A Transcontinental Love

Introduction

It’s January of 1921 and Morris Soskin, a 31 year old lawyer living in Vancouver, has been elected by the Zionist Society as a delegate to the Montreal Zionist Convention. He travels across country by train, the wheels of fate in motion. Rose Hyams, a 24 year old woman and active member of the Zionist community in Montreal attends the convention, likely in the company of friends. At the convention, Morris and Rose meet and fall swiftly in love. Only days after first meeting, they are secretly engaged and though this promise binds their future, Morris returns to Vancouver and Rose stays behind in Montreal.

To bridge the distance, Rose and Morris send approximately 275 letters to each other from February to July 1921, writing daily and sometimes more. They write first thing in the morning, before going to bed, from their offices, and on the train. Most of their letters are handwritten but when Rose is tired from a busy day, she apologetically sends a typewritten letter. Morris scribbles notes on the back of scenic postcards of Vancouver. Like sending a selfie to a distance partner, they sometimes affix small cut-out photographs of their faces to the corner of letters. Morris stamps an inky fingerprint at the bottom of one letter and Rose sends kisses in the form of giant Xs. On average, a letter takes five days to travel from one end of the country to the other. Along with their letters, they send portraits, books, poems, cartoons, and dried flowers. When the message is urgent, they send telegrams. And sometimes, their spirits visit one another at night.

Born and raised in Montreal, Rose works at the Imperial Trust Company, is adept with finances and understands the “office end of any business thoroughly” [1]. She is active in her community and, as examples, was Captain in the Palestine Restoration Fund Campaign and sold tickets for Papineau Social Services. Rose has a rich social life – “My friends number in the hundreds,” she writes, “I do not know of one enemy” [2] – and is close with her mother and brothers, less so it seems with her father. She is critical of religion and marriage, which she believes are often used to make women subservient. Yet, she is spiritual. She writes to Morris, “I am not an Agnostic, I believe that there is a Supreme Deity who gave you to me” [3]. Rose reads widely, from the poetry of Ella Wilcox to biographies of astronomers and scientists. Her letters reveal her intelligence, curiosity, wit, and cheekiness. She is bold with her opinions and honest with her feelings. Her nickname for Morris is Saucy, and she addresses her letters tenderly – Maple Cream Pet, Disturber of My Dreams – and often signs off with verve – Your little trouble-maker; Love, Kisses, Hugs, More Kisses, More Hugs, This is how I feel and I don’t care if I am arrested!

Morris was born in Mogilov, Russia and his family immigrated first to England and then to Canada. Morris’ mother passed away, and his father lives in or near Montreal where he sees Rose every so often. Morris is just beginning his career and building a law practice with Mr. Chose in the Burns’ Block at 18 West Hastings Street. With no close family in the city, he spends Jewish holidays and Friday dinners with the Brotmans, good friends of Morris and later Rose too. When he’s not busy defending clients, he takes drives with friends, plays bridge late into the night, and takes up tennis. He applies to the city to become a Public Defender, hoping to provide legal counsel to those unable to afford it and to build up his name and portfolio. During their correspondence, Morris is unanimously elected President of the Zionist Society. A somewhat reluctant Zionist at first, he tells Rose that his good friend Dr. Morris “claims the credit for my good fortune in meeting my divine Rosana. He says that if he had not been constantly persuading me, I would not have been a Zionist and therefore would not have gone to Montreal” [4]. He writes, “If the Zionist Convention has accomplished anything, it has brought me cheer and light and inspiration,” [5] meaning Rose.

Rose_Morris_togetherRose Soskin 1926 L.09018 and Morris Soskin April 25, 1926 L.09019

In each other, Rose and Morris find an ideal partner in spirit, mind, and morals. They urge one another to be honest in their writing, to hold nothing back.

“Everything as you know is in strict confidence and besides we must trust each other fully with all our secrets and innermost thoughts.”
-Morris to Rose [6]

They write under the expectation of nearly complete confidentiality. The contents of their letters reflect this, revealing not only their daily activities but also their innermost thoughts, wishes, and fears. Morris discloses his financial debts; Rose writes openly about her struggle with depression [7]. At Rose’s request, they keep their engagement secret for several weeks, hiding it from both family and friends and advising each other on how to deal with awkward set-ups and the potential for jealousy.

