March is Women's History Month
March usually prompts reflections on famous leaders such as Belle Case LaFollette or Vel Phillips. But Women's History Month is also a time to celebrate the lives of obscure women who were remarkable in their own right — women, for example, like "Aunt Mary Ann" Menard. She came upriver to Wisconsin from the vicinity of St. Louis in the late 1700s, the descendant of African slaves. Menard brought with her an esoteric knowledge of herbs, midwifery, and folk healing and was, according to her neighbor James Lockwood, "the only person pretending to a knowledge of the healing art. Until a fort was erected at Prairie du Chien [in 1816], and a surgeon arrived there with the troops, she was sent for by the sick and attended them as regularly as a physician, and charged fees therefore, giving them, as she expressed it, 'device and yarb drink.'"
Then there was Catharine Eaton of Lancaster, in Grant County. When her minister husband enlisted in the Civil War, she took over running both their home and church. For years she kept everything afloat and became an inspirational figure in her community. Her letters (to be featured in the spring issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History later this month) create a vivid picture of life in rural Wisconsin and chronicle a lasting, loving relationship.
A generation later, Lizzie Black Kander (1858-1940) touched thousands of lives by founding the first settlement house in Milwaukee. Called simply "The Settlement," Kander introduced educational services to assist children and adults, recent immigrants and long-time residents. There were classes in history, Hebrew and mothering, as well as athletic and cultural clubs, a library, a bank, athletic facilities and public baths.
Not to be forgotten is Shorewood's Dickey Chapelle (1919-1965), who left her complacent suburban home to become a war correspondent. She covered World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam, where she was killed by a land mine — the first war correspondent killed in Vietnam and the first female reporter to die in combat.
Learn More About Remarkable Wisconsin Women
To learn more about the lives of Wisconsin women, both well known and little known, see Women's History in Wisconsin or pick up a copy of Women's Wisconsin: From Native Matriarchies to the New Millennium by Genevieve McBride.
:: Posted March 1, 2010