The Cultured Pearl? – Part 1

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince published in his book The Case of Patience Worth, an autobiographical Sketch written by Pearl Curran in October 1926 and he also included in his book Pearl’s answers  to questions he asked her concerning her education and interests, thereby perhaps hoping to find some clue to the vast knowledge  and intellect displayed by Patience Worth.   Since the question of Pearl’s knowledge is crucial when  conjecturing whether or not the writing attributed to Patience Worth was really coming from the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran it was important to try to figure out just how much knowledge Pearl had stored in her subconscious mind.  Although Pearl would never allow herself to be hypnotized, thereby perhaps revealing the content of her subconscious, she did come to trust Dr. Prince enough to be quite candid with him and to cooperate to her fullest extent, participating in his investigation of her and the phenomena surrounding Patience Worth. The following are selected portions of Pearl’s autobiography and, in Part 2, answers to questions from Dr. Prince.

PearlBluePearl described her very early life as an only child, solitary and  somewhat mundane.  She was born in Mound City Illinois on February 15, 1883 but her parents  moved to Fort Worth Texas when she was about eight months old.  When she was about four years old she was sent to St. Louis, Missouri to live with her grandmother and her uncle and aunt (the Cordingleys), her uncle being remembered by Pearl as a “medium”.   Later, she was sent back to Texas to live with her parents

Pearl started taking music lessons before she entered grade school, that is, before she was five years old.  She began elementary school at about six years old.  She said that she did not go to church or to Sunday-School then and that her parents did not attend church either but, as an older child. was “irregularly taken” to a Methodist, Baptist or Episcopal Sunday-School and was later confirmed in the Episcopal church.  As an adult she said that “I was raised to think spiritualistic séances taboo.  Neither my father or mother were of a religious turn…..I am not a Spiritualist, but am in sympathy with the furtherance of psychic facts and believe that the pioneers of today are but groping toward fact.  I am not a “medium” in the common sense.  Am deeply interested in the study of psychic phenomena, using myself as a study.”  And then as an aside to Dr. Prince she wrote “won’t you remove for good from the minds of the public that I am a medium with a gold shingle and trances?  Please, pretty please.  Remember, I’m an Episcopalian!  It’s your duty.” [Dr. Prince had been a Methodist and Episcopalian minister.]

Pearl felt that she was neglected as a child if she didn’t get her mother’s attention but thought she was spoiled by too much grown-up association.  She said that she was bored with school and “not interested”, preferring, like other children she saw, to play outside instead.  Pearl said “I don’t know why I was promoted to the third grade, and only remember learning how beans sprout in water.”  She thought she learned little else but nevertheless “got shoved into the fourth grade”.  “I never knew my lessons and was not so strong, about ten, thin and gawky.  Mother had added elocution and Delsarte to my studies…”   Pearl said that she didn’t like her teacher even though she thought she was was a “good, kind instructor” but she ” did not like my lack of application. .

My father helped me with home work and I had become quite a “show-off”.  I hated it but mother desired it.  I broke down the last year (at thirteen) of too much piano, elocution, Delsarte, school and entertainments, and was sent to the Catholic St. Ignatius’ Academy for “rest”. . . . Then we moved to St. Louis, and I was in Washington School for a year or so.  I was “put back” and discouraged.”

I was confused in Texas by no plan of education, and no aim.  I absorbed much, and lived out of doors, roaming the prairies and romping with my dog.  I loved the wild flowers, was generally honest, rather vain of clothes, thought I was homely and felt it keenly.  I had been laboring with a congenital eye-trouble also.   I had had measles, mumps and chicken-pox, also a throat trouble for which my tonsils were removed, otherwise had not been ill. . . . I did my lessons at night and added music lessons. . . . I played [the piano] well and started to sing, having gotten over the illness connected with that period of age, and was a fair pupil.

She said that she was inspired by a handsome actor on whom she had a “crush”  to be a “prima-donna and loveress!”

Pearl’s father moved again, this time to Palmer, Missouri. Pearl said that she did not like it there and that she wanted to learn and to know and to see life.  She took music lessons by mail and “practiced hours on Il Trovatore. . . . I wanted life and here was desolation.”  Things got a little better when she received the “courteous attention ” of Mr. William Chauvenette, apparently a gentleman of  education and culture. That attention from Mr. Chauvenette encouraged Pearl to  “aspire to be something—always with music in mind.”

Following the advice of Mrs. Henry H. Rogers [whose husband eventually became Pearl’s second husband] Pearl’s mother decided to send Pearl to Kankakee, Illinois to study voice. She was there for a year until her uncle and aunt insisted that she live with them in Chicago.  In Chicago she started voice lessons with J.C. Cooper for which her father paid and she earned a little money by playing piano at her uncle’s Spiritualist Church in Steinway Hall, for a short time.  “But things I found here and my home surroundings were most unpleasant, and I went back to Palmer [Missouri].

newsphotoThen, at the insistence of Mrs. Rogers, Pearl returned to Chicago under Mrs. Rogers’ supervision.  She worked at the McKinley Music Company addressing envelopes at $6.00 a week to pay for her music lessons but after a month she resigned, telling Mr. McKinley that she had not thought for a month!  She then worked for the Thompson Music Company where she sold music and then worked at Siegel Cooper’s at $6.00 a week, then sold smoker’s supplies at the “Fair” and finally was employed at Marshall Field and Company in Chicago. She said that she worked and studied all winter, and went home each summer to Potosi, Missouri, where her parents had moved, and taught voice there and then at Irondale and Bismarck Missouri where they again had moved.  Each season she earned enough money to return to Chicago in the winter to continue her studies in music.  She did this from age eighteen to twenty-four, when she was married to Mr. Curran of Bismark, Missouri in 1907.

I had made no effort to write —never thought of it, though I could see the possibilities of material in the Ozarks and I appreciated them.  Mr. Curran was bright but not literary; there was no idea of writing anything when the bolt fell. [When Patience Worth appeared in 1913.] . . .There is no episode or era in my life that stands out as creative.

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