poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘women’s work

Great Grand Aunt Sadie – dressmaker

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As I learn about my family history, I am drawn to the stories of the individuals I encounter.  One of the people important in my great-grandmother Ella’s life was her sister Sadie.  Sadie was born on December 11, 1863 in Pennsylvania, the fifth child of eight children.  She was called after her mother, Sarah Ann (Kresge).  Sadie’s father was Josiah Hawk, a shoemaker who died when Sadie was a little over a year old and Ella was six.  For a little more about Josiah, see


As far as I know, Sadie remained unmarried throughout her life.  This meant that she had to support herself. Few opportunities were available to women in the late 1800s, but Sadie stayed connected to her family and earned her way as a seamstress. The 1910 US Census shows Sadie as a dressmaker living with her mother, a landlady.


Sadie Hawk (1863-1921)


By looking at the US Census for 1870, 1900, 1910, and 1920, as well as the City Directories for Scranton, I can account for Sadie most years.

In the 1870 census, when she was six and a half, she lived with her mother in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  That year, her mother married Joshua Popplewell, a machinist living in Scranton.

I have not located Sadie in the 1880 Census due to the commonness of her name.

From 1888 until her death in 1921, Sadie lived in Scranton.  Her addresses included 330 Lackawanna Avenue (1896 – 1900), 16-18 Williams Building (1905 and 1906), 101 Spruce Street (1907 to 1916), and 116 Mulberry Street (1917 to 1921).  I have looked at these addresses on Street View (Google Earth) and the houses where Sadie lived are all gone, replaced by parking lots and modern businesses.


Sadie made her home with her mother Sallie Popplewell from 1907 until Sallie’s death in 1910 or 1911, and with sister Ella, my great-grandmother, from 1910 to 1921.


Sadie Hawk


Sadie died at 2 PM on March 26, 1921.  In her will, Sadie described Ella (my great-grandmother) as her “beloved sister”.


When I was a teenager, my Aunt Jane told me about Sadie and gave me Sadie’s locket.


Aunt Sadie's locket (front)

Aunt Sadie’s locket (front)


Her initials are beautifully engraved on the back – S A H –  Sarah Ann Hawk …  the sweet-faced woman in the photos above.


Aunt Sadie's locket (back)


Copyright  2014   Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

July 25, 2014 at 6:54 am

from the pages of an old diary – community

with 4 comments

It is obvious from my great-aunt’s diaries, her community activities were as important to her as any other aspect of her work.  This work was about people… about spending time with her friends and pursuing the idea of ‘many hands make light work’.  She also had specific skills to contribute to the community.  She loved to bake, sew, quilt and visit.

She belonged to three community groups:

  • the  Women’s Missionary Society (W.M.S.) –  met on Tuesdays (about 23 women)
  • the Red Cross – met on Fridays (about 9 women)
  • the Xmas Club – met once per month (about 10 women)

The Red Cross worked on specific projects, for example a baby layette for a new mother, or a quilt for a family in need.  The Red Cross had a room, perhaps in the Presbyterian church (on March 27, 1957 my great-aunt wrote, ‘ … I went to A.C.’s funeral up at our church. then went down to R.C. room and quilted for a while…’).   She often mentions ‘binding’ a quilt at home as part of her contribution.  The clubs also made quilts to raise money (a ‘square’ could be bought for $.10, April 12, 1957), and held rummage sales (June 1 and June 8, 1957).  

The W.M.S. was associated with the Presbyterian Church and had a program each week.  My great-aunt mentions preparing the ‘lesson’ with another woman.   The group worked with the Red Cross to make quilts for charity (Dec. 3, 1954), and sent flowers to funerals (Nov. 18, 1954).  They also interacted with the CGIT group (Canadian Girls in Training), a church-based program for girls 11-17 (April 2, 1957).  I remember attending CGIT when I was in Junior High and according to the Internet, it continues today.   When she writes about the W.M.S., my aunt always writes the ‘S’ as a dollar sign ($), suggesting she associated the group with money.  She does not do this for her references to the R.H.S. [Regional High School)! 

