Document 8K: Excerpt from letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 28 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. 28th, 1919.
S U N D A Y
This is Sunday morning, and as I had a nice rest yesterday afternoon and a good night's sleep, I hope to be in a mood to write a cheerful letter. Of course we feel very lonely without Emma Goldman, but happy that she is at last free[A]. I hope that you all went down to the depot to meet her and had a nice visit. I wanted her to know all of my darlings.
I am still feeling fine; the cool weather is such a relief, for the heat did make life miserable for us.
Papa's nice letter came yesterday and I am so glad that he is surmounting the mountain of accumulated work he found on his return from Girard and can find time for a good breath now and then. Evidently you were successful in having Ella Antolini's deportation hearing postponed, for no commissioner put in an appearance yesterday. I find that Ella has a remarkable faculty of drawing the most vivid word pictures of her life and experiences, and I am having her write her story in her own naive but vivid way. When she has finished I will type it for her, and I think it will be a wonderful stoty [sic] of emigrant disillusion and the creation of an anti-social attitude. I hope to have the first installment ready to send you Tuesday, but every day she tells me of some new things that bring out a high light in the picture, and I want it to be complete for the archives of the United States Bureau of Immigration.
Dick's letter arrived last night also, and I am more than happy to know that he has been chosen for a position on the staff of the high school magazine. It is an honor that makes me very proud of my big boy. I am so glad too that Kathleen is getting along nicely in high. I am quite satisfied with the course she has chosen? I think it is as harmless as any. I am also quite content that she is wise and lucky enough to dodge the studies that would, without doubt, be perfectly worthless to her. I smile now when I remember all the misery I endured messing through a smattering of algebra and geometry, and I never needed either in making out an expense account or finding the shortest cut to the depot. I hope papa will be able to give you some help on you civics. I remember that the stuff Lick had on that subject was fearful and wonderful, to say the least.
I realize that Gene and Vic would like to be back at Chamin. Tell Father Eli that I said this attitude on their part is certainly a compliment to him and the school, and that I am glad that they have this feeling, for it assures me that they were kindly treated and well cared for during the time they were in his care. No 11-year-old boy is a hypocrite or overburdened with a sense of appreciation, so if they give a compliment it is certainly sincere. I too, feel that f it were not a matter of finances I would be glad to have the boys at Chaminade. The city school in a crowded district is a horribly unnatural place to imprison a growing boy. Gene's poetic effusion of longing for Chaminade is very touching indeed, and I suggest that he copy it ON THE TYPEWRITER and send it to Father Ei. I can't tell you how much pleasure the kodak pictures of Victor and Kathleen made by the brother gave me. They are very sweet and really artistic, and it was certainly a comradely thing on his part to make them for me. No gift I have received since being here has given me greater pleasure. It is just one more little evidence that the real Christ spirit still lives in the hearts of men and burns with a never-fading glow in the darkest night of usurped power and despotic tyranny and warms and lights the somber darkness of the prison cell.
The most striking thing in all of this experience that I am undergoing is the amazing variety of people who write me, with their varied opinions and philosophies, seemingly so far apart and yet so very close, in the great essentials of life. In the same mail I get beautiful pictures that show the expenditure of infinite care and patient labor from an unknown, obscure teaching brother in a Catholic Order, and an offer from an unknown obscure Wobbly to provide me with the scientific books I need in my study of human life. Could anything be farther apart than the I. W. W. lumberjack and the Catholic brother, yet each is truly my brother. I receive on the same day a beautiful letter and a well-chosen selection of literature from a woman who writes on the letter-head of the Unity School of Christianity, and an equally beautiful letter from Upton Sinclair, with a copy of the "Profits of Religion." And strangest of all, the Lady of the Unity School of Christianity and the author of "Profits of Religion" write me almost the same things. In the little pile of letters at my plate I find one from Dr. Zeuch, the cool, polished, cultured college professor, and one from Pat Conway, the rampant I.W.W. agitator, and really, as a letter-writer Pat has rather the best of it. Z. will have to acquire several more degrees and devour many more books of psychology before he will ever be able to write so vivid and thrilling a letter as Pat Conway. I have letters from new friends that I never saw, and from old schoolmates who drifted out of my life long ago. I have letters and books and literature from Christian Scientists and psycho-analysts, from Wobblies and priests, from Spiritualists and Atheists, from Democrats and anarchists, from Socialists and conservatives; from rich and poor, illiterate and cultured, and yet in the essentials of life each brings the same message and all ask the same question.
