Document 13: Letter from Kate Richards O'Hare to Friends, 15 February 1921, originally published in the final edition of Frank O'Hare's Bulletin, reprinted in Philip S. Foner and Sally M. Miller, Kate Richards O'Hare: Selected Writings and Speeches (Baton Rouge: Lousiana State University Press, 1982) p. 299-303.
In the final edition of Frank O'Hare's Bulletin, Kate Richards O'Hare published this letter to the 2,000 socialists and radicals who'd received and supported the Bulletin during her imprisonment. From the early days of her imprisonment, O'Hare maintained that only an intelligent, educated person who had been imprisoned could truly understand the effects of prison on an individual and formulate the needed reforms. After her conviction and throughout her imprisonment, O'Hare read psychology books to educate herself. After her release, O'Hare continued this education, and attended training at the Institute on Venereal Disease Control and Social Hygiene in Washingon, D.C., from November 22-December 10, 1920. Ultimately, O'Hare sought to incorporate modern scientific theories and practices into prison control and operation.
February 15, 1921
Since the day I was released from prison I have been looking forward to the happiness of writing a real, honest-to-goodness letter to our friends of the Bulletin. My prison letters were all written under the eye of hostile censorship and I wanted to write just once in absolute freedom. But with the very first day of freedom came imperative duties that could not be put aside, and not until today has it been possible for me to find time to fulfill this long cherished wish.
Naturally my first few days of freedom were given to the family; to being quizzed by newspaper reporters, and to reading the wealth of letters and telegrams that came from every corner of the earth, and from all manner of people. And with the very first mail came the insistent demand that we make a trip covering the larger cities east of the Rocky Mountains to speak in behalf of amnesty for political prisoners. It seemed a crime against the children for me to leave home even for this purpose. But Eugene settled the matter by saying: "Mamma of course we want you; but we must remember that if all our friends hadn't worked so hard for you, you wouldn't be here. You will have to go say 'Hello!' to them and ask them to work for the other political prisoners."
Mr. O'Hare made the first trip with me, and it was one of those experiences that can come but once in a lifetime--a joyous pageant of love and fellowship and thanksgiving everywhere. We met old comrades with whom we had worked for years in the labor movement and new friends who had come to us through the Bulletin. Later trips I made alone, but from June 13th to November 2nd, I traveled thousands of miles and spoke to record breaking crowds in appeal for amnesty for political prisoners and for a complete reconstruction of our entire prison system. The response was far beyond our wildest hopes and every day emphasized the keen interest in these great problems.
Nothing in my prison experiences was so unutterably horrible as the constant and revolting contact with venereal disease, and the brutal indifference of the prison officials in forcing clean human beings to risk contamination. I came out of prison convinced that nothing could be of greater importance than to wage a warfare upon this foul plague. So far as I was concerned "the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak". I was ready to start the fight instanter, but I had sense enough to know that I lacked training. And here was an instance where I believed in "preparedness."
You remember that I used to tell Emma Goldman that "the Lord will provide", and He must still be on the job. In November I received a letter from the Mayor of Milwaukee telling me that I had been appointed delegate to represent the city in the Institute on Venereal Disease Control and Social Hygiene, and the All-American Conference on Venereal Disease Control held in Washington, D.C., from November 22 to December 10, 1920, under the direction of the United States Public Health Service. Needless to say I accepted the commission and hied myself to Washington where I once more became the guest of Uncle Sam. This time a voluntary one.
I thus had almost a month of intensive training under a faculty of world famous physicians, surgeons, biologists, psychologists and sociologists. Here I had an opportunity to study under masters all of the things that I needed so much to know. And of greater value perhaps than the lessons were the contacts with five hundred men and women who are already veterans in the warfare on venereal disease. The comedy that spiced the whole experience was the fact that but for the chastening hand of a pious lady uplifter from Noo Yo'k who was scandalized at finding herself in such close proximity to a "convict", I might have become puffed up with pride by the flattering attentions I received because of being the only person present who KNEW prison conditions from the inside. I came home from Washington fully convinced that somehow, somewhere, we must create a magazine that could handle the problem of social hygiene with scientific accuracy and yet expressed in the language of the common people. I was loaded with valuable information--but--I was also threatened with lockjaw from trying to say the words that the famous specialists use to express very simple facts.
