Dorothy C. Wilson

 

PART 11: DOROTHY CLARKE WILSON’S LIFE STORY

 

Childhood

In my life one thing has usually led into another. Often times it has just happened. I have been very fortunate that way, particularly in writing. I will tell you a little bit about my background. I was born in Gardiner, Maine. My father was a Baptist minister. I was born up in the front room of the parsonage in the days before hospitals. Dr. Simon delivered me. My father had to go and get the nurse. I don’t know if I arrived before I was expected or not. That was the way children were delivered in those days, you know. It was 1!)04. That was a long time ago.

 

I am sure I was a mistake because my mother was thirty-eight when I was born. She had been married five years. In those days it wasn’t very healthy to have children at that age. I was the apple of their eye.

 

My father came from a large family. He came from the west originally. My mother was born in Augusta. My father had been brought up on a farm in Minnesota. He had studied a lot of things and studied law. He came east on law business, collecting money for a firm. He saw my mother and fell in love with her. She was leading a choir up in the Hallowell/Augusta area somewhere. She was very musical. She got him to go to Newton Seminary to become a minister. He did. He had a church in Mechanic Falls for three years after they were married.

 

I know that my grandfather didn’t want my mother to get married. She was thirty-eight. He was like Granny Brind’s [one of the people that Dorothy wrote about] father who had nine daughters and didn’t want any of them to get married. Granny got away and he couldn’t resist, and I guess my grandfather was the same way. She married him. They spent three years in Mechanic Falls and then came to Gardiner. They were seven years in Gardiner. I was born two years after he arrived there.

 

My mother was almost a self-educated person. She had gone to high school, whatever they had in those days. She was very highly trained in music. She knew enough Latin to help me with some of my Latin translations in college. She was a great reader. She was sort of a saint, I guess. I was an only child and she used to play with me. We used to play dolls together. They always encouraged me in everything I did especially the writing, of course. When my father was doing traveling around the state, either as a salesman or a Baptist missionary, he was always boasting about me.

 

It is awful hard to describe your folks. I never thought of them in that way trying to describe them. My father was a very hale- fellow-well-met man. He did a lot of traveling. He could make friends very easy. My mother was very quiet. She did a lot of church work. She was a fine soprano singer.

 

My mother’s sister lived with us a lot of the time. Her sister was a hypochondriac. That made my childhood difficult. My mother was infernally patient. She put up with a great deal. My father did, too. It made a difficult situation for them. They were very religious people. I suppose their religion helped them in many ways.

 

I lived there [in Gardiner] for five years. I don’t have much recollection about that. I remember going with my mother to mission meetings and sitting in a little chair. I remember sitting at the top of the hill and watching all the people go down the hill in Gardiner. I remember some of the people that lived with us. My mother had help. Grace Aiiber who still lives in Gardiner used to come out and help. We moved out onto a farm after awhile when I was five. We lived there until I was twelve.

 

At the farm I remember jumping in the hay mound. My father must have had twenty-four cows. They were all named after flowers— Bluebell, Buttercup, Pansey. He sold milk after he went back on the farm. He had that yen for farming. He had been brought up on the farm. Later he raised hens. He managed to collect a few

thousand. I don’t know how he did it, but he did. I remember a lot of things about the farm–the cats we had. We always had family prayers. We were all kneeling, and I was in my white nightgown and this big cat called Spud jumped right on my back! It nearly killed me. You see the things I remember.

 

We never had much money. At one time when finances were real low, my mother was doing all sorts of things like making cakes to sell when I was going to college. We were living in Lewiston then.

 

My father was traveling. He was raising money for Bates College. He worked for the Maine Baptist Convention for awhile. Later he went back on the farm. He loved farming. My father kept the farm for quite a number of years. He kept it’. until he moved away. My father went from one thing to another. Somewhere I have a tribute that I wrote to him after he died. He certainly deserved a tribute. He had a hard life. He worked very hard all of his life trying to make both ends meet and trying to keep me in college and do for the family. It wasn’t easy. I am sure it wasn’t easy for my mother either. He was ninety-six when he died. My mother was younger. He married a friend of the family when he was ninety.

 

I went to a country school. I was taught at home first, so when I went to school I was age eight. I started reading at an early age and have been reading ever since. I wrote an article once on “I’d Rather Read Than Eat” which means quite a lot because I love to eat. I can see myself now sitting before the old cook stove with my feet in the oven and reading about Mr. Pipps Herbert Bunikins Bunny.

 

I began writing when I was about ten. I have a lecture now that I give a lot of the time which is “My Seventy-Five Years of Writing.” So I started writing when I was ten. I crawled off in the corner with a pencil and wrote a poem about: Old Mrs. Witch and her very best crown, Went sailing away on her broom,

Away in the air she went whizzing on, Until she thought she would hit the moon.

 

See it didn’t rhyme well. My mother doctored it a little and we sent it to the old Lewiston Journal which had a children’s page and they printed it. I was published at age ten. I kept writing all the time. My father did traveling for the Maine Baptist Convention and we moved to Augusta. I went to Cony High School.

