A woman casts a ballot for the 1872 presidential election, though it means she will be charged and brought to trial for illegally voting – simply because she is a woman. Decades later in Montgomery, Alabama, a woman refuses to give up her seat on a city bus, though it will mean her arrest.
We recognize the history-changing acts of women like Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks. Their heroic actions have made the world a better place for all of us to live.
But many of us don’t stop to think about how our own female ancestors have driven progress and enriched our lives. These actions may not be documented in history books. Maybe they didn’t even make the local paper. But that doesn’t mean they took any less conviction.
Genealogist Lisa Alzo is dedicated to helping family historians record stories of “fearless females” from the past. Every March, for Women’s History Month, Lisa provides 31 Fearless Females Blogging Prompts. Family historians across the internet use these prompts to share the brave and inspiring feats of female ancestors – and you can, too.
As you begin documenting women in your family tree, get inspiration from these four stories of fearless females – tales documenting ocean voyages, flying firsts, and indomitable spirit. Then start writing the stories of your female ancestors this Women’s History Month!
Lorine McGinnis Schulze
It was 1927. Charles Lindbergh had just flown the Atlantic and Amelia Earhart was beginning to capture the public’s imagination. Eileen Vollick, my third cousin twice removed, also set her sights to the sky!
At 19, Eileen was a textile analyst in Hamilton, Ontario – but what she wanted was to fly. That no Canadian woman had been licensed as a pilot did not matter. Eileen enrolled in flying school. At 5′ 1″, she had to use pillows to see out of the cockpit.
That didn’t keep Eileen from her dream. On March 13, 1928, she was issued a private pilot’s license, making her the first Canadian woman issued flying privileges. Eileen flew extensively in the U.S. and Canada, often demonstrating aerobatic flying.
Eileen loved to delight audiences with daring sky maneuvers. More than that, she served as an example for independent Canadian women who saw they could follow their dreams.
My third great grandmother Clara Mokomanic Rohrer was born in 1852 to a white father and a Chippewa Indian mother from White Earth, Minnesota. Clara’s mother was killed during a raid when Clara was three; it is said the girl was the only one left standing in the burned out village.
Clara’s father boarded her with Episcopal missionaries, who moved Clara to Maui at age 13. While crossing rough seas, Clara played the organ and reportedly sang like a bird, calming the other passengers. The louder the storm, the louder Clara played.
In adulthood, Clara regularly returned to Minnesota to register for the Indian Census and keep her land rights. She had countless things taken from her and many decisions made for her in life. This made Clara want to hold onto something that was hers, her land and heritage.
Clara was always an outsider, neither Indian nor white nor Hawaiian. She was basically parentless, and she lived in a time that did not provide many options for women. Yet, she rose and today remains an example of unbroken courage and quiet strength.
My great grandmother Antonia “Tony” Jeannette Engel Krueger was the first child born in the U.S. to her immigrant parents, both of Slovakia. Tony married Myer Krueger and moved to Michigan City, Indiana, where the couple set up a shoe store.
Tony and Myer had three children: Fern, Marvin, and Shirley – my grandmother. Growing up, the children were encouraged to get their education and take music, dance, and drama lessons.
In 1934, the family suffered a great loss: Myer took his own life.
Tony was left with two children in college, a business to run, and a child in high school to provide for. Somehow she pulled through those tough times to make sure her children thrived.
My grandmother says it best: “The Depression was upon us for several years, but Mother ran the shoe business and it did improve.” Because of Tony’s determination, her children had choices in their lives. All three kids graduated from college and found wonderful life partners.
This picture of my great-grandmother Feige (later Fanny) is one of the heirlooms I treasure most. It was probably taken when Fanny was in her late teens, only a few years after she arrived in the U.S. But she almost didn’t make it!
Fanny’s father immigrated to Philadelphia from Russia in 1901. His wife and children set out to join him a few years later, but something happened during the last leg of the trip from Liverpool. Ship manifests show the family delayed departure, and that when they did leave, the eldest child Fanny was left behind!
Why was Fanny left in Liverpool? I learned it was illness that made it impossible for her to travel with the family. She would not make the journey until two and a half months later.
Fanny was only 15. She had never been outside Russia, and she spoke mainly Yiddish and some Russian. She showed great bravery to make it through that time, being ill and all alone in a strange country, wondering if she’d ever reach her family on the other side of the ocean.
Now It’s Your Turn!
These tales include everyday acts of courage and heroism – just as the lives of our female ancestors do. Women’s History Month is an ideal time to learn more about the fearless females in your family tree. Share what you learn and inspire others to contribute!
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Clues to What a Woman’s Life Was Like
3 Ways to Unravel the Mysteries of Women in Your Family Tree
A Mother Whose Price Is Far Above Rubies