It is the message of comradeship and the question of service. Almost without exception, all ask me what they can do, what they can send that will add to my comfort and make my stay in prison bearable. I am a convict, dressed in the coarse, hideous prison garb and locked in a steel-barred cell to-day, yet I am happier than the mistress of the White House, and in my tiny cell I have riches far beyond gifts from Kings and war profiteers. True I am shut away from my husband and children, but there is no guilt on my soul. I sleep on a narrow prison bunk, but there is no blood on my hands and my dreams are not haunted by the boys who died on the blood-stained battle-fields of France. I eat prison fare, but it is not made bitter by broken promises. I see the sky only from a prison court-yard but it is not obscured by the clouds of disillusionment, disappointment and resentment. I march in the prison lockstep, but my soul is free; I slave in a prison workshop, but I know the peace that passeth understanding, for I have tried to be true to the teachings of Jesus and the prophets -- "Thou shalt not kill -- beat your swords into plowshares -- love thy neighbor as thyself -- do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you."
I don't enjoy prison fare, by any means, but I am learning wonderful lessons, resting my weary body from the strain of constant travel, resting my tired brain from creative work, resting my poor, abused throat from speaking, and from my prison cell I am viewing the mighty turmoil of life far more clearly than you who are [----] mad clangor of it all. I have the feeling that there will be a big and trying work for us to do when the prison doors open and that this period of inaction will give me the strength and poise and courage to do it. I feel sure that you and the children will come through it all without permanent injury and that in the years that are to come we will have no regrets for these days.
It is dinner time now and we must go down. I will finish after we come up. I have so many interruptions that writing is rather a slow job. Now that Emma is gone, I must be mother confessor and guide for all the women, and it is not a light task or an easy one.
* * * * * * * *
Our dinner was very nice to-day, and, as I ate heartily, I fear the rest of my letter will be dull. I was rather amused at The Republic's story of Fishman's report. Of course the little discrepancy in that I never at any time lodged complaints with the Department of Justice, is a small matter. In six months I have communicated direct with Mr. Painter twice, asking that four different matters might receive his attention, and they were immediately cared for. I may be both "dominating" and "vain", but I want the Republic to know that I am fair and wish the management of this institution to have all the credit due them. So please see that the editor gets these facts.
Practically every suggestion that I made to Mr. Fishman had already been put into force. Our meals are served hot; they are of good quality and well cooked. Since the change in the dining room, we have them served as nicely and in as attractive surroundings as one could wish. There are few small town hotels that have diningrooms as attractive as ours now. True, the tableware I mentioned to you is still missing, but these are really minor things. The meatless day has been discontinued; wienies are served so rarely now that we have no objection to them; mutton stew (and it is very good stew, too) now varies the menu. Our bread and coffee-cake is as good as I have ever eaten. The supper is still insufficient as the principal meal for persons engaged at hard, physical labor, as we are, but it has been wonderfully improved by the addition of butter, or, rather oleo, but it is very good oleo, as good as the average working class family eats. I don't agree with Mr. Fishman that we need meat for supper. I think we eat really more meat than is strictly necessary. What we really need is baked potatoes, maccaroni and cheese baked beans and things of that kind. It is perfectly practical to feed us some baked food to vary the monotony of the everlasting stews. Of course there is still the lack of sugar in the diet, but, on the whole I think we are as well fed as the average working class family to-day. Our milk is skimmed, but it is nice, wholesome milk, and we have about a pint each day. The coffee has improved wonderfully also, and now, while it is rather weak, it is real coffee, and one can drink it quite well.
The bathing facilities were taken care of long ago, and there is no complaint now, except that we only have one bath a week. The hospital has not been equipped, though it has been whitewashed and cleaned, and I imagine proper equipment will be installed in due time. We now have a community nurse, who cares for the sick, and that is a wonderful improvement. The nurse relieves the overworked orderly from the care of the sick, and that means that the orderly is nearly always smiling and good tempered now, which adds immeasurably to our comfort. We have now a third matron, which relieves Miss Smith from many annoying details, and that, too, makes it far better for all concerned.
