Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Little Background on Mr. and Mrs. Post

I've been hanging onto this story for quite some time mainly because I wasn't sure how I wanted to present it. When I first became aware of Mr. and Mrs. Post I knew their story had value and should be included in the history of Douglas County, but....I also knew I needed to verify facts and try to add to the story where I could.

But what a story!!! 

I just didn't know in order to verify facts and add to the information I would be creating a story several inches thick and several miles wide with interesting "stuff."

This story has a little of everything...women's rights, healing powers, mining in California, a woman asserting her independence and following her dream, third party politics, mail fraud, fights in the middle of the street....but some of that will come later.

This may end up being a three or four-part story, so hang in there with me as start by examining the early life of Helen Post....one of our stars of the story.

She was born in Fairfield, Illinois on June 14, 1831 to fairly well-to-do folks. She was well educated for the time period...she could even boast some college, and eventually married Dr. John Caldwell Baker in 1856.

Instead of taking her expected position in society as a doctor's wife in some Midwestern town, Dr. Baker moved Helen to Texas....Solano, Texas to be exact. The 1860 census shows the Bakers living there, and by 1870 four children were added to the census rolls.....Florence, Ada, Claude and Jennie.

Later records indicate the family moved to Lake County, California near Soda Springs where the family had a farm and a quicksilver mine.

Unfortunately, the family lost money each year and the place was heavily mortgaged. Dr. Baker eventually lost it.

Not only had Helen given up the life of a Doctor's wife she thought she was going to have...she had always wanted to make her living with a pen...and it just wasn't happening.

As she worked from daylight to dark cooking, washing, ironing, sewing and tending house for her family and the men who worked for her husband...at times as many as twenty-five men per some sources....she dreamed of being a writer.

She was in pain constantly, and her husband refused to hire any help for her. She is quoted as saying, "[Dr. Baker] seemed to consider me a machine with power to run day and night. He had consideration for his men and for his horses, but none for me."

She tried to break away in 1875, but when Dr. Baker found her in San Francisco she returned to the farm with him and attempted to reconcile.

Soon after her youngest daughter, Jennie, died at age nine. Seeing that things hadn't changed on the farm Helen finally had enough.

The year was 1877.

She wasn't getting any younger. The older children were nearly grown and away at school in San Francisco.

One morning Helen prepared her husband and his crew breakfast as usual, packed a bag and then headed for San Francisco never to return. Their divorce was final in 1879.

In San Francisco she found a job writing a four page weekly paper devoted to the sale of various medicines. Later she moved from paper to paper until she landed a position with Overland Monthly, a paper dealing with reform issues.

....and during the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s there were several reforms to write about....women's suffrage, corporate monopolies, poverty, immigration, labor reforms, and many more.

In 1880, she moved to Chicago and took a position with the Chicago Express, a paper Helen described as the leading reform paper in the world. Over time she became bored with labor reform issues stating that most laborers simply wanted to trade places with their employers....not really wanting to end their practices and have true reform.  Plus most in the labor movement weren't in favor of woman's suffrage, and it was an important issue to Helen.

She quit the paper and struck out on her own beginning a paper called The Woman's World. The paper covered such topics as forced maternity, women's suffrage, financial independence, and even praised efforts for women to become ministers.

Yes...her views were extreme for her time period.

This website states, "A woman of middle age, living among strangers, torn by sorrows and worn by worries, having no capital whatsoever, no experience in managing a business, and no money to pay her board bill, founding a publishing concern that made money from the start and put her on her feet within a month after went into business by herself." 

Helen stated in one of her publications, "I went to my room and began to type; and that article was the most emphatic declaration of the right of the "I" that ever put in type.....It said [for people] what they wanted to say but dared not. Hundreds of journals copied it and it ran through public feeling like wildfire."

She further stated, "....no man will ever be the magnet to attract success until he can stand alone, straight and tall as a liberty pole, glorying in the position; free from fear; independent of public opinion and daring to be himself."

I guess in our way of thinking Helen's article went viral and was seen by many people...just what you want to happen as you are seeking subscriptions for a new publication.

Helen was married by 1883. She had met Charles C. Post....also known as C.C. Post....while working at the Chicago Express. Post, fifteen years younger than Helen, was an experienced journalist and was heavily involved with politics. At the time they married he was writing his first novel, Drivin' From Sea to Sea or Just Campin'.  I've written a little about the book and Post's muckraking efforts here.

He also ran his own journal titled Roll Call. His political maneuverings played a heavy hand in Douglas County politics during the 1890s.

Their marriage cost the happy couple a whopping two whole dollars....and it severely depleted their joint savings account. During those early days of wedded bliss they tried to live on five dollars a week.

Between 1882 and 1886 Helen struggled to keep her paper afloat. It was hard for her to find the right niche to support her.

In her book, Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity and New Thought  Beryl Satter scrutinizes Helen's writing over those years...her various opinions and how those opinions seem to lose focus and change over time. You can find the section of her book (page 152) regarding Helen here.

Specifically between 1882 and 1884 The Women's World would publish sporadically due to a lack of resources.

Another issue that kept Helen from publishing was her granddaughter's illness. Helen and her husband lived with her daughter Ada and her children. At some point one of the granddaughters was very ill, and Helen went into debt trying to care for the girl. Eventually the baby died in March, 1885.

During the financial and health crisis the content of The Women's World began to change as Helen began to play with the idea of using her readers as a source of money.

In February, 1885, Helen published a story about a girl named Rose....a girl who had been impregnated and abandoned by her employer. Helen asked for her readers to send "Rose" some clothes for the child. Packages poured in.

Another time Helen wrote about a girl named Mary and asked readers to send her cash.

Yes....the cash poured in, and yes, it went into Helen's pocket.

Helen kept "Mary" alive for six months until she wrote in September, 1885 that "Mary" had finally passed and provided a tear-jerking description of her death.

While the money for "Mary" was still pouring in Helen also posted an article in June, 1885 titled "A Talk to My Reader" where she confessed her financial troubles and advised she would begin accepting advertisements from that point on.

The ads were for such things as compound oxygen which folks in the Victorian era inhaled and there were ads for magnetic undergarments.

Yes.....magnetic undergarments.

Sounds attractive, huh?

The advertisements were always paired with a written endorsement by Helen and they took up most of the newspaper.


Yes, Helen was an interesting "reformer." As Beryl Satter stated, "Helen wrote that womanly love would end poverty while she herself lived at poverty's brink. She attacked corrupt male intelligence that used sharp business dealings to fleece the public while it was her only her own such dealings that kept Helen and her family afloat...She was a reform journalist who started her career praising the women's era and concluded it asserting that wealth, the product of bloody corruption and unleashed desire was the "birthright" of all."

Helen issued the paper's final edition on May15, 1886.  By June she had signed up for a course conducted by Emma Curtis Hopkins regarding Christian Science.

She didn't know it, but Helen had reached a turning point in her life.

During this time per Beryl Satter, "[Helen] learned ambiguous doctrines concerning the power of thought and power of women, the necessity of selfishness and the godliness of desire as well as the problem of poverty."

While she was taking the Christian Science classes her husband, C.C. Post fell ill.

Later Helen would claim she had cured him with her "powers."

Seriously.

....and those claims of healing people would bring the Posts to Douglasville, and the town would be turned upside down.

Stay tuned for part two next week......

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 4 can be found here.

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