Life didn't always turn out the way that women hoped or expected. Young girls didn't dream of living in poverty or of raising a family on an inconsistent income while their husbands were away at sea. They didn't hope to be widowed, or to raise a child alone, or to lose a child to sickness, and yet the possibility of these predicaments was always present.
It is in the yellowed pages of the correspondences of A.H. Murray and Company–Newfoundland's main supplier of household goods—where the lives of these women are laid bare. The humiliation of cancelling an order of pork or, worse, having to plead for more time to pay off grocery debts is forever captured in handwritten letters to the supplier, like the following note written by Mrs. William J. Hennessey, from Kelligrews in 1912 in response to a debt collection notice by A.H. Murray and Company:
An answer to your letter which I received a couple of days ago with reference to the money we owe you which I cannot pay you before the fall. My husband is gone away for the summer and when he comes home he will straighten up with you this present fall he would have payed you the spring but he went to the Ice in the Bloodhound and never made a cent so he dedent call to see you so that is the best I can do for you now.
From Yours Truly,
Mrs. William J. Hennessey"
See the original letters here.
Still other women faced physical challenges. A poignant illustration of struggle, and also of success, is the story of Kirkina Mucko of Rigolet, Labrador who lost her legs to gangrene as a toddler. She went on to travel abroad as a poster child for the Grenfell medical mission, returned home to Labrador years later, married, lost her husband and all but one child to illness, and still went on to become a respected midwife, revered community member, and grandmother.
The women who existed on the margins of society struggled a great deal. However, they also embodied, perhaps to the fullest extent, the spirit of perseverance common to most inhabitants of this island. These women's stories are not tragedies, but rather tales of overcoming difficulty, bearing witness, living through hardship and, always, moving forward.