Maude Williams Martin:
Early Ballad Collector in Missouri
By Susan L. Pentlin
(in Missouri Folklore Society Journal, v. 8-9)
When Maude Williams Martin died in Warrensburg, Missouri, just before her seventy-fourth birthday, the obituary in the local Daily Star Journal of March 2, 1953, included many academic and professional accomplishments. Prominent among these was her lifelong interest in Missouri ballads and folk songs. With obvious pride, the newspaper reported that:
While at the university, Mrs. Martin made a valuable contribution in accumulating Missouri folksongs, a contribution acknowledged in the publication ‘Ballads and Songs’ edited by Professor H.M. Belden and published by the university in 1940.1
In a handwritten dedication in Maude Williams Martin’s copy of this landmark collection by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, Belden recognized her contributions to the work many years later, writing: “To Mrs. Frank Martin who as Maude Williams started this whole thing more years ago than we are likely to contemplate.”2
Indeed an interest in music and poetry was an essential part of Martin’s long, ambitious life. In 1939, she published a poem “How Rich, How Varied” which expresses this clearly:
Each day my songs are pitched in the same key;
Each night my dreams embroider the same theme:
But oh how rich, how varied life can be
When you are day and night and song and dream! 3
Undoubtedly, Martin’s interest in the native folk ballad can be traced to her childhood at Midway Place, a farm in Clinton County, Missouri, near Cameron, where she was born March 10, 1879. She was one of the nine children of Emily Stevenson Williams and James Williams. James Williams. 4 James Williams had come to Clinton County as a boy in 1842. Shortly thereafter, his father, Luke Williams, died, and his mother, Louise Beatty Williams, raised four children alone on the western prairie, enduring many hardships. James Williams later credited his mother as the one “who laid the foundation of honesty, probity and fair dealings with my fellow men which has served me so well.” The Williams family traced its origins in America back to the historic Roger Williams, and James Williams named one of his sons Roger. 5
In 1912, at the age of seventy-eight, James Williams wrote and published his memoirs, Seventy-Five Years on the Border. He recalled his childhood in a poem, reminiscing:
How drear to this heart are some scenes of my childhood,
When did recollection brings them to view;
No orchard, no meadow, but prairie and wildwood,
And hunting and fishing we all liked to do. 6
He wrote of his experiences as a boy and later as one of the first to ship livestock and grain from Cameron to St. Louis. He explained in the preface his purpose in publishing his memoirs:
In presenting this little work to the public, I lay no claim to literary merit from a scholarly point of view, as that would be a travesty on the good sense of the higher education of the present time. However, I was born in Central Missouri, and have lived on its western border for seventy-six years, and have seen the things I tell about in my native Missouri way of telling it, and believe it will be as interesting to the many as though it were told in nicely rounded periods of classical English. 7
He also made it clear that he was leaving a record of tales from oral tradition that would be of value to coming generations. Later in his work he commented perceptively:
I am aware these stories are not very interesting to many. However, I give them as part of the experience of the pioneers, which is gone forever in this land. 8
In his work, he published several of his own poems in addition to the one quoted above, as well as remarks on other native folk ballads, including “Joe Bowers.” Williams assumed the ballad was of Missouri origin and took pride in it as a “Missouri Product.” 9 He wrote of its author:
But Missouri had a poet in ye olden time, whose name like the author of Arabian Nights entertainment, will have to go down to posterity unhonored and unsung while his wonderful genius should go down the ages right alongside of Mark Twain’s who must have called on him frequently to borrow a meal, or, having let the fire go out in the fireplace, to get a chunk to kindle with, as they must have lived in close enough proximity for these early day neighborly arts.
My readers will already have guessed at the poetical production whose author is lost (as
far as I know) to posterity.
‘I mean, ‘My Name It is Joe Bowers,’ and lest the Interstate Commerce Commission should enjoin a Louisiana Tobacco Co., as to sending this immortal poem, descriptive of Joe’s woes, as wrappers around their (Missouri) plug, and thus cut it off from coming generations, I thought I’d better give it a niche in the Temple of Fame… 10
Although this is not one of the ballads Martin contributed to Belden’s collection she must have known of her father’s admiration for the ballad and perhaps she got some of her enthusiasm for preserving ballads from him. Williams did include a version of “The Ballad of Joe Bowers” in his book. It is essentially the same as the one Belden published that had been collected by George Williams in Bollinger County in 1906. 11 The last stanza is omitted in James Williams’ version, however. Williams gives his source: “By the courtesy of Hon. David Ball, of Louisiana, Mo., I have been presented with a copy of the original ‘Joe Bowers,’ from which I am transcribing for the benefit of Missourians, who sometimes have to see a thing before believing it.”
The Ballad of Joe Bowers 12
My name is Joe Bowers,
And I’ve got a brother Ike;
I came from old Missouri,
And all the way from Pike.
I’ll tell you why I left there,
And why I came to roam,
And leave my poor old mammy,
So far away from home.
I used to court a gal there,
Her name was Sally Black;
I axed her if she’d marry me,
She said it was a whack.
Says she to me, “Joe Bowers,
Before we hitch for life,
You ought to get a little home
To keep your little wife.”
“O Sally, dearest Sally,
O Sally, for your sake,
I’ll go to California
And try to make a stake.”
Says she to me, “Joe Bowers,
You are the man to win,
Here’s a kiss to bind the bargain,”
And she hove a dozen in.
