Mary Emily Howsmon Hay

recollections by her son William Perry Hay (1871-1947)

My mother was born on a farm near Lexington, McLean Co., Illinois, April 20, 1849. Her parents with several older children had come to Illinois from London, Ohio, some years previously but were still living in the log house which they found on the farm when they bought it. The nearest city was Bloomington, some 8 or 9 miles away and at that time not much more than a good sized village.

She was the sixth child in a family of nine all of whom lived to maturity and all but one of whom she survived. She attended the country school and helped about the home until about the time of the Civil War, possibly not until after the war, when the family removed to Eureka in order that the children might attend college. My grandfather by that time had become fairly well-to-do and bought a good home in the middle of the village about two blocks from Eureka College.

My mother attended college about two years, then taught school for a year or two and then married Oliver Perry Hay on the evening of the day he graduated and with neither he nor she having the faintest idea of how they would make a living. Their only plan was that they would find some place where they could both teach school.

They started off together to visit my fatherís people, who still tell how much they liked the young bride, and then returned to Eureka where my father took up the job of trying to sell stock in the college. In the fall, the Professor of Science in the college died suddenly and my father was able to succeed him.

The young couple then settled down in the old house of my mother, her people having returned to the farm, and here, about 2 years later, I was born.

When I was about 1 ½ years old a move was made to Neelyville, or rather Morgan City, Ills., where my oldest sister was born. I think the next place my father taught in was Gent (sic), Kentucky, where he remained only one year and from which he went to Oskaloosa, Iowa. My youngest sister was born in Oskaloosa, where we remained two years.

In the fall of 1876 we went to New Haven, Conn. where we lived a year while my father was doing post-graduate work at Yale University. Then back to Illinois, where for two years my father served as Prof. Of Science in Abingdon College. From Abingdon we went to Irvington, Ind., where we remained some 12 or 13 years and where, in 1882, my brother was born.

My earliest recollections of my mother go back to our years in Oskaloosa but only as some one who was always about and caring for us. The earliest mental picture that I have of her does not go further back than to the early years in Indiana. She then was about 35 years old and I remember that I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And she was beautiful: slender, beautifully formed with a fine complextion, dark brown hair and dancing brown eyes Ė dark brown that appeared almost black. My father was extremely proud of her and the affection they had for each other is one of my most happy memories.

She was a wonderful housekeeper. No matter how low the family funds might be, and they were chronically low, her skillful management always provided good and wholesome meals, well cooked and nicely served. She was never idle; she made practically all our clothing, knitted our stocking and mittens, kept the house neat and clean and still found time to attend church regularly and participate in the church aid and missionary societies. During a part of the time we were in Irvington, we kept several cows and the caring for the milk and the making of butter was also our motherís job. Fortunately we had very little sickness in the family and none of us met with any accident. In 1881 or 1882 my father had a severe case of pneumonia and with the assistance of a woman who she was able to hire, mother nursed him through it. We children were old enough to look after ourselves and perhaps did help a little but mother saw to it that the home was kept running and that we children kept on at school. In all these years I can remember but one occasion when my mother was ill enough to have to go to bed.

In 1892 my father left Butler University and went to Chicago where for a time he taught in the high schools. By that time I had left home for Washington so my mother and sisters spent the balance of 1892 and the spring of '93 by themselves. Then they also went to Chicago where for about four years there was a struggle to make ends meet while my two sisters were going through Chicago University. For a part of this time my father was out of work, no money was coming in and had it not been for the superb managing that mother was capable of the results might have been disastrous.

In 1896 or thereabouts, my parents came to Washington where, for a time, father got remunerative work in the Geological Survey and the U. S. National Museum, but for several years the family income was reduced almost to the vanishing point. I helped out with my salary and both my sisters were by that time self supporting so we were able to pull through. A few years afterward all my contributions above my board and room rent were repaid to me. It was mother who kept the family well and happy.

In 1900 my father secured a position in the American Museum of Natural History and he, mother and my brother moved to New York. I think that mother was very happy in New York. She made friends easily and it was not long before she had a wide circle of acquaintances among the wives of fatherís associates in the Museum. Fatherís work called for quite a little traveling and on some of his more extended trips mother accompanied him. They spent one summer in Europe and made a protracted trip through the western states to California. Mother enjoyed these trips immensely.

In 1910 or thereabouts they returned to Washington where they purchased the property at 1211 Harvard St., N.W. in which they lived for the balance of their lives. On the whole, I think that mother was happy in this home also. Fatherís work was more exacting and such traveling as he did did not offer many opportunities for mother to accompany him but they were congenial and the fact that most of their children and grandchildren lived near by was a source of great pleasure to them both. My sister Fannie lived with them and found that she could give mother great pleasure by taking her riding in the automobile. They took many short trips together and many longer ones on which they were able to induce father to go along.

As she grew older mother became stouter and had more and more difficulty in getting about. She still persisted, however, in doing her own housework, attended to the mending, was just as solicitous as ever as to fatherís welfare and made her usual visits to the markets. For the latter, however, she became more and more willing to use the automobile and was quite willing to pass the heavy house work on to a colored woman who came in one day a week. Until her last year she was a regular attendant at the lectures on current events given by Miss Richards and, when it became too difficult to do this, her radio kept her in touch with what was going on. Her interest in the outside world was lively up to almost her last minute.

During fatherís last illness I think that she realized from the beginning that his death was imminent, as he did, and from him received advice as to how she should act after his death. She stood up to her great loss bravely, wasted no time in mourning, and was ready at all times to help. She plainly realized that the inevitable had come and she met it without complaint. Her children were all with her but it was she who directed the funeral arrangements and was most anxious that everything be done in a way that was in keeping with his life**.

After the funeral she assured her family that they need not worry about her for she expected to go on as usual and as soon as she had had a little rest would be herself again. My sister was fortunate enough to find a most excellent woman to come to live with them and mother adapted herself at once to this new arrangement. She disposed of fatherís personal effects and in a month or two appeared to have quite regained her compoure and her cheerfulness. She looked forward with confidence to several more happy years.

Her death came suddenly just after she had gotten into bed, on the evening of Feb [actually Jan] 28, 1931, while she and her companion were alone together in the house. Her stout heart that for 82 years had carried her steadily through life stopped beating and she was gone but she left behind among those who knew her a memory of steadfastness, fortitude and loveliness.

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Notes: **I, DLH, feel that Oliver Perry apparently shunned formal religion, since his funeral was held at home instead of at church. This would be a large transformation for someone who had studied to be in the ministry, and I think was probably due to the demand at Butler College that he not teach evolution, according to family stories. Nonetheless, Oliver Perry Hay was friends with Reverend Ulysses Pierce of the nearby (16th and Harvard built in 1923) liberal All Souls Unitarian Church of Washington (where President Taft worshipped); Rev. Pierce presided over Oliver Perryís funeral service at home. The church sponsored many community cultural programs: Sunday evening Motion Picture Hour starting in 1925 (Dr. Pierce was an avid movie enthusiast! - the movies were silent ones until 1933) and ďradicalĒ plays. Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion born of the Jewish and Christian traditions, believing that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion -- click here for more information.

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