In Though Waters Roar by Lynn Austin, Harriet Sherwood is a young woman in the early 1900s who has just landed in jail for defying the Prohibition’s liquor laws – but not for the reasons you might think. As she spends the night in jail, she contemplates how ironic it is that she’s there, given that her grandmother spend much of her adult life fighting for Prohibition. Trying to trace how she got to where she is, she reminiscences about the women in her heritage.
Her great-grandmother, Hannah, helped hide slaves and smuggle them to the Underground Railroad. Her grandmother, Bebe, stepped out of the conventional role of her new marriage in upper-class society to help those less fortunate, participate in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and fight against “Demon Rum,” landing in jail herself for taking an axe to whiskey barrels. Her mother, Lucy, though having a very different personality and upbringing, eventually stepped out of her shallow lifestyle to try to help others as well. Finding that the means to appeal to civic authorities for needed changes was blocked by those authorities because she was a woman, she fought for women’s right to vote.
Harriet “didn’t want to be like my fiery grandmother and end up in jail, any more than I wanted to be a dutiful wife like Mother or a virtuous siren like Alice [her sister]. But how was I supposed to live as a modern woman, born just before the dawn of the twentieth century? What other choices did I have? That’s the question I was endeavoring to answer when I ended up in jail.”
The story of Harriet’s ancestors takes up most of the book and is told in flashback. With each mother-daughter pair, the mother tries to teach eternal truths to a daughter not always willing to listen, at least at first. But eventually each finds her own way, and Harriet is reassured that “Someday…God is going to give you a task to do in your own time and place. Then you’ll have to put your faith in Him as you follow your conscience.”
A few favorite quotes:
Thank goodness you’re such a plain child. You’ll have to rely on your wits.
Grip the rudder and steer, Harriet. Don’t just drift gently down the stream. If you don’t have a map, you might run aground somewhere or end up crushed against the rocks. Always know where you’re headed.
Bitterness is like a weed. Remember how hard it always was to pull out thistles once they take root? Remember how deep those roots grow, and how if you just snapped off the end of it, the plant would grow right back? You have to dig down deep inside. Let God search your heart. Let Him show you what’s there and help you root out all that bitterness.
There’s no shame in changing direction, Harriet. In fact, once you’ve seen the warning signs, it’s always wise to turn around.
Our daughters aren’t the same people we are, nor are they extensions of ourselves. They are unique individuals in God’s eyes, responsible to Him for the choices they make, not to their mothers.
As much as our communities might need it, and as bad as things are, imposing our morality on others isn’t the answer. It doesn’t work. People may be forced to give up alcohol, but they are still going to hell. That’s our calling—to bring people to Christ—not to force them to behave the way we want them to or to solve all their external problems.
I had not known until fairly recently that there were different waves of feminism and that when it first started, it fought for good and necessary ways to help others. It was later on that other agendas and prejudices crept in. So it was interesting to read how this first wave came about. Even in fighting for good causes, though, there were problems with balance in being away from home so much, leaving children to others to raise, and occasionally defying husbands. I don’t think the author is saying those things are necessary or right, but that it’s always a struggle to maintain the right balance. Even Grandma Bebe (speaker of the last quote listed) comes to realize in the end that her life would have been better spent in eternal pursuits.
I actually didn’t like Harriet very much, but I think her personality was indicative of both having been left to herself too much and trying to find her way. When she does seem to be finding it and some pieces start to fall together for her, some of the rough edges smooth over.
I did enjoy the story and the look into the lives and journeys of the women. I was about to say which one I identified most with, but then found I couldn’t really name one – there was much to glean from and identify with in each woman’s life.