1915 letter from Dyar’s mistress to his wife

November 5, 2012

Nothing illustrates the audacity of Harrison Dyar’s affair — and the rancor it caused — than this amazing letter written in 1915 from his mistress to his wife. Wellesca Pollock can barely contain her anger at Zella Dyar over the divorce suit Zella has filed.

Wellesca has been sleeping with “the Doctor” for 15 years. The last few years she has been posing as his nurse. She has accompanied him on trips, including to the Bahamas, all the while trying to keep the affair secret. And now Mr. White, Zella’s lawyer, has filed a very public divorce suit. Mrs. Leach (actually Maud Leech) is a domestic who worked in Wellesca’s house and is apparently happy to testify to her employer’s adultery.

In tones first wheedling then outraged, Wellesca vows to fight Zella. It is no wonder the letter was admitted into evidence at the Dyars’ divorce proceedings.

781 Mill Street, Reno, Nevada,

December 5, 1915

Dear Mrs. Dyar:

The Doctor left last Monday for San Bernardino by way of Goldfield and Owen’s Lake. He finds this climate now too wintry and took a cold. I ought to have gone with him but could not. I trust he will get along all right and not overexert. He decided it was useless to wait here any longer for you to come and apply for a divorce in Nevada. I am holding your three letters and card for instructions from him if he wants them forwarded. He said he wished to get away from all correspondence for awhile and try to relax and get some sleep.

Your postals are probably intended for the postman, the cook and myself. Certainly anyone who “cared” for the doctor would never write slurs with the intention and hope that the public would read. You can afford the extra cent but you think it interesting to pose as a martyr before outsiders, I suppose. I do not mind if you say you cannot answer my letter. All I want is action and the withdrawal of the suit, which will speak louder than words or a letter.

If you want some sensible downright practical advice of a friend (you don’t need to think of personalities now) I will tell you what I should do if I were in your place. I should send a telegram to Mr. White to withdraw that Washington suit at once. I should dismiss that lawyer. Then, I would write to my husband and tell him that I had done just what I thought would please him and what he had repeatedly asked and urged me to do. Then I should say:

“Now, deal with me [however] suits your pleasure. You have my faith and trust that you will treat me well. I trust you on your own worth more than I trust any forcing process with lawyers trying to compel you to do this or that. I appeal to your honor and sense of justice. Come now, let us be reasonable. Let us forget the weeks just past of horrors and misunderstandings. If we must separate, let it be in peace rather than in desperate warfare. What will you do for us, for us all? (And that will include my mother, for she is a source of comfort and I just must have her with me.) I wrote to you some time ago that I knew you well enough to know that no bulldozing would ever move you one peg. But somehow I forgot it in the excitement and was carried along in the stream of distrust, having been led on by Mr. White and Mrs. Leach, who never knew you and whom I should have known better than to so implicitly believe in. I knew you years ago and have never seen you dishonest. Now, prove to me that my trust in you is well placed. Come up [to] the high standard of which I know you to be capable.”

And believe me he would run to do the kind and generous thing by you. You can appeal to his heart and to his honor, but when it comes to sending the law to compel him to submit to whatever they say, he will never do it. Now, I have given you the advice of a friend. Take it quickly and stop this tiresome dawdling. What is it accomplishing, and what will it accomplish? Don’t you know your husband yet? I told you in the letter that you never knew him. But other people do, and if you will treat him as any other single one of his friends would treat him, you will be glad and thankful the rest of your days, and your mother and the children with you. Take off the mask and be yourself. Let pride go for a few days and write to him from your heart. Let these weeks be a passing nightmare. Forget them for a few minutes and write him a letter as if you were truly his friend and see what happens. Don’t pass this advice lightly over and you will not regret it, I assure you. Listen, please, for your own sake.

I don’t enjoy seeing anyone in misery. It will be an endless relief to me to have you all happy. It will change all my future life. If you are left discontented and unhappy you do not think it will please me and I shall gloat over it? I am human, even if you think me not so. So for everybody’s sake, please do this.

I want to say one thing more. No one of my friends in Washington knows that I was in Nassau last winter. Nor my relatives. It was not necessary to publish the fact that I was going as nurse to Dr. and it might create a bad impression. So I kept it to myself, giving my address as 804 B. Str. and telling all my friends that I was traveling in the south, earning an honest living, and that all my mail would be forwarded to whatever point I was in. They did this, and I corresponded all winter with everyone, as if I had been at home. I sent my mail to one person in Washington to be remailed to all my friends. I told them that I was away on business and would tell them about it when I returned. But none of them asked me. They are dears and trust me and just write about what they wish and not pry. If I had a reason for not wishing to publish my address, they were satisfied that it was good. The reason was not that I was ashamed of my job, but to prevent gossip for us all. Whatever leaked out about Nassau came from your end of the line. And to this day my friends do not know I ever saw a place called Nassau, nor that I was with Dr. Dyar. All that gossip came from you and yours.

