I’ve written about Kathleen Ludwick before, and was not able to find any reliable biographical information. She wrote one science fiction tale, “Dr. Imortelle,” which appeared in a 1930 issue of Amazing Stories. As a result of this piece, others have tried to ferret out something about her life, but have either not gotten anywhere or made incorrect assumptions. In his great resource Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years, Everett Bleiler supposes, based on social security records, that Ludwick was born in Maryland in 1892 and died in New York in 1970. But that doesn’t seem correct.
The Kathleen Ludwick who wrote “Dr. Immortelle” gave her address as Oakland California. And, from the census of 1930, it is known that there was a (different) Kathleen Ludwick in Oakland. That Ludwick says that she was sixty—so born around 1870—and originally from Nevada. There is further reason to suspect that there were two Kathleen Ludwicks living around this time. A search of the name at newspaperarchives.com gives a pot of articles from Pennsylvania and a second lot from Oakland.
So, then, stipulate that the Kathleen Ludwick of the 1930 census is the Kathleen Ludwick of interest. Furthermore, stipulate that the Kathleen Ludwick of the census is the same one who wrote several letters to the Oakland Tribune, among other things arguing for a new library and protesting the conversion of University High School into a home for veterans. If this is right, then the letters further confirm her identity, as the writer claims to have both a son who was a veteran and a grandson. A woman born in 1892 would have only been (about) 54 when she made this claim in 1946. This is fairly young to have a grandson who served in WWII, although not impossible. A woman born in 1870 would have been 76, which makes more sense.
This is the Kathleen Ludwick in question then, born in Nevada in 1870. What else can we say about her?
Originally, I said “Not Much,” but continued pulling at the threads have unravelled the biographical knot:
Kathleen Ludwick was born with the last name Spargur on 21 January 1870 in Reno, Nevada. She’s in the 1880 census, where her first name is given as Kitty, likely a diminutive of Kathleen, and her middle initial G. She was born to H. L. Spargur and Emma Jennison. Her father was a lawyer. In 1880, the family lived in Lake Modoc, California, Kitty the eldest of four children. She only ever finished 8th grade. Around 1892, she married Joseph B. Hulse—either they already lived in Idaho, or they moved there. They had (at least) four children, Amidal born around 1893, Henry around 1895, Joseph Bryan in 1896, and Violet 1899. The 1900 census had them still in Idaho; I cannot make out Joseph’s occupation from the manuscript. Kathleen was still going by Kittie.
They divorced before the next census, in 1910, it seems. At least, Joseph was in Glenn, California, and listed as divorced, while Kittie was back in Modoc with her mother (albeit listed as married). Also with her were her three youngest children, and a sister. Kittie was working as a typist. She remarried on 29 June 1915 in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Her husband was James Edward Douglas. By 1920, they’d moved to Merced, California, where James worked as a shepherd. Seven other men lived with them, hired hands. She may have been a member of the Women Christian Temperance Union.
Douglas was a Scottish immigrant, and that fact played an important role in Ludwick’s life. At the time, an American woman who married a non-citizen lost her citizenshipp, even if the couple lived in the United States. So Kathleen Douglas—formerly Hulse, formerly Spargur—became an alien. We know this is the same Kathleen, though, because of the date of her birth, the place of her birth, and because the census also recorded the birth place of her parents, which were consistent across the decades.
The 1920s, when Ludwick was in her fifties, were full. Something happened to James—in a 1938 document, Kathleen said that he was a full time resident of Agnews, California, which was an insane asylum in Santa Clara. She also may have married again as in the 1930 census she is going by the name Kathleen G. Ludwick. But he We know this is the same woman because of the first name and middle initial, the birthdate and place of birth, and the birthplaces of her parents. As well, a document from 1938 lists her as both Kittie Gertrude Douglas and Kathleen Ludwick.
Her marital status is confused, though, as the 1930 census lists her as divorced while in 1938 she is still supposed to be married to James Douglas. Also in 1938 (and 1939), the Oakland city directory listed her as the widow of E. A. Ludwick, though I cannot find a man to match the initials.
