Guide

Camilla McRory oral history

Camilla McRory is a descendant of Perkins founding Director Samuel Gridley Howe, renowned activist, author, and poet Julia Ward Howe, and their daughter, Florence Marion Howe, a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Camilla McRory

Biographical information

Camilla McRory is a great-great-granddaughter of Perkins founding Director Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) and renowned activist, author, and poet Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910). Her great-grandmother was Florence Marion Howe (1845–1922), who along with her sisters won the first Pulitzer Prize in biography, for their mother’s work, entitled Julia Ward Howe. Florence Marion Howe was a writer, critic, and lecturer on women’s suffrage. She was married to David Prescott Hall, a lawyer. McRory, one of their great-granddaughters, is a lawyer whose practice focuses on Elder Law and Disability Rights. She serves as a Corporator for The Perkins School for the Blind and has served as a member of the Perkins Archives Advisory Board. In her portrait McRory, a light-skinned woman, with brown hair is smiling. She is wearing a white shirt under a black blazer.

Related resources

Resources listed include materials on the Internet Archive website which relies on OCR to make resources accessible. We acknowledge that OCR is prone to errors, and cannot recognize graphics or handwritten text, thus creating barriers to these materials. If these materials aren’t accessible in part or in whole, to a user because of a disability, please contact [email protected] to request an accessible version. 

Notice and permissions

This interview is a digitized copy of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Perkins School for the Blind. The interview was conducted on March 25, 2008, by Jan Seymour-Ford. The audio is unavailable. 

This oral history transcript may be quoted if cited. A preferred citation is provided. The interview may not be published in full except with the permission of the Perkins School for the Blind. For permission please contact [email protected].

Preferred citation

McRory, Camilla. “Camilla McRory oral history interview conducted by Jan Seymour-Ford,” 2008-03-25, Perkins Archives Oral History Project, AG195-2008-01, Perkins School for the Blind Archives.

Audio recording

Unavailable, due to poor audio quality

Transcript

Jan Seymour-Ford [Seymour-Ford]: Thank you.  We’re very grateful that you’re willing to let us interview you.  I am the research librarian here at Perkins and I’m also a member of the oral history team, so we’re really excited about any information about our founder that you could share with us.  

Camilla McRory [McRory]: OK, I mean, do you have specific questions?  

Seymour-Ford: Certainly.  First of all, just, for the formalities, could we ask you to state your full name and to spell it please?  

McRory: My whole legal name?  

Seymour-Ford: Certainly.  

McRory: My first name is Camilla, C-A-M-I-L-L-A.  My middle name is Oakley, O-A-K-L-E- Y.  My last name is McRory, M-C-R-O-R-Y.  

Seymour-Ford: Thank you.  And could we also have your place of birth, and if you’re willing to tell us the date of birth.  

McRory: My date of birth is July 26, 1954, and I was born in Alexandria, Virginia.  

Seymour-Ford: OK, thank you very much.  May I ask which of the Howe children – which of the offspring of Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe you are descended from?  

McRory: They had six children.  Their oldest daughter had no children. The second daughter, Florence, I think it’s Marion, it might be Mentor, I forget, Howe is my great grandmother.  She married John Prescott Hall.  

Seymour-Ford: Great, thank you.  Have you ever visited Perkins?  

McRory: No.  Well, I say that – I haven’t, you know, gone on a tour of the campus or anything.  I think once, many decades ago, I visited some friends who lived in that area and we went by Perkins.  I think they live in Watertown, actually.  So, we drove by there, but no, I have not personally been to the campus.  

Seymour-Ford: And you grew up in the Alexandria area…

McRory: No, not really.  My father was in the Air Force so I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, Tallahassee, Florida, Viesban(sp?), Germany, Letchworth(sp?), Harpershire(sp?), England, San Antonio, Texas.  And then, he retired and except for college, I have lived in Maryland in the suburban Washington area.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, my goodness, everywhere but New England, it sounds like.  

McRory: Well, I went to college in Connecticut.  

