Document 8G: Excerpts from letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 17 August 1919, printed in Kate Richards O'Hare, Kate O'Hare's Prison Letters (Girard, Kansas: The New Appeal Publishing Company, 1919), pp. 77, 79-81 (History of Women Microfilm, reel 914, no. 7648).
August 17, 1919.
This is Sunday morning and I will get the girls up for breakfast by pounding the typewriter. It has been delightfully cool the last two nights and I have slept like the dead, so I feel much better this morning. Of course, I am not in normal health, no woman ever can be under the conditions here, but I am feeling better than when I wrote last Sunday.
* * *
However I shall be able to write two letters this week as I was promoted and received a whole seventy-five cents for my last month's work--just imagine a whole half dollar and a nice new quarter for twenty-six days' work, almost 3 cents per day; aren't you proud of my earning capacity? I am doing 90 jackets for one cent, but the world is safe for democracy, so let us all be joyful.
* * *
I shall, of course, give the balance of my life to the fight on our judicial and penal system, but I shall make the fight on the SYSTEM and not on the individuals who are burdened with the details of execution.
There is a most wonderful article by Stuart P. Sherman in the Nation of August 9--"A Conversation on Ostriches." Be sure and read it. Everything that he says about war applies quite as forcibly to prisons and the penal system. He says: "I am in favor of removing the gilded lid of war and looking boldly inside." And I shall make it my business to force men to remove the moral, pious lid of "law and order" and force them to look inside. Mr. Sherman says: "Modern German idealism means retreating from facts into the quieter region of ideas. It means shut your eyes and everything is lovely." Mr. S. says: "For example, in the days of the Belgian atrocities, the German idealist, we are told, laid this flattering unction to his sensitive soul: that the horrors of military executions and other harsh punitive measures were mitigated by the fact that those who ordered the sanguinary acts were never the ones who carried them out. It is not clear that this division of responsibility diminished the horror for the victim, but one readily understands that a cultivated judge, who in the purity of his military idealism had ordered the shooting of Edith Cavell, would sleep better on the following night if not obliged to see the English nurse actually crumple up under the fire of his own rifle. Or, take the case of Pontius Pilate, he appears to have been a man of some fineness of sensibility--it is more than likely that he refrained from visiting Golgotha to investigate the mere physical consequences of his having washed his hands of responsibility. He withdrew, I suspect, into his own cultivated tho somewhat unimaginative mind, and left the eye-witnessing of the thing to a squad of soldiers under orders and to calloused workingmen handy with hammer and nails." Mr. S. says, speaking of the modern world, "You shut your eyes and wrap the mantle of your abstract ideas around you and lie down in the midst of horrible realities to pleasant dreams. You can't stand the gaff."
High-minded men make laws to punish other human beings, but they never enforce them; that is left to the saddistic element with no high ideals. Noble, high-minded judges pass sentences, then like Pilate, wash their hands of responsibility and never, never disturb their high-minded souls with the physical facts of the execution of those sentences. The state makes a moral and pious contract with a manufacturer of overalls to use the labor of convicts, but the high-minded men who make the moral contracts never, never harass their noble souls with the physical facts connected with the execution of those contracts. That is left to a "lowbrow" overseer, working under orders and handy with the "black hole" and "bread and water."
I am absolutely sure that Mr. Painter is really a high-minded man, so high-minded in fact that he shrinks from facing the physical facts connected with his work. I have seen him in the shop but once in the four months I have been here and then he beat a hasty retreat as soon as possible. And he has never watched the line-up on a sultry morning, of women broken by brutal overwork, harried by a brutal overseer, jaded from lack of sleep and worn by unbearable heat.
I understand by the newspapers that Mr. Palmer and Mr. Wilson are reviewing my case, and well it fits into their high-minded idealism to review it from a well padded swivel chair in front of an electric fan in far off Washington. It is so much more high-minded and idealistic to review it there than to harrow their sensitive souls by watching me do the lockstep in the lineup or make thirty jackets for one cent. But Mr. Palmer and Mr. Wilson really outdo the German militarists who ruled Belgium. Edith Cavell was a barren woman and when the high-minded idealists punished her for being a spy, they did not also punish four innocent children. They were far more humane also, for Edith Cavell suffered far less physical pain when the German bullet sped to her heart than I have suffered many, many of these frightful hot nights and work-worn days. It would seem far better for one to be an enemy spy at the mercy of German army officers than to be an American mother at the tender mercy of the Wilson administration.
And yet, I would not have things different if I could. I would not have one hour, one day of all these last two years undone if it were in my power. I have found, and you and my children will find how true it is that "he who loses his life shall find it again." We have lost all of our earthly possessions; we have lost two years of life; we have lost long months of companionship; we have lost some whom we have considered friends; I have lost my freedom; and yet we have found a thousandfold more than we have lost. And we will find as the years go by that these months, hard and terrible as they have been, are the richest period of our lives.
* * *
| Documents Projects and Archives | Teacher's Corner | Scholar's Edition | Full-Text Sources | About Us | Contact Us |