Document 8M: Letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to "Sweethearts," 19 October 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.,
Oct. 19, 1919.
F. P. O’Hare,
1011 Holland Building,
St. Louis, Mo.
I was too tired and sleepy after the trip to the park to do anything on my letter last night, so I served notice on all the girls that if they wanted anything they must get it before I started writing for I would not be interrupted.
I am still feeling quite well and things are going on about the same as usual, in fact, I think the last two weeks have been more endurable than the average. We had one week of Heavenly peace and quiet and the effects seem to sort of linger with us. Let us hope it continues.
This is a beautiful day. I hope you are all out of doors somewhere enjoying it. Just the sort of a day for a long hike out in the country, for the woods are at their best and the airlcool [sic] and bracing. What a strange perversion of human intelligence it is to presume that any human beings could possibly be made better, or more fit for human society by shutting them up behind stone walls and steel bars on a day like this. There is more healing for sin-sick souls and society marred brains in the sunlight and God's outdoors than in all the courts and jails and prisons man has ever made.
I had your letters this week, all of which showed great nerve strain and mental unrest. I am somewhat disturbed by them. The letter from Kathleen with Gene's poetry was very sweet indeed. Kathleen's poster was very good, she seems to do that sort of thing very well. I think it would be a splendid thing for her to make a study of architecture. It is a splendid profession for a woman. Here in America, we have never had any of our own and seemed to manage to get the very worst of every other country's. I can remember one spot of peace and sanity whose very memory is soothing and pleasing to me and that is the exquisitely beautiful and intelligently placed building in the Glacier National Park. I don't know the architect's name, but his work has been a joy to me and stands I think as an example of beautiful work artistically placed. Savannah, Ca. too, is a pleasant memory; only a few of the modern structures mar its beauty and distinctive style of buildings. I am sure you remember the two wonderful days we spent so happily there wandering about the wide, tree-lined streets and watching the children playing about on the tombs of their ancestors.
I have considerable amusement studying the architecture of my prison home. One has only to come and look at the Jefferson City prison, the new state house and the governor's mansion to have a far more vivid picture of the mental, spiritual and aesthetic status of our political rulers than any words can possible give. I read in the paper last night that the man who designed the state house got lost in it yesterday and was compelled to call a guard to lead him out. If I believed in punishment I could think of none more terrible than to force the poor chap to live in his own creation. One thing that causes me the greatest merriment when I think of it is that we live in the atmosphere of such rigid, rampant, prudery and our buildings reek with symbols and phallic worship. From the arched front doors to the cornice on the towers sex symbols are everywhere. But we live serenly [sic] on in our prudery under the towers that shout aloud to the initiated.
Some day, we are going to really think of what our buildings express and then possibly we may develop an American architectire [sic],--let us hope so at least. Even now we are beginning to study houses in their relations to life and soon we will be building houses to live in and to enjoy life in, and Kathleen is not too young to begin to study the art of building homes. The Woman's Labor League of England has already made great progress in the study of homes for the working class. If Kathleen will write to Marion Phillips, she will be glad to send her all the data they have gathered. I am sending Kathleen's tam and will also send the little book dealing with the work of the Woman’s Labor League, and she can get addresses from it.
I have had the usual number of nice, interesting letters this week, some even more interesting than usual. I was surprised to know that the lady who sent me the wonderful collection of eatables from Williams, Ia., is Wilbur Benton's cousin. She wrote me a very interesting account of her tilt with Gov. Harding. Tell her to keep after him to debate. He dare not do it, and it's splendid propaganda. Had a lovely letter from the friends at Decatur, and the usual splendid box. Also had a letter and box from Camden, N. J., and the most wonderful box of fruit sent by Comrade Holmes, of Pueblo, but it came from somewhere in New Mexico. I never saw anything more beautiful than the apples, pears, and grapes. They were as large as the best of the California fruit and with far better flavor. A friend in Dubuque also sent a box of apples and a friend in Pearl, Ill. sent me a big box of guava paste. This, of course, is a rare novelty; no one here had ever tasted a guava, so a bit of it is a rare treat to them, and I am particularly fond of guavas myself. Comrade Rower, of Mass. sent a box of nut cake and home made candy, which I divided with Alice, the Indian girl, who is slowly dying and whose sublime courage and splendid self-control wring my heart as nothing else here ever has.
