Study Guide

Ellen Creighton in Across Five Aprils

By Irene Hunt

Ellen Creighton

Ellen Creighton gives Wonder Woman a run for her money. Not only has she given birth to twelve children, but when we first meet her she's out in the fields planting potatoes with Jethro, so she's a hard-working lady too.

Despite the hardship she has faced (burying children, watching her sons go off to war), she still has a shred of optimism. When Matt starts playing the "What If…" game the morning after Jethro's trip to Newton, Ellen hushes him right up and tells Matt to forget that nonsense because she would do it all again. But even she can't escapes the anxiety of war, and fears that one day she'll "hev no boys left" (1.33) but Jethro. It's an understandable concern considering the war essentially wipes everyone out.

Ellen also has a spark of courage in her. When the men are discussing politics during Wilse's visit from Kentucky, Ellen pipes up and asks Wilse his opinion on slavery. This wouldn't make headline news in society now, but in the 1860s, "farm women didn't enter often into man-talk of politics or national affairs" (2.14). Ellen Creighton is definitely a woman who stands out from the rest.

Mother to All

In addition to her own twelve children, Ellen has daughter-in-law, Nancy. The two don't bond straight from the start, but after John says, "You must be patient with her, Ma, like one of yore own" (1.84), Ellen rustles up the effort to make Nancy feel more welcome and part of the family. We wouldn't be surprised if Ellen is who Bill and Jethro get their gentleness from.

And of course, there's also Shad. Everyone loves Shad, but Ellen considers Shad "as a part of her family and looked after him as she did her own" (1.15). This turns out to be convenient since Jenny ends up marrying Shad and he officially becomes Ellen's son-in-law. So if we add Nancy and Shad to the tally (and we might as well include Eb while we're at it since he was taken in by the Creightons as a toddler), we come up with a grand total of fifteen children. Fortunately, Ellen's got plenty of love to go around.