On This Day: A Letter from J. Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple, 17 May 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Reference has been made in several posts on this blog to James Perry Worden (1868-1945), a PhD holder and historian who was hired by Walter P. Temple in the early 1920s on a book on the Workman and Temple families that never materialized despite the fact that Worden was on Temple’s payroll for the rest of the decade.

The Homestead has dozens of Worden’s letters to Temple during that era and they reveal a particularly interesting relationship between the historian and his rich (at least for a time) patron, especially as Worden was sometimes tasked with projects unrelated to the one for which he was originally hired.

Today’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection is a notable example of tangential work Worden did for Temple.  Worden wrote a typically wordy letter to Temple on this day in 1926, comprising four pages on the letterhead of a “Western Union Special.”  Usually, Western Union was used for telegrams, quick dispatches sent via wire (today we would likely text this information), but Worden typed out his missive and mailed it Temple at the “Workman Homestead, Puente, California.”

The images here are details from James Perry Worden’s 17 May 1926 letter to Walter P. Temple about his trip to Boston to research for a book on the Workman and Temple families that went unfinished and to seek enrollment of the four Temple children in elite Massachusetts schools.

Worden was in Boston because he was sent out by Temple for two purposes: one, to conduct further research on the Temple family for the book project that was stretching into its fifth year (not unlike the long construction phase for the Temple family’s house, La Casa Nueva, though at least that project did finally get finished!); and, second, to lay the groundwork for the enrollment of the four Temple children in various schools in Massachusetts.

On the first point, Worden began his letter by noting he had just returned from Salem

investigating the great question as to how Hohn [John or Jonathan] Temple ever got from Massachusetts to the Sandwich Islands [a.k.a., Hawaii] AND whether he came to California in 1826, as supposed, or, as I begin to think, a year later.

In fact, Worden did discover a document at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley that showed that Temple, Walter’s uncle, left for California from Honolulu in spring 1827.

After a brief sojourn in San Diego, where he was baptized a Roman Catholic, as clear an indication as could be of his intention to remain in Mexican Alta California, Temple migrated north to Los Angeles.  He stated, in a land claims deposition in the 1850s, that he arrived in the City of the Angels in 1828, becoming only the second American or European to live in the pueblo of under 1,000 residents.

What Worden doesn’t say in the letter, though he might have in a telegram or other missive, is what he might have hoped to have found in Salem, perhaps shipping records, to provide answers for Temple’s embarkation for Hawaii.  Other than this brief opening statement, there was a short conclusion at the end of the letter in which Worden claimed that the “Massachusetts historical society and museum and library people take keen interest in your Temple Book project.”

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Adding that these entities were “ready to subsribe [sic]” to the project, Worden noted that “I was very fortunate that I rec’d a advance copy of the Newmark book from the publishers, and so had th [it?] to show, with its Temple portraits and its many Temple items, and esp. the several references to you . . .”

Worden was best known at the time and likely came to Temple’s attention because of it for his editing of the memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California, by prominent merchant Harris Newmark, comprising recollections from 1853 to 1913.  Newmark, who died a few years later, left his memories to his sons to compile in a first edition published in 1916, but Worden was responsible for putting the manuscript into the published form.

A second edition was issued in 1926 and Worden refers to this in his letter.  Notably, significant additions in footnotes were made to the revised version, and Worden was also given far more direct credit for his work by the Newmarks in the preface to the new edition.

When Worden concluded this letter by saying that the advance copy of the new edition of Sixty Years in Southern California “undoubtedly aided me greatly in getting them interested in your children as representatives of an historic family” this goes back to the second reason for his trip and the one that comprised the vast majority of the letter’s contents.

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Worden, typically, could not just state what he had done with regard to the Temple children and their educational prospects in Massachusetts, he had to refer pointedly to his devotion to the family, his lack of financial resources, and his careful handling of Temple’s money.