Seymour-Ford: So, you did.  I am curious to know, you haven’t really visited the Perkins campus.  Did you ever drive by the spot on East Broadway in South Boston just to have a look at the old –

McRory: No.  I think I’ve been to Boston once or maybe twice in my life.  So, no, I never have.  I know stories about it, of course, but no I’ve never been there.  

Seymour-Ford: No, just curious.  Do any of the stories about Perkins come to mind?  

McRory: Gosh, you know, your – I can’t remember what his title is, Mr. Rothstein, is he the president of Perkins?  

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  

McRory: Anyway, he indicated that you might also be interested in interviewing my mother.  She’s going to be a better source for stories than I am, probably.  The one thing that I can say is that the Howe’s oldest daughter, Julia, was born on their wedding trip because they took long wedding trips in those days, and she was born in Rome.  And so, her name was Julia Romana –

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  

McRory: And their youngest son, who was Samuel, Sam, was called in the family Sammy South Boston because that’s (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) that’s a little bit of a story.  Of course, he died as a boy.  

Seymour-Ford: Yeah, that’s sad.  I read a biography of Julie Ward Howe and she was not happy about her sixth pregnancy but little Sammy –

McRory: Yeah, I can well imagine…What biography did you read?  

Seymour-Ford:  It was Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, and I can’t remember the author’s name.  

McRory: That’s all right.  Of course, her daughters wrote a biography of her.  

Seymour-Ford:  That I haven’t read yet.  

McRory: I think it’s one of the Google books.  I think I’ve seen it there.  Yeah, you know how Google’s trying to put everything online.  There’s been a lot of controversy about that, copyright and all that sort of thing, but of course, the Laura E. Richards and Maud Howe Elliott’s biography no longer is under copyright.  

Seymour-Ford: Right, because it’s so old.  

McRory: Right, what else can I tell you?  What else can you ask me, anyway?  

Seymour-Ford:  Well, of course, we’re interested in Julia Ward Howe, but we particularly are interested in Samuel Gridley Howe, because – (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) – and your family still calls him that?  

McRory: Yes.  

Seymour-Ford:  Oh, that’s great.  Do you have any family stories about him or his character that kind of have been passed along?  

McRory: You know, my grandfather, Grandfather Howe’s grandson, was born in 1881.  He was the youngest son of the youngest son of the youngest son – which is why there are such long generations in my mother’s family, that branch of my mother’s family.  And grandfather had died before that.  So, my grandfather knew Grandmother, but he did not know Grandfather.  So, we sort of have – I know stories, I know more about her, I guess.  Although, I mean, if you’ve read a biography, you probably know that Grandfather and Grandmother Howe were probably not the best-matched married couple –

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  

McRory: – of all time, to put it mildly, and so we know a little bit about that, I guess.  But, I think we really do probably know more stories about Grandmother Howe.  I do.  As I say, my mother is probably a better source.  The trouble is when you ask her questions – I mean, my mother will be 87 on April 5, but she’s 100% capacitated, but as with anybody, when you ask her questions, of course, she forgets.  It goes out of her mind, just the way it would with me.  She is pretty good about writing down stories when she thinks of them.  Yeah, or sometimes, I’ll ask her question that will make her think of something and she send me an email.  Can you hold on just a second?  I’m sorry.  

END OF TAPE 1

McRory: I’m sorry.  I put three of the lines on hold but one of them is the emergency line, so I hadn’t put that on hold, sorry.  

Seymour-Ford: You shouldn’t, if it’s an emergency.  

McRory: I would have to say that most of the stories I know about grandfather are probably from the various books that I have read.  Trying to think – when they came down here – you know, the things that you would know.  He had to go to Canada around the time of the John Brown’s incident, but he recovered from that slight discomfort enough to be appointed to the Sanitary Commission, which was, as I’m sure you probably know, the predecessor to the Red Cross.  Way before he married his wife, he had gone to Greece and fought in the Greek Revolution and all that sort of thing, but presumably, you know about that, also.  

Seymour-Ford: Yeah, we do.  

