The first woman that I admire is my Grandmother, Kathryn Jean Bronson nee Baker born in the 1910’s. Jean as she was known, lived a life of what appeared to be a roller coaster of abandonment. I was around 11 years old when she died. My older brothers and I were her only grandchildren and she loved us all.
Jean met my grandfather Laurence Bronson in the Port Adelaide area of South Australia; my assumption is that she was his very attractive secretary. It appears that Jean and Laurie (as he was known) got very close. They married, and my mother Shirley was born in 1930.
The marriage underwent strain and soon a divorce was arranged by Laurie, my mother was around 8 or 9 years old then. Laurie remarried and had two sons.
With no financial support, because there was no child support in those days and if women were married they had to leave the workforce, their job was to provide a lovely home and care for the children. So, when Laurie divorced Jean she had nothing, no money, no home, no job. She did have my Mum Shirley a loving kind and obedient child.
Kindly Jean’s sister took her and Shirley in. Meantime Jean’s own Mother had decided to join the Brethren Religion and apparently, at the time, they did not accept parishioners into their fold if they had children. So, Jean had no further contact with her Mother ever again. They did apparently inform Jean when her Mother died but that was it.
Jean found another man, by this time my mother Shirley was about to marry my father Raymond when soon after Jean’s second husband, Mr Baker just disappeared without a word.
I can only imagine the pain Jean went through. I remember her working in the office of David Jones, a photo on her desk of me and my brothers. She had very little money only that of which she earnt from David Jones.
A proud woman (when sober) she wore her clothes with style, black was her statement colour and she held her head high with a fierceness that appeared far more intimidating that it was. She had patent leather bags and shoes and bestowed upon me lovely clothes that she had chosen wisely. Jean always bought quality.
I think she had a broken heart, abandoned by two husbands and her mother, she was unlucky in love. And so, she drowned her thoughts in the alcohol that changed her from the strong, fierce immaculately dressed woman from 9am-5pm to a sad woman who my brothers drove home as she sang or snoozed.
As we press for progress in the 21st century I know that women like Jean have assisted us all to move forward. The development of child support services, women’s shelters, being able to work once you’re married, equal access to children, men contributing financially to the upbringing of their children, the division of assets that a couple gather. And while I think of Jean’s pain, I saw in my own Mothers eyes the sadness and confusion of a child whose father abandoned her, who did not give her the love or acknowledgement a father should. A reminder for him may be of his own physical need, desires and poor choices.
The pill has provided women with independence yet inadvertently or has it made us responsible for the situation that Jean found herself in. Would that have changed her outcome? I do feel that she really truly loved Laurie it was a love not returned to her nor my Mother.
So, as we press for progress I am pleased that Jean worked up until the late 1960’s. She was able to make enough to pay rent on a one-bedroom room, but her overuse of alcohol to drown her pain meant that she was constantly on the move.
Jean died peacefully in about 1971, aged around 60 sometime after my Mum last visited her. While I saw some of Jean’s behaviours in a negative light, I was always proud of her to be my Grandmother and if she can read these words from heaven I want her to know that I really loved her, admired her (think I have a few of her traits) and to thank her for the contribution she has made to the women’s movement and that she is having fun with my Mum and Dad who she loved and adored.