By Elizabeth J. Normen
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Spring 2010
I was recently rereading my great-great grandmother’s journal, a record of her ship-board travels with her husband who captained the barque Hoogly in the 1860s, and came across a heartbreaking entry (August 20, 1867): “I can hardly realize that this passage is so near being ended. Four months and a few days ago we were in Rangoon, and I was sick. & left my dear little baby there, what a pretty little thing it was, and how I wanted to keep it. Ohl If I çould have a baby to live and nurse it myself how proud and happy I should be. I have lost two little boys (twins) and a little girl, but we have Minnie and she is such a dear good little thing. …O! I am sure I thank God for giving her to me, … & I will not grumble any more.” In a few days they landed in Bremerhaven, Germany. Ruth Jenkins was 28 years old and had been married for seven years.
Passages like this remind us of the myriad hard times people have faced in the past, from the political, to the economic, to the very personal. Jenkins’s personal hardship represented a real social challenge, as infant mortality in the U.S. in 1870 was just under 18 percent according to researcher Michael Haines. It’s also a great example of hardship overcome, though. Today advances in medical care and nutrition have reduced the infant mortality rate in the U.S. to .6 percent. Happily, Jenkins went on to have more children. Two years after she wrote that entry her husband retired from the sea, and Jenkins later bore two more daughters; Minnie and her sisters all lived to adulthood.
In planning this issue, “Facing Hard Times,” we sought to put our current economic and political woes in perspective by examining some of the challenges Connecticut’s people have faced in the past and the ways in which they have responded. As Connecticans, we like to think of ourselves as plucky, resilient, and even innovative in hard times. We count our blessings, as Ruth Jenkins did, and move on. We help our neighbors and our comrades. We figure out how to solve the problem at hand.
This issue is full of inspiring stories: Two from the Naugatuck Valley during the Great Depression show neighbors helping neighbors and how one business found a recipe for growth and success in the midst of those trying times.
Tom Truxes gives us a story of another sort—how Connecticut’s maritime trade, in the face of onerous British control before the American Revolution, used our shoreline’s coves and islands to help smuggle goods into New York and Philadelphia right under the nose of patrolling British warships.
Two oral histories give us insight into how we have faced wartime: Wethersfield subscriber Thomas Gworek recalls his boyhood on the home front during World War Il, and Kjell Tollefsen recalls his experience as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. These and other stories in this issue remind us that the political and economic become the personal when individuals take initiative and action.
Read all of the stories in the Spring 2010 issue
Read more first-person accounts in our Winter 2021-2022 issue