In Honor of Women’s History Month, I present my grandmother:
Rachel Louise Rotthouse Webster
In addition to honoring those women who have changed the world, I think it is important to honor those women who have been so important in our individual lives. I present to you Rachel Louise Rotthouse, who married John Coleman Webster, Jr., my grandmother.
Born in 1908, Rachel grew up on Cherrywood Farm located just off Concord Pike, in the area now known as Blue Rock Manor. Her grandparents immigrated from Germany, and her father was the first born in the United States in 1879. Rachel attended the one-room, multi-grade school on Concord Pike, and learned all about farming. She learned how to make cheese and sausage, how to plant and harvest, how to preserve the harvest for the long winter months. She always loved reading and learning, and Rachel became the teacher in that one-room school.
Rachel caught the eye of a young farmer, John Webster, and he talked her into marrying him in 1924. She moved into the large farmhouse with his parents. The kitchen was a lean to, there was not yet indoor plumbing, and the to-do list on the farm was miles long. The 1920s saw the addition of three children, with two more following in the 1930s. In addition to raising food for themselves, produce and meat were raised to sell at the King Street Farmers Market in Wilmington. Rachel made sausage to sell there, as well as cottage cheese, as well as making bouquets of flowers. She raised the children, made the meals, canned vegetables and fruits for winter eating, sewed all the girls’ clothes, and kept the farm going.
In her spare time (what spare time?!), Rachel started painting. And she entered her paintings in local shows, and frequently won awards. She studied with various teachers, including Henriette Wyeth (older sister of Andrew Wyeth). Her paintings were added to many local collections, including the Hotel du Pont. And when the children were grown, Rachel taught herself to play the organ, and she served as her church’s organist for many years.
During the 1930, not only was the economy a mess, but agriculture suffered from ferocious climactic events: the 1933 hurricane, peach blight, drought. Rachel’s skills in small vegetable farming and preserving the harvest through canning were vital in ensuring that the family survived.
In those days before penicillin, staying healthy was a challenge. Herbs, juicing, and natural remedies were key elements that Rachel employed. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and the flu were just a few things that they had to get through. When her husband fell from a tree and broke his back, Rachel tended him and the farm and the family. His recovery was due in large part to her care.
Rachel’s commitment to her five daughters’ education was unwavering. They were expected to do well in school. They all had farm chores to do, but schoolwork was always at the top of the list. All of her children went to college.
Of course, growing up I as a grandchild did not ponder what a wonderful role model Rachel Webster was. Someone who was talented in many areas, self-taught in many areas, continued to learn her whole life, gave generously of her time to others, was a dedicated teacher to her family and to others, and was unfailingly patient, polite, and courteous—what a wonderful person! For me, she was simply “Grandmom.” We loved her great cooking and terrific pies. There were always games to play and stories to be told when we visited. She showed us how to help in the kitchen (I suspect we made more mess than helped) or how to sew a skirt. She loved us, which is the greatest gift of all. I can look back now and appreciate the gift of a life well-lived.