A Woman's Journey to Wholeness: The Diaries of Janette Miller, 1879-1969
In 1897, when she was eighteen, Janette Miller recorded a rather elaborate nightmare in the last pages of one of her leather-bound diaries. She dreamt that it was in the papers that "Janette Miller was to be married at four o'clock, one afternoon." However, as the guests assembled at the chapel the mood slowly changed. By five-o-clock Janette's mother had not reached the city to attend the wedding, and the ceremony could not start without her. By nine o'clock neither mother nor groom had arrived. As the birds pecked at the wedding feast, a chill for her mother's safety came over her and Janette ran down the steps of the church calling 'Mama." The wedding bell "tolled the knell of fast departing hopes" at midnight, and Janette's mother appeared in the darkness. The "reception of feeling" gave Janette "such a shock, "that she shuddered awake. As her dream predicted, Janette never married, and her mother did become seriously ill and soon died. Moreover, after years of trying to pay her bills while simultaneously maintaining her personal interests, Janette felt that she was going crazy and that her life had become a waking nightmare.
I learned about Janette Miller's life when I read her diaries, donated by her brother to the University of Michigan's historical library. I read Janette's diaries the first time when I was twenty-one, about the same age Janette had been when her mother died. The diary entries are fragmented, discussing mostly her daily activities. Nevertheless, I was able to gain a feel for the times in which she worked and lived when reading them. I was fascinated by her descriptions of Detroit at the turn-of-the-century, as I had grown up in the area.
When I went back to read her diaries more recently, nearing thirty myself, Janette's words had more meaning for me. Having embarked on my own vocational struggles, and suffering my own anxiety about not being married or vocationally settled while nearing that cultural marking place of age thirty, I understood Janette's courage to "attempt something with hope and courage, [rather] than stand irresolute on the brink, or settle back to give up." Though it was possible for me to understand Janette's ambition and the courage it would take her to scrap a life of security for the unknown at age thirty, I still needed to learn a little bit about Janette's world to stand in her shoes, and answer my new questions. To understand Janette I needed to know a bit more about the culture in which she lived, more than she had been willing and able to share with me. I re-examined her work with a primary question: what about her life caused her to feel it was a living nightmare, and what made her think that she could find peace by leaving for Africa?
From 1894, when Janette was fifteen, through 1909 and ending when she left for Africa in 1910, she documented her thoughts in ten leather-bound volumes. During this time period her family moved from Evanston, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska and finally settled in Detroit, Michigan. These moves were apparently prompted by Janette's father, who eventually settled into his own business as a grain supplier in a town outside of Detroit.
In 1901 the family was living in Detroit and Janette's mother was sick with an illness that caused her to go into convulsions and periodically lose consciousness. Janette was 21. While nursing her mother she was taking high school college prep classes, hoping to apply to the University of Michigan, and she was also doing part-time office work. She had lived this hectic schedule of school, work and tending to her mother while her father was mostly gone, for almost a year, when her mother died--nearly five years to the date of Janette's dream.
After her mother's death, Janette tried to maintain her schedule working full-time in an office by day and doing scholastics at night. But this schedule weakened her health, so she abandoned her formal education, dedicating her free time instead to her church activities, sometimes attending three churches across the large Detroit metropolitan area, via horse and carriage, in one Sunday.
By this time it was 1909, and Janette had worked almost seven years at the Detroit Public Library, where she had been promoted to be the head of the periodicals department. In the previous year she had suffered from what she called a nervous breakdown, marked by fatigue and "visions," nightmares in which she was a party in a series of murders and murder plots.
On a prescribed rest from her doctor, Janette traveled to the home of a relative in Grand Rapids, Michigan to pray. On this retreat from her job to sort out her life she realized,
I cannot stand another year of irresolution and miserable sense of failure. Better attempt something with hope and courage than stand irresolute on the brink, or settle back to give up.. .This thought of beginning life again at age 30 does not daunt me, but to live life useless fills me with terror. There has been an undercurrent of deep dissatisfaction this year with merely working to earn a living and living to earn my bread. Library work is interesting and pleasant and educational--as delightful work as I could find, it is not doing any special service for the master. I promised to serve...so I ought to have every day work which would be service.
