A Mother’s Day

With Mothers’ Day coming up, I wanted to share something special with you.  It’s a journal entry written by my great-grandmother, Isabella Eleanor Pratt Robison, in 1892, describing a typical day in her life.

Isabella was born in 1854, into a prominent Salt Lake City family.  At the age of 17 she married Franklin Alonso Robison and, over the course of their forty-year-marriage, bore him twelve children.  Most of her life was spent in the southern Utah town of Fillmore, Utah’s original capitol.  In 1912, she suffered a stroke and passed away at the age of 57.

Here is a glimpse into her life.

“15 March 1892

Yesterday morning I arose from my bed with a determination to seek to cultivate patience, not to get nervous and cross at the little delays and accidents so incidental in large families of small children.  I breathed a prayer to that effect and I tried to keep it in mind through the day.

I put the boiler on to heat the wash water, got breakfast, sent three of the little ones to school.  Carrie, age 6, said she was sick.  I told her to be good and go to school and perhaps she would feel better in a little while.

I began to wash.  Alfred wanted some sacks mended to carry grain into the field to sow.  I left the clothes soaking, mended the sacks; put up victuals to last him a week.  Wash half an hour.  Alfred wants one more sack; empty and weigh my dried fruit, put it in anything that is clean and comes handy…go back to the clothes, find they have not diminished in numbers during my absence.  Rub, rub, rub.

Then come the children from school.  Carrie is as pale as a ghost, give her some physic and warm tea, put her to bed and ask God to bless and heal her.  Rub, rub, rub.  Carrie comes out and wants a piece of toast, make her some.  She is better and says she is well.  Wash again a little while.

A visitor comes.  While resting and conversing hear a racket as though the dishes were falling from the cupboard, discover that Ruth has tipped from the top shelf of the cupboard a pan of milk.  Think I will punish her as soon as company withdraws.  Am glad company is present so that my nervous anger will abate before being left alone with the children.  Company goes.  Think what is the use to scold over spilt milk?  Think I will have a little lunch before resuming laundry work.  Milk all over pantry floor…Milk on every shelf, in every dish, in the butter, meat, sugar, and fruit, milk everywhere and yet not a drop for my lunch, nor can I have a lunch till Herma cleans up the milk.

Child comes in with an egg, it drops, little ones run through it.

Three hours later.  All in all, I have many things to be thankful for.

Isabella E. Pratt Robison”

(This is me now)  I only wish I had a fraction of her patience and faith.  Thanks for letting me share this with you.  Does it bring back any of your family stories?

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

15 thoughts on “A Mother’s Day”

  1. Elizabeth, what a great post. I get tired just thinking of twelve children…much less all the work she had to do without all our modern conveniences. I remember my gramma (b. 1897 in Kansas) saying she used to ride a cow home from the pasture. I always thought this was a fun thing to imagine, her being a child on a cow because to me, she was always, well, Gram. This all reminds me of a fantastic book, an authentic record of Western ranch life entitled “Letters of a Woman Homesteader” by Elinore Pruitt Stewart.

    I’m up late so I get to be the first one today! Yay.

  2. WOW…12 kids!

    Thanks for that Elizabeth, it’s so interesting to read things like this!

  3. I have LETTERS FROM A WOMAN HOMESTEADER on my research shelf, Tanya. What amazes me is the humor she keeps in spite of that hard, hard life.
    Glad you enjoyed this, too, Melissa. I love it because it’s so real.

  4. Elizabeth, I think your great grandmother must’ve been a saint! I can’t imagine the difficulties of raising such a large family. And we think we have it bad today. Just the wash alone must’ve been horrendous. If each of them had two pieces of dirty clothing, that would’ve been 24. And I’m sure there was more than that. Oh my gosh!

    I loved seeing inside her mind. Such a treat is rare because few women took time to write about their lives. Thank you so much for sharing! It’s a great reminder for Mother’s Day and to be thankful for what each day brings.

  5. Thanks, Linda. Isabella lost one child at the age of five. I believe the rest survived into adulthood. I knew several of the younger ones growing up, including my grandmother (another Linda, but short for Belinda). Her descendants number in the hundreds and hundreds, including the governor of our state (whom I’ve never met).

  6. Know the feeling! There were nine of us, I’m the
    eldest. Mother “preferred” doing a lot of the
    cooking and housework herself, as we got older we
    did have our little “chores” to help out. I recall helping at age six when the twins were born. At age 13, I was doing the family ironing. That really was a CHORE! Today I don’t iron, unless it is an absolute necessity!! Yesterday was the seventy-third of the day Mother and
    Daddy were married. We wouldn’t be here if not
    for these great women, I just wish life hadn’t been so hard for them!

    Pat Cochran

  7. Great post, Elizabeth. Your grandmother was tough. All that milk!!!!!!!!
    What a mess. The lady was cool under fire, just the right type to settle the west. 🙂

  8. My dad used to tell a story about accidentally locking his mother in the basement of their house. I’m not sure how that accident occurred but she was so furious, yelling at him to unlock the door that he ran and left her locked in.
    She stayed there all day until my grandpa came home or in from the field or whatever.

    My grandma was a seriously cranky woman. Dad was never clear on exactly what happened to him afterward but I think Grandpa protected him. 🙂

  9. Hi Elizabeth: I love reading journal entries from the 1800s and no I wouldn’t have your great-grandmother’s patience. I think it’s wonderful to have that in your family history. I started keeping a journal again last year and I wish I had never stopped-I kept one in jr. high and high school then stopped writing because I was too busy in college. Now I feel like there is such a huge gap (about 22 yrs.)but it’s great to be writing again.

  10. Thanks, Pat, Mary and Za. Love your stories. Maybe getting locked in the basement was what made your grandma cranky, Mary. My dad built an airplane once out of an old bedspring and some straw bales. He and his friend got the dumbest kid in the neighborhood to fly it off the shed. At least nobody died. Pat, you sound like a real pioneer yourself. And aren’t we grateful for clothes dryers and perma-press fabrics!
    Congratulations on keeping a journal Za. Your family will thank you one day.

  11. I enjoyed reading this Elizabeth. I live about 45 minutes north of Salt Lake and we travel through Fillmore a couple of times a year. I always find it fascinating to read about the early settlers in Utah.

  12. Wow your great grandmother sounded like quite a lady of patience. My mother-in-law has 12 children and i honestly think her life is more difficult now since they’ve grown than when they were young and Karen if you’re reading this I’m talking about Linda she actually had to read me something out of your book over the phone to me while i was thinking to myself (i don’t think she’ll ever return my books she borrowed to me) but the one she was reading to me was hers for her B.D.
    I only have 2 children and can’t really imagine having to spread myself any more thinner on some days. Wonderful Post and I know you’re so glad you have what she wrote.

  13. My sister may live near you, Christy. She lives in Roy, which is about that distance from SLC. And I agree with you, Lori, about life getting more complicated as children grow up. You’re not just worrying about little kids, you’re worrying about their marriages and their finances and their children, and you’re still their mom.
    Very glad I don’t have twelve to deal with!
    Thanks so much for your comments.

  14. Elizabeth. . . how lucky you are to have that journal. I have my grandmother’s poems and some of them really reflect her life in Bisbee. Arizona, but I would love day to day diary entries.

  15. I wish I did have the entire journal, Pat. The excerpt I used was taken from a short biography that someone else in the family wrote and had printed. The same biography contains some letters and a poem that she wrote about her children, comparing each of them to a different flower in a garden. She wasn’t a trained poet and the verses show that, but the sentiment is lovely. A lot of people seemed to write poems in the old days. Now it’s becoming a lost art.

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