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1937 – February Letters to Kitty

Joe’s Letter to Kitty – Monday February 15th

Darling:

Nothing to write about, but this will be something to take out of the mail box and read on the streetcar. Hope you had help in moving and are more settled than you were.

No check for me, but they may be along later in the week when our time reports get there. I wrote a check for $15.00 cash today – had to buy postage and envelopes for the office.

I spent Sunday in bed with a sore throat, headache, backache and temperature, but am OK today, although I suppose I will have a week or so of nose blowing. I felt it coming Saturday night so took a physic and filled up with aspirin, and didn’t eat a thing until Sunday evening when Miss Stratton sent up a tray.

FOE has us all on the jump – he may have to leave this weekend. I felt week today but by going out at 10:30 for some Bovril (Bovril’s great bracer) and at 3:30 for hot chocolate, I got through the day.

Did Bry get over his cold? and how are you ? Write me everything.

Love, Joe

Tuesday Evening

February 16th

Darling:

6:30: FOE , Kerr and I are all back at the office grinding out stuff. I have spent most of the day conferring with FOE and Bradford. B will be satisfied if we set up salary scales for college teachers of various types, and make some recommendations about how many there should be of each rank, qualifications etc. So that is settled. I am chief of staff, signing letters as such.

FOE remarked that since your are settled in Washington I probably wasn’t interested in California any more, but I told him I still was. He said I might be there a long time.

I enclose a statement of income I got from Headquarters. Since it was not reported by G&A, I take it our figure doesn’t have to agree with this, and we might forget the payment of last January (1936). We’ll talk about it when I see you.

I am missing you and the boys terribly now. Hope things are going well. Boarding house routine is not too bad. I have a good bed, and go to bed early and read almost every night. Get up at 7 and am at the office soon after 8. Feel OK.

Hope to have a letter from you in the morning.

Love, Joe

Commentary:

Here’s a mundane day-to-day exchange between a husband and wife, with two sons, Bry (4 – almost 5) and Deane (6 months). True to my uncle’s recollection, their mother worked (I wish I knew what her job was) and a Negro woman took care of them. That woman must be Daisy – someone Kitty hired to look after the boys while she worked after returning to Washington DC in January 1937 while JBK continued on his job for Griffenhagen & Associates in Richmond, VA.

I see a recurring theme of stress in a marriage – finances. Also I see that Kitty handled the banking (as I do) in the family and that JBK would just send her the bank statement and let her know what checks he had written. Oh dear, sounds like a recipe for disaster if he didn’t know how many checks she had written!

I have to remark on the working woman dilemma. So many of my generation seem to think we were the first to deal with the “family/work balance dilemma” but in reality my grandmother was dealing with it 50 years before I did. It is also interesting to see that JBK was considering a job that would keep him in California – “for a long time” while his wife and young sons lived in Washington DC. That seems a bit odd, but maybe he assumed that if he went to California, Kitty and the boys would move out there to live with him. Or maybe he planned to live apart from his family for an extended period of time. Again – an issue that this generation of dual income families seem to think they were the first to deal with.

Next time you feel a cold coming on – be sure to take a physic (not something I’ve been able to find a modern explanation of) followed by Bovril and hot chocolate.

 

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Sunday Morning – February 7, 1937

Dearest:

I was delighted to find your letter at the breakfast table this morning, and the news cheered me still more. Your first day as a business-woman-with-a- family-to-support sounded too good to be true. I should have sent you a special today, though I had no news. FOE will be here tomorrow morning, so I could have come up this weekend, but next week will be better. One reason I didn’t come was that I unfortunately mentioned it at lunch with CW and Bob, and she made plans at once for them to go to Washington with me. I am going to have to find a different place for lunch – she is getting too conspicuous. Another reason is that I am getting a lot of stuff together for FOE to go over in the 3 days that he will be here. A note from EOG yesterday says there is a years’ work in California, but they haven’t signed up yet.

We are getting along fairly well here, and after several days of getting adjusted to boarding house life and long hours, I feel very well. I thought for a few days my eyes were going bad, but I can still keep them working by walking to and from work and getting lots of sleep.

We must try to arrange for Bry to go to school unless you find he can be happy otherwise. Are there any playgrounds or parks nearby? I do hope Daisy is as good as she seems and that she will stay. You didn’t tell me where you got her.

The bank statement came this morning, and I am sending it on without looking at it.

I have written three checks so far:

2/4 C&P telephone  $1.20

2/4 Royal typewriter $4.00

2/6 Cash $10.00

Send me your telephone number so I can warn you if I decide suddenly to run up.

