Edythe Squire Draper
Her life was one of sacrifice for others. She wrote from this base in the moments she had for herself. Her childhood was hard and adulthood not much easier. She wrote about those who always felt an outsider, because that is what she knew. The imagination and the natural world were her coping devices and through them, she created art and beauty. The hope of spring and a new year are constant themes.
Edythe Squire Draper was born an outsider, in Japan in 1883, the first child of missionary parents. When she was five her family returned, by way of Egypt, to the states where she always felt an outsider. She learned not to let other children know she could speak Japanese, or had even lived in Japan. She had to pretend her life was like theirs. Otherwise, they didn’t know what to do with her, and would avoid her.
For the first nine years in America her father continued to be a Methodist preacher, moving every year to a different town. Each dislocation renewed her status as “outsider.” Then, one Sunday, to the surprise of the congregation, her father announced the topic of his sermon would be, “Why I am leaving the Methodist Church.” It was his last sermon. After that he wrote a book that was published, but fame and fortune did not follow. Then he worked in fraternal insurance, but that was not a success either. As the oldest child with many siblings, she was relied on to be a semi-parental figure and worker in the house.
Setting out on a life of her own, she taught in a mission school for blacks in South Carolina, another new culture where she was an outsider. After two years the unfair treatment of blacks was more than she could handle. She managed to become a full-time university student then accepted a teaching position, which she considered temporary, in another distance culture – The Oswego College for Young Ladies, in Oswego, Kansas. There, an outsider again, she discovered a boy who lived across the street, fell in love and married in 1912. They had three children. She never left.
As the children grew up she carved out time to write. In the 20 years between 1924 and 1942, dozens of her stories were printed, many selected for awards, another 60 for children and an uncounted number of newspaper stories. The highlight of her success was the selection of her story, “The Voice of the Turtle,” for inclusion in The Best Short Stories of 1930, edited by Edward O’Brien.
Much as she regretted it, she stopped that writing to become the Oswego correspondent to the Parsons Sun. Her family needed the money and this provided a steady income. She continued this for the next twenty-four years and only stopped because of a surgical operation. She died shortly afterwards, on September 25, 1964, at 82 years of age.
Despite all that she had published one hope remained unfulfilled. Despite working on at least two novels, one of which was strongly autobiographical, none found a publisher. Except for half a dozen stories published in 1994, with the title, As Grass, the title of one of the stories, her work remains uncollected and largely unknown. That is regrettable. This outsider came to Kansas, made her home here, wrote work that was widely published in her time and has been forgotten since. She deserves better.
Entry: Draper, Edythe Squire
Author: Duane L. Herrmann
Herrmann has degrees in education and history from Fort Hays State University. He has published widely on the history of the Bahai faith with publications now in a dozen countries in four languages. His history book By Thy Strengthening Grace received the Ferguson, Kansas, History Book Award in 2007. He has actively studied the Bahai faith since 1969.
Date Created: February 2016
Date Modified: February 2017
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.