A BRONZE FIGURE held an honored position on the fireplace mantel in the library of my grandmother’s one hundred year old stone house. Somehow, the piece captivated my attention as I was growing up on the farm in northeast Kansas. The figure was of a young mother, in stride, holding the hand of a little boy, while clutching in the other a bible and cloth bag of belongings. She wore a sunbonnet and a long, simply made dress with a flowing skirt. On her feet were laced boots. She appeared confident, holding her head high and looking straight ahead—a woman of purpose. Sometimes Grandma would allow me a closer look, taking her down from the mantel. I would study the details, feeling the smooth folds of her skirt and the curly locks of hair on the head of her son. She was about 8 to 9 inches tall and quite heavy, especially to a young child. I asked Grandma about it and she explained simply that it was a pioneer woman. Little did I realize then, the significance of this bronze piece. It was simply one of those curious objects one finds at their grandma’s house that piques interest later in life. In the following years, the bronze disappeared from the mantel and from my thoughts.
A good number of years passed and after moving from the state of Kansas I began reminiscing about my childhood and Grandma’s old house.
The stone & brick structure had been called the old Squires house, built by Henry Clay Squires in 1870 at Lowemont, which was located about midway between the towns of Leavenworth and Atchison. Local history has it that Buffalo Bill Cody often visited the Squires there. The local children were invited to see Cody’s famous, well-trained horse & Cody always gave them free tickets to his wild west show. Grandma & Grandpa purchased the farm in 1935 and remodeled the house to eleven rooms. Surrounding it were magnificent maples, cedars, pines and flowering shrubs & wild roses. A white picket fence enclosed the spacious lawn. Besides farming the acreage, Grandpa raised chickens and tended a large garden and a variety of fruit trees.
It was here I spent the first five years of my life, near to my grandparents, before my parents built their own home. I remember the visits to the farm by Grandma’s sisters and brother. Of eleven siblings, five were living at this time. My favorite of all was Aunt Ruth, youngest of the sisters. She used to tell wonderful stories to my sisters and me when we were young.
Grandpa Sachse was from Germany, emigrating in 1879 at the age of 6, with his parents and brothers. They came to Atchison and lived at first in a log cabin, before building a five room, 2-story frame home and barn. In 1913 he married Sarah Ellen Considine, my grandmother. Grandma’s family were Irish immigrants, arriving in the United States during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. John Considine, Grandma’s father, was the first white male born on the townsite of Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls, Kansas) in the year 1857. Young John grew up to marry Sarah Jane Kelley, who came to Kansas with her parents from Kelley’s Island (in Lake Erie, north of Sandusky, Ohio). John & Sarah Jane had eleven children: Mary Jane, Margaret Jeanette, Laura Gertrude, Agnes Bernadette, John E., Sarah Ellen, Mable Kathleen, Anna Theresa, Robert E., & Ruth E. (twins) and William Leo. It was said that John Considine filled the back yard with girls to get a son.
Mary Jane, the first born, was fondly known as Mamie. She was taken from the family by pneumonia at the age of 17. In later years, one of her sisters wrote of her: "Mamie was the leading lady (in church theater productions conducted by their parish priest) . . . really good in dramatics and a lovable, beloved character. She took pneumonia and didn’t live long. Mama was heart broken and never got over her death. She was a lovable, perfect character and Mama used to say-she was the opposite of Maggie, in every way. I was there when she died. . . .everyone loved Mamie and we all considered her the perfect character and Mama’s helper.”
Margaret Jeanette, whom I remember Grandma calling Maggie, never married and lived her entire 88 years in Atchison. Of the times we visited her in her home, I remember we children were to ‘be seen and not heard’. She was an immaculate housekeeper (and the opposite of her older sister Mamie!).
Laura Gertrude, third daughter, contracted tuberculosis and only lived to the age of 17.
Agnes Bernadette, married at age 22, had 2 children and died at age 78 in Arizona. Her husband was William Patrick Lane, son of early Atchison settler, John M. Lane. Upon his death an acre of his farm was used for the Amelia Earhart airport in Atchison.
A son was born, John E., who only lived a few hours.
Grandma, Sarah Ellen, was the sixth child born to the Considines. I remember some called her Helen while others referred to her as Nellie. In her youth, Grandma was an honor student and taught school before marrying.
