So! Many are sort of ‘spicious of you and your ring. Richard Worstell
Richard Worstell started teaching in Ft. Madison, Iowa, in the fall of 1925. Within a few months he met Wilda Augustine from West Chester, Iowa. They carried on a correspondence with frequent letters, many of which Wilda saved. One of Richard’s earliest letters was written on printed stationery of Valparaiso University, Kappa Delta Pi, Xi Chapter fraternity. It is dated February 5,1926, Ft. Madison, Iowa. Finances, job security, and dating were concerns in his early letters:
We got paid yesterday ... Don’t last long though that is the only trouble. If I got a month wages every week it would suit me better.... If I get anywhere near a good proposition I will stay here again next year.
I seldom venture out with the fair sex but there is an English (lady) here by the name of Miss Haddock that I have been with a few times. She seems pretty good to me. Of course nothing the least bit serious.... I always am a little careful about going out in the town where I am teaching but would like to never the less. You know if you go with someone and then quit they sometimes can talk and do you a lot of damage. But if I could get out a little more I wouldn’t mind hardly any. That is out of town.
Wilda’s penmanship has been mentioned before and Richard, too, was much impressed. On February 24, 1926, he wrote, “You are one of the best writers that I have ever had the pleasure of corresponding with. You write a beautiful hand and your letters are always so interesting.” About another correspondent, he wrote, “I think it’s just as easy to answer right away but Ruth sort of got me out of the way of that.” Ruth and Wilda were also friends, and Wilda mentioned a letter from Ruth saying “she is not staying in Yuma next year.”
Following are excerpts from Richard’s letter of March 26:
Had a real fire here last Saturday. The J. C. Penny store burned here and also the Ft. Madison Business College. Total ruin.... I think it was covered by insurance and they will rebuild.
... I think I have a good chance of getting back on here at $1900. Of course I would like more if I can get it but then that isn’t the worst in the world. I have applied to several places in the west and I think my chances are good of getting more but I would like to stay here at least one more year — you see I would be in Iowa and could come and see you once in awhile. Will be at Iowa City this summer and hope to see you some then.
My best boy friend from Minneapolis was down here the past week.... He will graduate from University of Minnesota in law this spring and thinks he is going to take the bar exam at Des Moines and then he is going in with a young lawyer here, Mr. Potts. I think he will do well as Mr. Potts has a large practice and then we can all room together next year if I am back and that will make it fine.
Richard received his contract, but was disappointed in the salary of $1,900. He hoped to get a future position in a small college. His immediate plans were to visit his relative in Knoxville, Iowa and “then maybe see you some… Am not going on any trip outside this state this year as I can’t afford it as per usual.”
Later, Dick was a guest of Mr. Potts at a Lions banquet. “I may join Lions next fall,” he wrote. He purchased some life insurance and wrote Wilda about it:
At the end of the year he was writing letters on the printed stationery of Employees Indemnity Corporation.
During the year Dick wrote of various school competitions in athletics, music, and commercial work, shorthand, typewriting, etc. “One of our girls in typewriting got scared and had a nervous breakdown I guess which kept us from doing better,” he wrote. Dick’s plans for the summer were to attend the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. He planned to room with someone named Murphy. One of his colleagues, the band director, Mr. Nelson, planned on going into Chautauqua work for the summer. Wilda wrote about church plans:
Christmas, 1926, Richard Worstell asked Wilda Augustine to marry him. It was his second year at Ft. Madison. He gave her a white gold ring in a filigree setting, a popular style at the time, with a small diamond. He also gave her a Gladstone bag. The leather traveling bag, opening in the middle to lay flat with snap down partitions to keep the clothes in place, was carried on every trip they took through 1946.
More letters give us a peek into their courtship. The postage cost two cents first class. It appears that Wilda and Richard did not make an engagement announcement. Richard answered one of Wilda’s letters on January 4, 1927, as follows:
I will be glad if we can make a successful venture and Oh, I want you to be so happy always. It will be a 50 – 50 proposition, don’t you think, and as long as we both try and make a go of things it will work out O.K.
Their engagement seems to have had a rocky start. A 50 – 50 proposition appeared a little too modern to Wilda. On the back of Richard’s letter, Wilda wrote her thoughts in the form of an answer to the second paragraph above:
She apparently sent a copy of these thoughts, or some similar, to Richard, as he wrote an explanation two pages long, single spaced, and typed, on January 7. A small excerpt read:
“It just sounded more business than love,” Wilda later wrote.