McRory: Now, at one time, somebody, I think it was Aunt Maud, had Byron’s helmet, but I don’t know what happened to that.  Byron had given Grandfather a helmet and Aunt Maud was the next to the youngest child, I believe.  I think Aunt Laura was older than she.  She lived in Newport until quite an old age.  My mother visited her in Newport as a young girl.  

Seymour-Ford: Well, that’s amazing.  I guess because the babies kind of came late in his life.  

McRory: Well yes, he was much older than Grandmother, I don’t know, maybe 20 years.  

Seymour-Ford: I think so.  

McRory: You know, I really have no idea why they married each other.  I have to say that I’m grateful that they did, or I wouldn’t be here, of course, but such a strange combination.  He was such a – as I understand it – such a conservative, such an intense person and she was so flamboyant and independent-minded, which was not something that sat well with him and his wife.  So, they just had real challenges.  Now, I mean, my impression is that the older – well, I don’t think it’s just an impression – I think there was a time when the older children, which would have been Julia, Flossy, my great grandmother, and probably Uncle Harry Howe were sort of with grandfather, and the two younger girls were with Grandmother.  So, [mine] great Grandmother probably sort of aligned more with her father, but then again, her mother lived for so long, I mean, Grandmother Howe lived to be so old and pretty capacitated with it, so everybody was pretty much like her for the last 30 or so, 40 years of her life.  I don’t know if you know the book Three Saints and a Sinner, which is about Grandmother Howe and her two sisters and her brother – there’s actually a mistake in that book.  The book says that at Grandmother’s funeral, her eight grandsons were pallbearers, but she didn’t have eight grandsons.  So, there must have been – she had a lot of grandchildren, but there weren’t eight grandsons, so it must have included some grandsons-in-law or something, I don’t know.  

Seymour-Ford: Can you think of – are there family stories about Julia Ward Howe?  

McRory: I know some stories about her.  You know that thing about the six degrees of separation or whatever?  

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  

McRory: Well, you know, I know my mother, my mother knew her father, her father knew Grandmother Howe, Grandmother Howe knew her grandfather and her grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War with Washington.  But anyway, she – she was – now, let’s see.  Her brother was the oldest, but Grandmother was sort of a Julia Junior because there had been a baby Julia born before her who had died and she was given the same name, which I think is a little macabre but apparently, it was fairly common in the 19th century to do that.  Then, there was Louisa and Anna, other sisters of hers. Their mother died when the baby who was Anna was born.  So, their father, a banker Ward, we call them, the Wards were – there is Governor Ward of Rhode Island, Governor Ward, Colonel Ward, banker Ward – banker Sam, Governor Sam, Colonel Sam, banker Sam, and Sam working as [a lobby] with her brother.  He was the first lobbyist in Washington.  And anyway, those four children were raised somewhat wild.  I mean, wild, when you consider that they were among the richest and most well-known people in New York City at the time. Their father – trying to remember – I don’t think – I think it was a sister of their father who was sort of their substitute mother, whatever, but their father also imported tutors.  For example, he once had a Belgian who was a refugee from whatever war was going on at the time, tutoring them.  

So anyway, when Grandmother was a little girl, she was pounding away on the piano.  Her grandfather was living with them in New York at the time, and he said to her – because she was not playing well, mind you, she was really abusing the piano and he said to her, “Is it thus set down in the book little lady?”  And she said “Oh yes, Grandfather,” and went on pounding the piano, he trying to suggest in a very polite and subtle way that perhaps she might play a little more delicately and going completely over her head.  Then, this Belgian who was tutoring them, the children were somewhat used to ordering people around because as I said, they were a little wild.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh yes?  

McRory: And he said, “I believed your Grandmother Howe.”  I don’t think her sisters were quite as fiery as she was.  So, my guess is that it was she who was ordering this poor guy around and he said, “I have refused to obey the emperor of Austria, am I now to obey you, you little thing?”  Hold on just a second.  

Seymour-Ford: No problem.  

McRory: Hello.  Sorry, that was my mother.  I told her I would call her back, but I better write those down.  So, that’s that.  

Seymour-Ford: That’s delightful.  

McRory: Of course, Grandfather Howe went to Brown, presumably you know that.  

