The Quest for a Better Life

Jacob A. Riis (b. 1849 – d.1914) was a social reformer, journalist and photographer who documented life in the slums of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.   His photos are incredible, and show with a gritty raw honesty, the abject filth and poverty that residents of the city’s tenements and streets dealt with everyday.  By today’s standards of Western living, it’s unimaginable, how people survived in such crowded and dirty conditions.  But survive they did.  Raising families, working in sweatshops, battling to put food on the table, with either determination or resignation.

Many of the area’s residents were immigrants who came through New York’s Ellis Island with dreams of a better life in America.  For the immigrants who found themselves trapped in slum-life and this cycle of grinding poverty, I wonder if they ever questioned their decision to emigrate?

On perusing Riis’s book, “How The Other Half Lives”, I was particularly moved by the photos of  the women and children.  What a terribly hard-knock life it must have been for these Can-Do Women and their families.  Here is a selection of some of Riis’s photos which I think speak for themselves.


Family at home in one room tenement, 1910

Old Mrs Benoir, and Indian woman, in her Hudson Street attic



Family making artificial flowers

In the home of an Italian rag-picker, Jersey Street


If you’d like to know more about  Jacob Riis and his work, click here for an excellent anthology including photo galleries by National Public Radio. And,  if you are ever in New York City, I highly recommend a visit to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, to get a feel for what life must have been like for the area’s residents at the time Riis took these photographs.

What are your immediate thoughts when you look at these photos?  Did any of your family come through New York’s Ellis Island?



The Story of Being Sarah

Photograph of Sarah Horton taken by Karen Choudhary

Today I’d like to introduce you to Sarah Horton, author, artist, entrepreneur, blogger, filmmaker, activist and an all-round highly accomplished and creative Can-Do Woman.  I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah through my other blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, an insider’s view of living with breast cancer in today’s society.  I found Sarah’s story to be so incredibly inspiring, and I am delighted to be able to spotlight her achievements here today on the Can-Do Women blog. Here is a part of Sarah’s story.

In February 2007, at the age of 43, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer.  To hear those words uttered is a moment so terrifying and raw, that one barely has time to think, let alone be able to string a sentence together in any cohesive manner.  Yet, that’s exactly what Sarah did.  Despite being paralyzed with fear (or perhaps “despite” should be read as “instead of”), Sarah began to write in earnest.  On the day after her diagnosis she took a leather-bound journal, had her husband Ronnie take a picture of her at their kitchen table, and  began compiling her thoughts, lists of questions for the doctors, research for treatment decisions; anything that seemed relevant to the horrifying road on which she was about to embark.

Sarah, who lives in the United Kingdom, soon realized that in order to secure the best treatment options for herself that she needed to seek out opinions from the country’s foremost experts on breast cancer.  Whilst her initial consultations and ongoing medical care were provided free through the country’s National Health Service (“NHS”), obtaining opinions from the country’s top specialists was going to cost money, and lot of it.  Now, this was money that was not immediately available, but would need to be found if Sarah was going to receive the best advice before deciding on and commencing her next lot of treatments.  By this time, Sarah and undergone two major surgeries with the NHS and was concerned about making the right decisions about treatment from that point on.

And so, Sarah turned to Yes To Life (“YTL”), a U.K. cancer advocacy organization that amongst other services, provides support to cancer patients in navigating their treatment options. In what turned out to be a fortuitous twist of fate, although Sarah could not have known it at the time, YTL suggested that Sarah set-up a website to help with the fundraising needed to pay for her upcoming private sector medical bills.  At the time, Sarah felt aghast and that she couldn’t possibly ask people for money, however YTL helped her to understand that this might just be feasible option, particularly if the fundraising was framed around her story.  And so with some misgivings, Sarah set up her website.

