International Women’s Day is a day to honor and celebrate the strength that all women share. In honor of this special day, we are highlighting five customers’ ancestors this week who embody grace, determination, and perseverance against all odds. Check back each day to read another incredible story.
“My grandmother, Ruth Helen Jines Varner, was a barrier breaker. Born in 1904, she eventually made her way to Business College in Chillicothe, Missouri. She excelled and went to work in the banking and railroad industries as an ace telegrapher before she was 21. She rose in the ranks of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad to become the first and only female agent at the Hope, Arkansas, depot. As a young single woman, she bought herself a new car. A woman ahead of her time, she worked full time and was able to raise three children with her husband on the family farm in southwest Arkansas. I have so many memories after she retired of going to the local cafeteria for lunch, where we would inevitably run into some of the ‘train men’ as she called them. They were always so happy to see Miss Ruth. Growing up, she was an example of a strong, independent woman who expected the same of her granddaughter (me). She told me to always be able to ‘take care of yourself and never let a man run over you and tell you what to do.’ And she most definitely walked the talk. She is buried in a cemetery that runs parallel to a train track. At her burial service, a train went by unexpectedly and blew its whistle just as the last amen was said.”
~Jo Lynne Varner
“My grandmother Emma “Frieda” Thiel was born 1913 in Geppersdorf, Schlesien, Germany. Just before her 25th birthday, she married Walter Otto Lorenz in Klettendorf, Germany. A year later, her first daughter, my aunt Ursula Lorenz, was born. September 1944, five years later, my mother Edda Lorenz was born in Breslau, Germany – now Wroclaw, Poland.
Until Winter 1944, Frieda lived on the estate of her husband’s family in Breslau. Her husband was with German troops and she refused to leave her father in-law who pleaded for her to leave with the children as the Russians were advancing.
The town was held by Nazi fanatic Karl Hanke under order of shooting to death anyone who would leave the town, being considered a traitor. In the 11th hour, Mr. Hanke allowed only women and children to leave. Trying to escape the Russians, Frieda dressed up as an old woman in order to avoid drawing attention to her young age and being gang raped or killed. She fled and was able to get on the very last train out of Breslau.
Frieda took her two daughters and fled from the Russian occupation after the war. She found shelter as a refugee in Landshut, Bavaria, Germany on a farm belonging to Germans that did not look favorable upon German refugees. My grandmother and her daughters were housed in an attic of a stable where she lived until the owners were ordered by the German government to provide a room in their house.
When she was given a letter from a comrade of her husband’s troop, it told her Walter Lorenz had died from starvation in Russian captivity. After the war, she became very active with the locating and reunification of families. She held numerous speeches in the effort to draw attention and support to the cause.
Frieda was provided a small room with one bed and a basin to wash. It served as a bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. In about 1949, Frieda’s mother was located by the Red Cross and joined them in the one bedroom. That is where the four women lived until 1954 when Frieda moved her small family into the house of Mr. Ewald Kolberg, who had courted her for several years and later became her 2nd husband. His 1st wife had died of illness and he had five children of his own. He is the man I got to know as my grandfather.
My grandmother was a very strong woman and with all she had experienced, I never heard her complain. She worked very hard and enjoyed her family tremendously! She never spoke of the war time or the time afterwards, and only recently I discovered some details of her life from my mother.
This is a photo of Frieda and her two daughters after she fled and lived on the farm as a refugee.”
“There are women in my family that risked their lives to stand up to hatred, oppression, and discrimination. These women, while just a footnote in American history, deserve to be remembered for their bravery and heroism. Their activism helped shape future generations of Americans and has made us the great country that we are today. One family member in particular was Genevieve Wimsatt who was a suffragist and Commander of the Petticoat Cavalry for the first Woman Suffrage Procession that took place on March 3, 1913. She marched down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capital to the Treasury Building amongst mobs of angry men yelling obscenities and trying to block her. She marched in protest of the political system that excluded women from being able to vote. Her bio in the event’s program from that day reads: ‘Miss Genevieve Wimsatt, a resident of Washington and Maryland, and a graduate of Georgetown Visitation Convent, is often seen in the parks on one of the horses from her father’s country home, ‘Kinkora,’ in Montgomery County, Maryland. Miss Wimsatt, who is organizing the Cavalry Section of the Woman Suffrage Procession, was one of the first women in Washington to ride in divided skirts, and rides both side-saddle and cross saddle.’
I submitted this story on behalf of my daughters (8 and 10). Genevieve is my daughters’ 3rd Great Aunt on my husband’s side.”
“Imagine finding out your cousin was the main political cartoonist for the women’s right to vote! Nine Evans became well known as Nina Allender – Political Cartoonist for the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She would have been my 1st cousin 3x removed. Nina was an artist and user her talents to help further the cause, and what better way than with her cartoons. Non Evans Allender’s drawing of Susan B. Anthony mounting the steps of the Capitol with a petition of 20,000 names (asking for the right to vote for women) to present to Congress was made into a postage stamp in 1936. Can you imagine finding out that you had a female cousin who was so instrumental in the cause and fight for the Women’s Right to Vote? No one passed the story down in time for me – I had to discover it for myself. Such an amazing thing to find! I am reminded of Nina’s accomplishments and constant battles for this right alongside her female suffragist friends every time I vote. Her political cartoons help to tell the story. I am proud to be able to vote and she helped make that possible. Nina’s determination and personal conviction that shaped her had to come from a long line of strong willed women. Her mother, Eva, was an intelligent woman and a teacher which must have shaped her visions for a better future for her daughters. My daughters and granddaughters (when old enough to vote) can be proud when they exercise that right. The fact that a WOMAN from their family helped make that possible for them – wow! What an amazing discovery to find.”
“I have family ties to Belva Ann Lockwood. She was the first female to officially be on a U.S. presidential ballot not once, but twice. Her campaign was centered around equal rights, and she called out the fact that she could run for president, but could not cast a vote for the president.
Belva Ann attended law school and passed her courses, but was not allowed to receive a diploma because she was a woman. Instead of taking no for an answer, she wrote President Grant asking for his help. She eventually was given her law degree and became the first female to argue a trial in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. She also sponsored the first African American to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.
There are so many more things she overcame and fought for!”