Document 8F: Excerpts from letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 10 August 1919, printed in Kate Richards O'Hare, Kate O'Hare's Prison Letters (Girard, Kansas: The New Appeal Publishing Company, 1919), pp. 69-71, 76 (History of Women Microfilm, reel 914, no. 7648).
August 10, 1919.
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Physically I am not as well as I have been the last few weeks. I am suffering from slight touches of my old enemy[A]. It has not been very severe, but it makes me rather apprehensive. I wish you would see Dr. H. at once and ask him to send me the treatment that he has used several times in the past. He will remember the large, disk-shaped tablets that look as if they were made of white wax. I don't know what they contained, but they always helped me at once. I think the proper thing for him to do is to write Dr. McNerney, the prison physician, that he has treated me for this particular trouble quite frequently and tell him what the tablets are. I think they should be sent to Dr. McN. and he will give them to me. I am also suffering a great deal from my feet swelling. They will be quite normal in the morning, but swollen very badly by night. I think this comes from the unnatural position at the machine, the constant sitting and the total lack of exercise.
We spend nine hours at the machine, and the other time locked in a crowded cell. On Monday and Tuesday we have one hour in the yard, on Wednesday less than half an hour, on Thursday and Friday no recreation whatever, Saturday we have three hours in the park and on Sunday from two to three hours in the courtyard. The little time we have in the yard is from five to six and that is the very hottest part of the day. It is absolutely impossible to walk in the broiling sun on the blistering cement pavement so we hug the hot wall as closely as possible for a bit of shade. No seats are provided and after our long day in the hot shop we go to the hotter courtyard and sit on the pavement or the tiny strip of ground bare of everything but broken brick, bits of rock and broken bottles. At the park we might really get a little real exercise but the space that we are permitted to cover is so circumscribed that it really amounts to the same old milling round and round like squirrels in a cage. I really think I have suffered more from lack of exercise than any other one thing; you know I was always passionately fond of walking, and the utter lack of opportunity to move about hurts me dreadfully.
Another painful condition has developed that troubles me somewhat. Our machines are old, decrepit and in the most deplorable condition of repair. They rattle and shake from the palsy of age and misuse and you can imagine what that does to the nerves of a person who knows as much of mechanics as I do and has due respect for good machinery and a passion for working with good tools. I have had my years of training in the machine shop and the youth who is our "boss" is as innocent of any knowledge of mechanics as he is of everything else, I am not permitted to make the slightest adjustment or even clean the machine, and I used it three months with never a cleaning. There is a knee-press by which we raise the pressure foot with our knee instead of our hand. In order to free the very heavy material under the feed and cross seams without knotting the thread or breaking the needle we must always keep our knee against this press. It beats a constant tattoo on our flesh and this has developed ugly and severely painful varicose veins where the press strikes my knee. So you see that I will carry the scars of this experience to my grave, not only mental and spiritual scars but physical ones as well.
The excessive heat of the early part of the week was deadly also and had its effect in pulling down my strength, but most of all I have suffered from lack of sleep. It was not only the ordeal of trying to sleep in the stifling cell where the steel walls were so hot you could not touch them, but the suffering of those about me was harder to bear. The poor Indian girl who is dying of syphilis is finding it so terribly hard to die. She has all the stamina of her race and the battle between the white man's disease and the Indian's firm hold on life is a sickening thing to witness! What strange problems we have in ethics, morals and humanity! Society shuts this poor girl up in prison because she killed the man who contaminated her; we force her to live thro long years of living hell, eaten by a loathsome disease and crushed by our prison system, a frightful menace to all who come near her, and our sense of humanity compels medical science to prolong the agony as long as possible. How different the ethics of the Indian, who ended the misery of hopelessly incurable and suffering. Alice is much of a stoic and endures the frightful agony with the most astounding poise, but these hellish nights her restless moaning and stifled groans make my nights hideous and effectually murder sleep. In the second cell from me is a poor, half-demented creature, a mental, spiritual and physical wreck. She suffers from a form of hysteria which causes her to sob and moan and weep for hours and hours at a time, and it seems to me that she always chooses the early morning hours when we might possibly get a little sleep. Day after day I have gone into the shop for the fearful grind there with less than two hours' sleep and for a person who requires as much asleep as I do, you can imagine the effect.
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I had a nice letter from Z.[probably William E. Zeuch-- see Document 6A] and hope he will spend part of his vacation with you in St. Louis. Tell him that I do not underestimate the depth and importance of the volcanothat has broken forth in the Socialist movement. I think I sense its importance and the vital effect that it will have on all forward movements, but I simply say that it was inevitable and necessary and that out of the disruption will come new alignments, that will be bigger, broader and more serviceable to humanity. I am not one to weep over outworn things, and it is the spirit of human progress and not the letter of an ism that concerns me. You are perfectly right when you say that it will be on a bread and butter basis that the people of this nation and all nations will settle the mighty problems brought to a crisis by the war. The masses of mankind have been quickened into an all consuming hunger for life and life abundant, and they will not be hampered by treaties written by old diplomats, creeds expounded by old theologians, economic theories spun by old economists, or isms propagated by old propagandists. Mankind vibrant with the old, old hunger for bread, for love, for life, will pay no more attention to our isms than to the sophistries of diplomats, the lies of political economists of the capitalist ilk or the dead creeds of a dead religion. They will not hunt up the secretary of the Socialist local or peruse Marx to find out what they should do to be saved. If we have anything to offer that sounds sensible and workable they will seize upon it, tho they may deface our label and lay profane hands upon sacred words.
I have illusions about being a modern Joan of Arc prancing forth to lead the armies of social revolution to victory. I am just wondering if my brain is nimble enough and my legs are limber enough to avoid being stepped on by that "common herd" in the irresistible stampede that is sweeping over the world.
Z. seemed glad that I was "philosophical." Yes, I am as philosophical as my physical discomforts will permit me to be, and after the grilling day in the shop I array myself in a shocking state of undress, sit in my little rocker and read with vast amusement and many chuckles the capitalist newspapers. It is joy pure and unalloyed to me to peruse the piteous squeaks and despairing wails of the erstwhile arrogant "press." The antics of the wise men in Washington remind me very much of the senseless scuttling about of the army of cockroaches that I uncover when I lift a book or paper in my cell. How shriekingly funny is all the wild hullabaloo about the "profiteers," and poor Rose Pastor Stokes got ten years for mildly suggesting that there were such animals in a most unladylike little note.
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My precious paper is almost gone and I will be forced to close. Of course there are many things I still want to say, but they must wait until another time. The fifteenth of the month is "pay day" when I draw my munificent salary. I suppose I will be transferred to B class and then I can write two letters a week. It seems a terribly long time since I have seen any of my darlings, but I know you will arrange your visits to the best possible advantage.
I must close now with lots of love and kisses to my darlings, and looking forward to the time when I can see you all once more. Give my love to our friends and comrades and tell them not to worry about me, I will come through all right.
A. It is not clear what O'Hare suffered from, although she did contract influenza during the epidemic of 1918-19.
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