Saturday, September 01, 2007

Mr. Miller Goes To Washington

During the Spring of 1917, 25-year old bachelor Henry Miller got a job in Washington, DC. He was a mail-sorting clerk for the U.S. War Department in the months leading up the American involvement in WWI.

Henry had been jumping between various office jobs. He was extricating himself from involvement with his older lover, Pauline, and deflecting talk of marriage from his regular girlfreind, Beatrice Wickens (Beatrice claims he was the one asking her, and she was the one holding off [1]). Some time around April 1917, a customer at his father's tailor shop gave Henry the tip about the clerk job in Washington [2] (the United States declared war on Germany on April 6). Henry immediately went for it.
Henry Miller has not written much about his month or so in Washington in May 1917. While working there, he wrote letters to Beatrice in which he expressed a love intensified by their absence. He spoke of plans for their future. [3]
However, he also seemed to consider this an opportunity to reestablish himself away from his trapped life in New York. He wasted no time in arranging a meeting with an editor at The Washington Post. He managed to talk himself into a freelance reporter position, offering to do so without pay. The editor promised to consider any submissions Miller made to the paper. [4] The arrangement lasted only ten days [5]; Henry soon found himself back in New York.
The crucial turning point of events for Henry occured when the United States government passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917. Henry soon received notice that he must register for the draft, like all other men aged 21-30, on June 5, 1917. Concerned about doing military service, Henry realized that he could be exempted if he was married and had family obligations.
Although he did register as was mandatory (in New York, on June 5 [6]), he also submitted a draft deferment. Created with the assistance of Beatrice, this fraudulent document [7] cited that he had an impending marriage, and was obligated to care for his ill father. [8]
Days after filling out his war registration, Henry and Beatrice--who were not married and were living apart--spent a week at the Claridge Hotel at Broadway & 44th Street, apparently to discuss their future (amongst other things, I imagine) [9].
In Joey, (Book Of Friends III), Miller describes his crisis: "One morning I awoke in bed with my piano teacher [Beatrice] and it dawned on me with a rush that I might possibly be drafted for the bloody war. That was the last thing on earth I wanted to happen. I sprang out of bed shouting 'We've got to get married!' and off I rushed to the barber for a shave and haircut. We were married in jig time and I felt fairly secure of not going to war." (p. 65)
Henry and Beatrice married on June 15th, 1917, just ten days after he registered for the draft.
Henry managed to avoid service in WWI, but had enlisted himself to battles in the arena of Marriage. They would officially divorce on March 29, 1924 (after years of turmoil). He did return to Washington for visits in later years, such as a stay at Carese Crosby's home in the 1940s.
________________________________

Footnotes:
[1] Henry Miller: The Last Archive (desciption of material in the estate of Beatrice Wickens). Biography of Beatrice Wickens (excerpt, by Barabara Miller): "When ever Henry had mentioned marriage to Beatrice she would say 'wait.'"
[2] Happiest Man Alive by Mary Dearborn, pg. 58.
[3] ibid.
[4] ibid. And, Always Merry and Bright by Jay Martin, p.47.
[5] ibid.
[6] Nexus - Int'l Henry Miller Journal, Vol. 3 (2006), p.225.
[7] Henry Miller: The Last Archive. Beatrice's 'Tell-All' Book (descriptions) - Section II: "Helping Henry obtain a fraudulent draft deferment."
[8] Happiest Man Alive, p. 58.
[9] ibid.

27 Comments:

Anonymous Eric said...

Good to have you back, RC!

7:57 pm  
Anonymous Kreg said...

You can see Henry Miller's WWI draft registration card here. Looks like the filing date was actually June 5,1917, rather than June 15.

10:10 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Hi Kreg,
My sentence structure left it open to be read two ways, so I've changed it to be clearer that he was married on the 15th, ten days after registering. Thanks a lot for the link to the clear image of the draft card!

11:10 am  
Anonymous Kreg said...

Ah, you're correct, RC. Guess I read that too quickly. Looks like June 5 was the day everyone had to regeister for the draft.

Also, I cleaned up those ship manifests I linked in the comments of your June Comes to America post and put them in a less bizarre resolution.

Here are a few US census records for Henry and June to help flesh things out...

1900 Census, Henry - Henry V. is 8 years old and lives with his parents and sister, Loretta. Henry Sr. is a merchant tailor.

1910 Census, Henry - Henry V. is 18 and works as a clerk for a cement co. Henry Sr. is still a merchant tailor.

1920 Census, Henry - Henry V. is married to Beatrice. They have adaughter, Barbara S. Barbara's mother lives with them, as does a Japanese boarder named Tory Takekawa.

1910 Census, June - The Smiths have arrived. Nine year old June ("Julia") lives with her parents and 4 siblings. Her father is an ironer in a cloak factory.

1920 Census, June - June is 18 and lives at home. She works as a clerk in a department store. Her father is a guard at a railroad co.

8:53 pm  
Anonymous Mike Harris said...

I must say, as a Brit, I do find it odd that a writer as celebrated - or at least as influential - as HM was, appears not to have the various addresses he's associated with around NY and its environs, marked out by any kind of attached heritage plaque! (Certainly, such an oversight - if that it be - wouldn't have been permitted to go unrectified in most European cities with someone of HM's cultural stature!)

I should certainly think the property on 224 Sixth Avenue, where he lived with Beatrice, his first wife, for a number of years would merit the honour; but, from a check on "Street View", such, evidently, isn't the case! (Perhaps the authorities aren't best pleased by his unflattering depictions of the city, in his writings!)

I'm presently reading SEXUS again, after some thirty-odd years, and reached the part (three-quarters in) where he describes returning to the family home with Beatrice and the child, after a visit to the seaside; the home from which he'd been earlier banished by this same wife after she'd found him and June "in flagrante delicto", as it were, on the basement sofa.

He recounts arriving at the property during a storm, just as a bolt of lightning strikes the belfry of the catholic church "on the corner", causing the bells to come crashing down onto the pavement (sidewalk), before their eyes.

I imagine the church he's referring to is that of St. Francis Xaviour, on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Carroll Street. (Certainly if it is, it's a very fortuitous happenstance for his future fans that he wasn't under the tower at that precise moment, and having one of them land on him from such a height! Indeed, I have to admit that I made a close inspection of the sidewalk under the tower, half expecting to see some form of residual damage, even after such a length of time!)

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