Caroline Miles Hill to Jane Addams, July 30, 1913

1226 E. 56 St. Chicago.
July 30 1913.

Dear Miss Addams; --

If you care to read a human document that may be of some use to you in dealing with modern problems, here it is. This is easier to write than to tell and will take less of your time. I think it should be made known to some one who has a large outlook on life. 

As you know, I have always made a great deal of my Quaker ancestry, which goes back as far as I know anything about it. My mother was "acknowledged to have a gift for the ministry" and she brought me up most strictly. I was much alone and early learned not to show affection unless the other person began it, although I was often tormented with wanting to do so. My father had died when I was seven, but lived long enough to advance me greatly in my studies and to inspire me with his love of learning. My studies were always put before everything else.

My love of learning took me to college and university until I took Ph.D. in psychology. I had some incipient love affairs, but was not a girl who cared enough about boys and young men to attract them very much. I had seen some unhappy marriages and had known some married women whom I considered far inferior in character, judgement and poise to my unmarried aunts and teachers. I resolved not to marry. If I should ever meet a really nice man who would meet <me [illegible]> more than half way I did not know what might happen. When I was through the university I had met but one who seemed to me suitable, loveable, and likely to develop into the kind of man of whom I could be proud, but he showed only a mild interest in me. I knew he was engaged and had been for some time.

During my first year of teaching in a woman's college I realized the limitation of celibate life in the modern kind of convent. During the spring vacation I was thrown almost constantly with this same young man whom I had thought of as most suitable because of common interests, similar ancestry and beliefs and social status. [page 2] I knew in a moment that I had met the right man if he could care for me. In ten days he had told me I was his ideal; I had told him I always wanted him and we were engaged. It was almost two years before we were married. We were both teaching and I insisted on waiting that long. We had an ideal courtship and wedding trip abroad. I was filled with intellectual interests and the ideals of social responsibility which came from study with John Dewey at Ann Arbor and with Professor Giddings at Bryn Mawr. One of the great attractions about my husband was that he had the same ideas and was so wonderfully liberal in his ideas of what women should do. He had no double standards about anything, although he had made some rather innocent blunders.

I was always distressed as to how I should be able to combine married life with the responsibilities incurred by the education I had received. I know I was not the only one who so agonized at that period in the development of womens' education. I kept a ten room house and helped his family to get an education <go to School>, trying at the same time to do something in the line in which I had taken my degree. My husband, at first, tried [to] help me, for he seemed to have no desire whatever to make contributions to his own subject. He thought my struggles quite unnecessary but he humored me in them. For my own part I seemed to have no success what ever, no concentration, and no more <original> ideas. I know now that this is a common experience among women writers and workers in other fields, but I condemned myself for it then.

It was a great disappointment to both of us that no children came. We tried to make up for it by working for other people's children and by taking up with various phases of the uplift movement in Chicago. My husband soon began to find university life barren and to his greatest pleasure in working to improve the farm which I had inherited, and in joining in the reform movement in politics -- without any personal ambitions whatever. He enjoyed the game and had a purely patriotic [page 3] spirit. As time went on, he cared less and less for his university work and more and more for the farm. He looked upon the development of agriculture as the most fundamental need of the country and upon a more practical agricultural education as the greatest need of education. I agreed with him in theory and tried very hard to help carry out the ideas on the farm which Mrs. Lillie now owns, at Wheeling, Illinois, but I was much bored with discussions about the breeding of cattle and horses, and failed to love him as I should when he smelled of the barn.

After we had been married about fifteen years the university did not reappoint him to the position he had so long held and it did not wish to develop a department of agriculture. We then planned work together in making over of the old Friends' Academy, where had had graduated, where I had taught, and where we had first met. This Academy was about to go down but we planned to save it by improving the regular preparatory work, adding vocational work and [coordinating] it with agricultural educaton in the best schools in the country. We got some financial help in Chicago, found an excellent little faculty and contributed our own services and as much money as we could spare. I was to be head of the indoor work and he of the outdoor work. When school opened we found that we had been imagining everything would be as it might have been in Chicago. We had not reckoned with the inertia of the country. Few students wanted agricultural work and many were prejudiced against people from the [city] who had come out from the city to show how things should be done. He had but few students and it was evident that such an effort would not pay for several years. He helped me for three weeks to get things started and then went to help the wealthy agriculturist in whom he had more confidence than any in all his wide acquaintance with millionaires who are interested in farming.

