"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

9 Aug 2022

Review of 'The Vagabond in Literature' by Arthur Rickett (1906), Part 2

 This review is a work in progress and will be completed over the forthcoming weeks

Return to Part 1


Restlessness, then, is one of the notes of the Vagabond temperament.

Sometimes the Vagabond is a physical, sometimes only an intellectual wanderer; but in any case there is about him something of the primal wildness of the woods and hills.” Arthur Rickett    

Rickett acknowledges that a characteristic of the Vagabond is restlessness. Yet at the start his book he regards this condition for the most part as pathological, neither, does he say, should it be confused with the kind of superabundant nervous energy that he ascribes to Dickens in his earlier years. “The stress of life upon the nervous system in this era of commercialism [the Industrial Revolution] has produced a spirit of feverish unrest which, permeating society generally, has visited a few souls with special intensity.”  This spirit Rickett paraphrases in a quote from Ruskin who declared that our two objects in life were: “whatever we have, to get more; and wherever we are, to go somewhere else.” To which Rickett adds that, “Nervous instability is very marked in the case of Hazlitt and De Quincey; and there was a strain of morbidity in Borrow, Jefferies, and Stevenson.”

And yet, there are many examples later in Rickett’s book that describes wanderlust as a positive character trait. In the chapter on Thomas de Quincey, Rickett describes the compulsion to wander as follows, “A characteristic of the literary Vagabond is the eager versatility of his intellectual interests.  He will follow any path that promises to be interesting, not so much with the scholar’s patient investigation as with the pedestrian’s delight in ‘fresh woods and pastures new.’ ” And from Henry D. Thoreau’s ‘Essay on Walking’ we have that writer's regret that the average walker is not nearly adventurous enough, noting the phenomena of the tourist hiker as long ago as 1862.

We are but faint-hearted crusaders; even the walkers nowadays undertake no persevering world’s end enterprises.  Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside from which we set out.  Half of the walk is but retracing our steps.  We should go forth on the shortest walks, perchance, in the spirit of stirring adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdom.  If you have paid your debts and made your will and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk.” 

By the time we get to Rickett’s chapter on Thoreau, he is fully embracing the positive nature of wanderlust and acknowledges that this is why the literary vagabond is such excellent company, having wandered from the beaten track he is able to bring back accounts that those of us who never stray far from home could not imagine.  “There is a wild luxuriance about his character that is interesting and fascinating …  The riotous growth of eccentricities and idiosyncrasies are picturesque enough, though you must expect to find thorns and briars.” In Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay ‘Walking Tours’ that writer describes the pleasures of walking as follows: 

It must not be imagined that a walking tour, as some would have us fancy, is merely a better or worse way of seeing the country.  There are many ways of seeing landscape quite as good; and none more vivid, in spite of canting dilettantes, than from a railway train.  But landscape on a walking tour is quite accessory.  He who is indeed of the brotherhood does not voyage in quest of the picturesque, but of certain jolly humours—of the hope and spirit with which the march begins at morning, and the peace and spiritual repletion of the evening’s rest.  He cannot tell whether he puts his knapsack on or takes it off with more delight.  The excitement of the departure puts him in key for that of the arrival.  Whatever he does will be further rewarded in the sequel; and so pleasure leads on to pleasure in an endless chain.” 

William Hazlitt’s 1822 essay, ’On Going a Journey’, gets closer to the true vagabond wanderlust spirit when he acknowledges: ‘One of the pleasantest things is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself. . . .  The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases.’ ” 

Although Hazlitt acknowledges the true tramping spirit, I must return to the distinction I made earlier between the writer-who-tramps and the tramp-who-writes, because although the writers in Rickett’s book get close to the true spirit of wanderlust, it seems there is always an element of choice in their wanderings that is not the case with many of the latter category of vagabond writer. These appear to more closely fit Rickett’s earlier account of wanderlust as a pathological compulsion that cannot be resisted, almost an addiction that while produced by an overwhelming desire for pleasure, nevertheless is often accompanied by the ‘thorns and briars’ aforementioned.

The following passages from contemporary vagabond writer Jim Christy’s unpublished work, Wandering Heart, captures this compulsion and is all the more poignant as they were written from the confines of a hospital wheelchair where Christy, recovering from a stroke, was incapable of responding to those powerful forces calling him to hit the road:

What I felt sitting in my wheelchair down at the end of that hospital hallway was the lust to wander, pure and simple. I’ve always wanted to carry my passport with me wherever I go whether to the supermarket or the next town on an errand. I fancy ducking out on my errand, giving up my serious pursuits to head for the airport and buy a ticket anywhere. With my horizons narrowed, I fancy walking out the door and just going with no preconceived notion, no plan, turn left or right it doesn’t matter.

     There is sometimes while traveling a powerful feeling of happiness without thinking of happiness, of expanded consciousness and being a part of everything around you. … My most intense memory of this state of being, perhaps it was what Colin Wilson called the St. Neot’s Margin—a feeling of expanded consciousness that came over him while passing through that English town on a bus. For me it was the old bus station in Barcelona some time in the early Seventies while I stood in the big hall waiting to leave for Morocco. I had never been happier or more at ease.

     The feeling can come over you in the most unlikely of places; it is not necessary to be in Tibet or Barcelona. One time, I was sitting on the wooden steps of a general store in Effingham, Illinois, just come down from Chicago, waiting for the bus to St. Louis and bam, all of a sudden I felt as if I was hovering over the steps, floating above the rooftops, surveying the scene of shops and houses and cars; the small town bicycle world of kids.” 

It is a credit to Christy that he continued to explore the world and marvel at its wonders long after most Westerners, smug in the knowledge that the world had been mined of its secrets, sat back to glory at their cleverness in university campuses or simply be passive spectators on their now ubiquitous TV and other devices. Below, Jack London reinforces in his book The Road, the random and serendipitous nature of tramping described by Christy above:

Perhaps the greatest charm of tramp-life is the absence of monotony. In Hobo Land the face of life is protean—an ever changing phantasmagoria, where the impossible happens and the unexpected jumps out of the bushes at every turn of the road. The hobo never knows what is going to happen the next moment; hence, he lives only in the present moment. He has learned the futility of telic endeavor, and knows the delight of drifting along with the whimsicalities of Chance.”

These earlier tramp writers have left us with many perspectives of this same phenomenon. From Josiah Flynt’s book Tramping with Tramps, we are given the viewpoint of the child-tramp or road kid. A class of tramp of which he, together with Livingstone, Everson, Davies, Kennedy, London, Horn, Tully, Phelan, and indeed Christy, were all representatives: 

they [road kids] are possessed of the "railroad fever" ... the expression in its broader sense of Wanderlust. They want to get out into the world, and at stated periods the desire is so strong and the road so handy that they simply cannot resist the temptation to explore it. A few weeks usually suffice to cool their ardor, and then they run home quite as summarily as they left, but they stay only until the next runaway mood seizes them.” 

Tramp writers frequently present wanderlust as this urge to hit the road coming in waves and for no particular reason. In the following passage from W. H. Davies’s book The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, this compulsion is also linked to the health benefits of tramping:

What a glorious time of the year is this! With the warm sun travelling through serene skies, the air clear and fresh above you, which instils new blood in the body, making one defiantly tramp the earth, kicking the snows aside in the scorn of action. The cheeks glow with health, the lips smile, and there is no careworn face seen, save they come out of the house of sickness of death. And that lean spectre, called Hunger, has never been known to appear in these parts.” 

