle of Charleston was fought. And if her service was earlier in the war, with no regular troops, it was a civil war with brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. It would have been like Duke vs Carolina, only with weapons, not pranks. (Sorry, it's March. I'll edit that out when we drop out of the tournament.)

She was 65 on 1776.Jul.04. Twenty-five years earlier, at 40, she'd emigrated from Pfalzgrafenweiler, Germany, in the duchy of Württemberg, crossing the Atlantic with her husband, 44, and children, four of whom were under 10, including a baby who turned 1 on the voyage. After they landed in Charles Town, South Carolina, they were granted three hundred acres on the north side of the main swamp of the Saltcatcher River in Colleton County. Can you imagine homesteading next to a swamp, in a place that was hot with nearly 100% humidity for eight months of the year, and with little respite from rain without an accompanying thunderstorm? With small deadly snakes that would look like toys to children, and carnivorous plants that moved when they ate? When the only place you'd known, your family had known for hundreds of years, was the Black Forest?

So we know she was stalwart.

I'll try to put up her profile soon, so you can read the rest of the story. Meanwhile, there's a family sheet below that I wrote for a distant cousin a few years ago; John Jacob and Barbara are our common ancestors.


Barbara's great-granddaughter Keziah Hiers 1820–<1880 is in my mtDNA line. I have not entered the Hiers profiles on WikiTree yet. I enter all data manually, and with the myriad spelling variations in both Wagner and Hiers, not to mention that Barbara is a nickname, it will take a block of time to suss out possible existing profiles.

Generation 93* (our common ancestors)

93 Johann Jakob (John Jacob) Heyer, Germany 1707-1768 SC
93 Maria Magdalena (Barbara) Wagner, Germany 1711-1789 SC

  • married 1734, Pfalzgrafenweiler, duchy of Württemberg, Germany
  • emigrated 1751 to Charleston, SC, on the Anne out of Rotterdam
  • granted 300 acres, Colleton Co, SC, on the King’s Bounty 1751.Oct.28
  • son Johann Georg Heyer 1736-1773 granted 100 acres 1758.Jan.03
  • son Johann Jakob Heyer 1739-1807 granted 150 acres 1763.Jul.05

    Children (all born in Pfalzgrafenweiler):
     1735    i twin daughter, died young
     1735   ii twin daughter, died young
     1736  iii Johann Georg (John George, your 94-1)
     1739   iv Johann Jakob (John Jacob Jr, my 94-61)
     1742    v Michel (Michael)
     1744   vi Anna Catharina, died young
     1745  vii Christoph (Christopher)
     1748 viii Gottfried (Godfrey)
     1750   ix Johann Martin (John Martin)

* I'm in generation 101.

answered ago by Deborah Shaw G2G3 (3.6k points)

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