Moving Out: A Nebraska Woman's Life

Overview

Moving Out: A Nebraska Woman's Life is the autobiography of Polly Spence (1914–98) and an intimate portrait of small-town life in the mid–twentieth century. The descendant of Irish settlers, Polly spent her first fifteen years in Franklin, a village with conservative, puritan religious values in south-central Nebraska. Although Polly's relationship with her mother was tense, she loved and admired her newspaperman father, from whom she inherited her love of learning and the ...
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Overview

Moving Out: A Nebraska Woman's Life is the autobiography of Polly Spence (1914–98) and an intimate portrait of small-town life in the mid–twentieth century. The descendant of Irish settlers, Polly spent her first fifteen years in Franklin, a village with conservative, puritan religious values in south-central Nebraska. Although Polly's relationship with her mother was tense, she loved and admired her newspaperman father, from whom she inherited her love of learning and the English language.

In 1927 her family moved to Crawford, a tough but relatively tolerant cow town in northwestern Nebraska. Polly vividly contrasts the cultural differences between Franklin's prudishness and Crawford's more liberal attitudes. Though not raised on a ranch, she came to love helping her husband feed his cattle, deliver calves, and cook for logging crews. She also found innovative ways to attract visitors to the ranch, which she turned into a thriving guest operation.

Despite her devastation following several personal hardships, Polly displayed remarkable resilience and determination in her life, and when intractable problems arose in her marriage she exercised the options of a modern woman. In Moving Out she intertwines the events that characterized her time and place—the Great Depression, the intolerance that breathed life into the Ku Klux Klan, and the end of the Old West—with the love, death, and sorrow that touched her family.

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Editorial Reviews

Utah Historical Society
"Not only does Spence relate her own story, but also the stories of people around her, making Moving Out a collection of humorous and touching narratives."—Utah Historical Society
Great Plains Quarterly
"Compelling reading. . . . Spence is an astute, thoughtful writer."—Great Plains Quarterly
Publishers Weekly
Although this book covers great events world wars, depressions, elections and blizzards Spence is at its center. The author, who died in 1998 at age 84, wrote this account of growing up in a small Nebraska farming community with a piano teacher mother (whom she disparaged) and a newspaper publisher father (whom she worshiped); she left it to her son, Kyle Spence Richardson, to edit. The life Spence captures embodies the American woman's world pre-Feminine Mystique, a woman's magazine world where females struggled "to create the perfect marriage." In the hands of a less talented writer, this book would appeal primarily to archivists and historians, for it concerns the basics of farming life: marrying, giving birth, rearing children, raising cattle and enduring quiet marital miseries. But Spence's story is a cornucopia of vivid scenes, including images of frontier dentistry, the Klan, church suppers, barn building and rattlesnake killing that will appeal to a much wider audience. The retelling of how Spence's aunt got into her nightclothes in front of a young Spence without revealing any nakedness combines lightness with weighty implications about women's lives, as does her recollection of the long hours women spent in the kitchen. Spence renders these moments unsentimentally, yet with emotional depth, richly informative detail and noteworthy balance. To the deluge of memoirs by "ordinary" people, Spence contributes one that is much more than a nice remembrance for her grandchildren. Photos. (Dec. 19) Forecast: Spence's work is likely to resonate with many women, if they become aware of it. But as the author is no longer alive, publicity and marketing angles are limited. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nebraska housewife tells the story of her life with the lucidity of a Plains State Stendhal. The idea that the Midwest is a reserve of puritanical cornshuckers disguises a more complicated truth, one compounded of many lonely acts of will. Born in 1914, Spence spent her childhood in Franklin County, Nebraska, where her father, Karl, ran the newspaper. He was a stubborn, optimistic man who once tried to drive the KKK out of Franklin County with his fists. Spence's mother was the traditional middle-class pillar of midwestern rectitude. While she despised her mother, Spence acknowledges that she nevertheless absorbed many of her ways-much to her regret. Her family eventually moved to the wilder, ranching part of Nebraska near the Wyoming and South Dakota border. During the Depression, Spence, married to the love of her life, a small rancher named Levi Anderson, had three sons, one of whom died in childhood. Bit by bit she let her life fall into the classic cycle of childrearing. She realized how far things had decayed between her and her husband when Levi and she were building a new house: "Levi did most of the work himself, between May 31st and Christmas Day, 1949, when we moved in. He did the regular work of tending crops and cattle too, and he fell in love with Eleanor Avery." The author managed to separate Levi from Eleanor, a married neighbor, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. Eventually, she separated from Levi, moved to LA, and became a secretary. Her son, editing this manuscript after his mother's death, justifies its publication, in his afterword, as a "picture of rural America." It's also a small work of art from the plains.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803292970
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Series: Women in the West Series
  • Pages: 225
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Karl Spence Richardson, Polly Spence's son, was an American diplomat for thirty years, serving mainly in East Asia. He divides his time between work for an international organization in North Korea, his home in Colorado Springs, and his family ranch in northwestern Nebraska.
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