When I got out to that country
I had nary a red;
I had such wolfish feelings,
I wished myself ‘most dead.
But the thoughts of my dear Sally
Soon made these feelings git,
And whispered hopes to Bowers-
I wish I had ’em yit.
At length I went to mining,
Put in my biggest licks;
Went down upon the boulders
Just like a thousand bricks.
I worked both late and early,
In rain, in sun, in snow;
I was working for my Sally-
‘Twas all the same to Joe.
At length I got a letter
From my dear brother Ike;
It came from old Missouri,
All the way from Pike.
It brought to me the darndest [sic] news
That ever you did hear;
My heart is almost bursting,
So pray excuse this tear.
I said that Sally was false to me,
Her love for me had fled;
She’d got married to a butcher,
And the butcher’s hair was red.
And more than that, the letter said
(It’s enough to make me swear),
That Sally has a baby,
And the baby has red hair.
Williams had known the ballad since the Civil War era. He recalled hearing it sung during that time:
There are some things in war and militia days that would make a heathen idol laugh, or almost provoke manslaughter or suicide. I regret I have to say that I, sometimes almost wished, no-not quite that bad, but I believe at that time I would not have tied any crepe on my arm had we gotten into a skirmish with the bushwackers [sic] and a few of our card playing, lazy, rollicking, noisy, dirty mouthed fellows, who were no good in or out of camp, had gotten killed. They’d lie around all day when they could be of any service and when night came, they’d get out an old, filthy deck of cards and game till nearly midnight, then three or four of them would sing “Joe Bowers,” all in a different key and keep every decent man awake. 13
Williams had been in a Missouri militia camp, though not as a enrollee in the militia, and participated in several military battles and raids of the Civil War in the area south and west of Cameron, near his home. 14
His memoirs are lively and well written, a valuable collection of the traditions and local history of Clinton County and Jackson Country in the early days of settlement and during the Civil War. The work also provides an insight into the background and childhood of Maude Williams. In one of James Williams’ poems, he wrote of his wife Emily Stevenson:
She married a man who was very poor,
And many children played around her door-
Nine in all she had,
Seven now living, and two are dead.
“Little Charley” was first that died;
I remember how we wept and cried,
When Elihu B. was forced to go,
And now they lie side by side. 15
These pioneer experiences and folk traditions naturally influenced Martin and she related her interest in the Missouri ballad to the memories and traditions of her family and their neighbors on the Missouri prairie. Once, when speaking to a club group, probably the ABC Club in Warrensburg, Martin explained candidly to the audience, aware of her own closeness to the folk tradition, that “I realize fully that the subject of balladry is not especially interesting to most people, especially if they have never heard any old timers sing the ballads.” 16 She went on and agreed to sing ballads at the club meeting, but commented:
I’m not a vocalist, as you will discover, and if I were I should probably ruin the ballads, by trying to dress them up and make good music of them. I wish I could reproduce for you the high-pitched, cracked voice and the quivers and turns and glides and nasal tones [of] the old people I have heard sing these songs. They all have the same struggle to reach the high notes, and they all fall into the same exaggerated rhythmic swing. I am giving you the words exactly as I found them, mispronunciations, meaningless words, bad grammar and all. 17
She then sang versions of “The Old Man in the North Countree” (“Two Sisters”), “The Jew’s Garden,” “Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor,” “Young Charlotte,” “The Sailor Boy,” and “Joe Bowers”; of the latter, she remarked, “Missourians may faily [sic] claim Missouri origin.” 18 Her son Frank remembers the melody of “Old Man in the North Countree” today and sings a version similar to the one Martin contributed to Belden’s work. 19
Martin was a well-educated woman herself, but she had a long struggle to achieve her ambitions. She first attended Fountain School, a country school near her parents’ home. Without attending high school, she took the county teacher’s examination. She then taught several years at the Fountain School. During this time, she aspired to a university education, but her father was not willing to support her in this dream. 20
In general, James Williams respected the value of education and admired women such as his mother who were strong and determined. He recalled, in his memoirs, meeting an early suffragist and commented he had “always claimed that my mother as a widow who had children to educate should have a right to vote at our school meeting.” 21 He also related how he as a young boy traveled to Plattsburg to sell venison hams. With a Mexican silver dollar profit he bought “the most valuable purchase of my life,” a copy of Pike’s Arithmetic. He wrote:
What little I know of mathematics the foundation was laid in the purchase of that little book. And well do I remember mother’s smile and encouraging words of approbation for my purchasing a useful book in place of toys and sweet-meats. 22
However, he did not consider a university education necessary for women. Martin taught several years in Clinton County and helped on the farm. She saved her money so that in the fall of 1902 she was able to enroll at the University of Missouri in Columbia, then called Missouri State University. 23 In 1903, she became an active member of the English Club on campus. This club, established that January, was to be a significant step in Martin’s intellectual growth at the university. 24
The Club began to meet twice a month. Its purpose, as stated in its May report, was “to revive interest in active literary work.” Club members also planned “if possible to gather material and create a local interest in literary matters typically Missourian in character.” 25 This desire to collect and preserve materials of local literary significance had apparently been sparked by the opening in 1902 of the Missouri historical library. 26
By March of 1903, the student newspaper in Columbia reported regarding the new club that “it bids fair to become one of the most popular organizations of university life.” 27 Club members were required to present original literary pieces at meetings and Club records indicate that Maude Williams read two pieces that spring. 28 One was the local color story “Rosa’s Fourth of July.” In the story, which seems to have autobiographical elements, Rosa is going to a Fourth of July picnic and celebration with Jack, whom she has known since childhood. She has just returned from college and is also receiving the notice of a Mr. Henshaw, who is a college student at home during the summer. Rosa’s mother warns her about Henshaw as she prepares for the picnic:
My Rosy!…how scrumptious you do look. Here, let me hook this. Now Rosy-here’s some pinks I just pulled from the garden-now Rosy you look here. Me and yer father we’ve been a noticin’ how that young spider-legged college dude that’s a visitn’ Browns has been a hangin’ around you and we don’t want you to have nothing’ to do with him, do ye hear? What could a feller like him-there’s a pin comin’ out, let me fix it-with his kid gloves, walkin’ stick and eye glasses do on a farm, I’d like to know. Pa says Jack Martin’s worth a dozen sich. Jack’s got an eighty of his own,–wait here’s a ravelin on your sleeve-and a good start o’stock, and its plain to be seen that he sets a mighty store by you.