Sarah started to regularly publish an online diary and extracts from her journals, and created links for breast cancer resources as she came across them herself.  She included a “donate” page and despite her initial timidity in commencing the project, quickly gathered an email list of loyal “fans”.  As time went on and Sarah kept up with her diary entries, her following grew and that group of “fans”  began to metamorphosize into a virtual support network, in which real friendships started to develop.  And fortunately, Sarah was able to receive the financial help that she needed to pay for the ongoing medical opinions from specialist cancer doctors during her initial period of treatment, a time when the most important medical decisions needed to be made.  At this point,  no further fundraising activities were needed, and Sarah was able to move on with her treatment, receiving the rest of her healthcare for free under the U.K.’s NHS.  But she still kept writing her on-line diary.

Everything changes when you receive a cancer diagnosis, and Sarah’s experience was no exception.  In her words, “life changed beyond belief”.  Unable to work, debilitated by surgeries, and other medical treatments, feeling unsupported by family and her old circle of friends, Sarah felt a palpable anger bubbling away inside of her.  Surrounded by a breast cancer culture that seemed to be all about pink-ribbons and feel-good survivor celebrations, Sarah began reading about other women’s experiences, notably Barbara Ehrenreich’s famous article, “Welcome To Cancerland”, and came to understand that she “didn’t like pink” and that it was okay to feel angry at what had happened to her.  And so she kept writing, and reflecting, and being angry that control and choice throughout the whole breast cancer ordeal, seemed to be a consistently hard-fought battle for the patient.  And she began to consciously wonder, why she had developed breast cancer, and why at such a young age? And this made her angrier.

Continuing to write her journals throughout her entire treatment, on one hand, kept organized and safe the immense trove of medical information that amasses very quickly with a cancer diagnosis, allowing Sarah to keep control in navigating her treatment and medical decisions, but on the other hand proved to be a highly therapeutic outlet for  what is a lonely, frustrating and bewildering ordeal. By writing, Sarah was able to make sense of her anger and frustration, in the clear and coherent narrative that had started to take shape.  She realized there was immense power in story-telling, and her reflections on the “why’s” of her illness, and so the seeds of a book manuscript were unwittingly being sown.

By the end of 2009, Sarah’s arduous treatment regimen was almost at an end.  She had endured many complications and continued to fight fatigue and other debilitating side-effects of medication and numerous surgeries.  But she was almost there. In early 2010, Sarah began to feel strong enough to think about going back to work in the filmmaking business that she runs with her beloved husband Ronnie, A Sense of Place.  As well, she wanted to start getting back to some of the other activities that she had enjoyed before her diagnosis, like camping, painting, hiking, quilting, and her beloved allotment garden. It was at a meeting with her business adviser that they discussed the possibility of making a film or publishing a book about her experience.  At this point Sarah’s journals had grown to 80,000 words, and there was plenty of film footage shot by Ronnie during her treatment,  but Sarah was still unsure at this time which project would be the better fit.  In making a decision as to which project, Sarah’s business adviser suggested she meet with a local Liverpool book publisher, Fiona Shaw of Wordscapes.

As it happened, in early 2010, from the increasing popularity and visibility of Sarah’s website, Sarah was invited to a live debate on Sky TV, to discuss her views on the culture of positive-thinking that tends to surround the world of breast cancer.  It was a high-profile opportunity, seen by some 14 million viewers, and would be Sarah’s first foray into this kind of media.  As a result of her appearance, Sarah learned that she was naturally able to articulate her opinions and convey her anger, in a way that resonated with an audience.  And she liked the feeling of that.  After that appearance, and upon meeting with publisher, Fiona Shaw, they watched a clip of Sarah’s television debut via Sarah’s website.  Fiona was impressed with Sarah’s resolve and critical thinking in her views on the breast cancer cancer movement, and from there a book project was born.

