Getting Acquainted with the Kelley Family

I recently completed my time as the collections intern at the Kelley House Museum as part of my MA in Museum Studies coursework at the University of San Francisco. The project I was assigned was to help catalog a collection left to the museum by a descendant of the Kelley family, Rosemary Maulbetsch, the great-granddaughter of William and Eliza Kelley, who passed away in 2017. The portion of the Kelley-Maulbetsch collection I was working with comprised five boxes of family letters, documents, photographs, and a few personal items. I began with an inventory of all the boxes. Inventorying is an important first step, not only so we know what there is, but so the museum can determine what will best suit its mission and be most beneficial to future researchers.

A few objects in the Kelley-Maulbetsch collection including the only censored letter Lloyd Kelley sent his mother, Daisy Kelley MacCallum’s diary from 1923, and some family photos throughout the generations.

Going through these artifacts helped me get to know the Kelley family better. I discovered Daisy MacCallum had an adopted daughter, Gwenlian, the orphaned niece of Alexander MacCallum. Gwenlian had a fierce court battle with Daisy and Alexander’s children, Jean and Donald MacCallum, over her share of the inheritance. Through the reading of letters and court documents, I witnessed the disintegration of Gwenlian and Jean’s relationship as Jean disputed Daisy’s willing one-third of her estate to Gwenlian. The break between them was all the more heartbreaking given Gwenlian’s letters to Jean sharing her struggles as a single parent after a divorce. 

I also read a great many letters sent from Lloyd Kelley to his mother, Annie McGuire Kelley, wife of Otis Kelley. Otis was the youngest son of William and Eliza Kelley who was a well-known heartbreaker, shamed (by his mother and hers) into marrying Annie McGuire two years after the birth of their first child, Lloyd. These letters were from Lloyd’s time in the army during World War I. In one of the most touching, he told his mother that he had arrived safely in France and was sorry he hadn’t told her he was being deployed because he hadn’t wanted her to worry. 

The numerous negatives of the children of Otis and Annie Kelley, playing and romping through the woods, were especially endearing. An image of the tired parents trying to smile while their dirt-covered children ran around a tent made me smile. 

My personal favorites, though, were the stacks of journals from Daisy MacCallum, in particular from her years traveling around the world. One journal, from her time in Egypt, Jordan, and Jerusalem, was filled with so many exciting details of her adventures that she had to glue in extra pages in order to describe them all, making it a very thick book.

The Kelley House has one of the best archives I have ever seen in a small museum, and I was so impressed and excited to be working in them. I have seen that many small museums struggle to keep their archives organized and well documented, but the care the archive volunteers have taken has kept the Kelley House collections beautifully maintained. Working with the Kelley House archives and volunteers encouraged me to apply for the Curator position, and I am so grateful and excited that I have the opportunity to continue my exploration of the collections in that position. 

If you have questions about Mendocino history and people, please contact me at curator@kelleyhousemusuem.org or call (707) 937-5791 from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday. The Kelley House Museum is open from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM Thursday through Sunday. Walking tours of the historic district depart from the Kelley House regularly; for the tour schedule, visit www.kelleyhousemuseum.org.