Document 8C: Excerpts from letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 15 June 1919, printed in Kate Richards O'Hare, Kate O'Hare's Prison Letters (Girard, Kansas: The New Appeal Publishing Company, 1919), pp. 35-36, 38-39 (History of Women Microfilm, reel 914, no. 7648).
June 15, 1919.
Once again the longed for time has come to send a message to my loved ones, and in spite of the frightful heat and discomfort, I shall be happy in my slow task of penning my weekly letter. I suppose it is needless to say that the heat of the last few days has been something frightful. I know how hot it can be in St. Louis, but you at least can stay out of doors until night makes indoors bearable, but we are shut in our cells at six, still heated and sweaty with the long day's labor, and your imagination can supply the further details.
I am still fairly well, but beginning to feel the inevitable sense of weakness from the enervating effect of heat and lack of air. There are sixty women in the shop and seven half-windows, and they are placed at least ten feet above the floor and therefore useless as a means of ventilation. There are three very antiquated fans whose ancient and creaking joints sing an everlasting wailing song of protest, but they are all bunched over the matron's desk and the lower end of the rooms is absolutely without means of ventilation. The one full-sized window in the shop is right beside my machine and it is the only possible means of securing a direct current of air through the shop, but it is nailed down good and tight and the glass has been painted thickly over, making it utterly useless either for light or air. As a result we are forced to work all the time in the heart and glare of artificial light. Recently the foreman, who is not a bad sort of kid, chanced to be in a good humor and I asked him why the window had been made useless and suggested that the architect had evidently meant it to provide light and ventilation and asked him to have it opened. He consulted the shop matron and reported that it was impossible. When I insisted on a reason, he said that there was a legend that once upon a time a girl inmate had committed the heinous crime of smiling out of that window at a male inmate of the other side. Naturally, rampant virtue was outraged and from that day down to this, all women have been punished for that crime. The crime was committed years ago and the girl has long since gone, but a long procession of women have had starved lungs and injured eyesight because of that affront to propriety. It is amazing what an insatiable appetite for vengeance propriety has, for the end seems lost in the dimness of the future. I fear that some of these hot nights there will be nothing left of me but a pool of melted grease under my machine and that the representatives of the "land of the free" will be compelled to gather up the remains with a soup spoon and send it home to you in a milk bottle, but praise the Lord, your giddy young wife will be saved from snares and pitfalls of flirtation.
Aside from the effects of the heat and lack of air, I am quite well and my time is so fully occupied that the weeks go by very quickly. I can with difficulty realize that it was two months yesterday since prison doors closed on me and the "world was really made safe for democracy." They have been strange months, but valuable ones and packed with a thousand lessons, emotions and interests that could only come in this way. I have no regret for them and no bitterness towards those responsible, for I feel that I am serving the cause better here than outside and in addition, I am gathering material and data that will make it possible for me to make an effective fight for prison reforms.
* * *
.Tell Dr. Barnes that the books he sent are in danger of being worn out. It is amazing what an interest Hart's "Psychology of Insanity" has for the more intelligent women, and there is an amazing number of them here. Mr. Lovell sent me his copies of "Freud's Theories of Neurosis" and "Man's Unconscious Conflicts." I wonder if there is such a thing as a small medical dictionary? If any of my medical friends have such a thing, ask them to lend it to me. I am often at loss to explain technical terms. I wish Dr. White could be induced to rewrite his "Mechanism of Character Formation" in the simple, understandable style of Hart's books. I know of nothing that would be so valuable here, and for the inmates of all prisons. I would like a copy of Freud's "Psychopathology of Every Day Things." Wonder if any of our friends has it. I exhibit such a strange mental kink that so far I cannot explain. We sew a ticket in the back of every jacket. I always have one ticket left and have to go over my work to find the unfinished piece and it is invariably number twelve in my stack.
So many of the comrades are concerned over how Emma Goldman and I reconcile our differences. Of course, the differences exist. Emma is an anarchist and I am a political Socialist, and I pressure that the two theories are as far apart as the poles, but somehow theories don't seem very important here. The brutal, naked tragedies of life crush them out. When one lives with wrecked lives, broken hearts and sick souls, abstract theories somehow lose force. So far as Emma and I are concerned, the shades of Marx and Bakunine can rest in peace. All of our time and energy is consumed in feeding hungry stomachs and supporting faltering spirits. Instead of arguing theories, we discuss such vital matters as which has the greatest amount of nutriment, two pounds of peanut butter or one of the cow variety, at the same price. Instead of hurling anarchist texts at me Emma raps on the wall of the cell and says, "Get busy Kate, it's time to feed the monkeys, pass the food down the line." I think it would be a godsend if a lot of theoretical hair-splitters and hobby-riders went to prison; it might teach them some of the big, vital lessons of life.
It is three o'clock now and I suppose you are out at Chaminade with the boys. The others have just gone to chapel and I want to finish while quiet reigns. I am sacrificing my fresh air again today, rather than endure the spiritual nausea of the chapel services. You know I vowed that I would attend chapel regularly so that I need not lose my most valuable privilege, but I simply cannot do it. It is too much for even my placid temper. I have too much respect for the message of Jesus to have it made hateful and disgusting by coarseness and ignorant bigotry. If I could know in advance when the young priest is to officiate I would take advantage of the fact. He is not at all objectionable for he has the common sense to reduce his theology to the minimum and he is well bred, clean faced and shows some signs of spirituality.
I suppose you read "Joy among the Philistines" in the New Republic. It is a wonderful article and a clean, wholesome confession by Weyl, who is in that instance the spokesman for millions of Americans. I am enjoying the divine comedy of being behind prison bars while events absolutely and completely vindicate me. Surely the so-called Peace Treaty places us forever in the immortal roster of prophets. In the very near future a certain document will stand forth as quite as great as the Declaration of Independence. However, I would rather have less vindication for myself and more justice for war-cursed humanity. My intelligence told me all the time that there was nothing to hope for, but my heart clung to the hope of a miracle.
I must close now and rest for the girls will soon be back and there will be no quiet until the lights go out.
Love and kisses to my darlings.
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