Project Canterbury

Letters to Her Companions,
by Emily Malbone Morgan.

Edited by Vida Dutton Scudder,
with a biographical sketch by Emily Sophie Brown.

Privately printed, 1944.


On the fiftieth anniversary of the Society of Companions of the Holy Cross, Father J. O. S. Huntington, O.H.C., conducted a Retreat. At the last breakfast, at which Emily Malbone Morgan, Founder of the Society, was not present, Father Huntington spoke as follows:

"I am glad that Miss Morgan is not with us this morning, for I want to say something about her. She always reminds me of a great river, flowing steadily and swiftly, bringing vital refreshment to every country through which it flows."

The distinguished Englishwoman Miss Lucy Soulsby opens her book The America I Saw in 1916-1918 with a section called "The Interpreter's House"--her name for Adelynrood, mother house of the Companionship. Concerning Miss Morgan she wrote:

"Their founder is a great lady and a great saint, and rules with the air of an amused child. . . . She worried me at first by my consciousness of some strong family likeness which I could not place; but it is cleared up now, as I recognize that some ancestress must have been one of those court ladies of Louis XIV who took shape as charming fairies in Madame d'Aulnoy's stones."

These snapshot flashes may serve to introduce the woman of many-faceted personality and richly varied interests whose central and perhaps most abiding achievement was the creation and subsequent guidance during long happy years of the Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. In this book, she shall speak for herself. Not much is needed to introduce extracts from the letters she wrote year by year to her beloved Society.

Charming stones of her childhood suggest the future woman. In her early youth she would wake herself mornings at half-past five, to say a prayer for the women summoned to work by the bell of a factory near by. Touching autobiographical passages in her letters to the Companionship offer insights of singular beauty into the child heart which she never outgrew:

I remember when I was a child, I had a very confused idea about the office of the Holy Spirit, and I finally settled in my own mind that it must be that His work was to develop the whole of the life of nature . . . and when I planted flower seeds I used to ask the Holy Spirit to make them grow.

In the Annual Letter of 1927, she wrote:

There was a little practice that I had as a child that I still keep up. After I had said my prayers for the family, including the dog and pony--never left out whomever else I might omit--the good night said and the lights put out, there came a beautiful human hand outlined with heavenly light out of the darkness, and to my childish mind it was the Hand of God. Into it I put everything I could think of. I can smile now at the variety, very much like the contents of a little boy's pocket--my sins, my joys, my small worries, the most absurd little things--and I touched with the utmost confidence that infinite Hand that made the Bethlehem star which revealed where the young Child lay, and the other stars and my small self and the other children and the grown people and the singing birds and the wild flowers.

Once when I had been very naughty during the day, I touched a wound print, and then I cried until our Lord told me to turn over and go to sleep. I often do the same thing now, and the things I place there are just as queer as when I was little. I often think they must make my guardian angel smile.

As the biographical sketch of her shows, Emily Morgan had little of what we should call formal education; such education was seldom offered the daughters of privilege in her youth. But her eager mind seized on every type of culture and every intellectual interest that came her way, and assimilated with particular avidity all that came within her reach of the fine arts; so that, as has been noted, we find her at a very early date holding small classes on the art of Italy. It must be confessed that discrimination concerning this art had not yet penetrated the upper social circles of New England; Guido Reni and Carlo Dolce were E.M.M.'s early favorites (and she never could pronounce their names properly). But her interest in art was early overshadowed by a more dominant enthusiasm for her unique vacation houses for workingwomen. She wrote once:

When I was a little girl a lady was looking over my mother's collection of old china and she turned to me and asked pleasantly if when I grew up I was going to collect china? "No," I said, "when I grow up I'm going to collect people," and I certainly have made a collection.

Over eleven thousand wage-earning women and girls have lived with me in these houses, and my family's derisive title for me is "Ursula and the eleven thousand virgins."

Long since I have ceased to keep count. When you are young you are very statistical, but as you grow older you say a prayer that you may have "a right judgment in all things" and you take in anyone the Lord sends you.

