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Yale 62

“Refound” Family Photos from 50 and 100 years ago

By Bill Stott

Thanks to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and cousin Alex Tucker, family archivist, here are pictures precious to me.

From the Met, two Walker Evans Polaroid portraits taken at Jane and my Westlake home in April 1974. Before he took the pictures Walker commanded each of us, “Look sad!”

Jane

Bill

From Alex, we have all the following pictures. First, this great image of my sister Missy and my parents, Bill and Jane Stott (the first), and Lela and Spence Merrell (Spence was my mother’s oldest brother), and Mother’s niece, Julie Tucker, and her family in the early 1960s in the redone (with the pecky cypress paneling then fashionable) basement of our Scarsdale, NY, home.

Dad, at ease at left in loafers, white socks, and his high 40s, chats with young Mark Tucker on Lela’s lap. Mother, her vaguely Asian face radiant, sits between Lela and Spence, visiting from St. Louis. Debbie Tucker sits on her mother’s lap, while Julie looks with pointed adoration at her smug husband, Howard-called-Tuck. (Sister Missy and I were away at college.)

We hop backwards now to, I believe, spring school vacation 1947, when my parents, Missy, and I visited Washington, D.C., and stayed in the Georgetown house Mom’s middle brother, George (link to Wikipedia article on him, but the third paragraph under “Career” is confused), had rented for a couple of weeks while on home leave from India where he had been the highest ranking U.S. diplomat during WWII, and while preparing to go to Ethiopia as ambassador. While in Georgetown, Mom, Missy, and I spent the day with her youngest brother, Mark, and his wife, Marion (Wikipedia), in McLean, VA. Mark, who worked for the Food and Drug Administration, and, later, having left the government in the years of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s slandering, was a successful McLean land developer, took this picture of Julie, Missy, and me in the back of his pickup truck.

Disclosure: I suggested to an editor of the fledgling American National Biography that Marion should be included; he agreed and commissioned me to write her entry. I don’t expect you will care to read it, but it’s two paragraphs below the final picture, which is of Mother and her siblings and Lela in the ’20s.

From the left: Mark Merrell, his younger sister Ruth (called Foofie, because, as a toddler, I couldn’t pronounce “r” and “Ruthie” came out “Fooey”; everyone prefer Foofie to Fooey, especially Foofie, who disliked the name Ruth), George, Mother (two years younger than Foofie, and the baby of the family), Lela and Spence.

“They are altogether otherworldly now” (Robert Lowell’s line about his parents). Deb and Mark Tucker, Missy and I now “take their place as our place will be taken” (Randall Jarrell’s words).

Love to all, Bill

William Stott, Marion Merrell (“Clinch Calkins”), American National Biography

Merrell, Marion (July 15, 1895 – Dec. 26, 1968), a poet, polemicist, and novelist who wrote under the name Clinch Calkins, was born in Evansville, Wisconsin, the daughter of Judson Wells Calkins, the liberal owner of a general store, and Julia Clinch, a lover of music and literature.

Calkins graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1918, packed artillery shells in a Milwaukee plant, and then returned to Madison to teach in the University’s English and art history departments and do social work. She submitted a poem, “I Was a Maiden,” to an annual competition in The Nation, a favorite magazine in her parents’ house. Shortly thereafter the magazine’s editor, Oswald Garrison Villard, traveled to Wisconsin to tell Calkins her poem had won first prize but couldn’t be published because it was so “advanced” it would cost the magazine its mailing privileges. The poem was given third prize, not printed, and, Calkins recalled, “The Nation, after that, discontinued its poetry contest.” “I Was a Maiden” was published in Calkins’ first book, Poems, published by A.A. Knopf in 1928. The lines that were too advanced for The Nation: “My lover holds me in his close embrace / And all his members with mine tightly lace / And he has died and I will bear his son. / I’ll name him after love, Corruption!”

Her greatest success, however, came in a work of social criticism. With funding and 300 case histories from the National Federation of Settlements, she wrote Some Folks Won’t Work (1930), a book documenting what happens to people who lose their jobs. The book appeared less than a year after the 1929 Crash, was reviewed on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, and became both a bestseller and, in a real sense, the first book of the Depression. Marquis Childs said the book would touch the heart of the most complacent Babbitt. Paul Douglas wrote: “I am a statistician and I pride myself on being tough-minded, but these stories left me weak with the anguish which always comes from seeing brave souls struggling with impersonal fate. . . . I can only wish that every comfortable family may take the occasion to read this book.”

Calkins’ book brought her to the attention of Harry Hopkins, Franklin Roosevelt’s right-hand man. When the New Deal began in 1933, Hopkins invited her to join his Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Calkins traveled the country reporting on economic conditions and sometimes ghostwrote for Hopkins; his Spending to Save: The Complete Story of Relief (1936) has many echoes of Some Folks Won’t Work because they come from the same pen.

In 1936, the Senate voted to look into whether workers trying to organize labor unions were being denied their Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly. The investigation by Senator Robert La Follette’s Civil Liberties Committee drew more attention than any Congressional inquiry since that into the Teapot Dome scandal. Calkins, seconded to the committee’s staff, reported what she heard and saw in Spy Overhead (1937, 1971), the first book to examine industrial espionage.

Calkins and her husband, Mark Merrell, who headed the drug industry division of the National Recovery Administration (NRA), socialized with many important New Dealers. One of them, A.A. Berle, later wrote, “I think she kept many of us healthy and sane through those years. . . . For her, there were neither high nor humble — merely men and women appreciated and esteemed for their qualities, the best of which she evoked.” She was especially close to Henry Alsberg, the Director of the Federal Writers’ Project, and his second-in-command, her fellow Wisconsin alumnus Clair Laning; the night Alsberg was ignominiously fired he sought refuge in a party at the Merrells’.

In 1939, while caring for her young daughter, Julia, Calkins wrote a verse drama, “State Occasion,” about the rise of an American fascist. In 1943 the Broadway producer Lee Simonson complained in print that he hadn’t anything he wanted to produce. Calkins sent him her play, and Simonson optioned it. He finally decided the play’s time had passed, and “State Occasion” was produced at Catholic University, with Alan Schneider directing and Ed McMahon in a small role.

After World War II, Calkins devoted many years to preparing a biography of Marconi with the inventor’s daughter, Degna. The biography appeared in 1962, but by that time Calkins had withdrawn from the project. While continuing to write poetry, some of which appeared in Botteghe Oscure and her second book of poems, Strife of Love in a Dream (1965), she turned to prose fiction. Lady on the Hunt, a satire on the fox-hunting set, appeared to mixed reviews in 1950. Two years later, she published Calendar of Love, a portrait of two Washington couples’ lives against the public turmoil of the previous thirty years. The reviews this time were more positive; Paul Pickrel in The Yale Review commended the book for its “sense of life responsibly lived.” Particularly praised was Calkins’ journalistic rendering of little-known aspects of the New Deal, notably, as one reviewer put it, “the borning and squalling days of the NRA.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Marion Merrell’s archive is still in her family’s possession. [I think they are now in the Georgetown University library.] The National Cyclopedia of American Biography (vol. 54) has a brief biography and large photograph. Informative obituaries appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Profiles of her appeared in the Milwaukee Journal (10/5/52) and the Washington Sunday Star (12/14/52). Her most important book, Some Folks Won’t Work, is discussed in William Stott’s Documentary Expression and Thirties America (1973, 1986).

 
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