- California, Death Index, 1905-1939
Name: Lucy M Mitchell
Birth Year: abt 1847
Death Date: 7 Sep 1922
Age at Death: 75
Death Place: Alameda, California, USA
...eagerness equal to his. She was then nineteen, very small, with delicate hands that had penned many letters to the young doctor in fine Spencerian script on perfumed paper. She was so nervous at this approaching visit that she went to a neighbor's to play croquet. When he arrived, she was sent for. She found him waiting in the parlor of the comfortable home of Francis and Beulah McClellan Seely where her own piano stood. The Seelys had adopted Medora when she was a child of three. Mrs. Seely was Medora's aunt, but she was the only mother Medora remembered. She was a tall, impressive figure, a "handsome dresser," and carried herself with an authoritative air. Medora had chosen to wear a comparatively simple brown gown with endless little pleated ruffles covering the full skirt, as befitted a city young lady in 1867. She was much impressed by the young doctor in his black velvet waistcoat, pearl tiepin, yellow gloves and silk hat, walking with the aid of a cane. But she was not as impulsive as he. "She put him in the light and sat back where she could watch him. He proposed marriage. She said to let matters stand as they were for awhile. He put on his hat, went out and left Chicago."
Medora heard not a word from him for six years-"she thought the prince had gone out of her life." She had previously spent a year at a "female seminary" in Washington, D. C. Now, she took a small inheritance that had been left her by her grandfather and went to Oberlin College, one of the few that then admitted women. But Mrs. Seely thought that one year was enough education for a young lady and brought her home. In Chicago, Medora taught music and, for a time, taught young children in a small neighborhood school. In the meantime, young Dr. Mitchell went to the New York Medical College for further training, began practicing medicine in Chicago and later moved to Des Moines. There he married. But this marriage was never mentioned in or out of the family, for it ended in a divorce-a matter not approved of then. The children knew nothing of it until they were grown. Dr. Mitchell, during one of his many illnesses, "was taken care of by a redheaded woman. When he recovered, she wished him to marry her and he did. She soon found that taking care of a man with recurrent sicknesses was not the kind of life she wished. She wished to go on the stage. He said, 'All right, but I won't be married to you.' They were divorced."
By chance, in Des Moines, he met a brother-in-law of Medora's and asked if Miss McClellan were married. He was told that she was not and that she would be glad to see him. For a second time he rushed to Chicago, proposed and this time was accepted. They were married in May, 1872, in Mrs. Seely's home. After a few months, they moved to the small town of Rushville, Illinois. There, their oldest son, their second child, Wesley Clair Mitchell, was born on August 5, 1874.
Such is the story of the courtship of Robin's father as his mother told it to her children and as they told it to me after Robin's death. The story highlights two important influences in Robin's childhood. It gives glimpses of the characters of both his father and his mother, also of the family situation in which Robin grew up-colored by his father's physical injury, which never completely healed but became progressively worse. Robin did not talk much about his early home. Long before we were married, I used to wonder what had given him the sustaining inner poise that was so characteristic of him, what had given me so much less of it. I once asked him if we were born different, or were the very different experiences that life brought to him and to me when we were young responsible? He didn't the "either-or" way I put my question. He answered, "Both." Nor did he relish any elaborate self-analysis. But he did tell me something of people and happenings that had had most influence on him. And, from time to time, he talked about boyhood experiences.
When we were married, his parents were living and I knew how deeply he cared for them both. His father I saw only once-when Robin and I visited his parents, who had moved to a Louisiana plantation for Dr. Mitchell's health. That was a year and a half before he died, and he had for some time been a bedridden invalid. His red beard was grizzled, but his eyes still showed deep blue. He was still a vigorous personality, full of interests, eagerly welcoming this unknown woman his oldest son had married. In his mother-"Mother Medora" as I called her-I felt at once her "affectionate wisdom." I had a warm relationship with her, though I saw her seldom. She was a wisp of a woman, frail, with great spontaneity, yet a quiet dignity and serenity. I learned to know her and to love her through the letters she wrote to Robin and me-sometimes separately but usually to "My Precious Children." I have those letters and many more that she wrote to Robin in earlier years and some of his letters to her. Both in her letters and in her talk, she told me much about Robin as a child and a young man.
It is striking that in this family of seven healthy children, not one situation suggesting friction among them or with either parent has been reported to me. This strongly suggests that their memories may have acquired an exaggeratedly roseate hue. Robin himself wrote me before we were married, "My character has determined my life much more than my life has molded my character." For myself, I am inclined to accept this unusual statement because it seemed true of him as a man. However, I think it is also true that his home allowed his character to develop in its own pattern.
Even more risky is it to try to trace the influence of Robin's ancestors upon his development. The tales of Robin's forebears are intriguing in and of themselves as glimpses of two different strands that were woven into the early history of our country. So I shall try to build up a picture of Robin's forebears, of his parents and the home they created for their seven children. But I shall leave it to others, if they wish to try, to interpret this picture in detail in order to throw light on what made Robin the kind of man he was.