At the picnic Jack and Rosy grow jealous of each other and start the trip back home in silence. Rosa begins to hum “Annie Laurie,” Erin on the Rhine,” “In the Gloaming,” and “all the old airs that she thought would be at all appropriate.” 29 “Annie Laurie” and “In the Gloaming” are songs that Maude Martin’s son remembers her playing on the piano during his childhood. 30 Jack finally admits to Rosa how much he has always loved her, but adds:
…you have grown from a pretty, willful child to a beautiful, and, I’m afraid more willful woman. I used to think you cared for me a little. But since you’ve come back from college, so bright and accomplished and handsome, I have felt how utterly unworthy of you I am, and have hardly dared to hope.
Rosa replies, to his surprise: “And as for canes and eye-glasses and superior swaggers, I hate ’em, and everybody that wears em.” She tells Jack, “You know I wouldn’t give you for all the Mr. Henshaw’s in the world.” As she returns home, however, she does wistfully reflect: “Just to think, my independence surrendered for life; and that on the Fourth of July.” 31
Professor Henry M. Belden, a member of the English Department at the University of Missouri, was an active member of the English Club and spoke at the March 18 meeting about Mark H. Liddell’s “Introduction to the Science of English Poetry.” 32 Later he described in the preface to his well-known Ballads and Songs, published in 1940, how his involvement with the English Club led to this collection of materials by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society. He recalled that at a meeting of the Club in the spring of 1903 which he attended
…a local-color story was read in which one of the characters sang a song that I recognized as one of the old English ballads recorded by Child. Upon inquiry, I was told that many such songs were known and sung by country folk in Missouri. I suggested that it might be worthwhile to set down all such songs that members of the club had heard or could find. That was the beginning. Before the year was out Miss Maude Williams (now Mrs. Frank Martin of Warrensburg) had sent in texts of eight of the ballads in Child’s collection. 33
Maude Williams Martin’s son Frank recalls that such songs were sung by his mother, and Belden’s comments in her copy of the ballad and folksong collection may confirm this. 34 It seems reasonable to conclude that the ballad Belden heard in 1903 was sung by Maude Williams, either in “Rosa’s Fourth of July” or in another story.
Records of the English Club show how many pieces members read and how many were “received.” In October 1903, presumably, the collection began. In a May 1903 report the Club plans had been outlined clearly and reported in the M.S.U. Independent for 11 May:
Another new organization which promises to contribute something to the good of the University in the future is the English Club. It was permanently organized in January of this year for the purpose of encouraging literary composition among the students of the university who have taste or ability in that direction, and if possible to gather material and create a local interest in literary matters typically Missourian in character. This phase of literary work has heretofore received little attention here…until a year ago when the Historical library was started here no attempt had been made towards collecting and preserving anything of local literary significance….It is the aim of this new English Club to revive interest in active literary work….Many short stories, descriptions and poems have been read…. In order that these things be preserved and the club have something lasting to build on each year, the numbers will be bound into a volume and kept by the society. Working plans are also being perfected by which the club hopes this summer to make a collection of Missouri songs-unpublished songs that live from mouth to mouth in different localities-songs that have grown from some far-off ballad or been ‘gotten up’ to commemorate some murder or famous happening in the neighborhood in days gone by. Investigation points to the fact that there may be some interesting and valuable material gathered from this field. 35
On May 22, 1903, the Columbia Missouri Herald reported that Miss Williams had been appointed “Collector,” and during that year Belden received from Martin the texts of the eight Child ballads he referred to in his preface (Child Nos. 4,10, 73, 84, 155, 243) and several other songs from Clinton County. The sources of the ballads and folksongs were carefully documented, and several of the melodies were included. Eight of the songs were published in 1906 issues of the Journal of the American Folk-Lore Society, 36 and the song “Johnnie German” appeared in 1908 in the Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen. Williams apparently had collected in the Kansas City area this American ballad which draws on several ballad commonplaces in its story of a sailor lover who returned to “a fair damsel” who “wrung her lily-white hands.” 37
She also sent Belden a version of “The Demon Lover,” “The Sword of Bunker Hill,” and “My Gum Tree Canoe,” none of which appear in any of Belden’s published works. 38 In the 1940 Missouri Folk-Lore publication Belden included eighteen ballads contributed by Williams.
