Published on May 6th, 2017 | by Amanda Riggle0
The Labor of My Foremothers
Hannah Lavin Botkins Ash was born in 1858. Where, we aren’t sure. She somehow ended up in America and bore one son and two daughters, one being my great-great grandmother, Carrie Eunice Ash Rittenhouse. As we are of Irish heritage, we think she was born in the U.S.A. to parents who fled Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine which started in 1845 and ended in 1852. She passed in 1928, right before the Great Depression of 1929.
Carrie was born March 27, 1896 and spent most of her life in Monett, Missouri. She had two sons and three daughters and spent her married life as a homemaker until her husband passed away. To support herself, she worked as a seamstress for Sears Roebuck until her death September 17, 1972, eleven years and ten days before I was born. She lived through the Great Depression, she lived through both World Wars, she feared for her life during the Cuban Missile Crisis, she witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, she saw men get drafted for what is now called the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and she lived to see the beginning of Second Wave of Feminism in the United States of America. While I’ve never met these women, I know their blood flows through me. If it weren’t for the literal labor they went through to bare my matriarchal lineage, I would not be here to perform my labors under the capitalist system.
On May 27, 1915, Carrie Eunice Ash Rittenhouse bore my great grandmother, Margaret Hannah Rittenhouse Enright. Living in Missouri, she first entered the workforce as a cashier in a grocery store. She eventually moved to Las Vegas and worked her way up the head housekeeper at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. Before she started to show signs of alzheimer’s, she managed an RV park in Anaheim, California. On April 18, 2000, she passed away in Shady Cove, Oregon under the care of my grandmother. I met her when I was about 10 years old, but she was already far in the grips of her disease. I never knew Margaret the manager nor Margaret the woman whose labors earned her a spot as the head housekeeper at the Tropicana. My grandmother was her unpaid nurse and caregiver for about eight years. Margaret had two sons and four daughters in her lifetime and my grandmother was born December 18, 1941.
Judith Enright Hicks Rudisaile was born in Springfield, Missouri. She bore three daughters, one of which was my mother, while filling many different labor roles. When my mother was 16, she divorced her husband, worked, and raised three children until she met my step grandfather and remarried later in life. During her teens, she worked as a babysitter and later moved into the roles of waitress, then to a carhop wearing roller skates. She was able to sidestep into another role in the service industry and went from food-service to beautician. She then became a machine operator, but the physicality of her labor, both in physically having three children and raising them to being on her feet throughout most of her working life, began to wear on her and she developed rheumatoid arthritis. Her days as a machinist were up, but she trained as a nurse and worked as a back office nurse then as a front office nurse before her retirement. Even after her retirement, my grandmother continued to work. She was the unpaid babysitter for me and my cousins when she still lived in California, before she made her way to Shady Cove, Oregon, where she still resides with my step-grandfather. She is now the live-in nurse for my step-grandfather, who has, like my great-grandmother, started to develop alzheimer’s disease.
Linda Maria Hicks Riggle was born November 19, 1961. At the age of 21, she accidently got pregnant and I was born when she was 22 years old. She married my father a year after that. Before I was born, my mother worked in a convenient store, much like my grandmother did. She then moved into retail and spent her working life working for various toy stores. When I was very young, she worked at a small mom-and-pop toy store as a toy buyer. I would sometimes sit on her office floor and play while she worked at times when my grandmother was unavailable to babysit me. She was laid off from that company, which a year after went under, and became a manager of a KB Toy Store in the Westminster Mall. When she took maternity leave to have my sister, despite having an emergency c-section and needing to be hospitalized, she only got three months off before she had to return to work. My mother’s next job was as manager of U.S. Playthings, a toy and education store in Garden Grove, California.
The store experienced three years of growth while she was the manager, but on the fourth year sales stagnated as the whole economy had collapsed. It was 2001 and 9/11 froze the economy – so much so that President George W. Bush made a public plea for people to get out there and to start spending again because America depended upon it. My mom was let go of U.S. Playthings and found a less-than-ideal role as an assistant manager at the Dollar Tree. That was her last retail job. She, like my grandmother before her, started to develop arthritis, tied to years of physical toil she did through inventory, restocking, and unloading boxes from trucks. She had an office job for a year before she went on disability, but it proved too much for her developing physical maladies from years of intense labor in addition to a rear-end car accident on the way to work one morning.
I was born September 27, 1983. At the age of 33, I am working on a master’s degree with the goal of obtaining a Ph.D. and eventually becoming a professor. My foremothers, with the exception of my grandmother later in her life, were in the category of unskilled laborers and used their physical bodies to perform the labors they needed to earn money to stay alive. Before I pursued education, I held many office-jobs. I first worked for Skratch Magazine, working my way up from intern to music director for a year. From there I did many small gigs through temp companies from medical billing to data entry. I eventually found a small part-time position in an office at doing government commissary door contracting for California military bases until our contracts were absorbed by a large, world-wide commissary contract and we couldn’t compete. I found many small, part-time jobs but nothing that would support me long-term. I went back to college after helping an ex-boyfriend open a reptile store and working in it for a few years, making below minimum wage. I had been going to community college on and off, part-time, but committed myself to move out of the role of unskilled laborer and to try to become a professor of English.
I come from a line of women laborers, proudly part of the proletariat, and I carry their labors with me as I traverse the world of higher education. I am the first person in my family, on both my mother’s and father’s side, to attend a four-year college and earn a degree. I witnessed physical labor wear out my mother. I heard how labor wore out my grandmother. I went a different route and have tried my hand in the world of education. With the current political climate, there are doubts that I will succeed in finding any sort of tenured position as an educator and will spend my life as an adjunct (if that), lacking medical insurance, with no job security, no office to see students in, and no stability that was once promised from a degree.