Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on those who have impacted us, as this recent group tribute to inspiring women showed so beautifully. That includes looking at those who came before us in our families. Author Kate Rounds does exactly that in the guest post below, which she titles “Relative Obscurity.”
‘Relative Obscurity’: A Guest Post from Author Kate Rounds
It’s November 3, 2011, and my siblings and I are touring an old clapboard farmhouse in Auburn, Maine. It’s tan, painted in an approved, pre-Revolutionary War color. It has an ell, and a small outbuilding in back. The front door, never used, faces a winding road on a sharp curve. The house has been lovingly maintained by a series of owners since it was built in 1730 by our fifth great grandfather Nathaniel Rounds.
I know all this how? Because my brother is an amateur genealogist, and his unearthing of the Rounds forebears predates ancestry.com by a few decades.
Ahead of Nathaniel came Mark, Samuel, Samuel, Jr., and Joseph.
In the upstairs hallway of the Auburn house is a row of framed photographs. We ask the current owners who are very welcoming to the invading Roundses if we can remove them, and we’re rewarded—standing in the big, low-ceilinged tavern room downstairs—with captions scrawled in pencil on the back of the photos.
The photo on this page is one of them, and it has haunted me since I first laid eyes on it.
My brother’s digging has revealed that the Rounds men were soldiers, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, anchor makers, stonemasons, housewrights, chairmakers, farmers—and one tax collector.
Notice I said men.
All of them were married—to Sarah, Mary, Dorcas, and Nancy; Nathaniel was married twice, to Perlina who died and to Susan.
But history has not honored these women with jobs. As one source pontificated, in those days, “A woman needed a man to provide support and protection, and a man needed a woman to help raise his many children.”
Pictured in this photograph are relatives of Nathaniel, lovely, lined, and upright in their pioneer dresses, seated on straight-backed chairs in the middle of a meadow.
Their beautiful, weather-beaten faces are testament to how hard it must have been to “raise their many children,” often alone, and to keep these homespun houses.
It’s the carpentry of the chairs against the emptiness of the field that informs these women’s days: bringing homelife out of the hinterland.
For me, these are the notable women of history—indominable, unsung, and indispensable.
About today’s guest writer
Kate Rounds is a veteran journalist who’s been an editor at Ms. Magazine and written for the New York Times. She’s author of the recently-released novel Catboat Road. Kate has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and lives in Jersey City, without a cat.
Catboat Road is available on Amazon, Kobo, and other leading online stores. Find out more about Kate Rounds in this interview.
Top photo: Kate Rounds in The Little BOHO Bookshop, Bayonne, NJ. Photo by Sandra Dear. Used with Kate’s permission.