In a previous letter written in October, Richard spoke of a religious meeting he had attended. In a serious relationship, it’s good to get this topic aired early:
In the letter Richard wrote on January fourth, he again mentioned his involvement in church activities:
“You are starting the year out good by going to church both morning and evening,” Wilda answered on January 5th. Then on the 9th, she wrote about her church meeting:
Was out to a Sunday School Class party the other day and the lady across the street preached on loving your enemies. Do you suppose that she loves me? I do not think she does.
January 24th, 1927, Richard wrote:
Richard and Wilda both could dance and Wilda could do a little Charleston, too.
Their letters revealed a little about themselves. Richard didn’t do his own mechanic work, as he wrote that he usually had his car repairs done at the garage. His thoughts were on job security and marriage. He spoke of their mutual friend, “Ruth would have been better off if she had held on to her job in Colorado no doubt. I sure would hate to be without a position for even one year unless I had planned it.” More importantly he said, “I am glad you like the ring. I will be so happy when I am privileged to buy a mate to it.” Certainly, Wilda was looking for marital security. She was still feeling insecure when she wrote, “You and Ruth seemed good friends — I have wondered if you never liked her enough to marry her — or Rachel —.” A couple of months later, Richard wrote, “Ruth is teaching now. I guess it was worthwhile as there are conveniences in living in a large city.”
On the 19th of January, Wilda wrote that the Augustines had moved the radio out to the dining room and that they liked it just fine out there. (Until the house was sold, one radio would always remain in the dining room where a davenport provided a place for Al Augustine to recline while listening to the ball games.) Wilda wrote she kept busy visiting, “taking Dad around,” and enjoying “a hand around,” i.e., card games.
In the two days between January 26, when Richard was looking forward to spending the summer in Iowa City attending the University, to January 28 when he wrote the following to Wilda, he squarely faced his future responsibilities and took a second look at his financial situation:
Wilda could also see working was the prudent thing to do:
You will be so far away from me if you go to Detroit, but no doubt that would be the best thing. I’d like to go with you but I know that wouldn’t quite do. And the fall sounds all right to me.... But never August — you know how I dislike the hot days.... Sometimes I am afraid of it all. I will want you to tell me that you love me always even after I do belong to you for good for I think that is what will make us happy together. Of course we will know it but it will be good to be told afterwards.
February 2 — Dick presses his case:
I have no doubt but what I will make a much better husband than I would have say five years ago. I have seen a lot of life and others and seen many homes broken up like you have no doubt and we both know what it is that breaks up so many homes don’t we?
We both are better off for having had a love affair. We are stronger in lots of ways and we know more what to expect and how to deal with people. We will just have to forget everything in the past and start in on what we think is our best thing in life.
Topics of a more trivial nature filled his letters the next few days:
I don’t know how our team will do now. Since one of the best ones is hurt and one kicked off for smoking it may make a difference.
Bill, my roommate, is going to the catholic dances a good deal here the past few weeks. I think they are trying to rope him in.
In March Richard refers to the same subject.
He (Bill) certainly has made some nice friends among the Catholics. They treat him great and he gets invited to about everything. They have excellent Knights of Columbus formals. The Knights of Columbus are the only ones here that have formals. Everyone wears a full dress suit and white kid gloves, but from what I hear they are tired of it and wish they could be themselves.
Bill and Mr. Potts went to see Rose Marie, a sort of light opera. It was wonderful so they say and of course it ought to be. The seats were $3.50 each.
Saw Stella Dallas, a movie, the other night. Was very sad and I don’t think it would happen like that in real life. I don’t care for such sad pictures. It is considered to be one of the leading pictures this past year.
... car ... will have to make this one do for a year yet anyway. There isn’t anything to buying cars much anyway. A big expense and one could do a lot with the money it takes to buy and keep them up. I am sure glad that I don’t have to pay on anything anymore.
A year earlier, February, 1926, Richard mentioned his car. when he wrote that the “Car looks and runs fine yet.... Has run 5700 miles now.”
In 1927, his views of the future were optimistic, yet prophetic:
Wilda had expectations for the marriage. Letters during the month of February exhibited her need for reassurance concerning her desire for a piano. This was expressed with questions like “You wouldn’t want me to be without a piano would you?” or “You wouldn’t like our home without one would you?” In a letter in March, Richard wrote about the school’s music program and he was aware of the cost of the instruments.