The result of Janette's prayerful seeking was a decision to leave her life in Detroit permanently to become a missionary in Africa. As this adventure which allowed her "every day work which would be service" began, her diaries ended. The rest of her journey is recorded in her letters home from Africa and the newsletters she sent to friends and family and the various church organizations that funded her missionary work over the years.* * * * * * * *
Janette's family was middle-class. Her father's occupation, a businessman, and the household reading material, the Bible along with Dickens, were middle class pursuits. At the time of Janette's writing and coming-of-age, several cultural forces affected middle class women like Janette. One was the belief that men and women occupied separate spheres of influence, a paradigm leftover from the nineteenth century assuming women were "morally superior" to men, and therefore "closer to God," and that a "man's workplace moved out of the home and took the man with it--out of the middle-class woman's day" (Cordery, p. 112). While the idealism of the nineteenth century continued to dictate an image of women nestled safely in their homes, the industrialization and urbanization at the onset of the twentieth century brought more opportunities for women to leave them. It became increasingly acceptable for middle-class women to assume jobs as clerical workers, bookkeepers or teachers, jobs previously assumed by men. Thus, it was not unusual that Janette was working as a librarian during the first years of a new century or that she felt conflicted about the worth of her lifestyle. Cultural idealism had not yet caught up with cultural reality.
A librarian at a public library in 1999 provides a single person with more than a living wage. It is considered a professional position and even requires a master's degree in library science, and if judging by today's standards, one might assume Janette had a good job. But in the early 1900s, this job barely paid the bills, which explains Janette's exhaustion living only to "earn her bread." Although it was not unusual that a woman occupy Janette's position, society was not organized so that she could actually maintain her position in the middle class for long. As historian Stacy Cordery explains, "By definition female workers contradicted the dominant social ideology of the cult of true womanhood. Middle-class reformers, physicians, ministers, and editors warned women that they would 'unfit themselves' for marriage and motherhood if they continued in the work force" (p. 122). This warning for woman who worked was coupled with a further penalty, wages too low maintain the worker, as "the average cost of living for a self-supporting female worker was estimated to be $5.51 per week, but the average wage was $5.68 per week" (Cordery p. 122). Library work, an occupation attractive to educated women at the turn-of-the century, was time demanding work. However, of all of the female dominated professions during the era that paid little, library work was particularly low paying. At the time, a female librarian was paid typically $300 to $900 annually, less, on average, than the salary paid to female teachers and social workers--fields dominated by women partly because the low pay drove men away from it. However, men did hold administrative positions at public libraries, positions that were higher paying than those held by women (Garrison).
The conflict between the ideology of the separate spheres, requiring women to remain at home in order to cultivate society's morals, versus the reality faced by women who needed to make it on their own, is shown by contrasting beliefs among feminists at the turn of the century. By 1890, feminists who struggled for legislation based on women's values--along with women's right to vote--argued that women's influence was fundamental to the structure of society because they were morally superior to men. This matched philosophically with the ideal of separate spheres, comfortably dividing roles and attitudes between genders whereby women were responsible for moral decisions, and therefore legislation associated with religion and mothering. As a consequence, women typically encouraged legislation such as Bible education in public schools along with antimonopoly and pro-labor measures (DuBois, p. 166). Even though the notion of women having power at all was a theoretical threat to a patriarchal society, this lobby for power in conjunction with the separation of spheres wasn't good enough for suffragist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She believed that this platform was fundamentally flawed because women were fighting for a limited power. She insisted that women abandon their alignment with causes associated with religion to fight for their rights not as women or even as moral individuals, but as people. In her doctrine "Solitude of Self," published in 1892, Stanton insisted that "[n]o matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire them to do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety's sake...should know something of the laws of navigation" (in DuBois, p. 165). To Stanton, a feminist agenda carved from the idealism of the separate spheres was a cop-out revealing, a "preference to lean, be protected and supported" by a patriarchal society. This adherence to a limited power, and thus a patriarchal system, conflicted with the reality faced by one out of seven women at the turn of the century, Janette Miller being one of them, who had to make it on their own financially regardless of society's punishment in the form of low wages and scorn.
