Friday, July 24, 2015

Pioneer Day: Always fervent praise for the woman Alice.

Alice Smith Done, born 1842
Because three of my past Pioneer Day blog posts have won me amazing genealogical freebies from the Internet gods (including an all-expenses paid trip to Sacramento for the filming of a T.V. show about my great-great-grandfather Thatcher), I've become superstitious about always posting on Pioneer Day, even now that my blog is pretty much dead. Whether by the miracle of exact-phrase Google searches on specific names and places, or by the otherworldly orchestration of my dead people, or both, Pioneer Day blogging seems to pay handsomely hereabouts.

Let's hope this continues.

(I have turned off comments, but if you want to reach me about this posting, use the email feature in the sidebar.)

Five years ago, on July 24, 2010, I posted about William P. Smith, my great-great-great-great grandfather, and his remarkable life. In passing I mentioned his wife, Rebecca Grimshaw Smith (a.k.a. Rebecca Mary Grimshaw Smith or Mary Grimshaw Smith) and his daughter, Alice Smith Done, both of whom were prominent midwives in the Utah territory. In fact, it was while out on a midwifing call that Rebecca received the injury that ended her life, leaving Alice, her oldest surviving daughter, to assume the role of substitute mother to her siblings at age 14.

Just over a year after posting about these ancestors I got an email from someone who had stumbled on my blog while searching for "Alice Smith Done." She said that Alice had been the midwife who attended her grandmother in 1892 when her mother and uncle (twins) were born. She ended her brief email by noting that in her family there was "Always fervent praise for the woman Alice."

Alice Smith Done, according to family lore, delivered thousands of babies during her career as a midwife and doctor in Cache County, Utah. She was probably given some training in midwifery by her mother, and later she was one of the 500 midwives given formal medical training on Brigham Young's order.  According to her great-granddaughter, Alice attended 2,127 deliveries after receiving her certificate in obstetrics in 1879, and she had attended many births before her formal certification. She was so busy serving in this capacity that at one point she had to hire a woman to help run her household (Jane Sant, who later married Alice's brother Nathan Smith, and became her sister-in-law).

Obituary (Logan Republican, October 9, 1919)
While family accounts are valuable, so far secondhand and thirdhand sources have been my main resources in learning about Alice. In recent days have started looking outside family stories for primary records about Alice's life and career, and it's been slow going--what follows is all I have found so far. I plan to add to this entry (between the asterisks) as I find out more about her:


1898 through 1904 (ages 56 to 62): attended at least 108 births in Cache County (these are the ones registered, but registration of births was not required in Utah until 1905, so this count is probably very incomplete)

1905 (age 63): state registrations show that she attended at least 32 births, including three on February 3rd!

1906 (age 64): state registrations show that she attended at least 23 births--this year a medical doctor and another midwife started working in Smithfield with Alice


What I wonder about Grandma Done: Why did she do this work? Did she like the prestige of being a key figure in her community? Was she after extra money? The break from housework and children? Did she do it because she'd been called upon by church leaders, or did she feel it was her natural calling? Did she wish she could be a "normal" wife and mother? Or did she simply love what she did and know that it was important work that needed to be done by someone with her particular skills?

I wonder these things because I've never been naturally ambitious myself. I was born in a time and place in which I have so many options, so many blessings of freedom and equality and opportunity that women for millennia dreamed of having. While I love learning and enjoyed school and like my work, I have never particularly cared about having a "career" or moving up any ladders of pay or prestige. I do my job, I like it, I go home. I like the financial independence it affords me, but it is not anything that feels like a key piece of my identity or purpose. And while I have a good life, I have always wished for things that Grandma Done had in abundance--husband, children, a feeling of being truly needed. I know that many of my friends, also older and single, feel the same--we know we can do good and important things, but something is missing. We are rich and blessed in wonderful ways, but how can such things ever compensate for what has somehow slipped by us? Isn't there a way to have the best pieces of the old and the new worlds? Why is our generation forgetting to want or failing to find the basic joys enjoyed by women and men since forever? Are there many others who are really fulfilled by their work in a way that I am not?

I feel ungrateful, sitting in this wide and unfenced field of possibilities wishing for a little house and little people. But I do. I wish I could ask Grandma Done's thoughts on my situation--by all accounts she was both kind and wise. I think she would calm me and help me see better all the possibilities that I fail to see in my times of discontent. But I think she would also grieve with me for what is slipping away. It is worth grieving.