 

I always had difficulty with the bad habit of stammering. It bothered me from the time I was seven. I conquered it more or less. There are certain words that still bother me, but I get by. Nobody can ever understand why you can’t talk. I wonder sometimes how anybody can get up and say the things they do.

 

When I give a lecture I am a little choosy. I usually write what I want to say and pick out the words that I @iant to say. I have given over twelve hundred lectures. I have one on every book I have written with slides.

 

It’s such a tragedy for a kid. Perhaps because of the stammering, I compensated about my speech by getting very high rank all through high school and college, too. Teachers were kind to me. I insisted on reciting whether I stammered or not. Sometimes it was difficult. People suffer when they have a drawback like that. It’s hard. On the other hand if I could elocute, I could do it. When I graduated from high school, I gave an essay on American ideals as well as the Valedictory [speech] without stammering. I could lose myself. It never stopped me.

 

In my early life, my mother would do the telephoning for me; my husband wouldn’t. I tried to go to a school in Boston soon after we got married to see if I could cure it. I think it helped but it didn’t cure me by any means. It wasn’t until long after that that I began doing my speaking in public.

 

The reason I got so I could talk, more or less, was after my first trip to India. I found I had a lot I wanted to say, so I had to say it. My husband had been giving lectures on my travels from my diary. He continued to do it, but I wanted to put in my contribution, so I did. Finally, I was doing the whole thing. It [stammering] hasn’t bothered me in everyday conversation.

 

I wanted to do most anything, write, music. My aunt taught me piano at age seven. I studied [piano] all through college and organ. My folks moved to Lewiston so I could go to college. Like I said I was the apple of their eye so they adjusted their life to mine. My parents always encouraged me in everything. I never had to do any housework. I was the student. When I got married, I

couldn’t do a thing. I went to church a lot. I used to play the organ in the church service at Hallowell. We lived in Augusta, but my folks went to the Hallowell church because they felt they could help there. We even went to prayer meeting once a week. I was brought up not to dance or to play cards. I was practically immersed in studying. I love to study. I had one very good friend who was also a good student. My high school days weren’t very exciting because it was mostly studying and I enjoyed it.

 

I had to walk a mile to school. We lived behind the State House in Augusta.   I was a prude compared to what kids are now. I didn’t start going around with boys until I went to college and met my husband.

 

My favorite teacher was an English teacher in high school. She remained a friend for many, many years. After I began to write, she would come to the affairs in Boston. She was a wonderful person. Her name was Edith Rideout. She inspired me very much. In college I had English teachers who were very inspiring too.

 

College Years at Bates

 

We moved to Lewiston and I lived at home. I kept on writing all the time. I wrote in high school and college. I majored in English. I got into the Spofford Club which was a literary club. We had a very interesting class in 1925. Gladys Hasty Carroll was a very close friend of mine and Erwin Cannon was, too. For a long time he was editor of the Christian Science Monitor. He was very brilliant. The three of us were taken in [into the Spofford Club] in our sophomore year.

 

In my freshman year, I began going with Elwin. I had a crush on him. We were going to this Christian Endeavor Convention in Portland. He was a Methodist who was going with his roommate who was a Baptist. I had a crush on him anyway. The students used to go out to preach sometime. He had preached at our church the week before. He was handsome in those days. One of my classmates said after I started going around with him that “Dot Clark is going around with the handsomest man in college.” I kind of played up to him at that convention. He took me out for a ham sandwich. The next Tuesday he invited me to go to some kind of church affair. I was a sophomore. That went on for quite awhile. Elwin had a girl before. He was practically engaged to her. He was twenty-three to my eighteen. I had a little attachment before that. There was a fellow I was attracted to when I visited my aunt at her summer place. I was prudish through high school. I was practically untouched. It [things with Elwin] just developed. After a while I didn’t want him. We went about six months then I decided I did want him. We went into it gradually. He was the only one that gave me a thrill.

 

Marriage

 

We got engaged when I was a junior, that summer. That fall he went to the Princeton Theological Seminary. My mother decided it was a nice conservative school for him and he should go there. He had one year there before we got married. He got this church as a student pastor. I was just thinking the other day about the telegram he sent me. It said, “CHURCH WANTS ME, DEAREST, SO CAN PLAN DEFINITELY.” We were married that August in 1925. We have been married for sixty-five years. My father performed the marriage ceremony in Lewiston then we went to Princeton. I joined the Methodist Church up in Elwin’s hometown of Bethel. It was a church he had grown up with. My father told me if I was going to be a Methodist to be a good one. I have been. I have been very loyal to the Methodist Church. I highly approve of its social action stand on many things. You can believe almost anything in a Methodist Church but there is it very strong social emphasis at least in the national.

