I was thinking about this week’s post and how the next big event in Josie’s life was GRADUATION! But then my mind shifted (because sometimes I’m like a puppy….squirrel….snack….ball.) However, this diversion was worth a shift. It is Mother’s Day weekend and one of the things I admire about Josie was how much she loved being a mother, because I understand that love all the way down to my core. She nurtured not only her daughter but her entire community. The connection I feel to Josie, for sharing the experience of being single mothers to daughters, it is tangible.
Josie was the first generation in her family to get to be a mother. To have her children and be able to nurture and raise them, not as property of another person. The most natural place to start this celebration of motherhood is with the woman who nurtured Josie to adulthood, her mother, Elizabeth “Eliza” English. Eliza had been born a slave. She gave birth to twelve children, half within the bonds of slavery and half after emancipation. Josie, her second to last child, was born in 1876. Eliza married a skilled laborer, Berry English–a carpenter, who afforded her the opportunity to stay home and create a nurturing environment to raise her children. I don’t think many of us pause and reflect how different motherhood was during slavery. Raising children wasn’t a mother’s primary responsibility, serving her owner was. Children were so often left to their own devices during the daytime or with an older woman who couldn’t do other labors. Eliza was able to nurture her children and she instilled in Josie an enviable ability to nurture others.
Josie was very much aware of the newness and the changing structure of Black motherhood. If Josie were alive today she would have her own parenting blog. She would be a Dr. Spok:) She took education for mothers seriously. She lectured to mothers groups on healthy eating habits of children. She said you can overfeed or underfeed children, so she taught proper nutrition. She was quite active in encouraging early education, a proponent of kindergarten. One reality that struck me the most was an article that described young children being left at home to care for infants, while mothers went off to work. Because for generations of slave mothers, that is how it was done. For the freed Black mothers who had to help put food on the table what other choice did they have? Josie advocated and helped raise money, along with many of her friends including Nettie Langston Napier, for the first daycare center for Black children in Nashville. The goal was to offer Black mothers’ a safe place to leave their children during the day. A place where they would be cared for, fed and educated. Josie didn’t give criticism, she gave options to women who desperately needed them.
We’ll get to all the amazing things Josie did for the women in her community, but that’s for a later post because, as a mother, I know who Josie would want me to celebrate on this Mother’s Day. Alma Ninde Wells. The little person who made her a mother:)
Alma Ninde Wells was born to George and Josie English Wells in Holly Springs, MS on November 28, 1896. George died soon after, therefore Alma never knew her father. Josie and Alma started the big adventure of creating a family together all alone. This may sound sad to some people, but there is a beauty to being a single mother. An intense overwhelming beauty that creates a bond between mother and child that is simply different when a father is present. Not better, not worse, different. I have never once regretted being a single mother, or lamented on how difficult it was. Because the truth is, the joy far outweighed any difficulty.
Little Alma was well loved by everyone who knew her, certainly by her mother the most. She was consistently in Nashville newspapers at soiree’s and events with her friends. She attended primary school in Nashville, Spelman Seminary in Atlanta and then Howard University. She fell in love with a graduate (1912) of Meharry Medical College named John Talmadge Givens. (Can you even imagine how stressful it was for John to date his professor’s daughter, not just his professor….the superintendent of the hospital!!) They married in June of 1915 and moved to Norfolk, VA where John set up shop as a doctor. Alma gave birth two two children Alma Wells Givens in 1915 and John Dewey Givens in 1931. John Dewey Givens followed in his grandmother and his father’s shoes and became the third generations of doctors in his family.
Dr. J.T. Givens was a highly respected and well known doctor, known for “using every opportunty that comes his way to improve and master the latest methods in the practice of medicine.” As his wife, Alma was active in various society clubs and groups. She was a founding member of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the National Medical Association (WANMA https://anmanet.org/about-us/history/) To honor her contributions, in 1942 the Alma Wells Givens Scholarship fund was established and is still awarded to four students who attend one of the remaining historically black medical colleges: Meharry or Howard.
Alma was only sixty-one years old when she died in 1958, but the legacy of her appreciation of education lives on in a scholarship that bears her name. It is my hope that one of those recipients will read this and smile at their connection to the Wells women.
This post would not be complete without a thank you to the woman who taught me how to be a mother. At fifteen years old, many people thought you would fail, you rose to the occasion and you taught me about love, kindness and to never stop arguing until the other person thinks you are right too! Anna Marie, I love you and I am eternally grateful that you took note and encouraged my love of history. I am me, because of you.
And to the little human who made me a mother. Kennedy Blake Farrow it is an honor to be your mother. I enjoyed every moment of rocking you to sleep and holding you close. But I enjoy even more watching you walk into your future a confident young woman ready to leave your mark on the world. Thank you for letting me hold your hand for a little while. I love you.
Happy Mothers Day Everyone.