Phoebe Watson is often depicted as Homer Watson’s devoted sister, but what is really known about her? What were her interests, passions and ambitions? For the past few weeks, the team at Homer Watson House and Gallery have been gathering research on Phoebe to learn more about her life, career and character.
One item in the archives which contained some insightful information was a green book, once a ledger to a local business, which Phoebe repurposed as a diary and notepad. Phoebe used this ledger sporadically between 1901-1943, entering ideas, thoughts and opinions on a variety of subjects that seemed to interest her. A recurring subject that Phoebe appeared to be very passionate about, health and medicine, is very relevant today and has been at the forefront of world news for the past year with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an entry from 1913, Phoebe records her idea for an invention to treat or prevent corns on feet by using a rubber band or cap to cover the area and prevent any further pressure making the affected area worse:
“I was doing a little curing, or preventing on my toes I was thinking of what a blessing I would bestow on man and womankind if I could invent something to prevent corns from growing or hurting if they have already grown and in that correction I thought of getting a rubber cap or hollow rubber made which when it was on the part would be about the sixteenth of an inch above the tender spot and would prevent any pressure; now to have this made.”
Although it is unclear whether Phoebe took this idea further, the concept is similar to corn padding treatments used today.
Another entry in the ledger includes a 4-page draft of a ‘Health Talk’ where Phoebe was inspired to discuss the relationship between maintaining good health and a pure mind to a healthy reproductive system:
“I said that all life is propagated in the same way, that is there is a seed, which when it has found a suitable soil or receptacle will germinate and it greatly depends on the condition of that soil or receptacle whether a healthy or vigorous growth follows. But I also want to tell you if the seed is sown is not of a good sound healthy nature it may not germinate even in the most perfect conditions or even if it does the product is puny, undersized, unhealthy and not liable to thrive or grow or even to live at all without the most tender care.”
Interestingly, Phoebe designed this talk to be directed to an audience of men, which would have been unconventional at the time, given her status in society as an unmarried woman. It also explains why she emphasizes the equal importance of a suitable ‘soil’ and ‘seed’ and goes on to discuss the equal responsibilities and power both genders have ‘to give life’. It is also no surprise that Phoebe uses botanical terms to help demonstrate her point, as she was a passionate gardener and would frequently write about the many flowers in bloom at the Watson residence.
Sadly, there is no further information on Phoebe’s ‘Health Talk’, or if she actualized her corn treatment idea. Despite this, there is much to learn about Phoebe from these personal entries. She clearly had an inquisitive mind full of creativity and imagination, and even though it is unclear if she acted upon the many thoughts and ideas she jotted down, she still demonstrated her ambition to contribute to society, despite the gender restrictions she faced during her era.
Watson, P., n.d. Green Ledger. [Book], HWHG Archive. Kitchener.
Blog Post- HWHG- Christine Slattery