Mabel Kathleen died the year following her graduation from high school after an attack of typhoid fever followed by tuberculosis.
Anna Theresa married Paul Nightingale Humphrey, a lawyer, with whom she raised 2 daughters in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Aunt Anna died at the age of 85. I remember Aunt Anna as a classy woman. She dressed very stylishly and spoke aristocratically.
William Leo, the only son of John & Sarah Jane to reach maturity, became a lawyer and moved to California. I remember his visits to the farm to see Grandma. He had white hair and could wiggle his ears.
Which brings me to Aunt Ruth. I can vividly recall her visits to the farm. My sisters and I were always excited to see her . She often recited Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Milne, Tennyson, Robert Lewis Stevenson and the Bible. She also told us wonderful stories of her own childhood. Sometimes, after our afternoon nap, she took us to Fort Leavenworth for the impressive ceremony of Taps. Once we went along when the family took her to Union Station in Kansas City to catch a train. There, amidst the towering pillars, rows of long wooden benches and expanses of glistening marble she explained about trains and such. In the café, we were impressed by the work of the Harvey girls. She could always think of neat stuff to show us and we delighted in her explanations of elaborate detail. Patricia Pixley, another niece of Aunt Ruth , (daughter of Anna, Ruth’s sister in Oklahoma) gathered together a few letters, poems, photos, and various momentoes of Aunt Ruth for me. My mother, Ann Sachse, has written a family history of the Considine family and it is from these compilations I began to piece together events in the life of Ruth Considine.
Born Ruth Elizabeth July 3, 1898 with a twin brother, Robert E., the local newspaper made the announcement to the Atchison community: “Twins, a boy and a girl, were born to Mr. & Mrs. J.E. Considine Sunday. There were seven girls already in the family, a son having died.” Robert died on his second birthday of whooping cough and spinal meningitis. At an early age, Ruth began to learn independence. She never knew either grandfather. Her Grandpa Considine died at the age of 30, shortly after coming to the Kansas Territory. Grandpa Kelley died in Kansas City in 1884. When she was 8 years old, her Grandmother Kelley of Kansas City died and a year later Grandmother Considine, Atchison, passed away. Her father died when Ruth was only 10 years old and just a few months before she was to become a teenager her mother passed away.
Surrounded by her 7 surviving children, Sarah Jane Kelley Considine, succumbed to a lingering illness with tuberculosis at 11:30, the morning of April 17, 1911, at 930 Atchison St. The Atchison paper printed these words of remembrance: “Mrs. Considine was a particularly kind and worthy woman and in spite of her illness, helpful until the past month . . . when she became bedfast.” She had made provisions for her children, drawing her last will and testament March 26. As Ruth and her younger brother, Leo, were the only minors, Sarah Jane directed use of monies for their support, maintenance and education besides the purchase of a home in the city of Atchison to be used by her children who had not married nor acquired a home of their own.
From this point it was evident that education held a priority for Ruth. Upon her graduation from St. Benedict’s Catholic School in Atchison, her high school years were spent at Atchison Public High School from which she graduated 31 May 1917. For one year, she attended St. Mary College, Leavenworth, Kansas, then left for Winona, Minnesota, where she spent 3 years at the College of St. Theresa.
The summer of 1924 found her touring Europe with her sister, Anna, and later joined by brother, Leo. Then, in 1925 she received her BA degree in History and English from St. Theresas. It is interesting to note that in the 1920’s , when an increasing proportion of women were joining the work force, concentrating in low paying service occupations-secretaries, salesclerks, telephone operators and such-Ruth was pursuing her education to higher levels. However, Aunt Ruth could have fit the description of the “New Woman” described by Dorothea Dix in 1915 as a “husky young woman who can play golf …drive a motor car, and give first aid to the injured…competent and independent…(for which) work was an opportunity for personal fulfillment.” Aunt Ruth did all of these things.
