By Marlene Epp
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Extra info for Mennonite Women in Canada: A History
Personal stories address ‘pain,’ ‘obstacles,’ or ‘difficulties,’ but few women leaders or pastors flesh out the gendered nature of the challenges they faced. The common 1970s qualification, ‘I’m not a women’s libber but . . ,’ seems to be resurfacing in this postfeminist age. In fact, the early literature was much more likely to acknowledge an ideological impetus to the emergence of historical writing on Mennonite women than are recent retrospectives on that era. Any historical examination of women’s lives must necessarily be backgrounded by an awareness that women’s lives have never been homogeneous, but in particular changed dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century, and especially following the 1960s.
In a rural prairie settlement that was remote from centres of population and where travel was primitive, virtually all women gave birth at home with assistance from relatives or neighbours and, if they were fortunate, with a trained midwife present. Katherina was mainly self-taught; she ordered medical books from Germany and the United States and received advice from nearby Aboriginal women. Katherina was also well-known as a healer of many maladies and roamed the woods and meadows collecting “Swedish bitters, chamomile, and thyme” for her herbal remedies.
Even if daughters did not receive land outright, the division of a deceased parent’s estate could bestow on her substantial sums of money and, accordingly, a measure of economic autonomy. The practice also offered the potential for ‘upward mobility’ for poor boys who married wealthy girls. Significantly, Mennonite churchmen who outlined these inheritance procedures used biblical texts to undergird the practice. ” What it meant in terms of women’s economic autonomy and status is hard to estimate.