In the following passage from her book The Tramp Woman (1909), Dolly Kennedy Yancey describes the other side of wanderlust, precisely what it is that she seeks to escape from when she takes to the road:

Does it pay only to live to accumulate property and junk, which to a traveller would prove expensive ‘excess baggage?’ Does it pay to harden one’s heart against the cultivation of healthy, human instincts, and to live a narrow, selfish life in a conservative community where one is always subjected to unkind criticism? Why unkind? Oh, Conservatism, what sins are committed in thy name!

Yancey’s joy in tramping and affinity with nature will be cited later but accords with that of Kathleen Phelan (1917—2014). Phelan was perhaps the most prolific of the tramp writers, in terms of responding to wanderlust at least, spending 77 of her 97 years on the road. Phelan's second solo trip (following the death of her husband, tramp writer Jim Phelan), took 3 years in which she walked and hitchhiked, with her few possessions in a basket on wheels, through France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and ending in Nepal, adding other countries on the return trip. Below, from an article Phelan wrote for Woman’s Own, in 1972, “I am a Vagabond”, she describes her own attitude to being on the road:

Fine weather or foul I am out on the road. I own nothing but what I stand up in and can carry with me; I rarely have more than a couple of copper coins to rub together and yet you’d have to go far to find a happier woman.

     There is nothing to compare with the excitement of walking each day and never knowing who you are going to meet and where you are going to find yourself by nightfall.

In the passage below from Trader Horn’s Harold the Webbed, he makes the case that, given the world created for us, not to submit to wanderlust is an absurdity:

Doesn't the dawn come everyday calling you to move on? No camp should last forever. And that's where civilization makes the mistake of its life, trying to cage the natural man. Trying to make a stationary object behind bars. Did the great Onlooker give us the world plus the ocean to entice the thoughts of the roamer if he meant us to stay in one spot. ... All the luxuries of the haut ton are neither more or less than neck-irons to a slave. And what's worse they make heaven itself into the image of a cage. Why, the son of Mary Himself couldn't stand too much of the synagogue. ... Consider the lilies, he said. But the religioners've put no lilies in heaven.”

Yet no one has captured the pure existential spirit of wanderlust better than Leon Ray Livingston when he describes in The Curse of Tramp Life, his complete disregard for his own mortality in the thrill of hurtling at top speed through the night, hanging underneath a train, death only inches from his face as the tracks hurtle past beneath him: 

I at last felt that I had given up everything but life itself, to please that bane of my existence. ... There, hanging on with only those weak, human hands, out of reach of any possible succour, speeding through the night, I felt at peace with all the world.”

This passage reveals a fundamental element of tramp psychology: that it is the momentum of tramping itself and not the destination that pulls the tramp ever onward. Although the tramp is occasionally forced to stop and rest from sheer exhaustion, sometimes due to illness or disability, sometimes for the respite of a bite to eat, the destination of the journey is always deferred as described below by Robert Louis Stephenson in Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.

I acknowledged this fundamental aspect of wanderlust in the final sentence of my book, Jim Christy: A Vagabond Life: “This is tramping as a sheer life force. Without the constant onward movement the tramp is unable to breath and loses the reason for their existence.” So here I leave the final word on wanderlust to Jim Christy himself:

What is this wanderlust? There’s no way to define it, one just knows when one has it, or is afflicted by it. It is more than just wanting to go somewhere. Some might call it a form of neurosis, and maybe they’re right. It may come upon you when you least expect it to. You don’t need to have heard, as did Hank Williams, that lonesome whistle blow. You may be watching a police drama on television or buying your oat bran in the supermarket and all of a sudden you feel the need to change the view out the window …

Part 3 will discuss the vagabond's AFFINITY WITH NATURE

4 Aug 2022

Review of 'The Vagabond in Literature' by Arthur Rickett (1906), Part 1

This review is a work in progress and will be completed over the forthcoming weeks


After my own book on tramp writers had been published in 2020, I came across two invaluable texts on the subject of Tramp Literature, The Tramp in British Literature, 1850-1950 (2022), by Luke Lewin Davies, and the book discussed here. How I managed to overlook Rickett’s 1906 volume I do not know but my son, Max, always on the lookout for books that might interest me, presented me with a hard copy which I proceeded to devour, anxious to discover if, 116 years ago, Rickett shared any of my own conclusions about this much neglected aspect of literature.

On scanning the book, my first discovery was that Rickett’s area of interest was not that of the vagabond as a fictional character but, as with my own study, the vagabond temperament of the writer them self. The main distinction between our two texts was less the separation of 116 years in which they were published—although that provided its own fascination for me—so much as that, unlike my own obsession, the vagabond writers who were the subject of Rickett’s interest were, and for the most part still are, household names in the world of literature.

This is an important if not slightly artificial distinction, best described by the writer Emily Burbank when she commented about Josiah Flynt, one of the characters in my own text that, “it must be remembered that Flynt was the tramp writing, not the literary man tramping.” I used this definition in selecting the fifteen chapters of my own book because, with the possible exceptions of Jack London and Trader Horn, I was interested in rescuing what I regarded as forgotten writers from obscurity and, as with Burbank’s definition, wanted to consider tramps who were drawn to writing—even if some of them undoubtedly wanted to achieve literary success—rather than celebrated writers who tramped to inspire their writing. In reality there is very little real distinction because both categories are driven by the same urges, even if some are ‘full-time’ tramps by compulsion or lifestyle choice and others indulge in tramping on a more ‘part-time’ basis.

For the purpose of this examination of Rickett’s text I will use the term ‘vagabond writer’ generically to use for all the writers discussed, the term ‘tramp writer’ I use specifically to refer to those I have identified above who were tramps first and foremost. I will present my findings along the main themes covered by the writing and the philosophy of tramp literature that emerges. In each section, after discussing the writers in Rickett’s book, I will expand the discussion by referring to some of my previous work on the same subjects:


Affinity with Nature

Bohemianism -v- Vagabondage

The Abject

Lone and Lofty Perch of World Hating Introspection


Peter Pan Syndrome

Fact -v- Fiction 

The Vagabond Temperament

At the risk of boring my reader, I will again summarise the philosophy of ancient Greek Cynicism as it is highly relevant to the phenomenon under discussion. Cynicism represents the first organised vagabond philosophy and closely mirrors the personal philosophy of the vagabond writers discussed in these posts—many of whom themselves refer directly to cynicism in both its ancient and modern meanings. As the claim is made here that Cynicism is essential to a proper understanding of the themes of vagabond literature that follow, I have included the following summary from my book, Cynicism from Diogenes to Dilbert, and ask the reader to hold it in the back of their mind when considering the discussions that follow. The only aspect of Cynicism I suggest is not shared by the modern vagabond writer, was the Cynic's role as ‘performance artist’, the deliberate strategy of shocking their ‘audience’ into a reevaluation of what the Cynic believes to be human beings' false values. But then neither did all Cynics engaged in such public ‘performances’ and many vagabond writers did seek to challenge their readers through their writing if not publically. For the most part, their’s was a personal philosophy for surviving in what they regarded as a hostile world. Anyway, here is brief portrait of the Cynic:

He or she would have worn similar attire, probably a simple cloak; any meagre possessions being carried in a small bag or wallet. We also know, that in spite of their close association with nature and their view that city life was unnatural, they would curiously almost always be seen in urban surroundings. The Cynic had no loyalty to family or state and rejected what they considered to be false values, adopting any customs which complemented their lifestyle. They considered themselves citizens of the world, or cosmos: the first cosmopolitans. The Cynic’s ability to move around freely was further assisted by their resistance to being owned by possessions. They had no interest in trying to convert others to their way of life, but welcomed anyone, regardless of social background or race to join their ranks. Whatever teaching a Cynic undertook was likely to be performed in public, sometimes in an irreverent or shocking manner, and if a Cynic did something, it was because they wanted to do it, not because they were compelled to do it. Diogenes in particular, reminded us that in spite of our pretensions as civilized beings, a denial of our animality was a repudiation of our true nature. An understanding of which, required focussing exclusively on the physical world in which we live, and abandoning supernatural and metaphysical beliefs (particularly religious faiths) which could only lead to disillusionment. The Cynic would not, therefore, defer happiness but live each day as though tomorrow might never arrive. Life, in any case did not follow a progression toward enlightenment but a cyclical series of mundane repetitions punctuated by occasional highs and lows. The Cynic did not believe in fortune or pre-destiny, rather striving to be masters of their own destiny. Askesis and ponos were the means by which the Cynic could achieve self-sufficiency and the indifference necessary to cope with all eventualities. If Cynicism was a philosophy at all, it was a practical one, aimed at training for a harsh life which was the Cynics expectation. And finally, their mission—certainly Diogenes’—was to deface the currency of human beings’ false values and customs and thus discredit the fabrication that was civilized society.” 

INTRODUCTION: the vagabond element in modern literature

There are some men born with a vagrant strain in the blood, an inquisitiveness about the world beyond their doors.  Natural revolutionaries they, with an ingrained distaste for the routine of ordinary life and the conventions of civilization.” Arthur Rickett 

Early in his book, Rickett raises the question as to whether tramps are born or made. In my own book I also questioned whether adopting the lifestyle of a tramp is a conscious choice. From the evidence, I allowed for the possibility that the tramp is simply born a tramp through some endogenous but unexplainable sense of “not belonging”, or belonging to the world in a different way to his or her fellows; some kind of autistic gene that does not identify with the superficial preoccupations the tramp regards as satisfying the 'neuro-typical' world. Such a condition is also linked to the tramp’s natural affinity to nature and to non-human animals with whom we share the natural world. This is discussed further below under the heading ‘Affinity with Nature’.

At the end of the American Civil War, thousands of former soldiers, well used to an outdoor life and tramping, found themselves homeless and ill prepared for the domestic responsibilities of civilian life. With the first transcontinental railroad opening in 1869, followed by the first of a series of catastrophic international financial crashes and associated “depressions” (1873, 1893 and 1930), it is not surprising that, through choice or necessity, large numbers were thrown into a transient life, forced to roam the continent surviving on whatever resources came to hand. A few of these chose to maintain a tramping lifestyle from a sense of moral purpose and a rejection of wider society's misguided morality which they found difficult to reconcile with. Such individuals created their own sense of a 'republic', one not restricted to a geographical place, an ethnic group, religious or cultural traditions; a republic without boundaries or social distinctions. Like the ancient Greek Cynics, they regarded themselves as “citizens of the world”, free to roam wherever they felt the fancy, and adopting any customs and habits that suited their needs.

Tramp writer Bart Kennedy noted that we should listen to, rather than ridicule, those who maintain the tramping tradition; for it is they who truly understand how to live the “finer and calmer life.” Yet in more recent times there was a renaissance of vagabondage that, as Jack Kerouac observed in 1960, was already being outlawed and driven out of existence. And so, in some respects, the phenomena of vagabondage described in these pages no longer exists today. After thousands of years of tramping as an accepted—if not maligned—tradition, it has all but virtually been driven out of existence. What with the ubiquitous CCTV and electronic databases that analyse even our shopping habits, to remain under the radar today, without money, a registered address or ID, requires no little skill and has succeeded in eradicating the vagabond tradition in a way that even various vagrancy acts failed to achieve. Homelessness and refugeeism may be on the increase of late, but these are not vagabondage unless from a deliberate lifestyle choice which would be an absurd suggestion.

The writers discussed in Rickett’s book all share similar personality traits to those other, less famous, tramp writers discussed elsewhere on this blog. So what are the core elements that make up the character of the tramp or vagabond writer:

Part 2 will discuss Wanderlust

2 Apr 2022

A Philosophy of Tramping—Dolly Kennedy Yancey

Review of The Tramp Woman by Dolly Kennedy Yancey (1869-1952), St Louis: Britt Publishing Company (1909)

Dolly Kennedy Yancey

Chapter 1 of Yancey’s book opens with a characterisation from her Georgia friends who, she says, dubbed her “A Woman Tramp”. But Yancey was born and raised in Charleston to a wealthy and influential family, and so before following the narrative of her autobiography—which opens with a tirade against capitalism and the mediocrity of mannered society—it is interesting to note the following family history. For this information I am indebted to Dennis Yancey, a distant relative, who has undertaken his own research of the family, and also to Charleston County Genealogy Trails. See one of Dennis Yancey's Website pages HERE 

Kennedy/Yancey Family History

Michael Francis Kennedy

Dolly Kennedy Yancey’s father, Michael Francis Kennedy, was a native Charlestonian descended from the aristocratic Kennedy family bloodline of Tipperary, Ireland. Michael Francis Kennedy, Sr. was the son of landowners, John D'Arcy Kennedy (French Royal House of D'Arcy) and Caroline de Rodriques (de Rodriques lineage from Caracas, Venezuela) of Charleston, South Carolina. 

Yancey’s father has been described as a statesman, philanthropist, “veteran real estate dealer”, banker and  “fraternalist of Charleston”. Congressman Kennedy was the first of his family to be involved in American politics and the patriarch of the Charleston Kennedy clan. There is no apparent link, however, between this Kennedy clan and the more famous political Kennedys (JFK, etc.) of Brookline Massachusetts. Yancey’s father served two-terms in South Carolina's House of Representatives from 1882-1886.

From the age of 17, Michael Francis Kennedy served for four years in the Confederate Army with the Jamison Rifles and later in the Torpedo Service with the Eighth Battalion, South Carolina troops. Following the Civil War he was County Assessor of Charleston County for 25 years, Real Estate Broker, Secretary-Treasurer of Hibernian Mutual Fire and Life Company, and Director of Dime Savings Bank of Charleston. He also served as Grand Dictator of the Knights of Honor of South Carolina, Grand Master of the Ancient Order of Workman, President of St. Patrick's Benevolent Society, State President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and a member of the Irish-American Historical Society of New York. 

In 1867 Kennedy married Margaret C. Butterly of New York (who died in 1912). They had eight children who, in addition to Yancey, included Dr. Michael Francis Kennedy, Jr., Congressman Patrick Henry Kennedy I, and Dr. Josephine St. Bernadette Kennedy. We learn from the newspaper article below (Buffalo Courier, 31 July 1910) that there was a second son named Michael, Michael J. Kennedy. 