The peppermints from the G. sisters arrived just in time. I was almost out and I could never manage to exist here without a pocketful of peppermints to comfort the sad and cheer the despondent. I also got a large box of chocolates and peppermints, but I am not sure whether it came in the Camden box, or was sent by someone else, but it arrived and has disappeared already.
Received such a dear letter from Rev. Irwin St. John Tucker, and a copy of "Raymond," for which the girls are clamoring. But I am going to hang to it until I find time to read it; for when a book gets away from me it is a long time getting back. What a beautiful, wonderful chap he is, and how he dignifies and glorifies the relationship of comradeship and friendship and makes one feel the sweetness and purity of human relations until one loves him in spite of the fact that he is a preacher. And that reminds me that I was unfair to another member of the clergy, in what I said of them last week. I forgot for the moment Rev. J. L. Lever. He certainly has been one that has been faithful to our friendship; and I would not have him think that I had forgotten or did not appreciate the fact. Dear old Fred Strikland has stood the test also. I must not forget him.
Had a beautiful, newsy letter from Clara of Milwaukee, which I enjoyed and which is the kind of a letter that makes things easier for us in prison. One very interesting letter was from a Woman's Club in Ia., and it was most encouraging; for if only we can arouse the women's clubs of the country to study the problems of prisons and prison methods, it will mean a great deal for progress along those lines. It may be possible to get one of the popular magazines to run some articles dealing with women and prison life.
Had only a short visit with Adolph Germer, but I enjoyed it. He wrote me from Kansas City that he had arranged to have some fried chicken and other things sent me, but they have not arrived.
I suppose some one will be down to see me soon. It is a frightful expense I know to make the trips so often, but I can only stand being shut away from my loved ones for a certain length of time, then I begin to get so depressed that I can not be myself. It must be hell for the women who spend year after year here without ever seeing a loved face. Poor Aggie Myers! She harrows my soul almost as badly as Alice. Fifteen years of this horrible living death and no hopes of release. Why in the name of God don't the women of Missouri demand either that she be paroled or executed? And, to make it more ghastly, her hopes are raised again and again, only to be crushed. The kindest thing that could possible be done to her now would be to take her out, stand her up against the walls that have made a physical and mental wreck of her, and send a bullet thru her heart. If society insists on dealing out punishments to its victims, then every sentence of more than two years should mean a death sentence, for only the very exceptional human being can live thru two years of this and come out fit to associate with other human beings.
Among the magazines sent me by the University Club was THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY of November, 1918. It contains a most wonderful article by Prof. E. P. Lewis of the University of California, on "The Ethical Value of Science." I don't know when I have ready anything which impressed me so much, and I want Dick to go to the Library and get the magazine so all of you can read it. If I could have only had this article when I read "The Economic Foundations of Society"! Loria is so deadly dull that I doubt if Dick and Kathleen will have the patience to wade thru thru [sic] his wonderful book, and I don't know that they really need it,--you can give them its meat without all the stuffing. But I would like them to be firmly grounded in the truth that Prof. Lewis states so well, that is, that scientific knowledge is the only solid foundation for ethical concepts. Prof. Lewis says:--
"In the southern states slavery was regarded as having divine sanction. Any teacher or preacher who taught otherwise was ostracized or banished. For years after the civil war, this tradition survived, and I was taught and believed that the Abolitionists had thwarted the purpose of God. While still a boy, various scientific books fell into my hands. Not one of them mentioned slavery, or considered any ethical questions, but they quickly brought about a change in my mental attitude which caused me to see that slavery was wholly bad--a wrong to the enslaved and evil in its effects on the slave holders, ****because human experience had prove it so****Science did not flourish in the South. It is impossible to imagine that science and slavery could continue to co-exist in the same community, but orthodox religion and classic education found nothing uncongenial in such association."
