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Elizabeth Powell McDaniel

by JoBeth McDaniel

My grandmother Elizabeth Powell McDaniel (1889-1968) was the eldest in her family of eleven children in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Though she was bright and ambitious, she had to leave school to work while she was still a child, after her father grew ill. Her father had been in his late 40s when she was born; he was a survivor of Pickett's Charge in the Civil War at Gettysburg, which made him a celebrated war hero. He married my great-grandmother Mattie when she was a teenager. 

Mattie was pregnant every year for the next decade. So my grandmother Elizabeth was like a second mother to all her siblings. She worked long hours at a hotel, then longer hours at home, caring for her father and siblings. She was quiet and bookish, considered an "old maid" by the standards of the early 1900s. 

But by the time she was in her thirties, during World War I, she decided she had supported the family long enough. She shocked them all by sailing on a ship to France to work with the Red Cross, nursing American soldiers. In Paris, she met and married my grandfather, a farmer from Ohio. 

Marrying a "Yankee" was perhaps the most rebellious act an Alabama woman could do in those days, but especially for the daughter of a famous Gettysburg survivor.  Still, the couple returned to Montgomery, and by all accounts, my grandfather Mac was accepted by everyone, and their marriage was good. 

Elizabeth was 35 when she had her first child, my father, and five years later, at age 40, she gave birth to my aunt.  They lived in an old house in the middle of a black neighborhood downtown, so my father had many close African-American friends throughout his childhood, which was uncommon for that time and place. Maybe that's one reason why my father was more liberal on racial issues than most others in our town in my childhood. During the 1960s and 1970s, he worked hard to peacefully de-segregate our small town's schools and sports facilities. 

I'm named after my grandmother Elizabeth. I like to think I inherited a sense of adventure and independence from her.  

Though she died when I was young, I'm fortunate that my father and other relatives told me stories about her strength and courage, and the way she served as the "rock" of her large family, who all adored her. 


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