It was soon agreed that a department of practical agricultural agriculture was to be established in Bethany College, Bethany [page 4], West Virginia, of which Mr. Hill should be the head. The corner stone of a new building was [laid] in June 1911, and under the new building and a new barn went up during the winter of 1911-12., under his direction.

We had contracted to carry the Friends' Academy for three years. I remained as principal for two years, [during] which time we saw each other over the [weekends] about one a month. I was much interested in my work and this arrangement was satisfactory to me after I got used to it. We wrote almost every day and I knew that I could not get on without his advice. I thought my own judgemen better in many cases, but knew that I was dependent upon getting his point of view before I could make decisions. He was always loyal to me and most polite and encouraging. He gave me the credit for practically all that had been accomplished, for he said he could not afford to stay by it. The end of the second year found the new plan well established and the neighborhood in sympathy with it, but I decided that I couldremain no longer and joined him at Bethany. I had noticed that he was much less companionable and affectionate than he used to be, but did not think this to be wondered at. I thought all would come right with proximity again. We spent our summers in Chicago, but he seemed to have lost all interest in Chicago and Chicago people. In the autumn we want to Bethany, where he had secured me the appointment as Professor of History. He was now Dean of Agriculture. 

We lived in a suite of six rooms in the boys new dormitory and took our meals down stairs with the students. This arrangement also was satisfactory to me, and I thought it was to him. I liked teaching better than responsibility for three meals a day and we had beautiful rooms with an outlook on the hills. We had a good deal of company and made friends among the faculty and students. I was much distressed by the low standards of the college and tried in every way to get the President and faculty to allow changes in the curriculum in the departments in which I was especially interested. He always supported me in these [page  5] efforts, but he worked at the barn from five A.M. until supper, interviewed students until his bed time, which was about nine P.M., so that we saw little of each other except on Sundays. I worked until eleven or twelve P.M. on my books and papers. We were always affectionate and I have no reason to think we had more disagreements than most married people. I had accepted what I had so often heard, that love at middle age became a sort of dependable friendship. I was very proud of him and thankful for him and often said so. He praised my work, sensibly, as I thought, not with the wild extravagance of the very early years. I thought we had now reached a basis of comradeship on which we could pull together steadily and to good purpose for another twenty years.

I was always annoyed by some things in his temperament but I thought I said very little. He was now the more irascible, while I had become calm and maternal toward him. In the early years the conditions that had been reversed and I should not have been surprised had he grown out of patience with my demands upon him then. I often thought that many of my ways must be stale to him, but thought we had learned to bear with each other. I did sometimes refuse to go driving with him because I was too busy and must do everything just right in this first year -- after that every thing would be easier. When I did go drivng with him he had so little to say to me that I enjoyed having some one else along. I thought that this, too, was a way of middle-aged men and tried to do the entertaining, just as if I had had a beau. I thought he was very tired. 

We had one chief pleasure in life. It was in being invited to a beautful home near by, where there was a charming hostess and her daughter, friends from the city, music and interesting conversation. There was a husband, too, but he was not much in evidence, and we felt sorry for the lady because we had heard that he drank a good deal. We were both quite intimate with the lady, but she always paid more attention to me, just as my own women friends did. Mr. Hill was asked to [page 6] assume the management of the farm. He [did] so and this made trips over [if] necessary. I was not included in these, for they were during working working hours, but frequently messages were sent to me, regretting that I could not have been present. Gradually I noticed that he always talked to her at dinner and I to the company, but I said nothing about this because I wished to broad-minded.

I left for vacation in the summer, regretting very much that my daughter's needs called me away before we had time to take the drives we had been planning. I also wanted to learn to run the new machine. About two weeks before I left I learned that there was a divorce. In two weeks after I left I received a letter from my husband asking me to grant him a divorce. I was so shocked that it took me two weeks of writing to realize that it was true. The most awful letter came in which he said that I had not <ever> loved him and that he had not loved me for years. I replied in a most broken-hearted way, appealing to the kind heart I had always known and which had never failed me. He said that he had adored me and could never love anyone else as well, but that all had been over for years and that there was no other woman in the case. 

I telegraphed him to meet me at his brothers house. There he confessed to me that he had taken my letters to read them to her and together they had discussed me as though I were only an interesting phenomenon. She said she knew from them that I still loved him, but she accepted his love-making any how, she could not resist it. He looked like another man He looked like another man. The lovely idealistic soul I had married was quite hidden under a hard man of the world. His expression and coloring were changed. They were duller than before. He told me he was now done with all the ideals of self-sacrifice and the causes to which we had in vain tried to find satisfaction. Now, from henceforth, [he] was going to follow pleasure and not duty. He had done enough missionary work in this world. He said I had always preferred [page 7] causes and other outside things to him. He must have some one who adored him and surrendered him her whole life and soul as I could never do.