Like Grace Dodge, Emily Morgan was a pioneer in the social movement preceding settlements; she was borne on by that tide of social compunction, inspired by no theory but by pure human sympathies, which was rising quite above philanthropic sentiment to a more democratic level. Her activities in these summer houses of hospitality overlapped for a long time those in the S.C.H.C.; indeed she tells us that they long held precedence. Chief emphasis in her "concern" and accepted responsibility shifted slowly, and there is often apparent in her Annual Letters a wistful note of regret. The crisis came in 1920: an intense inner struggle, recorded in her letters with dignity and reserve, but with unmistakable emotion. Meanwhile, links between the two interests were, as will be seen, tender and manifold; and introductory paragraphs must cease. She is to speak for herself, and the sooner, the better. She loved at recurrent intervals to tell her Companions how the S.C.H.C. began. In her little book The Story of Adelyn we learn about the beloved friend of her youth who when only a girl was stricken by fatal illness. Let us listen to the briefer account given in the talk in 1921, at the celebration of the twentieth year of Adelynrood, the house which bears her friend's name:

Dear Adelyn Howard had moved into a new town away from old friends and associations, and I wanted to form a group of her friends into a little society which should add companionship, merriment, and diversion to her life. As she lay there helpless on her bed she said she missed above all her Church, and if anything was started for her she wanted it to be a religious society, and one which would give her spiritual companionship. I did not understand about religious societies, and they did not interest me. My leading characteristic at the time was undeviating and hilarious high spirits; but dear Adelyn wanted such a society, and I loved Adelyn.

In the early winter of 1884, during a visit to Boston, I talked over the matter of such a society with Harriet Hastings, who was religious and who understood all about religious societies. I remember as well as if it were yesterday the Sunday afternoon we had our talk, looking out over the Charles River from a fourth-story window of a Beacon Street house as the sun, nearing its setting, cast long purple shadows on the ice. We at that time drew up our first rules and aims, printed afterward, with little change, in our first wee Manual, little dreaming there would be four editions of the Manual, and that it would ever attain its present fat proportions. It was also that afternoon, looking over a number of books, that I selected our prayer, an ancient collect, and we called ourselves "Companions of the Cross," neither of us, in our teens, knowing much about the Cross and what it meant, but because Adelyn had sounded the depths of pain, and reached the heights above it, and it was her society and to be composed of her friends.

Let us join in fervent thanksgivings that it never occurred to either of us to write a prayer for our society, and that we went to primitive sources for the selection. As we say it daily, it seems as if we had been specially guided in our choice, though I cannot remember that we at the time sought Divine guidance. Youth is so often sufficient for itself.

Give us grace, O Eternal Father, that we strive to keep the way of the Cross, and carry in our hearts the image of Jesus crucified. Make us glad to conform ourselves to Thy divine will, that, being fashioned after His life-giving death, we may die according to the flesh, and live according to the Spirit of Righteousness, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour. Amen.

What that prayer has taught us in all these years! We, in our human associations, our companionship, touch only by surfaces, "but spirit is the core of these," as the old English adage says. Way down in the depths of our being where we carry the image of Jesus crucified is our real life lived and our real battle fought. . . . The shadows of the winter twilight were closing in around us, and the rays of the setting sun were resting on the frozen river below us, as we wrote the last words; and we felt the sense of the generations of Christians through the centuries who may have said them, and who knew the full meaning of His life-giving death, which had opened for them the doors of endless and abundant life.

Of course Adelyn was consulted before we took any step, and we all looked up the Feasts of the Holy Cross in the English calendar. Later in the spring, we asked the first Companions to join us. ... The Society was organized, and . . . was started on the Feast of the Invention of the Cross, a lovely day in May, full of apple-blossom odors, when the world breathed of springtime and new life.

Now we are ready to enjoy selections from those Annual Letters of the Companion-in-Charge (the title she chose for herself) through which during more than fifty years she offered to her Companions a guidance in which the most precious element was her own unconscious self-revelation.

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