 

When I got married, I couldn’t do a thing. Elwin cooked our first meal. We had potatoes and summer squash. The next day we had summer squash and potatoes and I cooked it. We lived with another couple. We couldn’t afford to get along all by

ourselves. We spent two years [in Princeton’ then he went to Boston University School of Theology which was a Methodist Institution. He decided he wanted to go to Boston University and stay a Methodist instead of a Presbyterian. Then he transferred to a church in Maine and we moved to West Scarborough.

 

The Writing Life

 

We were in Scarborough for four years. I kept on writing all this time. While I was in Scarborough in the late twenties, I sold a religious play. Then I began writing plays. I thought I would be writing plays the rest of my life, but one thing led to another. The biblical plays were popular at that time. I did well with them. I had over seventy in print. I later began writing some of the plays into stories. One of them was called The Brother which is the story of James, the brother of Jesus. I did that into a play. That led finally to me doing novels. I wrote them into stories and one of the editors I had in one of the church group publications, sent this story around. It had eight chapters in it and various church school publications. The Westminster Press in Philadelphia liked it. They gave me three months to make it into a novel. That was in 1942 or 1943. It came out in 1944. I worked hard that summer. My husband was district superintendent of the Portland district. We were living around Portland at this time in various churches — Westbrook, South Portland — then he went to the district. He was in charge of all the ministers. So in 1944 The Brothers came out and that was my first novel. It did well. It sold very well, indeed.       I think it sort of rode in on the coat tails of The Rob, which was popular at that time. That led to my doing more biblical novels. I did one called The Herdsmen which is a story of the prophet Amos.

 

All the time I was activated, you might say, by the idea of social justice. The last year when I was in Bates I had participated in a prize winning essay on arbitration instead of war. I did a lot of research and I think this started me on the idea of liking research. I have had to do this with almost all my books. When I did AMOS it was going into the background of the whole idea of justice in the Bible, because he was one of the first to believe in that. I was still publishing with Westminster. I decided I wanted to go back even farther into    the origins of social justice so I lit on M..e.. I did Prince of Egypt which was probably best known of anything I have done. It won the Westminster award of $7,500 for the best religious fiction of the year. It has been used all the time since as background for the Egyptian section of the Ten Commandments. I saw it blazoned on the [TV] screen a few weeks ago.

 

I did about six biblical novels. There was Jezebel, The Gift, which was based on a play. It was a story on the birth of Jesus. Then this wonderful thing happened to me. After I wrote The Herdsmen, the Board of Mission in the Methodist Church decided they wanted to send me to India to do a book. They said they would pay my way and I could do anything I wanted to. We were in the church in Orono at that time. That was in 1949. I can’t say enough about the way my husband cooperated in my travels. He hasn’t traveled with me at all, but he cooperated. A lot of men wouldn’t have done that.

 

Elwin did mind [me leaving), but I did it just the same. We got a girl who had just had a baby to stay with while I as gone. She had been a teacher and her husband was going to the university. [Elwin) had a mean time. It was not happy. I had been gone a lot in traveling. Elwin had been so cooperative all the time.

 

That travel resulted in two books out of the twenty eight that I have done.   One of the books was House of Earth, which is a story of Indian village life. I spent six month there traveling from 1949 to 1950. I also did a diary which came out, Fly With Me to India. That one did decently well, but not too well. That resulted, of course, in other trips to India. I was publishing after that with McGraw-Hill. I did Jezebel from McGraw-Hill.

 

A lot of things happen when you travel alone in India. Those are the things you remember best — the worst things you remember best. You get into a lot of messes but those are the interesting things. Like being hauled out in a t.nga on the edge of Delhi, you don’t know where you are going. Finally he [the driver]

stops and inquires how you’re going back to Delhi to see the new president inaugurated.

 

Then you sit on your bunk with a hoe in your hand wondering if the man outside the door is going to be able to get in. it is lot of fun.   I wasn’t alone that night. There were about sixteen other people in the compartment with me. It is things like that that make it interesting. I had some interesting experiences traveling. India was probably the most interesting because of going up the hairpin turns and finding out that they didn’t have any foot brakes or any emergency brakes. We would get there all right.

 

McGraw-Hill wanted me to go to India to do a story of Dr. Ida Scutter. She was a founder of a great international and inter-denominational medical center. She was a very well known woman, a very fine missionary with a very dramatic story. Elwin was very cooperative again to let me go. We were riding somewhere when I got the letter from McGraw-Hill. Elwin asked why I didn’t ask them if they would finance it so I could go. I got about as far as the next town before I was on the telephone. They would not finance the trip The publisher wouldn’t do that sort of thing, but they would forward royalties to me, and they did.

 

I went to India in 1957 for the second trip and spent three months doing the research on Dr. Ida and came home and wrote it.

 

I had been doing lectures before that, but when I came home I did some on India. Then I began lecturing on Dr. Ida when it came out. I went to England to do a series of lectures because the hospital and medical center she founded were supported by many, many denominations all over the world. England had a lot of people who supported her work, so I went over there and spent quite awhile traveling around and meeting a lot of people. Some of the people I met have become very close friends and have been responsible for some other writing.

