JESSIE WALLACE HUGHAN (1875-1955)
Jessie Wallace Hughan was born in Brooklyn, New York. She enrolled in Barnard College in 1894 and with three fellow students founded the national sorority Alpha Omicron Pi there in 1898. In 1910 she earned a Ph.D. in economics at Columbia University with a dissertation on Socialism in the United States. A lifelong and revered teacher in New York City's public high schools, Hughan ran for several offices as a Socialist, including United States Senator during the 1920s, believing that the Socialist vote exerted valuable pressure on the dominant political parties.
After the beginning of World War I, Hughan with three other women founded the "Anti-Enlistment League," whose object was to oppose military service. Although she was warned in 1917 that her antiwar feelings might result in her dismissal from the school system, she stayed with her pacifist beliefs and formed, in 1922, a "Committee for Enrollment Against War.".In 1923, Hughan founded the War Resisters League, which she ran for many years out of the desk in her living room and which is still today one of the most influential pacifist organizations in the United States. She is one of thirty women from around the world quoted on the Pacifist Memorial in Washington, D.C..
Hughan's published writings include The Facts of Socialism (1913) and International Government (1923) as well as numerous articles, brochures, and treatises, and the 1932 volume of poems, The Challenge of Mars and Other Verses.
Jessie and her sister Evelyn Hughan Rockwell, with whom she lived for her entire life, were my mother's beloved aunts. When my mother's father left on her ninth birthday, Jessie took on a major role in her life, helping to finance her education and advise her on major life decisions. Jessie was born on Christmas 1875 and died on Easter 1955. I was born on Halloween 1956, and though I never met her, her powerful personality, idealism, and devotion to poetry helped shape the direction of my life. Some of my earliest love of poetry came from my older sister Martha, who used to read aloud to me the same poems Jessie had read aloud to her: "The Owl and the Pussycat" and A.A. Milne. Jessie was a heroine in my family and gave me an early taste of what it was like to admire women for their strength. My mother shared often a proud family story of how Jessie would raise her hand in school and half leave her chair in her eagerness to answer, making the teacher shout in exasperation, "Jessie, sit down!" She told how Jessie loved nature and went for a walk alone everyday no matter where she was living, and how she loved to recite her favorite poem, Tennyson's "Ulysses," how well she handled her rowdy high school English classroom in the New York public school system, how she how she kept strong friendships with women, how she started the War Resisters League out of a small desk in her living room and never gave up on her ideals.
The year after I graduated from college, I was lost and confused and needed to earn money. My mother had just inherited a little bit of money from a cousin, and she had the wonderful idea to pay me to write a biography of Jessie. I spent six months researching in my mother's boxes of Hughan family books, papers, and memorabilia. I saw Jessie's high school scrapbook with dance cards and lace and pressed flowers, the stamp albums she gave to my uncles, and hundreds of letters, many between her and her sisters, Evelyn and Marjorie (my grandmother). I read her essays and poems and pacifist pamphlets and the unpublished manuscript of a book called Worth Enjoying, a collection of essays on life's pleasures.
Jessie's poem "The Place That Waits for Me" was published in Louis Untermeyer's anthology This Singing World. In third grade, I found a copy of that anthology and loved to turn the pages to find her poem. The same year, I created my own first anthology of poems for my third grade class and wrote my first poem not assigned for school, "The Forest." I feel that my own career as a poet and editor of a dozen anthologies owes a lot to this poem of Jessie's!
Here are some of my favorite of Aunt Jessie's poems, including the two well-known take-offs of poems by Lewis Carroll.
POEMS BY JESSIE WALLACE HUGHAN
UNCLE SAMUEL (1916)
With apologies to Lewis Carroll
"You are bold, Uncle Samuel," the young man said,
"And nobody threatens to shoot you,
Yet you walk down the street in a bullet-proof hat.
I ask, in this age, does it suit you?"
"In my youth," said his father, "I wore without fear
A peaceful provincial old tile,
But the Germans are setting the fashions this year,
And this helmet's the Kaiser's own style."
"You are bold," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And your neighbors are harmless and few.
But you're building a fence with a burglar-proof door;
Don't you think it may shut off the view?"
"In my youth," said the sage, "I was reckless in folly,
But now I live back of a wall;
The fences in Europe have kept things so jolly,
I needn't be worried at all."'
"You are bold," said his son, "and I always have felt
that your temper was truly delectable,
Yet a dozen revolvers protrude from your belt,
do you think it looks really respectable?"
"In my youth," he replied, "the commandments were rife,
But the sixth one has worn very thin;
The brave men thinks nothing of laying down life--
Of another--to save his own skin."
"You are bold," cried the youth, "and I've always agreed
You were one of the venturesome sort,
But you won't take a chance till the risk's guaranteed,
Do you think you are really a sport?"
"I have answered three questions: this isn't a school,"
Said his uncle. "go back to the farm.
It's only a coward or Pacifist fool
Who dares be the first to disarm."
THE GUNSMITH AND THE ARMOR TRUST
More apologies to Lewis Carroll
The gunsmith and the armor trust
Were walking on the shore;'
They wept like anything to see
The nations all at war--
"But if they keep it up," they said,
"Our stocks will surely soar.
"O workers, will you shoot with us?"
The gunsmith did beseech.
"A gentlemanly exercise
It pays us well to teach;
And since we love neutrality
We'll give a gun to each."
A million men from East and West
Came running with a bound
"We must defend our land," they said,
"So many thieves are round";
And this was odd, for none of them
Possessed a foot of ground.
"A pretext old," the gunsmith told,
"But pretty sure to suit,
A flag insulted may afford
Or new commercial route,--
So if you're ready, workers dear,
Let us begin to shoot."
"But not at them," the East declared,
Turning a little blue,
"After such friendship that would be
A dismal thing to do."
"Now be prepared," the gunsmith said,
"Before they fire on you."
"And wait a bit," the West replied,
"Before we shoot our brothers,
For some of them have wives at home,
And all of them have mothers."
"Now hustle," said the armor trust:
"They're awful brutes, those others."
"I weep for you," the gunsmith said,
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Shells of the largest size;
With a Red Cross subscription list
He wiped his streaming eyes.
"Now, workers," said the armor trust,
"You've nobly fought and bled;
Shall we go home to celebrate?"
But not a word was said,--
And this was hardly odd, because
They all of them were dead.
THE CHALLENGE OF MARS
We have hearkened thy bugle call
In the shrieking shell,
And we fling back the challenge all
To the gates of Hell,--
Not in the far-off years,
Now, while the whole world fearts,
While the earth shakes under thy spears,
We defy thee, O Mars!
By the curse of a nation's guilt
For their ruler's gain,
by the pomp of an empire built
On the people's pain,
By the brother's blood men spill
At their master's word and will,--
We will not go forth to kill.
We defy thee, O Mars!
By the lonely victory fought
On Calvary's cross,
By the glory of Rome as naught
And her treasure dross,
By the freedom of man revealed,
By the faith of the martyrs sealed,
We may die, but we will not yield.
We defy thee, O Mars!
Thine is the lightening flame
And the power of the past.
Ours be the stainless name
And the Cause that shall last.
There is death in thy bolts arrayed,
But we challenge thee undismayed,
Unarmored and unafraid--
We defy thee, O Mars!