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Father expresses his fears and concerns to youngest daughter.
By Sue Curry Jones
In many ways, our day-to-day lifestyles are drastically different from the ways of the early 1900s. Our mode of living is much easier, and more modern.
During those early years, news items were just starting to travel quickly across the United States via radio broadcasts. In 1925, Calvin Coolidge was the first president to have his inauguration on radio. It was also in the early to mid-1920s that the Chrysler Corporation was founded by Walter Percy Chrysler, and airlines started transporting passengers, and serving as transport for freight and mail, and serving nations around the world. And, in 1925, a Willys Overland automobile with 6 cylinders cost $985.
In comparison, the lifestyles are different.
But, after reading the following letter penned in 1921, it seemed apparent the frame of mind –– the attitudes and concerns –– really haven’t changed over the years. Except for the formal writing style, the letter below could be talking about current economic conditions and present day fears and concerns as the words mirror many of the hardships faced today.
The letter is from a father to his daughter, and as we view their world in 1921 through this father’s eyes, it seems apparent that ‘some things never change’.
The correspondence was penned by J.S. Mercer, an educator, who for many years lived in Ava. Mercer was a professor and administrator at the Douglas County Normal, and he wrote the letter to his youngest daughter, Minnie. Mercer was the father of 10 children, three girls and seven boys, and he was one of the first administrators at the Douglas County Normal School.
In the August 1, 1889 edition of the Douglas County Herald, Prof. J.S. Mercer is mentioned in the local news section announcing that the regular term at the Douglas County Normal School will commence the first of the week. The article reads:
On Mon. the 5th, Prof. J.S. Mercer will commence the 1st term of the Douglas Co. Normal School of Ava, Mo. Prof. Mercer is an able and experienced teacher and will undoubtedly give the city of Ava a first class Normal School of which Douglas County can be proud and which will be of great advantage to the young ladies and gentlemen of Douglas and surrounding counties who are preparing themselves for the responsible position of teachers of public schools. As only a nominal tuition fee will be charged for pupils who are non-residents of this district. This will enable people of limited means to give their children the advantages of an education in the higher branches, thus fitting them for any position in life and at the same time encourage home enterprise.
August 15, 1889, another article in the Herald reports:
The Douglas County Normal School of Ava, under the supervision of Prof. Mercer, as principal, and Prof. Z. Roberts, as assistant, is making fine progress. There are something over one-hundred and twenty scholars in attendance, and both parents and scholars seem to be very interested, and the scholars are rapidly advancing in their studies.
The following is the letter Prof. Mercer wrote to his daughter. One of the dates on the letter is Nov. 16, 1921; however, a post script at the end is dated Nov. 19, 1932.
Except for breaking the text into paragraphs, the content, spelling and style have not been edited.
Dear Little Minnie:
We rec’d your kind and interesting letter, and are glad to know that you are brave enough to breast the coming storm. Just rec’d a letter from your Gem. He is now on a 5-day week of employment.
There are now admittedly 12 million of the unemployed, and their ranks are growing from day to day, in spite of the vast numbers which claim to be giving employment. We doubt not that there will be 15 million jobless persons by the 1st day of March. But why should such things be? There is an abundance, and to spare for everyone living in the United States.
There is, therefore, no excuse for want and starvation in a country so blessed with plenty as is our own. The storehouses of our land are bursting with abundance. We possess an unlimited supply of raw material, and machinery, better than which, is to be found nowhere on this broad and bounteous earth. We remain ready willing souls anxious for an opportunity to convert the raw material into finished products of useful articles to bless the human family and beautify God’s glorious earth.
Everywhere we hear the following cries: starvation in the midst of plenty; shivering children, with rich warm raiments all around; empty houses for rent; while men women, and helpless children are weeping shelterless.
It seems evident to all thinking persons that it is the imperative duty of our chosen leaders, under the constitutional “Law of Eminant Domain” to speak the magic words of reason and understanding which will call into requisition the spontaneous activity of every idle mill and mind every unoperated factory and legal industry throughout the realm to a renewed and ever accelerated productivity of those useful land necessary things which gladdens the heart and quicken the human affections.
This is that one hundred per cent “American Efficiency” of which our fellow countrymen are prone to boast; but of which they are too timid, fearful land vacillating to boldly and reliantly put into operation. It is this want of stamina on the part of our chosen rulers that has stagnated, polluted, and contaminated the business of our once glorious country and reduced us to a nation of lunatics, imbeciles and (abject) abjust paupers.
We are in utter despair because the great Solons of our country know not what disposition to make of the boundless and unlimited blessing, both visible and invisible, which our tender loving heavenly Father is thrusting upon us.
All which is prima facia evidence that we are no descendents of the Monkeys. They refute the insult. We are therefore, the degenerate sons of noble sires, and it behoves us then to humble ourselves, make restitution, and implore forgivness for our multitude of transgressions.
We have planted 38 acres of black walnuts 15 feet apart. If put in one line 30 ft. apart, they would extend 20 miles beyond Springfield. Some of them will begin to bear a few nuts in 6 years from next Spring. Where will we be then?
The tone of Mercer’s concerns are similar to the concerns we express today. The worries and anxieties Mercer expressed to his daughter, are very much akin to the anxieties and fears of present day parents –– unemployment, excessive spending, debt, lack of food, shelter, natural resources, and the direction of our nation.
As an administrator in Ava, it appears Mercer established a good foundation for a longstanding career in the field of education. For in the Nov. 21, 1889 issue of the Herald, it states:
The Ava Normal School, under the government of Prof. J.S. Mercer and Miss Maggie Wyatt, is progressing finely and is the best school Ava ever had. Our citizens should do all that is in their power to assist the Professor in building up a good school here, as there is nothing that speaks better for a community than good schools and church houses. Put your shoulder to the wheel and help build up our town and county.
On Dec. 5, 1889, Prof. Mercer was called to his home in Taney County to attend to the illness of his wife. During his first administrative years in Ava, Mercer and his family didn’t reside in Douglas County, and in those early years, that mindset was fairly common for teachers and students as well.
However, approximately one year later, in Oct. 1890, Mercer purchased the Ritter place in Ava. The location of the home was given as – quarter north northeast of town.
Mercer and his family moved into the home on Nov. 20, 1890.
After several years, the family left Ava for Missoula, Montana, and then later moved to San Diego. According to the family, Mercer completed a successful career in the field of education.
Little else is known about the letter or circumstances surrounding the family at that time the letter was written. However, it is interesting, and does give pause to the fact the letter is a mirror image of the concerns discussed today –– but, almost a century later.
So, how do we explain this letter from the past that firmly echoes the protests of today?
Do we find the answer in an adage like – history repeats itself, or the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or, perhaps these ideas cycle and re-cycle like fashions, and “the old becomes new again”.
Or, maybe there’s truth to be found in that everyday expression – some things never change. Haven’t you nodded your head in agreement to the phrase? Possibly, many times without much thought.
It just seems to fit.
But, upon reading the words from Prof. Mercer’s letter, “it behooves us then to humble ourselves, make restitution, and implore forgiveness for our multitude of transgressions”.
Maybe we should pause and give it just a little more thought, and put the age-old expressions aside.
Note: J. S. Mercer’s letter to his daughter Minnie was found among family papers several years ago. Prof. Mercer is the great-grandfather of Durbin Potter, of California, who provided the letter to the Herald.