Written by on August 5, 2019

A Window into Julia Morgan’s Early Childhood

Ella Worley was a student assistant in Special Collections and Archives before she graduated in Spring 2019! Here is her last post documenting her work in the archives, where she digitized hundreds of pages of correspondence in the Julia Morgan Papers. To read more of her articles, click here.

If you’re curious about the childhood of the architect Julia Morgan, there is a box of letters in Cal Poly’s Special Collections which may be of interest to you. The circumstance that Julia Morgan’s parents, Eliza and Charles, found themselves in during the years 1878-1879 provides an unexpected window into their marital relationship, their attitudes towards parenting, and the alarmingly unfortunate series of events which took place during this time in Julia’s early childhood.

Financial struggles pushed the Morgan parents to live on opposite coasts for about six months, from October 1878 to March 1879. As a result, they corresponded via mail, and fortunately for future researchers, the family saved the letters written by Eliza Morgan and they are now part of the Julia Morgan Papers.

The letters Eliza sent very regularly reveal her concerns about money, sickness (mostly sickness, everyone was very sick the whole time for some reason), family drama, and the trials and tribulations of their children growing up. I’ve selected a handful of letters which are interesting stand-alone reads, but if you’d like to gain perspective and a deeper understanding of Julia Morgan’s upbringing, you are welcome to read the complete, one-sided correspondence in our reading room on the fourth floor of Kennedy Library or on our online collections page where we’ve digitized a selection of the letters.

A few points worth worth mentioning, to help with deciphering these letters:

  • In these letters, Julia Morgan is referred to as “Dudu.” The Julia mentioned in these letters is Eliza’s sister Julia Parmalee Thornton (Julia Morgan’s aunt and the mother of Jeanie).
  • The siblings of Julia Morgan (aka Dudu) are Avery, Emma, and Parm (short for Parmalee).
  • “Girl” is Julia Morgan’s mother Eliza Parmalee Morgan. “Boy” is her husband Charles Bill Morgan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Transcription (010-1-b-01-11-06)

Brooklyn N.Y.
Dec 12, 1878

Dear Boy,

Your letter and the enclosed draft arrived safely last evening. I found the letter very interesting and will comment when I have more leisure than I have at present. I was and am very much disgusted with you for sending me a draft when I wrote you particularly not to. I don’t see how you can be so careless of my wishes and embarrass me so shamefully. I wanted the money most desperately to settle Parm’s school bill which I’ve been in fear everytime the bell rang it would be someone to collect it and now I’m shut up here and can’t get out and they won’t give me the money and I think you are very mean to treat me so. If you can’t send me the money as a money order or in greenbacks ten dollars at a time in your letters as I asked you, you can keep the money yourself. Crying mad is no idea of how mad I am.

Dudu is no worse. Yesterday she had rheumatism in her arms and the doctor heard it might head to heart disease which is a symptom of Scarlet Fever, but today is better. I watch her as well as I can. Jeanie had the [croup?] very bad, but is better. She said yesterday “Uncle Charlie lives in Oakland. I will send him a stocking,” so Julia went out and bought what she calls “Jeanie’s Stocking” and I’ve mailed it to you to keep for Christmas. I have also mailed a few things that we send you for Christmas and hope you will have a nice time.

Mother is not at all well. She does not like her nurse and I cannot be with her much and she has Emma and Avery with her so much it tires her very much. She sends her love to you. Emma looks like she’d be sick soon. It’s hardly time yet a week today since Dudu was taken. Parm is enjoying himself in Cousin Julia’s best spare room and is reported very well. I’ve not seen or heard anything of any of your relatives. I did intend sending you a picture of Avery but I cannot go near him, so I will have to defer it until some future time I’ve no more time at present all send love

Your
Girl


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Transcription (See in our online collections here: 010-1-b-02-01-01):

