Papers of Eleanor Skelton Cash, 1940-2010
Journals, correspondence, audiotapes, writings, etc., of Eleanor Skelton Cash, a poet who spent much of her life living in poverty.
Language of Materials
Materials in English.
Access. Researchers must sign a special permission form. Researchers must consult the conservator before handling #55FB.1-55FB.6. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Eleanor Skelton Cash is held by Eleanor Skelton Cash. Upon her death, copyright will be transferred to her children. Upon their deaths, copyright will be transferred to the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied with written permission from Eleanor Skelton Cash.
Extent26.2 linear feet ((51 file boxes, 1 folio box, 3 folio+ boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 3 oversize folders, 1 photograph folder, 30 audiotapes)
The collection contains journals, correspondence, audiotapes, writings, etc., of Eleanor Skelton Cash, a poet who spent much of her life living in poverty. Most materials arrived at the library unfoldered and in no discernable order; the archivist created folder titles for those files. A small number of files were foldered and those titles have been preserved and appear in quotation marks. Files were arranged by the archivist.
Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1940-2006 (#1.1-3.3, PD.1, T-214.1 - T-214.6), includes clippings about Cash, resumes, her wedding book and divorce papers, financial documents, uncataloged photographs, audiotapes, etc. Uncataloged photographs are mainly snapshots of Cash's friends and lovers. Audiotapes contain interviews Cash conducted with members of her mother's family, the Plunketts. Interviews contain several family members' reminiscences of life in Eldorado, Illinois. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Series II, JOURNALS, 1942-2010 (#3.4-44.2, 55FB.1-55FB.6, 52F+B.1-54F+B.4, OD.1-OD.3, T-214.7 - T-214.17), contains journal entries written on loose sheets of paper and in spiral-bound notebooks supplemented with correspondence, clippings, uncataloged photographs, and printed ephemera. Also included are audiocassettes whose content is similar in nature to the content of the written journals. Loose sheets of paper were foldered in the order that they were found; it is likely that entries are not in chronological order and additional letters intended to be included in journals may be found in Series III, correspondence. Correspondence in this series includes letters to Cash from family and friends; the most frequent correspondents are Cash's mother, Mary Skelton, sister, Virginia Hirsch, and son, Craig Cash. Many of the letters written by Cash do not appear to have been mailed and in many cases are marked "unsent." Spiral-bound notebooks contained a large number of taped in sheets of paper, many of which were folded to fit in the notebooks. In most cases, the tape resulted in pages being adhered to each other, obscuring text and preventing pages from being turned. To make the notebooks useable, the spiral binding was removed, taped pages were cut apart, documents were unfolded, and all pages were numbered to document the order they appeared in the notebooks. Journals document a wide variety of topics, including Cash's living situations, financial difficulties, family and romantic relationships, writing, and physical and mental health problems. Journals are filed chronologically by year.
Journals from the 1950s and 1960s document Cash's life as a housewife and mother in Schenectady, New York. She wrote often of her unhappiness in her marriage, chronicling her fights with her husband, Norman, and her desire to leave him. She also recorded her feelings towards her children, ranging from love and pride in them to frustration and dislike, particularly regarding her oldest daughter, Rene. In 1968, Cash's younger daughter, Gini Lou, committed suicide through self-immolation and Cash frequently questioned what role she played in Gini Lou's decision to commit suicide and whether or not she could have done anything to prevent it. In 1970, Cash divorced her husband and surrendered custody of their underage children, Craig and Keith. After leaving home, Cash's relationship with her children was often difficult, marked by periods with no contact and hurtful exchanges. Cash's feelings toward her children and her reflections on her relationship with them are a frequent topic in her journal entries.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Cash struggled with mental illness. In 1960, she received electric shock treatment and she spent much of the 1960s under the care of a psychiatrist and was hospitalized multiple times. In the mid-1960s, Cash founded a local chapter of Recovery, Inc., a mental health self-help group, and her journals contain records of techniques she learned in the group, including spotting exercises and self-endorsements. Journal entries often refer to Cash's moods as depressed, but she adamantly and repeatedly writes that following her 1970 divorce, she was cured of her mental illness.
