LOSCHO Womens Legacy ProjectThe Women's Legacy Project of Snohomish County, Washington seeks to honor our foremothers by recording and sharing their personal histories, their ability to adapt to the forces of change and their constant vigilance as stewards of the diverse cultures of our society.

Mabel Monsey: Chronicles of a Farm Wife, 1891-1903

By Louise Lindgren 
Originally published in the Third Age News: June 2001
The Monsey family came west from Ohio in about 1888, first settling in Snohomish and then, in 1890, taking a forty acre preemption claim near Hartford, a railroad junction northeast of Lake Stevens. They brought four girls with them, ranging in age from nine years to eighteen months. In an article describing their arrival, which Mabel wrote for a publication back east, she told of their trek from the train station at Hartford to their new property: “ …we walked the mile and three-quarters down the railroad track, then one-quarter of a mile to our new home, over a good road. … on either side of the road, was dense forest, and to see the sun one must look straight up.” 
Their furniture was hauled to a drop-off point in front of the shake cabin Mr. Monsey had built. The only problem was carrying all that furniture, including a heavy sewing machine and an organ, over, around, and through an immense pile of logs that filled the area from the road to the cabin door. A large fir log, eight feet in diameter, lay in front of the front door. Mabel writes, ‘We had to make a ladder to climb to the top of this log, and then walk down the log to a smaller one, down the next to a still smaller one, and so on to the road.” The road was completely hidden by felled logs and forest debris, while nearby Lake Stevens was hidden by the dense stand of timber. 
The month was November. Only one room of the two-room cabin had a floor. The night before, Mr. Monsey had slept in the house while numerous skunks had played in the room all night. On the day of his wife’s arrival, he laid the second room’s flooring. Excess furniture was placed in the woodshed where it promptly became unglued, owing to the damp weather. Yet with all the confusion of moving, a tiny cabin as opposed to the normal home they had left behind, the cold and wet, the young children needing constant care and attention, Mabel wrote, “We were young and brave, my husband and I. We were ready to work hard in our struggle for a home.” 
The Monseys were well-educated and had money in the bank. With their background and advantages, and particularly with their optimistic attitude, they were well equipped to handle their pioneer challenges. Mabel was also a writer, and determined to help out the family with income from that skill. She wrote a column about their lives for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, another column about housekeeping and motherhood for “Housekeeper" magazine, and many articles for the “Ohio Farmer.”
Education was extremely important to the Monseys. Mabel wrote, “One of the first things I did was to subscribe for a number of the best farm journals, a floral magazine, several ladies’ magazines and journals and the leading county paper. Also a good eastern paper, some eleven or twelve altogether, and they have been welcome inmates to our home ever since.” It was natural then for her to teach school in her home until a new school could be built nearby. And, since their family grew from four children in 1888 to eleven by 1903, the education of her children was always front and center as one of her major responsibilities. 
The chronicle of their life from 1891 to 1903, when they moved from the area, is told in a variety of ways for the various publications, including straight-talk “advice” columns, poetry, story-telling and one humorous series written under the pen-name “Jerusha Josh.” Considering her educational background, it must have been a challenge to write the Josh “Letters to the Editor.” In them she used all her satirical skills, completely mangling the English language as she pretends to be an almost illiterate country bumpkin. All of the Josh letters are sent from “Fordhart Corners,” a reversal of “Hartford.” One deals with her spring routine: “Dear Mister Editur: I neow take my pen in hand to answer yeour kind and welcome letter, it done me lots of good tew know you missed my letters. No, I havn’t forgotten yeou, but land sakes I have been so busy don’t you know spring time is a busy time fer wimmen folks. why I have cleaned tew or three rooms and I haven’t but just begun tew clean house, then I am making posy beds. I will heve my posies same as Jeremiah will heve his terbaccer, but I wont chaw Jeremiah’s terbaccer an he wont make my posy beds, so I heve tew do it my self and its purty hard work … “ 
In other articles, Mabel wrote quite seriously about everything from politics to home remedies and a woman’s proper role within the family. She had an interesting take on the women who were fighting to achieve full voting privileges. One article is titled “Women Not Slaves” and takes one of the most famous suffragists to task for her views: “When I think of the Woman’s Bible I am sorry that Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her old age should have been at the head of such a movement. For a woman to admit she is a slave is to admit she is not sensible. If a woman is a slave it is in nine cases out of ten her own fault. Any man will honor a woman who will assert her own rights.”
Motherhood was the most important “profession” in Mabel’s opinion, but motherhood did not mean servitude. She admonished, “Dear wives and mothers, we are equal with our husbands; ‘tis our right to be and we should see that they understand it so, but when we want to be more than equal we are in the wrong. Women seem eager for a professional career. I am myself. I am a doctor, my family are my patients. I am a lawyer, my family are my clients. I am a minister (the best of all), ministering daily to my loved ones, yet finding time to bestow on others, but never to the neglect of my own family.” In all the articles she rarely mentions that she is a professional writer, often writing at midnight or later because her duties as a wife and mother come first.
Eventually the Monsey’s achieved their dream of building a new frame house using timber from their property, milled locally. As the trees came down, Lake Stevens came into view, a daily joy. Flower beds were planted, even a greenhouse built, as Mabel also practiced floral arts and wrote about gardening for the various publications. In all her writings, her sense of joy and accomplishment pours through. In spite of exceptionally hard work, she seemed to retain her energy, and in fact attributes that energy to the hard physical labor. She wrote of the benefits of hard work, plain food, honesty, not “putting on airs,” and the value of education. And always, the joys of motherhood. She believed in working first for the family and only after their needs are met, for others, including the church. Mabel Monsey would not have considered herself an extraordinary woman. I beg to differ. 

Photo credit: Lake Stevens Museum 
Information and photo gathered from the Mabel Monsey album held by the Lake Stevens Historical Society Museum, Lake Stevens, Washington
 2001-2006  Louise Lindgren  All Rights Reserved