It is interesting, then, to note the orthodox achievements and positions in society of Yancey’s family, if only to contrast these with the story related below and Yancey’s own philosophy on life which embodies a clear rejection of the world she left behind in Charleston—not that she ever cut herself off from her family entirely. 

The Tramp Woman

The first four pages of the book provide a very clear description of Yancey’s rational for embracing the tramping lifestyle and why she rejected that of her family: 

I seemed always to be ‘in trouble,’ so it appeared to the onlooker. To me, it was all interesting.” 

I wanted peace; I grew tired of hearing daily the pessimistic cry of ‘bills, bills, notes in the bank, debts, debts.’ Was this living? Why incur such obligations when they bring in their wake, unrest, bickering, and daily mental tortures? Why this mad chase after the ‘Money God?’ Does it pay only to live to accumulate property and junk, which to a traveller would prove expensive ‘excess baggage?’ Does it pay to harden one’s heart against the cultivation of healthy, human instincts, and to live a narrow, selfish life in a conservative community where one is always subjected to unkind criticism? Why unkind? Oh, Conservatism, what sins are committed in thy name!” 

Yancey’s rejection of her conservative upbringing did not include a liberal attitude towards Afro and Indian Americans as her bigoted comments in Chapter 9, and her newspaper report from The Greenville News, 13 Aug 1901 (see below), testify—although this did not extend to “people of the Orient” as evidenced in Chapter 3. Today’s readers will find her comments shocking, and I was particularly disappointed to discover her patronising and racist attitudes as they are not shared by most of the other tramp writers on this blog, writers who held a particular affinity towards ALL those who, like themselves, were discriminated against by ‘mainstream’ society. Had Yancey been a historical celebrity, no doubt her contribution to writing would have been reappraised today along with many others now associated with the pernicious side of colonialism. Contemporaries of Yancey, such as the famous tramp explorer John Muir, credited with the establishment of many of America’s national parks and founder of the Sierra Club, has been vilified in recent years; in Muir’s case for his “derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes” (Sierra Club’s current Executive Director). As an unknown tramp writer with no tributes or statues to celebrate her life, I’ll simply leave it to the reader to make their own judgement on Yancey’s character. I include her in my collection ‘A Philosophy of Tramping’ because of her unique, if not curious, contribution to tramp literature and also women’s suffrage.

Here Yancey reprints an article about her from a “reporter in Augusta, Georgia”: 

She hailed from the bonny Southland but a long sojourn ‘mid the cold commercial cohorts of the frozen North had vested her with the mannish independence of the gonna fide Northern woman, while a certain gypsy strain in her hot Southern blood, coupled with untoward circumstances of her life had made of her a wanderer, in common parlance, ‘a tramp.’ ” p. 4

The newspaper article continues to provide the following biographical information on Yancey. “When no more than a child”, Yancey had been wooed by a young man from a well-to-do background (Dr. William B. Yancey in 1897) resulting in a runaway marriage followed by desertion. “Since that time she has lived the untrammelled existence of a woman without physical attractions, but a clear mentality and the keen insight and daring of a man.” The article acknowledges that Yancey craved excitement and rebelled against convention, had wandered from city to city until, “longing once more to view the scenes of her youth”, she worked her passage back to Augusta, reaching that city penniless. One of her relatives who owned a store there gave her a dime: 

Gratefully accepting and realizing that this munificent gift would not tide her over many days, she sought the home of a relative blessed with the world’s goods, and again stating the condition of her resources, she told him she did not want help, but work, and would scrub the floors, put his house in order, etc., for lodging, until she had gotten employment.

Eventually, Yancey secured employment as a stenographer at a large wholesale house, impressing her new employer not only with her skills and speed at stenography but by taking apart and overhauling the machine she was given. However, after only a week, her wanderlust had returned and Yancey headed out West resigning her position as a “tramp stenographer.” So ends the newspaper article on Yancey’s early life as a vagabond, which is followed by her setting the record straight: “I never eloped and was twenty-seven years old when I married. Had a real wedding, high noon affair, and my friends threw rice and old shoes after me. Meddling women, my new relations caused my husband’s desertion.” 

And we also know, from as early as page 8, that Yancey was associated with temperance movement, discussed later in her book. Here she notes, “I was Carrie Nation’s secretary, but one night, with a party of newspaper correspondents, went slumming with her in St. Louis.” Slumming seems like an odd term to use to describe going out with Carrie Nation. Also known as ‘Hatchet Granny', Nation was a fanatical temperance campaigner—even before the advent of prohibition—so named because of her habit of attacking premises servicing alcohol with the said weapon.

Carrie Nation

Chapter 3, ‘A Resuscitated Corpse’, finds Yancey “back again in Charleston” attending the the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition. The chapter opens by noting that Gaston Akoun asked her if she would work as his secretary. Akoun produced an attraction at the exposition called "A Street in Cairo” which featured snake charmers, camel rides, and a scandalous dancer known as Little Egypt.

Gaston is a polished Frenchman. Ah! I shall always have a warm spot in my heart for the Akouns, and Madame Zitoun, Gaston’s mother, the Timimes and Madame Roditi, they are all so kind to me. What a fine opportunity to mingle among the people of the Orient; it is just as if I were taking a trip to that far-off country of myths and mysticisms.”    

The main story attached to this Chapter concerns an enterprising showman who tried to attract some publicity for the Exposition which had failed to draw the crowds anticipated. He arranged for a person describing himself as Professor Wilcox to be hypnotised and buried for three days and give 40% of the proceeds to the Exposition Company from those paying to watch the ‘burial’.  Yancey was standing near the grave after the Professor had been buried for 24 hours and overheard a voice from below ground shouting “ ‘Jimmy, how much we took?' Whereupon a man standing nearby replied, forty five cents.” The voice from the coffin shouted back, then “dig me up and let me go, I’m sick of this damned Exposition.” On being dug up, an Exposition official came up and demanded his 40% of the forty five cents:

But when the coffin containing the ‘resuscitated corpse’ was about to be lifted from its temporary resting-place, an Exposition guard halted the ‘grave digger’ and told him that the ‘awakening’ could not take place anywhere but in the Auditorium.”

The Captain of the Police Guards then served an order “for the ‘corpse’ to be brought into the Auditorium, where a crowd awaited the awakening seance”, and demanded  that the Professor, by now having removed himself from the coffin, get back into it until it arrived at the auditorium. At this point the Professor let forth a howl of dismay and refused to continue with the charade. 

Chapter 4 relates a trip down the Mississippi on the steamship Chester, departing from St. Louis. Yancey relates the joys of the scenery and a supper on board, so presumably she was again in funds unless those who had invited her to join the party on board where funding the trip—we are not told. First stop was Fort Chartres where we are given a brief history of the fort and the battles between the English and French for its possession. Then onwards to Little Rock Landing and another history lesson of the towns of Ste. Genevieve and Kaskasia located on opposite banks and the role of hobos in the construction work of the area. Then a nighttime trip to Chester, Illinois, and onward to Cape Girardeau.