In early June, Rose begins to suffer from depression, which she calls “Mr. Doom” or “Dame Homesickness.” She describes her symptoms and treatment with honesty and eloquence, providing insight into how depression was perceived and treated in her time. Rose’s condition worsens and her doctor advises that Morris come to Montreal. With few savings and no certain plan for what follows, Morris leaves for Montreal to be with Rose, and their correspondence closes as their life together begins.

In these letters, we come to know Rose and Morris as they come to know one another through the excitement of new love and the challenges of separation.

"I simply cannot get you out of my mind – sleeping, waking, working – your spirit is with me"

Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

 

Letter 3 (Morris)

February 16, 1921

Canadian Pacific Railway, En Route

“Although the train is in motion and it is difficult to write properly, I thought I would pencil a few thoughts while I feel in writing mood.” Scribbled in pencil, so begins the first letter from Morris to Rose as he rides the train from Montreal back to Vancouver. He promises to write every day on his return trip and expects a letter from her shortly after he arrives home.

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Letter 1 (Rose)

February 18, 1921

Montreal

“!!! And you said you were a poor letter writer!” Rose conveys her joy and excitement in this and following letters as she tries to make sense of the new love in her life:

“But now, together with the physical joy, comes that divine conviction that I have met my affinity – you are the complement of myself. But every now and then I come out of the trance and say, ‘No, it cannot be! What have I done to deserve this happiness?’ Then I try to reason. Perhaps my ancestors lived a higher, more spiritual life than most persons, and they bequeathed the sublime gift of an ideal mate to me.”

Rose writes that six years ago she was “deliriously happy over a man” but the attraction was physical only and their souls “were worlds apart.” In Morris, she finds what she calls her “ideal,” a partner whose spiritual, intellectual, and physical characteristics align with her desires.

She shares her thoughts on flashy marriage ceremonies. Having recently attended a wedding, she describes the flowers, the lighting, and the “gorgeously gowned women.” Yet, she adds, “Everything betokened money, and I suppose that is a necessary evil when ‘showing off’ is the fulfillment of some persons’ prayers.”

70-B-3,file3page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 9 (Morris)

February 23, 1921

Vancouver

Morris shares both practical and heartfelt observations on letter writing. He writes on Soskin & Chose letterhead and apologizes for not having time to buy writing paper. He eagerly hopes to hear from Rose: “This morning I expected a letter from you and I became impatient at 11AM, so I phoned the C.P.R. to enquire what time the Montreal train was due and was informed that it arrived here 9:45AM. I then felt that it was only a matter of hours before I would see tangible expressions of the beautiful thoughts of my long dreamt of affinity. Immediately afterwards the elevator man stepped into the office and I knew that he was carrying your message to me.”

Their letters are the only way they have to get to know one another during their separation:

“There is nothing more pleasing to me than to hear from you and of your welfare. The only way we can more firmly cement our thoughts and souls is through the only medium at our command – pen and ink – so that I think we should take advantage of it and write as frequently as possible.”

70-B-1,file5page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 5 (Rose)

March 3, 1921

Montreal

Rose affixes a photograph of herself to the corner of the letter and writes “Blushing Susie” beside it. She has just received “Souvenir Views” of Vancouver (likely postcards), a book, and lastly a letter all from Morris. She writes of her future in a new city, “You will never get me to cross the Suspension Bridge while I am conscious, but I shall walk in ‘Lover’s Lane’ in Stanley Park, perhaps more than once.”

Rose tells Morris how her mom works in his favour to keep potential suitors at bay: “When the phone rings she answers, and if a gentleman asks for me, she lies like a lady, and says ‘Rose is out for the evening,’ whereas for the past week I have worked continuously on Father’s books, since his partner and bookkeeper is away ill. Mother says that if I feel towards you as I say I do, then I have no right to go out with other men. And I am beginning to feel that way myself.” As their engagement is secret at this point, both Rose and Morris are often in the awkward position of seeming available to date other people while being committed to one another.

With warmth and wit, Rose tells him, “Every night the last thing before retiring, I read your last letter. Then I get under the covers and indulge my imagination to an extent that makes Omar Khayyam look like a sardine” [8]. She signs off playfully, “Very much yours, Funny Face (another nom de plume).”

70-B-3,file14item1page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 21 (Morris)

March 7, 1921

Seattle, Washington

Morris writes on YMCA letterhead from Seattle, where he is attending a meeting held by the Seattle Zionist District. An enclosed invitation to the meeting includes mention of Morris: “Mr. M. Soskin, a well known attorney of Vancouver, B.C., has consented to address this meeting. He will give the audience the benefit of his experience and show where the right track really lies.” Morris has been asked to stay in Seattle a few days but declined so that he can “return to Vancouver by first boat to read the message from my only Flower.”