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  

McRory: And he was a little bit of a rabble-rouser there, I think.  I’m having a hard time.  I was hoping you were going to send me questions in advance so that my little brain can try to percolate on some things.  If I think of other things, I will send you an email.  

Seymour-Ford: OK, well thank you.  I have a few more to just kind of run through –

McRory: I didn’t know if you wanted to know all the people that I can think of to tell you who are descendants, that sort of thing.  That may not be something you are sort of interested in.  

Seymour-Ford: It is something that I would find very interesting.  People do ask about it from time to time.  And actually, I’m not inclined, even if I did know, I wouldn’t release that information.  It just doesn’t seem like it’s public information.  Often, people want to contact the descendants of Samuel Gridley Howe or Julia Ward Howe.  In one case, somebody is very interested in a bust of Laura Bridgeman that was sculpted by – actually by Sophia Peabody, who married Nathaniel Hawthorne.  And we have got a plaster copy of it, and my guess is that it’s in the possession of – if it still exists, it’s in the possession of the Howe descendants because it was his personal property  And you know, I mean, heavens, I’m not going to have researchers hounding you.  

McRory: Well, it’s possible.  As you know, they had six children, and Sammy South Boston died as a boy.  Julia Romana had no children.  Uncle Harry Howe had no children.  He actually – he was a metallurgist and so was my Hall grandfather and Uncle Harry Howe actually wanted to adopt my Hall grandfather, I mean, as an adult, because he wanted to have a male Howe descendant.  

Seymour-Ford: How interesting.  

McRory: But my grandfather was loyal to his own Hall family and declined, although they were great good friends, and they were also colleagues because my grandfather was also a metallurgist.  Julia had no children.  Uncle Harry had no children.  Florence Howe Hall had children.  Laura B. Richards had children. Aunt Maud had no children.  So, there’s just the two that you have to look at.  Now, Grandmother Howe had four children – I mean, my great-grandmother had four children.  Caroline Minter Hall Burked(sp?), she had two sons, but neither of them had children.  One of her sons was killed in World War II, I believe in North Africa.  Her other son had an extremely disappointing career and life, at least to all the rest of us, as a minor civil servant here in Washington, but he had no children, which is a very good thing.  Let’s see, so that’s Aunt Carry.  Then, there’s Uncle Sam, another Samuel Ward, except his last name was Hall, of course.  He wasn’t (inaudible), he was Samuel Gridley Howe.  He had two children, one of whom had no children, and one who had one daughter, so she’s my second cousin.  She’s still alive, but she never married and had no children.  OK, Aunt Carry and Uncle Sam.  

Oh, this is a funny story about my mother.  Her father’s brother, Samuel Gridley Hall, lived here in Washington, and when my mother was still a girl, she used to tell people that she was going to see her Uncle Sam in Washington and people would laugh at her.  She didn’t understand why.  OK, Aunt Carry and Uncle Sam.  Then, Uncle Harry.  He had three daughters, Julia, Frances, and Rosala(sp?), and Rosala never married.  She is, to my knowledge, still alive, but she has significantly-diminished capacity.  She believe she lives in – she could either live in Newport or Boston, I’m not sure.  And Frances, who had the very good sense to marry the president of the New York Stock Exchange, had no children.  But Julia had two children, a son and a daughter.  The daughter had two children and the son had, I think, five.  My mother will know that for certain.  So, there are lots of them.  And then, my grandfather had five children, four of whom had children, 11 all together, and of those – all of those cousins – well, no that’s not true.  My oldest sister has died, she had no children.  But, those cousins have had quite a number of children; so there’s lots of them.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh my.  

McRory: Yeah.  My Aunt Laura – now my mother will know and I should know this because it’s been in some of the books I have read, but Gamma Gamma, that’s what we called Florence Howe Hall, she had the four children.  Aunt Laura had a different number, but I can’t remember if it was three or five, or six.  It was one of those.  And there are a lot of the richer descendants.  My mother thinks I went to college with one of them, but by her calculations, she thought he was a third cousin or something, but I never spoke to him about it, being a shy person.  But, so yeah, there definitely – I think there are probably more Richards descendants than there are Hall descendants.  That would be my guess.  

