Raising a family was no mean feat CENTRAL--Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

HISTORY OF AN UNSUNG HEROINE

March 22, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

It's Women's History Month, which means that students in Carroll County schools will be hearing names like Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth.

They won't hear about Mary Owens, because her story is too similar to that of millions of other women. What she did -- in spite of never having much money and none of the conveniences middle-class Americans take for granted, and difficulties with her husband, and dealing with a segregated society -- was rear the children.

She brought up five daughters and two sons. She will voice no complaints about the life or the hardship or the segregation. Ask what she would change about her life and she fixes you with a surprised expression and replies, "Why, nothing!" Maybe it was a little hard sometimes, but, she says, "We got through."

Her living conditions seem hard from the perspective of the '90s -- no indoor plumbing, pumping water from a well and hauling it to a tank attached to the wood stove in the kitchen to heat it for dish-washing and baths, and most of the time, being pregnant.

Mrs. Owens doesn't want to disclose details, but the marriage had difficulties. She wouldn't leave.

"I thought, 'Well, none of these children asked to come into the world.' So I did my best to raise them. And I just thank the Lord I was able to get them all raised up."

The former Mary Theresa Key was born in Libertytown 75 years ago and attended Catholic elementary school there.

She stopped after eighth grade, because the nearest black high school was Lincoln High in Frederick. The county school system didn't provide buses, and her parents couldn't afford the 20 or 40 cents a day -- she can't remember the exact amount -- that a local African-American family charged to take the students to school by car.

When Frederick County schools began to provide buses in 1935, Mary Theresa didn't want to go.

"I said, 'Mama, I've been out of school for two years and there won't be anybody my age there,' " she recalls. But her mother said go, and she went.

She graduated from Lincoln High in 1939 and began working as a domestic. She expresses no wish to have had any other career. One year later, she married Moses Jones of Union Bridge, whom she had met at a community picnic.

They moved into a rented house on McKinstry Mill Road in Union Bridge.

The first child arrived within a year, the second nine months later. Lois, their youngest child, was born when Elizabeth, the eldest, was 16.

The elder Jones children went to Robert Moton School, a segregated school. Two graduated from Robert Moton, but after racial integration began in the county schools in 1959, the parents enrolled the others in Elmer Wolfe Elementary and Francis Scott Key High.

Mrs. Owens recalls that she and her husband called the children together and told them about the change in schools.

"My husband and I were in favor of integration because my kids rode by all these other schools to get to Robert Moton," she says.

Her daughter Jean didn't want to go to Elmer Wolfe Elementary. bTC For most of that year, Jean would go down to the bus stop and come home complaining of a headache or a stomachache. But as determined as Jean was not to go to school, her mother was more determined that she would go. Mama won.

If the other children had problems adapting to integrated schools, "I never knew it," Mrs. Owens says.

Mr. Jones died in 1967. His widow swore she wouldn't remarry, but four years later she married a childless widower, Pearre Owens, and moved to his home in Westminster.

Moving to Westminster brought the luxury of indoor plumbing.

"Up there, there wasn't any such thing as a bathroom," Mrs. Owens recalls. To give the children baths, she filled galvanized metal washtubs with hot water from the tank by the stove.

Mrs. Owens made sure her children got to church every Sunday. They all graduated from high school, three earned college degrees and all are now in the work force.

One is employed at Random House in Westminster, one by Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge, one by the New Windsor Service Center. One works for Sprint in northern Virginia, one is a librarian in Illinois, one a school secretary in Walkersville and one a nurse.

Mrs. Owens says she and her second husband had 18 wonderful years together. He died in 1989.

Her family now includes 11 grandchildren and a great-grandson.

=1 "It's a really nice life I've had," she says.

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