"Really, no one can imagine what a family goes through when being ground down into the mire of poverty. Everyone of us has suffered terribly. Robert is cheated of his education. Howard is dead. Ernest has lost everything a man can lose. Marjorie has gone way below par, beyond the pale. William is being deprived of a good home, benefits, special education and privileges. And I? Well, no one but I can tell what misery really means ... If Dreiser hadn't used the name An American Tragedy, that would just fit it.”
So wrote San Diegan Nellie Blair Greene to Mrs. Marshall Smith, in January 1938.
The marriage between Nellie Blair and Arthur Greene in 1905 was probably considered by Lansing, Michigan society as an advantageous one. The Greenes owned a prosperous clothing business; the Blairs, so immediately connected with Michigan's Civil War governor Austin Blair, were influential politically. The marriage took place May 5, 1905, in Lansing; the couple honeymooned on Mackinac Island.
How it happened that Nellie obtained, in 1930, a divorce from Arthur on the grounds of extreme cruelty and turned right around and married his cousin Ernest Greene, a widower, is not known. The wedding license, issued March 24, 1930, lists Ernest as age 40 and Nellie, 45.
Ernest Greene was first listed in the Jackson, Michigan city directory in 1917, as a clerk in the E.C. Greene Clothing Store and the husband of Lillian, whom he had married in 1915. They had three sons, Robert, Howard, and William. It was Ernest's father who owned the store, but at some point it was his cousin Arthur (then Nellie's husband) who became manager.
In letters written between 1930 and 1948 to Mrs. Marshall Smith, Nellie describes the deepening of the Great Depression. the outbreak of World War II, and the immediate postwar years. With her second husband Ernest jobless after the 1929 Crash, Nellie's family continues to exist with financial help from her father and her former husband Arthur. By 1933, when those sources fade, the family applies for welfare, a pride-crushing decision for this granddaughter of a governor, daughter of a banker, former society leader, and DAR member.
In April 1932, Nellie comments on national elections.
“I am so afraid Mr. Hoover will be the next president. I like him, and he is a fine man, but why didn't he do something a couple of years before he had a Democratic House to fight? I like Al Smith, but he'll never be president because of religion and Tammany.
“We are either not voting at all or will vote Democratic, and I will vote for Al Smith, providing his name is returned. If Roosevelt is nominated, my husband will vote for him, but I won't. And we are born Republicans!
“I am so disgusted with the entire country, I wish I could leave America and never return.”
“August 1993 ... I have not very much confidence in Roosevelt and shall vote Socialist next time. Tomorrow I am going to the library and get several books and really study Socialism. I am so disgusted and sore over the way this government has treated these millions of forgotten men and women that I want to see a drastic change in politics, here and in Washington.”
By July 1934, Ernest has found work, even if it is for only three days a week a $12 a week for the State Conservation Board.
“... As for my politics, I am for anyone who will restore my husband to the ranks of living wage earners... I suppose you have seen the Liberty Magazine with silly Cornelius Vanderbilt's article against Roosevelt. It will only help Roosevelt when it becomes known that 'society' and the rich are against him. Someday there will be no `society,' no Harrimans, no Morgans, no Vanderbilts, no Insulls and Rockefellers. there aren't any now, but they don't know it yet.
“There are millions of bitter and determined workmen, however, and disappointed, sore, and angry farmers, and ugly, revengeful longshoremen and miners and laborers. They are the people and they will eventually be 'society.' So what?
“I hope Upton Sinclair does not become governor of California, for I detest his books. A man is known by the fiction he writes, and Sinclair should be in an abattoir.”
“December 1934 ... I dislike talking politics, but I'm afraid I've got to, as you evidently don't know our Upton Sinclair the way we do, out here. He wasn't defeated because any money interests could do it. He lost the votes of the Democrats because he is a rank Communist and actually in touch with the Soviets, and this is true.
“My dear, - I have waded in Communism out here, and about a million other Americans have decided to do something about it. Socialism is O.K. unless it begins to stand on soap boxes to advocate an armed revolution. The it becomes Sovietism and should be sat upon. We'll never get Fascism, and I detest this Liberty League. We are pestered to death with all those queer people and even queerer ideas.
“I have attended many SERA meetings, I even called the police riot squad myself one night when Communists tried to take over the meeting. I have gone to meetings of a pseudo-SERA association, whose members were all Reds, and I pretended sympathy with them in order to find out what they were and why they organized. I have been helpful in keeping them out of the public schools.
“I am going to join a queerer club - the `600 Club' - whose members never know each other, only by number, and who work against Communism. The more I see of Reds, the more I hate them. I know many of the foremost Reds here, personally, and they don't know who I am. I despise them. They are unbalanced, bombastic, rude, ignorant, and look and act half-baked.”
“New Years's Eve, 1935 ... There have been some riots here and some bad happenings from hunger and forcing men to work six weeks without pay. There is worse trouble in Los Angeles, and any minute a real war may start.