Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sentimental Sunday - The "Good Old Days" and Single Parenthood

This is the second Sentimental Sunday where I will  post family stories as told to me by my mother and other family members. It is my attempt to preserve these stories so that they can continue to be passed down to my children and their cousins…the next generation of storytellers.

We think of single parenthood and children born out of wedlock as a contemporary phenomena, but it actually happened to my great-great grandmother, Mariah,  in 1882.  Here is the story of that event:

Mariah Botkin was born 29 Oct 1863 in Wabash County, Indiana just over a year before the Civil War ended.  She was raised on her parents farm were she lived the majority of her life until her marriage in 1902.    At the age of 18 she met and fell in love with a man 7 years her senior, William Henry Stephens.  From this union my great grandfather, Pearl McCllean Botkin, was conceived and born on the 5th of Sept 1882.  However, Mariah and William Henry did not marry.  William's mother, Henrietta, didn't feel that Mariah was good enough for William. 

Mariah raised Pearl as a single mother and worked as a housekeeper only in homes where Pearl was allowed to accompany her.  Pearl grew up in the same small farm county with his paternal grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousins all living within a mile of him and never acknowledging him. 

In October of 1890 William's father dies followed eight years later by his mother Henrietta.  Four years after in 1902, William finally asks Mariah to marry him.  By this time Pearl, their son, is already 19 years old and had spent his whole life known as Pearl Botkin.  After his parents marriage, Pearl changed his last name to Stephens and in June 1903 married Grace Mabel Brane.  In November of that year Pearl became a father himself to his first daughter, Effie Marie. 

Mariah was now a grandmother but she herself gave birth to another son the following year.  Herbert Paul lived only 5 days and is buried in the Lafontiane, IOOF Cemetery in Wabash County, Indiana.

Mariah was married to William Henry for 32 years before William suffered a heart attack and died in 1934.  In 1953, in South Bend, Indiana, Mariah died at the home of Pearl and Grace.  The funeral and burial for Mariah took place in LaFontaine and she was layed to rest next to William Henry and Herbert Paul. 

Mariah lived 89 years spending 84 of those years in Wabash county.  She came from the days of horse and buggies but lived to see jet planes and televisions.  She spent the last five years of her life in South Bend but always missed what she called "Wabash Town". 

Although I never met Mariah (she died 10 years before I was born) I think of what she must have endured those 19 years of single parenthood in that small town and realized how strong she must have been.  The woman known in our family as "little grandma" may have been tiny but was really very tough.

The above information came from various birth, death and census records and first hand knowledge of my mother Karen Stephens Swanson.


  1. What a fascinating story. It's hard to remember the power that parents could have over their children. Mariah must have been a truly strong woman.

  2. Great read. I recently did a posts about the unwed mother homes. I always think of Scarlet Letter, but I know it wasn't like that in late 1800, but at least this one had somewhat of a happy ending.

  3. What an interesting story. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her and her son.

  4. Having the same surname pop up when doing the 'family tree' does make for interesting conversation. ;-)

  5. I must admit it was a moving story of Mariah. And as Greta said it is amazing the control that the parents had. How did Williams parents feel about Pearl?

    Shocking as it is, I found when I was researching family papers after my father and mother were gone, that my grandparents married three year after my mother was born.

    You live your whole life and it comes as a sibs thought was "so what."