When Linda Welker, an author, and volunteer at The Brooksville Railroad Depot Museum, came across a popular book of Hernando County history, she was startled to find only five references to women contained in its pages. So she decided to write a book of her own; moreover, a book of history that the women of Hernando could call their own.
"Untethered Women, Untold Stories of Historic Women In Hernando County Florida" is a 124-page book published in 2017. Since its release, the book has become a valuable community resource--and in a number of ways. The book is sold at the depot museum--70 Russell St, Brooksville--for $10, with all proceeds going to the historically themed museum. And this year, the book is being used as a historical resource for the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Amendment granting United States women the right to vote, Brooksville Main Street and The Hernando Sun are marking the milestone with the Women Leading the Way Women's Suffrage Event/Exhibition March 20-21. And in addition to honoring the brave suffragettes who put their lives on the line to secure a basic human right, this event will honor the visionary women of Hernando County--the very subject of Welker's book.
"I believe children, especially little girls have missed out on learning about the vital role women have played in our history," said Welker. "Most of the settlers in early Hernando County were family groups. The women worked alongside their husbands and they had the babies, often without help. The lists of settlers in the history books, state the man’s name as head of household and his wife as a female over the age of fourteen. We need to know their names and give them equal status in the head of household column. Children should be taught who these women were."
As much as Welker found many history books to be sorely lacking in their references to women who made a difference, one lent her the inspiration she needed to write "Untethered Women."
"In 2017, I took a trip to southern Florida and we visited a little museum in Everglades City. I bought a book written by one of their volunteers, Marya Repko, called, Women in the Everglades," said Welker, whose previous published works include "Fragile Clowns," "Warped Evidence," and "Hernando Epitaphs: Cemeteries and Memorials of Hernando County Florida." "The book had a chapter on May Mann Jennings. I knew Jennings had spent time in Brooksville. But that was all I knew about her. I wanted to know more. I researched her, which led to research about other women in Hernando County. The end result of my curiosity was Untethered Women."
The text of this book takes readers on a journey through Hernando's history, and through a woman's eyes. It explores themes such as pioneer women, divorce, the Civil War, miscegenation, railroads, schools and libraries, women in business, and women-powered local businesses like Weeks Hardware and Rogers Christmas House. And the book profiles a number of notable Hernando women.
"The story of Charlotte Crum is well known in Hernando County. In 1842 she was the first person buried in the Brooksville Cemetery. Indians attacked a wagon carrying Charlotte and her granddaughter and a male escort. Rebecca Harn the child’s mother rode horseback and was ahead of the wagon. The man was wounded, he ran away and hid in the woods. Rebecca heard gunshots and rode back into the danger, grabbed the child upon the horse and galloped away. She saved her child and herself. Rebecca was the hero; in accounts of the event, her name is barely mentioned. The state marker at Charlotte’s gravesite does not give Rebecca credit for her brave act," said Welker. "Elizabeth Carr Washington, affectionately known as Aunt Lizzie, was born a slave in 1848, died in 1938 a free woman and the owner of a forty-acre farm. This is ironic because when she was still a child slave, plantation owner Francis Ederington traded forty acres for her. Aunt Lizzie lived much of her life at and worked for, the owners of Chinsegut Hill. While having nine children of her own she became a midwife, whose services were sought after by both black and white women. She delivered more babies than any of the local doctors."
Other featured women include Lena Hawkins, the first female mayor in the state of Florida who presided in Brooksville, and Hernando County's Annie Jo Law, who became the first female county attorney in Florida.
Welker brought a great deal of independent research into her book project.
"I retrieved information from a dozen books written about Hernando County. The most valuable was, Hernando County Florida, 1842-1945, by Rogers Landers. Mr. Landers, a high school teacher, and local historian collected letters, newspaper clippings and other documents concerning our history for about fifty years," she said. "With the help of a Train Depot Museum volunteer Suzanne Touchton, his collection was compiled in this book creating the most authentic historical reference about Hernando County ever produced."
In researching women's history, Welker faced some special challenges.
"I also spent hours scouring the internet. Searching for information about women is like digging a well," she said. "You have to dig deeper and deeper, just to find a married woman’s first name. Women were known by their husband’s name like Mrs. William Hope, one of the first settlers in the county. The problem is there were three Mrs. William Hopes."
Yet the results, Welker found, were well worth the work.
"I tried to present a different perspective on historical events not found in the majority of publications available by emphasizing the women’s role. I discussed the obstacles and hardships early women settlers had to overcome," said Welker. "Through the years, women exhibited bravery, perseverance, and initiative to help create the county as it is today. I would like residents to become more aware of the contributions made by the women."
Many ‘Untethered Women’ are set to be honored at the community's centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Amendment granting United States women the right to vote. Brooksville Main Street and The Hernando Sun are marking the milestone with the Women Leading the Way Women's Suffrage Event/Exhibition March 20-21. And in addition to honoring the brave suffragettes who put their lives on the line to secure a basic human right, this event will honor the visionary women of Hernando County.
Aside from a live reenactment of a suffragette march and rally, the event will feature a citywide exhibition honoring those women who made a difference; their names, photos, and accomplishments posted on boards that will be featured in the halls of participating businesses.
The organizers of this project, which involves the participation of area organizations that include the Business and Professional Women's Association of Hernando County, the GFWC Historic Brooksville Woman's Club, and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, seeks to include women--living and deceased--from all professions, backgrounds, races, and eras. They are accepting nominations for Hernando County's visionary women to be featured in the exhibit.
Nominations for the Women Leading the Way exhibit will be accepted now through February 15. Nominations would require:
birth date and if applicable, death
photo of nominee, if available
number of years nominee lived in Hernando County
reason for nominating them
applicant's relationship to the nominee
applicant's email and phone number
The aim of Women Leading the Way, along with Untethered Women, is to respect, to recognize--and to remember.
"In this little book I want to talk about the early women of Hernando County," wrote Linda Welker in "Untethered Women: Untold Stories of Historic Women in Hernando County Florida," "The women everyone else forgot to talk about."