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I was visiting my grandmother, just like any other Christmas, but this time was different. I was finally old enough to make the trip up to the attic by myself to get the decorations for the tree. It was quite a big honor, but I’m not going to lie, it was pretty scary up there, all dark and mysterious. However, I was still extremely intrigued by all of the things that were up there. They were just things to me, but oh I bet each item held a story to my great grandmother and grandma. I started to dig. I know, I know I really shouldn’t have dug around in my great grandmother’s things, but they were so interesting. There were so many old things up there that would reveal so much history. Everything had to have its own unique story and I wanted to hear it. I found all of these trinkets that my great grandmother had collected in her travels of the U.S. I also found this scrapbook. The dust was caked on top, but after clearing it away I saw that it was a scrapbook of my great grandmother’s entire life, from start to finish. It looked like it was something that my great great grandma

started and that my great grandmother had continued. I started browsing the pages and I was fascinated by its contents. It had my great great grandmothers handwritten journal pages that described my great grandmother’s childhood. Then, it seemed when my great grandmother got married the scrapbook was handed off to her. What most interested me was the section of the early 20th century. It contained my great grandmother’s personal journal, a newspaper article, and a medical journal. They all showed the suffering that women had to deal with while living in the 20th century. I looked at my great grandmother’s journal entries first and they almost broke my heart. I copied some of them down.

December 30, 1901 Today was the same as any other day in the house. Take care of the kids, clean the house, make dinner and repeat. It didn’t used to be like this you know. I used to be a young girl with the whole world and her whole life in front of her. My father had died when I was young and so did my mother. I was left with the house and the family money. I had it all. But of course I went off, got married, had kids. And now I own none of those things. January 6, 1902 Thomas is gone for the night. I’m home alone. Finally. I don’t have to worry about making him happy or doing what he wants me to do. I put the kids to bed early and all I have to worry about is me. Only me. January 7, 1902 You know I was thinking about it today, sometimes I wish I could go back to being young and free. That’s what I was, free. I might not have had a man by my side but oh was I free. I could make my own decisions. I didn’t have to answer to the same man day after day. Thomas is coming home tomorrow.

January 8, 1902 Thomas didn’t come home today. I don’t know what to think. I love my husband very much but I have enjoyed my time off from him just as much. I’m afraid of what might have happened to him. January 9, 1902 Thomas is dead. January 10, 1902 I cried all day today. Writing about this is already making me feel better. “[I] began to recognize this thing that was approaching to possess [me], and [I] was striving to beat it back with [my] will ” (Chopin 784). But I’ve come to the realization that I no longer have to worry about Thomas catching me write in my journal. I no longer have to think what he might want for dinner. I no longer have to be neglected by him. I no longer have to do everything he tells me to. I’m “free! Body and soul free!” (Chopin 785). January 13, 1902 He’s alive. Thomas is alive. Everybody was wrong. They told me he was attacked by some men in the city! They were wrong. They lied! How could they now tell me he is alive! I was free! Free! I had everything! And now what do I have? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m right back where I started when I married Thomas.

The picture at the end of the entry was of my great grandmother in front of her house. It looks to me like she was newly married and just moving into the house. She looks so happy to me. I never would have thought my great grandmother would have said those things. I truly didn’t understand before. She was suffering. She was being smothered by my great grandfather and all she wanted to do was be free and be her own individual. It makes me sad that my great grandmother may not have loved my great grandfather as much as I thought she did. Who knows maybe she changed over the years and maybe by the time I was born she had fallen back in love with him. Next in the scrapbook was a newspaper article from the Los Angeles Daily Times, one of the biggest newspapers of the day.

Friday May 19, 1910

LosWoman Angeles Daily Times Found Dead in Her Bedroom

Thursday May 20, 1910 , a married woman was found dead in her bedroom when her husband came home from work. The note left on the side table states that the victim committed suicide in order to escape the restrictions placed on her by society. In the note the victim tells her husband that she had met another man. The letter reveals that she no longer loved her husband and was planning on running away with the mystery man, leaving the house and most of the family money to her husband. In the letter the wife tells her husband, “I’ve done all I could for you, and I don’t see as it’s been any use. I don’t blame you, nor I don’t blame myself. Maybe both of us will do better separate” (Wharton 73). However, the letter also reveals that she knew that if she were to leave her husband, society would take its toll on both of them. She

would never be able to return to her hometown. She would always have the tarnished reputation of the woman who left her husband for another man. If their secret would have been released while she was still alive, even the mystery man’s reputation would have been tarnished and he never would have received the same level of respect. The cause of death is still unknown and the police are not allowing the media to release the name of the husband or victim. The man who the victim planned on escaping with is still unknown. One thing that all people can take from this event is the effect that society can have on women today. The victim was driven to the point of insanity and felt that there was no way she could be happy while still living.

