Document 8J: Letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 14 September 1919, printed in Collection of Letters Written by Kate Richards O'Hare in Prison, and Bulletins Relating to Them (St. Louis: F. P. O'Hare, 1919-1921).
Jefferson City, Mo.
Sept. 14, 1919.
S U N D A Y
I note as I date my letter that it is just five months today since I entered these grim, grey walls. Five months of experience that comes to few men or women with ability to guage [sic] its educational powers with any degree of accuracy. With the clang of the receiving cell door I was hurled back two thousand years and found myself in the position of a female hostage of the Roman Empire sold into slavery because I had dared to challenge the power of Imperial Rome. Day by day, week by week and month by month I have re-lived all that long, long bitter way that womanhood has traveled since the day Jesus said to the self-righteous of his day "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone". In those five months has been compressed all that womanhood has suffered from the slave block of Rome to the maddening grind of the ultra-modern capitalist factory. It is not given to many, in this day and age, to live the physical life of a chattel slave in the mental atmosphere of the Dark Ages, on the spiritual background of the Inquisition and perform the labor of a modern sweat shop. Surely in such an environment there is a broad, deep education if only one be strong enough physically, mentally and spiritually to live through it all without being broken. So far I seem to have found that strength. Of course the break may come suddenly like the crash of a glass-blower's product with just a breath too much pressure, or I may live through it all for months more and be unbroken. At any rate I am quite well just now and react quickly from the weariness of the shop during the rest of Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
It is a beautiful day and as we walked round and round in the little courtyard I thought how wonderfully beautiful the roads about Girard[A] must be now. On the ninth of October it will be eighteen years since we met in that upper room with the little group of disciples who had come to be trained for the work of social regeneration. How young we were, how enthusiastic and full of hope for the future! How gaily we had sallied forth to teach the world the ways of peace and human brotherhood, and how little we knew of the ruggedness of the path that lay before us in the performance of our chosen work. I smile now when I think how very human even social crusaders are, and how even a potential Moses may indulge in love-making and a would-be Joan innocently tempt disciples to dally at her elbow to the detriment of Marx. We were a little group of "ignorant idealists" then, playing like children rolling a snowball. Valiantly we gathered our bits of material, tugged and heaved and toiled, but our labors seemed in vain. Then something happened- the tiny snowball slowly rolled down the mountainside, gathering size and momentum as it went, and now the very foundations of the old order are crashing beneath the mighty onrush of the social avalanche. We are scattered far and wide now. Lucy Hoving and J. A. Wayland[B] have traveled on to the great beyond, yet there is something of their lives that we feel has become a part of our own. Mills, the old crusader who is ever young, has pushed on to the newer pioneer fields of social action and when his work is done he will die with his face to the setting sun. I hear from the Backus boys, but have no word from Benton, I wonder where he is. The Taylors and Fred Johnson, the Cogsweel and Will Prahl, they must all read the APPEAL and I wish that on the ninth of October I might have a letter from every one of that little group of Girard students.
I had your letter from Girard and it brought back many memories and roused many longings too. I hope it will be autumn when I come forth from the city of the living dead. I want to go back to Girard and walk beneath the catalpa trees and watch the moonbeams fall in dappled shadows of the wide street's dust. I want to hear again the shrill shouts of the children playing at Indian about the fires whose pungent smoke makes soft gray plumes against the moonlight. I would not forget these months if I could, but I shall be so weary, my heart and soul and brain will be so bruised and scarred that I shall find it necessary to rest for a time in some quiet spot away from the turmoil of life until I have found normality once more. It must be like walking through hell itself to go back to normal life after a prison term. No wonder so few survive the ordeal and so many creep back to the prison cell to hid their marred, scarred lives from the sight of men.
I have had some very interesting letters this week to compensate for the lack of letters from home. Comrade Butler of Aberdeen wrote me and sent a little book of remarkable poems by Andrew Francis Lockhart who is doing time in Leavenworth under the "Espionage Law". Some of the poems are equal to [Jame Whitcomb] Riley at his best, and some are greater than Riley ever wrote, for he knew what it was to have the soul torn to the very quick by prison life. Please tell Comrade Butler to write Lockhart that in his "Let me Live A While" he has expressed as I never could the spirit that makes it possible for me to live thro the long, long days of prison life and meet its horrors with a smile. Send to the TRUTH AND LIGHT Pub. Co., Milan, Ill. And get a copy of the little book, it is twenty-five cents and I know that you and all the children will love it. There are some poems that Kathleen will want to use for readings.
Fanny Bixby Spencer of Harper, California, also sent me a little book of pacifict [sic] poems that I wonder were ever allowed to circulate in the realm of His Majesty Burleson. If His Royal Highness ever gets a squint at this month's DUGOUT and Mrs. Spencer's poems I am sure it will be the death of him. Drop a line to Sidney Flowers, 301 Mason Opera House Bldg., Los Angeles, California for me, will you, and tell him I said his APPEAL on the back cover page and his editorial OUR POLICY are two of the best things I have read lately. His DUPES is wonderful also and if he can only keep his feet on earth while he is going through the stage of fermentation he promises to be a power in the future. Dear chap, he is just at the same stage now that we were when we fared forth to Girard.
