A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability

A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability. Women's Social History, Julia Edmunds Middaugh.
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability
A personal narrative of intra-familial class difference, marital strife, female communities, and their impact on a young woman's life
A young woman candidly narrates her family's history, taking control of her own origin story in the face of loss and instability

[Michigan]: [1913]. Pebbled cloth ledger measuring 8 x 10 inches, with boards rubbed and spine largely perished. Two contemporary black and white photos loosely inserted at rear with subjects unidentified. Comprised of a total of 200 manuscript pages in two hands -- 11 pages in the hand of Elijah W. Middaugh and the remaining 189 pages in the hand of his daughter, Julia Edmunds Middaugh. Both leave their ownership inscriptions on the front endpaper, with the latter notating that her writing picks up in 1913. A candid, poetic, and at times heartbreaking family history, the present manuscript reveals a young woman grappling with her place in the world, and seeking to create a sense of order in her own life by understanding and exerting narrative control over the unstable relationship of her parents.

Elijah, affectionately called "Lege" by Julia later in the notebook, was born into privilege as the son of a prominent Gross Pointe family. Educated at the University of Michigan and Harvard, he also was under the tutelage of private instructors during a stretch in Europe. Disappointing the hopes of his own father, a businessman, he did not take to the workforce with aplomb. He struggled to maintain himself by selling travel stories and reports to the Detroit Free Press and was fiscally irresponsible. Initially, his marriage to the working class widow Juddie Palmer Kelso, seemed promising. The owner of a shop in Paw Paw Lake, she seemed to provide the industriousness Elijah lacked. According to Julia, "the first years of their lives were the happiest." She and her brother were born, and her parents "bought a King 8 car and went traveling." Indeed, this King 8 features prominently in Elijah's opening narrative, wherein he records "My trip in a King Auto from Michigan to San Francisco." From its opening, one gleans that Julia's later story is a mixture of fact and father worship. He writes, "It was said by that great & good man Emerson that travel is the fool's paradise. Without desiring to offer my own experience in proof of this, I may state that I have always found pleasure in traveling." And he scorns those travelers who do not get swept up in the romance of the road, focusing instead on practicalities; "greenhorns" he calls them, "who would ask how fast we could travel, how much it cost per mile." Of course, the trip in the end did cost the family greatly. He reports multiple breakdowns and flat tires as he tour goes on; and when his radiator fails, he opts to buy a new car rather than wait for a replacement part. What's more, Julia's version of the story includes a jarring fact: "It was while we were away on a trip to California that the house burned down. When [my parents] drove up to the lake that night, cold and hungry and eager for home, Lege turned the car up the lane and there in the blaze of the headlights stood the gray chimney, the only remains of the life that had been."

Julia's longer narrative contains multiple such harrowing incidents. And while she at times praises her mother (at one point, she says Juddie has "more enterprise and natural courage (commonly called guts) than any woman I know," she frankly sees Juddie's lower class background as the root of her parents' problems and the ultimate reason for their divorce. Her father, meanwhile, she glorifies. Rather than focus on his failings as such, she creates a hero's arc for him. He failed in business because "he was cut out to be a poet" rather than a captain of industry -- and it was a mark of his own superiority. Indeed, she writes, "he had a better education and his branch of the human race was a little more cultural." After her parents' split and her mother gaining custody, Julia remarks "without father things just weren't the same."

Notably, it is the women and the female communities Julia encounters in life that provide support and stability. She recounts that after the house fire, her father's sister Clara takes the family into her Gross Pointe home. After the divorce, when she discovers "mother and two dirty little kids with a forlorn story, she said at once, Juddie, you'll have to come out with me." It is Clara, and later the sisters in a convent where Julia goes to be educated, that give the young woman space to process her family pains and reflect on how they shape her selfhood.

It is a unique, densely written, and research rich piece deserving of study. In addition to providing opportunities for genealogical research (including Julia's forebears Emilie Eugene Maynard and Judge A.B. Maynard), it has extensive details on early automobile road travel from the Midwest to the West Coast, information on early divorce and custody including the impact on children and women's finances, female communities and women-run businesses, class conflict in marriage, courtship, and historical narrative studies (both fiction and non-fiction performances). It poses a valuable opportunity to study how young women, in an age of increased attention towards inequality and rights, were affected. The extent to which Julia is independent and mobile links both to the women around her and to a larger movement; at the same time, Julia is affected by traditional patriarchal narratives, including popular novels that position gender, family wealth and class as markers of superior morality.
(Item #3478)

Price: $1,950