Kitty Flanagan Barrett Curran

mad in pursuit family history

Was Kitty Flanagan My True-Life Nancy Drew?


Kitty Flanagan, about 1912I was exposed to the world's great literature in high school and college, but I have to say that women were too often portrayed as tragic victims, scolds, whores, or simply the ones sitting by the hearth waiting for their men to come home. Only the teen-age detective Nancy Drew had the pluck and the energy to be the hero of her own adventure. From second grade through college, Nancy inspired me.

Today I'm looking at my female heritage -- the unconscious influence of women who surrounded me as a child.

Like Nancy Drew, my future grandmother Kitty Flanagan lost her mother at an early age. Unfortunately she didn't have a rich father to give her a car and all the leisure time she wanted. But she did have pluck. With her two younger sisters in an orphanage and her father dealing with her three brothers, Kitty moved out. City Directories show her boarding at several addresses, one of them with her aunt and uncle, but mostly on her own.*

And Kitty made her way in the world. Nancy Drew was energized for work and so was Kitty. Neither of them hung around the house waiting for a man to plan their time for them. At the age of 19 (and possibly as early as 16) till she got married at 22, Kitty was a Bell Telephone operator.

As a teenage dreamer I wasn't that impressed with this information. Yes, it was a low-paying job requiring 12-hour shifts. But she was proud of it. It trained her speaking voice -- she always insisted that we enunciate clearly and correctly. It gave her discipline, self-esteem, and independence. When Tom Barrett came along and proposed to her, he told her it was because she stood so tall and straight in church and because he needed a good business partner.

I found this movie on YouTube about the early Bell Telephone operators and it gives me some insight into my grandmother's work.

I was such a little independent cuss myself -- I thought that plucky, independent women lived somewhere "out there," far away and in books. I didn't realize they were in my heart all along.



* Her older sister Nellie doesn't have this presence in the public record, but only shows up in the 1910 census as still living with her father and brothers.