Seymour-Ford: Last year, we met Gillian Kellogg, I think is her last name.  

McRory: He’s got to be a Richards.  

Seymour-Ford: Yeah.  

McRory: So, she presumably couldn’t have told you about – a good bit about that branch of the family.  

Seymour-Ford: So, it sounds like the – you’re not one huge clan that gets together periodically –

McRory: On the whole, in my mother’s family, we have a – what is called a circle letter which goes from household to household. When the package comes to you, it has X number of letters, starting with your last letters and then X number of letters since then, and you take out your old letter and you read all the new letters, and you add a new letter and you send it on.  

Seymour-Ford: How lovely.  

McRory: And so, that group of people – I mean, we certainly can all tell you who everybody is.  My mother can tell you – well as I say, I know my one second cousin who actually lives here in Washington.  I mean, we’re not close.  When her mother was living, she would always have us over every now and then, but my cousin is not one of the world’s happiest people, so she doesn’t reach out to us a great deal nor vice versa, I guess.  As I said, my mother will have a better handle on the other Hall cousins, but she might be able to tell you Aunt Laura’s children, but she’s not likely to know too much after that.  I mean, the Howe children were definitely close to each other.  I mean, they maintained close relationships with each other, but I guess that didn’t carry down to their children so much.  

Seymour-Ford: Yeah, it could be geography, too.  

McRory: Yeah, only this wouldn’t really be of much interest to you, but on the Ward side, Sam Ward, King of the Lobby, married the prized beloved granddaughter of John Jacob Astor.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, I didn’t know that.  

McRory: Yeah, the book, you might read about – that branch is called Pride of Lions, but there’s also a book that just came out recently called Archie and Amelia.  Archie was the oldest of the children of the only daughter of Uncle Sam and his Astor wife.  The daughter – God, I forgot how many now – six, seven children, whatever, but they were orphaned fairly young.  Archie was the oldest and he was, I don’t know, 16 or 17, and so they were these incredibly rich orphans.  But Archie was a second cousin to my grandfather and my grandfather actually used to talk about him because, well, you know what money does to people.  Because there was all this money, Archie was definitely a little eccentric, not that he didn’t have reason to be, but some number of his siblings had him involuntarily committed –

Seymour-Ford: Wow.

McRory: – which – and this is all discussed in this book Archie and Amelia, and the only reason they had him involuntarily committed was because they were afraid he was going to give away all the money, which he was, but it was his money to give away, and that is actually not evidence of lack of mental capacity.  The legal proceeding, if you could even call it that, by which Archie was involuntarily committed, you know, the ACLU would have just gone up in smoke over how much his rights were being violated; it was ridiculous.  But anyway, Archie and Amelia, it’s a great book even if you don’t even – aren’t related – distantly related.  It’s a very entertaining story, sad, by very interesting and entertaining.  But as I say, those Astor descendants, the Pride of Lions is the sort of famous book about them.  Anyway, I don’t know how I got sidetracked about the [wars].  I guess the point was my grandfather did know who his second cousin was.  So, he probably knew Elliott – I mean Richard’s cousins, also, and in fact, he probably went to camp with them.  Aunt Laura has been – had a camp called Meriwether(sp?).  I am pretty sure it was, but you should verify that with my mother.  A lot of the family went there and knew each other there.  

Seymour-Ford: Do you remember where that was?  

McRory: It was in New England somewhere.  Do I remember where Camp Meriwether was?  No, but she’ll know.  We still play a card game that was invented at Camp Meriwether called Animal Muggins.  It’s a sort of silly game, but it’s a game that, believe it or not – can be played with players ranging from age three to eighty, and be entertaining for all of them.  It can also be played by slightly inebriated adults and be fairly entertaining.  

Seymour-Ford: That’s great.  

McRory: I’m sure that – play it around the campfire or whatever.  Anyway, I’m not doing a good job of telling you Grandfather Howe stories.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, that’s fine.  If it didn’t get handed down, that’s how it goes.  

