Airbrushing Great-Granny

Our Friday morning writers’ group met on Thursday evening. We’d been invited, by Pauline, to join her at ‘Salon North’. She’d been given complimentary tickets. We were mesmerised by three speakers, three TED style talks. The theme of the evening: revolutionary, uncontrollable, assertive women. It was a bonus that many were Northern. The downside, that many of their individual achievements had been forgotten; airbrushed out of history.

Next month I’m walking St Hilda’s Way, a pilgrimage to Whitby. It’s a trip planned pre-pandemic, twice delayed. I’m delighted that this 7th century woman featured high on the list of early influencers.

The talks were fresh in my mind as I perused a box of old photographs. My granddaughter was asking for pictures of her grandparents’ schooldays.

‘They’re doing you in history’ laughed my daughter.

I dug out a family tree. Several years ago, I started to make some notes on family stories. Mostly based on living memory, it began when my daughters were looking for help with a primary school project. It’s a happy memory now that, in the last decade of the 20th century, they were able to meet my Grandpa’s sister, born at the end of the Victorian age.

I began a line of female pictures next to my family tree. My grand-daughter, her mum, her granny and her great-gran, G-G. A picture of me with my gran. Finally, a newspaper cutting, with a picture, reporting my gran’s grandparents’ golden wedding celebration. Mr and Mrs Robert Robinson of Thornley, no mention of Mrs Robinson’s fore-name in the article.

I had photographs of six out of seven generations of women. I hadn’t identified a picture of Mrs Robinson’s daughter, my great-grandmother. There was an unidentified picture, of around the right era. I asked my mum, G-G to my grandchildren, if this was my great-grandmother.

She was sad to report that no, this was the wife of one of her great uncles. She said she didn’t think she’d ever seen a picture of her maternal grandmother. My gran barely spoke of her mother, she’d brought shame on her family. Her crime? She’d been abandoned by her husband; she was rumoured to have married a bigamist.

He’d left her as a single mother. She’d become an embarrassment to her mother and her daughters; they’d almost airbrushed her out of their history. It’s a sad story, one needing to be told.

One thought on “Airbrushing Great-Granny

  1. The Salon evening sounds fab – so sorry I missed it. And then to be reminded of the strong women in your own dynasty. And your daughter’s comment that her own daughters were ‘doing you in history’ made me laugh out loud.

    Liked by 1 person

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