70-B-1,file17page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 17 (Rose)

March 18, 1921

Montreal

On this day, Rose writes, they have known each other “less than seven weeks.” This early letter forecasts Rose’s approaching worry and depression. She eloquently expresses how happiness can engender fear and dread:

“There is such perfect happiness in my heart that I am afraid. A few nights ago I lay in bed and waited for death – my feelings were almost too much for me. Then I thought of the law of compensation and worked myself into a most unhappy state by supposition.” She believes terrible events may occur as a result of her good fortune: “Suppose you should be ill and it would take five long days to reach you, supposing some dreadful calamity occurred here among my dear ones – I cannot tell you of all the terrible thoughts that flashed through my mind – any one of which might tend to rob me of my exquisite rapture, for, Saucy, such happiness as mine does not belong to this plane. I really think I have been permitted to see beyond.”

Rose explains why she is not ready to announce their engagement: “I believe it is only a matter of weeks now when you will receive my permission to divulge our secret. You must think me mad, but it is not that exactly. I have seen too many broken hearts as the result of hasty engagements, and I have always condemned the latter. What would my principles be worth if I had one set for myself and another for the rest of mankind?”

Although in practice Rose shows restraint, in her heart she feels otherwise:

“I am helplessly, whole-heartedly in love. At times my whole being cries out for you and I want to go to you. It’s a good thing I have a will, otherwise one of these days you would look up to find me in your doorway.”

She signs off cheekily, “Your mischievous sprite.”

"More questions. May I know, please, how you spend your evenings?"

70-B-3,file20page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 27 (Morris)

March 14, 1921

Vancouver

The longest of all their letters, Morris writes sixteen pages detailing his life. This letter makes clear how little they knew one another when they met and became engaged.

Since his youth, Morris had ambitions to be an artist or a lawyer, yet he grew up poor with no money for law school. In 1907, his family left England and immigrated to Montreal, where he found a position as a clerk with C.P.R., staying until 1910. At this point, he decided to try his fortune in western Canada and left home for the first time, travelling to Prince Rupert, BC. On his way, he stopped in Vancouver and fell in love with the city yet continued on to Prince Rupert as he had promised a friend they would “scale the ladder together” in the booming town. He arrived with $100 in his pocket and found dangerous and difficult work travelling the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway construction line canvassing orders for tailor-made clothes [9]. He describes some of the struggles in this job, “climbing dangerous bluffs, crossing deep rivers on logs, sleeping on floors amid filth and cold and eating most unwholesome food are but a few of the things I endured.” A vegetarian for five years, Morris “had concluded that man can very well get along without depriving animals (who sense pain and pleasure the same as we do only on a less degree) of that mysterious thing called life” but was forced to eat meat again out of necessity.

After working the line for some time, he returned to Vancouver to work in a C.P.R. office for two years before heading North again with his brother. Morris experienced more physical and financial hardship and returned to Vancouver. Penniless and unable to find work, he borrowed money to buy fruit and sell it door to door until he made the definitive decision to study law.

Morris struggled to pay school fees and “became accustomed to wear threadbare clothes, which only my overcoat could conceal.” He borrowed money to pay for his final exams and eventually opened an office of his own as he “did not want to work for anyone again.” After an unsuccessful attempt to establish in Stewart, BC, he returned to Vancouver in May of 1920, this time to stay.

Despite rough beginnings, Morris holds hope for his future. He tells Rose, “This is the crucial period of my career, as I am now laying the foundation of my practice and I take great care that my clients are well satisfied with my work and my charges. … I am fully confident that in the not very distant future, I shall be able to amply satisfy the physical comforts and requirements of the One I prize above all.”

70-B-1,file19page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 19 (Rose)

March 21, 1921

Montreal

Rose responds to Morris’ letter that details his life but not with an autobiography in kind. Instead, she calls attention to their dissimilar past: “The thought uppermost in my mind is that I am wholly unworthy of you. My life has been so sheltered, so carefree, so sweet as compared with yours, and therefore I feel that my capacity for making amends in the future for all that you have suffered is extremely limited. Your rightful mate should have been one who herself has experienced the pangs of physical want and mental torture, and would therefore in a fuller measure understand and sympathize with you and share your glorious existence.”

