I am curious about the places and people my great uncle wrote about in his 1914 – 1917 letters home. I just put the question out there and my good friend, Karyn, who lives in Walla Walla (and who is very familiar with the campus) sent me some links. My brother also got on the Internet and did some poking around. Here’s what they gleaned.

First: St. Paul’s School for Girls: “Saint Paul’s School for Girls was founded in 1872 by The Reverend Lemuel H. Wells, who later became the first Bishop of Spokane.  The school offered both day and boarding options for grades six through twelve.”

Stephen B.L. Penrose was President of Whitman College from 1894-1934.  One tidbit under his name is this (copied and pasted from the website: Portraits of of the Past):

World War I


Prior to America’s involvement in the First World War, Whitman College was a paragon of compassion for “benighted Europe.” This concern extended not only to the English and French – whom the Americans would eventually aid – but also the Germans and Austrians. The faculty organized a shelf in the library that provided pamphlets explaining both sides of the conflict, students participated in German Club, and funds were raised to assist Europeans who were in prisoner-of-war camps. One professor of German, Samuel Kroesch, prepared a selection of German plays appropriate for student performance and distributed this list to the surrounding region. Even after America joined the war, Whitman continued its tolerant attitude and was one of only a handful of schools to maintain its German studies department throughout the duration of the war. President Penrose chose to open the campus to new troops in an effort to retain male students who might otherwise drop out in order to enlist. Although the military presence on campus was not as great it would become during the World War II, students benefitted from being allowed both to serve and continue their studies at Whitman.

That explains the name Kroesche in Dale’s letter of March 13, and the German Play he referred to.

Now, things get mysterious: Dale’s letters always begin with “Prentiss Hall”, but the history cited on the Whitman College website states very clearly that Prentiss Hall was not built until 1926! Further, it was, and is, a women’s residence hall. I’m pretty certain Dale knew where he was and wasn’t making up things, but why the history doesn’t match… ???

I did a little more research – found this tidbit from Lyman’s History of Old Walla Walla (pub. 1918) It’s a free ebook, available at this link:

“On October s3, 1866, the first building was dedicated. It was on the location of the present Whitman Conservatory of Music. The building was removed to make way for the conservatory and now composes part of Prentiss Hall, a dormitory for young men.”

Sometime between 1918 and 1926, Prentiss Hall as my great uncle knew it ceased to exist. In 1926, it was rebuilt as a brand new building, and the prior history was lost. That’s the only explanation I have.



Tonight, as I transcribed Dale’s letter, I began to hear his voice: the Mid-west “twang” and his sense of humor seem to emanate from him. His folks are still in Portland at the time of this writing (my brother pointed out that they probably traveled by rail and so did not go through Walla Walla to visit Dale). The First World War is still five months away and a world removed from Walla Walla and Dale.


“Prentiss Hall, March 13, 1914

Dear Folks,

    I got your letter this morning and will answer right away. I hope the weather has warmed up some back there, because the cold is liable to bother you when you get home.

   We gave the German play last night and afterwards went to Kroesche’s house and had a feed. I had a fine time, because they all talked German and told stories about the old country. I got an invitation to come up to Kline’s this afternoon. I am going up you bet. I have a notion to get him to give me a little special work in German if I can arrange it reasonably.

    I have a job for a week or soagain (sic) at St Paul’s School again. I am pretty good at dishwashing now. I do not have to spend so long a time as I used to. The grub is not great stuff, but I manage to live on it somehow.

    I am getting along good in Greek, and German. I had right to get about 90% in each one. Math is going good this semester, and Physics is fine; I worked a problem the other day that no one had worked alone for three or four years.

    Psychology Class has not met for a week, but I think I got about 90% in the test we had at the last meeting. English is all right. I must make a speech next time on the subject: “The Freshman’s reading of poetry”. Bible is really better under the sub. professor than under Drexy(?) as far as facts go, but I guess Penrose does make it more interesting.

    I didn’t get any suit, and I am going to try and get along without one this spring, as money is no common thing around this neck of the woods. I don’t know how money gets away so fast, but everybody seems to have the same trouble. One guy from Boisey who lived her for a while spent close to $200.oo between the 1st of Jan and the 1st of March. I guess that is going some eh? He wasn’t a frightful sport either, but he had most of us outclassed.

    Well don’t work too hard when you get home. I will be back before long, and I will show you how to wash dishes. I hope you will write soon, and tell all the news. I must quit and go down to dinner at the school.

Dale D.”

I could not find a good list of professors at Whitman College* in 1914 (I’m sure there is such a thing) to verify the names Drexy and Penrose (there is a Penrose Library). Kline’s and Kroesche’s are also hard to track down. However, I was able to tie down what St. Paul’s was: St. Paul’s School for Girls.