That Stanton suggests women at the turn-of-the-century needed primarily to learn the "the laws of navigation" parallels the name Joanne Meyerowitz gives to the independent women wage earners in Chicago from 1880-1930, "women adrift." That women were adrift implies the difficulty of "navigation" with the lack of maps for independent women during this time. Like Janette Miller, the women whom Meyerowitz studied, for various reasons--be it financial or familial--were forced to navigate the city, and support themselves, apart from the protection of their nuclear family or a husband. The majority of the "women adrift" in Chicago were "young single women who, like the majority of working women at home, expected to support themselves for only a few years before marriage" (p. 6). For women who chose to live life apart from family, Meyerowitz explains, life as an independent wage earner was difficult because "both housing and job markets operated on the assumptions that women lived with kin" (p. 20).
Janette's life as an independent bread winner casts her on the cutting edge of this society in transition, but Janette's values, for the most part, still reflected those of the 19th century, what feminist scholar Carroll Smith Rosenberg coins "the female world of love and ritual" (p. 1). This world stressed the importance of female bonds, especially those formed between mothers and daughters. Janette's adherence to this nineteenth century ideal is best reflected in her relationship with her mother during her mother's illness and the attitude she had about taking care of her. When her mother became bed-ridden, Janette immediately assumed total responsibility for her care--assuming her father would not occupy a role of nurse and caretaker. In fact, the day of her mother's first convulsion Janette reported, "Papa has started a new business."
Even though Janette was working part-time as an office clerk--assumedly to help boost the family's income--and was struggling to finish the college preparatory classes to help her gain acceptance at the University of Michigan, she became responsible for her mother's care and the running of the household. Two weeks into her mother's illness Janette wrote, "Mama still in bed, oh dear. I wish I could stay with her all the time. I am late to everything because I want to stay with her as long as possible." A year later, after Janette had given up school altogether, and bypassed the possibility of having her tuition at the University of Michigan paid for by a fellow church member, she remained solidly committed to her role as her mother's caretaker. She wrote in January of 1902, one month before her mother's death, "Poor Mama has been in bed for over a year and now her days are all in darkness; besides I am well, though, and enjoy the housework and my school for recreation and am glad to be able to care for mama--and thankful! So thankful to have her to take care of."
Never in her diaries does she express frustration and anger over her father's apathy during this year of stress and loss, even though he expressed remorse for this absence himself upon his wife's funeral. After the funeral Janette wrote, "Papa felt bad cause he left her [Janette's mother] alone." Just as Janette's bond with her mother, intensified by her illness and death, is consistent with 19th century values, her father's expected absence parallels the nineteenth century system, dividing men's and women's work in which "men made but a shadowy presence" (Smith-Rosenberg, p. 2) in the home.
Although Janette' s relationship with her mother provided her with stability and intimacy, the intensity of this relationship set her up for a hard fall. The loss was devastating to her. Upon her mother's death, without her role of caretaker, Janette lost the sometimes stressful but mostly comforting role as daughter. She was forced to deal with "the other side," a life outside of the sphere. Having put her emotional life in one basket, and having abandoned her own ambitions to take care of her mother, it's not surprising that when her mother died, Janette dreaded the future. She wrote in her grief, "It is the terrible future I dread. It is always the next moment that will be unbearable. How merciful. How merciful, how glorious that the next moment never comes. It is always now and always bearable. I feel like one clinging the hands over a dark abyss, desperately clinging to now, and when God is 'Now' and it is always 'Now' that is enough."