In addition to her mental health, Cash used her journals to record details of her physical well-being. Entries throughout document her illnesses and aches and pains. Throughout her adult life, Cash has suffered from gastrointestinal problems. In earlier journals, Cash refers to having colitis, but later journals refer to similar problems as being caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The problems, including constipation and diarrhea, increased as Cash aged, and journals from the 1990s on include entries dedicated to descriptions of her bowel movements, her diet, and the impact her diet has on her bowel movements.
Cash has held many jobs during her lifetime, but generally found the physical demands and the conformity required by employers to be overwhelming and she left the positions after only a short time. Throughout her life, Cash wrote poetry and in the 1970s, she began to share her poems with friends and family and decided to become a professional poet. In 1975, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and began selling her poetry compilations as a street vendor in public areas and by going door-to-door. While somewhat successful, Cash still failed to earn enough money to live on and had to apply for government assistance. Journals record Cash's need to write poetry, the pleasure she received from selling poems and getting positive feedback from readers, and her disappointment and anger over not being able to support herself with the proceeds of her sales. She also frequently states that her poetry is her legacy and believes that eventually, perhaps after her death, her poetry will be "discovered" by the larger public.
After leaving her family in 1970, Cash struggled to find a community where she felt like she belonged. Journals document her time spent living in low-income housing in Albany, New York, as a house manager in Atlanta, Georgia, a visitor in the Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Virginia, and a participant in the Seneca Peace Camp (also known as the Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice). While she never became a member of the Hare Krishna community, Cash frequently attended Temple while living in Atlanta, Georgia, and befriended many Krishnas. In the late-1980s, she lived in a Krishna community in Tennessee. Ultimately, Cash found the rules of all of these communities to be too binding and she left or was asked to leave due to her inability to conform to community rules. She also spent time in a shelter for abused women in Harlem, New York, as a homeless woman in San Francisco, California, and living with her son Craig in New York. Cash's journals record her opinions and feelings towards each of these living situations and as she began contemplating moving, she would often reflect on the different places and situations she had lived through, stating both the positive and negative aspects of each.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Cash fantasized about having sexual relationships with men other than her husband. In particular, her diaries focused on her local paperboy and her psychiatrist. In the final year of her marriage, Cash engaged in an affair with a student she met at the local university. For the next two decades, Cash engaged in numerous sexual encounters and recorded detailed accounts of them in her journals. Initially, she intended to publish the journals as the story of a woman discovering sexual liberation in her 40s. Journals from the early 1970s in particular contain graphic descriptions of encounters including enumerations of sexual positions engaged in, the number of climaxes experienced, and the skill or lack thereof of her lover. To protect the identities of her lovers, she assigned them aliases, but often their real names are recorded alongside the aliases. Cash frequently records her pride in the fact that her lovers were generally much younger than her and tended to be African or Indian. She continued to engage in indiscriminate sex into the 1980s, when she began to worry about contracting AIDS. Journals from the 1970s contain lists of men Cash had sex with in order to track names, ages, nationalities, and the length of relationships; Cash began to compile lists in the 1980s as a means of contemplating the likelihood of having contracted AIDS. Lists from the mid-1980s place emphasis on African and potentially gay lovers, reflecting the belief at the time that AIDS was a disease spread by African and gay men. Later lists recognize that all of her lovers were potential carriers of the disease. Cash's journals in the 1980s document her increasing discomfort during sex due to vaginal dryness. She details her use of personal lubricants and conversations she had with lovers concerning the frequency with which they can have sex. The fear of AIDS combined with Cash's discomfort results in a decline in sexual activity and entries involving sex became much less frequent in the 1990s.