Brooklyn, N.Y.
January 3rd 1979

Dear Menelaus [the husband of Helen of Troy],

The new year has open most awfully. Last night Julia’s little Jeanie died, it was the most terribly fiendishly wild windy night I ever passed in Cal, or hear. The cold below zero and the highest wind blowing the sleet about. It was a heartrending night for the poor dear little soul to go out in, it seem’d and seems all so cruel. I cannot believe realize it. She died about half past nine o’clock last night (Thursday) and this afternoon we had a private funeral and took her out to Graveyard and left her in a receiving vault. It was the coldest worst day I ever was out in. She died of what they called Diphtheria croup, but I do not think that was all. No one came to the funeral and they thought best not to keep her as the weather would probably hold bad and it was endangering everyone in the house. Poor Julia is brokenhearted and it’s terrible for Tom. I don’t know how they’ll hear it. I was there yesterday and all last night and he day before in the daytime. I did not think she’d die though I know she looked awfully sick. She was out on Monday, sick all Monday night. Worse Tuesday, very bad the next day at night dead. Julia and Tom were so wrapped up in her, it was the saddest sight last night to see Tom carry the poor little thing down stairs with only a little night gown on and poor Julia following with a board to lay her on by the window and there she lay all night, that awful night. Julia would not let me touch her after she’d been dead a little while for fear of contagion. She discolored right off. I did all I could but it was so little. All the afternoon and evening we watched her. In the afternoon Julia called in Dr Johnson to consult with Chapman. Johnson I saw had no hope. When she got worse in the evening, we rang and rang and rang for messenger boys none came (wires out of order) so poor Tom started out for a third Doctor. Father had gone for Johnson -while Tom was out – Jeanie died as quietly her little soul went out as a little bird’s. She lay on Julia’s lap, had spasms for an hour or more then squeezed Julia’s hand and was gone without a sound. It’s terrible terrible hard, and I feel this will not be the end. Everyone is frightened, there is so much sickness and the weather is so unfavorable it’s impossible to keep out drafts or to keep warm. I’ve hot bottles in bed with Mother and the children. It is very hard for mother she was so fond of Jeanie, and she was a dear sweet little girl. She used to say “un-kle Charlie lives in Oakland.” I don’t know how we will come out, Dudu and Emma are in bed. Last night Sarah slept in the room with them but she put no extra covering on them and they both have colds. Poor Lovely Lamb, whenever he sees me at the door he says “Kiss! Kiss! Avery,” but I don’t dare take him though I want to awfully. He lives with Louisa in the back parlor, and tonight it’s so cold I have made Parm a bed on [?] of the sofas. I’ve been down to look him and he looks so like he was in a coffin that I’m frightened and wish I had let him be, but I did not want to let him sleep in bed with mother and his room is so cold. I never have an unanxious moment, and I [run?] from morning to late night and I’ve not been to bed yet. I am so worried you can’t think. Someone else of us will go I fear. I do all I can, and it will be strange if I take it. Mr. Rockwell died this afternoon with Scarlett fever and Diphtheria he caught it from Katie [Carhart?], his grandchild that was buried Monday. I wish I was with you or you here. It’s very hard yet I could not leave Mother. Father is very much afraid of taking it. He is well. You know I do the best I can. I have a Doctor bill of a hundred and eleven dollars I guess that Father will pay it. I drink whiskey every night and do all I can, but I am very much worried. I feel what what God intends to do he’ll do, but I do pray we may be spared through his mercy for we certainly do not deserve it more than others. There was only Dr Snively, Tom, Father, Julia, Will Thornton, Aunt Mary, Mr Latimer, the young ladies, Latimer, and Gill at the funeral. Dr Snively spoke very nicely and said all that there was to say kindly. It was a plain little coffin. She wore her new Christmas bonnet, a dress and sock and we put in a doll that I dressed for her Christmas that she was very fond of to please Julia. We did not let Julia see her today. Last night when Julia saw her last she looked lovely, but today she was frozen and I did not want her to see her, so we carried her to Greenwood in a hearse only two carriages and put her in a Receiving vault just at sun set. It was so sad, but much more comfortable than to have left her such a night in a grave. The ground is so frozen you could not dig one. All the flowers froze. You don’t know how bad I feel for Julia, she has a terrible cough and looks very bad. Little Celeste is poorly, we are going to give her into Johnson’s hands and have no more Chapman. Dudu and Parm have cried all day Emma was perfectly unmoored and discussed and questioned me in the most searching manner on funerals and the here after, and the whereabouts of Alice Taylor.

They send their love to Papa I have received all your letters and Dudu liked her flower and Parm his letter. I will write for her when I get time. I’ve got to get Julia’s mourning [?]. I borrowed Mrs Carhart’s veil for Dudu before she’d even hem’d it. I won’t go in black. Gill asked me to day how much longer I was going to stand this thing. I answered, as long as there was any need. I think it’s so heartless in people to leave you all alone in your affliction for fear they will catch it. The wind is so high it blows the fires all up chimney three furnace fires have been blown out today. I must lay down. I am so cold and tired wish you lots of love I am

Your Loving
Girl

The mails are all delayed so I don’t know when you’ll get this.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Transcription (010-1-b-02-01-12)

