Margaret Weymouth Jackson · 1996
Margaret Weymouth Jackson was once portrayed in a Sunday magazine story as “Author in an Apron” and described as a “homey housewife . . with the rich brown eyes of a doe . . . and a voice as soft and common as flannel.”
Not when she was riled to indignation! Not when she saw one of her values being debased! Then she would exchange the apron for the typewriter and, sometimes with a quite unmatronly exclamation of “hell’s fire!” thrown in for emphasis, she would lecture the rest of the country from her outpost in the Midwest.
Modern education was one topic.
“We are paying more every year for public education,” she proclaimed to her readers, ” and getting less education for the money. . .
“Our teachers are not only prepared for their professions at the public expense, but they are better paid than school teachers anywhere else in the world. They are surrounded by pension laws, tenure laws, teachers’ federations, and a powerful lobby in every state legislature. They feel entitled to and have attained greater economic security than any other professional group.
“. . . [But] in the last twenty years or so we have certainly developed trends and attitudes in our school systems which seem to me dangerous to us, as a nation, and which also prevent us from getting full value for the tremendous amount of money we spend on our children every year . . . tendencies which are giving us high school graduates by the hundred thousand who can neither read, write nor speak adequately their own language and who have not been taught to do precision work.
“[We now have] pupils graduating from our public high schools who cannot write the simplest letter without misspelled words. Pupils who have never been failed in school, yet who, at fourteen or fifteen, are still reading slowly and with lip movements like third-graders. We find students of eighteen and nineteen who are as innocent of any knowledge of English grammar as a babe in arms.
We find the child who is a good speller and can write simple, correct English sentences the exception, not the rule. And almost always an examination into the history of such an exceptional child will show that he has had home training to account for his unusual abilities.”
Those opinions, which sound as current as the 1996 elections, came from her typewriter in 1940. And while she probably wrote those words as her typewriter sat next to the salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table and with pots aboil on the stove nearby and, OK, maybe even as she still wore an apron, they were carried by the steam of a woman confident in her beliefs; dedicated by commitment to speaking up; and persuasive in the directness and imagery of her simple writing style.
That steam melted away criticism another time, when, during World War II, she responded to what she saw as a snub from Easterners: a belief that those in the heartland weren’t doing their part in the war effort.
Writing in the Saturday Evening Post, Jackson used her adopted hometown _ Spencer, Ind. _ to destroy the criticism.
“I wish some of the people who think the war hasn’t touched us,” she wrote, “could be here [in Spencer] on a day when a group of our men leave by bus for the service. (And they’ve been leaving that way once or twice a month for two years.) A good section of the town turns up on the square, but it’s a quiet, orderly crowd.
“Tears are suppressed and every boy gets a big, if quavering, smile from his own family. Overgrown boys in basketball sweaters kiss their mothers, and their fathers too. They kiss their girls right out in front of everyone and leave each girl standing with mom and pop, who will look after her.
“Then Mr. Dudley White, cook, preacher, World War I veteran, says a prayer for the boys. Every hat comes off and every head is bowed and over the square there comes a sweet stillness with the measured, lonesome voice in it. The flag on top of the courthouse gives a soft flap and the wind blows a little whirl of dust around the corner of the depot. And we all think, “God bless them all!” Then the bus tootles, and there is a burst of energy and rushing about and last calls and kisses and waving hands and handkerchiefs, and the bus is gone and we all drift away and go home, a little emptier, a little more lonesome.”
Those are just two of hundreds of pieces written by Jackson _ who was born Feb. 11, 1895, in Eureka Springs, Ark., and who died April 4, 1974, in an Indianapolis hospital. In all, she wrote a half-dozen novels and more than 200 short stories for national magazines such as Liberty, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and others. More than 50 of her pieces appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.
“Mrs. Jackson was a writer in the heydays of the magazine short story,” Indianapolis Star reporter Shirley Rogers wrote in 1973, “before television stole upon the American scene and, with the click of a dial, banished most of America’s colorful periodicals to dusty existence on library shelves.”
Ideas always drove Jackson’s writing. “I wrote idea stories rather than adventure stories,” she told Rogers. “An idea story is one evolving around the excitement in the mental and spiritual development of the characters and plot, whether it be a change in attainment of one’s goals, or a change in one’s personality. In an adventure story, the character is involved in physical danger and that brings about change.”
Many of those idea stories later found a special place in Jackson’s heart: as stories in public school textbooks as examples of both good writing and good character _ role modes, we’d call them today.
Jackson became a Hoosier at about age 20 when she moved from Hillsdale College in Michigan to Spencer to join her family, which had moved there from Chicago in 1914. Her father, George Weymouth, had come to the Owen county seat to develop a farm newspaper, Farm Life, into a national publication, which he did successfully for about a decade.
Jackson wrote for Farm Life for a while, but later when back to Chicago to write for Farm and Home. She married Charles Carter Jackson in 1920 and they moved to Canada, where their two daughters were born.
By the time, the Jacksons moved to Spencer in 1924, Farm Life had departed the scene. But Spencer was home, and it was from there that Jackson did her short-story writing for about 30 years. (This, incidentally, is Jackson’s second hall of fame. She was inducted into Owen County’s Hall of Fame in 1968.)
“My husband always encouraged my writing because he thought I had talent,” she said in a 1973 interview, “and I never let it interfere with bringing up my children or running my house.”
“I always worked at home except once when I decided to rent an office. I sat there all day, looking out of the window and wondering what my kids were doing. Finally, I put the typewriter under my arm and went home to see, and I stayed there.”
Close to that apron and close to the community from which she drew many of her stories.
Jackson is survived by her son, Charles Carter Jackson, who lives in Bermuda; her daughter Martha Halbrooks, who lives in Ellettsville; by the nephew she raised, Weymouth Fogelberg; and by 16 grandchildren.