Thursday, October 13, 2016

Lucasville Connections: Branch Rickey, Jane, and Their Early Life Together

Thanks in large part to the help of Lucasville school head James H. Finney and the encouragement of his Lucasville friends Ed Appel and Clyde Brant, who were already college students at Ohio Wesleyan in Delaware, Ohio, Branch Rickey decided to attend college there. He had attended school in Lucasville and had taken the county board which had allowed him to teach at Turkey Creek in Friendship, Ohio, for two years. The money he had saved he believed to be enough to enroll.

Branch Rickey entered Ohio Wesleyan as a conditional student because of his lack of full academic credentials. Said to be “the picture of a hayseed on campus,” he began college with his life savings of barely $60 in his pocket. He would employ his great industry and make ends meet by rising before dawn to stoke the coal furnaces in several college buildings. Later, he supplemented his income by waiting on college dining tables.

Explaining his situation in a letter to an Ohio Wesleyan administrator in 1952, Rickey said ...

“I never did go to high school and never saw the inside of one until after I went to Delaware. I was a preparatory student with two years of so-called prep work to do in order to become a freshman. I carried as many as twenty-one hours in one term and never did catch up with any class until the spring term of 1904. As you know, I did the preparatory work and the four years of college work in three and one-half years. I often felt that I did not deserve my Bachelor Literature degree because in many respects I did not work hard enough... No boy could have had less money than I had in my first year in college... During my first term in Delaware I had only one pair of pants and nobody saw me wear anything else. I cleaned them myself and pressed them myself, and not infrequently, and they saw me through.”

Yet, even though he entered college without a four-year high school diploma (No such degree was issued by Lucasville at the time. In 1888 the first graduation was held. And, in 1905 the first graduating class left a four-year high school.), Branch's prior education must have served him very well. The schooling he had acquired in Lucasville, the friends he had accumulated there, and the great drive for independent learning that the school fostered in him served him exceptionally well. It was in Lucasville that Branch knew he would become a teacher.

And, there was much more to his attraction to Wesleyan. And, that attraction was named Jane Moulton, who also had left Lucasville to attend the college. Jane (Jennie) was Branch's hopeful girlfriend. Branch greatly understated this when he later said, “Jennie Moulton's presence at the same college was not a deterrent. At the same time, I felt that I had to make good in some direction or other in order to win this girl. In fact, I knew I had to do it.”

You see, Jane was from “the better side” of the small town of Lucasville. In contrast, Branch was a country boy, and not many country residents even dreamed of going to college in those days. Most were needed on the farm. Branch faced a steep, uphill battle in his quest for her favor. Her family expected Jane to marry a man of principle and promise.

Jane Moulton was the fourth of six children of Chandler and Marcy Cecilia Smith Moulton. Chan was one of the pillars of the community-- grandson of a Revolutionary War veteran and prominent mechant who ran the Lucasville general story. A Republican member of the Ohio state legislature for years, Chan was praised for his patient and calm nature by a contemporary: “He takes everything easy and does not worry about anything. Job could have taken lesson of him and improved his book.”

The Moulton family store had a sign stating: “Frugality, industry and sobriety are simple virtues any man can cultivate.” Branch's family motto was “Make things first, seek the Kingdom of God and make yourself an example.”

Branch Rickey first knew Jane as a fellow student in Lucasville. At the time, his young mind was very much on baseball, and she had caught his attention as “a girl that could outrun any boy or girl in the schoolyard.” To him Jane seemed “to never get caught,” a girl who had “a saucy way of tossing her head at kids who failed to catch her.”

But that impression of being just another girl changed on one February morning when Branch found a folded paper addressed to him under his door. Rickey later wrote, “Among the many things I didn't know were the exact requirements and responsibilities of being somebody's Valentine. But I didn't care. Nothing could have stopped me from accepting the honor from such a nice girl. Oh boy, would I.”

At a later time, Branch also recalled“his blissful ignorance” included the fact that Jane had spent the previous evening making as many as six to twelve similar Valentines that she had slipped under the doors of many homes in Lucasville.

Motivation is a wonderful thing. Jane Rickey was enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan and Branch was in love. In fact, he later said from the day he first laid eyes on Jane, she was “the only pebble on the beach.” However, in order for the simple country to win his love, Branch needed to prove his worth to the Moultons. He needed to excel in college.

Let's fast forward past those college years. Proving himself a great baseball player, Branch had earned a spot as a catcher on the roster of the Major League team, the St. Louis Browns.

In 1905, the St. Louis Browns wanted Branch Rickey back for the 1906 season and his alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan, was going to hire him as athletic director, baseball, basketball, football coach, and part-time law and literature instructor.

To add to this, when his favorite teacher at Wesleyan became ill, he took over the man's classes and refused to accept money, assuring that the teacher's family could continue to receive his salary. Needless to say, Rickey lived life in a constant rush. How would one even consider the work load Rickey endured?