Brooklyn N.Y.
January 26, 1879

Dear Boy,

I do not know what new “horrow” tomorrow will bring. I live in a continual fear. Avery has a bad cold as usual why I cannot understand for I watch and care for him to the last breath and lay. He talks very funny. He calls himself “Avery pookey (pretty) boy,” and can say “Bo peep,” “Rockabye baby” and “bye baby [?].” Julia can’t bear to see him he and Jeanie were so associated. I always keep him out of her sight when I am in the house. John feels Jeanies loss so it’s effecting his health, it’s terribly hard. Celeste is quite fat and very lively, but Julia does not take to her. She is very pretty. Emma is still in bed and I expect I’ll have to keep her there a week longer at least. She is very good. Dudu’s ear is better but she cannot turn her head. Her actions are very fierce. Yesterday when Doctor wanted to look into her ear, she slapped at me like a cat and would not let me get near her to take off the dressings for the Dr. She yelled and screamed, pushed and slapped at him and I. I told him he’d have to just take her up, which he did, and when he put her down he told her she could be all day getting back to the lounge if she wanted to. In the afternoon Julia had to hold her hands and then you’d have thought I was killing her when I was doing her ear. It must be syringed three or four times a day and thoroughly dried or she will be permanently deaf the Dr says. Then we put in morphine and glycerine and rub the outside with liniment and cover with batting. Its like killing her to do it and I know I do not hurt her because she yells if I touch her ribs or arms. She is as thin as can be. Parm goes to S School and day school he is lazier than ever. Louisa leaves Tuesday. I don’t know what I shall do as Avery is dependent on her and I will have to sleep in the room with him and to run from the back parlor to Emma on the top floor all night is weary as it is. I go down to see if he is covered twice after twelve every night and I feel that I shall carry him the fever. I wish Louisa could have stayed one week longer, so I could have got Emma out and disinfected this room it would be so much easier to have them both here. Louisa does not get better, she is too ill to work. Mother gains very little. John was in much pain and fever yesterday but is better than could anyway be expected. I am so tired I can’t write anymore tonight I am

Your
Girl


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Transcription (010-1-b-02-03-05)

Brooklyn N.Y.
March 9, 1879.

Dear Boy,

When I went up to my room tonight to put Dudu to bed, it looked so comfortable and pleasant. I wished you were there. It is an immense relief to have the children all well again and to be out of pain with my hands. I can’t bend that first finger yet without feeling faint but it will probably come right in time. It looks all right but is contracted. The Mary nurse continues to do very well. Emma is noisier than you can imagine and does as she pleases with her Grandma who buys her fresh flowers and also whatever she demands. She grows so nothing fits her. And Dudu has outgrown everything she has she is fearfully thin. It’s terrible to contemplate the work I have to do. I’m all rags myself. Dudu sends you her love and lots of kisses says she wants to see you. Emma is insatiable about stories takes them all in. She is very smart and independant. She sleeps in her Grandma’s room and I have Dudu and Avery. Parm is well and happy. He is very much improved. His clothes have all worn out and I shall have to buy him some more. Avery has a terrific temper. Today I took Dudu around to Julia’s with me. You don’t know how we miss Jeanie. Tomorrow I expect to go to Greenwood with Mr Thornton to look for a lot to bury little Jeanie in, as they don’t want to keep her in the vault any longer. Julia is so sick will probably not be well enough to go. She does not dare go out alone she gets so faint. I went to the Dentists and to the dress makers with her yesterday and she was very sick. You know dear Boy that if my inclinations were consulted I’d go home to you very soon, but I do think it would be wrong to leave Mother now, she’d be entirely alone, as Julia is unable to take care of herself. Father is not to be depended on for any care of her, and she needs watching and cheering. I feel dear Menelaus [the husband of Helen of Troy] that I ought to stay and I believe, hope and pray that it is all for the best. You can make yourself comfortable and I will be back to you and you will be able to appreciate me better and I can do as well by the children here as there. I know it’s very lonely for you and I wish I could be in two places at once. It’s not easy to keep smooth with all here, but I and the children are comfortable and I do not have to work at all since I hurt myself so. For your own satisfaction I hope you will make a ton in stocks sometime. I don’t expect you to send me lots of money and I do not need it I think I will not send Parm to school after this term which ends the 11th of April, unless you wish it. Give my love to the Taylors and Ranletts. I am glad the Country is looking so nicely. You must write me how you are feeling. I wish I knew what you think best for me to do. Good night. Perhaps I’ll have a letter from you in the morning. I am

Your
Girl.

Read more on Julia Morgan Papers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.