Rose is curious to learn more about Morris’ law practice and cases, which she acknowledges might be difficult to do in a letter. She assures him that his debt does not discourage her and writers, “It wouldn’t matter if you were in debt up to your neck, in fact it would impress me all the more with the need of economy, and I’m a devil on finance!” In light of his debt, she urges him not to send gifts: “There are so many pretty things I should like to have, but when compared with the great and holy gift of yourself, the others appear so tawdry that I positively do not wish for them now.” For a wedding ring, she says she may ask for a platinum ring set with diamonds and sapphires but if he is unable to afford it when they marry she writes, “I shall be content with a gold band and later change it to suit me.”

70-B-1,file27page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 27 (Rose)

March 29, 1921

Montreal

Rose tells Morris she’s been “a good girl again” by refusing an invitation to a formal dance and will try to avoid accepting invitations in the future. Rose worries about their resources and wants them to be in a favourable financial position before marrying and moving in together. Her practical nature keeps her cautious while a part of her wants to give in to ideals: “…there are times when I want to write to my angel and say that nothing matters except that we be together. You could sleep on your desk and I on the typewriter just so long as we were near each other – we could hold hands!”

Rose unreservedly expresses her thoughts on marriage, which differ from her mom’s:

“I shall love and honour you, and behave sometimes, but never obey unless I feel like it. Mother says that if I love you I shall obey you, but she doesn’t know everything. I may occasionally comply with requests, but shall never obey a command. Now you can imagine what you will have to put up with. These modern women are fierce!”

In a later letter dated April 8, 1921, Rose contradicts herself, “You know you may call on me for anything you wish. I am yours to command.” These subtle contradictions show her complexity and her desire to express her devotion to Morris while remaining true to herself in marriage.

70-B-3,file39page1Click image to read postcard or view archival record.

Letter 46 (Morris)

March 30, 1921

Vancouver

Morris sends Rose a postcard signed by Leonard Frank, a well-known professional photographer and, like Morris, a member of the Concordia Club. The postcard is a photograph taken by Frank of The Lions, two mountain peaks visible from Vancouver. The postcard is one of several that Morris sends to Rose, many of which depict scenes of Vancouver to give her an impression of the city she will soon call home. Morris also sends postcards produced by the People’s Book Store in Vancouver with quotations from one of their favourite thinkers, Robert G. Ingersoll, or as they call him “Ingy” [10].

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Letter 34 (Rose)

April 4 and 5, 1921

Montreal

On March 30, 1921, Rose tells Morris that she’s shared news of their engagement: “The beans have been spilt so far as your darling folks are concerned, but they have promised to keep it secret until I release them.” Less than a week later, Rose now writes that news of their engagement is out in the open. Rose begins, “Last night I attended a regular meeting of the Club, ostensibly to talk Keren Hayesod [11], but the 30 girls present refused to hear of anything but the Zionist Convention romance.” April 5 is Rose’s birthday and the phone is ringing off the hook not only to wish her happy birthday but also to congratulate her on her engagement: “To describe the prevailing excitement would be impossible – one would think the long lost Queen of Sheba had returned.”

Rose encloses letters written from friends to Morris with congratulations, well wishes, and gentle teasing:

“Saucy dear!!!! Congratulations dearie. … Please get married soon because I do so want to travel and have one hotel (free) to stop at. With much and many. Dorothy”

“Dear Old Thing, What have you done to our little Rosalie. She positively blooms and glows. I must admit though that I wasn’t surprised. It was written all over her face. You know I saw and heard you at the Hadassah Convention [12] and was very much impressed. … Sincerest wishes to Rose and yourself. Frances Jacobson.”

The longest letter is from Adela McKinley, alias “Dan Cupid,” who takes credit for bringing them together: “…little did I know the Fates had decreed that little me should be Cupid in disguise the night of the Reception.”

70-B-3,file53page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 60 (Morris)

April 11, 1921

Vancouver

Morris attaches a dapper photo of himself to the corner of the first page. As news of their engagement spreads, Morris’ expressions of love grow. When Rose told his family, he sent a telegram the same day: “Feel relieved received news telepathically joy now doubled.” He gushes with adoration for Rose as her letters continue to inspire him: “To say that pen and paper could inspire me with such lofty thoughts and noble ambitions would have seemed incredible to me a few months ago and yet that is exactly what your messages accomplish. My whole being seems to have changed and my friends notice it in me.”

