W-MCP1-3a.021 TO MARY BAKER MCQUESTEN from her daughter RUBY BAKER MCQUESTEN
Feb 9 1906 Friday morning 1
To: Mary Baker McQuesten
From: Ottawa Ladies' College, Ottawa, Ontario
My Darling Mitherkins,
It is the end of the week again. Our exams are over but our reports are not made out yet. To-night I'm going to start mine and try and finish them to-morrow morning. Then in the afternoon I am to wait at a tea at Miss Bourne's and then go to Miss Tuckers for tea and after tea we are to make candy for the Chinese Social and fill 6 or 7 lbs of dates with the cheese. So it will keep me from having much time to get into mischief.
This week have been holding receptions in the evenings. On Wed. Leung Yeun came and said over his speech from the platform in the Assembly Hall and on Thursday Leung Set came at 8 o'clock and said his speech and verses. He also brought your letter and was much pleased when I read it. He could understand it very well but he can't read writing well yet. He'll probably keep it until he can read and then read it for himself someday.
Before he had come we had a little committee meeting of Mr. Stewart & Mr. Knox & Miss Robertson & myself to discuss a present from the teachers to be sent out quietly with a little note on his return, just to show our appreciation of his work. So it was decided to get a little hanging book rack and half a dozen or more books. We have $12 to spend & the books are to be unmarked and Mr. Rose is to understand that we expect him to change them for any one he would particularly like. So Miss Robertson & I are to start off in good time this afternoon and see what we can do.
We went on Tuesday night to hear Booker Washington. I quite agree with you that you can't make a true statement that any one man is the greatest,--it wasn't in the world it was in America. But he certainly is a wonderfully great man. I never saw an Ottawa audience half so enthusiastic. They cheered and cheered. He is a fine speaker, tells a joke splendidly and used fine language. But it was the personality of the man that was so remarkable. I really never heard a man that impressed me so much. You may think it strange to compare a darkey who started in slavery to a man like Shaftesbury brought up in the midst of all culture and refinement but in character I couldn't help comparing the two men. For Booker Washington is a man of great genius, and ability, like Shaftesbury starting schemes that were looked upon as crazy and carrying them out successfully--a great thinker and speaker--and a real philanthropist. You feel that Washington, like Shaftesbury, is a real devoted Christian Character. He has such a benevolent face,--a real Negro in type, but something so fine in his expression that you quite forget that. I couldn't help thinking of what Carlyle says in his 'heroes [sic] and hero-worship, that it is impossible to account for the rise of some great men. People try to belittle them by saying it was circumstances, it was the age--it was only a natural growth but he says it seems only accountable when we consider it is a divine spark that here & there in unexpected places & times raises up or enters into a man and makes him infinitely superior to his fellows. Certainly you feel that all race question would very soon pass away if the darkies are capable of becoming as he is. And you feel that there is no reason to doubt it from all he shows of the really rapid improvement of late years.
I wish I had time to begin as he did and go through--the whole thing. Just at the last he said--"Many people say 'yes we know' some of you are clever and bright mentally but the trouble is the race is morally bad--look at the lynching." Up to the last year the average number of lynchings was 266 a year but this last year it has been reduced to 66. Certainly it is a great decrease. He started by saying "let me show you a few of the ways in which the problem of the race question has been solved." First of all it was solved when a ship was started off with 600 Negroes to be carried back to Liberia. It took much time and thought to start that ship off and people said 'Now it is done, the question is solved, the black race is going back to the home of its forefathers.' But they forgot that that same morning 600 darky babies were born in the South so the end didn't seem very near."
Second it was thought the government should grant a great area in the West and there they should stay and the colored people stay by themselves and the white people by themselves. "First of all you'd have to build a stone wall around it to keep the darkies in--then you'd have to build 5 walls around it to keep the whites out, for just as soon as they saw we were making money or finding minerals nothing could keep them back. (He told us in another place that he never knew a white man to refuse to borrow from a black man & in the South there were 17 darky presidents of Banks besides cashiers etc. Also he told an incident of one of the darkies from the College who had grown more sweet potatoes in an acre than had ever been grown before and 200 white men had gathered around to see how he did it. He was very humorous in little things like this but every story worked in to his point).
The third solution was that the black race would die out. "We were 2,000,000 after slavery and now are 10,000,000--does it look as if we were dying very fast?"
The fourth solution was that the back race would merge into & be absorbed as it were by the white--"Did you ever notice," said B. W. "that when a man has one per cent of darky blood in his veins he is called a darky--if he is 1/100 colored he is put over to one side. It takes 99 per cent of white blood to equal 1% of darky blood and then the man is over on our side. It looks as if our race would absorb your race."