I don't know whether Mr. Fishman's recommendation that the dark cell should be supplied with sleeping board and three blankets has been complied with or not, but I do know that punishments have been very materially reduced, and that the women are kept on punishment only a short time.
As to the "task"; I feel that no one could really know just how possible or impossible it was to make the task until she has been at the work for at least six months. I am sure that it will take that long for anyone to reach her highest point of production. Of course, I have had very decided opinions concerning the wisdom and efficiency of driven labor as a corrective, and I have also very decided opinions as to the wisdom of allowing a contractor's profits to determine the means and methods of handling subnormal and defective women. However, I am sure that the reporter was drawing on his imagination, and that no member of the Prison Board would make himself ridiculous by stating that "the women completed their tasks in the morning and had practically nothing to do in the afternoon. No visitor ever entered the shop in the afternoon and found the women idle or the machines unoccupied. Every person who has visited the shop knows that it is during the afternoon hours that the madest [sic] rush is on and the women show the most marked physical and mental strain. In due time I shall have an opinion of the task, but when I discuss it, it shall certainly be with Mr. Painter himself. Of course the really big, vital problem of the shop is not touched upon in the Republic story, and, naturally I cannot discuss it.[B]
I don't know the other members of the board, Mr. Andrae and Mr. Poole or Mr. Gilvin, the warden. So far as I know, none of them have ever been inside the female wing in the six months I have been here. I do know Mr. Painter, the President of the Board, and I have said over and over again that I consider him one of the kindliest, most humane prison officials in the country. I fully believe that he is doing all in his power to keep pace with modern methods of prison management. I am sure that as long as he is in authority here he will do all that he can to improve the institution. I fully agree with Mr. Fishman that this is as good as any prison in the country, and the wrongs and horrors that I find here are not peculiar to this prison, but common to the whole prison system.
I had a nice letter from Jim's sister and from several other friends in St. Louis, but no one writes me anything of Victor L. Please remember to tell me of him when you write again.
I had a very interesting letter from Prof. Z. concerning the Ruskin School matters, and I am very anxious to know what developments are taking place. Tell him to write me all the news, and that I do so sincerely hope that the long-cherished plans may be carried out. I have never lost hope that sometime, after all the hardships and heartaches of our strenuous life we may have a few years of peace and quiet in Florida. Yet I know that we could not be happy without worth-while work, and such an educational institution as we have discussed is most worth while. Perhaps your engineering work will soon be accomplished, and that will make it possible for us to have the long-looked-for rest with interesting work. Tell Z. I shall not be too busy "running" for anything to claim my share in the school project, and that I refuse to be side-tracked.
I will look forward to your letter Monday, for I want to know whether you had a visit with Emma and Stella. I know that Emma can tell you so many things of our life here that I cannot write. Dear, good, generous soul! Last night a great box of fruit and other luxuries and two great boxes of flowers came from her for Ella and me. There certainly is no danger of our going hungry for some time to come. My cell is all abloom to-day. I still have some of the flowers you brought me, some roses that Stella brought the first day she came, and those that came last night. I look very festive, and all through the night I am conscious of the perfume that is sweet as the love of those the flowers represent.
I am going to make a list of some things that I want Mrs Gleason to get for me. I am sure she will not mind doing some shopping. I had a nice letter from Arene. She wants to know what she can send me. Tell her to make me a pair of warm bedroom slippers. I need them on this cold stone floor. She crochets very nicely, I know. I shall need a nice, warm bathrobe soon, but don't bother about it just yet. If Josephine can find the old red sweater, better send it to me; I need it these cold mornings.
I want a good desk dictionary to lend the girls. I get tired of settling squabbles concerning the spelling and meaning of words. I am not strong on spelling, as you know. Get something secondhand and not expensive or too large.
The girl for the mail will be here in a moment, and I must close. Love and kisses to all my darlings, and greetings to the comrades.
A. Though free when this letter was written, Goldman was deported to the Soviet Union in December.
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B. Notice O'Hare's reference to the fact that her letters were censored before they left the prison.
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