"We Met in Paris": Grace Frick and Her Life with Marguerite Yourcenar

by Joan E Howard


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Grace Frick introduced English-language readers all over the world to the distinguished French author Marguerite Yourcenar with her award-winning translation of Yourcenar’s novel Memoirs of Hadrian in 1954. European biographies of Yourcenar have often disparaged Frick and her relationship with Yourcenar, however. This work shows Frick as a person of substance in her own right, and paints a portrait of both women that is at once intimate and scrupulously documented. It contains a great deal of new information that will disrupt long-held beliefs about Yourcenar and may even shock some of her scholars and fans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826222107
Publisher: University of Missouri Press
Publication date: 03/16/2020
Edition description: 1
Pages: 468
Sales rank: 310,323
Product dimensions: (w) x (h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Joan E. Howard is the director of Petite Plaisance, the former home of Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick, and is the author of From Violence to Vision: Sacrifice in the Works of Marguerite Yourcenar. She divides her time between Augusta and Northeast Harbor, Maine.

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The Early Years 1903–1921

My mind to me a kingdom is.

— Sir Edward Dyer

GRACE MARIAN FRICK WAS BORN on January 12, 1903, in Toledo, Ohio, the daughter of John Henry Frick and Alice May (Self) Frick. Toledo, connected to the Great Lakes by the Wabash and Erie Canal and an important railroad destination, was a flourishing site of commerce and industry in the early twentieth century. The progressive reformer Samuel M. Jones had been elected mayor of the city in 1897 and, over the course of four terms, instituted a number of reforms that benefited working people and their families. An expanding economy that included furniture manufacturers, glass making, oil companies, and railroad-related businesses made Toledo the kind of place where a young family could hope to thrive.

Grace had two brothers, Frederick Carleton Frick and Gage Carlin Frick, who were six and four years old, respectively, when she came along. Nine months later, on October 17, Grace's thirty-one-year-old father suffered a bout of acute appendicitis and died. John Frick had earned a decent living as a fireman for the Paragon Oil and Refining Company until 1901, then as a skilled carpenter for the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway in Toledo; but in those days before Social Security, with life insurance policies still confined to a relative elite, his young widow had few resources to fall back on. Alice May, known to family members as May, had obtained a teaching certificate from a normal school in Indiana and did some teaching before she was married. But she could not support herself and three young children on a teacher's salary. Difficult choices had to be made.

Among the first was the decision to leave the modest home at 233 Fremont Street where the Fricks had lived before John Henry's death and rent an apartment above a store in Toledo. May's son Gage remembered chasing sleighs down snow-packed streets with his brother in the winter after that move and catching rides on the runners. It was not long, though, before the boys were separated — not only from each other but also from their mother and baby sister.

The oldest child, Fred, had been named after his paternal grandfather, Frederick Fricke, an immigrant who, like his wife Mary, was born in the town of Salzwedel in northern Germany. The Fricke family had been innkeepers there in the early nineteenth century. Frederick and Mary arrived in the United States during the Civil War, and one of Frederick's earliest memories of his new country was the sight of Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession.

Frederick Fricke the elder, born in 1833, managed a lumber yard for the Chicago and Alton Railroad in Illinois. Mary, nine years younger, was a housewife with five children ranging in age from three months to sixteen years in 1880. John Henry's eldest brother was already working in a railroad shop then at age sixteen. John Henry followed suit when he was old enough to join the workforce. Eventually the elder Frickes acquired a farm in Bloomington, Illinois. After their son John Henry died, they offered to take in Frederick's youngest namesake.

Gage was also sent briefly to the Fricke farm, but in 1904 or 1905 he went to live with his maternal aunt Dolly and her husband, George A. LaRue, in Kansas City, Missouri. Dolly Frances (Self) LaRue, born in 1873, had grown up, like her older sister May, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was the second of seven children born to Jasper N. Self and his wife, Katharine (Crane) Self. He and Katharine owned a store in Fort Wayne.

