I have neglected our collection of Interesting Persons of late. So many eccentrics; so little time. Today we meet Mrs. Hattie Freeman of Kansas City. The line between cat philanthropist and animal hoarder was shaded as finely in 1911 as it is today. But Mrs. Freeman had a special, supernatural motivation for being kind to every cat she met.
A MISSOURI WOMAN CAN TALK TO CATS
Mrs. Hattie M. Freeman Says Feline Pets Can Understand Her Just Like a Man.
SHE ONCE WAS A TABBY
Declares She Formerly Lived in an Alley and Roamed Over Back Fences
Her Existence Then Has Made Her Solicitous for Cats Now.
Kansas City, Mo. If the family cat purrs gently at your side, if it meows appealingly, if it sits upon the chair and casts a sympathetic eye in your direction while you argue with the iceman or if it gets upon the piano keys, don’t pass the incidents indifferently from your mind as unimportant and merely the antics of a cat.
There is meaning, real significance, in every action and look of the cat; at least to one woman in the world, Mrs. Hattie Mellus Freeman, of this city.
This woman is thoroughly conversant with cats. She can understand their every whim; she can talk to them; they can talk to her. In court, they are her companions, and she would much rather be in the company of cats than be forced to participate in some idle and garrulous chatter. For Mrs. Freeman is a firm believer in the transmigration of the soul.
In her previous mystic condition, before she took human form, she says that she was an alley cat. Just a typical alley cat. Not the kind that is fortunate enough to be taken into a home and sheltered behind a warm stove in the winter, fondled by a kind mistress, and the subject for friendly comment by well-meaning visitors. Never that.
For hers was that wild and nomadic alley cat’s life which is spent in the out-of-way places gathering food to sustain life wherever it may be found.
“Oh, the horror of that life! Shall I ever forget it?” Mrs. Freeman was speaking to a reporter, and as she half asked the question a shiver rent her. Then, without waiting for an answer, she related that the existence she had to endure in her former life has made her especially solicitous of cats in this life. There you have the explanation of the twenty-seven cats which make their home with Mrs. Freeman. All her life she has been a cat lover
If any one will take the trouble to go to the rear of this woman’s home he will not only find food there for the stray cats, but he will see also a shelter made especially for the purpose.
“It is terrible, terrible to lead the life of an alley cat,” continued the woman. “No soul can have a braver or a more sordid trial. The wild retreats which must be made in the face of pursuing dogs, clubs, the kicks and the abuse from human hands. I might have thought myself the most ill-treated soul in the world had I not met other cats worse off than I.
“Well do I remember one dusk in my cat world when I had put in a most miserable day. It seemed as though I couldn’t endure the torture, until finally I came into another alley cat whose leg had been broken that day by some heartless boys. Then it was that she and I pledged that if ever we got to be human beings we would treat all the cats kindly.
“Would you believe me?” Mrs. Freeman spoke with a manifestation of much interest. “One day I went to a theosophist meeting in Detroit, and there I met the woman who had been the alley cat with the broken leg. The recognizance was mutual. She was keeping her promise and goodness knows I am not being kind to the cats solely because of that promise, but for the reason that I enjoy caring for them.”
Winston-Salem [NC] Journal 22 September 1911: p. 2
Not only was Mrs. Freeman a cat philanthropist, she was a fine judge of cat-flesh.
Mrs. Freeman is a theosophist, fairly wealthy and perfectly sane. She was president of the Detroit cat club before coming to Kansas City, and at the recent western poultry and cat show exhibited twenty-seven prize cats, among them being Raffles, seventh descendant of Gramma, the cat made famous in a book by Dr. John Owen… [“Gramma:” The Autobiography of a Cat. 1899]
“When I walk through the streets stray cats turn and follow me. They know that I, too, once led the cat life.” Daily Illinois State Journal [Springfield, IL] 30 December 1910: p. 12
Or possibly they smelled 27 prize cats on her person.
One wonders what Mr. Freeman thought of his wife’s menagerie? Their’s was a touching love story:
More than 20 years ago Harriet Mellus and Charles Lattimer Freeman were lovers in Detroit. Young Mr. Freeman was in business there with his uncle George Lattimer. Everybody supposed that a wedding was to result. But a quarrel ensued. Whether it was about cats or not nobody knows, but Mr. Freeman came to Kansas City and Miss Mellus stayed in Detroit. He brought with him a photograph of his sweetheart.
Two decades later word came to Miss Mellus that Charles Freeman was sick. Now Miss Mellus had almost as great a feeling for her fellow-man as she had for her fellow-cat, so she packed up and came to Kansas City to nurse Mr. Freeman. On his dresser she found the photograph which had had brought with him 20 years before. So they were married. Mr. Freeman is a successful business man [real estate] and has a beautiful home which Mrs. Freeman is now using as an old cats’ home or feline hotel. Kalamazoo [MI] Gazette 24 December 1910: p. 9
The last sentence suggests grounds for the Freeman’s divorce, which was finalized on 18 December 1915. Mrs. Freeman seems to have gone to that great Cattery in the Sky in 1918 where, we hope, she found a nice warm place behind the stove.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.