Morris recently attended a Mitzvah Girls social and confesses that he “danced four Waltzes, three with married women and one with a young lady who is an ex-law-student. I think some of the girls thought me a queer specimen of humanity to show preference for married women.”

Rarely speaking of religion, Morris touches on his belief in a divine being: “My only argument for the existence of a God is that it requires divine power to create and mould a being with such noble thoughts and wonderful charms you possess.” He closes with a strong statement of feeling: “The sweet dream has unfolded its leaves and has given birth to the winged fancies of my imagination. You are the central figure of my Utopia and I must therefore do all I can to speedily procure the absent figure of my perfect state.”

70-B-3,file62item2page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 69 (Morris)

April 20, 1921

Vancouver

Morris encloses a sketch titled “Peeved Rosana,” to which Rose later replies: “The sketch is very funny.” Morris writes that he trusts her “implicitly” with his letters and has no issue with her reading excerpts to her friends. Reflecting on the value of her letters, he writes they “are sacred to me, as I look upon them as the undying expressions of the innermost feelings of my eternal Goddess.”

He asks about her upcoming move to a new home with her parents and jokes, “The next time you decide to move, I shall carry you on my shoulder,” which recalls a memory of when they were together in Montreal, “The vision of having carried you across the room arouses my desire to do so again. Do you remember it? It was so sweet!” Morris signs off,

“How do you like spooning by mail? I think it is an extremely poor substitute.”

70-B-1,file57page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 57 (Rose)

April 30, 1921

Montreal

Rose attaches a photo of herself at seventeen to this short and spirited letter. Tomorrow, she and her family are moving to a “nice, modern, heated flat in the choicest spot in town.” It appears that moving was Rose’s idea and shows how deeply she cares for her parents. She writes, “I suppose most girls, if they knew they were going away, would be satisfied to leave their parents in any old house, but I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing them, in my dreams, in that horrid basement.” In closing, she jokes about the superficiality of the letter: “I will admit this is a most inspiring letter and it should raise you to heights of glory.”

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Letter 70 (Rose)

May 14, 1921

Montreal

This letter provides a rare glimpse into Rose’s work life.

“This letter was written in pencil last night and am stealing the time to type it when I should be computing complicated interest problems in Mr. Turtle’s Trust Department. I am supposed to be the mathematician in the office and all such troubles are handed to me for solution.”

Rose has been busy preparing for the move and has a quiet moment to herself while her family is at the movies. Amidst her excitement, her fears about moving to Vancouver begin to surface: “I have known intimately at least a dozen men who might some day have had the misfortune to be my husband, but none came within a mile of my ideal and I had almost begun to believe that my hopes were doomed and that ‘there was no such animal.’ … I know you are all that I ever dreamed my Prince might be, but I want to be fair – I want to make sure that you are not going to be cheated, and how can I promise to be worthy of you when I do not know how my new environment will affect me? What if I prove unable to adapt myself?”

70-B-4,file16page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 96 (Morris)

May 15, 1921

Vancouver

The letter is stained, possibly from pressed flowers, and reports a typical day off for Morris. Up late the night before playing bridge, until at least 3:30am, he slept until noon and has plans to go out later in the day with Dr. Morris and “some girls, to pick some ‘Dogwood’ with which to decorate the ‘Talmud Torah’ for an ‘Hadassah’ social to be held there” after which he’ll spend the evening at a friend’s house. He reflects, “This is generally considered a day well spent, although I hate to think of the days I waste that way. I would rather prefer to read for a few hours but if I do that, I would have to spend the whole day alone.”

70-B-4,file28item2page1Click image to see cartoon or view archival record.

Letter 108 (Morris)

May 27, 1921

Vancouver

Morris encloses three clippings of cartoons. He sometimes sends Rose newspaper or magazine clippings with cartoons, poetry, or short articles. In the letter he vaguely discusses a case with a client in jail. He writes, “He got into trouble with a girl who used her womanly charms to entrap him and force him to marry her.” Morris is wary of disclosing too much in writing, “It would not be proper to give you details, particularly in a letter. It is sufficient to say he fell into the snare that usually befalls a young man who disregards consequences.” When Rose responds to this letter on June 2, she has a different take: “When I hear of a chap getting into trouble with a girl, as your client did, my sympathies are with the girl, not the man. He probably made violent love to her until she became infatuated, and when he grew weary of her company, evidently thought he would walk out of her life. The average girl would sit back and do nothing, but I suppose this one is built differently.”

