Expert: It would have taken a tough woman to survive Fort days here

Published 8:46 am Friday, March 19, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Though it may not be found in most history books, the story of the first women to settle in the Niles area was the topic of a presentation at the library on Thursday night.
The Niles District Library hosted "Hidden from History: The Women of Fort St. Joseph," a presentation given by Carol Bainbridge, director of the Fort St. Joseph Museum in Niles.
The program took place in the rotunda of the library at 7 p.m. and was attended by about 40 Niles community members.
The presentation centered on the what life would have been like for the women who lived in and around the Fort during the 1600s and 1700s.
As the director of a historical institute, Bainbridge thinks it is important to know about our local history and with this type of program she is able to extend the availability of that knowledge beyond the museum.
Bainbridge began the presentation by saying most of the documented history of the Fort concerns military actions and fur trading with little attention paid to the women who made up the Fort's population.
She said just like any other community, women were an important part of life during that time. Men wanted to have women around at the wilderness fort for companionship, child bearing, housekeeping duties and some of the women even helped their husbands with their careers.
According to the presentation, a wide range of different women were present at the Fort. There were women of all classes and women of British, French and Native American descent.
Bainbridge said it would have taken a tough woman to live in a time and place with no doctors or stores in the area and a constant threat of possible Indian attacks.
Bainbridge used a slide show to give the presentation a visual element and because this was a time before photographs, many of the slides were sketches done by Bainbridge to indicate what some of the women would have typically looked like.
There were also pictures of some of the archeological findings in the area of Fort St. Joseph.
Western Michigan University has been performing archeological digs in the Niles area since 1998. The digs have been instrumental in shedding more light on what life may have been like at the Fort.
She displayed pictures of jewelry beads, a brass hair pin, scissors, a thimble and some other items used by women of the Fort.
Janine Frizzo-Horrigan and Ruth Byrdak followed Bainbridge with a brief presentation on the clothes worn by women during this time.
The women are members of the Support the Fort organization and historical reenactors who have done extensive research on the eighteenth century clothing worn by the women of Fort St. Joseph.
Horrigan came out dressed as a typical French woman of the time, Byrdak was dressed as a Native American and the women also displayed the clothing of an upper class woman of the time.
The clothes were made by Horrigan, who went through each article of clothing and described the reasoning behind wearing them.
For anyone interested in learning more about the history of Fort, The Fort St. Joseph Museum, 508 E. Main St., is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free.