Catherine Enslow, reporter on the staff of the Huntington Herald Dispatch, invaded Wayne County last Saturday to interview Mrs. Hanna Runyon Blankenship, age 105, who lives in Westmoreland; and who expresses herself as avowedly against woman suffrage. Mrs. Blankenship's views in regard to woman suffrage are a vivid contrast to the jubilancy that is manifest generally by women over their recent enfranchisement. Miss Enslow tells the story of Mrs. Blankenship's interview as follows:
"I do not think that women have any right at the polls a-muddling up the politics, running for office and all that sort of thing. A woman's place is in her home raising her children and caring for her husband, not messing around tending to a man's business."
This speaker snorted contemptuously as she derided the woman's right agitation and the recent victory of womankind in securing constitutional suffrage. Seated on the little porch in front of her home in Westmoreland, Mrs. Hanna Runyon Blankenship, a little spirited for all her 105 years, smiled at her own vigor and then settled with a sigh, "They didn't gallivant around like they do now when I was a little girl," she said.
"We use to shear sheep and spin the wool for winter clothing--we always had a new suit for Christmas--run the house and do the chores. Now I pick greens every year and peddle them in the nearby towns to get money to clothe myself. I never had any time for such a pack of foolishness as voting and running for office and all that nonsense."
Mrs. Blankenship, who says she is 105 by her own knowledge and that of God, is perhaps the oldest woman in West Virginia. At all odds she is one of the oldest in the United States. She is too, probably one of the most active of the centenarian family.
Born in 1815, while Andrew Jackson was gaining a reputation at New Orleans and John Paul Jones was giving a few lessons in naval warfare, Mrs. Blankenship has spent most of her life within the call of the Alleghenies. Quaint, old-fashioned, active and keen-minded, she still is here a living monument of another day, of staidness and of the many qualities that are becoming rare in this day of new thought radicalism.
With her "youngster," Mrs. Susie Mays, who says she is only 73, and Mrs. Maggie Loar, Mrs. Blankenship lives in a three-room house near the Westmoreland church.
She is proud of her activity. With ill concealed glee she recited the details of a three-mile walk accomplished only yesterday. That there were four trestles to be crossed made no difference to Mrs. Blankenship, for she stepped across these as quickly and as spryly as any twelve year-old Huck Finn.
Then lighting her inevitable pipe, for Hanna Blankenship smokes a pipe and is proud of it, she smoked in silence for a few minutes and then launched into a recital of her life history:
"I was born in Pike County, Ky., in 1815. My mother died when I was two years old, but my father lived to be 104.
"We lived in Pike County for several years, and from there my father fetched us to Little Sandy. From Little Sandy we moved to Virginia, and there I met Condie Blankenship, my husband. I was married at 20, up Tug River at the mouth of Kaney. We then moved to Boyd County, Kentucky, and lived near Catlettsburg, where I raised my children. Pa died there and was buried in England Hills on the 'plat' just above our house. He has been dead 50 years.
"I'm a member of the hardshell Baptist church and was baptized at the mouth of Blackberry Creek on Tug River. When I got old enough to write my name in the book of Christ, that was the church I joined.
"I got my religion all of a sudden. While I was making a cap for one of my babies, the Lord came to me. When I got religion, there was such a change in me the people all thought I was sick. I 'uster go to church a heap too. The Lord is as near my house as any church house.
"Everybody thought I was lonely and asked me why I never married again, but I just told them I could never stand to see another man whop the children. Pa and me lived together a long time and never had a fuss or a word.
"God forgive me; no, I do not dance. All my family danced but me. I never danced. Others would take us all to dances, but I would sit back. My father was the awfullest man to dance you ever saw. He would rather dance than eat, and when they danced the Virginia reel, he would get in such a big way a-dancin', instead of reelin' across the floor he would get down and roll across.
"I liked the outdoor sports, though. I uster be the greatest horseback rider in our part of the country. I never swam much, but I could row a boat and paddle a canoe as good as anyone. I like to ride in automobiles too, better than on a street car.
"As for riding one of the aeroplanes, no madam! Don't talk to me about gettin' up there. When I git up there that far in the air, I want the Lord to be taking me.
"Up until the last few months, I was right poorly, but now I feel fine. Eat more than ever. I ain't had a tooth in my head for thirty years or longer, and I can't bite my food, but I cut it and eat it that-a-way.
"I've never worn glasses either. I can see out of only one eye and thank God I can see out of it. That's the reason they won't let me go far away from home alone, so I have to always take my grandson, Walter Blair, 'cause he can watch for the automobiles. I love my children and grandchildren, and I love a child better than anything in God's world."
With a clear, sweet voice, just to show me she could, Mrs. Blankenship launched on a song of long ago:
A-walking and a-talking
A-walking was I;
I will meet my sweet William,
I will met him er die;
Meeting is a pleasure,
Parting is grief;
A unconstant lover is worse than a thief.
A thief will rob you and bring you to the grave,
The grave will consume you
And turn you to dust,
Not one man in ten thousand will do for to trust.
Mrs. Blankenship's pipe died out, and the story stopped. She smiled as she tapped the bowl of her pipe against the side of the porch to dump the ashes.
"You know," she continued slowly, "I see a lot of nonsense about women smoking. I think it is all right for women and young girls to smoke a pipe. But I do not think young girls should smoke a cigarette. They are vulgar and besides they shorten life. I have lived a hundred and five years, and I think my long life has been due to the fact that I smoked a pipe. They steady one's nerves. So, young lady, if you will, smoke a pipe, but keep away from those paper cigars.
"No, I did not like smoking at first. But my husband chewed tobacco all the time, and I couldn't stand it. Some of the other women told me if I smoked a pipe I could stand my husband chewing.
"And," she concluded, "it never made me sick, not even once."
Mrs. Blankenship has an excellent memory, for one who has so many years to remember. Hard times are nothing new to this woman who has lived through half a dozen wars and recalls high prices with each one.
With all she is joyful, and has more pep than some of the eighty and ninety year old persons who scoff at being young enough to be her children. Never a Sunday passes without her devotional, she says, for she is, if anything, a believer in the Almighty.
"Another thing, young lady," concluded the woman, "when you get married, don't think you're too good to raise a family. That is the trouble with all this new-fangled stuff of women running around and voting and all such nonsense. Why I had 8 children, and three of them are still living. Those three are more than some of the new-fangled families nowadays. More'n that, I have twenty- six grandchildren, eighteen great-grandchildren and several great-great-grandchildren. So you see that nonsense don't run in this family."
Mrs. Blankenship, unable to conquer her wanderlust, even at 105, is visiting her son today in Wayne County. She will remain there three weeks.
Transcription by June White
Wayne County News