Cast out of the comfort of the feminine sphere of caretaking, Janette hadn't a safety net, an identity to cling on to. Instead, she leaned onto the spiritual, the "Now God." Only the spiritual world of invisible support helped her through the present, the "Now," of carving out a lifestyle and identity outside of the feminine sphere. Society, like Janette, wasn't prepared for a death of the female world of love and ritual. Janette's father was an ironic enabler of her independence. Perhaps because of his new business that made the family nervous about their finances, he made no mention of marriage and hoped Janette would get a good job. Shortly after her mother's funeral Janette wrote, "Papa is anxious for me to be an artist and make lots of money." This lack of support financially and socially reinforced, or perhaps allowed, Janette psychological freedom from the men in her life--her father and her brother Frank who was seven years younger than her.
This struggle is symbolized by Janette's conflict about being an independent thinker when expressing her opinions, primarily about Christianity. She explained this conflict when living for a while with her father and brother, without her mother who probably had glued the family together:
I need Mama so! I say the wrong thing to Papa all the time. I don't understand him. I have been wicked all day. Quarrel, quarrel all day Sunday. I was awakened by Frank scolding Papa, then scolded Frank till he went to church and quarreled with both of them in afternoon and with Papa coming home tonight. I don't think they need me much--unless I turn over a new leaf. I would have more courage for my loneliness if only I would be good enough to meet their need, and I don't. I made Papa mad by criticizing every service. But I truly meant it in loving sorrow for the lack of spirituality and thought. But I haven't been right spiritually myself so I should not criticize. I guess he sees that.
Janette entertained her father's perspective regarding the Sunday service, which reflects an acknowledged obedience to him, but she was actually confident about her perspective regarding an intellectual issue. She criticized a service for the "lack of spirituality and thought." Still defining herself within a nineteenth century role, in which the women held the more religious perspective, her identity as a thinker was stronger than her societally prescribed role as a caretaker for the men. Until she "turn[ed] over a new leaf (i.e. stopped speaking her mind), she didn't think her brother or her father would need her.
Not only did Janette reject a full psychological obedience to her father, but circumstances provided her financial independence as well. Just as Janette wasn't wholly dedicated to suppressing her ideas in order to make the world more pleasant for him, her father didn't have a strong incentive to protect her. Consistent with his behavior during Janette's mother's illness, after her death he looked out for himself. Within a year of his wife's death, he remarried another woman, Alice (who presumably was quite a deal younger than he). Not surprisingly, tensions ran high between Janette and Alice when running the new household together. As Janette explained, "I love Alice so much and everything I say she takes as proof I don't." When conflicts, albeit polite ones, within this household reached a head, Janette secured her job at the Detroit Public Library. She moved into a flat with her brother Frank for a while. Then, when Frank left to attend college at the University of Michigan, Janette was cast officially adrift. At age twenty-five she was independent, making a living without reference to dependence upon any man.
As we approach the twentieth-first century an image of a woman emancipating herself from the clutches of patriarchy, via a career, has a pleasing connotation. But recalling the constraints for women adrift, the actual reality of Janette's everyday life as an independent woman in the early 1900s was exhausting. During the years Janette worked at the library she moved frequently, was often ill, and her diary entries are repetitive and hurried--documenting what could be interpreted as an emotionally stormy existence. The nature of these entries are best explained by the lack of free time for women adrift because of the time spent working on top of that required of keeping house. "After a full day's work," typical working women in Chicago for example, "sewed and mended their clothes, repaired their shoes and hats, and did their own laundry. They spent little money and time on entertainment or luxuries" (Meyerowitz, p. 69). Janette, in addition to this typical schedule, was dedicated to a full itinerary of church work and visits to the very poor in local settlement houses. She explained the difficulty trying to work and maintain her interests, "But I can do nothing but library work if I am to do that well, here [in her life in Detroit]. I wear myself out now trying to do two. It isn't right. One can't keep sweet in a rush."
