“For Your Own Family Pride”: A Letter from J. Perry Worden to Walter P. Temple, 5 December 1922

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been noted in a couple of previous posts in this blog, James Perry Worden (1866-1945) was hired by Walter P. Temple to write a history of the Workman and Temple families, but the project dragged on for years and went unfinished.  Worden’s papers were acquired after his death from his widow, Effie, by the Huntington Library, though they are rather scattershot in content and don’t give any indication of how far along he proceeded before Temple’s financial problems by 1930 led to the abandonment of the project.

Another collection involving Worden that has survived are dozens of letters written by him to Temple and his eldest son, Thomas.  They reveal that Worden was quite a character, who kept himself on the payroll for about eight years by making grand promises about what he would deliver, including the claim that his book would put the Workman and Temple families in their proper place in regional history.

The letters also show a particularly sensitive, fawning, egotistical and supremely confident historian, who was widely known in greater Los Angeles for his role in assembling the memoir of Los Angeles merchant Harris Newmark, Sixty Years in Southern California, which went through several editions after its initial 1916 publication.

It was that book that undoubtedly brought Worden to Temple’s attention, not long after the remarkable discovery of oil on Temple’s land near Montebello propelled him to wealth and led him to seek the publication of a family history that would be part of what seems a concerted effort to restore his family’s prominence and good name.

19811 J Perry And Effie Worden At South Side Workman House Christmas
[James] Perry Worden and his wife Effie, who appears to be holding Christmas presents, at the south porch of the Workman House, ca. 1925.
Buying the Homestead, for example, in late 1917 and spending about a decade restoring and remodeling the ranch, including the building of La Casa Nueva, which largely amounts to a monument to the families, is preeminent in this endeavor.  So, too, was the development, in 1923, of the Town of Temple, renamed Temple City five years later, and which was publicly announced as a memorial to the Workmans and Temples.

There are others, though these two stand out and the memorial book was intended to accomplish much the same goal.  Temple’s first choice for an author was Luther Ingersoll, whose personal collection of California historical objects was in the Los Angeles Public Library.

Ingersoll worked on the project for a short time in 1919-1920 and then was replaced by attorney Johnstone Jones, who’d represented Temple in the first decade of the 20th century in a lawsuit over the desecration and destruction of much of El Campo Santo Cemetery.  Poor health prevented much success in his work and he stepped aside.

This led to the hiring of Worden, who appears to have been on the job by November 1921.  Worden, who earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York and a doctorate from the University of Halle in Germany, taught German and French before becoming a historian.

Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a letter from Worden to Temple on this day in 1922.  Though a somewhat truncated missive for the wordy Worden, it does contain some interesting content concerning the project and its lofty goal.


The good doctor began by exclaiming “Some more good Temple Book news for you!” and went on to note that he acquired a book of California history (for a mere $3) “by a pioneer who evidently knew all three of the distinguished pioneers who have made your family history great,— John Temple, William Workman, and F.P.F. Temple.”

Moreover, Worden went on, the unnamed author “says some things, particularly bearing on the bank failure, that can be quoted in the book” on the Workman and Temple families which was to cover a century, probably about the same era as the museum’s interpretive period of 1830 to 1930.

Additionally, the material contemplated “can be quoted with effect and real benefitin defense, as bearing on your father’s enviably honorable record, and also your grandfather’s relation to the affair.”  With this valuable source, Worden was sure to note, “you will want to possess the book, and will be glad that I secured it for you, while it is yet to be had.”

As if he hadn’t been perfectly clear, the historian returned to the “the unusual prominence AGAIN given to this historic incident, (the bank catastrophe,) however, only emphasizes anew the great importance of your publishing the proposed history I am preparing.”

With Worden as the vehicle, Temple would be able to “for the first time, present, as fully as you wish, the real story and the best explanation and defence of the whole affair.”  In so doing, the idea was that the book “will of course have much to do with affecting any more or late accounts of references to it [the failure of Temple and Workman].”

Worden letter bottom

Finally, the scholar noted that, with such definitive aspects in the tome, “you will see that, for your own family pride, you must not be unwilling to make any (reasonable, of course) expenditures necessary to make a first-class, thoroughly authoritative and conclusive book.”  Worden promised to bring the book on an upcoming visit and closed with “good news, isn’t it?”

A handwritten marginal note stated that he located “a new anecdote of Alhambra,” where the Temples were living, “& its relation to you life & time,” adding that “some of the most interesting items [in the family history book] will fall in your period of the 100 years.”  This was just another of the many ways the doctor sought to “butter up” his patron!

Still, this was just the beginning of his second year of association with the family history project and Worden would continue to work on it, as well as tangential work such as securing schools in Massachusetts for Temple’s children, for another seven years.  It appears the doctor received a regular monthly stipend for that period, but, as Temple’s failing financial situation worsened by the end of the 1920s, Worden’s funds dried up.

This missive is actually pretty restrained for Worden, who was a chronic user of capitalization, underlining and other affectations when stressing the importance and significance of what he had to say (which was often.)  Moreover, he betrayed a tendency for both blunt opinions about those who had anything negative to say or write about the Workman and Temple families, while maintaining a consistent flow of flattery for his subjects and his patron in his prose.

We’ll periodically focus on more of Worden’s entertaining letters in future posts, so look for those!

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