Dolly's husband, George LaRue, was raised on his family's farm in Adams County, Pennsylvania, near Gettysburg. He had eleven brothers and sisters. In 1886 George left Pennsylvania at age seventeen and traveled west to join his brother John LaRue in Kansas City. Situated at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, Kansas City was in the midst of a building boom. From a frontier town and destination for cattle drives, the city was evolving into a commercial and cultural hub whose many boulevards would earn it the nickname Paris of the Plains. Fittingly, French fur traders were its first permanent European settlers. During the Civil War, the city's population was sharply divided between proponents of slavery and abolitionists. With the extension of the railroad from St. Louis after the war, Kansas City entered a period of rapid expansion that continued into the twentieth century.

George LaRue had worked his way through normal school in Pennsylvania grinding wheat and corn at a water-powered grist mill. In Kansas City he worked for the Richards and Conover Hardware Company for several years. With that practical experience under his belt, George became a salesman for Simmons Hardware, based in St. Louis. Working for Simmons, George did lots of traveling by train. Family lore has it that Dolly Self had been a "Harvey Girl" when she and George met — that is, she was working as a waitress in one of the Fred Harvey restaurants George frequented in his travels. This first U.S. restaurant chain had a policy of hiring attractive and intelligent young women of good character, and managers kept a close eye on them. George and Dolly married in 1902 in Paducah, Kentucky, where George's sales work was headquartered at that time. The following year, the couple returned to Kansas City, and George joined his brother Charles as a partner in the LaRue Printing Company. George and Dolly had no children, and the printing business was going strong. They could afford to take in a child, and it was not long before they thought of Grace's brother Gage as their own son.

While Grace was still a toddler, May Frick stayed put in Toledo, teaching school and serving as a restaurant cashier. May's twice-widowed mother Katharine (Crane) Self Pennell also lived in Toledo in the early 1900s, at a rooming house run by her sister, Anna Welch. She helped care for little Grace. Katharine's adolescent son Marion C. Self, an elevator boy in 1900, was also a member of that household. Known as Bud, Marion was the only brother of the four Self girls — May, Dolly, Cora, and Georgia — who lived beyond infancy, and he was doted on by all. He did not live a long life, however. In early 1916, at the age of thirty-one, Marion died of a respiratory infection. It was from this much-loved family member that Grace received her middle name.

Once Grace got beyond the toddler stage, May packed up and joined her sister Dolly, son Gage, and brother-in-law George in Kansas City. Her entire family was reunited when Fred left the Illinois farm of his paternal grandparents in time to spend his high school years with the Fricks and LaRues. May Frick had begun to work for the LaRue Printing Company, and before long she was managing the books for the business. Both May and George LaRue had had experience as teachers, and they put a high value on education. The Frick children were all encouraged to do well in school, and they took that encouragement seriously.

In the early 1900s the LaRues owned a home at 3315 Paseo Boulevard, a major turn-of-the-century thoroughfare in Kansas City that was constructed as part of the City Beautiful movement. During the second decade of that century, a series of events would change first the composition and later the location of the LaRue household. On September 14, 1913, when Grace was ten years old, her mother married George W. Bacon and moved in with him at 2330 Spruce Avenue in Kansas City. Bacon was nearly seven years May's junior and had worked as a bookkeeper for the MoKan Telephone Company for a number of years. Though May and her children, particularly Grace, had always been close, none of the young Fricks — Fred was seventeen by this time and Gage fifteen — went to live with their mother and her new husband. Uncle George LaRue, known to all as Unk, was the only father figure Grace had ever known. From all accounts, he cared deeply for the young Fricks and was beloved by them all. Dolly, known simply as Aunt, had a more peripheral role in their upbringing. According to Marguerite Yourcenar, Grace was also brought up by "black mammies and black gardeners." And, indeed, the 1910 census of Kansas City, taken when Grace was seven years old, lists an eighteen-year-old Lillie Johnson, identified as a "mulatto" and a servant, among the members of the LaRue household.

By the fall of 1916, both of Grace's older brothers had left Kansas City. Fred spent the academic year 1916–17 at the University of Missouri in Columbia, then left the country for the battlefields of northern France. For two months beginning on July 4, 1917, he volunteered for the American Field Service (AFS), taking wounded French soldiers off the front lines. Fred was one of twenty-eight young men from his university who participated in the AFS at that time. Though many of his fellow students returned to the United States in time for the fall semester at college, Fred stayed on, becoming part of the Army Ambulance Corps when the United States entered the war. He remained in France through the end of World War I, receiving two Croix de Guerre for his bravery. He was the first Kansas Citian to receive the prestigious French medal. Fred thus became the first member of Grace's family to form a strong attachment to a country that would also loom large in the lives of at least two others.

