To most people nowadays, the word ‘accept’ indicates that an offer has been considered and that a deal has been struck - “Acceptance” is quite different. There is something about the word that implies a lack of choice – and ‘choice’ was probably the least thing that young Emma Brown had. For a girl born in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, there was seemingly no option but to obey the wishes of her father - or face destitution.
"Bloodmixture" Brown, the local doctor had noticed Emma’s ability to care, especially for the elderly and mentally disturbed and suggested that she be allowed to train as a nurse. Sadly for Emma, her father declined the good doctor’s request, despite their shared surname - possibly due to the fact that nurses at that time were regarded as little more than prostitutes and possibly because her father wished her to have a more ‘refined’ future. Consequently Emma was ‘put into service’.
The work options available to girls born in the Victorian era were very limited. For the average girl, it would be a choice of either staying at home and becoming a ‘mother’ to the ever increasing brood of brothers and sisters – large families were common in those times - or to go to work as a servant…or escape via marriage.
Marriage never seemed to be an option in the destiny mapped out by fate or family, for Emma Brown. She must have been a charismatic young lady, close to 6’ tall and with strong features – but as a lady’s maid and later, a ‘Ladies Companion’, marriage would have been out of the question, in much the same way as female schoolteachers were required to be either ‘unattached’, or to gracefully resign.
Maybe she cried when she left home, or maybe she was liberated. There is no way of knowing, as she never complained about the path in life she had taken, or which had been mapped out for her. From the moment she departed, she would have said goodbye to her childhood friends and her family, virtually forever. The average holiday each year was only one day and so, apart from rare visits, the door would have been firmly closed on her past – even her first name would have been almost lost in the formal life of a Victorian household. It would have been “Miss Brown” from that moment onward.
And “Miss Brown” is how Liz and I addressed her, even on the sunny afternoon in 1963 when I took these photos of her with my inexpensive camera. I’m so glad I took them and I think she looks wonderful. I give myself little photographic credit however, as it was so easy to capture the look of joy and serenity on her face – because it was always there.
God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Strength to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.