This article really touched me. It almost brought me to tears. I mean this women was driven to insanity by the social rules she was forced to obey. I can’t even imagine what she went through. I could never imagine being driven to that point. I feel so bad for the husband too. Maybe I didn’t get the whole story from the article but the wife didn’t even give him the chance to make changes. She felt like there was nothing to be done to make anything better in her life and she didn’t give anybody the chance to help her. There was one last thing that caught my attention. A medical journal. I have no idea how my great grandmother got her hands on the journal and I have never heard of the patient either, but I want to know my great grandma’s connection so badly.

March 18, 1915

Patient: Louise Lowell Height: 5’ 3” Weight: 101 pounds Symptoms: hysteria, depression, nervousness, very disconnected, confused Diagnosis: nervous depression/hysteria Description: The patient came in to me late last night with her husband. Almost as if they didn’t want to be seen by anyone. The patient appeared nervous and scared as though she was a young child. I had to speak slowly and choose my words carefully in order to not upset her. She seemed a little distant and didn’t always know how to answer my questions, her husband did most of the talking. I could tell the patient was overworked and needed to be cut off from everything that may cause her to be stressed. I used the “Weir Mitchell Rest Cure…a method which emphasized isolation, bed rest, dieting, and massage” (Lawson). Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell has “studied neurology and became a specialist through his work in a hospital during the Civil War” (Lawson). I ordered her to stay in her house and to only talk to her husband. Seeing too many people may only cause her to become more severely depressed. Also, I told her husband to hire some help around the house. I don’t want her to have to take care of their new baby or make dinner. She should “take…tonics, and journeys, and air and exercise and [she is] absolutely forbidden to ‘work’ until [she is] well again” (Gilman 766). I told her husband that she has to stay in her room and is not allowed to be let out. He should take things slow with her at first and try his best not to overwhelm her. Possibly even treat her as though she were a fragile child.

The description of the patient was almost painful to read. The woman seemed so helpless and reliant on her husband. I could never imagine feeling like I was so dependent on another person, I’ve been raised as an independent woman and I couldn’t change that if I wanted to. I don’t know about anyone else but for me personally, it would drive me crazy to be locked in my house for the entire day. Not having the freedom to do what you wanted would drive me insane. I wonder what happened to that woman. It would be sad it she was driven to insanity by the doctor’s orders, but by the sound of it, I know that’s what would have happened to me. The thing that most confuses me about the newspaper article and the medical journal is that I don’t know why my great grandmother decided to put them in her scrapbook. I mean the scrapbook was of her life wasn’t it? And I’ve never been told that she took her own life or was forced to stay in her house all day. The only idea I have is that these were about

people who were especially close to her, people who she never wanted to forget. Oh well, we will never know. My great grandmother died years ago and I doubt my grandmother knows anything about the scrapbook, it looks as though it hadn’t been touched in years. I came down stairs holding the scrapbook, and to my surprise, my mother wasn’t mad at me at all but was actually pleased that I had found it. She took me to the kitchen where no one else was and started telling me about each page, one by one. We talked for hours but it seemed only like a couple of minutes. I asked her my questions. However, sadly, she didn’t always have an answer. I guess when her mother told the stories to her she left out some information here and there. Right before we went back into the family room where the rest of my family was waiting for us to open presents, my mother handed me something very special. It was a recipe. I didn’t look at it very closely when she handed it to me. I knew that my mom had a secret recipe for how to make her famous casserole and I had been dying to get my hands on it for years now. I just figured she was finally giving me the recipe so I walked in the family room without hesitation. When I got home that evening I took a closer look at it. It was no ordinary recipe. It was a recipe for how to have a successful marriage. This recipe was written by my great grandma and had been handed down through the generations of women in my family and now my mother was giving it to me. It had worked for all of them, why wouldn’t it work for me.

Recipe for a Successful Marriage Mix Together in Large Bowl 3 cups love 1 cup commitment 1 cup trust ½ cup understanding A pinch of consideration Add in 1 cup faith 1 cup cooperation 2 ½ cups communication ½ cup confidence ½ cup encouragement “Flavor with occasional tokens of your love and a dash of happy memories. Stir well and remove any specks of temper, jealousy, or criticism. Sweeten well with a generous portion of love and keep warm with a steady flame of devotion. Never serve with hot tongue or cold shoulder” (Recipe for a Successful).

Multi Genre Prject - Callie Z  

A short story about how women suffered during the early 20th century

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