In Chapter 5 Yancey describes the difficulties of getting enough peace and quiet to write and the perils of boarding houses and hotels. She answers an advertisement for a furnished room in exchange for light housekeeping, “Hoping for a chance of being ‘let alone,’ ” but the experience was a disaster and she packed up and left, ending the chapter with a quote from Owen Meredith:

A woman is too slight a thing

To trample the world

Without feeling its sting.”

Chapter 6 commences as follows:

The struggle for existence has become so great, I have been compelled to side-track my literary work and buckle down to stenographic work, which will pay me a weekly salary, and I shall be able to satisfy the monetary demands of my impatient landlord.” 

The title of the chapter is ‘Afloat’ and Yancey says people refer to her as ‘a floater'. But so far there is little evidence that she is living the life of a hobo in the sense that, say, Kathleen Phelan (link) does: living for the most part without money and few possessions and frequently sleeping under the stars. Had Yancey been able to fully embrace the hobo life, as did Kathleen, things may have been easier, but that is to ignore the perils a single woman on the road faced at the turn of the 19th Century. Yancey is certainly ever on the move but her life appears more that of an itinerant worker, stopping a while to earn money before moving on again, and usually sleeping in boarding houses and cheap hotels.

I was never let alone and was thus forced into hotel life. I found that I could be allowed to remain in my room without molestation, and that my baggage was security at least for a week’s rent, without constantly being subjected to annoying criticism and uncalled-for suspicions.”

Here Yancey keeps repeating the conflicts of this way of life and the “weariness of unnecessary worry and annoyance”.

Chapter 7 was of particular interest, being an account of Ike Clanton (Gunfight at the OK Corral) as told to Yancey in Charleston by someone she describes as “a cowboy, an old timer … who remembered the days of ‘49”. Ike’s brother Billy was killed in the shootout whereas Ike survived, only to be shot in the back six years later by a lawman straight out of a mail-order private detective course wearing the tin badge that came with the course for twenty-five cents extra.

I have written about the Clantons in my biography, Jim Christy: A Vagabond Life. Jim being Ike and Billy’s great-nephew, not something I was aware of until starting my research. By further coincidence, Jim met Kathleen Phelan (mentioned above) on a boat from Spain to Morocco in 1966.

But back to Yancey’s tale of Ike Clanton. It concerns a robbery in 1885—so four years following the OK Corral shoot out and two years before Ike was himself shot. Yancey’s informant describes how the County Treasurer of St. John’s, Apache County, Arizona, had been sentenced to fifteen years for stealing thirty thousand dollars because no evidence could be found that the actual culprits, Clanton and his gang, had been the actual robbers. Two of Ike Clanton’s accomplices had gone to the County Treasurer’s home and forced him to walk barefoot to the local jail where they locked him in a cell while the robbery took place.

The tale told by the ‘old timer’ was a long winded explanation of how Clanton created alibis for several of his crimes by getting third parties, of whom the storyteller was one, by staking them at gambling to win enough money to buy their own saloons. At these establishments Clanton would be involved in both gambling and drinking in front of numerous witnesses while his accomplices carried out their robberies. In the case of the Apache County treasury theft, following the robbery there was no evidence to support the treasurer’s explanation of what happened. Following an exhaustive search, no tracks could be found of the escaping bandits who had taken advantage of quick sand and riding through a shallow river to hide them. Yancey was told by the old timer that the following day, Clanton and eight or nine of his men came back to town and gave themselves up to the authorities, fully aware that there would be no evidence linking them to the crime—even though they were the principal suspects. Such was Clanton’s modus operandi for several such robberies.

In Chapter 8, ‘Perplexities’, Yancey describes how she is forced to survive laundering and ironing clothes after she had been the victim of a confidence trickster who, believing that she would not survive an operation for appendicitis during the Jamestown Exposition in Norfolk. Virginia of 1907, had forged an engraving of her signature which he attached to thousands of circulars asking for donations for a News Boys Fund identifying Yancey as secretary of the News Boys Association. Being under investigation by the Post Office Inspector in St. Louis, she was confined to a hotel unable to work as a stenographer or borrow money due to the allegations against her. Two days after finally getting work again as a stenographer, she was again laid low by illness, this time ptomaine poisoning contracted from eating chicken dressing at a nearby restaurant. But for the attentions of the hotel physician, Yancey claims she would have likely died. A few days following her recovery from this illness she was bitten by ‘a decrepit dog’ and also received the news that her mother was desperately ill in Charleston. “After a fusillade of telegrams home, transportation was telegraphed to me. I had but ten cents and my railroad ticket when I left St. Louis for Charleston.” 

On reaching Charleston, and still being unwell herself, the strain of caring for her mother became too much. Yancey does not mention her mother’s fate but later, in June that year, she travelled to Chicago at the invitation of a friend, only to have to travel south to Richmond, Va, to recover from a severe attack of hay fever. There, a newspaper editor friend sent her on an assignment to Washington for the Evening Journal and on her return offered her work in preparing a special edition of the paper. However, as her clothing consisted of a single faded blue skirt and she could not admit to her vagabond status, she declined the offer and returned to Charleston. So ends Chapter 8.

Chapter 9 titled ‘Pests’ opens with the following diatribe about a certain class of man which Yancey herself describes as having no souls, “Their sprit becomes metallic, they live for money accumulation, and nothing else can charm them”. The opening lines of the chapter she attributes to the English writer and wit Sydney Smith (1771-1845):

the lemon-sneezers of society … predictors of evil, extinguishers of hope, who, when there are two sides see only the worst; people whose very look curdles the milk and sets your teeth on edge so hard that you might drive a broad-wheeled wagon over them and it will probably make no impression, and if you were to bore holes in them with a gimlet, sawdust would come out of them.

But we never find out who is responsible for triggering this invective, which then continues to list among other annoyances in Yancey’s life, mosquitoes, fleas, and the climate, before reinforcing the tramps rejection of materialism in the following passage:

I have had so many hard knocks and vicissitudes out of the ordinary, that I have become a veritable tramp through these accidents of fortune and misfortune. I would revel in life under a tent the whole summer through. I am a lover of nature [though not mosquitoes and fleas it seems], and even were I financially able to procure them, I would eschew some of the habiliments and gewgaws that are so desirable in polite society.” 

She then refers to an old white haired lady, “a distinguished society leader” who on noticing an antique writing desk, raised a pair of lorgnettes to her eyes and declared, “the real Sheridan legs”. Yancey responds, “I wonder if she would ever look that long at the bare legs of some poor child that needed stockings and shoes.”

But before getting seduced by what appeared to be Yancey’s social conscience and awareness, she reveals in the same chapter some comments about black Americans that brought me up sharp and forced me me to re-evaluate someone whom hitherto I believed had a genuine concern and appreciation about injustices in society. The following paragraph continues Yancey’s theme about her craving for freedom and nature:

When I go back West I am going to throw myself down in a field, roll like a dog, and breath pure air. I crave freedom—freedom to grow, to think, to feel, to get out of life all that my God intended. I want to get as far away from yelling coons, fiendish mosquitos and impudent fleas; back again amongst human beings, where a fellow, when he says ‘Howdy’ means it.” 

