Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman
“I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy and Ray Burton


Growing up in the ’70s, I hated that song. After all, I was too young to care about the Women’s Liberation Movement, and I had been raised to believe that my life could be whatever I wanted it to be, regardless of my being “a girl.” But lately, the song has new meaning for me. You see, on some level, I’ve always known (and joked) that I come from “a long line of strong women.” It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve come to know – and appreciate – the adversity which made these women strong.

The Strong Woman: There’s One in Every Family.

My great-great grandmother, Louise (Rudity) Faivre, might not have been invincible, but she was most definitely strong. Born to French émigrés on September 12, 1854, in Scioto County, Ohio, she grew up a small-town girl who would eventually make news headlines across the country. Unfortunately, these would not be the kind of headlines of which every girl dreams.

On January 14, 1878, Louise married Andrew Faivre, a twenty-five year old tailor that she’d known for many years. Andrew was the eldest son of Andrew and Mary Faivre, and as many eldest sons were known to do back in the day, he had taken on the trade of his father, quite possibly under protest. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, especially if he wants to get the girl.

Shortly after Louise and Andrew married, they headed west to make their home in Sioux City, Iowa, after a few-year stop in Illinois. During the next 15 years, Louise would bear 10 children, but only 5 were known to survive: Sadie, John, Bernice, “Zee” (Azelia), and Henry.

I cannot imagine the inner strength needed to survive the loss of so many children.

Meanwhile, Andrew had his own demons to bear. Either unhappy with his life, or under tremendous peer pressure, he became a habitual drinker. And by habitual drinker, I mean well-known drunk. By his own admission, he would frequently drink to the point of becoming incapacitated for at least a week, during which time he was, of course, unable to work.

To keep the family from drowning financially, Louise became a washerwoman, taking in other’s dirty laundry to compensate for her husband’s lost and squandered wages. Their eldest daughter also went to work, most likely as a domestic servant, and then later as a “dry goods clerk.” Andrew would frequently ask them how much they earned, but neither woman would give him a straight answer. They knew that spare change in Andrew’s pockets would – sooner or later – end up spent on booze.

Sadly, Andrew did not turn out to be the husband or father that Louise must have hoped he’d be when she married him.

Frustrated, Louise eventually took matters into her own hands: she made the rounds to Andrew’s favorite saloons, warning the proprietors not to sell liquor to her husband. This was apparently not an unusual practice for wives in the mid to late 19th century, and saloonkeepers were expected to comply with these requests.

However… these saloonkeepers did not.

And Louise’s life as she knew it was about to change.


Read The Strong Woman: There’s One in Every Family – Part II

Originally written for the 100th Edition Carnival of Genealogy: “There’s One in Every Family!”



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