Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Paulina Wunsch Supported Women's Health in Greenfield in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century

Paulina Wunsch reached out to me through the words of old newspaper articles and census records, and her story seems timely today. I hope to learn more about her through additional documents that may be available. There are no descendants to memorialize her, so here I go again.

As early as 1858, Paulina Pohl Wunsch advertised her services as a midwife in the Greenfield newspapers. She had arrived in New York from Poznan in the German partition of Poland in 1852 with her two-year-old daughter, Wanda. They followed her husband, William, who had come a year before to establish himself and pave the way for them. He was a "cutter" and found employment in the John Russell Cutlery Factory in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Both William and Paulina brought skills with them to their new home. She may have received her training from the predecessor of the Poznan University of Medical Sciences, which was certifying midwives in the nineteenth century.

She and Wanda became citizens of the United States by proxy when William was sworn in at the Franklin County Superior Court in March of 1860.

Paulina was listed in the Massachusetts Directory of Physicians in Greenfield in 1867, without further annotation.

They moved up from "Cheapside" to Greenfield's Main Street when they bought a home there in 1867. William opened a hat and specialty shop in the bustling Mansion House block across the street, assisted by his daughter. In the 1870 census all three are listed with occupations.

Life was not all bliss in the Wunsch household. A newspaper article in 1880 vaguely refers to "domestic troubles, which forced her husband to leave for parts unknown." In 1879 William transferred his business and real estate to his daughter, Wanda, who had married in 1873 He left town about that time, and was living in Pittsburgh, PA at his death in 1913.

Paulina was involved in a court case in 1880, charged with malpractice for performing an abortion. She was arrested on January 21,and released on $2000 bond. The October trial is cited in Volume 29 of the "Massachusetts Reports" of the Supreme Judicial Court. Testimony reveals that young Josie McGuire became "acquainted" with Thomas Burnham while she was working in Gill. He was charged with adultery when they became "criminally intimate."  A 40-year-old Thomas Burnham is found in the 1880 census of Montague.  His occupation is given as "huckster" -- the stereotypical traveling salesman.

According to her testimony, Josie came to the Wunsch home with a friend in October of 1878 and told Paulina that she was "in trouble," requesting help.  On the first visit she was given medicine.  Approximately a week later, she returned for an "operation" and described instruments used.  She paid $15 for the procedure, with $35 to be paid later.  Mrs. Wunsch later visited her in Gill and repeated the operation.  Josie was ill in the following days and another doctor was called.  It appears that her failure to pay the second doctor led him to expose her condition.  Ultimately, Paulina was charged a $250 fine.  Josie was jailed for perjury.

Paulina continued to live with her daughter and helped to raise her grandson, as Wanda ran a successful millinery business with her husband, Henry Miller, who was also a butcher.  She was consistently referred to as a "physician" in directories.  When she suffered a broken hip in December of 1897, the newspaper describes her as "the well known physician who has practiced in Greenfield for many years." She slipped while returning from a house call, walking "under the Clay Hill arch" now the Bank Row railroad underpass. She was 70 when she died of Bright's disease (kidney disease) on 23 November 1899. She was buried in Green River Cemetery in Greenfield. How many babies did she deliver in nearly 50 years in town?  How many women's troubles did she relieve?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

NERGC Conference - Looking Forward to Springfield

April 2017 will mark my fourth NERGC Conference.  This biennial regional genealogy love-fest will be held at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, MA on April 26-29.  I look forward to so many aspects of this event: genea-hugs from friends, meeting people in person with whom I converse regularly on line, learning from the amazing range of topics and speakers, helping answer questions at the Ancestors Road Show, and checking out the latest must-haves in the exhibit hall.

Leading up to the conference, I will be interviewing some of the speakers and posting what I learn here on the blog. Learn more details here. Get in on the Early Bird price before the end of February.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Massachusetts War Memorial Atop Mt. Greylock

The Massachusetts Veterans' War Memorial takes the form of a beacon of light on a 93 foot granite shaft that rises above the summit of Mount Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts.  It is said that the light can be seen for 70 miles.

The monument will be undergoing renovation during 2016, and is expected to reopen to visitors in 2017. In additional to structural repairs,accessibility will be improved.  It was first envisioned as a memorial to the soldiers of the Great War (WWI) and is now dedicated to all who served from Massachusetts in subsequent conflicts.