On Washington’s birthday, Richard related a sad little story about a family in Ft. Madison:
Their letters spoke of current pastimes. Wilda wished “they’d play bridge instead of 500 as that’s what they play every place else.” A party invitation, handwritten, said, “On the envelope — You will find your name. Come to Davis’s. Rook is the game.” In February Dick wrote that he played four games of volleyball. A little later he wrote, “I imagine this fine weather makes you feel like getting the tennis court in shape for the games we will soon be enjoying.” Dick played a lot of checkers with his roommate, Bill, and with a certain policeman who played a good game, he said.
A spring and summer activity that was becoming the rage, and that would remain popular for at least a decade, was the mock wedding. (Mock operations were also popular.) A complete wedding party, bride, groom, bride’s maids, best man, ushers, flower girl, ring bearer, and minister, is assembled; women often dressed as men. Bridal gown and maid’s dresses and tuxes are obtained for the participants. The script for each is memorized and the production is presented before a gathering of club members, family and friends. Just to give the reader an idea of the play, a portion of the minister’s lines from one such script started out:
Richard enjoyed his coffee, every meal, with cream and sugar; whipped cream or ice cream was even better. He did not start his meal without coffee on the table, at home or out. If Wilda forgot to put it on the table, she got up and got it before the meal started. Richard used to say that the waitresses in every restaurant should bring the coffee pot with them to the table when they brought the menu. He didn’t usually make his own coffee after he was married, but in a 1927 letter, Dick told Wilda about making coffee once. He wrote, “After church meeting ... I made coffee and it was real good but it was just luck as I filled up a big pot and put in about 1/2 pound of coffee and let it boil over about twice I think.” He liked it strong.
Richard always had an interest in politics. During this time, religion was a factor in political campaigns. There was a campaign for mayor during 1927 in which the only two candidates running for the office were Catholic. A third man, a Protestant, joined the race. Richard opined that religion would be a factor in the race. “It is the best chance we have had for a long time to put in a Protestant mayor. I will vote for him and hope that he gets it. It will be interesting to see what he will do. He can’t do any worse than the one we have.” Richard served on the election board a couple of times and found the days to be long and dull. He wished they “might have a hand around to help put in the time.”
As time went on, Wilda had concerns about the security of her letters, which Richard tried to calm:
The end of March Wilda wrote a very discouraging, negative, emotional letter. After answering her concerns, Richard wrote, “I have been brought up differently from you, been thrown out to make my way as best I could, and with little cheer or comfort from home. I will never be as warm and tender hearted as I once was I guess and I just can’t help it.” In her next letter, Wilda wrote, “There are times, Dick, that I know I am really and truly sure and times I guess that I am not. That is one reason I wish I could be with you more.”
A couple of days later, Richard wrote, “I am sending for the little dog — hadn’t intended to tell you and to surprise you when you got here.... hope he gets here before you do ... Hope he will be as cute as Jerry.” The Augustines always had a dog. To Wilda they were like one of the family. April 8, Wilda wrote, “Well, the little dog came this morning and he seems to feel right at home. Weighs four pounds and looks very much like Jerry.”
Wilda’s very best friends were a couple a little older than she, and she held them both in very high regard. Wilda compared Richard to her friend and wrote Richard how he measured up.
Richard got the point, but he didn’t need any encouragement to dress well, as he possessed a little vanity himself. All this might be seen in the following excerpts:
You know I never wore a hat but everyone says I look good in one. I started to wear one just for you because I know you want me to look the best possible don’t you? So you will be proud of me.... I long for the day when you will go forward with me and join here. I feel safe in saying that I can stay here as long as I care to.... [at the school]
Good bye. I love you dearly and may good luck be with you always. May God bless and keep you for me until I can take you for my own and for good. Lots of Love, Richard
Spring came, the days got longer and the spirits lifted. Dick went to Davenport to store his coat for the summer. Earlier in February he told Wilda that he was “reducing.” He said it was the first time in eight years that he had weighed less than 200 pounds. It was obvious that he was feeling very optimistic when he wrote the following:
Wilda’s outlook changed to eager anticipation. She finally could say:
I know I want to marry you this fall … “Won’t it be fun to have a wedding in the M.E. church — that will be the first time that will have happened.... People, some of them, around here will say that I always do everything different than anybody else around here so I suppose a church wedding will not surprise them much. Of course you will want Bill as your best man.
On April 7, Richard wrote, “I got my new tuxedo and it sure looks spiffy and I am sure you will like it. I will wear it to get married next fall.... I can hardly wait until we realize one of life’s greatest achievements.”
