It has been an extremely long time since my last post, and for that I apologize. After the intensity of completing my second book while working full time and trying to still keep my artist self alive, I needed a big break from this type of research. Thank you to those who, meanwhile, have been subscribing and posting comments (which I recently answered).
Thinking that I was “finished”, I had arrived at a point where it seemed that nothing more could be found, and I had no more energy to keep trying. Hypotheses needed to remain as they were. While I had unearthed so much material about and for other people, my own direct connections remained where they lay. That my mother had a “junk man” haul off the materials of our basement in 1967, which accidentally included my father’s personal boxes in storage (even containing their letters back and forth across the ocean while he was in two wars), has always meant that I would not have the evidence and mementos he once had about our Mahers. Her telling me that I would never be able to learn more, that there was no information available (having tried to find some herself) only made me want to prove that one day I would, in fact, find it. She left a handwritten list of names and dates and references to Saint Francis Cemetery and to northern Tipperary on papers I found after her death. This is where I began, with breadcrumbs and mostly unlabeled photographs.
I have snippets of memories, stories my father told me, small details he shared, and the memory of reading typed information about the Mahers of New Haven, this having been given to him due to his familial relationship. It was there that I first learned of a “sleeping porch”– a question about which I recall asking with the strange clarity of learning other odd facts in grammar school having to do with the relative temperature of water in a bathtub, for example, or washing the backs of plates when doing the dishes. My father was a quiet man, so conversations with him, precious as they were, have remained permanently seared into my memory. He had thought this Maher story that seemed to have come from out of the blue was something I would want to read.
While my Maher research remains on hold, it has suddenly become possible to learn more about others within the many Irish surnames in my lineage. In the past few months individuals have gotten in touch with me who have used my first book in the way I had intended — to fill in gaps or help begin their own personal research. This time, however, lines have cycled back to my own family! Hallelujah! I appreciate that the acts of paying forward through the years of sharing research that was so time consuming, labor intensive (and expensive) to gather, making some kind of sense of it and putting it out for the world to receive, has cycled back bringing gifts in kind to me.
Recently I met someone who has not only validated aspects of our information, but has given me a treasure — a handmade 1934 graduation album in tribute to my great great aunt, Josephine, principal of Salem School, Naugatuck, Connecticut, in the year she retired. (Some day I intend to publish a book primarily about her, including all the articles and clippings found in scrapbooks my cousins have shared with me.) Quoting from my introduction to her in relation to early Catholic schools in Waterbury, Connecticut in From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley, page 107:
Patrick and Anne Maher’s daughter, Josephine Agnes Maher, born in 1861, graduated from Notre Dame Convent in 1878, after which she became a teacher herself, in Naugatuck. She was principal of Union City School, the first school in Naugatuck to give grades, and of Salem School. She had a fifty-six year long career in education, and an academic scholarship is still awarded annually in her name. (More information and photographs appear on pages 247-254.)
With gratitude to my new friend, I share some Naugatuck history through details from this beautiful artifact, typed with handmade covers, a two-hole string-tied binding with an actual photograph of Josephine included in the beginning, secured with photo corners. This same image was in one of our family’s photo albums. Enlarging the detail of “Josie” standing on the balcony of Salem School, I included it in From the Old Sod on page 252. Now I know the photo was made on June 20 of that year. Then she was waving to whomever took the picture, yet in less than two months, her beloved nephew who had lived with her most of his life died. Her wave, instead, now seems prescient of good-byes that would be said to her students and colleagues only a few weeks after that. Josephine resigned from her long-held position on September 5 and entered retirement with the weight of Joseph Martin’s loss upon her.
Josephine signed both that page and a page at the end, underneath which were signatures of all the teachers, followed by another page of signatures from all the graduating eighth grade students.
Honor Roll student Franklin E. Bristol, Editor-in-Chief of the publication, one of the Josephine A. Maher awardees and speaker at the graduation ceremony upon which this album was likely presented, included an eloquent editorial in the album, a portion of which I include here:
In our first eight years of training, Salem School has…provided us with spacious classrooms, an excellent library and numerous other advantages. Our teachers have cooperated with us in such a way that our studies have been most interesting. Our associations here have taught us to have a sense of security among people and a confidence in ourselves … it matters not what [profession] we choose, providing that it be done sincerely and honestly. Then, undoubtedly, we shall have reached our ultimate goal and our footprints…will be left on the sands of time.
Josephine continuously stressed to all her nieces and nephews how important education and toeing the line was. She certainly left her footprints on the sands of time in our family, famous even to those of us who never actually knew her. A few people with whom I have corresponded regarding our mutual research, however, were proud recipients of her prestigious grade-based award themselves. It is thrilling to meet someone who has memories of or ties to any deceased relatives, akin to walking along the same ground that earlier ancestors might have also stepped upon in Ireland.
When I began to do research about Josephine Maher I naively presumed I could simply walk into Tuttle House or the Naugatuck Historical Society and find a wealth of materials already in place about her. There were some, but not nearly the amount I already had within our scrapbooks. Little did I know it would be up to me to definitively and formally reintroduce her as an historic figure to the town in which she deeply left her mark and influence. That’s a project for another time, but this album will be a very important component of it. For now it will serve to remind me of the generous good spirit in others and of further work that needs doing.
©2018 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ni Mheachair