Finishing the book at Lyme Regis. Photograph by Ronnie Hughes

Sarah took her journals, and commenced the extremely complicated process of completing and editing her journal writings into a format befitting of an audience, and in a way that clearly stated her politics with regard to breast cancer, but ultimately balanced with the story of her life.  A life interrupted by breast cancer. In order to achieve this mammoth task of completing the book,  Sarah and Ronnie took a trip to Lyme Regis, where they holed up in a little beach shack with no phone, Internet or television, and Sarah went to work.  What had started as a diary and a way to navigate her diagnosis and treatment, was at last a finished manuscript and ready for several months of fine editing with publisher Fiona, and finally, setting and design.

Click here if you would like to purchase this book

In October 2010, the book Being Sarah was published, and Sarah was finally able to sit back and catch her breath.  But not for long. Fast forward to today, and Sarah is now back at work part-time in her business with Ronnie.  She also undertakes speaking engagements, where she speaks out on the issues of breast cancer prevention and the importance of control and choice in breast cancer treatment.  Sarah also recently attended and spoke at an environmental summit at the European Union in Brussels on the issue of cancer prevention and environmental policy.  Most importantly, Sarah is finally now getting back to life’s simple pleasures, but she continues to  be an advocacy voice for those dealing with breast cancer who cannot speak for themselves, and passing on the knowledge of her own experience  with the disease in order to engage in debate and motivate future actions in breast cancer treatment  and policy.

I’m sure you’ll agree, Sarah Horton epitomizes the spirit of a Can-Do Woman, in what she’s accomplished so far, and as she continues to set the stage for raising public consciousness of breast cancer prevention and  meaningful debate within the breast cancer movement.  Sarah,  thank you for all that you do.  There is much to be learned from your story, and I am honored to be able to share at least part of your narrative today in this blog’s homage to the amazing achievements of extraordinary ordinary women like you.

If you would like to know more about Sarah, and read more of her writings,  you can purchase a copy of her book at the link above, or Sarah’s blog can be found by clicking on this link: Being Sarah.  I highly recommend you stop by and join in the discussion.

And here is a sampling of some of Sarah’s films.

A short video of Sarah’s book launch.

The Plot is a delightful piece about the Can-Do Gardeners who garden at  Sarah’s beloved allotment.

“What we love, we must protect” is a short film about Sarah’s recent trip to the European Parliaments summit on cancer prevention and environmental policy

Has an event in your life spurred you to greater action? Have you ever considered writing a book?  Fiction or non-fiction? Have you started it yet?

Can-Do Cooks: Perfect Whole Wheat Pizza

I’m the Can-Do Cook who’s constantly searching for the “best” recipe for everything that I like to cook, so I’m always trawling cooking websites and food blogs to try to find that perfect blend of ingredients.  I’m also interested in healthier ways of eating and trying new and better takes on those favorite comfort foods.

The perfect thin and crispy pizza crust is something that I’ve always longed for. And even better? A whole wheat version that doesn’t require a day to rise or a ton of physical exertion in the mixing and kneading.  Well readers, I’ve found it, and it’s become a favorite weekend dinner in my house.  It doesn’t even need a special pizza pan, and in fact, I often just use a cookie sheet smeared with a bit of olive oil and the pizza crust always comes out thin and crispy. You can even substitute the white flour and whole-wheat flour measurements for 3 1/2 cups unbleached white whole-wheat flour. For best results, I like the King Arthur Flour brand.  Enjoy!


(Original source:


1 teaspoon white sugar

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


1. In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.

2. Stir the olive oil and salt into the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. Tip dough out onto a surface floured with the remaining all-purpose flour, and knead until all of the flour has been absorbed, and the ball of dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. When the dough is doubled, tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 2 pieces for 2 thin crust, or leave whole to make one thick crust. Form into a tight ball. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Roll a ball of dough with a rolling pin until it will not stretch any further. Then, drape it over both of your fists, and gently pull the edges outward, while rotating the crust. When the circle has reached the desired size, place on a well oiled pizza pan. Top pizza with your favorite toppings, such as sauce, cheese, meats, or vegetables.