Well, I had assumed the writer was referring to racoons when she lumped the term yelling coons” together with fiendish mosquitos and impudent fleas, and talked about wanting to be back again amongst human beings. But from the bottom of the following page it becomes clear that Yancey does not include black Americans in the category of human beings but rather the pests described earlier. I was then forced to undergo a complete reappraisal of this writer whose view of the world I had hitherto believed had parallels with that of Kathleen Phelan:

From the streets below I hear the fiendish yell of a coon, crying out T-o-m-a-toes! interspersed with the cries of all the seasons vegetables. All law is not enforced here. Two thirds of the inhabitants are negroes and quietude is a curiosity in the summer time. Even now, while I write, I hear a brass-sounding phonograph piercing the night air, and I cannot shut out the ‘Eeley o’ey, eeley o’ey!’—oh, if I could choke that yodler! … I can hear the coon chorus above the din of my typewriter.” 

No need to indulge Yancey’s deeply held prejudices further. What makes these comments particularly shocking is that they are uttered by someone who in all other respects identified with and gave a voice to those who were victims of oppression and injustice, and, as the opening quote of this chapter and the feminist diatribe of the next testifies, was openly critical of those with power and privilege in America. I will leave the reader here to make their own judgement of Yancey the woman and the writer (not to mention any wider debate on censorship at the turn of the last century)—I simply reveal the stark contradictions of being ‘human’ and inhuman in a single soul. But maybe that is one of the greatest flaws of humanity itself, as evident in Nietzsche’s aphorisms and philosophy.

In Chapter 10, titled ‘Flight’, Yancey is writing for the Enquirer, of which city we are not told, but is being kept waiting for payment because, as she believes, the editor is holding back on the cheques to keep her “at it”. A strategy that is clearly working because she is struggling to exist:

I have but one outfit, and when the skirt and belongings are soiled I must launder them. Now how can I be dignified when I am thus forced into a tramp’s existence by stingy folk?

Neither are we told if it is the same newspaper but on the next page Yancey announces that she, “was once associate editor of a suburban journal in St. Louis.” Not a significant career break as it seems the paper must have folded shortly afterwards: “The editor did the best he could, however. He was a dreamer. Poor fellow, he finally cut his throat.” We then get a taste of Yancey the feminist—even if this feminism does not extend to her black sisters in spite of her use of the words ‘slave’ and ‘slavery’ in the following passage:

Some men in this town believe that women should be satisfied with shelter and grub, a monotonous diet at that, and then slave like bow down to the brute who furnishes the feed. Opportunities for feminine independence are rare, and a good weapon to use against the unfortunate female who dares assert a right to do her own thinking instead of following the mandates of antecedents who lived in slavery days, is to call her insane. Yet these men are steady church-goers and some of them are members of the church vestry.” 

We now hear that after begging and scraping together a few dollars, Yancey buys a train ticket for as far as her money will take her, which turns out to be Spartanburg, South Carolina. The final sentence of this chapter finds her waiting for her single blue skirt from the laundry: “It is the only one I have and I must stay indoors of necessity.”

Chapter 11 opens with Yancey receiving the long awaited cheque for her services at the Enquirer. The grand sum of $5.25. After penning a newspaper article on a three year old boy from a mission orphanage who had advertised for a home (she now appears to be in ‘In Knoxville’, Tennessee, the title of the chapter), and being dined two nights running by a local newspaper editor—“Talk about being treated white!”—Yancey is next headed for Cincinnati.

In Chapter 12, titled, ‘All In, Down and Out’ finds Yancey in Cincinnati but still writing articles for the editor of the St Louis Enquirer. Accounts show that this newspaper closed down in 1825 or 1826 and so not sure if Yancey is confusing this publication with another. In any case, she confirms her recent itinerary when she observes:

I have hit some combinations since I left 13 Coming Street, Charleston [currently identified as Students Residence]. At Spartanburg my room number was 231, in Knoxville it was 313, and here it is 423

We then hear that Yancey is eating out with friends from Charleston still wearing the aforementioned blue dress. “It takes courage to wear a faded cheap blue linen dress the entire summer, not to mention the tawdry black hat.” And now a nod to the title of the chapter:

I am going to live my own life in my own way in spite of lawlessness, ignorance, prejudice, greed, avarice, stupidity, fear and general cussedness. It is when a fellow is ‘all in, down and out’ that he can define the meaning of the two words, religion and friendship.”

Chapter 13 finds Yancey soliciting work from the Managing Editor of the Tribune for a piece entitled, “A Female Tramp in Cincinnati”. It is assumed Chicago but she does not specify. At any rate, the outcome was that the Managing Editor, in spite of gruff speech “tinged with cynicism”, arranged free passage for Yancey on the Queen and Crescent railroad company bound for Lexington, Kentucky.

Chapter 14, titled ‘In Kentucky’ continues to leave only cryptic clues as the reason for Yancey’s stay in Lexington but in transit we discover that Yancey has some rudimentary knowledge of fortune telling. She is staying at the Hotel Rand, Cincinnati, en route to Lexington, when the hotel housekeeper introduces her to another hotel resident who is seeking to have her fortune told. Clearly the lady from Peru, Indiana must have been pleased with the reading as she invites Yancey to join her on a trip down the Ohio River to Coney Island Park. 

Yancey arrives in Lexington the following morning and inquires as to the whereabouts of a certain Judge Siler. The mystery of Yancey’s mission deepens when we hear that the judge settled Yancey’s hotel stay and breakfast and provided her with a “charity ticket” on the L & N Railroad, under the name of Mrs Brown, for onward travel to Louisville. Why she did not proceed directly from Cincinnati to Louisville we cannot know. The rest of the Chapter is a long digression on stories of the misery of Kentucky mountain folk as told to Yancey by the “matron at the L & N depot”. Whether intended or not, this is one of the most enlightening pieces of ‘journalism’ in the entire book.

Chapter 15, titled ‘The Gambler’, finds Yancey arriving penniless in Louisville at 6.45 in the evening: “I borrowed a nickel from the clerk for the carfare.” She then heads directly for the office of the Times and asks for a Mr Green. On being told he was at a meeting of the Kentucky Colonels over a barroom on Market Street, Yancey heads for the said bar but is accosted by a man who tells her, “that it wasn’t customary for women in Kentucky to visit barrooms.” Yancey replied in the negative when asked by the man, who introduced himself as a gambler, if she had eaten supper. “He gave me a quarter and I really believe it was the last cent he had.”

After locating Mr Green and being given thirty cents to retrieve her luggage from the rail depot, Yancey is told to report to his office at 9.30 on Sunday morning. Having no option but to secure a hotel for the night she is directed to the Victoria by the gambler referred to earlier.

Chapter 16, ‘Adrift’, opens with the following lines: “Sunday morning found me looking wan and tired and very shabbily dressed. I wore my heavy winter skirt and my other clothing were badly soiled.” 

It seems that Green’s only part in Yancey’s adventure is to speak with the Mayor for onward transportation and provide her with fifty cents for dinner. At this point of the tale it would appear that Yancey is no more than a tramp and beggar whose line of guff is to present herself to the various ‘benefactors’ on route as a journalist in distress. How much of her journalistic career is fantasy or self-deception has yet to be deduced from the book. Even Yancey herself seems at a loss to understand the mysteries of her life and it’s purpose as it unfolds throughout her narrative:

I have come to the conclusion that life, after all, is a complex puzzle, and it takes an adept to solve its intricacies. I find myself cornered by rascals, and it is up to to me to study how I may meet them on level ground. I am not going to be satisfied with merely being shoved along from one human pillar to another. That day has gone by; I am determined to win on my merits and win honestly.” 

