Rosa Bell (b.1902): Home and Family – Part 2: Rosa’s Siblings & Husband

Rosa’s childhood and time spent with her parents was overwhelmingly positive and influenced her cheerful and moral attitude toward others (see Home and Family Part 1). However, this positivity did not extend throughout her whole family. As we learn in later chapters, she had a strained relationship with some of her siblings and a less than happy marriage to her husband.

Rosa’s Family Tree of Her Six Siblings

Rosa’s family of seven children is quite substantial, but also not unusual in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century due to lack of contraceptives and a significant oversight of child labour laws. This meant that children could work in factories and provide income for their families from a young age [1]. For example, even though ‘Factory Laws’ passed in the nineteenth century decreed no child under the age of nine could work in factories, “according to one 1914 estimate, there were over half a million children under fourteen were employed in the United Kingdom.” [2]

Rosa implies that she had a competitive relationship with her siblings, as in one of her earliest chapters she writes that “we were seven and I was the youngest. I came along many years after the others and my mother used to call me her weakling” (p.8). Dr. Sylvia Rimm states that “second or third children feel inadequate by comparison to a first sibling” and that “parents often reinforce those differences…often [by] labelling their children.” [3]

Another instance in which Rosa reports on disharmony between her and her siblings is in a chapter called ‘My Youth’: “I tell you that in spite of many happy hours I had so many many hours when I felt so troubled I sometimes even thought of ending it all” (p.143). One of her siblings used to frighten Rosa to sickness by threatening her. She writes that “unkind folks in the village used to convey to me all the tales of his escapades” (p.143) and “my legs used to shake under me whenever our Black Sheep came my way” (p.144).

Extract from R.M Remembers (Page 144)

While Rosa’s relationships to her siblings caused some struggles in her life, it was nothing compared to the overwhelmingly negative experiences her marriage to Kenneth A. Bell inflicted upon her. In the chapter ‘Let the Truth be told at almost 80 I want someone to Know,’ Rosa writes about “53 years of Hell” (p.88) with her emotionally abusive husband.

Rosa M. Bell on the England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005

As aforementioned in Purpose and Audience, Rosa later edited this passage from first to third person, presumably to distance herself from the memory of her husband and protect her son, who so far in my research is still unnamed.

Where “I” is turned to “She” and “Myself” to “Herself” (Page 88)

Rosa describes how she endured “cruel vicious remarks and poverty – with a man who hated most of the Human Beings with whom he came in Contact” (p.78-79). She remembers one particularly horrific event, after her son was born, in which Ken would grow angry if the baby would cry during the night: “the language he used if he woke in the night, keeping a poor B—- awake when he had to go to work” (p.81). He forced Rosa to then nurse the baby in a cold room that resulted in her and her 10 month old baby “to be taken in to Hospital & was ill for a long time and had to have Fluid taken from her Lungs” (p.82).

Yet, as is always the case with Rosa Bell, despite whatever struggles she may have faced she continues to practice the lessons of positivity and forgiveness she learned from her parents. However, the final word Rosa writes on the matter of husband make it unclear if Ken died or left the family,  as she writes that she will “go out & enjoy herself” after she “tried to do her Best” (p.88).

Memoir:

Bell, Rosa. “R.M Remembers.” Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collections, 2:59, available at: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

Citations:

[1] Deane, Phyllis. (1965) The First Industrial Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Page 146)

[2] Campbell, Lori M. (2005) The Twentieth Century Child. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press. (Page 1) PDF available at: representingchildhood.pitt.edu/pdf/20thCenturyChild.pdf

[3] Rimm, Sylvia. Ph.D. (2010) The Effects of Sibling Competition. Online: Family Achievement Clinic. Available at: http://www.sylviarimm.com/article_sibcomp.html

Images:

[1] [2] [4] – “R.M Remembers”

[3] England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005 via Ancestry.co.uk

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