*I have a friend whose husband works at Whitman College and I shall be emailing her to see if he has any insights on these names.

I wonder how it went over when Dale returned to the homestead and fulfilled his promise: “I will show you how to wash dishes.”

002001I know where Dale went after the summer of 1914 – he enrolled at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. His correspondence back home to the family in Wisconsin picks up in February of 1915, and includes a report card. Postage was $.02.

Prentiss Hall, Feb. 27 1915

Dear Folks,

I suppose you are just starting for Portland when you get this. You can write to me before when you get my next letter so that I can tell where to address the following ones. I suppose you will stay at Meridean until you can go home though. You will have lots of sport telling yarns to the folks back there. All I want to go back to that country for is the fin I can have telling yarns to those folks.

We are having fine spring weather up here. I guess that winter must be about over with. You will kind of miss the Oregon spring when you hit the East in a snowstorm wont(sic) you?

I will send the card back now that I have the averages.

Whitman won the championship in debate over the University and Washington State College last night by two unanimous decisions.

Tell John that he is going to learn German next summer. I have several german(sic) books that fellows have given me and I think that I will get grammar a great deal more firmly in mind by teaching it to someone else. John can learn a foreign language a great deal better and easier now than he can later.

Well I hope you have a good trip, and that you do not get home in the middle of a blizzard. I must close now and write to Brown.

Dale Dale Melrose

Dale was five years older than John. He would turn 20 in March of 1915; John (Grandpa Melrose) would be 15 a few months later.

My curiosity is piqued as to why the family is traveling to Portland, Oregon, when Dale is in Walla Walla, Washington. There were no freeways, but surely… Walla Walla is eastern Washington and they would not be so far away if they took US 30 across. Conversely, if they took US 10 and than 295 south from Spokane, they would go right through Walla Walla.

NatlPtoP_1927_mapOf course, I am overlooking that they were probably traveling west to visit Uncle Ern, my great great grandmother’s brother.

The letters from 1911 and 1912 amount to four total. The bulk of Dale’s letters were written from 1915-1917. All I have from 1912 are a letter and a postcard and the postcard isn’t even from Dale. There’s nothing from 1913, and only one letter from 1914.

001002Newberg, Ore. Jan, 18, ’12

Dear Folks,

       I just got your letter this morning and will answer right away, though I suppose you have got my card long ago. I have got exempt from tests again so I get two half holidays. I bought a raincoat the other day from a fellow here, it is a good one and I got it cheap it only cost $(?).50 and he had to pay ten dollars in Portland for it about two months ago. The botany is all right but I cant use it in school for the state course is taken in an all together different books and of course you can’t use any other.

Say do you think that I had better drop Latin as it is not a required subject unless you intend to graduate and the only thing that it helps is to learn other languages such as French, Spanish, Italian and the like, which after you get Latin it is no trick at all to learn them.

Some of the guys around here have got the habit of coming up to my room when I am out nd getting in through a window or through the door with a pass key just everlastingly stack bedclothes and stuff around, they never break anything but, if I ever catch any of them up here I will teach them a lesson, maybe I will set the Marshal to watch it. It sounds funny to hear about 30 and 40 below when you can run around in your shirt sleeves and see green grass and vines, moss and stuff. I am coming good with my music I can play quite a few tunes on her already. Uncle Ern has a chance to trade his place here for a farm in Missouri and is thinking pretty strong of doing it if he can. Well I will have to quit for this time,

Dale Melrose

P.S. Write and tell me what you think about Latin. D.”

I do believe he really means botany in this letter, unlike the previous letter.

I think the cost of the raincoat was $5.50, but it’s hard to make out.

I especially love his comparison of winter in Newberg vs. winter on the Melrose homestead in western Wisconsin!




(Image was altered to go with the note on the back of the postcard, below


Postmarked: Mar. 14, 1912, Medford, Oregon & Mar. 18, 1912 in Caryville, Wis.

Mrs P.G. Melrose




“The little girl marked X is Vivian on her way to school~taken in Dec. We are looking forward to seeing you this summer. I have been working since Sept. but will probably be through by May. With best wishes (???)

I’m not sure who the postcard is from or why it is in this collection. A cousin? A friend? I did look up the “Road of a Thousand Wonders” and it was “the route of Union Pacific & Southern Pacific from Omaha to San Francisco.” overlandrouteto00compgoog_0003(Found in Internet Archives)

I do know that “Uncle Ern” was Mary Brown Melrose’s older brother, Ernest Linwood Brown.

001 002This is thesecond letter in the collection of letters from Dale Melrose home to his parents in Wisconsin.

“Newberg, Ore. Dec. 24, 1911

Dear Folks,

I got your letter and, what was in it, also a letter from Aunt Jane with a dollar in it. I guess I can make use of that *Botany(sic) allright.

I didnt(sic) wake up until noon this day so I missed sunday school and church but I will go to-night. Maybe I will go to Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church too. The store is rushing me for their bill which amts to $12.42 for the last month, but I bought all my stuff to start in on for cash, then in the bill. I got a football jersey which makes provisions for a month amt. to about ten dollars. I am going to have an oyster stew to-morrow and also some raw.

Jim Hess wanted me to come out and eat dinner with him but I hardly dare to am afraid I might over-eat. I spend a good deal of my time practicing on my harp, I have got all of my lessons about down, and am expecting some more by mail before long.

Say! this is the worst country for sleeping you ever saw, if I didn’t set my alarm clock I would sleep all the time I guess.

How has young Frank made it go? Is he working for George or his father.

Well, I guess I will have to get supper. I guess I will take Book-keeping next year then and Physical Geography too the first semester. I am sending my report card, if I would have got one more point in Latin I would have got A in that too. As it was I got 94 and that made me exempt in everything. I borrowed ten dollars from Jim when I started in housekeeping, the I owe ten on the harp also my store bill and – I guess thats all I owe I hate to say anything about my debts vut it can’t be helped, but I figure it is cheaper than it would be if I boarded at Uncle Erns anyway. If I could get a good job somewhere next summer I don’t think I would go to the coast.

Dale Melrose.”

I am leaving the puctuation as he wrote it, so some of those sentences are down-right run-on. I am not sure Aunt Jane or Uncle Ern are – relatives on the Brown side? The letter seems to be a classic, “please send money” but he doesn’t come out and actually say that. My conjecture.

*Botany – that’s a really unusual word to use in that sentence. I *think* he meant “Bounty”, but then a dollar is green and maybe he did mean botany?


A little history here: Grandfather John “Jack” Melrose had an older brother, Dale. Dale moved west for some reason, leaving behind his father, Philip G. Melrose, and his mother, Mary Brown Melrose. Mary saved as many of Dale’s letters as she could, and I own them as part of an inheritance from my mother.

I have decided to scan them here and tell his story through his own words as much as possible. I’ve read the letters and the story is a sad one, of love lost and a young life cut short. Dale was the favorite son, and my great grandmother never quite recovered from the loss.

The letters span 1911 through 1918, with a couple from 1944 (I’ll get to that later), and a final one in 1948.

Here, then, is the first letter from Dale to his family in Wisconsin. There’s no envelope (I promise to scan the envelopes, too, as they are relevant).

001 002Newberg, Ore. Sept. 30, 1911

Dear Folks,

I have just finished my work for to-day so I will write to you now. I like the high school pretty well. I am taking English, Latin, Algebra, and History. If I go to high school next year I will take Book keeping instead of History. I like my work here at the hotel “tolerably” well, but not any too well. I get up in the morning at four o’clock, go down stairs, sweep, and mop out the office, clean the spitoons, make the calls, clean the stairway, clean up the washroom, and sweep off the sidewalks in front, then my work is done for the morning, at night all I have to do is to carry in wood for the cook stove which takes me about twenty minutes.

I haven’t had to do much studying at home yet, but soon will have to work some at night. On Saturdays I have in addition to my other work, about half an acre of plate glass in front of the office to wash, then I split up wood enough to last me a week, and half scrub the kitchen, but then I get even with them for all that when mealtime comes. I got the bones all right, but you might as well beef them, for all I will have to spend anything for this winter is a new suit of clothes as I am getting to be a swell dresser since I have came out here.

When you come out here next spring come to this hotel for a while, you can get board here for $5.50 a week and it is the high toned kind too. Well, to-morrow night I will have to be leader in Christian Endeavor and I have been worrying about it All week, they are always picking on me to do every thine. Well write again as soon as you can.

Dale Melrose


My mother. She died much too young for my children were too young to properly remember her. She died much too young, period. But that is not what this post is about. It is about who she was, in the hopes that my children will see how she influenced my life, and so they will get to know her a little bit.

Mary Lou Melrose was the youngest of three daughters born to John and Emma (Robinson) Melrose. Emma came from a large family. John (“Jack”) was the youngest son of two boys; his older brother (the favorite) died in 1917 of “complications due to scarlet fever” (more on that at some other time). They were devout Baptists, and by “devout” I mean that my mother didn’t know what menses were until she was thirteen, sat on the toilet, and thought she was hemorrhaging and her mother was forced to tell her.