 

After that came a story about a very interesting paraplegic, Dr. Mary, who had studied to become a surgeon. She had this terrible automobile accident right after she graduated. She was in the hospital for a while and of course couldn’t do anything. She found out she could perform an operation on claw hand which had been developed for leprosy patients who are often affected with this hand which is shaped like a claw. The muscles became dead in the hand. Dr. Paul Brand who had been in the forefront of rehabilitation and surgery in leprosy had performed this operation, and Dr. Mary found that she could do [surgery] if she sat down. She couldn’t stand up and operate.

 

She came to New York to study at Dr. Russ Institute of Rehabilitation. While she was there, I thought she would make wonderful person to write about. I sent her a lot of questions when she was in New York. She came up to our home in Orono. We did some research. Later I went to New York and did more. That was called Take L4y Hands, Story of Dr. Mary Vercfuese. That was the first of my books about handicapped people. That has been one area that I have written about. That has sold very well. It has sold more in Germany that it has here. In fact they just brought out another edition. I have been swamped with German books which I can’t read.

 

Dr. Mary was such an interesting person. She- had such a dramatic story. I thought she would make a good story. She went back to India and started a whole new rehabilitation at this hospital. She showed such courage and faith that she made a marvelous person to write about. I had heard a lot about her when I was in England doing Dr. Ida. She went with me to the McGraw-Hill Offices and Dr. Paul Brand went with her. He is the one that has done so much with leprosy. The editors down there were so thrilled with him they wanted me to do his book next. That was how one thing led to another.

 

I went to India again. He [Dr. Paul Brand] was back in India then. This was in 1964. That was when our house burned. So while the part that burned was being rebuilt, I went to India. At least Elwin had people around to visit him everyday [the construction workers]! So, again I was gone in 1964. 1 had a lot of fun doing his research. He was such a dramatic person. He is in this country now. He is very famous in his line. He is retired now. He is about ten years younger than I am. So I did this book called Ten Fingers For God.

 

At the time I wanted to do Dr. Brand’s mother’s story, too. She was also dramatic. She was one of these unusual persons that just stood out. At the time she was way in her eighties and traveling all over the mountains of southern India doing missionary work. She was completely devoted in what she believed. So while I was there in India doing Dr. Brand’s research, he went up into the mountains with me. That was one of the most interesting lectures I have because of all these trips about going up into the mountains with these hairpin turns and all the crazy things we did. We visited two mountains where [Granny Brand] had been working. Then she decided she didn’t want her story written. She didn’t want me to write a book after I got home. She wanted to do it herself. She was afraid I wouldn’t give enough credit to God, [and to] her husband, Jessie, who had died upon the mountains, so that hung fire for quite awhile. She began sending me little squibs and said I could do what I wanted after she was gone. Finally, I did her story, too, which was called Climb Every Mountain. It came out in England first. It talks about these five mountain ranges that she and her

husband had vowed to take the gospel to. She had gone to most of them after he had died. I loved the title. When it was published in this country it was done by Christian Herald. They didn’t like the name of that title because of the Trapp family. They called it Grannv Brand. The Ten Fingers for God did well. It has had quite an interesting light. It was published later by Thomas Nelson, and then later by Zondavon which is much more conservative than I am. Most of the people I wrote about were much more conservative than I am.

 

Paul had published two books which had been very popular with Zondavon. He has been a lecturer and a surgeton and just a marvelous person. He was working with leprosy. He came to Carver, Louisiana which is the leprosy hospital in this country and about the only one in North America. He is retired now, but he was going all over the world in South America, Africa, and giving lectures and teaching people how to do this surgery. He had done these two books.

 

The publishers gave me a contract for Granny. They wanted me to do Granny, too. Then they decided that books about missionaries weren’t doing too well. Publishing is a very difficult thing now. There is very little they will do unless they can make a lot of money the first time the book comes out. They decided they couldn’t get 25,000 copies the first two weeks, so they gave me $1,000 to rescind the contract. Just recently there was a man from the leprosy organization in New Zealand who is very much interested in Paul’s work and irk Granny. They have had it published in the Far East. All I got out of it was one hundred copies of Granny, but if it goes over well I may get a little royalty. That wasn’t my last book on India though.

 

I did another one on Dr. Clara Swain who was the very first Methodist missionary to go to India under the women’s organization. That came out in time for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Methodist Women’s Foreign Missionary Society in 1969. We had a big celebration in Boston about that. Then I got into another way of writing.

 

Just as I was going to India on the fourth trip to get the material on Dr. Clara Swain, I got a phone call from Little Brown in Boston. The editor said, “You’ve done some books on women doctors haven’t you? The Reader’s Digest is anxious for a story of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first woman to get a medical degree.” He asked me if I would be interested in doing it. Yes, I was, but not right off because I was on my way to India. I stopped in Boston on my way to India and signed the contract which later became Lone Woman, the Story of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. I had a lot of fun doing that.