Enter Jane and the Rickey's quest for her hand. At last, Branch felt financially secure enough to ask Chandler Moulton's for the hand of his daughter, Jane. He did, and the parties struck an agreement that Branch would marry Jane, retire from baseball at the end of the 1907 season, and begin the study of law.

So, the couple studied the American League schedule to find a convenient day for their wedding. In late May, after the first eastern road trip of the season – Friday, June 1, 1906 to be exact – Branch and Jane settled on their wedding day.

In the meantime, Rickey was having real doubts about being a ballplayer in what he considered “baseball's excessively profane world.” He was not going to compromise his loyalty to his religion. (He wouldn't play on Sunday, which he insisted be stipulated as a clause in his contract.) But, Jane loved “a man of enthusiasm” and would support him without reservation as long as he was devoted to her. She encouraged him to better himself and “take chances.” They were a team.

The wedding day arrived, but not without conflict. On the way home to Lucasville, Branch ate some poorly cooked oysters at a restaurant and fell ill to ptomaine poisoning. He wasn't going to let anything spoil the day. With a strong will, he recovered quickly.

When the popular man arrived in Lucasville a day before the wedding, he was greeted by many well-wishing friends and even a brass band. Jane's friends were equally excited for her. Rumor has it that one of her more “playful” associates may have even planned “to lock away her bridal night dress at the local train station.”

June 1 dawned in Lucasville. The wedding took place in the living room of Jane's parents, Chandler and Mary Moulton. By all accounts, it was a joyous affair with music and all the trimmings.

The next day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the news about a player who, it described, “certainly for peculiarity... is in a class by himself... has taken himself a wife... Branch Rickey has married Miss Jennie (Jane) Moulton, daughter of State Senator Chandler Moulton. They are expected back in St. Louis early next week.”

Due to baseball season, it was certain the newlyweds would not enjoy a long honeymoon, but they were in so in love and so devoted to each other, it didn't matter. For now, Jane Rickey's marriage would be interrupted by baseball. But, as a good friend of the Rickeys, Gertrude Hopping, said about the great affection between Branch and Jane, “It does me good to hear a woman talk about her husband as she does about him. They certainly are in love with each other and after all, what else is necessary.”

Soon, Branch finished out the season with an ailing arm. With his full schedule at Ohio Wesleyan (He had even added teaching Sunday Bible classes at Delaware's YMCA.), he still attended night law school classes at Ohio State University. A few times each week, Branch made the 40 mile round trip to Columbus by electric railway to attend. To say Branch Rickey was passionate about succeeding would be a world-class understatement.

There soon would be another Rickey in the family. During the Christmas holiday of 1907, Branch and Jane were eagerly looking forward to having their first child, whom Jane planned to deliver at the Moulton home in Lucasville. But, shortly after the new year, Jane's pregnancy suffered from complications. Doctors grew concerned and tried to induce an early delivery. Tragically, a baby girl was born prematurely in February 1908 and did not survive more than one one day.

And, another unexpected, horrible interruption soon occurred. Branch showed signs of fatigue in Lucasville during the 1908 Christmas season. His weight had dropped 30 pounds from the 175 pounds of his playing days. After a few days of tests with doctors, Branch received the shocking news that he was suffering from tuberculosis. At this time in America, some 10 percent of deaths were caused by TB.

Jane and Branch immediately sought the best possible treatment. A friend, Herbert Welch, who had become president of Ohio Wesleyan in 1905, told them about the Trudeau Adirondack Care Sanatorium at Saranac Lake in up-state New York.

Branch settled up his affairs at Wesleyan before the end of the 1909 spring term and made preparations to leave for the healthy environment of Saranac where he would benefit from nature and sleeping in the clean night air. He and Jane headed back to Lucasville to say goodbye to their families. And, late in the spring they set out on their journey – both very unsure of what was to come.

After arriving and having his first examination, Branch received the news that he was listed as a Type Three case, the intermediate case of tuberculosis, which meant that the bacilli were limited to his lungs and had not spread deeper into his lymphatic system. The bad news was that his early treatment would require total rest for at least six weeks --- no talking, no exertion, and no heavy reading. Gertrude Hopping wrote that Jane had sent a postcard saying that “Branch was behaving fine – had to keep absolutely quiet. The blessed day.” She added, “Think of Branch Rickey keeping quiet!”

And thus, another chapter in the life of Branch Rickey may give testament to inspire our life today.


(David Lipman. Mr. Baseball: The Story of Branch Rickey. 1966.)

(Lee Lowenfish. Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman. 2007.)

(Arthur Mann. Branch Rickey: American In Action. 1957)

(Murray Polner. Branch Rickey: A Biography. McFarland and Company. 2007.)

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