Catherine Jones Thomas
FRIENDSHIPS AND LONELINESS ON THE PRAIRIE
The following diary entries represent a typical week for Catherine Thomas:
June 2, 1886: “had Mr. Meyer and Rees Price to dinner”
June 3, 1886” “Mrs. Morgan and Annie hear to tea”
June 4, 1886: “Mrs. Masters and Ed Edwards and wife hear”
June 7, 1886: “had Mrs. Alden hear to dinner”
June 8, 1886: “I want to visit Mrs. W. Neil:
Five out of seven days she made sure to make contact with others which was indeed a very important part of Catherine’s life. In our current generation, if we were to see this many friends in one week, we would probably be looking forward to being alone for a day. If a day or two went by where Catherine didn’t have interaction with people, her diary reflected a marked loneliness. It was incredibly lonely for Catherine to be on the farm, even when her husband was alive and home. All outside communication had to be by word of mouth or, if she could get to town, by a letter. She missed her family who still lived in Wales as is obvious in the following sad entries about her father:
December 9, 1878: “a cloudy day I feel lonesome and wish I could go and see my poor old Father he will be a 82 year old soon”
June 5, 1879: “my poor father died today at 2:00 o’clock being 81 years and two months old” (then she recites a poem or hymn in the Welsh language.)
In today’s overcrowded and busy world, it is hard to imagine the cabin fever that Catherine must have felt on almost a daily basis after her children left home.
December 15, 1878: “feel very tired James and Joseph (two youngest sons) did not come home and it is very lonesome we are all alone now I look back 38 years to night and I had no children when alone but to night I have 7 children and still alone what a work I have seen”
September 23, 1886: “don’t feel well still have to work and work hard and 64 years old soon it will be over soon and who will care”
Catherine’s diary entries frequently sound like the symptoms of depression: sickness, tiredness, lonesomeness, yet she kept on working and continuously helping out other people with their hardships.
COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTIONS ON THE PRAIRIE
Although never stated directly that she served in her community as a midwife, evidence in her diaries show a distinct possibility. For example, there were several times when she spent the night at houses helping with the birthing of a baby or with the sick. In the following example, she was at Mrs. Anderson’s house all night taking care of a very sick child, but to no avail.
March 4, 1879: “I went to…Mrs. Anderson the baby is very sick”
March 5, 1879: “feel very tired am staying up all night last”
March 6, 1879” “went to the funeral of Mrs. Anderson child”
The following is another example of her work with the sick:
September 27, 1886: “cold day went to Mrs. Griffiths staid all night thar” September 28, 1886: “came home this morning after staying 20 hours Mrs. Maggie Griffiths baby born a few minits before 6 this morning”
For whatever reason, she didn’t refer to herself as a midwife even though she performed the duties of one. The possibility could be that there was a negative stigma attached to the term, or perhaps she was downplaying her work. She provided a valuable service to the community in which she lived, but it was not mentioned as work because it didn’t bring in cash. However, Catherine once made reference to an informal bartering system that took place between community members when they helped each other.
February 21, 1879: “Mrs. Huges was buried to day I feel sick have been 7 night with her and if I could I would do twice and twice again for her for what she did for my children”
Catherine also served as advisor on personal matters for those who visited her from the community. Sometimes the person whom she was advising even wrote a short note in Catherine’s diary, thanking her for her guidance and advice.
October 27, 1878: “arrived there just in time to take tea and by the way let me tell you we had a splendid cup of tea and some good clean butter. We chatted warmly during tea at which time Mrs. Thomas took the liberty to advise to be careful in selecting my company which was very good and received due attention. Now I leave for home agan after spending a very pleasant day. Yours truly D.R. Evans.”
Sources: Lyon County, Minnesota (1884-1912), A.P. Rose; History and Description of Lyon County, Minnesota, C.F. Case, 1884; “Catherine Jones Thomas,” Christine Sartor, March 1998.
(To be continued)