Next Yancey seeks work at the Remington Typewriter company who in turn passes her on the the Louisville Trust Company who take her on for a dollar a day with their legal department as a replacement for a stenographer who has been taken ill. In spite of the poor pay she notes that she is, nevertheless, “learning some points on criminal law. These lawyers are always busy.” But again she is waiting to hear from an editor in Washington for what reason we are not told, and after several days has not received any payment for her work as a stenographer. Paradoxically, at this point of the book, she admits that although she gets the “credit for being a rover”, she will be glad to “get the opportunity to settle down”, “in reality, I am the ‘homiest’ of women.” 

What drives Yancey onward in her chaotic lifestyle is something of a mystery. Unlike most of the other tramp writers I have researched, she does not seem solely driven by wanderlust and a need for adventure. Yancey seems driven by some kind of personal—and seemingly futile—feminist mission that only she understands and is aware of. Her anger at the world is all consuming and fiercely felt and yet, in spite of the fact that she clearly is a victim of the prejudice and misogyny of the times (she of course has her own deep prejudices of the times as referred to in Chapter 9), she seems to be the sole campaigner in a battle unseen and unshared by anyone else, other perhaps than her reader—who is likely as puzzled as this reader why she subjects herself to this degree of torment which other tramp writers, Kathleen Phelan included, seem to take delight in. Yet one can only admire her tenacity and resilience:

I certainly have enduring powers, the closer they crowd me the harder I fight, and I am going to win in spite of all the Hellish influence of my enemies.  The fire of my indignation has been smouldering for twelve long weary years, and it is now fanned into a flame whose blaze will not be extinguished before annihilating deep-rooted stumps of prejudice and meanness, which have barred my way to progress and all that goes with it.” 

Yancey now hears from Mr Green at the Mayor’s Office that her transportation to St. Louis has been arranged but on receiving the “charity ticket” she finds that it has expired. She can have it renewed at the ticket office but it is Saturday afternoon and the office is closed until Monday morning. Further adventures include being unable to return to her hotel until she has funds to pay the bill, and eating at a luncheonette with the starving wife of a client of the lawyers she had been working for whose husband was in jail. 

She then missed her evening train because the hotel clerk delayed her and would not let her back into her room to pack her belongings. Yancey called at Green’s but he and his wife were out and she was let in by Green’s mother-in-law and allowed to telephone the police station where she tried, without avail, to locate the attorneys she had been working with all week. It was now 10pm and she headed for the detective headquarters at City Hall. There she was treated hospitably including being dined by two detectives and a city official at a neighbouring restaurant. At midnight she left with the city official who tried to persuade Yancey to spend the night with him. She declined and walked out into the night eventually arriving at the City Court House at 1.30 am where she met two reporters and a court clerk. The latter walked her two blocks to the Eckert Hotel and gave her money for a night’s lodging. 

Chapter 17, ‘A Gentleman of Kentucky’

Yancey awoke at 5am feeling ill from being out in the cold that night and headed for an all night restaurant only able to drink a coffee. It was only after contacting the lawyer for whom she had worked the previous week that she was able to collect her belongings from the previous hotel she had stayed in. 

Chapter 18 and Yancey’s troubles continuing as follows:

I spent a trying day in Louisville on Sunday, waiting for the night to come. The experience of Saturday night, with all its terrors, had left me almost in a state of collapse. I have a cold which has stuck in my chest and I am quite hoarse. The chair car on which I travelled from Louisville to St. Louis was very much crowded and I was greatly annoyed by a Louisville travelling man who sat by me and wouldn’t allow me to sleep. … I lost sleep Saturday night, all of Sunday and again last night; I certainly feel worn out.”

Yancey then misses out on possible work as a stenographer with two railroad companies as her clothing has not been returned from the laundry and she blames her “shabby appearance” for her inability to support herself financially.

Chapter 19 finds Yancey in a restaurant typing menu cards when a “real hobo” enters the establishment asking for a coin. “He proceeded to earn it by making the prettiest paper roses I ever saw. … transforming some pink tissue into an American Beauty rose.” He tells Yancey that he learned the art in prison where he’d served a seven year sentence.

In Chapter 20 Yancey is in Cripple Creek, Colorado; how she got there and why we are not told but she meets two women musicians who “took an interest” in her and promised to provide her with some clothing. “Now I can go out of doors. I did not ask these young women for a ‘lift’; they understood.

Chapter 21 opens with the information that: “The Stark Brothers’ Nurseries of Louisiana, Missouri, have accepted my application for a stenographic position and I am leaving for this beautiful town to-day.” A town Yancey describes as “a resort for the rich and comfortable. If there is any poverty here it is hard to locate”. And Yancey certainly seems to have acquired a respite to her troubles and discomfort, being driven to her new lodgings: 

a pretty white cottage surrounded by shade trees, and the yard fragrant with growing flowers. A white haired, motherly appearing woman came out with her husband to greet me and brought me home. What a feast I had! Home made biscuits, cornbread, sweet potatoes and other home-grown vegetables, home-made jellies and preserves. I rubbed my eyes to ascertain whether I was really dreaming, and how I did enjoy it all!” 

The next morning brings what Yancey describes as the idyllic employment, “two charming young girls called for me to join them … the rendezvous for the office employees of the Nurseries.” They are driven by teams of horses for an enjoyable two mile drive through the country to the Nurseries, “no wonder everybody is healthy and happy-hearted.” The workers bring lunchboxes and break at noon for lunch:

Some of the girls stroll down to the orchards and gather bouquets to bring back home; some wander through the pretty grounds, until the bell rings, calling them back to their desks for the remainder of the afternoon. At 5 o’clock the carry alls start back to town with every occupant in a good humour.”

We are not told how long Yancey was to remain in this state of blissful employment but she was certainly in demand as her employer informed her that eight off his office girls were “married off” in 1908 and that he has lost a total of seventy-five to marriage during his time as employer. But this is the end of the narrative that makes up The Tramp Woman, whether it is also the end of Yancey’s life as a tramp we do not know. What we do know is that the book ends with Yancey being informed that her journals and letters written thus far will form “the history of a book that will be read … this is why I have written the story of the Tramp Woman.

Newspaper Articles by or about Dolly Kennedy Yancey

The following newspaper excerpts, in chronological order, provide further clues about Yancey’s life and journalistic activities both around the time of her tramping ‘career’ and following it.

The Greenville News, 20 Sept 1901 (Greenville, South Carolina)

An Immense Sturgeon

Article written by Yancey about a 410 pound, 10ft 2in, sturgeon caught in the Delaware river, and how the fish was provided with its own pool in an Aquarium containing 253 other specimens of “water-folk”. One must assume that the said aquarium was the New York Aquarium as the piece ends as follows: “I have learned that in Europe, Aquariums are only maintained on a small scale. The New Yorkers do everything ‘big’

The Greenville News, 13 Aug 1901 (Greenville, South Carolina)

Weird Indian Dances: Primitive Customs of the Aboriginees Illustrated at the Pan American, An Interesting-Description of the Indian Congress, With Its Notable Redmen, by a Special Correspondent.

