Written By: Joyce H. Munro, Morris Arboretum Archives Volunteer

Some diaries are not worth reading—they’re tedious or inane, filled with the minutiae of lackluster lives. Louise Kellner’s diaries are otherwise. Chock full of round-the-world experiences told with wit and wonderment, these diaries were not for her eyes only, but for John and Lydia Morris’s eyes. They were meant to be coffee-table chronicles for the Morrises to open in “after years” and savor again the world they had traveled. But in addition to diligently recording the whens and wheres (if this is Tuesday it must be Darjeeling), Louise wrote of things not found in the typical travel log. Tales of fellow passengers, shysters palming off fake antiquities, John’s forgetfulness, Lydia’s flirting.

Louise told of the siblings’ lost eyeglasses, lost receipts, over-eating, over-spending. All those cherry trees ... knives ... curiosities John was buying. And those gold and silver embroideries .... tea cups ... that leopard skin Lydia had to have, then had to delouse with arsenical soap. Louise knew, first-hand, what seeds, plants, trees, sculptures John and Lydia were buying for Compton. This brother-sister team was snapping up native specimens in India, Japan, China, Norway and no matter the country, the threesome would settle down in a sitting room at their hotel every few days and do some accounting.

 

Louise Kellner (hat in hand) with Lydia and John Morris in Ceylon, 1889

Diarist, accountant, interpreter, go-between—not exactly what Louise went to school for in her hometown, Oldenburg, Germany. And not the career she came to the U.S. to pursue in 1876. Soon after settling into her brother’s home in Philadelphia, at the non-traditional age of thirty-eight, Louise enrolled in the Woman’s Hospital Training School for Nurses. Her instructors were Anna Elizabeth Broomall, Professor of Obstetrics, William Williams Keen, Jr., pioneer brain surgeon, and Albert Holmes Smith, President of the Philadelphia Obstetrical Society and incidentally, fluent in German. Notwithstanding these renown instructors, the graduates of this nursing school weren’t getting hired by public hospitals in Philadelphia. It was Louise’s good fortune to be hired by Hahnemann Hospital, where she later became Supervisor of Nurses, then Principal of the Training School for Nurses.

Exactly how Louise Kellner came to the attention of John and Lydia Morris as a potential travel assistant is not clear. How much they paid for her services is not clear either. What is clear—how Lydia Morris referred to Louise. When Lydia applied for a passport in 1889, she listed Louise as “my maid.” Perhaps she did this so Louise would not be in violation of naturalization requirements (Louise had just filed her declaration). Or perhaps Lydia actually regarded Louise as a maid.

But Louise regarded herself otherwise. Once she became a U.S. citizen in 1891 and began applying for her own passports, Louise made her occupation perfectly clear—“Professional Nurse.” That is, until her 1902 passport—for yet another trip with John and Lydia to faraway places—when she listed her occupation as “Lady.”

~

With special thanks to Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives