This week, I’ve been feverishly adding to the skeleton that is the Archivists’ Toolkit version of the WWC finding aid—so feverishly, in fact, that the details of each letter I copy and paste often blur together as they whiz by my eyes on the screen, jumping from their home in Microsoft Word to land safely in their fresh new digs in AT. At this point in processing a collection, I’m always torn between reading every letter’s description in order to really get to know the materials and actually getting some work done. The latter usually wins out, but a few key phrases caught my attention earlier this week, so I let my curiosity get the better of me, if only for the benefit of this blog post.
I stumbled across this description of a September 1912 letter from William Warder Cadbury to his parents: “Sara’s condition has worsened considerably.” Reading it felt almost like a dream—thrust into the middle of the action, not knowing how or why you got there in the first place—so I went to the beginning of the folder of letters and did some background research. I pulled the letter to see what was happening and found out that, in fact, Sara Imbrie Manatt (pictured above), Cadbury’s wife of exactly one year, was gravely ill. I knew that Cadbury had two wives, but his second wife, Catharine, is the one who is featured heavily in this collection. What happened to Sara? What was their marriage like? I had lots of questions that demanded answers.
The first letter in Box 6 of this collection holds the key: written from Cadbury to Sara while he is in China and she is in Berkeley, CA, this love letter is probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Though he is thousands of miles away, Cadbury writes with such affection for Sara that I had to briefly pause the song playing on my iPod; somehow, 90s *NSYNC ballads pale in comparison to the words of William Warder Cadbury. In the letter, Cadbury speaks of their upcoming wedding and marriage, and gushes about his “dear Sara,” only later to call her, rather solemnly, “my precious Sara” when he writes of her worsening condition to his parents.
Now I had to figure out what happened to Sara one year after their marriage that caused Cadbury such grief. Reading frantically through a few more letters from Cadbury to his parents, I found out that Sara, then three months pregnant with their first child, unexpectedly became so sick with what Cadbury later called “the Toxemia of Pregnancy” that eventually the child had to be removed in an attempt to save the mother’s life. Sara died a few days after the removal of the child. Cadbury speculated after the fact that had they done the procedure a month earlier, her live might have been spared, but she wanted a child so badly that they waited for any sign of recovery, which, sadly, never came.
The tragedy of such a loss affected Cadbury quite a bit, which is evident not only in the way in which he speaks about her final moments, but also in the way he manipulates pen on paper; throughout the emotional letter, written over the course of many days, his handwriting becomes looser and more dramatic. When Sara’s still alive, his writing is neat, as if he’s conserving all his energy for her, but when she passes, he seems to let go of everything and write truly from the heart. Click on the thumbnails below for larger images of the letter.
9 mo. 29, 1912
Dear home ones:
I shall not post this letter till later, for the Monteagle to take it. But I must report today’s progress. Yesterday Dr. Howard said that if I wanted to have any last word with dear Sara I had better not wait. So I told her she was very ill and might not get well. She wanted a few things left for her sisters. She was very brave and has been full of hope all the time. Then we read the 23rd Psalm together and prayed together. She asked that Dr. Howard come in also, so that we three might pray together. Yesterday was the first day she did not vomit once for the 24 hrs. in seven weeks. Her pulse was rapid and she had considerable fever 102°, however. She took a little barley water mixed with albumen water. This morning she is brighter, and feels better tho she still has attacks of pain in abdomen, and her pulse is very feeble and she has fever. Mother’s letter #33 was so interesting, and it was good to have the enclosures from father. What a lot of little children have been born all at one time.
10 mo. 1, 1912
Another day and night have passed and Sara still holds on to live. She slept well last night under the influence of morphine and awoke this morning greatly refreshed. She is now able to take milk, an ounce every two or three hours and I hope to increase it today. Last night I asked Harvey to stay with me. Her pulse during the day had frequently been 160, and I feared she might slip away almost without my knowing it. Our friends here and in Canton have been praying for us most earnestly and Harvey and I both feel that in answer to these prayers her life has been spared thus far.
10 mo. 3rd
At 4:15 this afternoon the pure soul of my little Sara passed beyond where human eye seeth. Her condition was daily a little worse. She was conscious till the last. She so loved roses, and yesterday and the day before when I got some for her she so appreciated them. Everyone here fell in love with her. Her generosity and thoughtfulness for others, her taste and her love of the beautiful all brought the admiration of everyone. My sorrow and desolation this evening is more than I have ever experienced. I would that I were at home, for I need your love and sympathy. Dr. Howard has been so kind. Both Miss Macher and Miss Florence Seung have been most attentive and assiduous in helping and caring for her. My friends on the compound have the entire responsibility of arranging for the funeral which will probably be held tomorrow in my house about 4 p.m. It will be a simple service, and she will be buried on the compound here, where we can always care for her grave. As she lies now she looks almost as she did on her wedding day, a little more than one year ago. Dr. Howard and I have decided that she was suffering from the “Toxemia of Pregnancy.” This condition sometimes grows worse instead of better after removal of the child, and this seems to have been the case with Sara.
When I got up this morning the magnitude of my loss came over me greater than ever, and I feel that life is but empty without my dear one. Now Mrs. Macher, Mrs. Howard and Dr. Howard are arranging the room and also Mrs. Graybill. Mr. Graybill has ordered the coffin and arranged for the service. The pall bearers will be some of the teachers here. I shall write you next week about the funeral. Last night Mr. Graybill sent a cable “Sara died today, Cadbury” addressed to [?] Philadelphia. I think Ned will notify you at once and the other members of her family. I cannot write more now. I believe our Heavenly Father is all wise and merciful but this affliction is so grievous, I can hardly bear it.
Love to you all,
I suppose this will reach you near Fathers birthday. My love to thee Father on that day especially.
This letter is an amazing find in this collection, and I highly recommend coming in to Special Collections to peruse the many letters, diaries, and photographs relating to Cadbury and his family. The transcription of the letter appears below, and as always, any questions about the William Warder Cadbury collection can be emailed to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Special Collections (email@example.com).