Saturday, 11 January 2014

Ellen Caroline Pitt

Yesterday I found a photograph of my Grandmother, Ellen Pitt,  whom I never met, and I looked with interest at her tight-lipped care-worn face. A singularly ugly old woman, I thought. 

I am brought up short at how dismissive I am of her. I push her away. I want a smiling soft-faced rosy-cheeked grandmother, not a withered stick who isn't looking at me, who never knew me... 

She wasn't old. I realise with a shock, Ellen Pitt didn't grow old. She died in childbirth, aged forty-two, in 1930, in a Nursing Home in Clarence Street, Gloucester. I wonder at her death. 'Placenta previa' is recorded on the death certificate. Treated by Ceasarian Section, today, which was available only to the rich in Gloucester, in 1930.

She, a mother with nine living children, bled to death because she was poor.

My own mother was three years old. She remembers the last time she saw Ellen. She once took me to the spot in Clarence Street where she stood, being told by her father to look up to the window at the end of the block. Her mother's face appeared, they waved, and that was it. Her mother was going to go into labour and die of it, but her children were not allowed to visit her. 

That was 1930.  Our society has moved forward, and my Grandmother's untimely death would be an outrage today. Politically unacceptable. 

I am an optimist, and I have every confidence that the gains that have been made since the 1930's to make Grandmother's poverty and death politically unacceptable, will not be reversed. When I feel that politics don't matter any more, and I can't be bothered, I shall go and stand on that spot in Clarence Street, and remember Ellen. 

1 comment:

  1. I went to see Abigail. My three year-old granddaughter oerform in her Nursery Harvest Celebration today, and remembered this story. I clapped delightedly at Abigail throwing herself, delightedly, into The Pumpkin Song as I held my new grandson. Abigail, the age her great-grandmother was when ner mother died. And I, alive and fit holding my grandson, full of gratitude.