Angelina of the Ozarks, Talks on Mothers-in-law, Stepmothers and Grass Widows by Alice Curtice Moyer Wing

Alice Curtice Moyer Wing wanted equal voting rights for women. She traveled the Missouri Ozarks with her horse La Belle in the 1910s, talking to people about voting rights. Her experiences were chronicled in a series of articles published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1916-1919. Missouriwomen.org is featuring Moyer Wing’s articles as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights. For more information about Moyer Wing and her activism, see Alice Curtice Moyer Wing and Woman Suffrage in the Ozarks, 1916-1919.

The following was Moyer Wing’s twenty fourth article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 10, 1918:

“I’m a woman’s woman, plumb through,” she says, “I stick up fer ‘em. But I can see their faults the same as men’s. I want the vote fer women because of what it will help do fer the women theirselves. They need somethin’ big outside of their homes and their chickens and their gardens to think about and talk about with the men folks of their famblies.”

By Alice Curtice Moyer-Wing

She sat on a stump by the roadside as she talked, her sunbonnet pushed back from a flushed, earnest, girlish face. La Belle relaxed, as is her habit, when she senses that we are halting for a lengthy chat, and especially if she knows that we are a long way from home and isn’t at all sure about the number of miles she may be asked to cover before the day is gone – but so gracefully does La Belle perform this strength-conserving feat that one not acquainted with her would strongly suspect her of posing. I leaned with my elbow on the saddle horn, waiting.

“Yes,” she was saying, “you can put me down as bein’ fer it. And it ain’t that I think women is angels, nuther, because I know they ain’t – and I reckon they ain’t nobody honestly wants us to be. I reckon we’re a heap more useful as jist human bein’s.

24 1

“I’m a woman’s woman, plumb through; I stick up fer ‘em. But I can see their faults the same as men’s. I read a right smart and I learn a heap frum people. In mixin’ around with the girls and the fellers, I learn all the time. No matter how silly they may seem, they all learn me somethin’, and I want the vote fer women because of what it will help do fer the women theirselves. They need somethin’ big outside of their homes and their chicken and their gardens to think about and to talk about with the men folks of their famblies. They need it, jist as the men needed it when they tuck it away frum the classes and give it to the masses – as somethin’ I was a-readin’ yisterday said. And the women are readier fer it than any boy of 21; they’re readier fer it than the man who gits it in exchange fer naturalization papers. Why, they’re jist as ready fer it as – as anybody, and the way to make them the best voters that ever was is to jist give it to ‘em.

“Now, all that is my reason, and I reckon they ain’t no argyment between you and me as to whuther I’m a-wantin’ to vote er not, but if you ain’t in a hurry, I want to talk to you about some other things that’s a-givin’ me a heap of bother frum thinkin’ about ‘em. One of ‘em goes furder back than any sufferage question that ever lived er breathed. It commenced, I reckon, when Eve’s boy got married. It’s the mother-in-law question that I’d like to see settled.”

“The-the mother-in-law question,” I repeated wonderingly.

‘That’s what I said, the mother-in-law question. If they is any one thing that’s goin’ to keep me frum gittin’ married, it is the thought of gittin’ to be a mother-in-law. Strange how people air. You git lambasted by purty nigh everybody if you don’t have childern. Then if you do have ‘em, you can know they’s a lambastin’ a-comin anyhow. Your son-in-law will make light of you, becasue it is all the style fer a feller to complain about his mother-in-law, and your daughter-in-law will hate you because you air her husband’s mother. But I’ve noticed how she expects her husband to like her own folks. Oh, yes, that’s a white horse of another color. But she cain’t fergive her husband’s mother for bein’ his mother and she jist natcherly makes him fergit her if she can. She sets to work the fust thing to wean him away, and if she don’t do it, they’s trouble right straight in the fambly.

“The pore kids! I’ve watched ‘em many a time, with their hongry eyes, a-wishin’ they could b ethe same with their mother that they ever was – and with his cat of a wife a-watchin’ that he ain’t – well, I jist wonder that he don’t cuss the roof off the house er dynamite it, er somethin’. But they’re sich helpless things, men is, and will do nearly anything to keep peace. And his mother – well, of course, her hongry eyes don’t count fer nothin’, her bein’ only the mother-in-law.

“Of course, they’s expections, thank goodness. If they wasn’t, the world couldn’t hold all its broke hearts. But they’s so turrible many that jist natcherly hates their mother-in-law jist because she is a mother-in-law, that i shore don’t aim to lay myself liable to be one, ‘less I change my mind a heap.

24 2

“Why, they ain’t nobody livin’, hardly, but what will laugh like eegets at the mention of the word, and I have often noticed from readin’ the papers how a Jedge likes to hand down a verdick of ‘too much mother-in-law’ in cases of fambly trouble. But the mother-in-law never gits a hearin’. No, sir! They ain’t a jury in the world that would listen to her.

“If I ever should happen to git married” – and here the brown eyes softened – “if I ever should – you notice that there is a big ‘if’ in the way, don’t you? But if I ever should change my mind and git married, I don’t aim to plumb lose the little bit of sense I’ve already got. I’m goin’ to remember that if it hadn’t been fer my mother-in-law I wouldn’t a-had my husband. And I don’t aim to be no robber. Her boy will still be her’n – and when that is the case they ain’t no danger but what they’ll be plenty of room fer me in his heart and her’n too – fer they ain’t no woman in the world but what will be only too happy and thankful to meet a decent person that has married her boy or her girl more than half way.