5. Bake for 16 to 20 minutes (depending on thickness) in the preheated oven, until the crust is crisp and golden at the edges, and cheese is melted on the top.

Give it a try and do let me know what you think.

What Could A Woman Do in 1900?

What Can A Woman Do? Indeed, this is the question asked by Mrs M.L. Rayne in penning what must be a very early example of an occupational handbook for women.  The copy that I have in my library, although without a date, looks to have been written around 1900 or so.

Mrs Rayne explains her motivation for writing this book by saying;

“Equally blessed is the woman who has found her work.  Life is, indeed a burden to one who, day after day, must plod for a mere existence at some work for this there is no special adaptation, but it is peculiarly trying and discouraging to a woman, who cannot choose for herself the profession or vocation in life which will give her the most pleasure to follow in the toilsome effort of winning her own bread.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I think these words could still be relevant today.  Do we work to live or live to work? Mrs Rayne seems to be advocating that it’s of the utmost importance for women to do something they love – and get paid for it!  Certainly words to live by, even by today’s career standards.

In 1900, women represented around 19 percent of the total American workforce, compared to a figure of around 54 percent in 2009,   and  only 1 percent of the lawyers and 6 percent of the Nation’s physicians were women. (See attached article on American Labor in the 20th Century by Donald Fisk).  Compare these figures to 2009, where employed women held around 40 percent of management, professional and related occupations.

So what could a woman do in 1900?  Aside from encouraging women to consider becoming teachers, journalists, lawyers and doctors which was clearly very progressive, Mrs Rayne highlights the possibility that women could also aspire to be wood engravers, or turn their hands to raising poultry or bee-keeping, amongst other choices.

In discussing why women were particularly well-suited to bee-keeping, Mrs Rayne had this to say;

“Bee-keeping, although a laborious employment, demands no great outlay of strength at one time.  It embraces the performance of many little items, which require skill and gentleness, more than muscle. The hand of woman, from nature, habit and education, has acquired an ease of motion which is agreeable to the sensibilities of bees, and her breath is seldom obnoxious to their olfactories, by reason of tobacco or beer.”

And of wood engraving?

“Women who engrave on wood, says a writer in Harper’s Bazar, will tell you that this exacting occupation tries them less than sewing does: and if, after seeing them bent over the magnifying glass through which they follow the movement of their tools along the surface of the boxwood, you ask if their eyes do not trouble them; they will smile and say that the exercise strengthens the optic nerve.”

Are you surprised at the career choices that were available to women in 1900? Are you aware of any women in your family who held jobs during the 1900’s? What did they do?

Can-Do Cooks: Best Tomato Soup

Are you a Can-Do Woman who loves to cook, or perhaps like many, you’re super busy, but you love the idea ? Well, I’m one Can-Do Woman who enjoys cooking all sorts of things.  I’m  not much of a baker, but just let me near a cookbook and pantry full of ingredients and I’ll have a delicious dinner, lunch or snack whipped up in no time.  

This being a magazine-style blog devoted to all things Can-Do Women, today’s post marks the launch of Can-Do Cooks as a regular feature of this blog, where I’ll spotlight my favorite recipes, and yours too if you would like to submit something. Easy, tasty, tried and tested recipes are what you’ll find in Can-Do Cooks.

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I’m feeling a bit under-the-weather today, so I thought I would share with you one of my favorite recipes for good old-fashioned Tomato Soup.  I found this recipe in the New York Times a couple of months ago, and have since made this soup many times to great success.  The magic ingredient here is the celery salt, so don’t try and substitute it – it’s worth a trip to the store if you don’t have it.  Also I like to halve the recipe so that I don’t have to worry about left-overs.  The soup keeps fine in the fridge for several days if you want to feed off of it.

