Monday, March 1, 2010

Women's History Month: My Aunt Elizabeth

We are now in March, which is Women's History Month, and Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist (what a great blog name!) has given us 31 days of prompts to blog on. Today's (I'm beginning this entry at 11:48 on 1 March) is:

March 1 — Do you have a favorite female ancestor? One you are drawn to or want to learn more about? Write down some key facts you have already learned or what you would like to learn and outline your goals and potential sources you plan to check.

I have blogged about my favorite female ancestor before: my aunt Elizabeth Reed. She helped raise me, helping her sister, my widowed mother. I was the youngest, and "Sissy," as we all called her, took me under her wing. She was also my godmother, and took her duties seriously. I'm not sure, but she may have been the one who caused me to be baptized in the Episcopal Church. She was Episcopalian. My father, a direct descendant of Massachusetts Puritans, was a Congregationalist, and my mother was a Presbyterian.

She took me to church each Sunday, got me to join the choir, which I did not care for at first, but came to enjoy very much when I got into high school and my best friend's family joined the church, and my friend joined the choir. She also encouraged me to join the youth group, Episcopal Young Churchmen, which I eventually served as treasurer and represented one year at the diocese-wide meeting of the House of Episcopal Young Churchmen. I had a lot of friends in the group.

"Sissy" had a great sense of humor, and relied on it to cope with her own difficulties in life, chief among them being a lifelong battle, from early childhood, with obesity. She was a gifted public speaker, who leavened and livened her speechmaking as Director of Health Information for the State of Florida in the 1950s and 1960s, with humorous monologues which she committed all to memory. She had crowds laughing in the aisles and was in demand at local meetings in Jacksonville and around the state.

What I would like to know more about is her sojourn in Brazil during World War II, when she was apparently sent by the Public Health Service to work with some nurses there. I have a newspaper article from the local paper in which she spoke of her trip. Other records I need to search out include her passport, from the National Archives (Records of the State Department), records which might exist from the Public Health Service regarding activities during World War II, and records at the state level from the Board of Health, where she worked (now the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services).

"Sissy" died in 1967, when I was away at college at Florida State University. I have always wished she could have been around long enough to meet my daughters, one of whom is her namesake. She would have loved them, and they would have loved her. She was such fun!

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