Pioneer Woman

Jen Nova or Jennie Jenkins was born in rural Kentucky November 26, 1882.  Jennie was my great, great aunt and  the perfect example of a pioneer woman.  She was the embodiment of the “gentle woman” as her great granddaughter Joyce Hankins Candela states. Women for centuries were seen as second class citizens and by many men considered their own property.  Husbands used their wives on their own terms which made many womens’ lives extremely difficult.

Jennie was born to a mentally fragile woman by the name of Sarah Blankenship.  Sarah was not married to Jennie’s assumed father a Calvert.  The Calvert family just so happened to be some of the founding settlers to the United States.

Homelife for Jennie was unstable.  Her mother, Sarah, borrowed money probably to put food on the table to feed the family. James Jones Jenkins an elderly man who had accumulated quite a bit of wealth gave her a loan. At the high watershed mark of his wealth according to census records he owned 2000 acres. When he demanded repayment, Sarah could not.  For reasons not completely understood by all, Sarah chose to give her ten year old daughter Jennie away as a servant to satisfy for payment.  J. J. Jenkins agreed to this.  The outstanding loan was for a mere $100.

J. J. Jenkins was a widower with five living grown children.  It probably seemed an easy way to him to get a servant.  Afterall he had been a slave owner in the past.  So in 1892 at the age of ten , Jennie began keeping house which included cooking, laundry, and taking care of any needs that J. J. or his grown children might have had.  Jennie was indeed a second class citizen and possibly considered lower than that as she was a servant to an entire family that was not her own.

When Jennie moved in with J. J.  in his familial  homestead they lived in a log cabin.  This log cabin set back 200 yards from an old graveyard that would come to hold the Jenkins ancestors including  J. J. ‘s  parents, brothers, first wife, and son.  This cemetery was above a creek bed. The unobtrusiveness of this cabin possibly would give the illusion of easy maintanance.  It was nothing of the kind.  In this rustic log home, a tall stack of wood by the fireplace accented one wall.  It was expected Jennie would keep the home warm, gather the crops, cook the meals, make clothes, and perhaps take care of not only J. J. but his childrens’ needs also.  In fact at one point, J. J. forced Jennie to cut her long hair off so she could do all the duties expected of her without its interference.  Jennie did what was required of her and never complained. According to family that was her trademark.. She found comfort singing gospel songs which must have brought much needed solace for her.

By 1894, it became apparent to Jennie that J. J. wanted more from her.  Eventually at the age of 12 on September 20, 1894 the two legally married.  However, the legal age for marriage was 14 so J.J. lied on the marriage record saying that she was 15 years old.  It is surmised that Jennie may have not understood the forms signed  as she was unable to read at this time.  J. J. stated he was 68.

Marriage certificate documenting ages of couple.

By the 1900 census, Jennie and J. J. were living without any of his previous children. The census indicates Jennie had taught herself to read and write by then.  The census also indicated how big the Jenkins ownership of land was with  family members owning surrounding land  on their own farms. The census seems to indicate Whitnell Jenkins property being divided up between his living children.  There were Calverts living next door also which could have possibly been grandparents to Jennie.  There was Thomas Jenkins the youngest son of J. J. near by on a farm.  There was Polly Jenkins the widow of J. J.’s oldest brother George on her farm. There was Sara Hobby another child of J. J.’s. Then there was another older brother to J. J. which was Lewis Jenkins. There is indication of grandchildren of J. J. ‘s also living nearby The Masons and then my own line William Farr Jenkins, a nephew to J. J. living near also with his huge family including my grandfather Willie Jenkins.  This was a whole extended family still living on the homestead of the founding settler Whitnell Jenkins.

1900 CENSUS documents the Jenkins Family nearby each other. page 1.

1900 CENSUS continued.

1900 CENSUS continued.

Before the 1910 census, J.J. and Jennie had four children with three surviving.  As J. J. ages he became more dependent upon Jennie.  In fact as told to me by Tom Jenkins one of only two living grandson’s of J. J.’s in an apparent attempt to look younger,  he dyed his gray hair black.  After dyeing his hair, J. J. went out to the coal mines  and while sweating from the dig, the dye ran in his eyes causing blindness from the poisons in the “hair” product he used.  J. J. succumbed on Sept 24th 1909 after 15 years of marriage.  Jennie had just turned 27.  She could finally give her real age. Before then, her age changed with the direction of the wind.

When J. J. died , Jennie was left with no means of support.  Perhaps Kentucky State laws did not protect wives yet. For whatever reason, Jennie was on her own. One family member did send her son Leman  off to boarding school and he received a high school degree.  Jennie’s daughters weren’t afforded the same luxury.  After Leman returned from school, he decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri.  Jennie and her two daughters moved also to be near Leman.  Jennie owned nothing yet she was now FREE from the oppressive life she led. She never complained.