In one letter, Wilda reported that people were saying that she would be getting married in June. But “we fooled ‘em.” she said. Later Wilda wrote:
Wilda went with her parents to visit friends/relatives in Madrid, about 35 miles from Des Moines. She took the opportunity to go on into Des Moines and visit her friends:, “So many are married now and they had their youngsters with them this first day.”
Wilda also spoke of her best friend, Helen Neil, and an ARO breakfast at the Country Club. She spoke so often of her shopping excursions to Des Moines. A new pair of gloves was often needed and purchasing a pair was serious business. The soft kid was expected to fit snugly without any wrinkles, allowing only enough freedom to close the fingers. A clerk would have had a stretching tool that looked a little like a curling iron. She would insert it into each finger of the glove to ease the leather. The lady getting fitted placed her elbow on the counter and the clerk eased the glove down onto the lady’s hand by smoothing on one finger at a time.
One of the letters mentioned a telephone call from Richard. No more letters are available for the year 1927. Richard did not go to school in Iowa City that year so it can be assumed he went to work for one of the automobile companies during the summer. He had said he would be willing to take a night job. They may have used the telephone more frequently. A post card from Wilda, Wednesday, November 2, mailed from Des Moines says, “Came up here Monday — Will go back tonite or tomorrow. Everything is the Drake Homecoming. You know Drake and Ames play Sat. Will look for you up Sat. Hope the weather is good. Bye, Wilda.” It was mailed to 1120 Avenue C, Ft. Madison, Iowa.
These letters give us the picture of two people struggling with decisions to find happiness in their lives. Both carried the emotional scars from failed relationships. Richard, having seen the failed marriages of his parents and two sisters, wants to make the effort, take the patience, and be logical, in order to make a success of the union. Of the two, Richard seems the most optimistic, yet realistic at the same time; he seems financially conservative, yet subject to impulse buying. If Wilda, who may seem a little materialistic, could have seen five years into the future, would she have married Richard? If, on the other hand, she could have seen twenty-five years ahead, would she have felt more secure about the pending marriage?
Richard mailed his last letter to Wilda before the wedding on November 21st from his address at 907 19th Street:
This will be the last time I write. It all seems so wonderful to think of living with you shortly. I can’t help but feel that everything will be ideal. I got most of my stuff in the house Saturday and it begins to look very homelike. I just love it. I am so glad that you are anxious to spend the first night here in our own little place. You will enjoy it more than if you were in a hotel. I and Bill were over to the house yesterday afternoon, Sunday cleaning up a bit and admiring the furniture. He thinks you will be well pleased with everything.
It would be real nice if the church gave you something. I have a nice little sewing cabinet for you so they must get something else. Maybe you will get lots of nice presents. I hope that we are both feeling well on the big day. I had a very severe headache Saturday for some reason or other.
Our team had a tough time up at Morning Sun. Seems that the officials allowed them to get too rough and there were several fights and even the Principal got wrought up over something and almost got in trouble. We won 13 – 0 but we were lucky to get away with our lives I guess. I imagine it will be our last game with them.
Just three days this week and I am giving examinations and have a bunch of notebooks to look over. That together with my regular work and all my house fixing etc will keep me busy right up until Thursday morning when we go up to bring you home. I suppose we will have to go by way of Columbus Junction since our trunks will have to be rechecked at Washington by that way. Bill is getting his things rigged up and I think we will make a good appearance.
It will all be quite exciting and I imagine you will be pretty much on edge when the whole thing comes off. We will feel fine after we board the train to come back here and get rid of all the people. Your suggestion about having the folks down for Xmas is a good one. I would love to have them and we will have a nice little place to entertain them. You could have Howard too.
Well, sweetheart I will close. I love you all the time and I don’t get a chance to think of much else. My school work isn’t occupying much of my mental faculties these days. We will have a great time in Chicago. My tickets for the big game came. We will leave in the afternoon about 3 o’clock Friday I think. Goodnight my dearest Wilda, I love you so, we are going to be very happy. I have done all I could for you in every way, have been thoughtful of you and just good for you all the time. All the love in the world.
P.S. Don’t forget the bed covers & linen.
Wilda and Richard were married November 24, 1927, P. B. Gray of the Methodist Church officiating. Witnesses were H. P. Augustine and J. W. Napier (Bill). An item in the West Chester paper on the 28th noted “Howard Augustine returned to Chicago after spending Thanksgiving at home and attending the wedding of his sister, Wilda.” The account of the wedding in a local newspaper read as follows: