Milk of Sisterly Kindness

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 19: Mother’s Day

Prompt: Sunday was Mother’s Day in the US. This week, let’s take a look at the mothers you’re researching. (They do make up half of your family tree, after all!) 

I guess you could call this a mother-daughter-daughter story.

My husband’s great-grandmother Tziporah “Sarah”/”Sela” Fox/Fuchs Silverman (1871-1943) and great-grandfather Nathan Silverman (1873-1928) emigrated from what is now Ukraine shortly after their first child was born. They settled and raised a family in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Besides their first-born, daughter Susie Theresa Silverman (1894-1987), three more daughters and one son were born to the couple, the last being Sarah Frances Silverman (1904-2001)

Ruth Mildred Silverman. The story goes that her oldest sister Susie directly assisted their mother with her care and feeding.

And then…fourteen years later–along came another daughter, Ruth Myrtle “Ruthie” Silverman (1918-2010) on September 20, 1918.

Almost exactly a year before Ruthie’s arrival, Tziporah and Nathan’s oldest child, Susie, had married–at the age of twenty-three–Maurice D. Seeche (1894-1961). At the time of her baby sister’s arrival, Susie herself was pregnant with her first child.

On November 15, 1918, Sherman Seeche (1918-2008) was born to Maurice and Susie Seeche in Lawrence, Massachusetts–about two months after Susie’s own mother had given birth—at age forty-seven–to Ruthie.

Besides baby Ruthie, Susie’s other siblings were all still living at home with Tziporah and Nathan. Perhaps the arrival of the infant left Tziporah feeling overwhelmed.

But, for whatever reason, it is said that Susie not only nursed her newborn son Sherman but she also nursed Ruthie: her baby sister!

The Silverman Sisters and Their Sister-in-Law. L-R: Lena Evelyn Silverman Edelstein Fox; Susie Silverman Seeche; Annie Silverman Spector; Ruthie Silverman Katz; Rose Datz Silverman; Sarah Frances Silverman Fienman. This photo was taken in October of 1964 at the wedding of Ruthie’s son Steven Nathan Katz.

If true, this is not that different than the employment of a “wet nurse”, a common practice prior to the availability of bottles in the nineteenth century and then formula in the twentieth century. And yet, even in this supposedly more enlightened age in which mothers are discouraged from feeding infants formula and admonished that “breast is best,” as recently as 2007 a prominent breastfeeding advocacy group avoided endorsing feeding one’s infant with another mother’s breast milk:

“There are very strong reservations against it, both medically and psychologically. There are potential hazards. The biggest risk is that of infection being passed from the mother to the child. Breast-milk is a living substance expressly designed by your body for your baby, not someone else’s.”

Anna Burbridge, La Leche League spokeswoman

But stay tuned, suggests Linda Lowen, the author of the article from which the above quote was taken:

Despite these risks, it’s not surprising that in this age of ride-sharing and spare-room sharing, ‘milk sharing’ is a phenomenon that some families are now trying. A Facebook group and milk-sharing sites have appeared, and according to a piece from 2016, the practice is on the rise. Their 2016 informal poll found that one in 25 women had shared their milk, and 5% of families had used milk from the more regulated source of a milk bank. As the taboo slowly lifts, this age-old practice may just make a real comeback.”

Berthe Morisot, The Wet Nurse and Julie, 1880 (Private Collection)
The Boston Globe – 15 Apr 2001

I assume it is the familial relationship of Susie and Ruthie that is, for most living members of the family, the most cringe-worthy aspect of this Spector family legend.

There may not be any validity to the story, but trust me: far stranger Spector family stories have proven to be true!

Sherman Seeche died in 2008 at the age of ninety.

Survivors mentioned in his death notice included his “aunt Ruth [Silverman] Katz”…also ninety years of age.

5 thoughts on “Milk of Sisterly Kindness”

  1. I do not find the story ‘ cringe-worthy’, keeping the shared nursing in the family seems preferable. My grandmother at 48 gave birth the same year her eldest daughter gave birth to her first child. Sadly, the child died at 3 months. Ruth was very fortunate to have such a loving sister. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard from a number of people who do not find this scenario cringe-worthy. Perhaps it is a generational attitude?


  2. To: Susan Laney Spector
    Photo of Silverman Sisters and Their Sister-in-Law is a fabulous find. {Oct. 1964} Susie was my Grandmother. Can your photo be sent in JPEG file type to my email? My prior dug up info seems to indicate both Maurice D. Seeche & Susie Silverman Seeche emigrated from Shepetovka, Ukraine. Needs further collaboration. Susie told me in 1976 that she was 1 year old when she came to USA. That would be 1895.
    Further authenticity as to my identity can be sent if desired. Please reply to email. Request is please do not post my info or name on any site, including social media. Thanks


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