The amazing journey Jennie took allowed her freedom now to help herself and take care of her own children and grandchildren as she wished.  She was in an environment now of her own making.  She had all ready taught herself to read .  She enjoyed reading and singing to her grandchildren.  When reminiscing about her grandmother, Joyce Hankins Candela said, “She never owned a thing.”  Yet Joyce’s grandmother bestowed upon her only warmth and love. There are memories that Joyce has she will never forget of grandma Jennie sitting on a glider rocker singing.  Little Joyce would be sitting on her grandma’s lap or resting on a little red stool.  There were no cares in the world and never a harsh word.

Jennie died on her 84th birthday of a heart attack.  She was about to have a party utilizing her FIRST old age pension check when she began experiencing chest discomfort.  She asked to be taken to the hospital. She died within hours of arriving.  Joyce states grandma was a bit of a superstitious woman and would not have wanted to die in her own bed.  She would not have liked the family to have had that memory of her.  An amazing pioneer woman again never thinking of herself.

Jennie Jenkins

Jennie Jenkins antique clock and lamp that her great granddaughter Joyce enjoys these days.


This author would like to thank the contributions to this story:  Joyce Hankins Candela, Tom Jenkins, Shelia Hart, Diana Hazelbaker, and Peggy Gilkey .  In my research, I talk to many hoping to get the most honest picture of a subject.  It is my hope and wish that I have done this with great aunt Jennie’s legacy. I would caution the reader as you make commentary in your mind of Jennie and J. J. that you remember the culture of their times. Please feel free to comment on this post and we will see you all on my next installment.


17 thoughts on “Pioneer Woman

  1. Richard Rethke

    Alesia Hard to imagine a 68 YO marrying a 12 YO. Was there a shortage of women? Are these your relatives? Dick


    1. alesiablogs Post author

      Thank you Joyce for all your help in making this story possible. Dick- yes this is my family on my father’s side. He grew up in Caldwell County, KY during the depression. Alesia

  2. Shelia

    Very well done, Alesia! I learned some things about Aunt Jennie that I did not know. Thank you Joyce for allowing Alesia to write about your Great Grandmother! I will get this to my sister Diana, I am sure she will enjoy it too!

    1. alesiablogs Post author

      Shelia could answer that question better then me. Angie – Jennie is Shelia’s aunt also on the other side of Jennie. Shelia this is my sister Angie. My understanding is that she had 4 other sisters, but their mother was mentally unstable and there could have been more but I am not sure. Jennie’s mom died in a mental hospital. Here is a link on Jennie’s mom Sheilia wrote:

  3. Shelia

    Hello Angie,

    Nice to meet you. Jennie was my great Aunt, my grandmother’s sister. As you can see from the Find-A-Grave site, Jennie had 4 younger sisters. My grandmother was Carrie. You can follow the children and parents on the Find-A-Grave site.

    It has been over 100 yrs since our great grandmother Sarah passed away. Like Alesia said things sure were different back in those days. Western State Hospital was also for patients besides those with mental problems. Sarah had female problems with no cure for that back in that day. Most likely her physical problems and a lot of others things caused enough of sickness with her physically and mentally that she needed care. She passed away less then a week after being admitted and as far as I know no one knows the cause of her death. Her husband died not very long before she went into the hospital, her young daughters all married.

    1. alesiablogs Post author

      Thank you Shelia. Angie comes up to Kentucky more than I do. She lives in Alabama and has two children. I told Angie the next time she comes up to Princeton she needs to go check out the cemeteries! I will be sure to let you know the next time she is up that way as I know you are a wealth of information for her.

  4. marbee

    Wow! That is quite a story! No matter the ages of those married and the hardships of living back then, it would still be wonderful if there weren’t so many laws, rule, and regulations controlling the behavior and lives of everyone these days. One could say life was simpler back then, however…….. When I look at photos of pioneer women, I still think I can see insanity in their eyes. So much lost youth, so many lost children, such hardship in everyday life. Thanks for sharing Alesia!

    1. alesiablogs Post author

      Thank you always for encouraging me in my writing. It makes me feel like I am doing something important by leaving an account of a life gone but not forgotten! Blessings, Alesia

  5. Laila Kacher

    Another great family history lesson here Alesia. My heart was very heavy Jennie. What an angel she was. It convicted me in many ways. Life was hard but simple back then. God Bless her soul. Proud of you for all these wonderful writings. I can’t wait for your next blog. Love you, Laila

    1. alesiablogs Post author

      Thank you Laila for your heartfelt response to this biography. I really wanted to bring honor to her life. There are so many things we don’t really understand because we did not live in those days but I do hope I have conveyed a realistic view of how her life may have been. I try to take care in listening to the folks I interview for these stories as I know in some cases how precious that person’s memories are to their loved ones. I also like the idea of sharing a story by painting a picture or giving context to the story..Again thank you for your encouragement. You are such a wonderful friend.

  6. Pingback: Genealogy on Tour: A Unique Perspective « alesiablogs

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