Robin's parents came from people who left England to seek homes in New England in the early days of its settlement. But the two streams of settlers used the opportunities of the new country in very different ways. The Mitchells settled in Maine and remained in Maine from the time when Christopher Mitchell, born in England in 1639, came to live in Kittery, Maine, as a fisherman and farmer, and appraiser of estates, to the time when, six generations later, John Wesley Mitchell, Robin's father, was born in Avon, Maine, in 1837. During these two centuries, there is nothing outstanding about the Maine Mitchells in the available records (8). The records occasionally reflect the times as: "William Mitchell had land at Black Point, Scarboro (Maine), and a garrison known as 'Mitchell's Garrison.' He was killed there by the Indians April 17/18, 1724, and two of his elder sons were captured." The Mitchell men continued to be fishermen, or farmers moving from one poor, small farm to another, marrying women from neighboring towns or farms, presumably sending their children only to the village schools-at least there is no record of any adventure into distant parts for higher education. More amusing and probably more revealing of intimate mores than these bare genealogical records is the tale told to the Mitchell children by their father of his "very straight, tall Aunt Hezziah," who, when somewhat over a hundred years old set herself on fire by putting her lighted corncob pipe into her pocket.
It was certainly into a very unsophisticated community that John Wesley Mitchell was born. He did not keep close touch with his Maine family after he left home. And he seems not to have talked much about his boyhood or early manhood except to his wife. She passed on his tales to their children, who, in turn, have told them to me. The following stories, thus transmitted, may not be accurate in detail-indeed, the versions told me by Beulah Clute and Eunice Lehmer, Robin's older and younger sisters, do not always agree. Yet, in their telling of these tales of family lore, Robin's brothers and sisters revealed something of more significance in his childhood than the accuracy of the stories themselves. To me, they conveyed an emotional attitude toward their father's parents which was built up in their childhood and still persists, and also the affectionate pride with which they interpreted all happenings in their father's life.
The first stories are laid in the small town of Strong, Maine, where John Wesley grew up, and concern Robin's grandparents, John Mitchell and Lydia Spalding, from whom Robin's sister Beulah and daughter inherited their beautiful red hair. The first six children born to John and Lydia, so runs the story, were girls-a practical tragedy in the days when children's labor was heavily counted upon on small Maine farms. The couple persevered, however, and were rewarded: the next six children were boys! In the genealogical record, nine children are given and are not so dramatically grouped. It is revealing that the contact with the Maine Mitchells was so slight in later years that Robin's generation does not know whether their father, John Wesley, was the eighth or the eleventh child. Indeed, the Mitchell children of Robin's generation seem never to have seen any of their Maine relatives, except on a few occasions their father's older brother, "Uncle Isaiah."
The next family story is about the first of two injuries which cast a shadow over the whole of John Wesley's life and extended into the lives of his children. John Wesley, when a child of five, fell from a cherry tree and broke his leg. (Family disagreement as to whether it was a cherry tree!) The leg was badly set and did not heal properly, and in time tuberculosis of the bone developed. The boy suffered much both physically and emotionally because he was taunted in school, where he was unequal to joining in the children's games. At home, too, his father (called "a horrid Maine farmer" by Beulah) pushed the boy into jobs he was unequal to. When the boy was eight, he was sent into the fields to help pick potato bugs off the plants. His redheaded mother was worried. She followed the limping child and made him sit down while she pulled up his little trouser to look at his injured leg. To her horror, she saw a splinter of bone sticking through the flesh. After that the father counted "little Wes" a failure and took little interest in what became of him.
In characterizing his father in a letter to me in 1911, Robin spoke of his father's "vigorous initiative." He might also have characterized him as an experimenter, even as a pioneer. For in the face of the physical handicaps that might well have crushed both vigor and initiative, John Wesley broke with all the family and community traditions and continually sought new environments, new adventures, as the better authenticated facts about his life after boyhood show. John Wesley turned his personal childhood disaster into an opportunity to get an education. In time, he left home and went to Bowdoin College, whether with financial help from home or not we do not know. His own condition turned his interest to medicine and finally to surgery. He went through the Medical School of Maine-affiliated with Bowdoin College-and received his M.D. in 1863-Civil War days. He was then twenty-five years old. On a visit to his home soon after this, his mother extracted a promise from him that he would not volunteer for war service. But when he was in Boston, he learned of the desperate need of doctors, took the army examinations and, according to his children, passed with the highest grade on record. He entered service as surgeon of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry. But when he found that the Negro troops were not receiving the same medical care as the white, he resigned his commission and requested that he be transferred to the 4th United States Colored Infantry, where he served for the last three years of the war. He was awarded the rank of Colonel by Brevet for meritorious service. (his rank is recorded in the Obituary Number of the Bowdoin College bulletin in 1915; also his transferral to the Colored Infantry, but why he made this request is omitted for obvious reasons.)
[Two Lives]