Fred's brother Gage began his college career at the University of Kansas in 1915 to pursue a printing program whose advanced techniques Uncle George hoped would benefit the family business. It was during Gage's time at KU, when Grace was twelve or thirteen years old, that an incident occurred which gives a glimpse of Grace's budding sense of racial justice. Home from school on vacation, Gage told a story at the dinner table of a young black student who entered a classroom and sat down at a desk next to a white coed. The white girl instantly leapt from her chair and scurried to a seat on the far side of the room. Grace was horrified to hear of the girl's rudeness and insensitivity, and that sense of indignation where racial matters were concerned stuck with her.

As for Gage, he transferred the following year to Harvard University, where he joined the Students' Army Training Corps, forerunner of the ROTC. Gage was about to ship out with his unit in November 1918 when the armistice was signed that ended World War I.

In 1916, with the LaRue household now half as large as it had been before the departure of May, Fred, and Gage, the family moved from Paseo Boulevard to the nearby Ormond Hotel at the corner of Linwood Boulevard and Troost Avenue. The following year found George and May Bacon also moving into the Ormond, with its upscale restaurant and drugstore. Grace, who turned fourteen in early 1917, could now easily visit with her mother every day.

Exactly what the sequence of events was here is a bit vague, but Grace's mother was not well. In fact, it may have been so that Unk, Aunt, and Grace could keep an eye on her that everyone ended up moving to the Ormond Hotel. May's health did not prevent her from taking an active interest in Grace's future, however, as she had in that of her sons. She and other family members began looking into colleges for Grace early on, counseling her in particular to take more Latin than French. The family had friends in Kansas City whose daughters had gone east to college, and May did not hesitate to press them for information about the various schools. Grace also knew at least one fellow high school student who was headed for the highly regarded and progressive Wellesley College. M. Lucille Carpenter, a year ahead of Grace, attended the Barstow School in Kansas City, right around the corner from Grace's public high school. As teenagers, Grace and Lucille lived in the same neighborhood. Barstow had been founded in 1884 by two Wellesley graduates, Ada Brann and Mary Louise Barstow, at the urging of Wellesley's dynamic young second president, Alice Freeman, who realized that her college would thrive only if enough well-trained young women were up to the challenge of its rigorous curriculum. She persuaded several business and educational leaders to become involved in launching high-quality secondary schools for young women in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, as well as Kansas City.

May Bacon's desire to settle the college question early may have had to do with her sense that she would not be around to see her daughter all the way through high school. Grace once recalled a midwinter train trip from which May returned to Kansas City's Union Station shivering and exhausted. In Grace's mind that train trip had marked the onset of her mother's ill health. With her health declining, May stopped working for the LaRue brothers. She died at the age of forty-six on October 18, 1918, of pulmonary tuberculosis. Grace was a sophomore in high school.

During the year leading up to May's death, another sister of Dolly LaRue's, Cora (Self) Gallagher, was also nearing the end of her life. Cora had married John J. Gallagher, a childhood émigré from England, in 1892. After marrying in Indiana the pair moved east to New Jersey, where John's family had settled. In 1900 the young Gallaghers were living at 105 Bowery Street in Newark, in what was then known as the Down Neck section of the city. John was a steel rougher. Ten years later John and Cora were still at the same address and still childless, but John, in his midforties, was now keeping a saloon. On August 26, 1911, Cora gave birth to a daughter. As if foretelling the role she would one day play in the life of her older cousin, that baby was named Grace Marian Gallagher. Both girls were the namesakes not only of their uncle Marion "Bud" Self but also of Marion's short-lived sister Gracie, who succumbed to "congestion of the brain" at age four.

At some point along the way, Cora developed diabetes. As her health worsened, she returned to the Midwest with her daughter to stay with her mother, Katharine Pennell, in Chicago. During the summer of 1918, with Cora unable to care for a rambunctious six-year-old, Grace Gallagher was sent to visit the LaRues in Kansas City. On October 28, 1918, ten days after Alice May's death in that city, Cora Gallagher slipped into a coma and never woke up.

