Anniversary Notes

There have been some notable anniversaries this past week.

The first of these was Jan. 31. That is the birthday of Julia Anna Baker, or as she was listed in the oldest available records, Juliana Walter. She was born in 1867 in Alma, Wis. She was married at least four times and had two children.

The second anniversary was Feb. 5. On that day in 1911, the incorporation papers for the Joseph Walter Home were signed in Kansas City, Mo. The Home had been in existence for at least five years in that city, and would exist for another four.

Despite the closure of the Home, Mrs. Baker’s career never ended. She published a magazine and continued to raise funds in the name of home conserving, probably none of which ever went toward helping people.

As I was writing the book I wondered if it was too depressing. It’s a question I often have when I’m writing, but the difference between my other books and A Marble Heart is that this one isn’t just a story that I made up.

The narrative is repetitious: A woman comes to town, claims to help children, is found actually to be exploiting them, then leaves town and moves to a new one, where she does the same thing. It’s bleak.

However, in all the time that Mrs. Baker was operating her homes, raising money and taking advantage of children and families, there were people who were trying to stop her. Some of them were city authorities and charity workers, but most of them were ordinary people who saw something bad and reported it. They informed the police, they talked to reporters, they told each other their stories. They appear throughout the book, and I found many, many more over the course of my research.

Positive change does not happen overnight. It can take months, or even years, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. This does not matter in the end.

The effort is what matters. Make an effort.

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