Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Life & Death Of Edith Mae Cummings

Millionaire, author and murder victim all describe Edith Mae Cummings.

Edith Mae (Cunliffe) Cummings' book, Pots, pans and millions, a study of woman's right to be in business; her proclivities and capacity for success, published in 1929, can be read online here.
A few quotes from her book can be found below:
"My childhood, like that of most children born in the shadow of want, was severe but never tragic. My mother* was left alone with a brood of small children, and because she was unable to earn enough money to keep up the payments on our home the mortgage was foreclosed and she lost it. With six children clinging to her skirts and no special equipment except a kind heart and a ready sympathy for others in distress, she was obliged to shift for herself...".
*Eliza (Gore) Cunliffe

"I was born and raised in a neighborhood** where time and eternity were recorded by the toots of the factory whistle. ...As a girl, kitchen drudgery was very distasteful to me, and when I could, I avoided it. Pots, pans and cooking were always my aversion."
**Detroit, Wayne Co., Michigan

"High School work was brought to a close because of the death of my sister, and it was necessary for me then to give up school work altogether...".
"...I secured a position in a downtown hotel, where I later met the young man of my dreams. Then came orange blossoms white satin and a wedding*** reception, and days of glorious sunsets and long nights of silver moon and our work together in the theater. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and the first few years of our married life were spent together in vaudeville and musical recitals... . ...It seemed that nothing could happen that would eclipse this picture of love and work. However, clouds began to gather, and while on the road his health broke down and we were forced to return to Detroit, where, after two years of illness, he died****."

***Groom's name: Thomas G. Cumming
Bride's name: Edith Cunliffe
Bride's age in years: 19
Bride's birth date: 1888
Marriage date: 23 Nov 1907
Marriage place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois
Collection: Illinois, Cook County Marriages 1871-1920

****Thomas Cummings' death record stated that he died of "General Paralysis of Insane" and died at Eloise Hospital on 9 March 1920 and that he was the son of John & Sarah (McGill) Cummings, born 13 Nov 1882 in Michigan.

"With my mother helpless and with two babies***** to support I was confronted with a problem that was not easy to solve."
*****Thomas Cummings, b. ca 1909 & Robert, b. ca 1915
"Of course it was prophesied that a woman couldn't make a "go" of real estate on a big scale, but you must remember that I had already made many contacts in the business world. The first month I did business of around $52,000. ...the first year in business I earned over $100,000 — or as much as the president of the United States."

Mrs. Cummings writes of her philosophy about a woman's place in the world, starting with Adam & Eve and progresses from there throughout history. She stated:

"So when you are confronted with a problem that calls for a sacrifice ...remember the persecutions, sacrifices and the despair of the women of the past. Although obscure because of the lack of records, their lives give the only light to that part of history which they live in."

Mrs. Cummings' view on crime, less than 10 years before she, herself, was murdered, is illustrated here:

"Are we to believe that this is just a final flicker of barbarism, and that our civilization is becoming so well established that crimes...that the instinct to kill, rob and plunder finds its expression now alone in the uncultured and uneducated mind?"

Uncultured and uneducated mind? She was embroiled in fraudulent land schemes that ultimately led to her death.

"It is not law but character that makes us have regard for our neighbor's property."

Good instincts -- what went wrong? It was fraudulent property deals that led to her ultimate downfall.

"The danger of sentiment in business is that we might blind our judgment, and in our effort to help someone we might deal unfairly with the other fellow. We find many people who try to get something for nothing. They are not interested in fair dealing."

What blinded her judgment???

"A broken spirit loses hope and courage, and causes failure, insanity and suicide. ...they go about as do the insane in the beautiful grounds allotted to them."

Expressing thoughts about her late husband? Or a premonition of her own future? Julia M. Barker, Edith's occasional business partner who shot and killed her, stated that Edith's death was a murder/suicide thwarted by Julia as she and Edith struggled over the gun. Julia was convicted of manslaughter, not murder. Did the jury believe that Julia was the intended victim?

"Life in many ways is like a voyage; when we are born we start on our journey, like a battleship going to war under sealed orders. When the captain leaves his port he knows not what providence has in store, and so it is with life. We start out upon the sea of life, and we know not what our port will be. We do not know the dangers of the voyage, the sunken reefs, the icebergs nor the stormy capes upon which our life may be ruined. They are all unknown to us. Through perils and treacherous storms and through the calm, we must steer our ship into this unknown course. Fate is the maker of our chart: no two persons ever sail over exactly the same route."
How fortunate for Edith that she did not know in 1929, when she wrote the book quoted above, what fate had in store for her on the banks of the Huron River, near Belleville, Michigan, on January 15, 1938. A newspaper account of Edith Cummings' murder can be found here. Mrs. Barker said it was in self-defense and that Mrs. Cummings threatened to kill her and commit suicide because "we're in so deep in these land deals that we will never get out."

Note: Mrs. Cummings' home in Dearborn, Michigan, can be found here in her book. A picture of the interior of her home can be seen here. A photograph of Edith Mae (Cunliffe) Cummings' home that was her birthplace can be found in her book here.


Unknown said...

Thank you for putting this blog together. Edith Mae Cummings was my great grandmother. I have yet to read her book and am just now starting to look into our family history. Very interesting.

PalmsRV said...

Your great-grandmother's story was very compelling. What a way to start your journey into finding out about your family history.

Good luck.

Cathy @ palmsrv