According to her death certificate, Cora was a widow when she died. But the 1920 U.S. census, taken fifteen months after Cora's death, lists a fifty-four-year-old John J. Gallagher living with his brother Patrick in West Paterson, New Jersey. John was now a reeler in a jute mill, Prohibition having no doubt shut down his saloon. In any case, it would have been highly unusual for a man of that age in that era to attempt to raise a little girl on his own. Grace Gallagher thus became a permanent presence in the LaRue household. To distinguish her from the fifteen-year-old Grace Marian Frick, the new arrival was referred to by family members variously as Grace G., Little Grace, or Gracie. Eventually, for reasons unknown to surviving family members, they started calling her Nancy.

To accommodate this new addition to their family, George and Dolly left the Ormond Hotel in 1919 and rented a stunning three-story home at 4340 Oak Street. Located in the predominantly residential and cultural district of Kansas City known as South Hyde Park, the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Louis S. Curtiss designed the unusual stone structure, built between 1903 and 1905, as "an eclectic Prairie Style amalgam of Second Empire, Art Nouveau and Neoclassic elements." It acquired the nickname Mineral Hall after Roland E. Bruner bought it to house parts of his outstanding mineral collection. A prominent feature of the distinctive residence is its dramatic art nouveau main entrance. Grace and Nancy shared a second-floor bedroom whose windows were located directly above that grand entryway.

It was around this time that Grace became active in the Church of Christ, Scientist. She was sixteen years old and a junior in high school. George and Dolly LaRue were members of Kansas City's Second Presbyterian Church, so Grace was striking out on her own in this regard. She had lost both her mother and Aunt Cora within days of each other the previous year. Perhaps Grace was attracted to the Christian Science emphasis on health and self-healing. It is also highly likely she was drawn to the religion's support of civil liberties and women's rights.

Business by this time was booming at the LaRue Printing Company. In 1910 Charles and George LaRue had moved their operation into a larger building at 810 Baltimore Avenue. The brothers took pride in the quality of their service. According to one historical description of the business, "experience, effort and real human interest is applied to every job going through the plant, no matter how large or small."

The "real human interest" that stood George LaRue in good stead as a businessman extended also to his participation in civic and charitable activities. One newspaper article, entitled "Now Take a Man of His Type," notes that "Mr. LaRue finds time to help build a better city in which all types of people can live. ... Mr. LaRue also is active in the work of the Council of Social Agencies. He always is pleading for support of the Red Cross and other worthy enterprises."


Excerpted from ""We Met in Paris""
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Copyright © 2018 Joan E. Howard.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Abbreviations xv

Frequently Cited Works Marguerite Yourcenar xvii

Preface xix

Prologue xxvii

Chapter 1 The Early Years 3

Chapter 2 Wellesley College 16

Chapter 3 Pursuing the Academic Life 28

Chapter 4 Time Out 43

Chapter 5 Incipit Vita Nova 51

Chapter 6 Passage to America 63

Chapter 7 Separation 74

Chapter 8 Interlude 82

Chapter 9 Dean Frick 92

Chapter 10 Echoes of the War 105

Chapter 11 Extracurricular Activities 114

Chapter 12 Locking Horns 123

Chapter 13 Best-Laid Plans 136

Chapter 14 A Gift from Jacques Kayaloff 143

Chapter 15 The Life Their Wishes Never Led 155

Chapter 16 The Saga of Emily Hall 166

Chapter 17 Brooks Cottage 171

Chapter 18 Paris, France 179

Chapter 19 In Collaboration with the Author 190

Chapter 20 On the Road Again 201

Chapter 21 Continuing the Journey 212

Chapter 22 Home Sweet Home 223

Chapter 23 Coup de Grâe 237

Chapter 24 To a Far Country 244

Chapter 25 Travels and Travails Foreign and Domestic 252

Chapter 26 The Wages of Success 261

Chapter 27 Three Crossings 272

Chapter 28 Battling over L'œuvre an Noir 281

Chapter 29 Dear Departed 289

Chapter 30 Grace Bashing Begins 297

Chapter 31 Round Two 305

Chapter 32 Offerings to Neptune and Hermes 315

Chapter 33 One More Midnight Sun 324

Chapter 34 Surcease 333

Chapter 35 Coda 342

Epilogue In Memoriam 354

Acknowledgments 358

Notes 361

Bibliography 415

Index 421

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