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The Mrs. Morris Incident

Jul 27, 2011

Proof that you never know what you will find in our collections, intern Sarah from Austin shares with us a peculiar incident from 1906.

The day I was able to catalog a letter as “hate mail” was the best cataloging day of my life. Not only did I never expect to use such a term, but this letter would lead me to about fifty other documents related to the “Mrs. Morris incident.”

On a January day in 1906, Mrs. Minor Morris entered the White House with a poem entitled “insomnia,” and a demand to see the President. Her husband had been dismissed from his position with the War Department, and she wanted to discuss this with President Roosevelt. Benjamin F. Barnes, Secretary to the President at the time, informed her that a meeting would not be possible but she refused to leave. After several requests for her to depart, Barnes as well as other security officers informed her that if she did not remove herself, others would. Security officers then escorted her from the White House (the precise details of this vary from different accounts). Once outside Mrs. Morris was arrested and taken to the House of Detention.

It is unclear how the press became aware of the incident, but they did and the stories began. Reports claimed the White House security officers used unnecessary force, tore her dress, and disrespected her in various ways – so much so, that she spent time in the hospital after the incident in “serious condition.”

People began writing to the President directly either taking “his side” or acting outraged at his “behavior” (although Roosevelt was unaware of the incident until after it occurred). One example below from Austin, Texas, claimed to speak for all “Women of the South” and their outrage at the President’s treatment of Mrs. Morris. Senator Tillman was also one of the outraged, and called for an official investigation of the event. While this may have been a political move on his part, it certainly benefits us now, in the form of official statements from witnesses, physicians, and officers. Others supported Roosevelt and believed Mrs. Morris’ “serious condition” to be an act.

Letter from Harriet Talbot to Theodore Roosevelt, January 25, 1906.

Letter from Harriet Talbot to Theodore Roosevelt, January 25, 1906. From Library of Congress Manuscripts division

Transcript of letter:

Austin, Texas, Jan. 25th, 1906

President Roosevelt, –
Sir: –

The ladies of the South endorse every word in the enclosed letter to the Ed. of the Houston Post.

If there is a thimble-ful of true manhood in you, you will apologize to the ladies of the South for having permitted Mrs. Morris to be ejected from a house which is as much hers as it is yours.

We, women of the South are in the habit of receiving courtesy from “all sorts and conditions of men,” – bakers, butchers, bankers, gardeners & governors, stevedores and senators, – all alike, and we certainly expect it as much from a President as a peddler, or porter. So – up, and out with your apology; a brave man does not skulk behind a position.

Miss Harriet Talbot
908 East 9th St.

In addition to letters and newspaper articles describing the events, many wrote in to provide background on Mrs. Morris and their insights into her mental state and the morality of her character. One incident of her accosting her landlord with a gun was of particular interest.

The Mrs. Morris documents were particularly enjoyable because of their variety; letters, articles, statements, and how they all related to the same event. Going through these documents and putting the pieces together was one of those crazy fun history research experiences where you start in one place and end up somewhere you’d never expect. I certainly hope those who visit the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library will have similar (if not better and more exciting!) experiences.

Sarah just completed the first year of her MSIS degree at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently a digitization intern with the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.

 

Posted by Sarah Sundbeck on Jul 27, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  Share this post

Barry Smith said,

Miss Sundbeck, Searching the internet I was pleased to see someone had dug up something on Mrs. Minor Morris. Having just read an excerpt about her in Mark Twain's autobiography I began to research this fascinating case when I came upon your work. At this juncture I still know nothing but am very curious as to the real details of this incident. Apparently in July of 1908 Minor Morris escaped from a mental institute in Missouri. I wonder... was she indeed crazy? Were other forces at work to have committed her? What ever happened to her? Following is an account of her escape from a google search on a page I found. I shall investigate further... I applaud you for your worthy effort. Barry Smith http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mostfran/articles_crime/mrs_minor_morris.htm TOWELS AID HER ESCAPE Farmington -- By means of towels knotted together, Mrs. Minor Morris of St. Louis, who recently came into prominence through charges she made against secret service men at Washington, asserting they had forcibly ejected her from the White House, escaped from her room on the second-floor of the state hospital for the insane here. THE BISMARCK GAZETTE, Bismarck, St. Francois Co. MO, Fri. July 17, 1908 "Missouri News" column -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE BONNE TERRE REGISTER, Bonne Terre, Missouri Friday, July 24, 1908. ESCAPED FROM NO. 4 Mrs. Minor Morris, a Private Patient, Eludes Watchfulness of Attendants. Early last Saturday morning Mrs. Minor Morris escaped from her room on the second floor of one of the cottages at State Hospital No. 4, by means of a rope made with towels knotted together, and no trace of her has since been discovered. Mrs. Morris is a sister of Congressman Hull of Iowa, a woman of rare accomplishments and refinement and several years ago attracted sensational attention by being ejected from the White House at Washington when trying to secure an audience with President Roosevelt in regard to the suspension of her husband from an official position. She was subsequently adjudged insane and was placed in the Hospital at this place about six months ago as a private patient. While treated with the greatest consideration at the Hospital, she was closely watched, and it is a mystery how she eluded the watchfulness of the guards and secured enough towels to make the rope by which she descended from the second story, unless she took possession of them one at a time and concealed them about her person. No trace of her has been found, although the surrounding country has been searched and inquiry has been made at all the railroad stations. --Farmington Times.

Robert Wyckoff said,

It has been a couple of years I see since you posted this. Volume 2 of Mark Twain's autobiography came out a few weeks ago and the first chapters revolve around this incident and the political uproar over his appointment of Barnes. Twain is, as always, very funny. Thanks for your research and your post.

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