The chattel slavery of the South is gone, but the modern chattel slavery of the prison still continues, and as Prof. Lewis says, there is nothing uncongenial between it and orthodox, organized religion. The prison with all its hell and horrors can still exist in perfect harmony with orthodox religion and ethics, but if ever the prison door is opened to science, the whole penal system will crumble as the slave system crumbled. Lawyers have written codes to safeguard their own and their retainer's power to live upon the products of others labor, and they say, if you transgress our codes we will punish you with court and jail, prison and dungeon. Theologians have evolved a creed and they say: if ye transgress our creed we will punish you with prison on earth and hell after death. Law and Religion have formed a holy alliance for punishment. Naturally, they are both perfectly smug and complacent and say it is God's Will and Man's Law that the erring shall be punished to the uttermost. So they build stone walls and steel bars to shut out science and to shut in the transgressors. Six days in the week Profit is our taskmaster and punished to the limit is anyone who fails to deliver their meed of profit; and on Sunday the preacher comes and tells us that it is God's Will, and that we are being punished because God loves us so much.
But someday science will croud in thru the prison door, and study the transgressors to try to find why they transgress. There are ninety women here; and with the smatterings of scientific information I possess, I know that eighty percent of them are defective and subnormal, yet law and religion both demand that they shall be punished to the same extent as if they were normal in all their faculties. We have dements, morons, high grade imbeciles, sex perverts, syphilitics, consumptives and epileptics, and God knows what, but law and religion lump them all together, label them sinners and criminals and prescribes punishment as a cure for the job lot.
So for my children, I pray, “Oh, God, help me to give them scientific knowledge of life and all its relations and then I can be content for their religion, morals and ethics will take care of themselves.["]
Ella has been bitten by the writing bug, and she plunges away with all the abandon of the amateur writer. You had better send me a bundle of cheap copy paper. Ella is writing stories and Rae who lives just under me writes poetry, and I supply them both with paper, and it takes a lot.
I had a nice, long, letter from Emma yesterday. Poor, dear, soul! She just can't get away from the prison. I think she lives here with us rather than in New York. I wish she could shake off the terrible nightmare of it, but presume it takes time. Tell her that we are getting along just splendidly. We remember our hot water (sometimes), and manage to get plenty to eat all the time. Nancy will be going next week, but Pearl will look after us. Louise has Ella's cell and Dosia cleans for us now that Gladys is gone. When Della left, I moved over to her machine and now I am next to Ella and near the ventilator, which is a comfort for the shop is like an oven all the time, but Ella and I will have fresh air. The foreman says he will not allow that one hold to be stopped.
I am anxious to get the CALL tomorrow. I want to see how Butler Davenport's new play went. I hope Thais writes me about it. All of the papers I mentioned came thru, but the special edition of the APPEAL, and the copy of the Bowman Leader. Send me copies, will you? They will come all right now that Mr. P. is here. Your story in the Sunday Call was very good, and it is really much better for me that the comrades should know that I am not being mistreated and that the officials here are not to blame in any way for the sins of the national administration.
My flowers were waiting for me when I came in from the shop at noon. There were some sprays of tuberose, and the perfume fills the whole cellhouse. I am afraid they won't keep so well now, as the heat is on, and the cellhouse is frightfully hot all the time. But they are beautiful and take away some of the bareness and ugliness of the cell. The perfume is always there to remind me of the love that cannot die and that no walls can shut out.
Well, the girls have all gone to chapel, and it is nice and quiet, so I will hurry and finish and have a quiet hour with my new book.
I hope Kathleen’s tam is alright, and that she will find it comfortable to wear to school these cool mornings. Remind Dick and Vic that they have not written to me for a long time. I am curious to know what the twins spent their birthday money for, something they enjoyed, I hope.
Greetings to all the comrades, and bushels of love and kisses to my darlings.
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