While on a family road trip last month, we drove a bit on the National Road, the first major improved highway in the United States. Construction began in Cumberland, Maryland, and it would connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and became a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers. In time the road was extended from Cumberland to Upland, California, and it became known as the National Old Trails Road.
I’m not so much a student of roads, but what really caught my attention was a Madonna of the Trails monument we saw off the National Road, in Wheeling, West Virginia. Images of Mary, Mother of our Lord come to mind when we see the word “madonna.” This monument marked someone far different. It is one of 12 monuments commissioned by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, one placed in each of the 12 states through which the National Old Trails Road runs. They were dedicated in the 1920s to the spirit of pioneer women, providing a symbol of the “courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes.” (Wikipedia)
How did I get to be 55, a student of women’s history even, and not know about the Madonna of the Trails monuments?
The spirit of the monuments is rather fascinating to me. I can’t imagine life for those pioneer women, doing all that they did, without modern conveniences, wearing all those layers of clothing, fighting against unrelenting elements, raising families and creating homes despite the odds. You need only read some of the diaries written by women in this period to know how very difficult life was.
Courage and faith? Strength and love? How about moxie and a certain amount of hutzpah?
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.
Photo by the author.