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:

... I took on the agency recently for the Indianapolis Life Insurance Co. and yesterday wrote myself out a policy for $5000. I have $8000 now so I think I will stop with that.... In case you ever want any insurance I can write you up without the commission which would save you from 35 – 50% on the first year’s premium.

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:

Lindermeyer is thinking some of preaching for the Baptists this summer. He certainly is a good preacher. Wish he was going to preach for us instead of Gray [their regular preacher] I will have to render a piano solo ... I just get so ‘scairt’ I can hardly play.

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:

So, many are sort of ‘spicious of you and your ring. Well, we don’t care. I only hope that they shall be right in anything they may imagine. I shall surely try and plan things so we can be married....

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:

I can’t quite figure out what you mean. You say such strange things to me sometimes. It makes me wonder why you would give me a ring. You make me think sometimes that you just take me for granted and do not care a great deal for me. I want you to love me and love me hard – be proud of me and admire me and tell me so. And I want to see admiration for me as I have seen you admire others.

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:

... You say I don’t love you enough and I wish you wouldn’t please tell me that any more. Please. When I gave you the ring you told me that and it hurt.... I have always looked upon marriage with the greatest of respect as an institution but my observations have been that it has to be run about right to be a success. Both parties must give and take and often it will seem as though it is mostly give. Both must cherish each other and support and defend the other, and perhaps the greatest thing of all is love, that is what kindles the fires within our hearts. Should you decide to marry me you will be taking no greater chance than I will be taking....

“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:

Attended Evangelist Floyd John Evans at the Tabernacle — about three hours long. The financial end not what it should be. People are not throwing their dollars like of old. Sunday attended the Unitarian Church and found it very sensible and timely.

In the letter Richard wrote on January fourth, he again mentioned his involvement in church activities:

Sunday I was a real good boy as I taught the men’s Bible Class Sunday morning and then went to church both morning and evening.

“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:

Went to church this morning. Gray talked about mixing with people and you can be a Christian if you dance and go to the theater. “Now don’t run away with that.” I sure wanted to laugh. I like him just the same anyway. I heard a man offer him a cigarette the other day. It sure made me mad.

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:

I was elected assistant teacher. I got myself into some kind of trouble didn’t I? We enjoy the Sunday School lessons ever so much but disagree with a lot of stuff printed in the quarterlies. We are all pretty liberal minded now since Bill instilled a little of the radical element.

Wilda answered:

So you are a Sunday School teacher, too! Maybe if I would go to Sunday School they would let me teach. ‘Spose? Some of the good sisters would say I would have to quit dancing and playing cards. Well, maybe someday I will go, too.

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:

I have been thinking of not coming back [to the university in Iowa City] next year but going to Detroit this summer and work so that I wouldn’t be broke in the fall and besides I think a summer of hard factory work would do me good. I would like very much if we could get married next fall if we can possibly manage. What do you think? I don’t see how I can before then.

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 remember the first time I saw you. When we went to Des Moines. We had a good time but you were sad about something. I always admired you and thought you were rather good looking. Of course you had the other qualities also that go to make a good wife. It has just been in the last year that I have thought seriously about you to be sure but that is long enough. We don’t want to wait forever....

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:

The ground hog saw his shadow and I guess that means six more weeks of cold stormy weather, but you know I don’t think that it makes much difference whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, no more than one’s religion determines the weather.

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:

I really and honestly hope that I won’t have to live in a town that size [West Chester] though, as it means so much to be in a place where they have more things to go to. Of course maybe we will have to put up with inconveniences such as one has in a small town someday and in case we ever do you won’t feel very much put out after having lived for so long in a small town.

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.

We got two new kettle drums that cost $350, the best we could get for our orchestra, and they aim to pay for those. They are still some behind on paying for the piano, too. I think it cost $1800 and they owe something like $600 on it. The band have about paid for their uniforms, etc. They expect athletics and music to pay for itself which is a hard thing to do.

