Emery May Norweb
Early Life (1896-1916)
Emery May Holden was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 30, 1896. She was the second of Albert Holden's children. Bert Holden had hoped for a son and planned to name the baby after his father, Liberty. When Emery May was born Bert decided, in his typical fashion, to name her after his father anyway, conceding to take Liberty's other Christian name, Emery, which was neutral in gender, for the baby's first name. Bert's wife Katherine pursuaded him to allow her to give the baby a feminine middle name, and May was chosen.
Bert's choice of names for his daughter was significant. Her father treated her as if she were the son he had hoped for, and so Emery May received few of the allowances fathers usually make for the frailty they perceive in their daughters. Emery May was expected to bear hardship and physical pain as if she were a boy, and her father was unforgiving when she showed anything he considered weakness.
Bert Holden had been a noted athlete in college, and he kept himself in good physical shape throughout his life. He thought nothing of tramping through the hills of Utah or Nevada for days on end, looking for potential mining sites or outcrops of interesting minerals. When he took Emery May with him, she was expected to keep up the pace, without complaining. Some of the stories she told, in later life, about her father's unbending expectations for her are still remembered by her family. We have alluded to one (the railroad trestle incident) earlier in this book, and others could be described.
For example, on one occasion, while on a fishing trip in Alaska, Emery May thought to impress her father with her bravery by standing at the very edge of a rushing river, to cast further out than he could. The section of river bank she was standing on gave way, and she fell into the frigid waters and was nearly drowned. When she was pulled from the river she was suffering from hypothermia, so Bert gave her some brandy to bring her around. Apparently, she drank too much and became tipsy. This was thought a great joke at the time.
The year 1916 was pivotal for Emery May in more ways than one. Not only was it her high school graduation year, an important event in any teenager's life; but it was also the year she met the man she would marry, as well as the year she left the United States. Apart from brief visits, and a two-year tour in Washington in the late 1920s, Emery May would not return to settle down in Cleveland until after 1948.
Early in the summer of 1916 Emery May Holden attended Harvard University's senior class dance, held prior to the June graduation ceremonies. There she met R. Henry Norweb, a young Englishman who was charming and well-mannered. She later told her children that it was mutual love at first sight. The feeling between the two was so strong that Henry is said to have proposed marriage on the spot. Emery May is said to have accepted, but as she was still under age and in the care of guardians, the couple could not marry without her family's consent. This was not forthcoming, however. Emery May and R. Henry agreed to wait, feeling that her guardians would change their minds eventually.
From 1916 to 1918 Emery May kept a detailed diary. The depth of her feelings can be seen from an entry, dated July 7, 1916, written aboard the train that was carrying her to Vancouver, British Columbia. When the train arrived at Elyria, Ohio, Henry Norweb's home town, he met it at the station hoping to see her to say goodbye. Emery May deliberately avoided seeing him. She wrote at the time: "Harry came to the train to deliver some pictures but he did not see us. I am very glad. I don't want to see him again until after several months work ... I want my balance back again!'
The train that was taking Emery May to Vancouver was the first stage of a voyage to Japan. She had still not gotten over the loss of her father three years earlier, and her guardians believed that an overseas trip might take her mind off her sorrow, as well as be a reward for finishing school. Her feelings for Henry Norweb may have made a trip overseas all the more imperative in her guardians' minds. After reaching Vancouver on July 12 (she had been traveling aboard the train for six days), her party, which included friends of hers from Cleveland, boarded the Empress of Asia and sailed for Yokohama, Japan the next day.
Emery May's diary is written with the feeling of a young woman who is just becoming aware of herself. Her style was highly descriptive, with a touch of the skill at poetry that had won her school's Masefield Prize for poetry. As befits a diary, the entries are introspective and not intended for anyone other than herself. They are, therefore, revealing of her true feelings.
She still felt the loss of her father very acutely, and her simple allusion to her feelings is poignant even now. As she traveled across the United States she retraced stages in the journey she had made with her father in 1912, on their way to inspect mine sites in Alaska. When the train reached the Rocky Mountain foothills she remembered her earlier trip with her father and wrote in her diary for July 11:
The train goes on, and life goes on and we go on. The vastness of the mountains gives a feeling of strength, strength that has stood the tests of time, the only ones that count in the end. The horizon broadens rather than narrows as the mountains shut you in. Four years ago very nearly this same time of year I sat on the observation platform and looked at the mountains as they stood purple against the grey sky. It had been a hot trip over the plains to reach these heights, but that was a thing of the past. I would, within a few hours, be in the dark of night where the mountains would be nothing but part of the blackness. But I didn't care, that was a thing of the future, all I knew was that the mountains were wonderful, that I was sitting by my father, and that the sun was setting in a glory that should be remembered through the coming night. The sun did set, in more ways than oneâ€¦
Emery May's party arrived in Yokohama, Japan on August 24, 1916. Who chose Japan as a place to visit is unknown, but the decision was a daring one for the time, especially for young ladies. Anti-foreign sentiment was strong in Japan then, as it would remain through the 1950s, and westerners' movements were watched and closely controlled by the police. Emery May's spirit was adventurous, and we would like to believe that she chose Japan as her destination, but this cannot be known now. Whatever the truth may have been, after traveling to see the famous sights in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Kamakura, where they were allowed to enter the Tsurugaoka-Hachiman-ji, the god of war's temple (a rare honor for a foreigner), the party left Japan a month later and arrived back in Cleveland at the end of August.
She was not to stay home for long. Before she left for her trip to Japan, even before her graduation from Westover, she had decided to test herself in some fashion where only her own native talents could help her out of difficulty.