Getting to Know Alice

By Libby Campbell

Working in the setting of Alice Ferguson’s home is delightful for the atmosphere and view, however, peeking into the heart and mind of our namesake through her letters is on an entirely new level of pleasure and discovery. Visitors to the farmhouse get a glimpse of her personality through her self-portrait “Tired”, where she lounges on the sofa, turquoise T-strap sandals on her elevated feet, and favorite dog Caligula sprawled next to her on the rug. But it is in the letters that the quirky and unique Alice emerges. To her sister-in-law Eleanor she writes:

I am in deep disgrace at my doctors. I went this morning the usual Friday interveinous(sic) injection. As usual they put me on one of those high narrow cots that they wheel all over the place and gave the injection with orders not to move until they came back. In time the floor and walls stopped reeling, I began to feel almost normal, completely forgotten and a little bored. I discovered that if I laid still by humped my middle, the cot moved. I humped and the cot moved very pleasantly until all of the sudden the darned thing got up speed, rolled across the floor, overturned a metal chair and crashed in to the wall. The doctor and all the nurses came on a run and found me lying obediently still. I hadn’t done a thing but I slunk home with all possible speed.

 

That same year she writes about a frustration that seems to be as timely today to anyone dealing with government permits and processes:

I am so mad tonight I can’t think. To register a truck they sent you a 37 page pamphlet written in lawyers jargon. No one could understand it all and they finally implored people not to mail it as they had said you had to but to wait until today and take the stuff to a high school and get help in making out the application. I went this afternoon. The first thing they asked was how many trips the truck had made down into the farm fields in 1941, how many miles and what tonnage had been carried. How many trips away from the farm, with the load going and returning and how many trips specially for things. All that in 1941. Then you had to repeat it up to the present and estimate for a year in advance. I said I had no records for 41 and just couldn’t estimate. They refused to register the trucks and now I will have to travel all the way to Marlboro to appeal.

 

Alice, the gently raised debutante dived eagerly into running Hard Bargain Farm. This letter from the war time of 1942 shows how her farm animals were very distinct personalities to her:

My pigs have decided to join the allies. A sow gave me 14 babies last night and two more ladies due very soon. The hens have given up their strike and are doing 3 dozen a day. It is not good but a darned sight better than they have been doing. The cows are the sticking point now and there are three more weeks of drought ahead. I fixed up a warm loafing shed for them and now they do nothing but loaf and it is all we can do to get them out to take a walk. They refuse to drink enough water so they are getting a dose of salt in their food and the pesky critters still won’t drink. You are lucky to have a vegetable farm.

 


Alice’s letters and journals are a wonderful window on Southern Maryland rural life in the early 20th century. AFF’s Cultural Heritage staff and volunteers are greatly enjoying recreating the trials, triumphs and fun times of the Fergusons’ life here at Hard Bargain Farm.

  • Linda Crocker Simmons

    This is great Libby! What a voyage of discovery lies ahead for all of us as we read and transcribe all those letters from Alice. I think your readers need to be told how difficult it is to decipher Alice’s handwriting! My hat is off to all the volunteers who are doing this important and valuable work.

  • Rebecca Williams

    This is wonderful! More! More!

  • Pegram

    Thanks, Libby.