Women’s History Month: My Great Nan, Mollie Baldwin

I had the wonderful privilege of knowing a couple of my great-grandparents when I was a child. I knew my dad's paternal grandfather, Colin Bell, and my dad's maternal grandmother, Mollie Baldwin. While I was too young to remember him, Mollie's husband Harry ("Grumps") was also alive when I was born. One of my most cherished photos is this one of me with my parents, four grandparents, and three great-grandparents, taken on the occasion of my first birthday in August 1996.

To celebrate Women’s History Month this year, I've decided to dedicate this post to my great-grandmother, Mollie Baldwin.

Mary Alice Sheppard

My fondest memory of Great Nan, as we called her, is the lolly jar. Whenever we would visit her tiny two-bedroom house, she would offer my sister and I a lolly from the lolly jar. It never really occurred to me how old Great Nan was or what she had experienced in her life, but those simple memories have stayed with me.

Born Mary Alice Sheppard, she was known to family and friends as Mollie. She was the eldest daughter of Percy and Mary Sheppard, who had 12 children altogether during their 45-odd years of marriage. The Sheppard family has a long history in the northern New South Wales region of Casino. This is where my great-grandmother was born on 15 October 1919. This year would have marked her 100th birthday.

From a young age, Mollie was tasked with caring for her many younger brothers and sisters. She learned the trade of dressmaker, something she continued to do throughout her life. It boggles my mind that my skillset is so vastly different to someone like my great-grandmother Mollie's, despite the relatively short passage of time. These women were hard-working, resilient, and simply amazing wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends. It is such a shame that much of our research is focused on the males in a family unit—often due to the limitations of finding records concerning wives and mothers—when the women were the ones who truly formed the bedrock of social life.

'Tis Harry I'm Plannin' to Marry

Mollie met her future husband, Harold Clifford Baldwin ("Harry"/"Grumps") at a military ball in Burleigh Heads circa 1939. Harry had been in the RAAF and later enlisted in the Army. According to family lore, on 27 September 1940 the couple married at St John Vianney's, Manly, although documents to prove this are yet to be found. In any event, they apparently did marry around this time. My grandmother sent me this beautiful wedding portrait of them late last year.

Harry and Mollie would remain married for the rest of their lives. They raised four children, and were loving and loved grandparents and great-grandparents to many. Harry passed away in November 1996; Mollie in March 2010.

Remembering the Women

When I think of Great Nan, I am reminded of a woman who was small but mighty. If I ever had the chance to 'meet' one of my ancestors, I would probably choose Mollie. While I knew her as a child, I don't think you can fully appreciate the spectrum of one's life until much later on. Of course we want to cherish every moment with our parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents, but it is only when they're gone that we really wish we had taken the time to sit down and ask them about their lives.

Back row L-R:   Barbara & Brian Bell, Jane & Brian Collett.   Centre row L-R:   Harry ("Grumps") & Mollie Baldwin (holding me), Colin Bell.   Front row L-R:   David & Megan Bell.

Back row L-R:

Barbara & Brian Bell, Jane & Brian Collett.

Centre row L-R:

Harry ("Grumps") & Mollie Baldwin (holding me), Colin Bell.

Front row L-R:

David & Megan Bell.

Four generations - my grandmother (left), great-grandmother (centre) and father (right) pose for a picture just after I was born in August '95

Four generations - my grandmother (left), great-grandmother (centre) and father (right) pose for a picture just after I was born in August '95

Harry Baldwin & Mollie Sheppard on their wedding day (27/09/1940?)

Harry Baldwin & Mollie Sheppard on their wedding day (27/09/1940?)

Now I endeavour to do this for my immediate family, and I would encourage any readers out there to do the same. Our mothers and grandmothers in particular have such an interesting and rich story—even if they don't think so—that is worth preserving for future generations.

Happy Women’s History Month 2019!

EDIT 26/03/2019: The mystery has been solved. Harry and Mollie did marry at St John Vianney's on 27 September—but in 1944, not 1940! It's good to finally put this conundrum to rest.