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Letter 87 (Rose)

June 2, 1921

Montreal

Rose mocks extravagant marriage customs: “How can one expect to find happiness unless ten gluttonous men sit around the board, crooning to the Almighty to shower the couple with blessings, which otherwise He might withhold! And unless three well paid rabbis officiate at the ceremony, then verily shall the couple be doomed!”

Her tone turns more serious as she shares her opinion of a rabbi her dad insists officiate the wedding: “The rabbi is the biggest hypocrite I know and when I tell you what part he played in shaking the foundation of my religious beliefs and practices, you will understand why his marriage ceremony would appear sacrilegious to me.” Rose finds freedom to express herself with Morris, which she rarely finds at home among family:

“There I go again! You see dear, I must not voice these sentiments at home. It pains mother and father to hear them. Mother says I had better not voice them to you, because men prefer religious wives. I know what that means – in short, slavery. I hope you will forgive me for airing my ideas.”

"My nerves just seem to have gone to pieces"

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Letter 91 (Rose)

June 6, 1921

Montreal

Rose’s worries surface in earlier letters, but this is the first letter where her depression is urgent, eclipsing the tone of the letters that follow. Rose opens with her trademark honesty and gentle self-deprecation: “If I were worthy of you, I would frame up a jolly letter and cheer you up, but being what I am, must tell you that I am suffering an attack of the blues, and no matter how hard I try to reason, cannot see daylight.” Rose tries to convince herself that she will be happy living in Vancouver, but when she thinks too deeply of moving away from friends, family, and the familiar environment of Montreal,

“That horrible feeling has taken possession of me and all other thoughts and feelings are submerged. I could write a volume, describing my feelings, but suffice it to say that I wish I were a horse, or a cow, or a tree – anything without feelings.”

She tells Morris that she has had three similar attacks before but this is the most severe. She worries that she will make him unhappy if he is preoccupied with her condition, “Please do not worry, dearest, I am not worth it,” but she also asks his help, “I know this message is cowardly and unintelligible, but perhaps you will understand and be able to help me.”

70-B-4,file43page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 123 (Morris)

June 11, 1921

Vancouver

Five days after Rose writes Morris to tell him about her depression, he responds with curiosity and concern. He opens, “My clouded sunshine, What seems to be the matter with my darling girl? Why should the thought of the fair City of Vancouver depress you?” He tries to reason the cause of her depression: “My dear girl, you are wrong! If you will think over the matter you will find it is not the thought of being away from home which depresses you, but the high tension at which you have been working, or atmospheric conditions, or worry about the future, or perhaps all combined.”

70-B-2,file38page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 100 (Rose)

June 15, 1921

Montreal

Rose addresses the letter, “Dear Healer” and congratulates Morris on accepting the position of President of the Zionist Society: “Congratulations, dear heart, and may you always be in a position to assist in the communal welfare.”

She explains that she currently lacks any physical feeling for Morris, a symptom of her depression and a brave thing to admit at this early stage in their relationship: “Since this spell came over me (it seems hypnotic) my heart has been numb. Although I love you intensely, mentally, spiritually, and morally, it seems to end there, for I cannot awaken any physical feeling whatsoever. … What a strange illness mine is!”

When she signs off she asks, “When do you file the divorce papers? Your ridiculous, Rosana.” Despite feelings of anxiety and numbness, Rose’s sense of humour is still sharp in these later letters.

70-B-4,file51petalsClick image to see dried petals or view archival record.

Letter 131 (Morris)

June 18, 1921

Montreal

This is one of two letters where Morris sends individual dried rose petals inscribed with words. Little invocations, the words express uplifting feelings and values: Age, Pleasant Thoughts, Voiceless Expressions of Love, A Leaf of Affection, Rose Saucy, Pleasure, Inspiration.

Morris worries about Rose’s depression despite recent letters where she tells him she feels somewhat better. Although he tries sincerely to understand her illness, he misunderstands depression, expressing attitudes that are still common today: “There is no real reason for your depression and the fact that you realize it should make you immediately throw off the shadows of gloom. You must not allow your mind to nourish unpleasant thoughts because, apart from the immediate ill-effects, there is the danger of it becoming chronic by repetition.” Morris believes that Rose can control her illness, that happy thoughts and surroundings are an obvious and easy cure: “Seek cheerful surroundings and read cheerful books. This will prevent anything unpleasant from entering your mind.”

