Welcome to the Quiltfiction Podcast! In this episode, I’ll be reading Chapter Two of Aunt Jane of Kentucky by Eliza Calvert Hall. In this chapter, “The New Organ,” Aunt Jane tells the story of the time the ladies of Goshen Church raise enough money to buy an organ and how the voice of one of their choir members, Uncle Jim Matthews, proves to be a trial and tribulation to the members of their congregation and beyond.
I’ve been tracking down information on Eliza Calvert Hall, whose real name was Eliza Carolina “Lida” Calvert Obenchain (as an adult she was called Lida Obenchain). She was born to a wealthy family in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1856, but when Eliza was a teenager, her father, a banker, was accused of embezzlement and subsequently disappeared for thirteen years, throwing his family into poverty. The family’s assets, including their Vinegar Hill mansion, were liquidated, and later the house was sold to Ogden College. In a neat twist, Lida Hall would later marry William Alexander Obenchain, who would named president or Ogden College in 1883. She had four children, two boys and two girls.
Hall, a strong supporter of women’s rights, joined the Kentucky Equal Rights Association in the 1890s and began publishing newspaper and magazine articles about women’s rights in 1897, eventually becoming the Kentucky ERA’s press secretary. Her suffragette sympathies certainly come out in the character of Aunt Jane, but Hall accomplished the feat of making Aunt Jane’s thoughts on women’s rights seem truly her own, tempered with the old woman’s humor and wisdom.
Over the years, Hall wrote many political articles and tracts, but she was best known for her Aunt Jane stories. The first one, “Sally Anne’s Experience,” was published in Cosmopolitan in 1898, and reprinted in both national and international magazines and newspapers. It later became the opening chapter of Aunt Jane of Kentucky, which was published in 1907. A second Aunt Jane book, The Land of Long Ago, was published in 1909. Hall also wrote Clover and Blue Grass, a short novel entitled To Love and to Cherish (1911) and a nonfiction book about the weavers of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky, A Book of Handwoven Coverlets.