I confessed my blindness as to what had been coming on and begged to be forgiven. I said I should never cease to regret that I had not seen the meaning of his coldness toward me during the past year, said I should never take so much work again, that I would make some kind of a home in the best house I could find (they were very few) that I would go to the barn every day and learn the names and characteristics of all the animals and that I should really enjoy it now that my duty for the summer was done. I said I was entirely to blame that he had fallen [into] the other woman's net -- she had made two wrong marriages and now could doubtless see how much better my husband was -- that I would forgive everything but that I knew this new object in life was not for his ultimate good or for his lasting happiness.

All this has, so far, been qutie in vain. He has promised to go on a trip and let her alone for a while so as not to make a scandal. In the meantime he is telling his most intimate friends that I am a new woman and for that reason he can never live with me again. When he comes back from the trip they will be accustomed to that and will not be surprised to see him take up with her. Very Canny! His friends now are old-fashioned people. The wife of his millionare patron belongs to an anti-suffrage society, and the whole region is backward as compared with Chicago. This influence has now been exerted for about three years, and this way of living is much easier for a man. Had we remained in our old surroundings, in Chicago, he would probably have continued to try to be a progressive. Now that he has found some one of so much easier morality, with more wealth and luxury, who is right on the spot all the time it seems to me almost useless to strive against fate. If she were conscientious and would take herself off, and Cecile and I could take possession for the next six weeks I think all would be well. [page 8] 

I would <have> made any sacrifice, I would have scrubbed the barn and washed the cows every day to have averted this if I could have seen it coming on. I feel that I have disgraced my family, and all my antecedents, the Quakers, and all educated women everywhere. Personally I feel that I can never be happy again. I have been trying to take hold some where, but when I sat in the committee meeting yesterday the voices sounded far away, as if they were across deep waters. You were most kind me, but my brain, which is usually highly suggestible in a crowd, did not respond at all. I forgot my engagement with Miss Sears to look into the organization of the Womans' City Club. I have lost so much sleep that the approach of any interest which makes me forget immediately brings drowsiness. I look upon divorce as second only to suicide in its cowardice. If I must eventually yield to one why should I not take a step further? If the duty ideal has led me into all this why not follow the pleasure ideal now and get out of it? It would be so much easier than to face life without its underlying presupposition for twenty years. Other women have gone through the same and I am no better than they. I wish to get some good out of it, but it takes all my self-confidence and I do not see how I can ever succeed at anything after I have made such a failure of this. I have certainly suffered death in the last four weeks and cannot look forward to anything with any degree of anticipation. If I were desperately needed here it would be different but every woman I met seems to have a high conception of her duty at the present time. The only thing I want to do it to undo what I have been doing all along.

My married life has made me a better and a broader woman than I could have been without it. This crushing sense of failure in "The greatest thing in the world" makes me feel that it is no <use to> attempt anything else. [page 9]

This is a poor and pale statement of what is an awful tragedy. Is it typical? Must the wife have a [filial] relation to the husband if the marriage is to be a happy one? Is this something [ineradicable] in the nature of man or is it the result of circumstances in our case?

I thought I had an almost perfect husband who would go as far as I would in working out individual freedom, that he would no more go back on what we had so far worked out together than he would go back upon his advanced political or agricultural ideas. I think yet [that] he would not have done so if a designing woman had not cajoled him into "the easiest way". I feel sure that he will tire of it and she of him before they can both be free to marry.

Personally, I have had not one moment of freedom from pain <and remorse> of the most torturing sort until it has come to me that I need not endure it forever. I have done everything I could think of to make things right and Cecile has been a perfect trump. Now I feel at liberty to take my life in my own hands. Few of us believe in the old ideas of immortality. If we are to be useless and suffer so, it is surely not required to prolong it for mere penance. I feel that it is right for my tragedy to end as a stage tragedy and not to go on through thirty years of living death. This thought gives me comfort. I shall not be in too much of a hurry. I shall not do it if he keeps his promise to me about waiting. I shall not do it in any way that is more shocking than is all death. If you have any convictions on the subject I shall be glad to come to see you. I have lived a decade in the last month.

Please let this be a private matter, yet.

Yours most gratefully,

Caroline M. Hill [signed]

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