First of all Booker Washington had been introduced by a letter from Lord Grey in which he stated that one of his two desires in coming to America had been satisfied since he had had the great pleasure of meeting Booker Wash. Then B. W. nicely started off by saying how from his earliest childhood his thoughts of Canada had been as of some gracious, beneficent almost intangible place and Canadians had from the first been the true friends of his people. He said his people were not a 'degraded' people--they might be an ignorant people but they were not 'degraded,' they had never been up. Then he gave some figure: 40% of the Italian race were uneducated, 55% (I think) of the Spanish nation, 75% of the Russian nation & 83% of the South American nation. And tho' they had been free such a comparatively short time only 44% of them were uneducated.
Then he spoke about the idleness. The one idea his race had after slavery was that since before they had seen the white man do no work and themselves work--work meant slavery. The lesson his people had to learn was the difference between "being worked" and "working"--"being worked" meant degradation--working meant civilization.
Then too his people wanted to begin at the wrong end. They wanted to begin with book learning. It made him think of one home in the South where they had only one fork between 6 people but they had an organ. It reminded him of an old darky who wanted his master to teach him the banjo. His master thot [sic] he was too old to learn & wanted to discourage him so he said "All right Uncle but I'm going to make you pay for your lessons." "All right Massa"--"I going to make you pay $2 for your first lesson"--"All right Massa"--"And your next lesson I'll just charge you $1"--"All right Massa"--"and your next lesson I'll give you for 25 cts." "All right Massa--dat'll suit me fine--but say Massa you just give me de last lesson first."
And that he says is the difficulty with his people. But he said they were learning it and we mustn't judge his race by the loafers, for he didn't judge Ottawa by its loafers.
Then he warmed up towards the last and said, "There is no form of slavery so base and degrading as the slavery of hating a man because of his race or because of his color,--I know what it means for I was in that bondage myself once but thank God I am free and now I can look upon men with unbiased judgement." And then he said and it made me think of Shaftesbury's speech when his costermonger boys presented him with a donkey, "In closing my long life I desire only that it may be said of me that I served men with a faithfulness and resignation like unto this faithful beast." Booker Washington said, (I don't remember his exact words but it is something like this), There is no pleasure like the pleasure of serving one's fellow men and helping them up. It is the greatest joy in life and if you could take it away there would be nothing left in life worth living for.
He told a comical tale in connection with a school he was trying to start and the only building available was a hen house. He asked a darkey to help him clean out the hen house and the darkey looked at him queerly some time and then said "See here boss--you stranger he'a and you gwine take it upon you self to clean out dat chicken house--in daytime?"
Well dearest, you'll be pretty tired reading this fearful lengthy epistle but I wanted you to hear something tho' you can't get any idea from this what kind of a man he was. Once when [he was] a lad eager to get to College he had walked from his home and arrived without money & hungry & dirty from sleeping under sidewalks, he had at last been given work and was started at sweeping a room. He said he swept the floor three times, then dusted the walls three times & then the floor three times and when the school mistress came in she put her handkerchief along the floor & found not one speck of dust. That was passing his matriculation he said. But you can see how he carried out what is one of his maxims. "Do everything just as well as it can possibly be done."
Well dearest I think it is lovely of the ladies to offer to pay your way and I'm sure they're just glad to send you and I'd want to feel very sure it wasn't the thing before I'd refuse when it seems as if the way has opened up so well. Of course we can't have you used up entirely but it would be a nice change for you. I'll be glad when this week is over & you can have a chance to rest. Some weeks one thing comes after another. It is that way with me this week.
About the white muslin dress. I really think I'd have much more use for a heavy plain white waist like my heavy duck. It has been so satisfactory. And I seem to have whole dresses when it comes to anything as thin as a muslin.
I sent Cal $24 yesterday. I'll have more to spare next term I think. And now dearest I must really run. With ever so much love Sweet Heart.
Your loving child,
You might send parts of this letter to the boys--I really can't attempt to write it twice.
1 This letter is undated, however, we have estimated the date from several pieces of information. First, and foremost, Ruby states that it is Friday morning when she is writing and post was often quite prompt in Ontario at least around the turn of the century. From the dates and postmarks on a letter, we can often see that a letter would arrive at its destination the same day--or day after--it was sent. In addition, the letter was found in an envelope addressed to Tom and postmarked February 14. Since Ruby suggests to her mother that the letter be sent on to "the boys," it is reasonable to assume that she had written the letter sometime shortly before this date. It is entirely possible for Ruby to have written on the ninth of February and sent it out that day or the next and have it arrive in Hamilton in time for her mother to read it and subsequently forward it on the fourteenth.
Furthermore, Ruby notes that the women have offered to "pay her [mother's] way" and this likely refers to Mary's trip to Winnipeg in May & June 1906, to inspect the missionary schools and other missionary posts in the West.
Mary traveled to Winnipeg to attend a Missionary Society Conference and to inspect some of the Mission schools in Western Canada. She travelled with twenty-eight people, all prominent missionary society members, many of whom are mentioned in the letters during the trip from May 10 to June 15, 1906 (W5464, W5453, W5502).