Click on the recipe for the original NY Times publication


Don’t Call Your Sisters’ Names

Today’s post comes courtesy of my friend Deidra, who grew up the 1960’s and 70’s, in a heavily Italian-American neighborhood in coastal New Jersey, along with her two younger sisters Toni and Susan. On the street they grew up on, Deidra and her sisters were surrounded by relatives fostering a very strong sense of family and community which has stayed with her to this day.

Deidra had often regaled me with the stories of the childish adventures she and her sisters shared, but what I found really interesting, was that she and her sisters had actually written down these stories of everyday life so that they would be preserved for posterity and able to be shared with generations to come. In fact they have enough material for an entire book.

I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of preserving these kinds of memories, because they are a window into a different time and they are an intriguing reminder of how our lives were shaped. In fact just today, a friend and fellow blogger wondered if she should keep writing her blog, fearing that she had nothing interesting left to say and that no one would want to read about, what she considered, the boring details of her life.

But the thing is, history is being written today in the virtual world. And what a wonderful record it is going to be for those next generations, to read about the Can-Do Women of today. For them to be able to read about their grandparents or parents lives from these wonderful online journals is a gift that we can’t quite yet fully appreciate. Think about the thrill of finding some old piece of memorabilia in your attic from your family’s past. A photograph, a letter, a treasured family heirloom, a diary, or whatever the trigger may be, the thrill of remembering another time and place reminds us that these written records of everyday life need to be thought of as valuable time capsules worth preserving and most certainly worth writing.

Here is just one of Deidra’s stories which speaks really well to the bond between sisters and perhaps how child-rearing practices have changed from when Deidra was a child.

My sisters…Miss Baloney and Pee-u-san. Those were two of my favorite nicknames for Toni and Susan. They were my two wards on most days after school and on weekends. Everything bad that they did was always my fault and well, since I had to watch over them and take the heat, I could at least call them pet names once in a while. It’s a sib thing. Quite frankly, Pee-U-san was an under-the-skin kind of name for Susan to bear, especially in front of other people, due to the explanation (bathroom-related). However, perpetually pleasant Toni wore the Miss Baloney name with pride. It was sort of like her alter ego given her love of all things baloney – or bologna as is the proper spelling. She would take a baloney sandwich on Wonder Bread over a PBJ any day, without question. It seemed like every kid would back then, and did, but no one would admit to it now, years later. Baloney lost is luster over the years. I’m sure during the 1980’s baloney was linked to some illness or to ADHD or because parents today look at labels and now know what is in the baloney product. Today, parent refuse to serve their kids what the kids in my neighborhood thought was a delicacy.

Anyway, my mother was an advocate especially when we were going elsewhere for this mystery meat. “Go to Schmidts” was all we needed to hear before the three of us, with me in the lead, headed out our door, left at the driveway, right after three houses into the “alley” headed for Schmidts. Schmidts — the lone brick building situated in the alley way that connected our street with the street behind us. We thought the alley was haunted even in the middle of a sunny day. The alley was the spot that all the boys in the hood went to hide during hide and seek although they never got found because no one would go into the alley to look for them. But Schmidts – and the promise of free baloney slices – was too much to handle. On a Saturday especially, how could there be anything but opportunity?

So there we went, me and my two sisters heading off to visit Mr. Schmidt and his six brothers – all similarly named Mr. Schmidt – at the meat place to ask for a piece of baloney. We’d walk in, the smell of cold meat on concrete floors on a summer day attacking us at once, and wait until we saw one of the Mr. Schmidts. “Hi Mr. Schmidts,” in unison announced the three of us. “Can we have a piece of baloney?” Mr. Schmidt (they were almost undistinguishable given their similar bloody aprons, white hair and Germanic, weathered faces) would head over to the meat case, take the biggest piece of baloney from it and slice us up three pieces that he would roll up for us. You would think we hadn’t eaten in days the way we watched him approach us with the baloney rolls, Toni getting dizzy at the site of her favorite food. We savored it, we sure did, monitoring our intake and making it last (we’re talking baloney, not ice cream here).

