Jean MacCallum: A Maiden Fond of Flowers

Among the surviving papers describing Jean MacCallum is a letter she wrote as a child. It’s typed, addressed to her grandmother, Eliza Kelley, and charming. It was written after the MacCallums moved from Glen Blair, just north of Fort Bragg, to San Francisco. Jean was born in Glen Blair when her parents, Daisy and Alexander, left their celebrated Mendocino mansion to oversee a logging enterprise purchased by Samuel Blair.

For those trying to piece together the family tree, Blair married into the Kelley clan; his wife was William Kelley’s sister, Abigail. The logging company was family business, and when Samuel died in 1897, the MacCallum’s moved to San Francisco to help Abby look after Blair’s substantial business dealings. Jean MacCallum was eleven.

The typewriter likely sat in Alex’s office. It’s clear from Jean’s opening line—explaining she’s typing—that she was impressed with the fancy machine that made her letter look published. She proceeds to pen a rhyme about “a little maiden who was very fond of flowers “Perhaps that’s what inspired her to write a tale for her grandmother. “I thought I’d tell you a story,” Jean writes.

“She tended them and weeded them for hours,” Jean begins. “She had pansies and forget-me-nots and violets white and blue, and tall proud yellow lilies and little white ones too. She had hollyhocks and marigolds and daisies white and red which grew in little borders around each flowerbed. She had wallflowers and carnations and many a royal rose, and I think she must have had a little bit of everything that grows. A thrush came to her garden and sang there everyday, and as for bees and butterflies, they could not keep away. The bees made lots of honey there, but it was not half as sweet as the pretty little maiden who kept the garden neat.”

Jean’s life is not well documented. We know she lived eight-five years and never married, nor had children. We know she was “sheltered, and shy in mixed company,” considered “kind” by those who knew her well. We know she was an “accomplished pianist” and at desperate odds with her mother. Jean refused to live with Daisy MacCallum, preferring her Aunt Elise or her grandmother. Jean said of her mother, “she was crushing.” Why remains unclear.

We’re told Jean traveled “extensively” in Europe, but when and with whom isn’t recorded. We do know she accompanied her Aunt Elise to Japan in the early 1900s. The two women “spent time in a monastery” there. Though Jean might have shared her aunt’s fascination with Zen Buddhism, she was likely a Christian Scientist.