February 11, 2016

Woman of Courage: Ada Massey

Ada Massey
Because February is Women's History Month I wanted to share with my readers the story of strong and courageous women in my life. You will be able to follow along as you wish by choosing the label "Women of Courage" in the right side bar. I encourage my readers to join me in honoring women of courage in your own families.

Ada Massey was a young free-spirited woman. Born in the small town of St. Mary's Ontario in the summer of 1887, Ada was the first child born to Thomas & Harriet (Purdue) Massey. Eventually she was joined by 7 younger siblings. Their family was life was not unlike others of the time period. 

But Ada was different from other girls and young women her age. From an early age she began occassionally wearing men's clothing. Her behaviour became increasingly eccentric as judged by the mores of the early 1900s. After her father's death in 1912 when Ada was in her early 20's, her mother and brothers took to locking her in her room when she would have an emotional outburst. 

During one such time Ada climbed out her bedroom window and hopped on the family sleigh to drive into town. It was a cold winter's day and she had no hat or coat but Ada didn't care. 

Ada in mourning for her father in 1912
Eventually her behaviour and her emotional outbursts were too much for her widowed mother to handle and Ada was committed in January 1919 to what was then called the Insane Asylum in London Ontario. 

The notes of attending doctors and nurses reveal an anguished young woman, a woman whose wanting to cut her long hair short was judged a sign of insanity as "no decent woman would ever do such a thing."  

Ada insisted she wanted to cut her hair as it was far too hot in the summer and she was tired of fussing with it.

Poor Ada was never good at adding or subtracting numbers and when a verbal math test was administered by the doctors, Ada failed miserably. The notation on her chart reads "mentally retarded". 

Photo of Ada hangs on our wall

Reading Ada's hospital charts and notes one has to wonder if she were truly slipping into madness or was she just being dramatic so that she had some excitement in her otherwise drab life! She began to claim that she was married and that her husband was buried in the local cemetery. But reading her words made me think it was all a ruse, that she knew very well she was not married to a dead man, for her story kept changing. 

Meantime Ada's family sent letters and notes, as did Ada's many friends. Her mother wrote to the doctors asking for word of Ada's progress and expressing how much the family missed her. The doctors' notes back were brief and showed a total lack of caring. Ada was allowed visitors but the trip from St. Mary's to London was not easy so the family had few opportunities for a personal visit. 

Eventually Ada refused to eat. She wanted out. She wanted to go home and be with her family and friends. She wanted to go back to her job at the  J.D. Moore Cold Storage Plant. 

After her continued refusal to eat, force feeding was ordered. We can only imagine the ordeal she went through. Ada continued to refuse solid food. 

Less than 2 weeks after being admitted to the Asylum, Ada died. She was only 28 years old. The doctor's note to the family informing them of her death was one simple line of text 

Her death certificate notes the cause of death as "Exhaustion" I believe she simply gave up. I believe she was a misunderstood young woman who did not fit into the social norms of the day. And that is why I call her a Woman of Courage. 

Ada is buried in the local cemetery in St. Mary's  with her brother James. Rest in Peace Ada.

1 comment:

Ellen Thompson-Jennings said...

What a touching story. Thank you for sharing.