Early in the missive, he reported that he’d

wired you at the length and the expense that I did, not because I was willing to be extravagant, but to get the entire matter laid before you quickly, so that you and your good advisers there, Messrs. Woodruff and Kauffman, may formulate your plants rapidly and decisively, and lose no ground by needless delay.  In the end it ought to be cheaper for you than if I had written, with the risk of the letters going astray.

This was a strange justification for sending telegrams, if the claim was that letters, such as this one which obviously made it to its destination with no problem, might not arrive.  The reference to Temple’s lawyer George Woodruff and business manager Milton Kauffman was to their role in reviewing seemingly all major initiatives involving Temple, whether personal (as in the Temple book or the children’s educations) or professional (oil and real estate projects, largely.)

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Worden then launched into great detail about his work with the schools to which the Temple children were to attend starting that fall.  Eldest child Thomas, who graduated in spring 1926 with a bachelor’s degree from Santa Clara University, was looking to enroll in one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools at Harvard.

Worden reported “I may say that I believe myself very fortunate in having secured an introduction to President [A. Lawrence] Lowell from an intimate friend of his, so that when I came there I had entree to him privately.”  Lowell, who was president of Harvard from 1909 to 1933, but then Worden added that the head of the university had a speech to give at a dinner, so, “through him his secretary, a Roman Catholic lady, took me and Tommy’s case under special advisement.”

The Roman Catholic reference was deemed important because the Temples were Catholic and this led Worden to state that the president’s secretary referred him to her compatriot at dean’s office at the Law School.  Worden claimed that this woman, also a Catholic, “showed the same keen interest and arranged for an appointment with the Dean,” who was scheduled to give some summer lectures at the Southern Branch of the University of California, soon known as U.C.L.A.

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Laying it on thick, Worden wrote that “with all this combined personal pull, to get which I began far back to lay my wires,” he talked to “a Friend at Court” and was given assurance that, although Thomas went to a “Second Class” university in Santa Clara, he “can get in, all O.K., and he can bring a note from me to the Dean’s secretary.”

The secretary told Worden “to tell Tommy to be sure to come early enough to get a good room, as rooms are sometimes rather scarce in Cambridge.”  With that, Worden intoned that “Tommy now, having well finished one chapter of his life preparation has only resolutely to go forward to the next step.”  The young scholar, however, “must be careful not to waste his time the first year” because a large number of students failed after then “and if they fail, they are dropped out, not to be admitted again.”

As for the only daughter, Agnes, there were two schools examined for her, one of which, in western Massachusetts, was not named, but the other, Walnut Hill Academy, now Walnut Hill School for the Arts, then a private girls’ academy in Natick.  Even though she’d completed high school in Los Angeles in 1925 and was finishing her first year at Dominican College, an all-girls school in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, she evidently would have to take some preparatory classes at Walnut Hill before matriculating to the prestigious Wellesley College.

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Worden was in contact with Walter Temple’s first cousin, Ellen Temple Bancroft, whose daughter, Edith, a Wellesley graduate, apparently steered Worden towards Walnut Hill and the unnamed academy for investigation.  Walnut Hill, he added, was a nicer facility and offered access to “extra musical advantages,” a key because that was Agnes’ major.  Moreover, Edith Bancroft was close friends with a Walnut Hill instructor, who “could not fail to help her.”

After explaining more of the advantages of Walnut Hill (self-government, more social freedom), Worden explained that

the Dean asked for references of a social character for Agnes, and I referred her to Mrs. Woodruff and Mrs. Woodruff [Bancroft, likely], at the same time saying that of course both of those ladies will say only nice things about her.

As to the younger Temple children, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, Worden discussed his trip out to Dummer Academy, which is the oldest continuously operating school in America (though now known as Governor’s Academy, the colonial governor of Massachusetts’ surname of Dummer evidently being determined a barrier to recruitment after nearly 250 years of operation!)