The Xmas (Christmas) Club met once a month at a member’s home.  They held a summer picnic (July 22, 1954 and July 17, 1957) and a Christmas Dinner in early December where they exchanged presents (Dec. 6, 1954 and Dec. 2, 1957). 

My great-aunt was also interested in the administrative side of these groups.  She made note of how many attended and who missed each meeting, as well as attendance at community events and how much money was made.

In addition to her clubs, my great-aunt also did personal charity work, taking ginger ale to sick people on many occasions, making rolls and squares for various teas and meetings, and hemming sheets for the hospital (May 28, 1957).  She was also a good neighbor, sharing a buttercup root with a friend, for example (May 19, 1954).  It is noticable from the diaries that community members helped one another to get around, giving each other ‘lifts’.  For example, she writes, ‘R. took M., M., [and] I down to Xmas Club… B. came for us.’   

Another important weekly activity was going to church.  My great-aunt and great-uncle attended church regularly, and sometimes went to other community churches for special occasions.  At Easter in 1957, they drove to the Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow to see the 3000 white Easter lilies on display.  She also attended the World Day of Prayer services (May 5, 1954, and May 8, 1957) and ‘read a piece’.

Reading my great-aunt’s diaries, I am left with an image of her place within the small community where she lived and the importance of the daily interactions among people.  These interactions were the community life-blood, enabling people to keep communication going, to support community economies and to keep the population healthy and supported.

Compared to this, how do we contribute to our communities today?  




reckoning the day

                -respose to a diary entry for March 28, 1957

Thurs  cold snow flurries. I finished cleaning kitchen. hemmed 4 sheets for hosp.  I. G. here got my blue dress to fix.  Mrs. C. called got sheets. H. B. here for Red Cross money.  S. M. house burned.   

–          A.M.W.

they wait to collect

your phial of tears

chill at the doorstep

outside the heat dome

where snowflakes sizzle

a moment before they melt

twisted metal hangers, closet a shell

lined with ashes, empty of dresses

quilts and bed-sheets blackened, edges

hemmed in charcoal

kitchen the worst, paint curled

against metal, china charred

crockery smashed, the tines of forks

splayed every way

pattern on linoleum

scoured clean beneath layers

of flammable wax



©  Jane Tims  2012

from the pages of an old diary – words about women’s work

with 11 comments

I have been thinking a lot about ‘women’s domestic work’ these days.  This not only because I do some housework myself from time to time (!), but because I am taking a History course – “Canadian Women’s History”. 

One of the assignments for the course is to read a woman’s diary or journal and learn about what life was like for her through her words.  I am lucky to have a set of six five-year diaries from my great-aunt who lived in Nova Scotia and I have decided to look at her diaries for my project.  The diaries cover the years from 1944 to 1972 .  Since I was born in 1954, I have chosen 1954 and 1957 as years to study.

Her diary for a particular year is a simple record of her daily activities.  Simple, but what a lot of information is found in a few lines of text!

I have reviewed all of her entries for the year 1957 and find she covers the following topics in her entries:

  1. the weather
  2. people who visited
  3. people she visited
  4. housework done (she includes her husband’s work around the house)
  5. community work done
  6. community events (such as funerals or weddings)
  7. letters written or received
  8. special trips
  9. unexpected events (such as the car breaking down)
  10. family health

One thing I notice about her diaries, is her faithfulness in making an entry every day for 29 years!  So many diaries I have begun fizzle after the first month or so of writing! 

Another aspect is the value of her words.  Over 50 years later, I can still find helpful advice in the way she did her work and the emphasis she put on participating in her community.  I can find specific information of the birth dates of relatives or the date our family arrived for our summer vacation in a particular year.  In addition, for anyone interested in the daily life of women in the 20th century, a set of diaries like hers is an invaluable resource and window into history.

Over the next few posts, I am going to look at various aspects of the daily life of my great-aunt and consider how similar or different life is for me today.

two of the six diaries my great-aunt wrote from 1944 to 1972 ... the quilt is one she made during the last years of her life

Copyright  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

February 4, 2012 at 7:38 am

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