University of Delaware Library

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Avocational Efforts - Amateur Memories

...Ladies of my age often have trouble falling to sleep, and they try counting
sheep, or taking Sominex. I think counting the kind people one has known would
be more soothing and worthwhile!
- Louise S. Johnson, 1975

Autobiographical efforts, and successful ones at that, are not confined to professional writers. Retirement often provides the time for projects such as life review, as is the case with most of the individual recollections presented here. George Messersmith was fully aware of the historical importance of his prominent diplomatic role in pre-World War II Germany and Austria and planned a memoir, which he unfortunately never completed. At the urging of her daughter, the aging photographer Gertrude Kasebier collected a few random memories which her daughter later used for a biographical sketch. Wanda Larsen and Louise Johnson are comparatively unknown individuals, but they both managed to complete their autobiographical projects. Johnson's memories are presented in a flowing stream-of-consciousness, but Larsen's carefully developed narrative is a detailed chronology recalled from events which evidently made lasting impressions. Her self story is about proud identification with her Polish-American heritage, and it also bears witness to great love for the husband who supported her in life work toward a personal goal. Larsen and the other "amateurs" here appreciated their lives enough to remember them, and to record those memories.

Wanda Larsen's Dear and Not So Dear Memories Wanda Blazejowska Larsen, 1910- .
Dear and Not So Dear Memories, 1995-1996.
Typescript (515 pp.)
from Wanda Larsen papers

Wanda Blazejowska was born in a fourth-floor apartment on East 8th Street in lower East Side Manhattan. Her immigrant parents named her for the legendary heroine of Poland and gave her the cultural heritage of which she would be so proud throughout her life. The Blazejowskis also gave their daughter a strong work ethic and desire for self improvement. In order to help support her family, at age sixteen Larsen began working as an armature winder at Diehl Manufacturing Co., a job she held for the next twenty-one years. Due to the shortage of men during the war years, she was able to move from the factory into an "office job" as a draftswoman in the engineering department at Diehl. There, she met Lou Larsen, whom she married in 1945. When the couple relocated to Newark, Delaware, Mrs. Larsen was able to achieve a lifetime goal of completing her education. At age sixty-three, she received her B.S. in elementary education from the University of Delaware. Wanda Larsen's memories are testament to her life as a work in progress, set against details of the century's progress. She began writing about her life experiences for classes at the University of Delaware and continues to revise and add chapters.

Louise S. (Louise Staton) Johnson, 1882-1977.
A Narration of Many Memories, Several Detours, and a Few Thoughts, June 1975.
Typescript (copy) (177 pp.)
from Louise Staton and Everett C. Johnson papers

Louise Johnson, young & old
The detours taken in Louise Johnson's life were necessary to maintain her livelihood after the death of her beloved husband, Everett C. Johnson. It was not unusual for a woman of her generation to play the role of helpmate to her husband's career, but when he died at the early age of forty-eight, she was left to her own devices for survival. She was born Louise Staton, daughter of the pastor of the Welsh Tract Primitive Baptist Church near Newark, Delaware. She moved into town after her 1902 marriage to Everett Johnson, and assisted him in his endeavors as a Craftsman-inspired publisher/printer of the Newark Post who also produced limited editions from his Press of Kells. Louise Johnson held onto the Newark Post until 1935, but left Newark in 1928 for a string of jobs to support herself and her daughter Marjorie. In 1929, she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for two terms on the staff of United States Senator from Delaware John G. Townsend, Jr., and four additional years at the Commerce Department. Johnson's memoir is valuable for its recollection of small town history of Newark, and for the circuitous story of a woman working through the Depression and war years of the 1940s. She returned to Newark, where she retired, and completed her narration two years before her death.

Gertrude Kasebier Gertrude Kasebier, 1852-1934.
Autobiographical notes [n.d.]
Typescript (27 pp.)
from Gertrude Kasebier papers

Pictorial photographer Gertrude Kasebier got a late start on her distinguished career, pursuing art and photography against the wishes of her husband. Early exhibits of her photography at the Pratt Institute (1897) and the New York Camera Club (1899) brought her recognition and the admiration of Alfred Stieglitz, and in 1902 she became a founding member of the Photo-Secession movement. A glimpse of the crusty, determined personality which enabled her to pursue photography is available in the "autobiographical notes" she composed late in life.

George S. (George Strausser) Messersmith, 1883-1960.
Scope of Memoirs [1955]
Typescript with holograph corrections (19 pp.)

Subject: Memorandum to myself - on the purpose, usefulness, and desirability of making use in print of these notes which I am dictating, March 20, 1955
Typescript with holograph corrections (4 pp.)

