The topic “tough woman” doesn’t narrow the field for me. After all, I’m a 5th generation native-born Texan . . . apparently, we like it tough, but one of the toughest I know is my great-grandmother Effie.
Effie was born in rural Carroll County, Mississippi, in 1886, the 2nd of six children to W.A. Thomas and Mary Jane McCain Thomas, and shortly after baby #6 was born, her mother died. Life on a farm in the rural South was hard enough in the late nineteenth century, but growing up without a mother must have been tough. But help came in the way of Mary Jane’s widowed mother, Martha Brunt McCain, who moved in with her widowed son-in-law and his orphans. According to Alma Petty Broach, Effie’s youngest daughter, “Grandma McCain” was blind, but that didn’t keep her from training ten-year-old Effie in the essentials of household management. Alma says Grandma McCain would sit on a stool in the center of the house and verbally instruct Effie in how to cook, clean and sew. I would love to have been a fly on the wall, watching the dynamic of that tough blind grandma instructing her tough little granddaughter on running a farming family of six children.
She married Palmer Petty around 1906 and soon had children. The banner photo of this blog features Effie and Palmer seated with the first two of their children, surrounded by Effie’s father and brothers in Carroll County. Like everyone else in their family, they were poor and farmed cotton on someone else’s land. The timing of their young family could not have been worse: the boll weevil hit Mississippi in 1909, and the first five years after arrival were the worst.
About 1915, Effie had the uneviable task of moving her entire family from Carroll County, Mississippi, to Cherokee County, Texas — a trip of over 400 miles — with four children under age 10. At least three households made the move: Effie and Palmer Petty, Effie’s father and stepmother, and Effie’s sister, Mattie, who had married Palmer’s brother George Petty.
Effie and Palmer Petty never moved again. She had a total of eight children with one known stillborn child, although the 5 and 7 years gaps between Claude & Mary and Mary & Susie suggest additional heartbreak. They raised cotton, tomatoes, watermelon and every kind of pea imaginable, all in homes with neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. They continued to live in rural Cherokee County, Texas, until they died in 1973 and 1962.
Pictured below is Effie with my mother’s sister, Iris Broach, in the now unpopulated Barsola, Texas. Its certainly not the best photo of my great-grandmother, but I love it. I love it because it shows her in context, but I also love it because everything about the way she stands is exactly the way her daughter — my grandmother who raised me after my own mother died young — carried herself.