In 1903 Williams had collected “The Pretty Golden Queen,” one version of “The Old Man in the North Countree” (“The Two Sisters”) fifteen stanzas of “Lord Thomas,” “Sweet William and Lady Margaret,” “Lord Lovel,” an untitled version of “Barbara Allen” which she remarked was a common neighborhood song, and a second version of the ballad, “Barbara Allen’s Cruelty.” She also located two versions of “The Jew’s Garden,” “The House Carpenter,” “Fair Fannie Moore,” “Johnny German,” and two other popular neighborhood songs in Clinton County, “The Sailor Boy” and the “Maid of Prairie du Chien.” In addition she secured “The Butcher Boy” from Eva Packard, a friend from Cameron, “who learned it from a hired girl.” Eva had graduated from the University in 1903 and was a mathematics teacher in Kansas City for many years. Martin also sent Belden “The Dog and Gun” and “Young Charlotte” from Greene County and “The Murdered Wife” and “Fight at Bunker Hill” from Clinton County in 1903. 39
The M.S.U. Independent reported in the spring of 1904 about the year’s activities of the English Club:
Of the various clubs and organizations of the University, there are few that have had a more successful year, both as regards the growth of membership and the quality of the work done…. One of the most interesting and important things, in which the Club is engaged, is the collecting of Missouri ballads. This idea is one which the Club may claim as its own, as very little has ever been done in this direction before. Already many pieces of folk-poetry have been collected from almost every part of the state…. The members will try to collect ballads this summer during vacation, and it is believed that a very interesting collection can be put out next year. 40
In 1904, Martin gave Belden the song “James Bird,” which she reported “as sung by her aunt.” 41 This aunt was her father’s sister, Sally Hockensmith, the family matriarch, who lived in Turney, Missouri, to the age of 93 or 94. During the Civil War she had attended school at the Sisters of the Sacred Heart Convent at Saint Joseph. 42
In 1905, Belden reported on the progress that had been made with the folksong and ballad project:
The traditional ballad still persists in America, and to an extent undreamed of by many. At the University of Missouri, during the past year or two, the attempt has been made to record and classify such material as could be gathered from the lips of the people by students and instructors. The results have been interesting and gratifying…. The Missouri collection, imperfect as it is, will give an idea of the results that may be looked for from such an investigation. Though contributions of a piece or two have been made by many, the collection is in the main the work of four persons, each representing a different locality. 43
Maude Williams Martin, of course, was one of these four collectors.
Some years later at a meeting of the Twentieth Century Club, probably prior to 1917, 44 in Warrensburg, Martin spoke about “Folk-Songs in Missouri.” She read several of the traditional ballads she had collected as well as “Romish Lady,” “Jessie James,” and versions of “The Brooklyn Theater Fire” and “The Baltimore Fire.” She also introduced “Jew’s Garden” before it was sung by Mr. Bass, a professor at the Normal; “Sailor Boy,” which was sung by another professor, Mr. Coulter; and “Joe Bowers,” which Mr. Christopher, the developer of the Pertle Springs resort south of Warrensburg, sang for the audience. 45
She characterized herself as an amateur collector, explaining that there are two different kinds of collectors, “the amateur,” adding “to which class I, of course, belong” and the scholar. She seemed, however, in this description not to be self-effacing about her ability, but rather to point with pride at her ability to enjoy the songs themselves. She explained:
The amateur, as you might infer, collects these songs primarily because he finds them, as well as the older generation who sings them, very quaint and interesting and often highly amusing. Often, as in my own case, he has made a considerable collection before he discovers that the songs have any historical value whatever. He is, of course, immensely pleased with himself when he learns that he has accidently [sic] happened upon something that scholars consider valuable material. 46
She was apparently not enamoured [sic] with the “science” of folksongs as such. She pointed out to the audience that the amateur may take polite interest in a scholar’s research, noting with some sarcasm:
He [i.e. the amateur] loses no sleep trying to account for the origin of ballads, knowing that this is a problem in the way of whose solution there are just enough difficulties and impossibilities to make it an attractive subject to the average candidate of a Ph.D. degree. Your amateur is, of course, enough interested in the investigations of these learned Doctors to contribute any material he may find, and to read their laboriously worked out theories as to origins and values. But down deep in his heart he doesn’t greatly care. It is the songs themselves as they are now, and as they are sung by the ‘old-timers,’ that interest him most. 47
She demonstrated her enjoyment of the texts as well as a light-hearted ability to quote them in her further remarks. After explaining that the ballad is “to the last degree formal and conventional” and the main characteristics are the refrain and “recurring commonplaces,” she gave some examples:
…hands are always “lily-white,” regardless of their owner’s rank or occupation. Men show a marked predilection for “milk-white steeds,” which they invariably comb, in preparation for a trip to or from their sweethearts. They are generally extremely rude, too, to their sweethearts, and almost uniformly fickle, even if judged by twentieth century standards of fidelity. Women in ballads, so far as I can make out, put in most of their time “combing their yellow hair,” “sewing the silken seam,” or “playing with their maids at ball.”