The three girls were never as prudish as the mother; quite the opposite, in fact. Grandma never did approve of the drinking, and she never did approve of my father. Grandpa, however, enjoyed my father’s company and they often were “locked in the basement” by Grandma because they’d been drinking. Scandalous!

old photos 017Aunt Donna (standing) is the middle child. Aunt Phyllis is the oldest. Mary Lou (front) was the youngest. This was taken when they journeyed from Wisconsin to the Oregon Coast (mid 1940’s). Mom never mentioned the reason for the trip, but two of the girls were so taken with the West Coast that they ended up spending their lives out here.

Mom grew up in a podunk dot on the map called Rock Falls, Wisconsin, just south of Eau Claire. The windy road between Rock Falls and Eau Claire is pretty much the same today as it was then (better pavement and more Amish now). Melroses and Robinsons fill the cemetery at Rock Falls, along with such notables as Robert Browning (of Browning Rifles) and his dog.

Mom loved dogs and hated chickens (and all caged birds, by association*) and horses**.

old photos 020I learned the story behind Rusty the dog (pictured above) when our own beloved Butchy died. It must have happened shortly after this photo was taken – Mom was still a girl, but old enough to remember the feelings. Rusty was hit by a car on the highway out front and died in her arms.

*I learned this fact when I was about 9 or 10. We had an annual Christmas tradition where Dad took each one of us shopping for a gift for Mom. It was my date, and we were in the Five and Dime. Parakeets were for sale and I wanted (really, really, really wanted) to buy Mom a parakeet. It would, of course, really be for me. Dad squashed that hope with a firm, “Your mother hates birds.”

I later confronted her on this item and she looked me square in the eye. “They peck.”

**Mom told me this story in an effort to discourage me from loving horses so much. Or maybe it was just an honest confession when she sat on the bed in her room, my sister and I cuddled up to her, begging for stories from her childhood.

She’d ridden a horse. Once. It was a friend’s horse, perhaps Pat’s horse (in the photo above). An old, dumpy, barn sour horse. It was fine, until it was Mom’s turn to ride it alone, and they happened to turn in the direction of the barn. The horse suddenly went from dumpy and old to something akin to War Admiral. Not only did its gait change from a tired walk to an all-out run for the money, it was headed for a clothesline that was right about neck level for my mother. She managed to bail before being decapitated, and only her ego was bruised, but – well, horses were purely evil in her mind.

I have the same aversion to primates. They are purely evil.

old photos 027

Mom was a quick study in wit. All the Melrose girls were. I learned interesting phrases from her, like this gem: “She thought her sh*t was chocolate ice cream.” Hm. I take it my mother didn’t like that girl in school. (The phrase came in handy as I faced my own demons in 5th-8th grade.)

“The ship hit the sand” – You tell me a nicer way to say that! (The sh*t hit the fan)

Mom was a born rebel. Her high school graduation paper was on “What I Want to do When I Grow Up.” Every other girl wrote about how they wanted to be typists, stenographers, mothers, nurses… Mom wrote about becoming a beach comber on the Oregon Coast. She got an “F”.

She was also a follower and a little bit needy in her younger days. Aunt Phyllis married her best friend and beau. Mom married his best friend. Aunt Phyllis is still married to Uncle Bob. Mom divorced her husband before two years were out because he manipulated and (she never actually said it) abused her. I don’t know if it was verbal or physical. It was, however, the last time.

She was an HSP, like me. Do.Not.Startle us. I learned this on an April Fool’s when my brother decided it would be smart to plug the exhaust pipe on Mom’s car with a potato. It’s supposed to be funny. Fortunately (for my brother) Dad caught him. Dad was even nice about it. “Son, you do NOT want to startle your mother. Trust me.” That was when we learned about the exploding cigarette.

Mom was a secretary(civilian) for the U.S. Army at Camp Hanford, Washington. Dad was a regular there every other weekend, just paying his dues until the Army released him. I believe Mom was still married or in the throes of divorce. April Fools – Dad loaded Mom’s cigarettes with those little explosives that are supposed to startle and amuse.

He had to take her home from work. She was hysterical. A basket case. I totally relate. Do.Not.Startle.Me.

There’s so much more I could write about my mother here. She was the funniest person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (“Look! A Lert!” mime a hunchback-creature) (Next to Lisa Thompson, only). She was the stubbornest person I have ever met (next to my brother. Or myself. Or… Myself).

I knew this was going to have to be in parts when I started it. This is Part One, but i don’t know of how many parts.

old photos 024

Not sure what is on her head, but… Yeah. That’s where I get it from.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 81 other followers