Ahhhhh....The Stuff Memories Are Made Of.

We would linger around Schmidts after our snack but would never ask for another piece. Actually, Toni would since it was equivalent to her “fix” for the day. On top of that, if my mother didn’t have baloney in the fridge, Toni would be very disappointed that she didn’t ask when she had the chance. I wouldn’t take it; I wouldn’t let Susie either for fear that we would overstay our welcome and not feel comfortable going back the next day to restart the entire process.


But we would go everyday. It was just our thing. Our mother loved getting us out of the house so she could smoke and gossip on the phone, we got fed and the Schmidt brothers seemed happy to have us there. But here’s the thing, fast forward to today…what mother would let her three daughters walk alone from their home into a possibly haunted alleyway to visit seven identical old men who ran a slaughterhouse? Are there even places called slaughterhouses anymore? I know there are no kids who like baloney anymore.


How do you preserve your memories? Are you a blogger, do you keep a diary, are you the family photographer or archivist ? Tell us what you’re doing with your stories.

Can-Do Equality

Today I’d like to spotlight an amazing little cookbook that I found on e-Bay several months ago.  It’s called “The Working Couple’s Cookbook”, by Peggy Treadwell, published in 1971.  Aside from having incredible 1970’s graphical illustrations by Craig Torlucci, the book is even more interesting, in that it was published right in the heart of the Second Wave of the American Women’s Movement which was primarily concerned with gender inequities in law and culture, and the sexist structure which was deeply entrenched in the society of that time.   At the heart of the feminist consciousness of this era,  was Betty Frieden’s 1963 tome, The Feminine Mystique, which questioned  women’s traditional roles as subservient housewives and plotted a new course for women as equal contributing members of a gender-neutral society.

Indeed this little cookbook seeks to provide practical ways for women to realize this goal of gender-equality in the home, and the back cover sets the tone:

The introduction of the book, seems to clearly suggest an acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships as a normal state, which is apparently a radical concept by today’s politics, but is entirely appropriate when you consider the the milestones of the Gay Liberation Movement during the the same era.  The struggle for gay and lesbian rights, women’s rights and civil rights as a whole were inextricably linked during the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  And so this little book does its bit for the cause by pointing out that:

“…the “his” and “hers” divisions of culinary duties are, of course, interchangeable and could easily be desginated his and his or hers and hers.”

I love the thought of "cooperative meal preparation"

And now for an actual recipe.  Be sure to read this right through.  It says a lot about the times; our need for convenience, but most importantly, equality.

Fantastic illustration don't you think ?

It sounds almost exotic.....

I love #4.

It still seems like the "Hers" instructions are more than the "His"

What kind of household did you grow up in ? Was there an equal division of household duties ? Is there now ?

The Original Can-Do Woman

In constructing this blog this week, imagine my surprise in seeing the news that Geraldine Hoff Doyle, the real-life inspiration for the “We Can Do It” graphic, that serves as the visual symbol for this blog, and indeed the American feminist movement , died at the age of 86 on December 26, 2010.  (Read her full obituary here).


In World War II with many men away at war, and manufacturing efforts increased to feed the American war machine, millions of American women left their homes and went to work, in response to government propaganda campaigns.  In white-collar jobs previously held by men, and in the munitions factories and other manufacturing ventures, women filled the labor gaps and  “Rosie the Riveter”, memorialized in a 1942 song of the same name, became the symbol of their dedication to the war effort.

Geraldine Hoff Doyle

Although the “We Can Do It” poster, created in Geraldine Doyle’s likeness,  was originally commissioned by the Westinghouse Company in a campaign to deter strikes and absenteeism,  it was not associated with Rosie the Riveter at that time.  In later decades, after the poster was rediscovered, it became a popular symbol of the American Women’s Movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the character of Rosie and the “We Can Do It” poster became synonymous symbols of the efforts of American women in World War II.

