This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

The invisible woman in my family

The invisible woman in my family wasn't related to us. But she was part of my family. She was black, or as they would have said in her time, in the 1860s, negro, or colored. I know that she existed because my family members spoke of her, but I never found out her name, or anything else. It's not much for a genealogist to go on, but it's enough for me to know that she was really there.

I recently learned that Disney had removed the African centaur from the original 1940 movie "Fantasia". As a historian, I take a different view than most people on this. Yes, as a modern American I am in favor of removing degrading and racist imagery that children might see. But the historian in me hates to see anyone "edited out", even cartoon characters, because of race, or humble social status.

Like I said, I don't have much to go on for this mystery woman in my family. My mother remembers hearing her only described as "a mammy". From that term, I am presuming a black woman. Yes, people at that time used the term "mammy" to describe their mother, literally, but "a mammy" was a woman who was like a mother to someone, as this person was.

This person traveled up from Kentucky to help raise the children of widower Elisha Hall in Minnesota in the mid 1860s in our "little house on the prairie".

More about the Hall's little house on the prairie

I think that it is a fair assumption that she had been a slave and that she had lived with the Parker family (the maternal side). It's also a fair assumption that the children just called her "mammy", and possibly didn't even know her name. I know that it is nearly impossible in our modern world to imagine someone like her, and her position in life and in society. But she was important to my family. She existed. And I don't want her to be "edited out".

The photo is from Flickr Commons of a woman in the mid-1800s. I will never know what she looked like, but I can imagine.
Post a Comment