The Journal of San Diego History welcomes letters
from its readers on articles or book reviews
This is just a note to express my gratitude for your thoughtfulness in sending copies of “Women in San Diego: A History in Photographs” and The Journal of San Diego History, Summer 1978, containing my mother’s picture and accompanying narrative.
My family and I are thoroughly enjoying a detailed perusal of these excellent publications.
Thank you again.
Harney M. Cordua, Jr., M.D.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Dick Carlson’s “Women In San Diego,” in the Summer issue, I feel that I must comment on the information about Belle Benchley. Mrs. Benchley, indeed, did a great deal toward helping the Zoo to grow and improve, and she did much to promote the Zoo nationally and internationally. However, she did not “create what became the best zoo in the world,” nor did she transform the “zoological gardens of the city into what is now the San Diego Zoo.” The San Diego Zoo was “created” by five men, headed by Dr. Harry Wegeforth, in 1916. Mrs. Benchley came to work at the Zoo in 1925. From its inception to the present, the Zoo has been operated by the Zoological Society of San Diego.
None of this is intended to detract from Mrs. Benchley’s importance, but is mentioned in the interest of historical accuracy. Mrs. Benchley served as Dr. Wegeforth’s assistant until his death in 1941. She continued to manage the Zoo until she retired at the end of 1953. During her tenure she made many friends for the Zoo the world over, and her books added to the Zoo’s fame and popularity.
Unfortunately, she was not able to continue working until her death, either. She spent her last years in a convalescent home, her memory severely impaired.
Marjorie B. Shaw
Librarian, Zoological Society of San Diego
Please refer to Dick Carlson’s article on “Women in San Diego: A History in Photographs” in The Journal of San Diego History, Volume XIV, Number 3, Summer 1978.
In the piece about Madame Katherine Tingley there are two matters to which I must take exception: It is true that Katherine Tingley was sued by Irene Mohn for the alienation of the affections of her husband; but this had absolutely nothing to do, as stated by Carlson, with “an affair with another woman’s husband.” Neither Mrs. Mohn nor her attorneys ever claimed that there was any meretricious association between Katherine Tingley and Dr. Mohn.
Dr. Mohn contributed generously in a financial way to the support of Katherine Tingley in her educational and Theosophical work at Point Loma. For several years Mrs. Mohn cooperated fully with her husband. But the time came when Dr. Mohn apparently lost interest in Mrs. Mohn and her daughter by a former husband and devoted more and more of his time and attention to Katherine Tingley and her work. Mme. Tingley was accused of fostering the breach between Dr. Mohn and his wife. The jury agreed with Mrs. Mohn and awarded her heavy damages. On appeal to a higher court the jury’s verdict was reversed, the Appelate Court deciding that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s verdict; but on Mrs. Mohn’s appeal to the Supreme Court the latter upheld the jury’s award of damages.
Katherine Tingley was 71 years of age when Mrs. Mohn, herself having become alienated from the work in which she had for years cooperated with her husband and Madame Tingley, filed her suit for alienation of affections. In no case did Mrs. Mohn ever suggest that there was any “affair” between Katherine Tingley and Dr. Mohn.
I know whereof I speak. I reported in short-hand all the testimony in the case, and my transcript, with the approval of the trial judge, was used by the Defendant in her appeal to the higher court. My father, whose name I bear, was one of Katherine Tingley’s attorneys.
Another matter which should be permanently cleared up for the record: Madame Tingley was never known among her adherents or her students as “The Purple Mother.” At one time some of her closest friends called her affectionately “Purple.” Some of the orphan children whom she fed, clothed, and educated regarded her almost as a mother, and as international Head of the Children’s Theosophical Sunday School or “Lotus Circles,” as they were called, Katherine Tingley was sometimes regarded as the “Lotus Mother,” much as the head nun in a convent is often regarded as the “Mother Superior.” Sensational reporters put the two things together and started calling Katherine Tingley “The Purple Mother,” a name which she loathed, but could not pre-vent its use in the public press.
Once again, I know whereof I speak. I was one of the first five pupils in the Rája Yoga School which Katherine Tingley established in Point Loma in 1900.1 started serving her as amanuensis when I was fourteen. From 1909 I accompanied her as traveling secretary to many parts of the U.S.A., several times to Europe from 1912 to 1926, and on one occasion to Cuba. For several years in the 1920’s I complied pages of “Theosophical Items of Interest” which appeared nearly every month in The Theosophical Path, the official organ of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society edited by Katherine Tingley.
For the sake of accurate history and for the honor of the City of San Diego and its most renowned educator and religious leader-a patron of the best in Art, Music, Drama, Literature and Philosophy-let us forgo sensationalism and replace it with historic truth.
Iverson L. Harris
President, Point Loma Publications, Inc.
I believe that Iverson Harris is correct in his críticism of my choice of the word “affair” to describe the relationship between Katherine Tingley and Dr. Mohn which resulted in Mrs. Mohn’s successful law suit.
The common basis for alienation of affection is the theft of conjugal relations within a normal marriage. My reading of the press accounts of the period caused me to believe the “theft” had been accomplished by historically conventional means. I was fully aware of Tingley’s age when Mrs. Mohn sued but I was also aware of the length of the relationship with Dr. Mohn and was also of the mind that physical affection is not necessarily precluded by advancing years. In spite of all that, however, I apologize for suggesting that a sexual relationship existed between the two sínce there is no real evidence to demonstrate it.
As to the appellation “Purple Mother” to which Mr. Harris takes offense, I can only reply that that is how Katherine Tingley was popularly known, and not just by her detractors. Whether Tingley “loathed” the name is something that only people like Mr. Harris, her former traveling secretary, would know. Frankly, it doesn’t seem to me that the title is any more sensational or perjorative (or simply silly) than “Lotus Mother” which Mr. Harris seems to prefer.
Finally, on this subject, it seems obvious that Katherine Tingley was a woman of great energy, intelligence and spirit. That is why I chose to included her in the article. She was admired by many and deplored by many others. In spite of Mr. Harris’ optimistic desire for existential “historíc truth” reality dictates that it is unsure and elusive.
Marjorie Shaw’s letter on Belle Benchley contains points that are well chosen. If the sketch of Benchley had been longer I would have of course included information about the others who contributed so greatly to the evolution of the San Diego Zoo. I never meant to suggest that Benchley built it single-handedly nor did I imagine that any reader would be simplistic enough to conclude that that was what I meant. Shaw’s letter contains information which is certainly appropriate to any recounting of the origins of the Zoo and I thank her. The three paragraphs in question meant to praise Belle Benchley and her remarkable contributions and I think that is what they accomplished.
San Diego Federal
Savings and Loan Association
High time we write to express our keen appreciation for the thought, time and effort that goes into the creation of the superb Journal of San Diego History.
Over the years since its inception we have watched it grow and mature into one of the better journals issued on our West Coast.
Thank you very, very much
Anna Marie and Everett Hager