If you’ve spent any time on your family tree, you know how hard it is to learn about your female relatives. The woman known as Auntie Cosma and seen as an bonus Grandma to many, left behind very little in the way of formal documentation. It’s only through reaching out to the family members who knew her that I began to sense just how important she was to the Pacheco family and the Portuguese Hawaiian community in Oakalnd.
She was given the name Maria at birth, but was called Marie. She was born in 1874 in Achada, Nordeste, Sao Miguel Island, Azores to Jacintho Pacheco and Anna de Mello. Both her parents were natives of Sao Miguel Island as well. Marie was the only surviving girl out of the 8 children.
Her father died by the time she turned 7. When she was 8, her widowed mother and five of her brothers boarded the SS Hansa bound for Hawaii. They were part of the sugar plantation migration.
She spent the rest of her childhood on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. There she met Joao Jacinto da Camara (aka John Cosma) whose family was contracted to the same plantation. The couple was married in Kilauea, Kauai in 1893. Marie was just shy of her 19th birthday.
Marie’s first child, Joao, was born two years after their marriage. A second son, Theodore, was born in October of 1898. Sadly, Theodore, was dropped by an elderly relative and died from the fall. Marie would go on to have six more children.
Joao worked on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation with his Pacheco in laws. Like many early plantation laborers, he was paid in gold. They saved what he earned, and by 1907, they were able to leave the sugar plantation life behind.
According to family, Joao came out first to find work and a place to live. According to his daughter, he was in the San Francisco Bay Area when the 1906 earthquake struck.
Joao must have returned to Hawaii to get his family, because in 1907, Marie, Joao, and their children boarded a ship for California. Some of Marie’s siblings and their families followed.
At first they lived with relatives in a cluster of 3 houses on E. 25th street in Oakland. Then, they bought land across the street and built the home where they would spend the rest of their lives. They also built others which they rented out to cousins from Hawaii. By 1910, the street would be brimming with Portuguese relatives and their descendants would hold that street for several decades.
A Woman Of Many Talents
Saying that Marie was a wife and mother doesn’t do her credit. Marie should not be defined by the narrow terms for women at the turn of the century America.
While growing up in Kilauea, Marie was taught traditional healing arts. This may have been passed down by her mother since other Pacheco descendants were also healers. Most likely, this teaching included a blend of Portuguese and Hawaiian traditions. She was also trained as a midwife. She was indispensable to the plantation community.
Once in Oakland, she continued to work as the family doctor and midwife. She tended the sick and delivered many of the Pacheco babies. Marie was known to grab her black bag and leave the house at all hours of the night. When they needed her, she came.
Marie not only dispensed medicine, but treated physical ailments as well. Her great niece, Janet, was born with one leg shorter than the other. Janet had to stop by the Cosma house every day after school to get treatments. Marie used simple methods of massage as well as pulling on the shorter leg. She might not have had a degree, but in the end Janet’s legs were even.
Some of her method definitely leaned on folklore and the unexplainable. There was candle lighting and castor oil. How my mom hated the spoonful of castor oil! One cousin remembers Marie leaning over and burping into his stomach to relieve whatever ailed him.
There was still more to Marie! She was a gifted seamstress as well. She sewed all of her daughters wedding dresses and did whatever sewing needed to be done for the family.
Incidentally, she hated house work. (There’s something I can relate to!) While that was something that the turn of the century woman was expected to make a priority, Marie found it pointless. Between the doctoring and the sewing, I doubt she had much time for anything else.
Ahead Of Her Time
Today, it is common to know women who’ve been to college, who run businesses, and who are doctors. But, it was pretty rare in the 1880s and 1890s when Marie was apprenticed.
Women still hadn’t earned the right to vote. They were still seen as the lesser partner in a marriage and little more than property in some cases.
Although schooling was provided to all children on sugar plantations, it was delivered unevenly. If a child was needed at home to help out or in the field to make money, they missed out. The fight to educate girls went well into the 1930s. Before the 1940s, it’s rare in the United States as a whole to find adults who’ve receive more than 6 years of education.
A lot of women did work, but mostly it was out of necessity. Often times, those jobs didn’t get recorded in the census or city directories. All it says is “housewife”. And, even if they didn’t have a formal job, running a household and raising children was more than a full time job.
Though never acquiring a formal medical education, Marie met the needs of her community. It couldn’t have been easy for her considering that she was had 7 children to raise. In addition to this, when her oldest son was killed in a hunting accident in 1921, she and her husband took over the care of his two children. Marie was 47 at the time and still had 4 children under the age of 13 at home.
Despite all this, Joao and Marie felt the need to help others coming from Hawaii. They sponsored several Portuguese family members and friends who needed a place to stay while in transition. The table was always set for extras and someone was always rooming with them.
It is because of Marie’s caring nature and the respect she commanded from the family that my mom thought she was her grandmother. She grew up next door to the Cosma’s and saw her often. It wasn’t until I started the family tree that she realized her real grandmother died when she was two.
Auntie Cosma Will Be Remembered
If we were to look at the documentation, Maria (Pacheco) Cosma was nothing more than a housewife. Just another woman with very little to say about her time spent on earth.
But, because people had so many memories of her, I can fill in her backstory. Not only was she a loving wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, and sister, she was also the person who tended to wounds, viruses, and injuries. She sewed beautiful wedding dresses that her daughters and nieces wore on their wedding days. And, she helped deliver many babies who made up the extended Pacheco family.
She was an amazing woman who not only raised her family, but took care of her kin as well. Her 4 years of schooling don’t begin to describe her wisdom. We can never really know how many people she healed or lives she saved, but we know that she did it through healing arts passed down from one generation to another.
She was truly a remarkable woman!
copyright 2021 Melody Lassalle-All Rights Reserved