In subsequent years, she taught English and History at Sacred Heart High School in Waseca, Minnesota. Summers were spent in Montreal, Canada, studying French at McGill University and St. Theresas for child psychology & German. Many times however, she interrupted her studies to attend to an ill family member. These duties took her to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Atchison, Kansas and Phoenix, Arizona. The fall of 1934 found Ruth attending graduate school at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, where she studied American History and completed a course in library science. Application was made to the US Park Service for the position of assistant park historian in 1939. She noted in her application: “At the Catholic University of America, I have done graduate work in American History as major. A masters degree essay on the “Pioneer Women of Kansas 1854-64” occasioned very interesting reading and research in Kansas history not unlike work which I should think would be found in connection with the Park Service. As far as courses at the University goes I have 64 credit hours which represents four or more than enough for a doctorate. I shall take an examination soon for the master’s degree and will be willing to continue for the doctorate in case I can obtain work in order to finance printing of a doctorate dissertation.”
In an effort to preserve and maintain “The Pioneer Women of Kansas 1854 to 1864” written by Aunt Ruth, I set about re-typing the thesis in its entirety, which was well over 100 pages in length. In past years, I had read only bits and pieces of it, since it was so heavily laden with footnotes, not to mention list after list of women whom Aunt Ruth felt made a contribution to history. As I typed page after fragile, yellowed page, I found that many of the works of the pioneer women she cited were the same works I had read while researching for my The Cow from Grasshopper Falls children’s book, based on a story she told us as children. If I had thoroughly read the thesis first, I might have saved myself quite a bit of time. The early years of the struggle of the Kansas Territory for statehood has been carefully detailed through five chapters: The Settlement of Kansas, the Journey to Kansas, The Trials and Occupations of Pioneer Life, Education in Kansas and The Pleasures of Pioneer Life. Included at the end are two lengthy lists: A Roster of Kansas Women attending the 1879 “Old Settlers Meeting” in Lawrence and Female Survivors of the Lawrence Massacre.
The territorial years of Kansas history seem to have been the most difficult period of time. In an introduction to “Pioneer Women-Voices from the Kansas Frontier” by Joanna Stratton, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. points out that ‘the experience of inventing Kansas had been so desperate that only those of purest faith and mightiest will could survive. Kansas had been subject. . . (to) border wars in the 1850s, guerilla raids in the Civil War, Indian raids thereafter; hot winds, droughts, prairie fires, torrential rains, blizzards, cyclones, locusts, rattlesnakes and gray wolves.” According to Carl Beck, historian, “Until 1895, the whole history of the state was a series of disasters and always something new, extreme, bizarre until the name Kansas became a byword, a synonym for the impossible and the ridiculous.”
Aunt Ruth’s “Pioneer Woman” was prefaced with an explanation of her reasons for choosing this particular topic. She did not want to impress upon the reader the place of the Kansas woman in American life by reason of her political perogatives nor was it an attempt to glorify womanhood. Her choice of subject was the result of a lecture presented by Doctor Richard J. Purcell, one of her history professors, who commented that if we knew more about the women of history we would know more about history. With this intention, Ruth set about the retelling of pioneer days during this particularly difficult period of Kansas history, from the woman’s point of view. Much of her essay was based largely on the diaries and accounts of female authors of the time. In opening remarks, Aunt Ruth explains,
“The limits of the master’s dissertation do not permit biographical sketchings of some thirty thousand women; such sketches would take volumes, volumes similar to the ones found in our libraries recording the lives of Kansas men of the same period. The work, then, lacking that which would constitute a real contribution, is of necessity, a most inadequate treatment of the subject; it does consider briefly the biographies of some few women, but that is not its aim-the purpose of this essay is rather to demonstrate that though women tend to lose their identity, so closely are their lives woven into the warp of history, they are, nonetheless, co-makers of history; and the student who fails to take note of their activities in passing, the student who leaves untold so vital a part of the story can hardly be said to have written scientifically. It has been the experience of the writer, in seeking out the names of Kansas women, that she has been obliged, time after time, to read through a lengthy, eulogistic account of some unimportant man, to find not until the very last line, the cause for his prominence: 'He married miss so and so.'”
Before the re-typing effort began I planned to write a condensed version of the essay, however, as I typed I realized I could not bring myself to delete any of her words nor the words of others she chose to feature. She had researched her subject well through extensive reading of not only books but newspaper articles and magazines of the day and US Census data. Included in her closing remarks:
“Conditions peculiar to Kansas alone found these women called upon to assume obligations and responsibilities far outside their accustomed sphere and hitherto never expected of feminine participants in any young American colony.”