After a series of temporary living arrangements when her brother departed for college, Janette was coaxed into a relationship with a co-worker and close friend, Elizabeth, whom she called "E" in her diaries. This relationship seemed to be a replacement for Janette's relationship with her mother. In fact, Elizabeth's birthday was the same day of Janette's mother's death. Janette wrote of this on February 18, 1907, five years after her mother's death, "This has been a gloomy day since 1902, which I think is wrong. Since it is E's birthday I thought I'd throw off the glums and make my house the jolly one Mamma used to make ours up North." Because of this connection between Elizabeth and her mother it's logical that the relationship between Janette and Elizabeth resembled the tight friendships that blossomed among women in the nineteenth century--although by this time the two had been living several years into the twentieth century. This living arrangement also reflects a navigation tool of women adrift. As Meyerowitz explains, a part of an independent woman's survival was recreating bonds, particularly with other women, in order to gain the financial and emotional support they had lost, or never had, at home. Women adrift survived emotionally and financially through "informal bonds of mutual dependence" (p. 93) that modeled, or replaced, the familial bonds of the feminine sphere.
While the close relationships between women within the feminine sphere can be celebrated for their strength, and admired for the solidarity they created, it follows that relationships borne in segregation, lack of choice and economic necessity, could become just as unhappy and stultifying as marriages of incompatibly married couples forced together for purposes of survival rather than love or companionship. Perhaps for this reason, the relationship between Elizabeth and Janette---although resembling the security between Janette and her mother--became stifling to her. She began to have nightmares about it during the period of her biggest turmoil, immediately prior to her decision to leave Detroit for Africa. She wrote that Elizabeth, "quite blames me for her 'suffering,' I am sorry as I can be... for her distress but scarcely see where I was to blame when I gave her exactly what she wanted. Poor girl tries to be just as nice though."
What bothered Janette about Elizabeth, in addition to Elizabeth's supposed irrational dependence upon her, was (like Janette's father and brother) the difficulty Janette had in engaging her in a satisfying intellectual conversation. Elizabeth frustrated her because she was unable to adopt Janette's point-of-view regarding Christianity. She explained, "E and I were talking about the theatre one night and I expressed a wish that she were a Christian She asked me if I thought she would be different from now. I said, 'I don't know--I should like to see what a Christian you would be!' I didn't dare try to tell here what I meant by the difference it would make to her then, because her point of view is so different that she misunderstands all such things that I say." Janette's frustration with Elizabeth's inability to understand her point of view on Christianity is similar to Janette's friction between her father and brother. The loss of a relationship with Janette's mother led Janette to a new perspective that alienated her from those supposedly close to her--like her brother, her father and Elizabeth. Although living within the literal and physical confines of nineteenth century values, Janette's mother's death created an emptiness, a vacuum so to speak, that she filled with her religious interests.
Janette's desire to "Christianize" her friend fit with the values of the time, chiseling out a particular role for women, and particularly Protestant middle-class women, as those responsible for making the world a better place through Christianity (Hill, p. 23). Women were seen primarily as "mothers," and "as a result of both nature and training, peculiarly capable of the self-denial and self-sacrifice that Christianity demanded. Hence, as mothers, they were regarded as the natural nurturers of religion and their offspring" (Hill, p. 26). Janette was straddling two cultural modes. In the process of rebelling from roles theoretically assigned to her by the separate sphere--such as obedience to patriarchal orders and the embracement of a close relationship with a female--she defined herself as one who wanted to teach or convert others to her point of view, thus placing herself within the culture's new definition of women as 'educated mothers' (p. 3) with the tools and temperament to transform society through Christianity. This ideology, that women were best qualified and destined to teach (i.e. convert others to) Christianity, drove many Protestant woman like Janette to become missionaries, and by 1915 "there were more than three million women on the membership rolls of some forty denominational missionary societies" (Hill, p. 3). Curiously, Janette's job as a librarian also fit with the ideology applied to educated mothers of the era. Cultural idealism dictated that women were the best qualified for library work because libraries resembled the domestic environment and women, as educated mothers, were deemed best qualified for transforming society through learning (Garrison, p. 184).
