No Rest for the Weary

Due to an undiagnosed malady–a bellyache–I have been prescribed “rest” among other odious measures. Perhaps you can imagine what anathema this is for me: a sunny three day weekend and I’m not supposed to work in the garden? Really?! I am compromising by resting between small tasks, a tomato plant here, a weed or two there. But trying to follow orders, and it reminds me of a delicious letter from the EF archives. It seems that there might be something to genetic dispositions after all.

The June 14, 1917 letter starts off, “My dear Convalescent,” and is written from the Organizing Committee of the People’s Council of America for Democracy and Peace from Louis Lochner, Executive Secretary. He starts,

“As usual, the hardest job was picked for you last night. More than that, I must confess I was a party to the iniquitous game, because I just know that if God Almighty ever lays down on his job, he will have to put you in to run the world.”

Elisabeth receives this letter at the Haven Country Club Nyack-on-Hudson, where she is presumably recovering from overwork as a lobbyist for peace in Washington DC. One of the few advantages for working for the movement in those days, is that some rich patron could put you up in a country club when you were running on empty.

Lochner lays it on thick because they really need someone to organize a conference in the Midwest.

“Then we began to look around at each other, and while in the aggregate we looked rather impressive, I submit that no one of us felt that he could really truly represent the New York Committee in Chicago and get away with it. Suddenly Mr. (Morris) Hillquit’s face lighted up and he said, ‘There is Elisabeth Freeman. Why not send her?’ Whereupon there was such thunderous applause that the Fire Department turned out, thinking that something violent had happened here. For the next ten minutes all ordinary business was forgotten, and a series of eulogies on your good self was delivered, which would put any speeches in the Congressional Record to shame. The high honor was conferred upon me of writing you today and telling you that we are all prostrate at your feet imploring you to take the train to Chicago instead of Washington, and get the Conference of Chicago on the map.”

Flattery will get you everywhere. No kidding! Can you imagine getting such a letter? Who would not book a train immediately?

Apparently, Lochner, who, we have to admit, is a great letter writer, wasn’t completely sure for he continues,

“I am glad I am not up at Nyack when this letter reaches you. I have never seen you in a temper, and I shut my eyes, when I think what it might be. If you ever had occasion for a temper, this will be it. Please remember that that is part of the selective draft. Some people, like Miss Lennon, we drive into matrimony; others like yourself we ban to the stockyards of Chicago. Only I get away with a beautiful office that just been assigned to me. It is always thus with the male sex.”

A couple of interesting points here. First of all, Elisabeth apparently was not prone to tempers. The “selective draft” is a joke since one of the main issues of the People’s Council was opposing the Conscription Law, and suspending rules of democracy. The other ironic comment plays at the sexism at work, which would be obvious to her. Lochner ends with,

“Won’t you please write me upon receipt of this letter, or better still telegraph me, whether you claim exemption on conscientious grounds, or whether we can send you to the Chicago trenches.”

Elisabeth did go to Chicago and save the day. Her list of tasks accomplished and challenges met is daunting to say the least.

“I went carefully through my list… and sent telegrams to those at great distances.”

“Then I set out to find a multigraphing and stuffing company. There is a sense of of limitation here and a desire to go slow, and it took considerable work to win them to consenting to this seemingly extra expense, when in the long run it is efficiency that counts.” 

“I stayed very late last night at the office, getting things somewhat in hand.” 

(Letter from Freeman to Lochner June 21, 1917)

On June 26th, 1917 she writes Lochner,

“I have sent out the New York list which consisted of 7250 envelopes, the Woman’s Peace Party list of 1100, to all the Congressmen and Senators, 531, to you 3000, to Indianapolis 500, and in bundles of 50 and 100 about 1000 more. Also the pledge list they had of 600, and my own list of 600. Now I am working on a big labor list that I choked out of Bro. Germer yesterday. I am hoping to get the full 25,000 out of the office this week.”

All this after writing the materials, getting agreement, lining up speakers, and generally herding cats.

The Chicago conference is another story in itself yet to come, but suffice it to say it involves denial of a gathering place from 3 or 4 states, bringing out the militia, police breaking up meetings, and one headline at least that sums it up, “No rest for the weary.” Indeed.

See also 1917-1919 Freedom of Speech

Original letters from the EF’s papers, in my possession.