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THE LOG-CABIN LADY
An Anonymous Autobiography
The story of The Log-Cabin Lady is one of the annals of America. It is a moving record of the conquest of self-consciousness and fear through mastery of manners and customs. It has been written by one who has not sacrificed the strength and honesty of her pioneer girlhood, but who added to these qualities that graciousness and charm which have given her distinction on two continents.
I have been asked to tell how the story of The Log-Cabin Lady came to be written. At a luncheon given at the Colony Club in 1920, I was invited to talk about Madame Curie. There were, at that table, a group of important women.
When I had finished the story of the great scientist, whose service to humanity was halted by lack of laboratory equipment, and of the very radium which she had herself discovered, one guest asked: "Why do you spend your life with a woman's magazine when you could do big work like serving Madame Curie?" "I believe," I replied, "that a woman's magazine is one of the biggest services that can be rendered in this country."
My challenge was met with scorn by one of the women upon whose education and accomplishments a fortune had been spent. "It is stupid," she said, "to print articles about bringing up children and furnishing houses, setting tables and feeding families--or whether it is good form for the host to suggest another service at the dinner table."
"There are twenty million homes in America," I answered. "Only eight per cent of these have servants in them. In the other ninety-two per cent the women do their own housework; bring up their own children, and take an active part in the life and growth of America. They are the people who help make this country the great nation that it is."
After luncheon one of the guests, a woman of great social prominence, distinguished both in her own country and abroad, asked me to drive downtown with her. When we entered her car she said, with much feeling--"You must go on with the thing you are doing."
Believing she referred to the Curie campaign, I replied that I had committed myself to the work and could not abandon it. "I was not referring to the Curie campaign," she replied, "but to the Delineator. You are right; it is of vital importance to serve the great masses of people. I know. It will probably surprise you to learn that when I was fourteen years old I had never seen a table napkin. My family were pioneers in the Northwest and were struggling for mere existence. There was no time for the niceties of life. And yet, people like my family and myself are worth serving and saving. I have known what it means to lie awake all night, suffering with shame because of some stupid social blunder which had made me appear ridiculous before my husband's family or his friends."
This was a most amazing statement from a woman known socially on two continents, and famed for her savoir faire. There were tears in her eyes when she made her confession. She was stirred by a very real and deep emotion. It had been years, she said, since the old recollections had come back to her, but she had been moved by my plea for service to home women and to the great mass of ordinary American people.
She told me that while living abroad she had often met American girls-- intelligent women, well bred, the finest stuff in the world--who suffered under a disadvantage, because they lacked a little training in the social amenities.
"It has been a satisfaction and a compensation to me," she added, "to be able sometimes to serve these fellow country-women of mine."
And right there was born the idea which culminated in the writing of this little book. I suggested that a million women could be helped by the publishing of her own story.
The thought was abhorrent to her. Her experience was something she had never voiced in words. It would be too intimate a discussion of herself and her family. She was sure her relatives would bitterly oppose such a confession.
It took nearly a year to persuade this remarkable woman to put down on paper, from her recollections and from her old letters home, this simple story of a fine American life. She consented finally to write fragments of her life, anonymously. We were pledged not to reveal her identity. A few changes in geography and time were made in her manuscript, but otherwise the story is true to life, laden with adventure, spirit and the American philosophy. She has refused to accept any remuneration for the magazine publication or for royalties on the book rights. The money accruing from her labor is being set aside in The Central Union Trust Company of New York City as a trust fund to be used in some charitable work. She has given her book to the public solely because she believes that it contains a helpful message for other women, It is the gracious gift of a woman who has a deep and passionate love for her country, and a tender responsiveness to the needs of her own sex. MARIE M. MELONEY. September 1, 1922.
THE LOG-CABIN LADY
I was born in a log cabin. I came to my pioneer mother in one of Wisconsin's bitterest winters.
Twenty-one years later I was sailing for England, the wife of a diplomat who was one of Boston's wealthy and aristocratic sons.
The road between--well, let it speak for itself. Merely to set this story on paper opens old wounds, deep, but mercifully healed these many years. Yet, if other women may find here comfort and illumination and a certain philosophy, I am glad, and I shall feel repaid.
The first thing I remember is being grateful for windows. I was three years old. My mother had set me to play on a mattress carefully placed in the one ray of sunlight streaming through the one glass window of our log cabin. Baby as I was, I had ached in the agonizing cold of a pioneer winter. Lying there, warmed by that blessed sunshine, I was suddenly aware of wonder and joy and gratitude. It was gratitude for glass, which could keep out the biting cold and let in the warm sun.
To this day windows give me pleasure. My father was a school-teacher from New England, where his family had taught the three R's and the American Constitution since the days of Ben Franklin's study club. My mother was the daughter of a hardworking Scotch immigrant. Father's family set store on ancestry. Mother's side was more practical.
The year before my birth these two young people started West in a prairie schooner to stake a homestead claim. Father's sea-man's chest held a dictionary, Bancroft's History of the United States, several books of mathematics, Plutarch's Lives, a history of Massachusetts, a leather-bound file of Civil War records, Thackeray's "Vanity Fair", Shakespeare in two volumes, and the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow." My mother took a Bible.
I can still quote pages from every one of those books. Until I was fourteen I saw no others, except a primer, homemade, to teach me my letters. Because "Vanity Fair" contained simpler words than the others, it was given me first; so at the age of seven I was spelling out pages of the immortal Becky.
My mother did not approve, but father laughed and protested that the child might as well begin with good things.
After mother's eighth and last baby, she lay ill for a year. The care of the children fell principally on my young shoulders. One day I found her crying.
"Mary," she said, with a tenderness that was rare, "if I die, you must take care of all your brothers and sisters. You will be the only woman within eighteen miles."
I was ten years old.
That night and many other nights I lay awake, trembling at the possibility of being left the only woman within eighteen miles.
But mother did not die. I must have been a sturdy child; for, with the little help father and his homestead partner could spare, I kept that home going until she was strong again.
Every fall the shoemaker made his rounds through the country, reaching our place last, for beyond us lay only virgin forest and wild beasts. His visit thrilled us more than the arrival of any king to-day. We had been cut off from the world for months. The shoemaker brought news from neighbors eighteen, forty, sixty, even a hundred and fifty miles away. Usually he brought a few newspapers too, treasured afterward for months. He remained, a royal guest, for many days, until all the family was shod.
Up to my tenth birthday we could not afford the newspaper subscription. But after that times were a little better, and the Boston Transcript began to come at irregular intervals. It formed our only tie with civilization, except for the occasional purely personal letter from "back home."
When I was fourteen three tremendous events had marked my life: sunlight through a window-pane; the logrolling on the river when father added two rooms to our cabin; and the night I thought mother would die and leave me the only woman in eighteen miles.
But the fourth event was the most tremendous. One night father hurried in without even waiting to unload or water his team. He seemed excited, and handed my mother a letter. Our Great-Aunt Martha had willed father her household goods and personal belongings and a modest sum that to us was a fortune. Some one back East "awaited his instructions." Followed many discussions, but in the end my mother gained her way. Great-Aunt Martha's house goods were sold at auction. Father, however, insisted that her "personal belongings" be shipped to Wisconsin.
After a long, long wait, one day father and I rose at daybreak and rode
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