She told the 1930 census taker that she was a writer and, indeed, she seemed to have been a productive author just before and after she turned 60. She specialized in essays on Western topics, no surprise given the places she had lived. In 1932, she won a quarterly contest by the Hilltop Magazine in High Springs, Florida for a poem. (Her home was given as Oakland, California, though). Her stories are
What the Western Red Man Ate: Apaws, Western Story Magazine Dec 28 1929
What the Western Red Man Ate: Fruit Western Story Magazine Jan 4 1930 The Humanness of the Indian: Different Viewpoints Western Story Magazine May 17 1930
The Humanness of the Indian: Social and Family Relations Western Story Magazine May 24 1930
What the Western Red Man Ate Western Story Magazine Jun 14 1930
The Humanness of the Indian: Gratitude Western Story Magazine Jun 21 1930
The Humanness of the Indian: Were the Indians Lazy? Western Story Magazine Jul 5 1930
What the Western Red Man Ate: Wokas, the Yellow Water Lily Western Story Magazine Aug 2 1930
The Humanness of the Indian: Religion, Burial Customs, etc. Western Story Magazine Aug 30 1930
When Rattlers Bite Western Story Magazine Oct 11 1930
Poisonous Snakes Western Story Magazine Dec 6 1930
Hypnotic Snakes Western Story Magazine Mar 7 1931
It was at this time that she also wrote her one science fiction story; Dr. Immortelle appeared in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1930. It was republished twice: Fantastic, May 1968 and More Tales of Unknown Horror (Jan 1979).
Her Western writing has attracted no commentary, but her speculative fiction has. Bleiler dismissed this story as “Pretty bad. Involuted and confusing.” It’s also worth noting that the author assumes whites are a superior race—given the titles alone of her pieces for Western Story one suspects that Ludwick may not have had the most progressive racial views. But at this point, such suggestions are highly speculative. Later science fiction critics, approaching the tale from a decidedly feminist point of view, have not necessarily contradicted this opinion, but added to it. Jane L. Donawerth and Carol A. Kolmerten connect the story to a tradition of fantastic fiction that descends from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Eric Leif Davin puts her in the line of Victorian feminism, which promoted women’s positive qualities and saw them ending war and making the world a better place.
On 26 May 1938, as Kittie Gertrude Douglas (aka Kathleen Ludwick) she applied for naturalization—which was necessary because of her marriage to James Douglas. It’s this document that allows a lot of the biographical links to be made in what is otherwise a confusing history. She was living at 5822 Grove Street, in Oakland, and still called herself a writer, though I know of nothing she published at this late date. She listed three children—which allowed for further biographical connections—Amidol, Joseph, and Violet. No mention of Henry suggests relations with her children were strained, a supposition that is strengthened because she wrote she did not know where Joseph lived. However, Amidol and Violet lived nearby, Amidol in redwood City and Violet in Oakland. One of her witnesses was Eva Knox, the married name of the sister whom she had lived with after her first divorce. Eva was also in the Bay Area, living in San Leandro. Her citizenship was awarded on 6 June 1938.
Under the name Kathleen Ludwick, she wrote a number of letters to the Oakland tribune, which were published between 1937 and 1947. In 1940, she was still in Oakland, though at a different house—not Grove Street anymore, but 14th. She lived alone, and went in the census by Kittie Douglas. She said that she was divorced.
She died 13 July 1958, aged 88, in Oakland, and was buried in Mountain View.
I don’t know how Ludwick found her way to Fort; nothing in her science fiction story is particularly Fortnea, but it seems likely that if she wrote for the pulps, she read them, and likely discovered him that way. The Oakland Tribune mentioned Fort a number of times int he 1930s, as well, which may have caught her attention. Finally, the 1941 publication of the Fort omnibus received a lot of press, which also might have enticed her to try reading him.
What is known is, by 1947 she had read him, and admired him.
On 8 July 1947, in light of the nation’s fascination with flying saucers, the Oakland Tribune offered what was really a mealymouthed editorial, refusing to take a stand on the issue and not that, of nothing else, it was fun. In the course of covering the subject, the unnamed editorialists noted that Forteans—followers of Charles Fort—were nonplussed by the discussion: they were primed for such stories.
Five days later, the paper ran three letters in response—all by women, interestingly. The first made fun of the phenomenon. The second wanted answers from the government. The third was from Ludwick and focused on Fort: “Well, shiver my timbers! Was I astounded, amazed to read the reference to Charles Fort, the Apostle of Doubt, the High Priest of Skepticism, in the Tribune!,” she began.
Ludwick went on to say that she had independently reached Fort’s conclusion that astronomical objects must be much closer than astronomers declaimed. After all, how could she see a moon that was a quarter of a million miles away? Or a sun 93 million miles away!
It is hard to know whether this was meant as a joke or not: there was no obvious wink and nudge. But the context suggests that, if not a joke, the claim was meant, at least, in the same lighthearted manner Fort made his arguments.
At any rate, she continued on, speculating what the flying saucers might be if, indeed, the heavens were not so far away. Perhaps, she suggested, some enemy nation had sent radioactive material into the sky, but then dismissed the possibility because the enemy nation would be harmed just as well.
Most likely, she concluded, the saucers were an advertising stunt, “like this horrendous monster of the airways that has been seen hovering over Oakland at night advertising some brand of gasoline.” She wanted such stunts to stop.
The ending was a very clever, and very Fortean twist—undermining the power of the saucers while at the same time subtly suggesting a giant conspiracy, in the vein of Fort’s famous quip, “I think we are property.”