McRory: It’s probably also – well, I’m sort of just thinking of this.  Maybe, it was kind of assumed well, everybody’s going to read all the books written by all the family.  They’re going to read Aunt Maud’s book, they’re going to read Aunt Laura’s books, so you’re all going to know everything that’s in there, so that’s going to tell you all the stories.  That could be part of why I haven’t heard quite so many, I don’t know.  

Seymour-Ford: I think the fact that you don’t know that much, maybe, about Samuel Gridley Howe is kind of a delicious irony, I think, because he was the famous guy in the lifetime of himself and Julia Ward, and he really kept his thumb on her and didn’t appreciate her speaking in public, which was a little bit scandalous for a woman even in the late 19th century, and it’s just kind of hilarious that she’s still famous.  I hear questions about her on Jeopardy every once in awhile, whereas who has ever heard of him?  

McRory: Yeah, there is some truth in that.  There is definitely some truth to that, although, I mean, I just started reading a book about John Brown, which I bought at the $1 wonder book table at the farmer’s market last summer, because I saw it was about John Brown, I picked it up and looked up Grandfather in the index, had there he was, so I thought OK, well for $1, I’ll buy it.  So, there really is quite about him out there.  I mean, how many people did all the things that he did?  Follow the Greek revolution, was the first person to work with a blind and deaf person successfully.  He was also, as you know, of course, I’m telling – I’m preaching to the choir, he was also involved, to a lesser extent, in working with the insane.  Then, he was a fairly-rabid abolitionist, rabid enough that he had to leave the country for a little while.  

Oh, have you – there’s a hilarious thing that you can get on the internet.  He was subpoenaed to testify – I can’t remember if it was a Senate or a House hearing, I think it was a senate, he was subpoenaed to testify about the John Brown and Harper’s Ferry [debacle], and he did not wish to divulge any information because he could conceivably have ended up in jail.  And, his testimony was hilarious because it’s exactly the way people testify today.  Somebody will ask a question, and there will be all these words from the witness to communicate, literally, nothing, eighteen pages of it.  And, it is just brilliant that he did this in 18– whenever it was – 60-something.  My cousin – one of my cousins found it on the internet.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, what a hoot.  

McRory: And so you can find that.  So anyway, he did that and then he served on the sanitary commission.  They were friends with Florence Nightingale, which is why my great-grandmother is named Florence.  So, he was just quite an unusual person, perhaps not so much for the time, because people did do a lot – it was much more common for people to do many different things in those days than it is now – we’re all so specialized now.  But, he just had such a phenomenal career, and then he was also married and he had six children, and played a role in their upbringing and so on.  So, he really was quite a remarkable man.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, he was.  

McRory: I mean, I have a feeling that part of the reason there’s not as much told about him is that he wasn’t as warm and engaging.  I say that, now of course, he was good friends with – trying to think –

Seymour-Ford: Are you thinking of Horace Mann?  

McRory: But also Longfellow.  

Seymour-Ford: Yes, yes.  

McRory: Longfellow called him “my dear Excelsior” – and now, of course, Longfellow may not have been the world’s warmest person, either, I don’t know.  But, you know, he certainly had – he bonded very closely and deeply with other people of his time, and they would presumably not have been so fond of him if he did not have engaging qualities.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh yeah, he had a wide circle of acquaintances and influence.  The thinkers of the era, too, so –

McRory: That’s what I’m saying, you know, Longfellow.  Now, let me see if I can do this – there were some family papers that my – let’s see, that my grandfather had, but he predeceased his wife, and so she inherited them.  Oh yeah, if you put in my mother’s name, the very first thing you get is how family papers of the Julia Ward Howe family – at the Schlesinger Library – so I mean, if you don’t know about those, you might want to look at that.  I’ll send you this URL.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, thank you. Actually, I’ve not been over there myself.  There’s a professor from Gordon College who’s writing a biography of Grandfather Howe, and so he’s been over there a lot, and actually, he reveres Howe, and I’m hoping that he’ll restore him to prominence.  

McRory: Well, I’ll look forward to it.  Does he have a publisher?  

Seymour-Ford: Probably not yet.  

