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Morning Sun
  • Patrick's People - Lesson from lecture

  • J.A. Wayland, who committed suicide nearly 100 years ago, knew the heights and the depths.

    He was publisher of the Appeal to Reason, the most influential socialist publication of his time, but also depressed about the prospects of bringing about lasting change in the nation and in deep despair over the death of his wife.

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  • J.A. Wayland, who committed suicide nearly 100 years ago, knew the heights and the depths.
    He was publisher of the Appeal to Reason, the most influential socialist publication of his time, but also depressed about the prospects of bringing about lasting change in the nation and in deep despair over the death of his wife.
    Wayland was the subject of the keynote address in the two-part Eugene DeGruson Memorial Lecture, presented Wednesday in the historic Hotel Stilwell by Dr. Sharon Neet.
    “In November it will be 100 years since he committed suicide, and I covered his last days leading up to his suicide,” Neet said.
    Wayland’s death was even noted in the New York Times, which reported that he had fired a bullet into his mouth, muffling the sound in his bedding.
    Several factors played into his death.
    “Wayland had been a lifelong depressive, we have evidence of that in his diaries when he was 17,” Neet said. “He was manic-depressive, and when he was up he founded a socialist newspaper or founded a socialist colony. When he was down he was in a very dark mood.”
    His wife’s death affected him deeply.
    “She was killed in a car accident and he was driving the car,” Neet said.
    He probably was disheartened by the fact that Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate in the 1912, did not get elected president, though he did get 6 percent of the vote.
    “Crawford County did go Socialist in the 1912 election,” Neet said. “Debs carried the county and some local Socialists were elected to office.”
    Apparently, in his despondency, Wayland was ready to give up the battle.
    “He had written a single sentence in a book,” said Randy Roberts, curator of Special Collections at Axe Library, Pittsburg State University. “He wrote, ‘The struggle under the competitive system isn’t worth the effort. Let it pass.’”
    Neet added that Wayland had come under personal attack because of his political views.
    “An indictment was being prepared against him under the Mann Act in connection with a story that he had an affair with a young woman, she had died from an illegal abortion and he got rid of the body by sending it to Canada,” Neet said. “This was a total fabrication.”
    It was based on the story of Minnie Austin, a woman in her 30s who had worked at the Appeal to Reason.
    “She died very quickly, probably from something like appendicitis,” Neet said. “Wayland did pay for her body to be sent back to Canada for burial in her family’s plot.”
    That would not have been out of keeping with his nature, since Neet said that Wayland was a very kind and generous man, very involved with the Girard community.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The only office he held was on the Girard Public Library board,” she said. “He gave free books to the library, not political books but things like atlases. He also gave money for ribbons at the Crawford County Fair and sponsored baseball teams in town.”
    Neet said that Wayland’s death was his way of trying to spare his five children and the Socialist Party from disgrace.
    “He felt that one burden Socialism did not need was a lurid scandal, so he shot himself in his big white house on Summit Street in Girard,” she said.
    Several members of the Wayland family were present for the DeGruson Memorial Lectures, including grandchildren Virginia Lashley, San Marino, Calif., and Howard Stephenson, Hawaii.
    “They came a long way to be here,” Roberts said. “The Wayland family has recently donated to us a lot of items, including diaries and some photos never before seen outside the family, and we are very appreciative of this.”
    Wayland had finished an autobiography, “Leaves of Life,” in the spring of 1912, and Neet is working to make that accessible to the public.
    “I’ve turned it into an iBook,” she said. “It will be an Apple iBook and I’m also going to turn it into a Kindle.”
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