The article opens with the following bizarre description that provides some insight into how indigenous Americans were viewed by the media of the time—yet even today, such is the manner in which the colonising races assume they are the natural order of things and the indigenous people exhibits of curiosity.     

Buffalo, N. Y., Aug. 8.—Living in teepees, wicknips and adobe houses at the head of the Midway at the Pan American Exposition are 42 tribes of Indians comprising a population of six or seven hundred which is known as the Indian Congress and Village. Geronimo and other noted captured chiefs, United States prisoners of war who by special permission of Secretary of War [Elihu] Root form a part of the Congress—attract much attention. Dressed in native or aboriginal costume the Indians perform in the Indian Theatre or Dance House some of their weird dances both war and sacred.” 

Yancey continues by describing in a toe-curling manner, six of these dances.

St. Louis Globe-Democrat (Missouri), 23 Oct 1909

Under the title ‘Experiences of a “Tramp Woman’, this article announces the publication of Yancey’s book and includes the following lines: “Her desire appears to be in the direction of freedom and happiness, and her volume will prove how hard it is to attain these things. Most of the people Mrs. Yancey met may be described as hellagenarians (a word not found in the dictionary). They were unsympathetic and meddlesome and would not let her alone.

The publication and year in which following article appears is not named

Not written by Yancey herself, it announces that, ‘The “Tramp Woman” is in Atlanta”, and is dated April 11. The title of the piece is, ‘WOMAN TRAMP BUT STAYS IN THE BEST HOTELS: SAYS SHE HAS “HOBOED” MANY MILES GATHERING MATERIAL FOR HER BOOK. The article further notes that: “She proudly refers to herself as having a ‘checkered career'. Born of prominent and wealthy parents in Charleston, S. C., she voluntarily became a ‘globe trotter.

The article further characterises Yancey as follows: “A woman of intellectuality, refinement and aggressiveness, Mrs. Yancey is the personal friend of many men and women in public life. She carries with her friendly letters from ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, Hon. Champ Clark, speaker of the national house of representatives, Andrew Carnegie, and many senators and congressmen.” We learn further about Yancey’s family circumstances from the article that she was the sister of Mrs. Walter R. Bozeman, her father was the “well-known real estate man and capitalist”, M. F. Kennedy of Charleston, she had a brother, “Dr P. H. Kennedy, in the law class at Mercer University”, and that she married Dr. William B. Yancey in 1897, “but a year or so later he divorced her on the grounds of desertion.” Yancey’s version in the same article states, “I left my husband because his relatives made life unpleasant for me by insisting I was eccentric. In fact some of them accused me of being crazy.

Chicago Tribune, 20 July 1910

Under the title, ‘WOMAN TRAMP FLEES WOOERS: WEARY OF HER HOBO CAREER’, we are informed of the following:

To escape her countless and persistent suitors, who pestered her with proposals of marriage, Dolly Kennedy Yancey, known from coast to coast as the woman tramp, suffrage and temperance worker, and author of several novels, left St Louis three weeks ago and hoboed to Chicago … She was discovered yesterday by a reporter for THE TRIBUNE in a little room in a cheap downtown hotel, stranded and down on her luck generally.

We further learn from this article of Yancey’s intention to return to her parents  home. “I have had enough of this ragtime existence and want to be taken care of for a while.” 

Given Yancey’s resourcefulness and journalistic aspirations, it is unlikely that she was discovered by the reporter but had engaged in a further bit of self-promotion—neither is there any evidence that she ever published more than the single volume discussed here. 

We learn from the following article that Yancey did not proceed to her parents home but a week later had taken up a position with an insurance company in Indianapolis. We also learn below that Yancey must have had another brother named Michael like his father.

Buffalo Courier (NY), 31 July 1910

The following article under the title ‘DREAMS BROTHER IN JAIL AND HE SAYS HE WAS’, describes a dream Yancey had about her brother, Michael J. Kennedy which sparked a search for him by Buffalo Police. She was living at the time at 2039 College Avenue, Indianapolis. The dream was so vivid that, fearing for her brother’s welfare, Yancey wrote the following letter care of the general delivery office in Buffalo:

Dear Mike, I had a remarkable dream about you last night. I thought I had read in the newspapers an account of you having been found in the street in a helpless condition. I thought I read of where you had been sentenced to serve 148 days in the penitentiary. I thought that I had hunted and finally found the place and in my dream located in division 75. I saw you in my dream lying upon a pallet of straw and I took you up and said that I would get you out. Better send mother this letter and see what she will think about it. They say it is good to dream of prison—at any rate the dream awoke me and I could not sleep afterward.”

Yancey’s brother replied by writing his own note on the back of Yancey’s letter:

Dear Dollie: Your dream at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning was as true as day. At 3 a.m. Tuesday I was robbed in my room and chloroformed. I have written you about my case. I am penniless and starving. It is a lucky thing that I did not awake as I would have been dead now. I guess your dream for once in your life came true. Write me and help me get to Boston. This fellow took everything that I had. Where can I get a meal here? MIKE

The article concludes by confirming that the police were investigating the report but had been unable to locate Michael Kennedy.

Arizona Sentinel and Yuma weekly, 1 Feb 1912

Under the title ‘Suffragettes To Make Hot Campaign’, but written in Phoenix on Jan 30 (year unknown), we learn that Yancey had been appointed press agent for the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Arizona, she “will at once enter upon the task of convincing the male voters of Arizona that the women of the new state are entitled to the right of suffrage.” The article also noted that Yancey was the representative of “a large eastern financial corporation, which makes a business of promoting mining, and while she is here, she will combine politics with industry.” A strange combination indeed but we know nothing more of Yancey’s dual activities in Arizona as they are not mentioned in her book.

The Holbrook News (Arizona), 15 Mar 1912

The next article written by Yancey, titled ‘The Arizona Organisation of Missourians’, was published a month after Arizona’s entry into the Union. After listing the twelve officers of the new organisation and their respective positions—herself included as Press Agent—Yancey goes on to describe the conditions of membership: “the applicant must be white, a resident either permanently or temporarily of Arizona, and to have held legal residency in Missouri” After inviting potential members to a public meeting and a picnic three weeks hence, Yancey signs off by giving her formal residence as the Union Hotel.

The Gaffney Ledger (South Carolina), 28 May 1932

This article, in which Yancey seeks information about her father who had died 9 years earlier, confirms that she’s was living at 35 Montague Street, Charleston (her father’s home town). She would have been aged 63 at the time and died twenty years later at the age of 82.

Richwood Gazette (Ohio), 20 Apr 1939

In this piece Yancey publishes some homespun, Western, comedic wisdom of an unnamed friend under the heading ‘WHAT ISMS DO TO 2 COWS’:

    “Socialism: If you have 2 cows, you give your neighbour one.

     Communism: If you have 2 cows, you give them to the government and the government gives you some of the milk.

     Facism: If you have 2 cows, you keep the cows and give the milk to the government, and the government then sells you some of the milk.

     New Dealism: If you have 2 cows, you shoot one and milk the other, and pour the milk down the sink.