 

The Reader’s Digest was very helpful with that research. I found when I had got to England on my way to India, they had set up a whole train of research. They had hired someone to go all over England to find out what they could find out about Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. She had died in Hastings and was born in Bristol, England. I was later able to visit the house. They said that I didn’t need to do much because they had all this research being done. On my return from India, I did stop in England and do some research there although I didn’t get to Hastings and some of the places I would have liked to.

 

 

I think Lone Woman had more research in it than almost any other that I had done, except for the India books because I had to do a lot of time in Boston where her family papers@ were as well as Washington where more family papers were. I visited Geneva, New York where she had gone to medical school, and Cincinnati where they had traveled after they came to America. I have messes of books and articles that I have accumulated. Later I did a teen- age version of it called, I Will Be a Doctor. It also came out in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books here, in England, and in France. That led to another phase.

 

I found historical women fascinating. The Readers Digest people suggested several. I decided to do one on Bright Eyes who was a very interesting Indian woman of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska. I went to Nebraska for a couple of weeks and stayed in a reservation. Bright Eyes came out. Reader’s Digest gave an option on it.

 

They didn’t take it. One of their comments was that it was too hard on us, which meant the WASP section of American life. It showed all the bad things we had done to the Indians. It was honest. She was a remarkable woman. She had done a lot of lecturing in the East and she came to Portland, Maine once and lectured with Standing Bear. He was the Indian who had been treated so unjustly in his treaties. There is a man out in California right now who is interested in that whole thing. He is trying to put it into a movie. I don’t think he will.

 

Bright Eyes did fairly well, nothing remarkable. That was published by McGraw-Hill. Then I decided to do Dorothea Dix.

 

She was another one that was suggested by Reader’s Digest. I was able to research some of her here because she was born in Hampden. I did a lot of research on her in the Harvard Library. That was brought out under the title of Strariger and Traveler which was taken from a poem which Oliver Wendall Homes wrote in honor of her. That also was considered by Reader’s Digest. It wasn’t taken. I think it was too morbid. There was too much insanity. The things that she discovered in the mental health institutions at that time were just appalling. She traveled all over the United States, all over the world in fact. She revolutionized the treatment of the mentally ill. There is no question about that. It is a good story because she was such a good person.

 

There were two more stories about the handicapped people which came back along. One was the story of Hilary, and some of the people I had met in England and become intimate with. One man in particular who was doing work for the handicapped. He worked with a device which had helped the handicapped do different things. He wanted me to write the story of Hilary who was a very severely handicapped person. She had been helped by this devise, POSM they called it (Patient Operated Selector Mechanisms). She had minasthenia gravis — It is a disease that affects the nerves that affect the voluntary muscles. She

wasn’t able to see, swallow, move or breathe. The only movement she had was in one toe. With this device she was able to operate a typewriter and all sorts of things — really talk to people if they handled the thing right. So I went over to do her story and spent quite a little while visiting a lot of disabled people, different types of disability in England. This device had helped all of them. It was about that as well as about her. Her folks were very interesting, too. I stayed with them for quite a while. I did that for an English publisher.

 

Meanwhile a lot of my other books had gone to different languages. [Hilary] came out finally and I went to England to celebrate its coming out. We had a very interesting concert at the Royal Albert Hall where Hilary came. We had a lot of the books on sale. It was really a POSM concert. We had another time in London in the Oriental Club where Prince Philip came. He was very interested in the disabled. He did everything he could to help them. That was quite a thrill. I got more publicity about that than I did for her book. They had headlines, “Author to meet Prince.” They had that in the Bangor News. That makes about three books on disabilities. I guess we are up to the last phase which has been on president’s women. I have an editor at Christian Herald who went to Doubleday and she wrote and asked me if I would like to write a book about Lincoln’s mother. I thought that would be interesting. I found he had two mothers. The step-mother was just as interesting as the first. I enjoyed that a great deal. I didn’t travel much for it. These last four books I have done almost entirely on research from books. The University [of Maine at Orono] Library has been tremendously helpful because they have shelves of all the presidents. Fortunately, it was accepted by the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. It didn’t go into paperback. I think the reason that I haven’t got into paperbacks is that I had religious editors at Doubleday.

 

Reader’s Digest became very interested in other books about president’s women. They suggested I do one on Martha Washington. For this one I did quite a bit of traveling. I went to Mt. Vernon and stayed a week. I went to Williamsburg. We visited all the places where Martha had lived as a child. She went to Williamsburg at about age fifteen for the first time. I came back to Washington and spent some time there doing research. I did Lady Washington. These books have been quite popular in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books.

 

By this time I had an editor at Reader’s Digest who was very, very helpful. I have had an awful lot of editors, over twenty of them. It seems like there has been one for every book, sometimes a couple of them. At McGraw-Hill I had one for a number of years. This editor was so helpful. She still is. She is at Reader’s Digest. She suggested Dolly Madison. I did that mostly from books. That one was called Queen Dolly. I went down to Reader’s Digest before Queen Dolly came out. They all got together and decided they wanted one on Theodore Roosevelt’s two wives. I got to work on that. That one came out a couple of years ago last November. That was called Alice and Edith. It was also in Reader’s Diqest. That makes five in all that had been in Reader’s Digest.