McRory: Do let me know because we’d want to read it.  I just sent you that URL.  I mean, I knew she had given these papers because I have been doing my parents’ tax returns for a long time, and they (inaudible) fair amount of money, so they got to take a charitable contribution.  But, it was only just recently that I just sort of completely – in an idle manner, typed in her name and there’s – the entire list of the papers that she donated is there online.  It’s phenomenal.  

Seymour-Ford: Wow.  

McRory: It’s just amazing.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, I’ll have to go over there.  Actually I’m actually the research librarian at Perkins.  We get historical questions all the time, including about Howe and his contemporary.  Over the seven years I’ve been there, I’ve become completely just enthralled with that history and what those people accomplished.  

McRory: What is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of your job description?  

Seymour-Ford: Well, there’s a library at Perkins – actually it’s kind of unique, really, because it’s a library about blindness and deafblindness.  So, you know, it’s education, rehabilitation, mobility, you know, everything like that.  Additionally, I’m the de facto archivist for the holdings of the archives, which are unbelievable.  You know, the history of the reform movement of the 19th century, history of the education of the people who are blind and deafblind.  It’s a goldmine that desperately needs to get processed and made accessible.  

McRory: And where did those records come from, primarily?  Were they just things that – I shouldn’t say just, but were they things that Grandfather Howe and Uncle Michael and whoever was there in the 19th century, just collected and kept or –

Seymour-Ford: Well, yeah, I think the short answer is yes.  In 1880, Grandfather Howe’s successor formalized the library and it’s very –

McRory: That was Uncle Michael, I think, Michael Anagnos.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh yeah, that’s right, Uncle Michael.  

McRory: Sorry.  He was married to Julia (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) 

Seymour-Ford: Yes.  So, but every record of – every journal entry for buying peanut butter in 1842 is down there.  So, it’s just remarkable.  

McRory: It sounds like a lot of job for one person.  

Seymour-Ford: It actually is not.  We just applied to the NEH for a grant to hire archivists.  

McRory: That’s what I’m saying, it’s too much for one person.  Way too much for one person.  

Seymour-Ford: Yeah.  So, actually, they turned us down because it was too ambitious.  We’re going to have to scale it way back and try again next year.  

McRory: (laughter) Oh my goodness.  OK.  Wow, that’s interesting.  Well, do you want me to send you a list of the names of all the people I can identify and how they’re related?  

Seymour-Ford: Well, I would be delighted to have that if you’re willing to take the time to do that.  

McRory: I only want to send it to you if you actually want it.  

Seymour-Ford: I’m fascinated with all the interrelationships.  So, if you’re willing to send that to us, I’d be thrilled to get it.  

McRory: OK.  I won’t be able to do it instantaneously.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, of course not, there’s no rush.  

McRory: It is income season.  But anyway, do you have any other questions you wanted to ask?  

Seymour-Ford: Well, nothing very incisive, I guess.  Do you ever feel that you’ve been guided or inspired by being a descendant of these incredible people?  

McRory: This is where that comes in.  For me, and I don’t know this is true of my cousins, I don’t even know if this is true of my sisters.  One of my sisters died – when did she die, I can’t even remember now, 1992, I guess.  That’s bad, I need to remember that.  But anyway, but for me, I am eight and 11 years younger than my sisters, so I was sort of not really – one of my friends just sort of writes me off and says, oh well, you’re just an only child, but that’s really not true.  But, I was – I did have a very different experience of my parents from the one my sisters had.  My parents were such different people in their mid 30s than they were when they were young, in their young 20-year-olds, and in the middle of World War II and at the end of World War II.  So, we really did have very different experiences.  But for me, I grew up with the understanding that being the person that I am, meant I had a responsibility.  

Seymour-Ford: Wow.  

