This post is part of a lit blogsphere event celebrating voting. Please see the round-up post for links to other sites & quotes. I will be updating that post through election day.
Things you need to know about my great grandmother, Julia Lennon (1892-1972):
1. She was illegitimate, with a story about her unknown father that was so murky and heavy with potential "I was the child of royalty" influences that we have long considered it more fable than reality. Her mother claimed they were both immigrants, but I think now that Julia was born in Westchester County (what later became the Bronx) and the immigration story was a lie perpetuated by her mother.
2. Her mother, Marie Filak, was a known liar.
3. Julia grew up in the Bronx with a mother, stepfather and three half sisters. They never let her forget that she had a different father. She did use her stepfather's name until her marriage however.
4. She was married in Fort Lee, New Jersey in 1910 to Thomas Lennon. It was, by all accounts, a love match.
5. Before and initially after her marriage, Julia worked in garment factories. If you are familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire then you know what this was like.
6. Thomas delivered ice, delivered beer, was a housepainter, a gambler and many many other things. Mostly, he was beautiful, he was dearly loved by his family and he was an alcoholic. The story of my grandmother's childhood is that her mother held the family together. Always.
7. The first baby was born in 1912. Another followed in 1914, 1916, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1926 and 1931.
8. Julia Lennon was paying the bills, keeping a roof over their heads and taking care of four babies before she had the right to vote. Because women "shouldn't be dragged into the dirty pool of politics". As if her life was so pretty otherwise.
9. Excuse me while I pound my head on the table for a moment.
10. In 1928 or '29, while pregnant with her eighth child, Julia was devastated by a betrayal that is worthy of a LIfetime movie of the week. She made the decision to terminate her pregnancy and a local woman, who was known to help women in this manner, came to the apartment and provided her with the necessary materials and guidance to bring on a miscarriage. My grandmother, her oldest daughter, kept this secret for decades. Only someone who has been in Julia's position could understand why she did this. I can not stress enough how the rest of us can not possibly know what it was like to be her during this period.
11. Whatever you are thinking about my great grandmother's reasons, you are probably wrong.
12. In 1933, after being told that he needed to stop drinking or die by his doctor, Thomas Lennon died at the age of 43. He left behind eight children, the youngest only a toddler.
13. After his death Julia applied for what was then called "Aid to Widows and Orphans". This money and the money she was given by her older children, all of whom worked, enabled her to stay afloat. She worked as a building superintendent keeping the halls and stoop clean to provide housing for her family.
14. They had to hide their radio when the city inspectors came to her apartment - as an aid recipient they were not permitted to own a radio, even though it was purchased before the death of her husband.
15. The younger children had to be hidden when the building inspectors came to the house. As a superintendent, Julia was not permitted to have as many children in her home as she did. My great Aunt Marion suffered lifetime claustrophobia because of this. My grandmother could remember putting the little kids in the closet and covering the radio with blankets and boxes.
16. They worked incredibly hard. They deserved their damn radio.
17. Ultimately, Julia won. She kept all of her children even though it was not uncommon at the time for the poor to be forced by circumstance into giving up a child (or more) to Catholic Charities when they could not feed them. It was a point of pride to her that her children stayed with her.
18. All of them.
19. Of her eight children (five boys and three girls), all could be deemed a success. They owned businesses, held good paying jobs, married, bought houses, and on and on. No one ended up dead in the gutter or in jail. The sons served in WWII, the daughters worked in factories to support the war effort. They had great times, they remained good friends all of their lives and they never forgot how hard their mother worked to make their lives better.
20. Julia's grandchildren went on to college and success of their own. Her descendants are, in every way you can imagine, the perfect example of the American dream and we owe it to a woman who was all too often controlled by circumstances beyond her control, who made a decision some say damned her to hell, and who had many children and was forced to accept state assistance - who needed it to survive. Can you believe it?
21. I vote for the woman who remains my family's greatest hero. She was an explorer, a conqueror, a romantic who risked it all for love then survived in spite of a shattered heart. She never left New York but made sure all of the rest of us could have the world. I don't know how she voted once she was FINALLY given that right; I don't know if she was a Republican or Democrat and I honestly do not care.
22. I vote for Julia because life is hard and doing my part to try and make the world a better place is something I owe her, and every other woman then and now who finds themselves in the same circumstance. I vote because I was told her stories and those stories are a far more powerful truth than anyone's lies.