It was the same this year. I decided to come out here to get or apply, at least, for a divorce from Wilfred Allen, after gaining residence in Nevada. Dr. came to have me as nurse and because the summer and fall climate was ideal for his recovery. He could live outdoors. No soul on earth had my address, relatives nor friends. They were told that I was traveling in the west earning an honest living. They were satisfied. They addressed letters to 804 as usual, as they did last winter. Whether I was traveling agent or a nurse, what was that? All was peaceful and happy in that line. I mailed my letters at the station mail where the postmark is something like San Francisco -- Ogden; I don’t know what it is, but it is not Reno. No one suspected. No sound of gossip could get out from me. Also, I believe Dr. said he wrote Dr. Howard long before you went to California saying he was going to send his family out west for the summer (So he would not be wondering why your family moved from Washington). Or, it was that the children might go to school in Berkeley. Something of the kind. Then he applied for leave to investigate mosquitoes in the west and he went to different cities and resorts collecting all summer, and he has made a fine showing, which Dr. Howard commended. All was going peacefully with him and his friends and no one suspected anything out of the way till you sprung a horrible divorce bill in Washington, and all your and my affairs were blazened in the four regular newspapers in Washington with great headlines, besides the “Law Reporter” where the bill was probably printed in full, and that scurrilous “Bulletin” that is distributed in stores and saloons, where all the juicy morsels were doubtless served up in spicy manner. And now maybe you wonder why there is gossip. It was not caused by either Dr. or me, but by your publication of the news. It was bad enough as it was, but the irresponsible reporter made it worse. I have not see the sensational Times nor Post nor Herald, only the Star, and that was enough. Of course, the world will believe every word of whatever the papers said. Your counsel worded the bill so that the reporter said, “HARRISON G. DYAR CHARGED WITH DESERTION AND NON-SUPPORT.” “The wife asserts that he owns Washington real estate valued at $425,000 and a half interest in New York realty worth $400,000 and that she is without means for her support or to prosecute her suit. She says his income is $18,000 annually.” This is an unjust statement and he will be looked upon by the Washington public as a cruel monster. “There are two children living with her, but supported by the defendant.” I am glad you gave him that much credit!

Of course people are discussing it and enlarging on it and writing to all their friends, east, west, north and south, so that even in Honolulu and Seattle and Europe they have it all to talk about. Whose fault is it, that all this sensational news came to the view of the public, never to be forgotten? Dr. and I were quietly in retirement. It was your horrible, unnecessarily disgusting bill, containing gross misstatements, all to the injury of the other two parties. “He who digs a pit for others (sometimes) falls into it himself.” You will probably have to share in the publicity brought about by yourself. You gave Dr. not so much as a whisper or breath of notice or warning, and, even if he had not been lied upon and basely misrepresented by your “friends” Mr. White and Mrs. Leach, it seems you and Mr. White intended anyhow, always, to sooner or later have all this publicity in Washington, which would be reflected to the four quarters of the globe.

But you did not expect to have to share in the disgrace. What a foolish idea! You would heap all the disgrace possible on us, justly or unjustly, ride rough-shod over our feelings and escape unharmed yourself. How different it would have been if you had tried to spare us all the disgrace you could and considered our feelings to the utmost. Just think how different! And how foolish and ill-advised your trusted counsel was to take the course he did. He planned to get you a divorce in Washington without bother to you; but in his eagerness to heap disgrace and shame on us, he overdid it so that we could not possibly let the suit pass without a strenuous contest, and now he cannot put it through. A wise lawyer would have been so mild in his charges that we might have let the bill go by default and so you would have gained your object. But now — only over our dead bodies! And what an audience we will have if that suit comes off! Not only our friends and our friends’ friends from far and near, but all Washington from the executive offices to the saloons, brought by your able advertising. I can see them now, crowding the court-room to suffocation, struggling in the corridors and standing in long lines down the side streets, guarded by overtaxed policemen. Do you think we shall let this audience witness our defeat?

Respectfully,

Wellesca P. Allen

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section.
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