As Mothers’ Day approaches, we reflect on the great work of not only mothers but also those women whose course in life did not provide for their own children but still led them to a path of deep maternal influence. One such woman is Virginia Helen Neuteboom. We share her story with you here, as told by her great niece, Emma West.
Evert and Anna Neuteboom began their family at the turn of the twentieth century. With 10 lively children, things were always bustling, and with a steady stream of clients, Evert’s printing business prospered. The whole family was fun-loving, and the children often played pranks and games on each other and the neighbors. But none was more spirited than Virginia. The third child in the family and the oldest girl, Virginia was a spunky redhead, vivacious, and quick to laugh. She kept the family smiling as a child and never lacked for friends or beaus as she grew older.
As Virginia moved into her teenage years, she was content to focus on friends and fun. But her parents knew education was important and encouraged Virginia to enroll in college, which was unusual for a girl in those days. She graduated from college with an associate of arts degree and a teaching certificate and then began her teaching career in 1927 in a remote mining town.
A few years later, Virginia returned to teach in her hometown. The Depression hit hard in her community, but the family managed to remain more financially stable than most, thanks to Evert’s steady work as a printer. Virginia, too, was happy to have a stable job in a time when so many were out of work. She was, however, looking forward to marriage and having a family—she had become engaged to Junius Wilson, a successful manager of a local grocery store. Since at that time married women were not allowed to be schoolteachers, Junius and Virginia planned that she would quit teaching and they would marry as soon as they could.
In February 1930, tragedy struck when Evert died of a heart attack. This left the family without a provider. They were heartbroken, but their grief soon had to take a back seat to deep concern for their precarious financial situation. Virginia’s mother was a kind and hard-working woman but was not equipped to find work that would support her large family.
Virginia’s two older brothers had moved away. The other boys in the family were simply not old enough to take over the printing business. It eventually closed, and the family lost most of its assets. Luckily, their house was paid for, but the family still needed money. This left Virginia at a crossroads: marry and move away to fulfill her own hopes and dreams or become the provider for her mother and siblings.
Virginia’s marriage was put on hold. She continued her engagement, planning that she’d keep supporting the family until some of the other children were in a better position to help. Even her salary of $1,050 a year wasn’t very much to support nine people. The family struggled, yet Virginia refused to let circumstances get her down. She carried on, making the best of what must have been a disappointing situation in many ways. To his credit, Junius continued to support her decision to care for her family, and Virginia maintained her vivacious nature despite her drastic change of plans. The family still played games and pranks, and Virginia was there to help each sibling have the happiest childhood she could. Still, she looked forward to things someday being different.
But it was not to be. In 1937, after working and supporting her family for seven years, Virginia developed a kidney disease and soon had to quit teaching. She was confined to her bed for many months and never did recover. She died in 1938 at age 31, leaving a family who missed her and a fiancé who was devastated. Their lives changed once again.
Anna and the children missed Virginia terribly. Time helped ease the ache, though, and the children were old enough to work and help make ends meet. The girls went on to school and marriage, and the boys all joined the military after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Even Junius found love again and married in 1940. Life went on.
And now, these many years later, Virginia’s story is all but forgotten—her parents and most of her siblings have passed away, but she deserves to be remembered. In the face of adversity, Virginia selflessly kept her family going long enough to provide them with the ability to continue on by themselves. She left a legacy of determination and cheerfulness that continues to inspire. This may not be the legacy she had planned to leave, but looking at her life and all the good she left behind, it is more than enough.
Helen’s story is published in Seeing the Everyday Issue No. 25