The blissful ignorance of the prison officials concerning the most elemental facts of human psychology, the brutal treatment of feeble-minded and patently insane prisoners by keepers, forced me to realize that nothing could be of greater importance than the sane and scientific study of human behavior; the whys and wherefores of human action and reaction and their effects on delinquency. I had been sort of nibbling at Freud before my imprisonment, and in those long and tragic months the psycho-analytic theory of human behavior ceased to be an amusing speculation and became my anchor to sanity, my hold on faith in humanity and my hope for a better social adjustment. I know that Freud is both insidious and exhilarating, and I may be indulging in a sort of Freudian jag just now, but I know he saved my sanity behind the prison walls. In Washington I had regular psychological spree. And once again I feel the necessity for a periodical in which I can translate the hope-inspiring wonders of modern psychology into the plain and simple language of the common people.
The long months since last we wrote to you have been filled with fruitful and inspiring work, but always we have been faced with the necessity of choosing what should be our permanent life work. Naturally we could not turn our backs upon the prisoners and helpless human beings hidden there. A part of us will always be within prison walls and never again can we walk in freedom as long as our brothers and sisters are shut away from life. When I came out, we felt that we owed a debt to our friends that could only be in a measure paid by serving, to the limit of our ability, those who needed service most. Thousands behind prison walls are voiceless; the scourge of venereal disease menaces our civilization; mental hygiene has much to offer in making the lives of the people sane and wholesome; the co-operative movement on the industrial field and sanity on the political field must be developed before we can have a just economic system and a sane social order. We feel that a magazine is abundantly necessary that will bring to the common people an understanding of these dynamic facts.
So it seemed to us that we could best serve by establishing a magazine that would be the voice of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless, and the help of the helpless. We have revived that National Rip-Saw, a magazine that for many years served the most needy people of the United States. It bears a rather crude and homely name, but a wholesome one. Without the sweat and toil of the lowly lumberjack and the cheery song of the "rip-saw" neither homes nor human progress would be possible. We want to help build better homes and better people and a better world for them to live in; so we are proud of our sweat-stained symbol--the Rip-Saw. It may be "of the earth earthy", but about ninety-nine per cent of the human race lives mighty close to the earth, and if we hope to lift their eyes to higher things we must go down and become like them, as Jesus did.
We have made the price of the magazine low, so that every one can become subscribers. We must use inexpensive paper and economical methods of printing and our salary looks like a ten dollar bill after paying for a ton of coal; but nothing cheap or tawdry shall ever go into its columns. We use the simple language of the common people, and homely illustrations drawn from every day working-class life, but we try to bring the best that science and literature have to offer to our readers. It is not the sort of magazine we would publish if we were trying to serve only the people who received the Bulletin, but we believe that it is the sort of magazine that our friends will be glad to support. . . .
Girard is a nice little one-hoss town in Kansas, with a courthouse in the middle of the square, a lot of dinky stores fringing it, and flivvers hopping about like restless grasshoppers. The wide old streets are lined with catalpa trees and your neighbors' chickens scratch up you garden. We walk back and forth to work through tree-lined streets made warm and homelike by grinning urchins and kindly neighbors going about the business of life. The O'Hare children take to village life like ducks to mud puddles and it is all very sweet and restful after the stress and strain and horror of the last three years. The great printing plant of the Appeal to Reason gives us access to ample facilities here in the quiet and homey atmosphere of a small town, and we expect to pass the happiest days of our life here editing and publishing the Rip-Saw and serving our fellow-men "as God gives us light."
This letter marks the end of Frank O'Hare's Bulletin--one of the most unique publications ever issued in the United States. It was born of a great need, written in the heart's blood of our family, and went forth to the uttermost ends of the earth to find love and loyalty and light in the hour of darkness. The only acceptable expression of our appreciation of your fellowship in the time of need, is to try to so live and serve that you may be glad to have been a Bulletineer.
You have lived in spirit with us through long, tragic months. You have visualized my prison walls and my husband and our children suffering far more than I. Your hearts have accorded with ours and you have shared you love and your money with us. Now the brighter, happier days have come, and when you think of us let it be this picture. A modest cottage on a tree-lined street, a shabby office on a sleepy square where we find useful joyous work to do; roaring presses and deft-handed girls sending out the Rip-Saw to carry its message wherever that message is needed. Think of Dick as a high-school lad just nibbling at romance and Kathleen as a high-school girl hurrying fast toward young womanhood. And Gene and Vic--well, they are just healthy, normal boys, always noisy, often dirty, always hungry, and oftimes naughty--but just boys. And now may love, peace and fellowship rest and abide with you.
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