Morris does want Rose to share her feelings with him:

“I feel you acted wisely in writing me how you feel, as I always like to know your true condition and sentiments, even if it hurts me.”

He reiterates both his belief in her strength to overcome her illness and his “unbounded” confidence in her: “Your loftiness, broadmindedness and determination has and will exert an elevating influence on me.”

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Letter 112 (Rose)

June 29, 1921

Montreal

Rose’s depression takes a turn for the worse: “I would rather lose everything I own in the world than write this letter, but after two days’ deliberation, believe it is best to tell you my exact condition. I must be frank and honest, at all costs.” Rose asks her parents if they thought Morris should come to Montreal, “but both said that if you were to come down and see me in this depressed state, you would break our engagement or at least return to Vancouver in disgust.”

Rose makes an appointment with Dr. Shirres “the best neurologist in town” [13]. Dr. Shirres tells her not to blame herself and legitimizes her depression as an illness like any other: “I am not to scold myself nor in any way attempt to reason it out, since my illness is as real as though I were suffering from scarlet fever or anything else, and that all will power and wishing in the world will not dispel the gloom.” Visiting the doctor and knowing that she suffers from an illness makes her feel better:

“It has relieved me considerably to know that I am really ill – I thought it was my fault and that I had undergone a change of heart towards you – but he assures me this is not the case and that I am no more responsible for my illness than I would be had I broken a leg.”

Further, the doctor advises her to stop planning her wedding until her depression subsides. Rose responds to this advice with an accepting frame of mine: “The adage about true love never running smoothly is cropping up even in our ideal affair.” Once again, she rejects her parents’ assessment of the situation, as “they do not seem to understand what our love means and cannot realize that I am ill and hence my thoughts and feelings are unnatural temporarily, and no doubt think their threats will frighten me into becoming well.” She closes her letter with a promise, “Even if you should divorce me, which I know you would not do, I am Yours forever, Rosana.”

70-B-2,file53page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 115 (Rose)

July 2, 1921

Montreal

Rose describes an “electric treatment” prescribed by Dr. Shirres, which “consisted of sitting on a chair with hands placed on knobs at each side of the chair. There is no sensation whatever but I suppose there is something to it – he calls it an internal bath.” In previous letters, Rose talks about how the doctor has told her not to blame herself and has legitimized her illness, yet she doubts this and reveals some of her own preconceptions about her diagnosis: “I feel so silly having ‘nerves’ – it is a disease of the wealthy and the lazy classes – I am a member of the latter. Doctor says I am really ill and if I am to have confidence in him, must not doubt it.”

Her love for Morris still shines as she writes, “There will be no room for a repetition of this trouble when my beloved Saucy is by my side. You shall be my confidante and your tenderness and nobleness will overcome even real fears – to say nothing of groundless ones.”

Rose is insightful about her conflicting feelings and the cause of her anxiety:

“With sublime thoughts and aspiration that suffuse my being, it seems a paradox that the thoughts of going away and keeping house should disturb my peace. They are deep in my sub-conscious mind, having been there for many years, but I always consoled myself with the assertion that I would never marry an out of town man. Such is life.”

"Come at your convenience"

70-C-1,file14page1Click image to read telegram or view archival record.

Letter 154 (Morris)

July 5, 1921

Vancouver

Morris and Rose send telegrams with restraint, often only when the message is urgent. Morris sends Rose a telegram, expressing his concern and desire to visit: “Am terribly upset over your breakdown want to visit you at all / costs but shall await your approval have implicit confidence in / your unswerving devotion and am inseparably united to my idol / does doctor think early recovery certain please wire collect to / relieve great anxiety and restlessness love always.”

70-B-2,file56page1Click image to read telegram or view archival record.

 

Letter 118 (Rose)

July 5, 1921

Montreal

The last piece of correspondence in Rose’s series, she sends a telegram: “Feeling well but doctor thinks your coming might be advisable come at / your convenience love Rose.”

70-C-1,file16page1Click image to read full letter or view archival record.

Letter 156 (Morris)

July 6, 1921

Vancouver

One of the last letters that Morris sends to Rose as he prepares to leave for Montreal: “Yesterday, I was very restless when I realized that a trip east would exhaust my resources and probably not benefit either of us, but on second thought concluded that that course was the best to adopt. For after all, money is not everything in life.” At this point, their plans for the near future are uncertain. Some of his friends tell him to bring Rose back to Vancouver, but he’s unable to make plans until they are together: “I have not the faintest idea of what plans to make for the future, as I dislike to plan without having the wherewithal on hand. However, I presume we shall discuss matters together within the next day or two.”