“I read in a paper that in a big city they kept track of it oncet fer a whole year, and the mother-in-law was actually in the fault jist two times out of 100 cases of fambly trouble, but they was enough fuss made over jist them two to make people imagine, that don’t stop to think, that it was the other way – 98 cases where the mother-in-law done it, with the two others kinder doubtful.

“It’s jist one of them conditions where a woman has to carry the blame, and the thing that gits me is, that another woman is so much to blame fer the blame- another woman who thinks it’s a nice smart trick to take her husband away from his folks and make him distant even to his mother, when all the time the little fool is not only a-breakin’ the other woman’s heart, but is a-diggin’ the very same kind of a grave fer herself.

“Women has shore got to do different before they git anywheres like they ort. They’ve got to put theirselves in other folk’s places and see how it feels. In fact, they’ve jist got to use the sense they’re borned with – and votin’ will help ‘em to be bigger and broader and responsibler. A minute ago I called the horrid, foolish kind of woman I was a-talkin’ about, a ‘cat.’ Did you notice it? I reckon that’s the fust time I ever done sich a thing in my life, and I don’t aim to ever do it again. It’s common and I don’t like it. Also, it’s misleadin’. I’ve saw plenty of men makin’ their wives miserable by hatin’ er belittlin’ their mothers, or by doin’ the hundred-and-one other tricks that’s supposed to be cattish, which jist goes to show that if they is any cats at all, they ain’t all Tabbies. A great big half of ‘em is Toms.”

She looked off to where the sun was being dimmed by a passing cloud, and brought her gaze back to me, still meditatively.

“And they’s another thing,” she said. “When a woman loves a man well enough to try to mother his little children, I think she ort to have a fair trial before everybody jumps on her with their hob-nail boots and the idee that she’s meaner than pizen jist because she’s got the nerve to be a stepmother. It’s my opinion that a man er a woman that’s got children better think more than twice afore they git married agin, but once they do it, people ort to take the nails out of their boots. That is, some of’em. Fer they’s oodles of good stepmothers.”

She paused and looked off at the sky again.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Heaps. There’s the grass widder, fer instance, that is always to blame, and the feller she divorced, who never had ‘grass’ tacked onto him, because, the pore feller, he didn’t want to git married, nohow, and he shore couldn’t help it because his wife got a divorce and disgraced him. Hain’t it a plumb sight? But what’s the use of that ‘grass’ anyhow? And if it sounds so handy fer the woman, why not tie it onto the man, too. They’s a heap to be said on that subject, and if you’ll stay at our house tonight, maybe you’ll talk it over with me.

“And there’s”-

She broke off, laughing, and grew serious again and said:

“Ain’t it a sight how many things they is to think about and ain’t it the strangest thing how much we can think about ‘em when it seems we ortn’t and couldn’t think about nothin’ but the war? But ain’t it a blessin’, though, that we can? Jist like it’s always been about death and earthquakes and cyclones that we’ve lived in the middle of and never knowed when we’d git struck by some of ‘em ourselves. The Lord knowed what He was about, didn’t he, when he fixed us that-a way? Why, do you know, when I’ve read war news and talked war and thought war till I think I’ll plumb die, I read the foolishest love story I can find, er somethin’ wild and woolly like ‘Bilious Bub the Terror of the Rockies.’ Read ‘em aloud to mommy and poppy at night, and git ‘em a-laughin’. If I was in a place where they have things, I’d go to the funniest show I knowed of two er three nights in the week, jist to keep myself balanced.”

“You see,” she added softly, “both my bothers are in France.” Her voice broke here and her eyes filled, but the tears didn’t get any farther. With a complete change of manner she easily and naturally began talking about something else. “The Lord did know,” I thought. “He did know what He was about when He fixed up that-a way.”

“Hain’t this been the awfullest winter you ever seen? She made the question so complete a statement that no reply was necessary. “My grandpa has been right here all his life and can remember back as fur as the forties and he says he never seen sich a winter in Southern Mizzoura. Snow was two foot deep on a level in our field. Shore was. Poppy measured it hisself.

“But speakin’ of snow, reminds me: If they’s any in May, you jist gether up a whole passel of it and put it in your chimbly courner to melt, and you shore won’t have no fleas next summer. And if you ever have nose bleed, jist tie a piece of lead to a string and wear it on the back of your neck. And I”ll have mommy give you some of the salve she makes fer stubbed toes. Ever stub your toes goin’ barefooted? It shore heels ‘em right up. And if you ever git a stonebruse on your heel, well, maybe you won’t believe it, but if you rub it with a green rag and bury the rag under a rock fer a certain number of hours, the hurtin’ will shore be plumb gone. You jist try it and see fer yourself.”

I was pondering over this strange native mixture of wisdom and superstition when she replied to a question she had treated silently until this moment.

“Of course,” she said thoughtfully, “I don’t mind bein’ in a story, but somehow I sorter don’t want my picture in it. I’ve always kinder wanted to be in a story, but I”d ruther jist let people guess about my looks, havin’ it kinder mysterious, you know. Wouldn’t that be nice and romantic? And I’d ruther have you call me Angelina int he story than my own name. I don’t like my own so very well. Always did want one with four syllables. I reckon they never was a person that didn’t wish, some time er other, that they could a-named theirselves.

“But if you’ll go I’m a-goin’ to take you home with me. Must be 4 o’clock in the evenin’ right now, and will be gittin’ chilly in an hour er two. Poppy and mommy wants to see you – and there’s all them things that I want to talk to you about.”

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