McRory: I wasn’t – I just thought that was normal.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, fairly recently, really, that people would say to me – because it’s only been recently that a few people have said to me, “Wow, what a burden that is,” and I thought “well, I never really looked at it that way, but now that you mention it, I can see that it has that aspect to it.”  But yeah, I grew up believing that because of who all the people in our family were, that we had a responsibility, a social responsibility.  I don’t know how much you know about the whole philosophy of who contributes to nonprofits and that sort of thing, and who volunteers, who serves on boards, all that kind of thing.  There’s different categories of people, supposedly.  I know virtually nothing about this, I thought it once, but I identified which kind I’m am, which is clearly the kind that feels I don’t do it for the recognition, I don’t do it for – because it makes me feel good about myself; I don’t do it because it makes other people think I’m wonderful.  The reason for my social contribution, to the extent hat there is one, is because I was raised believing that that was my responsibility.  So, that definitely came from the Howe’s.  My great-grandmother, Florence Howe Hall, was a suffragette, so “women’s right to vote” kind of person.  So, I grew up understanding that if you were the kind of person who had people who had done things in the past, that you were responsible to do something worthwhile with your life.  

Seymour-Ford: Well, that’s a magnificent – like I said –

McRory: (laughter).  So, I don’t know if it’s inspiration, it was just that was the deal, you know, that was just a given, for me, anyway.  As I say, I don’t know that my cousins feel it that much.  The biggest – I believe that the biggest storyteller among the five children in my mother’s family was my mother and she, much more than her younger sister, she’s the middle child – if you talk to her, you’ll see she’s very much a middle child, but and that her two brothers were older, and I don’t have the impression that her brothers were as much into telling the family stories as she was.  And of my sisters, I am the one who pays the most attention to that, as best I can tell, so I think that’s sort of how that happened.  

But, I’m glad I didn’t figure out anybody would perceive it as a burden until just the past few years, because it never was, so it was just something that I did, and so, there it was.  And I don’t consider it a burden now, but it is – it can be a little bit liberating to realize that other people would not perceive the need to take on the responsibility.  That can be a little bit liberating.  I’m not sure that makes sense.  

Seymour-Ford: It’s great.  

McRory: Anyway, so the successor [as] a legacy, that would be it, that by being a descendant of people who did so much for the good of their fellow citizens, that’s an obligation that I have, also.  

Seymour-Ford: Well, it is admirable.  

McRory: (laughter) I wouldn’t go that far.  As I say, it was just something that that – it was like breathing, you know, that’s the way it is.  You’re here, these are who your people were, and so this is what it means for these to have been your people.  So, it just was a given.  (laughter).  Nobody has ever asked me that question before.  

Seymour-Ford: Oh, great.  I’m glad it evoked some reflection.  

McRory: Well, I have an aunt on a different side of the family, although my parents were (inaudible) removed, as I mentioned, my father is a genealogist I figured that out and –

Seymour-Ford: Oh, you didn’t know that?  

McRory: Everybody’s related in one way or another.  But, I’m probably your tenth cousin once removed as well, I mean, that’s so far distant that everybody’s probably related that way.  So, an aunt on my father’s side, not the Howe side by the – she thinks a lot; she’s a person who just thinks a lot, so I sort of learned that from her to be somewhat of a reflective person.  My husband says please don’t get to be as bad as she is.  (laughter)  No, you have to be careful.  You know, you want to ask her a question, but you have to think about what the consequences of asking that question are going to be.  Do you really want that much reflection and information?  You have to be sure.  You know, sometimes, you do, and that’s fine.  But other times, no, I don’t really need to know the answer to that question quite that badly.  (laughter) 

Seymour-Ford: I know what you mean.  

McRory: Well, anyway, you probably need to get home.  What do you want to do about speaking to my mother?  

Seymour-Ford: That would be delightful.  Maybe what I can do tomorrow is kind of send you an email and if you wouldn’t mind sending me her address, then I would write her a letter asking her if she would be willing to speak to us.  

McRory: OK, I will absolutely do that.  I’m sure she will be happy to speak with you.  I’m pretty sure she will.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE
Frustrated girl lifting her glasses while trying to read text on a laptop.
Guide

Assistive technology for fluctuating eyesight

Kindergartener's hands on a braille display.
Guide

Writing and editing with an iPad and braille display: Intro part 1

Two overlapping chairs representing seeing a chair with double vision.
Guide

Ten “odd” things I do with double vision