With a humored, ironical twist of her own, Martin added:
But we shouldn’t judge them too harshly. They hadn’t yet learned to play bridge and votes for women were several hundred years out of their reach. 48
Later, in her talk, Martin read stanzas of the ballad “Young Charlotte” as an example of a plainer native ballad found in Missouri and wryly observed at the end of the ballad:
We feel almost aggrieved to learn that young Charles did not take his lady-gay by the hand and lead her through in hall; and that neither her nor she seems to have been dressed in Holland green or scarlet red; and that young Charles, probably from ignorance of ballad proprieties, was not driving a mild-white steed. 49
Charlotte had gone on a sleigh ride wrapped only with a silken cloak and a silken shawl in spite of her mother’s pleas to dress more warmly. When they arrived at the ballroom door, her companion discovered (after four stanzas) that she had frozen to death. “He mourned her until his heart did break. They slumber in one tomb.” Martin commented that in the 21-stanza song “details of no seeming significance are scrupulously recorded, other of greater importance omitted.” 50
Martin graduated from the University of Missouri in 1906, having completed high school as well as college work during her years in Columbia. During her last year she was President of senior girls and continued to be active in literary matters. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was valedictorian of her graduating class, receiving the distinction of having achieved the highest scholastic record at the university in twenty years. 51 She was urged to continue graduate work, but because of financial problems, she decided to teach the next year. She had contributed a “Pro(f)verb” in the 1903 Valentine issue of the M.S.U. Independent: “A Prof of beauty is a joy forever,” 52 indicating perhaps her desire to teach and her conviction that a university career was appropriate for women. It is also possible that her upbringing in Clinton County and other societal pressures discouraged her from pursuing an advanced degree. Many years later, she wrote a poem, “The Plaint of a PhD”:
Would that I’d been a glamorous blonde,
And for this cap and gown I’d donned
A bathing suit, a mauve beach hat,
And rouge, and mascara, and that,
And learned to deal with cigarets [sic]
With competence in cabarets,
And specialized in chat that nails
Naïve, impressionable males. 53
In any case, Martin accepted a teaching position at the State Normal School No. 2 in Warrensburg, now know as Central Missouri State University. She taught French and some Latin and served as an assistant in English. 54 In 1909, with the retirement of Professor William F. Bahlmann, she also began to instruct German and became the first head of the modern language department at the Normal. 55
In the 1908 volume of the Rhetor, she was described as a demanding teacher who encouraged her students by her own enthusiasm and talent:
What she wills to do or say
is wisest, virtuous and discreetest, best.
There is a soft and pensive grace
A cast of thought upon her face.
Can there be so fair a creature
Formed of common clay? 56
The 1910-1911 Rhetor marveled at her accomplishment with languages:
The last of these, Miss Williams, surpasses all in respect to the tongue-twisters to be surmounted. She struggles hourly with German, none the less than with French. Often, having attempted to lead her troops across the Rhine or Loire, many brave warriors having been overcome, she retraces her march back into the realm of English. 57
- F. Martin, a graduate of Brown University, joined the English faculty at the Normal in 1908. The 1910-1911 Rhetor noted that Martin and Williams were honorary members of the Short Story Club and, with a pun on an old ballad (“Sweet William and Lady Margaret,” which Maude had found to be popular in Clinton County five years earlier), announced in a limerick:
A teacher of English named Martin
Had quite a pain his hear in
Though no doctor could cure,
Still he was quite sure
Sweet Williams could keep it
From Smartin. 58
In 1911, they married and honeymooned in Chicago. The couple studied at the University of Chicago in 1911-1912. 59 C. F. Martin returned to teach at the Normal, where he retired in 1951. 60 Maude Martin had resigned from the Normal in 1911. 61
The couple had two children, Frank Martin, formerly a physicist with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C. and presently Professor Emeritus of Physics at Central Missouri State University, and a daughter Helen Louise, who died in 1929 of a childhood illness. 62
Martin expressed her life’s goals and uncertainties in a poem she published named “Unending Quest”:
Life is an endless aching quest
For more than mortal loveliness;
But what its name, or what its lure,
Has not been given me to guess.
Thrice I have anchored my life’s bark.
Three isles adrift in a turquoise sea
And rimmed by ships with purple sails
Promised all loveliness to me.
Once was the love of a loyal friend;
Two were the love of mate, of son.
Yet always when the tide sweeps out,
I know my search has but begun. 63
With her inquiring mind, she remained ready throughout her life for new learning experiences and challenges.