Then, she went on to quote E.W. Marland, Oklahoma oilman, who had commissioned Bryant Baker, an English sculptor, to design a memorial to the pioneers who homesteaded this country.
“Theirs was a lonely victory. Few eyes witnessed the dangers and hardships they endured, greater by far than those of a military army. They had not to conquer but to hold and live off the land they conquered. The toil of life from these hardships left millions of unmarked graves across this continent, graves of women who died that we might live and love this land, unknown soldiers of the great battle for civilization and the home. All races, all creeds, all nations gave of their best and bravest women.”
Finally, she concluded,
“To record the lives of these noble pioneers would be, it is true, one means of expressing the gratitude that is due them, but, in so doing, by far the greatest result would be, expansion into a neglected phase of American history. Let us hope that the interest awakened by agitation for a world center for women’s archives will make possible this enrichment.”
E.W. Marland donated $300,000 for a 17 foot bronze statue, which was placed on a 5 &1/2 acre strip of land in the Cherokee Outlet in Oklahoma that had been part of the last free land in America before being homesteaded in 1893. The bronze statue, “Pioneer Woman,” was dedicated April 22, 1930, with the sculptor Bryant Baker, Oklahoma Governor, William J. Holloway, Will Rogers, and E.W. Marland in attendance.
In the summer of 1940, Aunt Anna and daughters of Oklahoma stayed with Aunt Ruth in Washington, DC. An August 1944 postcard from her brother, Leo, was addressed to 1325 Quincy St., NE Washington, DC. Aunt Anna mentions in her papers that Aunt Ruth taught for several years at St. Joseph’s College in Hartford and after obtaining a degree in library science, worked for a time in the Republican Library in Washington, DC. From there, she became reference librarian at St. Mary’s College, Leavenworth, Kansas, from February 1946 to June 1951 before taking the job of reference librarian at the Denver Public Library in Colorado.
It was in the 1950s I came to know Aunt Ruth, during the years she lived in Denver. She sent postcards and notes to us and at Christmas, big boxes would arrive. On the farm, many years were lean so had it not been for those packages, Christmas would have been lean as well. I remember visiting Aunt Ruth once in Denver & she took us all around so we could see the sights. At night, in her cozy little apartment at the Olin Hotel, we tried on her favored bib sized dress collars and warm short bed jackets. One can appreciate the use of a bed jacket given her love of reading.
When Aunt Ruth finally retired in 1965, much of her time was spent with her sister, Anna, in Pawhuska but she did manage a few visits to Grandma and Aunt Margaret. In her final days, she spent 10 days with Aunt Anna, then returned to Jane Phillips Hospital in Bartlesville. Around noon, March 13, 1970, after dinner, she sat in a chair in her room reading the paper. It was then she quietly and peacefully passed away.
Several months later, Aunt Anna wrote to the sisters of the College of St. Theresa: “Ruth was a dear good person and I miss her greatly. She was really saintly in her goodness and generosity. . . Her retirement left her lost. She lived with her books and service so long and her health started failing shortly after retirement. She talked with me on the phone the night before she died. We both enjoyed her last visit.” Patricia Pixley recalled that Aunt Ruth “loved to cook, loved caring for children of any age and was so good with babies. Her stories were wonderful…I especially remember her fried chicken, strawberry shortcake and devils food cake. Never, ever did she work about the house without singing. There was real joy in everything. . . she ever did…She gave of herself so generously. She was a kind and gentle person, considerate, giving and forgiving. I don’t think I could put it any better.”
It has been my good fortune to have known Great Aunt Ruth Considine. Because of her time here with us, I have come to appreciate many different aspects of life including an appreciation of the lives of our Kansas ancestors and their pioneering spirit. History, literature and learning were paramount in Aunt Ruth’s life, but only second to her love of family and the actual task of living.
Give us in all the struggle and sputter
Our daily bread and a bit o’ butter;
Give us health, our keep to make,
An’ a bit to spare for other’s sake;
Give us, too, a bit of song and a tale;
And a book to help us along.
Give us, Lord, a chance to be
Our goodly best-- brave, wise, and free,
Our goodly best for ourselves and others,
Till all men learn to live as brothers."