Funding for the monument was appropriated in 1930, after years of debate over the final location. It was opened to the public in 1932. An inscription on the walls of the interior rotunda reads:

Life is no life to him that dares not die If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders Fields Sleep well, heroic souls, in silence sleep Lapped in the circling arms of kindly death Grim death has vanished, leaving in its stead The shining glory of the living dead.

The monument is located within the 12,500 acre Mount Greylock State Reservation, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Vehicular access is permitted during summer months, either from Adams on the east or Lanesborough on the south. It is surrounded by 70 miles of hiking trails, including a 11.5 mile portion of the Appalachian Trail.

After driving past the signs for 30 years, I will certainly make a point to visit next summer when it reopens.  

Statements from the 2015 groundbreaking are here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Social Butterfly? Fearless Females Organization Membership

Many of these prompts for Women's History Month have pointed me toward my maternal grandmother, Sara Meeneghan Coleman.  Gram was active in the American Legion Women's Auxiliary, and served as an officer many times.  She was County Chairman in 1937 when the 18th anniversary of the organization was celebrated.

The music was provided that evening by a cousin by marriage, Mrs. Charles Coleman, according to this article from the Utica Observer Dispatch of March 19, page 20.  With several others, Gram was a speaker after the dinner..I wonder what her remarks included.

As reported in the Otsego Farmer on 24 October 1952, she was again elected chairman.

Another cousin by marriage was named in this article, Mrs. Harris G. Clark, Jr.  As was the case in news outlets at the time, the women are not identified by their first names.

The American Legion is a patriotic organization for veterans, and many of these women in the auxiliary began their involvement when it was chartered after World War I. My grandfather's sister, Bessie Coleman, certainly did, beginning with her involvement in creating the War Memorial.  The Clark F. Simmons Post in Cooperstown was a big part of my grandmother's social life, where she gathered with her friends to support the veterans and other community service activities. Most involved a luncheon or a dinner.  Her letters also chronicle her involvement in the 1940s. As the newspapers illustrate, she did more than participate on a local level, but took a leadership role county-wide.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Lunch with an Ancestor

This week I spent a few days in Cooperstown, where my mother grew up, and her father and grandfather before her.  The house doesn't look the same. The big maple trees in the front yard are gone and everything looks smaller than it did when I was a child. 

My grandmother, Sara Meeneghan Coleman, died when I was ten. She was the only grandparent that I knew. I don't have any memories of her eating in a restaurant, except possibly having lunch at the counter at Newberry's, and bringing home a goldfish. They sold them in those white boxes that Chinese take-out comes in now, and they still makes me think of goldfish. Gram cooked family dinners that were shared at the big table in their kitchen. We visited often on weekends, holidays and in the summer.

Spending time in a place where I have many memories makes me think how I would have loved to have the opportunity to take her out to lunch and talk to her as an adult about her experiences. Questions that I am trying to coax out of documents, she could have answered off hand. We would have many new restaurants to choose from: diners to trendy coffee shops, pizza parlors to organic boutiques. Where she might have chatted with her friends at a church event, or over coffee in her kitchen, I often use lunch at a restaurant to meet and get all the news from my friends. I am sure I will make lunch dates to treat my own grandchildren someday.  I wish I could have lunch today with my grandmother, but as she used to say, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride."

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Six Word Memoir

This is like writing a haiku.  Today's challenge is to write a Six Word Memoir.

Who to pick?  Who hasn't been in the spotlight before?

The Colmans who moved from Massachusetts to New York in 1794 are on my mind.

Nabby Dole Colman (1773 - 1859)

Moved west; pioneer; proud mother; endured.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fearless Females: Newsmaker

Newspapers are one of the most valuable tools for adding details to our ancestors' stories.  Some lived quiet lives and rarely appear in the news. Scandals may be widely reported, as well as every day events that appear in the social notes.  Business advertisements can also contribute to our base of knowledge.

One of the most unusual news reports I have found is what I believe to be the only public office sought by my mother. In 1954 my parents, Betty and Joe Szymanowicz, had returned from Kentucky where my father did his Korean War service at Fort Breckenridge.  They bought a home in Seneca Falls, New York. They were both interested in politics, but my father was the one who ran for several offices during my childhood. They must have jumped into the political scene, because my mother was put on the slate as Coroner.

Geneva Daily TImes, 18 August 1954, page 3

The Democrats did not fare well in the elections and she lost by a wide margin.

3 November 1954, Unnamed newspaper at

She told me that Mr. Fulver was a butcher, by trade.