She continued to have an active interest in folksong collecting after leaving the University of Missouri. The membership rolls of the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, which had been founded in Columbia in 1906, indicate that Martin was a charter member. Her membership card in the files today indicates that “[she] has made contributions to the ballad collection.” 64 Belden continued to encourage Martin in her work. He sent a general note to members, announcing the Fourth Annual Meeting on Friday, May 12, 1909. He wrote: “The President, Miss Owen, promises papers on general and European folk-lore… and there is promise of interesting contributions from the field of balladry and folk-song.” He added that all contributions had to be reported in two weeks so that the program could be completed before the meeting. On Martin’s copy of this general letter to the membership, Belden wrote in hand: “You see I’m noncommittal as to the ballad part of the program. I’ve left a gap there for you.” Obviously he was proud of his student and counted on her continuing interest. 65 She evidently was keeping up with developments in ballad scholarship, as her comments at her talk in Warrensburg show. After giving Kittredge’s definition of the ballad, she continued:
Gummere, in his book called The Popular Ballad, gives practically the same definition, except for a single addition respecting the probable origin of the ballad. He says, “The popular ballad is a poem meant for singing, quite impersonal in manner, narrative in material, and probably connected in its origins with communal dance, but submitted to a process of oral tradition among people who are free from literary influence and fairly homogeneous in character.” The parenthetical “probably connected in its origins with the communal dance,” seems at first glance harmless and not especially calculated to stir discord or hard feeling. But perhaps there is no other thing connected with balladry upon which scholars so violently and voluminously disagree as upon this question of the origin of ballads. Gummere offers an elaborate explanation to establish his theory that ballads were originally composed extemporaneously by members of primitive communities engaged in the dance, one dancer contributing one stanza, another another [sic], and so on around the circle of dancers until the song was complete. Of course the theory of those who disagree with him is that the ballad was originally a poem, written as any other poem is, by an individual poet, but later submitted by tradition to influence which in time gave it a popular character. Both sides agree that these songs have been sung and transmitted from generation to generation by people who were mainly of the unlettered class, who neither read (anything) or wrote anything and who were demonstrably the makers and transmitters of just the sort of chorals and refrains which appear in these older ballads. So much for ballad origins. (The sooner we get off of such hotly contested ground the better.) 66
Surprisingly, Martin resigned from the Society on February 17, 1917, for unknown reasons. 67 Belden was on leave from 1916 to 1917, and while in Cambridge had deposited the ballad collection with George Lyman Kittredge at Harvard in the hope that it could be published there. He believed at this time that the Missouri collection of ballads and songs was to all intents and purposes complete. 68
However, in 1920, Martin submitted another version of Child’s “The Two Sisters” to Belden. She reported that the song came from “a woman who had spent her girlhood in Kentucky, where she learned this and a lot of other songs.” 69 When Martin sang this song to the Warrensburg ABC Club, she explained:
…still another version is called “The Miller and the King’s Daughters.” The version I am giving you is the only one so far as I know, with this interesting refrain, “Bow down-and a bow ’tis unto me,” which to me clearly shows the song has been used to accompany some kind of dancing game. This song represents, in a general way, a whole group of ballads dealing with rivalry between sisters, and the murder of the fortunate, by the disappointed sister. 70
In her notes, she added that she would “tell what Tad said about it when he first heard it.” Tad was what her young son was called, so she apparently had played and sung the song many times at home. After giving the 1903 version, which she called “The Old Man in the North Countree,” she explained: “I have a very similar but longer version of it with a different tune and slight difference in refrain. It begins sing first stanza and ends-sing last stanza [sic]. I am indebted for it to Mrs. Compton of Warrensburg.” 71
Frank Martin identifies Mrs. Compton as Lula Mae Compton, who worked for the Martins and helped raise him. She did love to sing ballads and was “the woman who had spent her girlhood in Kentucky” mentioned in Belden’s text as Martin’s source. 72
Martin may also have felt in 1917 that her ballad collecting days had passed. When she spoke to the Twentieth Century Club she had told the audience:
And let me say here, parenthetically, that if any one among you has heard any of this class of songs I should be very glad indeed if you would let me know, as my collection is scarcely begun, and I am desirous of adding to it whenever possible.
But she omitted this request in her presentation at the ABC Club in Warrensburg some years later. 73
Martin remained an active person. She returned on several occasions in the 1920’s to teach summer courses in the language department at the Normal school. 74 She also gave private language lessons in French. 75 At one time she sponsored a series of education films for school children in Warrensburg. 76 She continued her interest in art and piano. She also shared interests with Laura Runyon, who lived in the Martin home from 1913 to 1931. 77 Runyon had come to the Training School at the Normal in 1903. She had begun her career working with John Dewey at the University of Chicago and later became a state leader in the fight for women’s suffrage. 78
Martin was also an active member of the ABC Club in Warrensburg and presented papers and book reviews on various occasions. She remained interested in language and dreamed of a trip to Europe. In 1937, after she had “brushed up” on her French, she was able to travel with a friend to Germany and France. Her son recalls she spent long hours after the trip “reminiscing with postcards” about what she had seen. 79
She must have been frustrated at times with her role as mother and wife and with her lack of scholarly opportunity. She evidently was expressing this in ironical references to “contact bridge” in several of her poems and talks. She published one poem entitled “Frustrated,” writing:
But I am a frustrated personality;
For nobody ever taught me that a woman
Can arrive without beauty or virtue or wit,
But not without bridge.
I issued triumphantly forth to mingle
With the right people.
And I played auction with two deaf old aunts
Who were visiting my hostess,
And a grouchy, near-sighted old soul
Who could scarely [sic] tell spades from clubs.
The right people all played contract. 80
Then, as her family’s needs became less demanding, Martin began to write poetry and short stories. In the 1930s and 1940s she published poems in the AAUW Journal, the Kansas City Star, Poetry Digest Annual, Wings, Women Poets of America and other volumes. Claribel Weeks Avery, a judge for the winter issue of Wings magazine in 1940-1941, named her poem “Helpmate” first choice for the Wings Award for poetry. 81
She expressed the importance of poetry in her life as a form of self-expression, of creative independence, in her published poem “The Woman Who Could Not Be.” She wrote poignantly:
The ghost of a woman who never lived
Walks everywhere with me,
Troubling the peace of my nights and days
With talk of her right to be.
“What need,” she scoffs, “of brick and stone
To house the spirit in?
My soul would have housed in the fragile frame of a singing violin.
And the world would have heard from the bow in my hand
A music that has not been.
“There’s a hunger that bread can never feed,”
Sobs my tortured ghost to me.
“There’s a thirst that can only be allayed
By the nectar of melody.
