A collection of twenty letters comprising the outgoing exchange between California residents Margaret “Nellie” Crosson and her brother, James “Clarence” Allison, between 1927 and 1932, mainly concerning health and family matters and a visit a spiritualist medium. The letters establish that “Clarence” was working for the Chicago & North Western - Los Angeles Division Railway Company as a passenger brakeman before requesting a leave of absence to care of his father back in South Dakota where the family originated. Meanwhile, Nellie is the sole caretaker of her sick husband and ailing mother (“Mama”) and frequently discussed health issues and treatments.
Nellie wrote often of the daily struggle of caregiving and finances, citing how much blood and urine tests cost as well as insurance policies. Her life was fraught with misery after her husband C. Monroe (“Roe”) Crosson (1882–1928) became ill, leaving him disabled and ultimately succumbing to the injuries. Newspaper accounts report that he died following a near drowning, and from her letters, it is clear he suffered a brain injury and was no longer able to communicate. “Doctor says Roe will never be able to do any real work again,” she wrote to her brother on December 15, 1927. “That I must be his constant companion, acquaint myself with all his affairs, attend his business meetings and be ready to act at a moment’s notice. Says there is nothing known to science that can prevent a recurrence of paralysis at any time – had the tissue lodged a few inches lower, death would have been instantaneous.”
From her tone, it also seems she had problems with her in-laws: “I did what I thought was best—without advice from anyone—for I was unable to discuss it with the folks, they seemed so lacking in sentiment and apparently considered only the money end of it…”
She also wrote about convening with a spiritualist medium in July 1927, who commented on a business deal involving her husband, the co-owner of a 1923 patent for vehicle running gear and driving mechanism. “No one wishes for the sale of the patent more than I do but I’m not taking stock of anything they say. Money is the only thing that will convince me.” In a subsequent letter following her husband’s death, she mentioned attending a meeting attempting to secure royalties from his invention.
After her husband’s death, Nellie relocated her household from Burbank to Oakland where she took a position as a bookkeeper and faced more hardship with her employer cutting “my salary to nothing and now he wants even that small amount to buy more booze I suppose...said my work was perfectly satisfactory but I think I know the real reason. He is quite obnoxious when drinking and frequently tries to get fresh.” Her last letter details her struggles with a painful illness afflicting her mother.
As much as the letters detail hardship, they share the bond of a family and glimpses into the tribulations of a young woman managing a family and her own life in Depression-era California.
Written mainly in 1927 and 1928, the letters are in very good condition, housed in their original mailing envelopes. One letter contains two letters of leave of absence for J. Clarence Allison and another leaf is a recommendation for his work. Item #73707