Subject: Conversations with Edward after his abdication [1955]
Typescript with holograph corrections (15 pp.)
from George Messersmith papers

George Messersmith
Delawarean George Messersmith retired from the Foreign Service in 1947, returning to live in Mexico where he had served as Ambassador from 1941-1946. In 1955, in memoranda to himself, he debated the project of writing his memoirs, or at least publishing letters from his distinguished diplomatic career. Messersmith recalled that in mid-1944, President Roosevelt had encouraged him to publish the important consular dispatches he had written from Berlin and Vienna during the period 1933 - 1937: "He said that the situation was such that we could look forward to the end of the war, when it would be necessary in order that mistakes were not made, that there be adequate and full background of what had brought about the war in which we were then engaged, so as to prevent a repetition of such a serious catastrophe." Messersmith argued that much of the reports would need to be excised at that time, and the President regretfully accepted his postponement, "George, I quite understand. Too many asterisks still." Until his death in 1960, Messersmith dictated to himself reminiscences of significant events and made some effort to put his papers in order. But a publication never materialized, so researchers are left with the memoranda of his memories and the detailed, important dispatches "Wordy George" (as he was known at the State Department) sent home to Washington.

Reminiscences of Wilmington... M.C.L. Worrel.
Reminiscences of Wilmington, 1880s.
Holograph manuscript (22 leaves)
from Diaries, Journals, Ships' Logs

Worrel's reminiscences describe Wilmington, Delaware, block-by-block as she remembered it to be "in the past time, in 1815 and the '20s." She includes residents, houses (often telling who built them and who lived there previously), and businesses. Ferris, Canby, Gilpin, Latimer, Grubb, Mendenhall, Richardson, Griffin -- all the old families appear. In addition, Worrel provides lists of her classmates at the Friends School, 1817-1820, and members of the Wilmington Meeting, recalled by their seating order in the pews. As if to answer the question of why she might bother with such detailed recollections, Worrel defended her writing, "These notes are taken for my own interest to remember them." She was quite wrong when she added, "Alas, they will not be appreciated by those who scarce ever heard of their existence."

Grace Lloyd Walsh, 1896?-1992.
Mrs. Trobridge Marshall, February 25, 1990.
Typescript (3 pp.)
from Grace Lloyd Walsh papers

Mrs. Trobridge Marshall
Grace Lloyd Collins opened the Green Lantern Studio in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1925. Her shop specialized in fine gifts, such as silver, crystal, and china. Part of her success came from exclusive area distribution rights to a number of fine china lines, including Spode and Wedgwood. In 1938, she was the sole distributor of the Wilmington Tercentenary commemorative plates made by Spode of England. Mrs. Walsh proved to be an effective businesswoman with a keen appreciation for advertising and promotional strategies. She used social registers for contacts, newsletters to reach customers, and the store was one of the first shops in Wilmington to feature a bridal registry. After marriage to her second husband, her store became known as "Lloyd-Walsh."

Among other creative hobbies of self expression, Mrs. Walsh dabbled in writing. "Mrs. Trobridge Marshall," a short autobiographical piece, follows the thoughts of a shop-owner musing over the success of her business and the elite social status of her customers. Grace Walsh sought the assistance of her friend, the author Hortense Calisher, in trying to get this story published.

Charlotte Shedd, 1913- .
Thank you, America, 1996.
Typescript (849 pp.)
from Charlotte Shedd papers

Born in 1913 in Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, Charlotte Kraus was a graduate of the operetta class of Franz von Perfall of the New Vienna Conservatory and also studied under Otto Preminger at the Reinhardt Seminar. She pursued a career in the performing arts until the 1938 Nazi occupation of Austria and application of the Nuremberg Race Laws denied her any opportunity to appear on stage. Her status as a daughter of a Misch Ehe (mixed marriage; i.e. her mother was "Aryan" and her father, though a Christian, had a Jewish background) meant that she was not a pure Aryan and could not perform in public. On Christmas Eve, 1938, one week before expiration of her Austrian passport, Charlotte Kraus immigrated to America. She arrived in Miami with twenty dollars and promise of employment as a nanny, but fortuitously met the internationally known singer Hildegarde von Sell, who helped arrange auditions and engagements at clubs in Miami hotels. After a few months, another serendipitous meeting led to Kraus's ride to New York City in the Cadillac of Earl Miller, Eleanor Roosevelt's bodyguard. Four months after arriving in America, Charlotte Kraus gave a recital before the Danish Crown Prince at Hyde Park and was warmly embraced in a friendship with the First Lady which lasted until Mrs. Roosevelt's death in 1962.

Kraus struggled with her singing career until her marriage to Clifford Shedd, after which they settled in Wilmington, Delaware. There, she found success as a radio personality with four programs, both AM and FM, on station WDEL. In addition to hosting classical music programs, Shedd was well known for her daily "Vignettes," interviews with local, national, and international personalities. Her international travels (toting a forty-pound tape recorder), performing experiences, and introductions via Mrs. Roosevelt led to interviews with everyone from Gloria Swanson to King Olaf of Norway. Charlotte Shedd received numerous awards, several of which recognized her dedication to the American principle of freedom. Mrs. Shedd often editorialized about the liberties of America, speaking with conviction from having lost personal freedoms in Nazi-occupied Austria. Thank you, America is Shedd's autobiographical appreciation of overcoming immigrant hardships and finding opportunities in her adopted country.

Considering self works Creating self works Living & learning Domestic diaries
Business & adventure War diaries Keepsakes Word & deed
Inner journeys Travel diaries Professional writers Avocational efforts

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