Janette gives one final hint about her ambitions and her conflicts. After reading an autobiography of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier she wrote, "I am reading a biography of Whittier. Some of it quotes from his sister's diary. Now I know why I have always had such a desire to keep a diary. It is because my brother is some time to be famous. I long ago gave up any ambitions I ever had to be famous. I've often wondered what would ever become of my diaries that are so precious to me. I don't write enough personalities to make them useful like Whittier' s sister."
Most likely Janette was referring to the writings of Whittier's sister, Elizabeth, who documented much of her brother's (and her own) involvement in the abolitionist movement during the 183os. Both Elizabeth and John Whittier were Quakers who took the unpopular stance that slavery was unchristian, and, ahead of their time, called for the immediate emancipation of African-American slaves. John Whittier wrote a pamphlet and a series of letters persuading his political colleagues to abolish slavery. The type of anti-slavery rhetoric espoused by Whittier precipitated angry mobs in New England led by white men threatened by the socioeconomic implications of an abolitionist stance. Elizabeth Whittier wrote about getting caught up in this type of mob when one of them stormed a meeting of the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston where the abolitionist leader George Thompson had been speaking. After narrating the event, Elizabeth Whittier wrote in her diary, "Never have I felt so deeply the necessity of Christian forbearance and long suffering on the part of the abolitionists as at present" (in Pickard, p. 146).
That Janette felt her fame would depend upon the success of a male close to her, her brother, suggests that she had internalized the sexist notions of the day. She believed that only a man could provide the societal clout necessary for her to gain a significant place in society, and through it, a voice worth reading. At the same time, Janette's reflections about Elizabeth Whittier are further evidence of her need to participate in a Christian cause with wide--ranged implications, such as the anti-slavery movement. Janette wanted to be a part of an organization using Christianity as a means for cultural transformation.
Given Janette's belief that Christianity was the vehicle for transforming society, her feelings that her immediate society was stifling her expressions about Christianity's importance, and her knowledge that there were people out there [such as John and Elizabeth Whittier] who were like her and had succeeded, Janette's decision to leave Detroit and become a missionary makes sense. Moreover, for many women like Janette, missionary work not only fit with the ideal of woman as "educated mothers," but it was an attractive job opportunity. Although founded on an essentially sexist idea that women were good religious leaders because of their gender-based traits, criteria that feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton would have abhorred, missionary jobs provided women with the tools of navigation that Stanton would have admired. A typical missionary assignment provided the professional mobility and adventure usually unavailable to women at the time who, like Janette, were destined to be underpaid teachers, nurses, social workers or librarians.
Not only did missionary work offer greater glamour than job opportunities at home, but it also provided truly powerful positions for women. Away from the rigid rules of industrialized America a "climate of collaboration.. .developed" between men and women, employing women in the same positions as male mission administrators. The result was that woman missionaries "began to stress their claim to an equal voice in the administration of the vast Protestant missionary enterprise, a claim that went far beyond jurisdiction over work with women and children" (Hill, p. 4). The notion of an "educated mother" gave women the initial rationalization to become missionaries, but once they gained distance from Western culture, women could create and live within societal structures without reference or relevance to women's particularized roles. As a missionary, Janette could channel her ambition to Christianize society and she didn't need a famous brother to help her. Library work ghettoized Janette within a low paying profession dominated administratively by men, but through missionary work Janette could become a famous "brother" herself.
No longer writing in her diaries once she arrived in Africa, Janette corresponded with those in the United States--including her family--via a newsletter about her missionary activities. Her first newsletters were essentially hand-typed letters; as years went by, they were laid out more like newsletters. Like Elizabeth Whittier's diary, these newsletters--in which Janette reports her adventures as a school administrator--have a narrative, public style. Often, at the end of the newsletter, Janette would write a poem summarizing her job and its link to her values as a Christian--perhaps this was her notion of "personalities" that she admired in the writing of Elizabeth Whittier. She referred to her poems as a way to express her "experiments" as a teacher of Christianity. In the 1930s when Janette believed the Portuguese government of Angola, West Africa was censoring her personal letters, her newsletters became her primary means of communication.