Worden wrote that he expected to meet with “some long-bearded, Shaker-like old man and woman,” presumably the facial hair limited to the male, but “I was most agreeable surprised to have a handsome, middle-aged man and a very friendly-acting lady come out to welcome me.”  These were Dr. Charles Ingham, the headmaster from 1908 to 1930 and his wife Clare.

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Strangely, Worden went on to note that the two were “a very fine, likable couple, nothing stern about them” and with a liberal policy about smoking “for boys who receive special permission from their parents.”  He continued that Dummer “is a good, old-fashioned school, with old-fashioned furniture, and old-fashioned portraits, and old-fashioned, well-laded tables of good food,” including a ration of a quart of milk a day per male student directly from cows on the school grounds.

He noted that there were plenty of athletics opportunities (the younger Temples were far more into sports than their older siblings), was close to the town of Newburyport, and only several miles from the ocean and its healthy breezes.  While the buildings did not measure up to those of the Belmont Academy, south of San Francisco, where Walter, Jr. and Edgar were then attending, the grounds and countryside were beautiful.

The goal, however, was that “if all goes well and they can finish at Dummer in the year, and then go on to Phillips at Andover . . . to make them so long to get there that they will do their best at Dummer.”  Phillips Academy Andover is one of the most prestigious private high schools for boys in America and, Worden went on, “Edgar and Walter will thank you for their splendid opportunity” to go there.  Wrapping all this up, Worden implored Temple “to send your children East this very year.  NOW IS THE TIME . . .”

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As he wrapped up his lengthy missive, Worden again invoked a common theme in his letters to his employer: the incessant work that strained both his mental capacities and those of his finances leavened with fulsome self-praise.  He wrote that he had to “say good night and quite, for I am very tired.”  This was because

For ten days, I have been running in and out of the city, to town after town, snatching a bite, a glas of milk, a piece of pie, etc., in between, and for TEN DAYS not getting a “square” meal, altho I also have not starved.  The restaurants, usually pf [of] the Globe Dairy kind with perhaps more expensive decorations, but no more improved service—the restaurants, I say, are all so unsatisfactory as to prices, etc., that one finds it hard to get any satisfying luncheon under 60-70 cents, and then it is not first-class.

But I do not mind all this, now that I have so handsomely succeeded in what I came to do for you . . .

He mentioned he had more work to do for the book in Boston and, for some reason, in New York and was “so looking forward keenly to seeing the William Workman country around Taos, etc., New Mexico, on my way home.”  Worden asserted he was “on the trail of some important discoveries about William Workman,” but did not specify, though he added “I may telegraph you a result or two.”

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He returned again to his penurious circumstances, thanking Temple for sending Mrs. Worden a check, adding “my own money drops absurdly quickly, considering the hash-houses I frequent, with their griddle-cakes and two pieces of sausage like half-dollars . . . and so try to make the most of it.”

After once again referring to his multitude of successes and the importance of the Newmark advance copy in interesting locals in the Temple book, Worden finally ended, subscribing himself as Temple’s friend, rather than a paid employee.

The Worden letters are interesting for this uneasy combination of professional and personal work undertaken by a man whose work did make the Newmark book a fuller historical document that went through five printings through 1970.  Worden, however, could not have gotten as personally invested in the Newmarks as he did with the Temples, which probably mainly explains why the Temple book never got finished.


Worden not only took too long to gather material and draft chapters, but he allowed himself, perhaps because of the money, to take on side projects, like working to get the Temple children in schools in Massachusetts (the boys did go to the schools he arranged for them, while Agnes remained at Dominican and never went east) and even pursued possibilities for schools in England.

When Walter Temple’s money ran out by the early 1930s, Worden was out of a job and turned increasingly bitter about the situation, as future posts will show.  Worden did keep in sporadic contact with the family and penned a lengthy tribute to Walter Temple when he died in 1938.  After Worden’s death in 1945, his widow sold his papers to the Huntington Library, though material on the Temple and Workman book is surprisingly thin (unless some was destroyed or not included in the sale.)


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