 

The old Maine doctor — that may be my only claim to immortality. That is the only one left in print. There was this old Dr. Pritham up in Greenville, a crusty old soul. I had heard about him back in the 70’s. These Methodist ministers would bring tales about the things that he had done. I decided he would make a good story. He had worked for sixty-five years around Greenville. He worked in the lumber camps, taking every kind of conveyance you could think of and going far into the woods on foot. He covered 5,000 square miles in his lifetime. The book is still in print because I have kept it so. The Big Little World of Doc Pritham, I called it. He was such an interesting old codger. We went up and spent a month on Wilson Pond. Elwin fished while I was working on it. I went to “fish” for information. We were lucky because he had art old notebook of pages and pages that covered about half of his life with all of these crazy yarns of the things he had done. We sat down with a tape recorder and he would spout away and enlarge on each incident. I came home and wrote that. It was published by McGraw-Hill. After it went out of print with McGraw-Hill, like most of them have, they gave me the plates and the Betts Bookstore in Bangor, which has always handled my books very nicely, brought out an edition, about 2,000 copies. When that was done, we had some more published. It got down to almost nothing again and about a couple of years ago, I had another seven hundred and fifty done. That is now in print, that and Granny.

 

People are always asking me if I am going to write my autobiography. I did that as near as possible when I wrote one for Christian Herald Publishers (they don’t publish anymore) called Twelve Who Cared. I wanted to call that My Dozen Lives because I have a lecture on that. As you write biography, you are living that other life. I have lived at least a dozen lives. So they called it Twelve Who Cared. It told a lot about my own life up to the time when I started writing books. It took up each one of these twelve biographies and told a little of the story of each one and the research that went into them and what has happened to the book since. That has definitely gone out of print along with Bright Eyes and Prince of Egypt. I just have a very few copies. It is sort of discouraging when they go out of print so soon.

 

If you want to write — write! I think it is something you have to keep at. You have to discipline yourself. You have to find something you are tremendously interested in to write about. A lot of people say you should write about just the things you know. I don’t think that is true entirely. I think you can find out about things you don’t know. Look at the things I have done with the books. The research was some of the most interesting parts of it. I do think that people have to keep writing. That is why I feel guilty at the moment.

 

I used to write every morning. I had help with the housework most of the time when we had the children. Often we would have a woman living with us. One of Elwin’s cousins; lived with us for a while. I paid her $5.00 a week. She did the housework. I have had help. I haven’t since we retired. I did all my own work up at the house. I do have a woman now who comes in a couple of hours every other week. I find it difficult to use the heavy vacuum cleaner on the heavy rugs.

 

I used to write every morning. I don’t now. I go to the store, do the washing. I used to keep my writing schedule pretty carefully. I used to write two pages a day which isn’t a lot.

 

When I was doing the first book called, The Brother, I had to do four pages a day because I had to do it in a short time. I usually do two pages a day, and do it in the morning. I haven’t had to do a lot of revision. This editor I had at Reader’s Digest was very good at making suggestions but usually as enlarging or cutting. I usually have it pretty near the way I want it.

 

I have used a card system for almost every book I have written. You Xerox a lot of material in various places; sometimes I have done whole books. When you come to lay it out, of course you have to outline it, and usually almost always with the type of thing I have done, it has been chronological. I tried to start with something exciting at the first; some dramatic episode in their life that would rivet the reader’s attention.

 

Elizabeth Blackwell was a good one. She applied to twenty-eight medical schools before she was accepted because of being a woman. She was accepted at Geneva, New York but it was a mistake. I told that story. I had the exact story of it, and the words, from one of the members of her class who later became a public health man in New York City. They had gotten this letter from a Philadelphia physician recommending her. They didn’t want to take her. They claimed to be a democratic institution so what were they going to do? They put it up to the class. The class thought it would be a grand lark to have a woman. They all voted yes but one. They took him out in the hall and sat on him until he said yes. So, you need a good beginning to get the reader’s attention.

 

I usually go chronologically. Quite a lot of times you can use things from their childhood. I started with the Washington book with her at age fifteen. She was getting ready to go to Williamsburg for the first time. Later she was in Williamsburg and he (George) was riding through, the great hero from his Western trip. She saw him then, and was sorry for him because he looked so sick. There were some really dramatic incidences like when they met, you can get that right in the beginning. You don’t have to manufacture things, you have them right there. Occasionally you have to use a little more imagination. The Reader’s Digest woman said that I was perfectly free to do it in Alice who was Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife. I found out quite a lot about her, though. I used some imagination. You can do it in a biographical novel where you couldn’t do it in a biography. In a strict biography, you have to catalog everything if you use direct quotations; you have to be able to authenticate them.