Series III, CORRESPONDENCE, 1943-2007 (#44.3-48.6, 54F+B.5, T-214.18 - T-214.29), contains letters to and from Cash to and from family, friends, and lovers. Additional correspondence can be found in Cash's journals (Series II) and it is likely that correspondence found in this series was intended to be included in the journals. Correspondence documents Cash's frequently volatile relationship with her daughter Rene, and disappointment in Craig and Keith's failure to write to her as often as she would like. Correspondence also chronicles Cash's relationship with her mother, Mary Skelton, and sister, Virginia Hirsch. Early correspondence between them is affectionate and friendly, but beginning in the 1970s, Cash's relationship with both women becomes frequently contentious. Topics of dispute include Cash's assertion that Virginia had interfered with her relationship with her children, Mary's disapproval of Cash's lifestyle, and Cash's questioning of Virginia's handling of their parents' care in their final years. Also included are letters from a few of Cash's lovers, most notably Raj Bidari, whose letters contain graphic descriptions of sexual acts he imagines engaging in with Cash and how he was sexually stimulated by imagining the acts. Correspondence is arranged chronologically.
Series IV, WRITINGS, 1945-1998 (#48.7-51.4, FD.1, T-214.30), contains poetry, fiction, and autobiographical writings by Cash. Most poetry is unpublished, but included are three poetry compilations, The Frail Flower Blooms, Red, White and Blues, and Treasures, which Cash self-published and sold, often door-to-door and as a street vendor. Records of Cash's poetry sales can be found in #FD.1 and #49.11. Researchers interested in Cash's thoughts and feelings concerning writing and selling her poetry, particularly her belief that her poetry is her legacy to future generations, should see Cash's journals. The journals also include additional poems. Files are arranged alphabetically.
Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].
Eleanor Skelton Cash, daughter of Joseph Ewing and Mary Matilda (Plunkett) Skelton, was born December 9, 1926, in Eldorado, Illinois. In 1949, she married Norman Everett Cash; they had four children, Rene, Gini Lou, Craig, and Keith, before divorcing in 1970. She graduated from Empire State College with a major in social psychology in 1974. A poet, Cash has given readings in Georgia and has published collections of her works privately.
The collection is arranged in four series:
- Series I. Biographical and Personal, 1940-2006 (#1.1-3.3, PD.1, T-214.1 - T-214.6)
- Series II. Journals, 1942-2010 (#3.4-44.2, 55FB.1-55FB.6, 52F+B.1-54F+B.4, OD.1-OD.3, T-214.7 - T-214.17)
- Series III. Correspondence, 1943-2007 (#44.3-48.6, 54F+B.5, T-214.18 - T-214.29)
- Series IV. Writings, 1945-1998 (#48.7-51.4, FD.1, T-214.30)
Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Accession numbers: 88-M58, 88-M70, 88-M79, 88-M137, 88-M150, 90-M51, 90-M57, 90-M60, 90-M89, 91-M108, 92-M17, 95-M3, 96-M4, 96-M182, 98-M66, 98-M212, 99-M2, 2001-M1, 2010-M79
The papers of Eleanor Skelton Cash were given to the Schlesinger Library by Eleanor Skelton Cash between April 1988 and April 2010.
Processed: June 2012
By: Johanna Carll, with assistance from Suzanna Calev.
- AIDS (Disease)--Social aspects
- Divorce--United States
- Elderly poor--United States
- Eldorado (Ill.)--Social life and customs--20th century
- Irritable colon
- Marriage--United States
- Mental illness--Personal narratives
- Mothers and daughters--United States
- Mothers and sons--United States
- Mothers of suicide victims--United States
- Oral histories
- Poets, American
- Poor women--United States
- Schenectady (N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century
- Women poets, American
- Women--Health and hygiene
- Women--Sexual behavior
- Cash, Eleanor Skelton. Papers of Eleanor Skelton Cash, 1940-2010: A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository
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