On Washington’s birthday, Richard related a sad little story about a family in Ft. Madison:

Early yesterday morning a little youngster just east of town died of pneumonia. She had had scarlet fever then the measles and finally died of pneumonia and then about 10:30 yesterday morning their house caught fire. Men from town rushed down and got the fire out before much damage was done. [April] I suppose you have moved out and away from the scarlet fever. There is no danger of you getting it is there? One of the teachers here had it when I did.

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:

Dearly Beloved: We are gathered here in the presence of this company, some of them married, some about to be married, others would like to be. Our purpose in coming here is to strike a match (a parlor match) or, in other words, to weld, cement, unite and tie up together this alleged man and this woman. If any one can show just cause why these two should not be hitched up double let him now speak or forever after keep silent. (The minister shall say to the man): Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded millinery bill, to live together in a constant state of spatrimony? Wilt thou feed her in health, and in sickness give her medicine? If so, answer I will.

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:

Two or three times you have regretted the fact that you couldn’t write as you felt, that you were afraid that your letters would get in the wrong hands. I am sure I don’t know what would give you an occasion to such fear. I never let my letters get in any others hands and if you want I can return all the letters you send me as I have them in my trunk. I wish you would write whatever you feel like writing and not feel so restrained. I never leave any of your letters out in sight in my room and never carry any in my pockets. I hope you will feel that you can trust me in this respect.

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.

…you walked all over him in everything. He is surely fortunate in getting her. They came down Sunday afternoon to see the dog.... He didn’t seem to care how he looked.... I suppose he thot just coming here it didn’t make any difference.

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:

Glad that your brother Howard was all dressed up as I know that is the way you like to see men sometimes even though it is only West Chester.

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:

I am ordering a Tuxedo. Can you imagine it? I have always wanted one and I thought was a good time to get one as the junior-senior prom is coming on and I can wear it then and of course too if I should ever get married no doubt I could wear one then, think? ...of course I will have to get shirt and shoes, etc., to go with it.

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:

Thanksgiving day won’t be many weeks off. I think maybe that won’t be so bad — but we will talk and plan all about it when you are up next time — it will be so much fun to plan it all. It will surprise the whole country side if I have a church wedding — and that is what I want.

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:

The marriage of Miss Wilda A. Augustine, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. T. Augustine of West Chester, Iowa and Mr. Richard A. Worstell of Fort Madison, Iowa, was a ceremony on Thanksgiving afternoon at three o’clock in the West Chester Methodist Episcopal church, the Rev. P. B. Gray officiating, in the presence of near relatives and intimate friends. Miss Nellie Link of Washington, Iowa, as bridesmaid and Mr. Napier of Fort Madison, a college friend of the groom, as best man, attended the couple, with little Miss Rita Willis as ring bearer. Before the arrival of the bride, Mrs. George Neal of Des Moines, a national sorority sister of the bride, gave a prelude of piano music, and accompanied Miss Mary Scranton who sang “At Dawning.” During the playing the candles were lighted by the ushers, Mr. Troy Fornash and Mr. Edgar Stewart. Lohengrin’s Bridal chorus was played as the wedding party entered the church, the Mendelssohn wedding march being the Recessional. The bride was dressed in a gown of creamy white satin with a cape of jewel embroidered lace. She carried a bouquet of pink rose buds. Miss Link wore a dress of pink taffeta and carried roses. Little Miss Willis wore white organdy and carried the ring on a little white cushion. The gentlemen were in the conventional black. The church was beautifully decorated by Preston Wolf of the Wolf Floral company of Washington, using southern smilax, palms, ferns, chrysanthemums and pink roses. The bride and groom received congratulations before leaving the church. The bride’s going-away gown was of brown crepe trimmed with velvet, with hat and shoes to match. Her coat was of seal skin. After a short honeymoon in Chicago, the happy couple will be at home in Fort Madison, where the groom is Chemistry instructor in the high school.