Dressed to the nines has long been a phrase used to describe individuals dressed up and stylish.  Today, in our affluent society it is not difficult to find those that can be described in that way. The phrase came to mind today as I considered a particular family in my line, although knowing their circumstances, it most certainly could not have applied.  Rather the family I was considering had nine children and and I found myself wondering how in the world they managed to feed and dress their nine, although families of that size were fairly common up until the mid 20th century.  In fact as I look through my family tree, it is full of individuals that reared large families during the most difficult of times.  

Martha Elizabeth (Ganus) Brock
Martha Elizabeth (Ganus) Brock

Born 12 April 1846, Mattie Ganus, grew up in the small rural community of Fayetteville, Fayette, Georgia.   Formally named Martha Elizabeth Ganus, she was the ninth of ten children born to James and Elizabeth (McCloskey) Ganus*.  Reared on a farm, she would have learned the basics of cooking, sewing and helping to care for some of the small farm animals from the time she was little. Undoubtedly these skills helped her later in rearing her own large family.

As one of the youngest children in a large family, the family structure was ever changing as older siblings married and moved away.  She was four years old when her oldest sister was married and only six years of age when her oldest brother, John Monroe Ganus, my 2nd great grandfather, married and moved away.

By the time Mattie married and left home at the age of 20, only she and her younger brother Addison were still at home.  She and William Cohen Brock tied the knot on 24 of December in 1866 in Coweta, Georgia, on the heels of the Civil War and during the period of Georgia’s painful reconstruction.  Bill was a farmer and undoubtedly dealt with crippling poverty, the difficulty of obtaining seed for crops, and the struggle of paying taxes as typically experienced by families of that time and location.

Bill and Mattie’s first known child was Joseph B. Brock born in 1871, a full five years after their marriage. Typically couples of that era began families within a few years of marriage, so I suspect that there was possibly some heartache and disappointment as they anticipated their first child. 

Mattie’s mother, Elizabeth, died sometime between 1860 and 1870, so Mattie would have faced childbirth and raising children without the benefits of her mother there to support and help her.  Perhaps she leaned on her oldest sister, Mary, who was 22 years older and who had married and left home when Martha was only a 4 year old child.  According to the 1880 census, Mary and Mattie lived only about six doors from each other.  Mattie’s brother, Addison, and his wife, in addition to her sister, Rebecca, and her husband also lived nearby. 

Martha Elizabeth Ganus Brock's Headstone
Martha E. Brock
Died 25 May 1909
Buried: Tallapoosa Primitive
Baptist Church Cemetery
Carroll County, Georgia 

Between the years of 1871 and 1888,  Bill and Mattie had a total of nine children, seven boys and two girls.  This meant nine children to dress, feed and educate.  They had nine children to house and nine children to care for emotionally as well as physically.  But for a farmer, it also meant nine sets of hands to help with the daily chores of running a farm.  In the process of being needed, the children learned to work, to help and the value of teamwork. 

Additionally, Mattie and Bill managed to instill in their children the desire for an education.  In fact, of their nine children, two pursued Dental school.  One son, Leon Cliff Brock, purportedly died while attending Dental School, but another son, Lloyd Jefferson Brock, finished and became a dental surgeon and additionally became a member of the House of Representatives. Their son Edgar Caloway Brock became a school teacher. With a love of the outdoors, several of their other sons followed in their father’s footsteps and farmed.  While living in trying circumstances during hard times, truly Bill and Mattie (Ganus) Brock took their charge seriously and managed to teach, care for and dress their nine.

*Mattie’s father James Ganus shortened his name in approximately 1840 from Gurganus to Ganus. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013

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8 thoughts on “Dressing the Nine

  1. Somehow I always had the impression that women married much younger than the age of 20. Maybe it is a stereotype that I grew up believing. Thanks again for the wonderful insight into family life during the reconstruction era. It must have been heartbreaking. Wonderful story, Michelle.

  2. In her photo, Mattie looks like an extremely determined person. I have a photo of my great-grandmother, one of whose sons (my grandfather) was born in 1876, with pretty much exactly the same expression on her face. It's hard for me to imagine how much pressure was on wives during those days of so many children — nine, in this case. I think they did not even contemplate having smaller families, because of need for hands on the farm and also because of infant mortality rates.

    You mentioned crippling poverty in Georgia in 1866. I'm sure that was true. At least William Brock was too young (I assume) to have fought in the Civil War. It sounds like a serious accomplishment for a farmer to be able to send two sons to Dental School. This family must have "kept their nose to the grindstone," as the saying goes. People like this keep humanity going!

  3. Thank Phoebe. From what I have read, I think (and someone correct me if I am wrong), but at that time period, 20-22 was about right for a woman to marry. That being said, there are certainly plenty of cases of women marrying earlier and we had plenty of those in our family.

  4. She does look determined. There have actually been some things written about her that suggest she was a bit stubborn and a little fiesty. Hmmm…that's not the first time I've read that about someone in my ancestry.

    I seriously can't imagine trying to care for a family that large during that time period. I know their expectations were much different than ours in terms of how many changes of clothing they had etc., but even with that, it would be a challenge.

    I wondered what kind of wedding Martha may have had too.

    I've wished so many times that I could time travel and see a day in their life. Thanks for dropping by Mariann.

  5. Michelle,
    I absolutely LOVE reading these blogs/glances back in time to our family. I so wish I could remember some of the stories that Granny (Carrie) Ganus told me and some that Pepaw passed on as well. I want to thank you for letting me walk down these dusty old roads our family lived on with you. I'm gonna see if I can find some information to back up a story I was told…then I'll pass it on to you to tell.
    Much love and admiration.

  6. Thanks Michelle. I wish you could remember those stories as well. Maybe something will stir up a memory and then you will and I would love it if you shared any of those with me. It's all in the sharing after all. Thanks for dropping by!

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