I had a card from dear old comrade Gay of Texas, he is certainly one who is faithful to the end. He wrote that he was sending me some honey, it has not arrived yet but will no doubt reach me soon. Mrs. Gleeson sent a lovely box which the three of us enjoyed very much. The ginger root was particularly delicious and we enjoyed it for its novelty. We had some of the orange for breakfast and I sampled the plums and will keep them for future use. Mrs. Losoff and Mrs. Gelson, 801 W. 4th St., Sioux City, Ia., sent a box of the lovely toasted cake, I don't know what it is called but it is delicious with coffee and best of all it keeps well. Had a letter from Blanche Briggs of Little Rock and Ella received her gift. Please tell her that I have read all of the books she mentions, but I should like a copy of de Profundis to lend the girls. There are a few here who would enjoy it. Frank Harris sent me his Life of Oscar Wilde and almost every woman here who can read at all read and enjoyed it. Another book that has been quite a surprise to me is that very squashy one Phil sent, "Love's Way". The title sounds like a Laura Jean Libby novel and the girls were instantly attracted to it. I lent it first to a colored girl in the spirit of mischief. I wanted to hear her comments when she found what it was. Imagine my surprise when a few days later I heard her telling one of the other colored girls what a wonderful book it was and that she must ask for it to read. Later when I questioned the two about their reactions to the book I was astounded to find how deeply it impressed them. Somehow I had always though of Orison Swett Marden as writing for the sentimental, plaster-paris angel type of women, but never for Negro prostitutes and murderers. I was more deeply touched than I can express when one of them said, "Why, Miss Kate, I would have cursed that book two years ago, but not its different. We have lived now with you and Miss Emma and we know that there is a love that can do wonders.["]
I had a very remarkable letter from a woman physician in the Columbia Building, St. Louis. I should like to feel that I deserve the things she says of me, but I fear that I do not. I really don't aspire to be either a teacher or a leader, and I doubt if even the germ of an artist lives in me, but I do thank God that I can walk in the darkest most noisome places of life and find work to do, love to light my way and beauty in the midst of ugliness. Please tell her if she has a copy of Kraft-Ebbing I should like it, and perhaps some of Havelock Ellis' later books might be useful; but literature useful in making a study of prison psychology and prison neurosis is yet to be written, and I doubt if it can be produced except by those who have lived the life of a convict. How can anyone write intelligently of this life who has not lived it? What can anyone know of the effects of the constant galling of prison discipline enforced by those absolutely innocent of even the most rudimentary knowledge of human psychology until one's nerves have been worn to the raw by its stupidities? What can the professor in his college classroom, the physician in his study, the scientist in his college classroom, the physician in his study, the scientist in his laboratory know of the things that go on behind prison walls and their effect on human life? When I first came I was sorely puzzled by the things the girl's conversations revealed. Their dreams made me shudder in horror; now I understand, but only through experience. There is a chasm that cannot be bridged, a gulf that cannot be crossed between the convict and other men, and only those who have lived behind stone walls, slept inside steel bars and eaten under the eye of official espionage can sense what it means. I have studied Mr. Painter and my heart has ached at the tragedy of his blind groping to help the women here. I pitied Mrs. Ballington Boath and I have the deepest sympathy for the prison doctor. All are good at heart, but there is a wall between them and the convicts that they cannot scale. I am hoping that if I am released before my brain is dulled and my soul too deeply marred, I may be able to write of prison life in such a way that the world can understand. I hope too that there will be men in Leavenworth who can tell the story of the man behind bare. But to-day the literature that would help me in the study of the soul of the convict is, so far as I know, unwritten.
Speaking of books and readings reminds me of some very witty things V. L. said of some things he had been reading. He said they were good clinical studies but not literature. I have been wondering for some time what Freud would do to romance and poetry. I have had a great cruiosity [sic] to read a Freudian novel and sample some Freudian poetry. The poetry has not yet arrived, but I did not get the novel, BLIND ALLEY by W. L. George. It has a lingering odor of mental disinfectants, but it is very interesting withal. Some of the characteristics are splendid, but some were disappointing. Sir Hugh was very fine and reminded me of Rev. Billman. Lena was Mrs. Dave O'Neil true to life, and I knew a dozen Monicas piffling about war work in St. Louis. George's C. O. wasn't nearly so nice as Roger, but perhaps more true to the common type. I don't chance to know any bold, bad munition profiteer in St. Louis, tho no doubt there is one about the City. Tell Mr. Lovell I want him to read BLIND ALLEY and that in this munition profiteer he will recognize a certain man we both know -- weakness, strength and all. Ed Cole will enjoy the book also.
I must close now, but there are a few things I must mention.
The immigration authorities called on Ella Antolina a few days ago with a deportation warrant. She has only till September 27th to secure an attorney and arrange for a hearing. Don't neglect the matter. Her case must not go by default. It would be a terrible crime to permit this child to be deported defenseless and alone to a land now strange to her.
Please send me paper napkins, small and medium safety-pins and invisible, medium and large hairpins. Have Kathleen get all of these things, she knows the hairpins I use.
Naturally I felt just a little uneasy about the children this week. They did not write and you were away; however I feel sure that they are all right and simply busy at school.
Lots of love and kisses to my darlings and write me more promptly in the future.
K A T E
A. O'Hare's hometown in Kansas.
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B. Julius Wayland was the former editor of the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, who had influenced O'Hare as she came to accept socialism.
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