Adams Rodriguez, Muggie Belva
Muggie Belva Adams Rodriguez (1882-1960)
Muggie Belva Adams was born in Ball Play, near Gadsden, Alabama, in 1882, the daughter of Monroe Milton and Mary Ann Elliston-Adams. From the age of eleven, Muggie worked as a domestic servant to help support her mother, younger brother, and sister. Her son Ernest Rodriguez remembered:
My mother was of a very light complexion with mixed African-American, White, and Native American blood. When she reached the age of 15 or 16 years old, she met a miner whose name was Adolfus Glenn. He later told my mother that he was going north and would send for her to join him. He left, and my mother started receiving letters from him as he moved from one mine to another. My mother could not read or write so the woman for whom she worked would read the letters to her. However, when the letters became of a personal nature, my mother asked the woman if she would teach her to read and write. She learned to read exceedingly well, from what I remember. She used to read the Bible to us, read the daily newspaper, taught my father how to read and write English, and liked to write poetry. If it sounds like she was an extraordinary woman, she was.
Muggie and Adolfus eventually settled in the predominantly African American coalmining town of Buxton, Iowa. After Adolfus died, Muggie stayed in Buxton and managed a boarding house. In 1920, she married Norberto Rodriguez, a former lodger in her boarding house, who was from Arandas, Mexico. They moved to Bettendorf, where Norberto worked in a foundry while Muggie managed the home and raised their nine children.
In their neighborhood, called Holy City, living was “austere,” especially during the Great Depression. “There were no paved sidewalks or streets,” Ernest remembered. The family lived in two boxcars, linked together by a passageway built by Norberto. Sometimes they went hungry; sometimes it was cold. “I can remember being so hungry I thought my stomach was going to turn inside out,” remembers Muggie’s daughter, Estefanía Rodriguez. But Muggie persevered. She took the children fishing in the Mississippi River, and down to nearby fields to pick dandelions and plantains. She kept goats and chickens and made tacos for Ernest and Steff and the rest of her children to take to school. And when it got cold, she made a quilt from old jeans and overalls:
Estefanía: My mother was a good person. Everybody liked her. She had a wonderful personality. She was a big woman and she was good to everybody. She fed a lot of people. You know, like Jesus fed the people with nothing on the mountain. Well, that’s the way my mother was feeding the hobos and the tramps and everybody that came their way. I learned a lot from my mother. I learned how to be independent, self-reliant. I learned a lot of things from my mother because she had a hard life. And all those things she had to do, she was a very determined person.
(Oral history interview with Estefanía Rodriguez conducted by Iskra Núñez for the Mujeres Latinas Project, August 11, 2005; Ernest Rodriguez's written memories of his mother are preserved in his papers in the Iowa Women's Archives)