While a more intimate look at Janette's self-image as provided by her diary or even an abundance of personal correspondence is unavailable, a reflective piece she wrote about her life as a missionary (when she was probably in her late seventies) indicates that she was, in the end, satisfied with her job and continued to believe in it. In this poem called "First Impressions," printed in one of the "African Newsletters," she wrote:
Long years since the school ma'am came with wonder in her eyes. Not many more perhaps before she'll reach the greatest prize. Of our high calling: flowers lives of converts changed in heart. Failing oft and stumbling much, she chose the better part. Today my boys to give to me and stopped short in boisterous play. But still, not love to me but Christ is proof of Jesus' way. At morning prayers in earnest gaze I saw an answering look. The fruit of toil in the field of souls is writ in the Angel's book. Obscure and modest place is mine, no rapturous converts kneel, But day by day small feet to guide in paths of righteous zeal; So pray I Lord for dear brown youths, oh Thou to bring them up, And when they reach the heavenly home, how full shall be my cup.
The reflective tone of this poem reflects Janette's deep commitment to her role as a missionary. Janette's beliefs about her job, and her role in it--as described in this poem--is verified in a letter written by Sidney Correll, Director of the World Mission. Correll visited Janette in 1957. At this point Janette was administering her own mission, a boarding school of about 50 orphans. She named it Ebenezer Mission, in reference to her ancestor Ebenezer Miller who immigrated to Connecticut when it was still a colony. In this letter, "To the Friends of Miss Janette Miller" Correll wrote of meeting Janette, "Her heart literally burned day and night for her work and who should carry on when she leaves as I believe she is 79 years of age at the present time. 'What would happen to my poor orphans?' was her constant question." Correll assumes, as did Janette in her poem, that she would eventually retire from her job. In fact, Janette worked until her death at the age of 90 in 1969.
That Janette was able to maintain enthusiasm for her work as a missionary throughout her life and into old age does not represent a continued zeal for missionary work among American women during her lifetime. Janette joined the missionary movement in its vogue. After World War I, middle-class women were able to make better livings and there was more support for those choosing to do so. American culture had ceased to literally "starve out," independent, ambitious women like Janette and missionary work became a less attractive option.
Even though, as decades passed, missionary work no longer fit with the needs of mainstream middle class Christian women, Janette's mission, to take care of "orphans" corresponds with the trauma that led her to be a missionary, as well as the nightmare that predicted it. Essentially, she too was orphaned--first by her mother's death, secondly by her father's indifference and thirdly, and maybe more significantly, by her culture. What did catch her, and what she assumes will "catch" her orphans in Africa, is Christianity, or, the promise of a salvation, "the heavenly home," a resting-place. Since the promises of Christianity comforted Janette when she was orphaned, Christianity became the net, with which she caught and consoled other "forsaken" souls. She could not die and leave her orphans stranded as she had been. She couldn't even let them care about her more than Christ--as she alludes to in her poem. When some of her orphans stop to show her affection she responds with, "But still, not love to me but Christ is proof of Jesus' way." Mothers, like her own, like herself, eventually die. Since, for Janette, loving one's mother too much is potentially destabilizing, she encouraged her orphans to lean on a greater nurturer, God, while at the same time--paradoxically--serving a long life as a mother figure upon whom many depended.
Cordery, Stacy A., (1996). "Women in industrializing America." In Charles W. Calhoun (Ed.), The Gilded Age: Essays on the ongins of modern America, pp. 111-35. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc.
Dubois, Ellen. (1984)."The Limitations of Sisterhood: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Division in the American Suffrage Movement, 1875-1902." In Barbara J. Harris and JoAnn K. McNamara (Eds.).Women and the structure of society: Selected research from the fifth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, pp. 161-69. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Copyright 1999, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Rohan, Liz. (1999). "A Woman's Journey to Wholeness: The Diaries of Janette Miller, 1879-1969." WILLA, Volume 8, p. 29-36.