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. From Library of Congress Manuscripts division
Transcript of letter:
Austin, Texas, Jan. 25th, 1906
President Roosevelt, –
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.