An ethical legacy from Katherine Dreier

What I tried so hard to develop in you was the inner power of perseverance which gives one the moral will-power to continue and complete a job, no matter how bored or tired one may be with it.

–Katherine Dreier

Katherine Dreier, co-founder with Marcel Duchamp of the Société Anonyme, knew my great-grandmother Ruth Seely Preston and Ruth’s mother, Charlotte Seely. I inherited a letter from Katherine Dreier to Ruth Seely from my grandmother, Linda Preston, in which Dreier writes to the census bureau because Ruth had no birth certificate. She also writes a personal letter to Ruth and encloses some other important documents. I share these with you here.

Copy of Letter

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Transcript of Letter

September 21st — 1942

Dear Ruth:

I am sending you my sworn statement that you were born in this country which I hope will bring you the position you are so eager to have.

I am also at the same time enclosing a statement which our organization sent out last autumn when Marcel Duchamp and I, Co-Trustees of the Collection of the Société Anonyme presented this collection to Yale University. At the same time I also enclose the bulletin which Yale publishes and a recent newspaper picture of me to show you how I look now.

These you can show to the authorities if necessary to show them my standing in the community.

What an interesting face your boy has — and your daughter Linda looks sweet. Does she live with her husband at Ackron Ohio, or was that just on a holiday?

And what does you boy do or want to do — for I presume that soon he too will have to get into training for the army, even though he will never be called.

But why did you not send me a picture of your husband — and I do want one of you. Some people are domineering and some people only give that impression because they are positive. I know it came as a great shock when I discovered that people thought me domineering — I had no idea because I was a very positive nature that it could be interpreted that way.

What I tried so hard to develop in you was the inner power of perseverance which gives one the moral will-power to continue and complete a job, no matter how bored or tired one may be with it. Maybe I tried too hard!! Perseverance and endurance are twins! If one develops perseverance one has endurance. But it must be developed in each of us — very few are born with it — and the best way to develop it is through loving what we are doing — not always easy!!

It is a great quality to know that we do not know it all — but it is best to keep it to oneself — for few have reached that wisdom and do not understand. As I have grown older I realized more and more that there is not — good and evil — only understanding or no understanding.

If we understood — we would not do many things — for every action has it re-action — and we often wonder why life is so hard. This also teaches us great tolerance — which is very needed in the world today.

This is all I have time for today — but send me a picture of your husband and tell me what his work is. And also tell me whether you landed the job.
And — I want you to know that I received the little batique square — which I still have for I thought it so lovely. Can you still make it? One can do lovely blouses and dresses
I should think Linda would love to have you make some.
Thank you for it many times.

Tell me about Annabelle —

Hoping that you will soon have a job, believe me, with greetings to your family and warm feelings for you,

Katherine S. Dreier

My niece, Mrs. Garrett Stearly belongs to the Oxford Group who have been near you at the Island House, Mackinac Island.

I asked her if she had time to look you up when passing through Detroit.
The two dollars you borrowed from John Dreier — was that from my nephew or from my cousin?

Something to chew on and something to grow on. Ethical legacies like this letter are just as valuable, if not more so, than material ones. The transcript continues:

September 21st — 1942

This is to certify that I was one of the workers at the Girls Friendly Society at the time that Charlotte Seely, the mother of Ruth Seely Preston belonged to the Girls Friendly Society of Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church of Brooklyn: Dr. S. McConnell, being the rector and Miss Rodman the deaconess, at that time.

I was very fond of Charlotte Seely and therefore recall perfectly when she gave birth to her daughter Ruth Seely in the spring of 1901 in Jersey City.

I recall it very clearly because I had hoped to take charge of little Ruth, when her mother found it impossible to support herself and take care of her child. This turned out not to be feasible.

I can therefore certify that Ruth Seely Preston was born in this country.

Katherine S. Dreier

I posted the documents Dreier enclosed in a related article titled Katherine Dreier, The Société Anonyme Museum of Modern Art, & Yale University, 1941.





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