He reaffirms his commitment to support Rose:

“When I shall be at your side, know, sweet fairy, that no cloud of gloom dare come near you. I shall fight ‘Depression’ in mortal combat.”

He signs off, “Am all excited to see you. With everlasting love, I am, Your hubby to be, Morris.”

Conclusion

Although Rose and Morris wanted to wait to marry until Morris’ debts were cleared, Rose’s depression hastened their wedding. On July 21, 1921, shortly after Morris arrived in Montreal, Rose and Morris were married in a small ceremony with family at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim. Rose then bravely left her family and community in Montreal, where she was so strongly rooted, to settle down with Morris in Vancouver.

In the following years, Morris built up a successful law practice and Rose worked as a homemaker and to raise their two children – Helen and Theodore.

On November 11, 1940, soon before his 50th birthday, Morris died suddenly of a heart attack [14]. Rose was heartbroken by his death. Left with little money and two children to care for, she revived her business skills to keep herself afloat.Two of Rose’s brothers provided her with financial support following Morris’s death, but after six months she told them she no longer needed their money. Rose met an American man who told her about investing in second mortgages. A decisive and confident business woman, Rose purchased a few small houses and generated an income to support herself and her children [15]. Rose lived a long life and passed away at the age of 91 on April 24, 1987.

Before her death, Rose gave her letters to her daughter Helen and told her “don’t ever throw them out.” Hoping to preserve the letters and share her parents’ profound love story, Helen donated the letters and accompanying records to the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC on July 2, 2014.

On March 15, 1921, Morris wrote to Rose, “Your letters – my letters – are our common property and in days to come will keep aglow the most wonderful flame allotted man! Love.” Nearly 100 years later, the flame still glows bright.

collage_soskinClockwise from top left: Rose and Ted Soskin (with Helen) June 4, 1927 L.08997; Group on Grouse Mountain including Rose and Morris Soskin 1922 L.09026; Rose Soskin and Hattie Sigler 1947 L.25186; Rose Soskin and her children Ted and Helen seated around a fountain [1935] L.09033; Men at picnic table, Morris Soskin [1930] L.09029; Soskin family L.09006; Dr. Morris, Morris and Rose Soskin, Grouse Mountain 1922 L.08995

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Ted Zacks and family for their generous support of this exhibit, and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s British Columbia History Digitization Program for supporting the digitization of this collection.

A special thanks to Alysa Routtenberg and Michael Schwartz for providing direction and guidance and to Helen Coleman, daughter of Morris and Rose, for filling in the gaps in her parents’ story.

This exhibit was created by Cristen Polley.

Notes

[1] Series 001 – Rose’s letters to Morris, File 17

[2] Series 001 – Rose’s letters to Morris, File 9

[3] Series 001 – Rose’s letters to Morris, File 9

[4] Series 002 – Morris’ letters to Rose, File 107

[5] Series 002 – Morris’ letters to Rose, File 24

[6] Series 002 – Morris’ letters to Rose, File 16

[7] I use the term depression in this exhibit, as it’s the term Rose uses most often to describe her mood in later letters. Other terms she uses include “attack of the blues” and “nerves.” It’s difficult to determine whether or not she suffered from a mood disorder as terminology and diagnosis have changed since the 1920s and because we have an incomplete record her life.

[8] Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet. Read more.

[9] The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway “was a 4800 km system whose main line ran from Winnipeg via Melville and Edmonton to Prince Rupert” and was built between 1906 and 1914. Read more.

[10] Robert G. Ingersoll was an American lawyer, politician, and orator known as “The Great Agnostic” who was critical of the Bible. Read more. “Woman and the Bible” is one of several postcards with Ingersoll quotes that Morris sends Rose.

[11] Keren Hayesod is the United Israel Appeal, the official international fundraising body for Israel. Read more.

[12] Hadassah-WIZO is a Jewish women’s organization that supports children, healthcare, and women in Israel and Canada. Read more.

[13] Rose writes that Dr. Shirres “is Chief of his department at the General Hospital and Professor at McGill, and has specialized in neurology for thirty-five years.”

[14] Morris’ obituary.

[15] This information was provided by Rose and Morris’ daughter Helen Coleman in a phone conversation May 3 2016.

Feature image: Pops + moms July 11th 1926 Item L.25177