 

Children

 

Oh, I haven’t mentioned the children. We didn’t have any children of our own. We would have wanted them, of course. We adopted this boy and girl. We got them through the state. I happened to know the woman who was in charge of that sort of thing. We took Harold when he was eighteen months. They both developed very well. There was only two months difference in their ages. They got along very well together. We were in South Portland when we took Joan and in Westbrook when we took Harold. When we moved to Portland, they started junior high there and did three years at Deering [High School]. Then we moved to Orono. Harold and Joan were both very good at music. I played the piano. Harold played the violin, and Joan played the cello. We did a lot of trio playing around when we were in the Portland area. We did here, too, but they were only here about a year together. We enjoyed that.

 

Orono and Student Work

 

We were particularly interested when we came to Orono in doing student work. In fact, that was why we came. We always liked young people’s work in the churches that we had. We came here in 1947 and for three years did student work. That was when I took my first trip to India in 1949. At that time the Methodist had what they called the Wesley Foundation which was connected with the local church and yet it was the university Methodist students. We used the $7,500 prize money that I got from Prince of Egypt to buy the house up here and made a student center out of it. That is where we did all of our work except what we did up to the university. I call that the house that Moses built.

 

The students used to come every Sunday night and we would have suppers, etc. In 1950 when they started the Maine Christian Association, all the denominations combined to hire a director. Elwin had been so interested in this and had done so well in it that some people wanted him to take that. So we went up there and for five years he was the first director of what is now called the Maine Christian Association. They have just changed the name of it to the Wilson Center in his honor because the Maine Christian Association (MCA) stands too much for the Maine Center for the Arts (MCA). The two got confused. We enjoyed that five years as much as anything we had done. We made the basement over into a student center. We used to put on a supper for students every Friday night. You couldn’t do it now. You couldn’t get the students like we did then. We used to have anywhere from thirty to sixty students. At that time they had a Sunday morning service on campus which took two hundred to two hundred fifty then. They don’t do that now either.

 

After the five years, Elwin went on to what, at that time was called the Bangor district, which had about ninety churches up in this section, just like the Portland district. We did those for six years. I did a lot of writing when we were riding around in the car. We lived in Bangor for those six years. He retired in 1963. He had an interim appointment here [in Orono] for two years, so we were able to come back to Orono in 1961, and we bought a house up on Forest Avenue, and lived there for twenty- eight years until we moved in here.

 

Managing the Relationship: Dorothy and Elwin

 

Elwin and I have always been very, very strongly in agreement on almost everything. I think the only times we had quarreling was in disciplining the children. Elwin has always been so extremely cooperative in supporting me in everything I wanted to do. He is a very unselfish person as you would gather.

 

We have always been very saving. We were both brought up that way. Even now we are saving. We have had two camps which we enjoyed very much. One of them was down on Little Sebago when we had the children. They grew up down there on the sand beach. Later when Elwin was on the district up here we built a log cabin up on Lake Sysladobsis near Lee, actually in Springfield. We gave that to Elwin’s nephew who lives in Lincoln.

 

We started to save when we didn’t have much.   We went through the Depression. We were in Westbrook when he had his salary cut from $2,000 to $1,500. At that time I was getting $35.00 for a play occasionally. I remember once writing to the Baker Company in Boston, who published my plays, trying to get: $35.00 so we could pay our coal bill in the winter.

 

[Now] Elwin gets $1,072 every month from an investment we made. We put $1,000 into an annuity. He claims that is all he gets. As a matter of fact, we live on his pension and social security. He doesn’t realize that at all. He doesn’t realize that we have saved all this money that I have been able to make, so that we are comfortably situated at the moment. Money could have been a problem. He had to pay all the bills and the rest of it was mine. What I earned was mine. We decided to lump everything. That was during the Depression years. That was a saving grace. That is the way it should be.

 

Until very recently Elwin has handled all the finances. He may have been a better accountant than he was a minister in some ways. Since we have moved here he has done a lot of financial work for the church. He isn’t able to now. I handle it all. I do all the financial work now.

Reflections on Current Life

 

My children do not live close. Harold died. He was a psychiatric social worker. He did very well. He died very suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was down in York County. He lived in Indiana for a while. He married a girl from Iowa. She lives downstate now. He had four children. Our daughter, Joan, is now in Florida. She has four children, too. We have about seven grandchildren and a lot of great grandchildren. One of them was coming up with her three children last Saturday, but they were sick and couldn’t come. She lives in Freeport. She is the only one that lives near. We haven’t seen our daughter in quite a little while — two or three years.

 

For the past eleven years I have played the organ at church for the first service. I took up the organ again when they got the new pipe organ. I didn’t like the electric too well. I began taking lessons several years ago from Alice 1jamay. She was from the university. I substitute at other services. I joined the American Guild of Organists.