All my love,

Joe

In handwritten pencil is the following message

I am sending you Kolbe’s reply to my letter. If you want me to handle it send the letter back and tell me what to do.

 


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February 3, 1937 – A Two Letter Day

In reviewing my grandfather’s letters from the 1920s and 1930s I am struck by a few differences between then and now.

First, the idea of a five day work week seems to be a  benefit that we take for granted. When JBK worked as a clerk in the Department of Agriculture while attending school in Washington DC from 1910 to 1914, Saturday work was the norm, not the exception.

Second, when he was working for Griffenhagen and Associates he often had to cover his own expenses out of his salary. Expenses that today are covered by the employer – like paying a typist or office assistant. Meals and travel expenses were not reimbursed and JBK often wrote about cheaply he could get by for a week.

Third, the postal service seemed more efficient than it is today. Letters travelled faster and mail was delivered more than once a day. I have no idea how it worked.

On February 3, 1937 JBK wrote two letters to Kitty, who had just moved back to Washington DC while he remained in Richmond VA, finishing his work with Griffenhagen & Associates on the personnel study for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Wednesday

Darling:

Sorry to hear that we are on the rocks again.(1) I wrote EOG (his big boss) that I would have to have money by the end of this week, but later FOE (his project manager) told me had been told to help me out on expenses until about the 20th. If necessary I’ll call on him for a loan; he will have to pay the office force this week. I deposited the annuity check, and won’t write any checks until I have made a deposit.

You probably read of Woodcock’s resignation. (President of St. John’s College) How would you like to be at SJC now? I imagine everybody is pretty worried. I don’t see how the place can stay open much longer.

Doubt if I can make it home this weekend, but next week we should be easing off. I’ve been working on the report the last two days. FOE and I are barely speaking; I despise him and I guess he knows it. I shall try hard to locate in Washington.

Love, Joe

(1) This means out of money – a frequent topic in their correspondence throughout most of the time they spent together. Although I only have JBK’s letters to Kitty, I get the impression she frequently wrote complaining about not having enough money, needing more money, wanting him to get a job that made more money – etc. Money – always a big stressor in relationships, especially when two people have very different ideas about it.

Pretty strong words from my mild-mannered grandfather who I can’t imagine ever despised anyone. Of course, he had probably mellowed a lot by the time I knew him. Age has that effect on people . I hardly despise anyone these days!

His second letter on February 3rd is as follows

Wednesday – 9 pm

Darling:

This is two letters to you in the same day; don’t get too flattered, and don’t expect two every day. I came back to the office after dinner and have done two hours work, but it still goes too slowly. Thought you might call (he didn’t have a phone in his boarding house and had asked Kitty to call the office if she wanted to talk to him). The telephone rang but it was CW asking if Bob was there. They are having another crisis – he hasn’t been with her since they came back together on the bus Sunday night. The visit to her family made him think she had serious designs, and he is trying to break away. Last night she sent him word that she was going out (he found out it was with the man she calls her uncle – really her uncle’s law partner who gives her money). He wrote a note telling her that was the end; showed it to me and I suggested that it might have the wrong effect. She came down to the office three times today on various pretexts, and told Mrs. D she felt terrible – cried all morning. Bob said he was going home and go to bed early but I wouldn’t be surprised if – – – oh hell, I am getting more and more uninterested in what happens to them, but it does make me feel we have something to be thankful for, and that there are troubles worse than finances, which I once thought impossible.

The package from mother came today and I forwarded it to Bry this afternoon.

You should see my boarding house. It is just opposite the vacant lot where we bought our Christmas tree. I have the front room on the 3rd floor this week, but it’s a double room, and when she gets two men to take it I’ll have to move into the backroom with a young business college student unless there is a single room vacant.

Everything is old and bare, but the beds are comfortable, rooms are warm and the food is good enough. Navy bean soup, ground steak, string beans, tomatoes, celery, rolls, ginger snaps & coffee. It reminds me somewhat of army food, on which I thrived. I can stand it, if I can stay cold and aloof enough from the other boarders. My next door neighbor is an electrical construction man working at the Dupont plant. He has to be on the job at 7:30, so for five nights he stays home and reads & goes early to bed, but Sat. & Sunday he gets drunk. He burned his car up while tight, and last week-end had a terrible fight with another inmate named Applebury, who they call “fire chief” because he sometimes goes to sleep smoking and burns the bed clothes.  I’m learning how the other half lives.

