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Soderberg Family

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The Seattle Star, December 7, 1909


By Marion Lowe

"Mama isn't at home, but come in, I'm keeping house."

Little yellow haired Myrtle Soderberg thus greeted me when I knocked at the door of the house at 6053 Sixth av. N. E. late yesterday afternoon, and I stepped in.

And I stepped into the home of Mrs. William Soderberg. It was once the home of William Soderberg, but he preferred going to jail to working to maintain that home, preferred a pinochle game in a county jail cell to getting out and doing a man's work, to providing for and maintaining the wife he had taken unto himself, and the children she had borne him.

I had been told to find out if this was another evidence of the inadequacy of the law. I found a story of a woman who is doing both a man's and a woman's work, the story of a little 9-year-old girl who is assuming all of the cares of a housewife and mother, while the real mother, the woman, goes out and bravely struggles under her double burden.

This story was found in the little one-room house at 6053 Sixth av. N. E. It is wind swept and unplastered, and there live the wife and babies of William Soderberg.

That little house of a home is spotlessly clean, and every yellow haired youngster is bright faced and lovable. William Soderberg's wife and children never "drove him to drink." But to the story.

The Little Mother and Her Charge.

Sitting on a cot without any mattress, bundled up in coats and clothes to keep it warm, was the Soderberg baby, Hilda, 18 months old, who had just waked from her nap, and was rubbing her blue eyes.

"Mamma won't be home till 11 or 12 o'clock tonight," chattered the little housewife. "She's helping another woman do janitor work today. She told us kids to go to bed at half past eight and leave the door unlocked for her."

Myrtle, the "little mother," who is only 9, took up the baby, carried it on her hip to a rocking chair and sat down to soothe the baby. "No, she isn't heavy; I carry her all the time. There, she wants to go to sleep again. Hand me a coat, Robert, to keep her warm," and she rocked back and forth, her own small toes barely reaching the floor.

Robert is So Noisy.

"Robert is so noisy, I have a time keeping him still. There comes my other boy," and the 9-year-old housewife smiled out the window at Harold, running home from school.

"There are five of us children. Violet is 11, I'm 9, Harold is 7, Robert 5 and Hilda is 18 months old; she's pretty near 19, though. Violet and Harold are at school today, and I'm taking care of the little ones. Mamma cooked things last night, and I just warmed 'em up today.

"It gets kinda cold in here. You see, it's all open up there around the roof, and Mamma's afraid for us to keep a very big fire when she's away. Violet was keeping house the other day while Mamma was away at work, and the fire got low. She poured some oil in the stove, and the flames flashed clear up to the ceiling. You can see where it smoked the boards."

"Don't make so much noise, Robert. These kids do make such a racket sometimes."

Shows a Mother's Care.

"Where do we sleep? You see, that's a folding bed back there. Mamma and Violet and Harold and Robert and I sleep in that and the baby sleeps on the cot. Sometimes Violet sleeps on the cot with the baby, but she pulls the covers off the baby, so mamma thinks it's better for little Hilda to sleep alone.

"Come again. Mamma'll be sorry she wasn't here. She always like to be at home when folks come to see her," and the little 9-year-old mother cuddled the baby in her arms, while the visitor told her not to get up, that she could open the door without the hostess.

You remember a short story of William Soderberg in The Star a few weeks ago? This is William Soderberg's home and little children.

Gives Him a Chance.

Last summer William Soderberg drank, abused his wife and children. When he came home from work he brought blows and curses and liquor, but no money or bread or meat for his family. Things got so bad the wife went to a lawyer and Soderberg was taken before Justice Fred C. Brown on a complaint of failure to provide for his wife and minor children.

What could be done? The man deserved to go to jail, but how would that help matters? Justice Brown said, so he gave him a suspended jail sentence of six months.

For a little while Soderberg did better, until he thought the court and the law had forgotten about him, and then this brute of a man went back to his devilish ways. He spent all his money for drink and so abused his wife she couldn't go out to work. And the little children--this mother couldn't go away all day and leave them to the cruelty of a drunken father.

Preferred to Go to Jail.

So she had to appeal to the court. "It's poor business," said Justice Brown, "sending a man to jail for non-support of his family, and thus continuing those very conditions. What have you to say for yourself?"

And William Soderberg, brute of a man, chose to go to jail rather than support his wife and five little children. So that's where he is.

But that's the law. The man deserves punishment, and there is no other way to give it to him. Can't something be done with the law? Is there no remedy? Must families continue to suffer and starve because of an inadequate law?

Frail women and little children ask these questions of men who make the laws.