March 12, 2013

Mary Elizabeth Doxey (Mamie), Mother to Many Children

Mamie must have been surprised when Jack Donaldson came to the door and asked to see her.  Mamie’s father had been encouraging Jack to remarry after the death of his wife; Mamie had heard him over dinner for the last several months talk about how concerned he was about Jack’s situation.  Jack had 7 young children.  Mamie remembered she had gone with a friend and gathered flowers for his wife at her death.  For well over a year now, Jack and his boys had been 'baching it' alone while his girls lived with his mother-in-law.  He needed to remarry to provide himself with a wife and his children with a mother, Mamie’s dad concluded. 

Mary Elizabeth Doxey, or “Mamie” to her friends and family, was born in 1892 into a faithful Latter-day Saint family in Ogden Utah.  She was the second daughter in a family of 10 children.  Her mother had said Mamie was ‘her right arm and stand-by,’ relying on her help in caring for the children in their large family.  She also loved to work outside with her father and brothers on their 14 acres of farmland and pastures, becoming a tom-boy of sorts, strong and sturdy.  Although by her own account a poor reader and speller, Mamie did well in school and began nurses training at Weber Academy.  That study ended suddenly in November 1910.

When Mamie was 18 years old, her dear mother died after contracting typhoid fever.  It happened in just a few weeks.  Mamie and the older girls in her family regrouped, taking care of the children.  Nellie, the oldest was 20 years old, while Jack, the youngest wasn’t yet a year old.  Nellie married soon afterward, leaving Mamie the bulk of the responsibility.  For the next 10 years, Mamie took on the responsibilities that had been her Mothers.  She tried to follow her Mother’s pattern in taking care of their home and raising the children.  

Mamie’s father showed his gratitude for the help she gave him by often saying, ‘what would I have done if the Lord hadn’t given me my girl?’  The family recovered from the grief of losing their mother, largely due to Mamie’s hard work and attention to the children.  

It was hard work caring for such a large family.  Mamie missed out on many of the activities her friends were enjoying.  But she was happy at home caring for her family, where she knew she was needed.  The first time she was able to spend a day away with her friends was 6 years after her mother had passed away!  As she watched her younger sisters Verna, Florence, and Alfarata (Olva) all marry and move on with her lives, she took satisfaction from their successes, just as a mother would.  Is it worth it?”  Mamie probably wondered periodically.  She may have wondered if she'd every marry as she aged.  Remembering how grateful her father was for her help probably settled everything in her mind again.

More grief followed when Mamie’s sister Nellie died, leaving a baby behind.  Mamie took that baby in and raised her along with the rest of her siblings.  Her younger sister Verna lost her husband in a train accident, leaving her a young widow with two young children.  Mamie took those kids in during the day, allowing Verna to work to support her family.  Mamie was doing just fine, happily filling the needs she saw in her home.  

Now here Jack was, asking for her at the door.  John Kissell Donaldson, or Jack as he was affectionately called, knew a good thing when he saw it.  He had seen how Mamie had taken care of her siblings in their grief, he was sure she would help him and his children now.  Jack was ready to remarry.  What would Mamie’s father think?  Jack was taking his advice by courting his daughter!  

Understandably, Mamie was wary.  Did she want to get mixed up with this man and all of his children?  Seven of them!  But when she was with him, she felt good.  She knew she loved him from their first date.  Although her 10-year-old brother, whom she raised from infancy, called her 'Mama' still, she was confident that her own family could manage without her.  And besides, she may never get another chance to marry, now that she was older. 

After considering everything, Mamie accepted Jack’s affections on one condition:  that he become sealed in the Temple in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his first wife beforehand.  Jack and his first wife Hazel had only been married civilly although both were members of the church.  Knowing Mamie’s unalterable resolve, Jack took the steps necessary to do so.  Taking the children with him, he went to the Ogden temple in March 1920 and was sealed to Hazel and his children.  Meanwhile, Mamie received her Patriarchal blessing.  In it, she was told, “the labors of thy … ministry thus far have pleased the Lord.  Thou shalt be crowned with thy blessings, not only as a chosen daughter, but as an honored mother in Israel.”  This was the right thing to do and Mamie was ready to give it her best effort.

Jack and Mamie were married on November 10, 1920 and Mamie began caring for her new family.  Mamie delivered 10 children of her own and raised them all to adulthood, with the exception of her first child Ralph, who died shortly after delivery.  Many were raised during the depression, adding to the difficulty of feeding and clothing such a large family.   

All told, Mamie raised 23 children to adulthood—7 siblings, 7 step children and 9 children.  Many other children, including her nieces, nephews, and grand children spent a considerable amount of time in her home and under her care.  No wonder that her children described her as a 'peace-maker, soft as velvet on the outside but inside she was made of steel!'

Mamie’s own siblings might say that young Mamie made mistakes as she urged them to do their chores, sat them down to do their homework and reminded them to make their beds.  Mamie’s step-children might say that she made mistakes as she sent them outside to chop firewood, off to school or work, or into the kitchen to help make dinner.  Mamie’s own children might also say that she made mistakes as she sent them to school, reminded them to brush their teeth and sent them indoors to do their chores.  No mother is perfect; the idea would make all mothers cringe with the guilt of unmet expectations.  With so many children to care for, it’s inconceivable that it could be done perfectly.  

What is remarkable, though, is that Mamie was willing to take mother-less children under her protection and ‘mother’ them the best she knew how.  Twice, she accepted the responsibility and performed to the best of her ability.  Step-daughter May said, “I think of how hard my mother worked.  I’ve never seen such a hard worker than she was.  My dad and she didn’t have too much.  We all had to kind of go without.  But we got by because they sacrificed.  They raised a family to be proud of.  We all turned out good for a family that large.” 

May continued, “I’m so glad my stepmother married my dad.  I don’t know what would have happened to us if she hadn’t married my dad.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but she has been so good.   [I didn’t realize it at the time, but] she was my best friend.” 

Imperfect Mary Elizabeth Doxey, or Mamie, welcomed children into her home, giving her best to the task of raising them. 

“The Life of John Kissell Donaldson” Unknown author and date.  12 Pages
Donaldson, Mary Elizabeth Doxey.  "Autobiography" Unknown date.  1 Page.
Quinn, Ted D.  The Economic History of the Donaldson Family & America, 1831-1975.  Term Paper.  Provo:  Brigham Young University, 1990.  Print.
West, May Donaldson.  "May Donaldson West:  An Autobiography." Ed. by Melanie Jensen Johnson.  North Carolina:  2009.  Print.

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