Imagine what it must have been like for women, until World War II tied to home life and menial labor, to suddenly be able to enter the work-force in jobs previously only held by men, earn their own money, and finally feel like valued members of society.  It must have been incredibly liberating for many women.  Although, following the end of World War II with the return of the men,  can you then imagine being expected to return to home life and give up responsible jobs for which you had worked so hard?  This must have been an equally devastating feeling for so many women in the years following the war.

Did any women in your family hold jobs relating to the war effort of the 1940’s ? What did they do ?  Did they remain in the workforce after the war ?

One Family Name

Welcome to the Can-Do Women blog !  A place to share and pay homage to the everyday lives of extraordinary ordinary women, both past and present.  For my inaugural post to the Can-Do Women blog, I felt it important to acquaint you with a Can-Do Woman from my own family tree.

I would like to introduce you to Hannah Hewling, from whom I am descended through my mother’s side of our family.   Hannah was born in mid 17th-century England, to Benjamin, a wealthy merchant of London, and his wife , Hannah Hewling (nee Kiffin), also from a rich merchant family.  Hannah had two younger brothers, Benjamin and William, as well as a sister Elizabeth.

Benjamin Hewling

Following the death of Hannah’s father in 1684, the brothers were sent to Holland to complete their education, only to be interrupted when the Duke of Monmouth invaded England.  Benjamin aged 21 and William aged 18 went to fight on the side of the Duke,  in what became known as the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, in an attempt to overthrow England’s reigning papist monarch, King James II.  At the Battle of Sedgmoor on July 6, 1685, Monmouth’s forces were defeated, and the Duke himself was executed for treason.

In the aftermath of the failed rebellion, the brothers were captured, charged with treason against King James II, and brought before the courts in a series of trials presided over by Judge Jeffreys, which became known as the “Bloody Assizes“. Both brothers were sentenced to a gruesome death to be carried out by hanging, drawing and quartering.

It is at this point in the story, that we learn more of Hannah Hewling’s character.  According to the book “Memorable Women of the Puritan Times“, by James Anderson;

“Hannah was now a young woman of admirable qualities.  Trained up by her parents in the fear of God, she gave early proofs of sincere and enlightened piety.  Her sisterly affection, evinced in her tenderness towards her two brothers whilst in prison and under the sentence of death, forms one of the lovely traits of her character.”

Despite Hannah Hewling’s protracted pleas for clemency and offers of large sums of money  to both Judge Jeffreys and King James II to spare the lives of her brothers, William and Benjamin were summarily executed in September, 1685.  Finally in act, to spare her brothers the final indignity of their bodies being “quartered”, Hannah paid a thousand pounds, for which she was permitted to take her brother’s bodies after they were executed.

Hannah Hewling, later married a grandson of Oliver Cromwell, and her younger sister Elizabeth, married William Luson.  Since that time all the Luson’s in my family have called their sons Hewling or Benjamin, in memory of the two lost rebel brothers.  Indeed, my own grandfather  was a Hewling Luson.

And yet despite the heroic and courageous acts of Hannah Hewling, whose story is preserved in the annals of time,  her name has not been similarly carried on in the female lineage of our family tree.  This seems a shame to me because she is certainly someone who seems worthy of being remembered and honored by a namesake

I can only hope that a little bit of Hannah Hewling’s spirit and courage lives on in me, if not in name, but in character. And by sharing Hannah’s story with you, I hope you’ll agree that she seems to embody the spirit of the kind of Can-Do Women for whom this blog pays homage.  I trust that Hannah would be pleased that I have honored her memory in this 21st-century manner.

Is there a woman’s name passed down through your family tree ? Will you share the story of this special Can-Do Woman from your family  ?

Copyright © 2011 by Can-Do Women. Images on this site are used for the express purposes of commentary and criticism under the fair use doctrine.