I collected $1.00 from the T&E laundry, and I still have $9.00 (after paying room & board, buying a tank full of gasoline, room at the Y, express on the trunks, etc.) – almost enough to last thru next week.

I hope the difficulties of finding an apartment and a nurse haven’t got you down. Your assignment is tougher than mine. Luck, and all my love

Joe

This letter is a good example of how I establish dates and times for certain events. By JBK’s reference to his boarding house being across from the lot where they got their Christmas tree – I conclude that the family lived together in Richmond in December 1936. I know my uncle Deane was born in Osage Iowa in August 1936 and he was a bit early so Kitty and the boys stayed there for at least a month. This means she moved to Richmond, where JBK was already working, in the fall of 1936. So my uncle spent his first Christmas in my hometown – Richmond VA! Another instance of overlapping ancestor tracks which I think I’m gonna start calling – OATS.

The gossipy part of JBK’s letter seems a bit out of character for him but I assume that Kitty knew the people he was writing about and was probably interested in the story. One observation I have though – admittedly from a woman’s perspective – If Bob was trying to break it off because CW had “designs on him” why should he care whether or not she went out with the man she called her “uncle.”  He should have relieved but I guess he was using that as an easy excuse to get out of the relationship. I can’t wait to see what develops in the coming letters.

And last question – how do you  collect money from the laundry? Is it possible they paid in advance and then had laundry done there while Kitty was in town and there was a balance in the account? Interesting perspective that my grandfather was able to live for a week (including his rent and food) on what I just spent on my Panera salad at lunch! (I do think Panera is too expensive.)


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February 1, 1937

Letter from 80 years ago – Richmond Feb 1, 1937 (written in pencil in JBK’s handwriting)

Background: Joseph B Kingsbury had resigned from his position at St John’s College in Annapolis, MD and was working for Griffenhagen and Associates, continuing the consulting work he had done before he and Kitty were married. I get the impression he may have worked for G&A in the summers even when he was teaching at Annapolis. 

Kitty and the boys lived in Richmond with JBK for part of the time JBK worked there. I found a 1937 newspaper article about a children’s party in Richmond at which Bryant Kingsbury was a guest, which makes me wonder if the date on this letter is correct (maybe it was later in February.) JBK added the date later, perhaps when he was reviewing and organizing his letters. It is in pencil and the letter is in ink.

 Darling:

I enclose a letter for Bry, the milk bill, and a clipping for you. I am sending Flash Gordon and some more of the Sunday paper to Bry in a separate wrapper – there is a picture of a clock made by Miss Hamish’s father in one of them.  

I went out and got the trunks this morning and sent them prepaid ($2.98) to Washington, marked “will call” – the clerk didn’t take either your address or mine, so there is no way of notifying either of us.

 Mrs. Schutte asked if I knew what became of the green ice box dishes and the cover to the water cooler. She said she expected dishes to get broken and didn’t care about any except the set of ice box dishes. She thought you might possibly have some of them with your things. I told her to get some more if she could and let me know how much, but she said she would wait and see if you found any of them. Everything else seemed to be okay there.

 I looked at a few boarding houses on Grace Street and took one – 810 West Grace Street – $6.00 a week – paid a week in advance and left my bags.  I don’t believe they have a telephone, but if you want to call me, I expect I’ll be in the office nearly every evening. 3-2406  Catherwood got a wire this morning calling him home for 10 days or two weeks. No word about FOE’s arrival.

 I had a good night’s sleep at the Y and breakfast at the cafeteria with Bob & CW.  

I do hope you have some luck finding a place and getting settled.

Love  –  Joe

rtd-5aug1936-jbkinrichmond

This article appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch on Wednesday August 5, 1936. Now we know where JBK was when his wife was in Osage, Iowa giving birth to their son Preston Deane Kingsbury on August 8, 1936.

From JBK’s letters I get the impression that the men who worked for Griffenhagen & Associates got very little notice before switching to a new assignment. Earlier in the summer of 1936, his letters suggested that JBK might be going to California for the next assignment. Perhaps Kitty was en route there when she stopped in Osage for a visit with the Kingsburys and ended up staying a bit longer than expected because of Deane’s early arrival.

She and the boys joined JBK in Richmond but perhaps only for 6 months since it seems she had returned to DC by February 1937.

Overlapping Ancestor Tracks again – but these I knew about. I grew up in Richmond and my father told me that he lived in Richmond as a child. He remembered living off of Forest Hills Drive, near the intersection with Hull Street, on the south side of the river. My father and I paid many visits to the Westover Hills Public Library which is located within a few blocks of where he lived as a child.