There’s a cold…” Oh, I think she will drive me mad,
This woman who could not be! 82
In December of 1931, Martin had a short story entitled “The Fable of the Gentle Reader and the Founders of a School” published in The Midland, a Chicago literary magazine. In this allegory, the Reader reluctantly agrees to read the “latest masterpieces of the Sewer-and-Bandit School.” 83 This seems to indicate Martin’s continuing preference for the fresh, innocent folk songs and traditions of her youth.
Martin’s poem “An Apology” is written on a particularly sad note, as she reflected on her own life:
I’ve vanished with the tapestry you call
My life. It’s drab of hue, imperfect of design.
You well may think it has no plan at all.
Oh, the world is full of more distinguished work than mine.
Patterns go queer, you know, when traced through tears,
And hands unnerved by pain weave clumsily.
Oh, I dream sometimes of what I might have wrought,
Of kingly cloth of gold, of opalesque [sic] brocade.
But ever comes the sobering after-thought:
Such splendid fabrics are most fit to be displayed
At exhibitions. The might have seemed too gay
To spread beneath my children’s tender feet
When pain or danger loomed across their way.
My life bears many a print of little feet.
You’ll think it marred, no doubt and incomplete. 84
On the other hand, the poems also seem to bear a sense of quiet contentment with the choices she had made. Certainly her contributions to the collection of Missouri folksongs and ballads are remembered and respected yet today.
Maude Williams Martin passed away in Warrensburg on February 27, 1953, at the age of 73. The Daily Star Journal remarked in her obituary:
Mrs. Martin was a woman of unusual personal qualities and breadth and depth of interests. She will be remembered for her warmth and sympathy and her fearless honesty and frankness, as well as for her literary and musical talents. Many who did not have the privilege of knowing Mrs. Martin personally have enjoyed the human insights and mastery of the English language evidence in her poems, a large number of which have been published in various periodicals and newspapers throughout the country. 85
In 1982, a small volume of Selected Poems, chosen by Martin herself shortly before her death, was published in Warrensburg by her son, Frank, and her husband, Charles F. Martin. Charles Martin passed away at the age of 104 on January 14, 1984, 86 and in the spring of 1986 a scholarship in the name of Charles F. Martin and Maude Williams Martin was established in their memory at the former Normal School, now Central Missouri State University, in Warrensburg. 87
1 “Funeral Services Conducted for Mrs. C.F. Martin,” Daily Star Journal, March 2, 1953, pp. 1,6.
2 Handwritten in Maude Williams Martin’s copy of H. M. Belden, ed, Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, University of Missouri Studies, 15 (1940), 1, in possession of Frank Martin.
3 Maude Williams Martin, “How Rich, How Varied,” in An Anthology of Modern Love Poems Eros, ed. Lucia Trent (New York: Henry Harrison, 1939), p. 332; rpt. in Maude Williams Martin, Selected Poems, ed. Robert C. Jones (Warrensburg: Mid-America Press, 1982), p. 36.
4 “Funeral Services,” p. 1.
5 James Williams, Seventy-Five Years on the Border (Kansas City: Standard, 1912), pp. 3-4, 14.
6 Williams, p. 46.
7 Williams, p. 2.
8 Williams, p. 105.
9 Williams, chapter heading, p. 127.
10 Williams, pp. 129-131.
11 Belden, Ballads and Songs, pp. 341-342.
12 Williams, pp. 130-31.
13 Williams, pp. 129-131.
14 Williams, p. 65.
15 Williams, p. 14.
16 Maude Williams Martin, “Folk-songs in Missouri,” MS, n.d., in possession of Frank Martin, p. 1. It appears that this is the manuscript of a talk given first at the Twentieth-Century Club and some years later revised for another club presentation. The second talk was probably at the ABC Club (interview with Frank Martin, 1987).
17 Martin, “Folk-songs,” p. 8.
18 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 21, 25.
19 Interview with Frank Martin, 1987.
20 Charles F. and Frank E. Martin, “Biographical Sketch,” Selected Poems, p. 53.
21 Williams, p. 45.
22 Williams, pp. 20-21.
23 Martin, “Biographical Sketch,” p. 53.
24 The M.S.U. Independent, March 18, 1903, p. 7. The significance of the English Club in the development of the Missouri Folk-lore Society is discussed in “H. M. Belden, The English Club, and the Missouri Folk-Lore Society,” in the present issue.
25 “The English Club,” The M.S.U. Independent, May 11, 1903, p. 16. Special Collections, Ellis Library, Columbia, Mo.
26 “The English Club,” p. 16.
27 The M.S.U. Independent, March 18, 1903, p. 7.
28 Letter from J.H. Craig to Emma Gertrude Simmons, October 7, 1903, English Club of the University of Missouri Papers 1903. Joint Collection Western Historical Manuscripts and the State Historical Society Manuscripts, Columbia, Mo., folder 2.
29 “Rosa’s Fourth of July,” English Club Papers, folder 2. Among papers transferred to the Collection in 1945. Handwritten MS; no author identified. Handwriting comparison seemed to confirm Maude Williams Martin as author (letter from Nancy Lankford, Western Historical Manuscript Collection to author, January 23, 1986). Further information was recently located in the Columbia Missouri Herald, May 22, 1903: “Miss Williams read an original story…’Rosy’s Fourth of July’.”
30 Interview with Frank Martin, 1986.
31 “Rosa’s Fourth of July,” pp. 27-29.