 

All my things will go to Westbrook College eventually to the Maine Women Writers Collection. I have the honorary doctorate of letters and others. One was 1947 from Bates [College]. In 1945 Gladys [Hasty Carroll] got hers; 1946 Erwin Connon got his, and in 1947 I got mine. You have to wait twenty years before you get it. The University of Maine gave me one in 1984 [a doctorate of humane letters).

 

I wish more of the books had stayed in print. I always feel guilty because I am not writing at the present time, but just taking it easy. Everybody asks me if I am writing anything.

 

That makes me feel guilty. I have collected a lot of books. I don’t have an editor at the moment. I have an agent. I had an agent long ago and I have just acquired another one. He doesn’t seem to be able to do much for me. The publishing business is very tricky now. Doubleday, for instance, is owned by a West German company. Some are under one head with this Australian fellow who has bought up so much. I don’t know what company I would go with.

 

I did make over one of the books, the Washington book on Martha Washington, into a book for teenagers. The agent has been trying to sell that. Unfortunately, surprisingly to me, the reaction of publishers seems [to be] that you can’t introduce any dialogue or any drama for high school students. I think that is the craziest thing. In order to stick as closely as you can with facts, you have to manufacture a little dialogue and certainly you have to dramatize things. I can’t understand it. I guess they want strict biography rather than biographical novels. I’m still hoping. If they did [want me to write one for teenagers], I would do the Lincoln one over, too, into a teen-ager and use just the stepmother. Mother for Abe would make a wonderful title. I would like to do that. I don’t want to tackle it until I find they can do something with the Washington one. The editor there said that that is what he liked best about my books was the dramatization of them. He liked how I would get into the skin of the person and the way they would think and act and talk. That is what I have always tried to do. You can manufacture a little dialogue, but you have to have it true to life. I think that is what is appealing in most of my books. Some of them have gone into a lot of foreign translations. Some of them are still printed in Germany. Not many of them are still in print in this country.

 

I wish I had more of {an inner strength] than I have. I can see my weakness there. I don’t think of myself as an especially spiritual person. I would like to be. Maybe I used to be more when I was young, when I believed everything, before I had any doubts. I have done so much research, biblical research for instance, I have become more liberal. I suppose one has an inner strength. I don’t know what you’d call it. I hope it isn’t pride. It could be.

 

Now I am trying to get by in as good health as I possibly can. I have a lot of physical difficulties. I have a pinched nerve that causes back trouble. I thought a year ago that I would have to have surgery, but I have gotten along. You don’t know what surgery would do. It may not even cure anything. I have an arthritic shoulder that I thought might spoil my organ playing, but know I can do it all right. I just go from one day to another. I hope I will stay well enough and strong enough to take care of Elwin as long as he needs me. That is about the only ambition that I have at the moment.

 

I am not too optimistic on [where the world –is going]. I see too much conflict. I don’t like our foreign policy. I became very much disturbed when I was in the Middle East. On my way home from India the first time, I stopped in the Middle East for a month. I went to Egypt and Palestine. I have written a lot

 

about Palestine. I became very much concerned about the refugee problem. That is one of my big concerns now,

 

I think we are too much military. We try to do everything by force. I think all this hoopla after the war is absolutely destructive. I don’t think we are accomplishing anything in peace in the Middle East. It is going to be worse than it was before. I don’t feel there can ever be peace or anything at all until the Palestines are given justice in some way. We have done just as bad things in other things as Iraq did. Look at us going into Mexico, our foreign policy in Latin America is terrible now. Also look at Israel going in and taking three quarters of Jordan. We didn’t say a thing about it, but as soon as Iraq goes into a little bit of a country which they felt belonged to them, we have to do something about it.

 

I am not at all optimistic about the future. I think Congress is a mess. The whole matter of PAC’s and the military industrial complex which Eisenhower warned us against is in power now.

 

There is no question about it.

 

I think they [younger generations] should get stirred up and do something about it. They don’t seem to. I don’t think there is so much reaction as there was back in the 60’s. Maybe it will come to it.

 

I suppose most of my ambitions have been around my writing. Right now I am involved in a lot of movements which involve social action. I try to give quite a lot to them. I get a lot in the mail. I do feel a loyalty to a lot of these things, world peace particularly. We have a group up in the church of people who agree with me on many things, a peace group. They have tried to bring people over from the Soviet Union and have reaction back-and-forth. There is a town over there that we are especially interested in. We had a big group come over this last year. I am involved in a lot of things like that. I do a lot of church work.

 

I think most everything has been just the way we would do it again. I suppose the crucial decisions were running off to India and leaving my husband. He was the one that made the crucial decision in letting me go. Whatever I have done has been his accomplishment just as much as mine. When you think about going away on four different times, for six months at a time, once, and two to three weeks at a time, at other times, and traveling all over the country, it hasn’t been very fair to him.

 

I guess I haven’t sowed too many wild oats. Like I said, I was always a prude so that is more or less a characteristic of adulthood. I was brought up too proper. I think I have always been an adult. I sowed a lot more [wild oats] since then.

 

Advertisements