32 The M.S.U. Independent, May 18, 1903, p. 7.
33 Belden, Ballads and Songs, p. xi.
34 Interview with Frank Martin and Charles F. Martin, 1983.
35 The M.S.U. Independent, May 11, 1903, p. 16.
36 H. M. Belden, “Olden Country Ballads in Missouri,” Journal of American Folklore, 19 (July-September 1906), 232-237; 14 (October-December 1906), 281-296.
37 H. M. Belden, “Popular Song in Missouri-The Returned Lover,” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, 120 (1908), 63-64. Listed as “Johnny German” in H. M. Belden (1940), p. 155-156.
38 Maude Williams’ version of “The Demon Lover” and “My Gum Tree Canoe” were included in “The Missouri Folk-Lore Society: Ballads, Songs, Rimes, Games, Riddles, etc. Collected Between 1903 and 1917,” the typescript of his collection that Belden left with Kittredge in 1917. It is now in Houghton Library, Harvard University.
39 H. M. Belden, Ballads and Songs, pp. 6, 17, 38, 49, 52, 61, 7-71, 80, 139, 155, 186, 201, 203, 229, 309, 318, 383; typed manuscript copies of “Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor,” “Lord Lovel,” “Sweet William,” and “Barbara Allen” with notes by Belden and comments in his hand in possession of Frank Martin; handwritten copies of “The Jew’s Garden” and “The Two Sisters” in Maude Martin’s hand also in possession of Frank Martin; notes on Eva Packard; interview with Frank Martin, 1987.
40 “The English Club,” p. 1.
41 Belden, Ballads and Songs, p. 296.
42 Interview with Frank Martin, 1987; Williams, p. 15.
43 H. M. Belden, “The Study of Folk-Song in America,” Modern Philology, 2 (April 1905), 1.
44 The Twentieth Century Club was a group of intellectuals from “town and gown.” They got started shortly after the turn of the century and met in the Estes Hotel. (Interview with Frank Martin, 1986.)
45 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 11, 17, 21, 23, 24, 25.
46 Martin, “Folk-songs,” p. 26.
47 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 26-27.
48 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 5-6.
49 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 16-17.
50 Martin, “Folk-songs,” pp. 15-17.
51 “Funeral Services,” p. 1.
52 “Valentine Issue,” The M.S.U. Independent, February 12, 1903, p. 7.
53 Martin, Selected Poems, p. 20.
54 Rhetor (Warrensburg: Missouri Normal School No. 2, 1907), p. 20. (Rhetor is the yearbook of Missouri Normal/Central Missouri State University.)
55 Bulletin, Central Missouri State Teachers College, Semi-Centennial Issue, 1871-1921, p.55.
56 Rhetor, 1908, p. 108.
57 Rhetor, 1910-1911, p. 33.
58 Rhetor, 1910-1911, p. 135.
59 Martin and Martin, “Biographical Sketch,” p. 53.
60 “Former Educator Dies at 104,” Daily Star Journal, January 16, 1984, p. 12.
61 Bulletin, p. 55.
62 “Funeral Services,” p. 1.
63 Martin, Selected Poems, p. 43.
64 Secretary’s membership list, November 1, 1916, Missouri Folklore Society Papers (1912-1923), Collection 2045, box 13, file 2, Joint Collection Western Historical Manuscripts and the State Historical Society of Missouri Manuscripts, Columbia, Mo.
65 Mimeographed letter from H. M. Belden to Missouri Folk-Lore Society, February 12, 1909, with handwritten note; copy in possession of Frank Martin.
66 Martin, “Folk-Songs,” pp. 2-4. Belden was very active in the controversy relating to the origin of ballads and-with his friend Louisse Pound of Nebraska and others-took issue with the Harvard communalists on the theory of communal origin.
67 “List of Members” , in Missouri Folk-Lore Society Papers, folder 2.
68 Belden had hoped, he wrote, that the collection could be published “as part of a volume on Missouri folklore in the Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society. But that never came off; when I got back to Missouri I found that Miss Mary Owen of St. Joseph, president of our Missouri Society on whom I had counted for the part of the volume not devoted to ballads, was not interested in the scheme and was besides in poor health.” (Henry Marvin Belden, “Autobiographical Notes,” A Belden Lineage 1066-1976, ed. Allen Belden (Washington, D.C., 1976), p. 203.)
69 Belden, Ballads and Songs, p. 233.
70 Martin, “Folk-songs,” p. 8 (back side).
71 Martin, “Folk-songs,” p. 9.
72 Interview with Frank Martin, 1987. Mrs. Compton’s son, Bradley Compton, presently lives in Warrensburg.
73 This section is marked out in the manuscript, but it appears to have been included in her first presentation at the Twentieth Century Club.
74 Bulletin, p. 55.
75 Interview with Frank Martin and Charles F. Martin, 1983.
76 “Funeral Services,” p. 6.
77 Interview with Frank Martin and Charles F. Martin, 1983.
78 Leslie Anders, Education for Service: Centennial History of Central Missouri State College (Warrensburg, Mo., 1971), p. 28; interview with Frank Martin, 1987.
79 Interview with Frank Martin and Charles F. Martin, 1983.
80 Martin, Selected Poems, p. 28.
81 Martin, Selected Poems, p. iii, v.
82 Martin, Selected Poems, p. 17.
83 Maude Williams Martin, “The Fable of the Gentle Reader and the Founders of a School,” The Midland, 18 (May-December 1931, 200-202.
84 Martin, Selected Poems, p. 48.
85 “Funeral Services,” p. 6.
86 “Former Educator,” p. 1.
87 Interview with Frank Martin, 1986.