Now that we understand a little of how the story of this woman was collected, let me introduce you to Mary Lee Harris herself and her life…
Mary Lee Harris was born in Malvern, Arkansas, in 1912. On February 9, 1928, at age 15, Mary married Isaiah Harris but separated only a few years later. Mary never divorced Isaiah Harris, and the couple had no children. Mary would later record seeing a man named Willie in her journals and many of her earlier correspondences included letters from various gentlemen, one in particular named Ike Aiken.
Her known family members include her mother, Georgia Lee Larkin, her grand-mother, Harriet Mason and her great-grandmother, Violet Canady. Violet Canady was born in 1840 as a slave and a child of slaves but at age 25, after the slaves were freed, she was able to she marry and have children in freedom. Violet Canady died in 1912. Harriet Mason was born in 1876 and died in 1954. Georgia Lee Larkin, Mary’s mother, was born in Louann, Arkansas August 3, 1897. Georgia married Mr. Willie Stephens at the age of fifteen but did not stay with him for her life. Willie Stephens died on March 26, 1928. They did have one child – Mary Lee Harris. Later, Georgia married Reverend R.Y. Larkin and stayed with him until he died in 1953. Georgia was a member and served at the Highland Baptist Church and was frequently called “Mother” in correspondence. She died July 25, 1973.
Mary Lee Harris had a bad leg which she tried to fix with surgery, but this was unsuccessful. She suffered with her ulcerated leg from the 1940s through the rest of her life. In her early life, she lived with her mother in Malvern, until her mother married Reverend Larkin. She then moved to live with her grandmother until her grandmother, Harriet Mason, suffered a stroke. Both moved back in with her mother until her grandmother died in 1954. Reverend Larkin died in 1953. She lived in the house that her mother passed down to her. After her mother died in 1973 she rarely left the house, electing instead to have her groceries delivered to her home. She grew more crippled and tried not to walk on her bad leg whenever possible. She did have a few medicinal remedies, such as a jar of mud dauber wasps nest, which put on open sores or wounds. Her makeup collection suggests she cared about her appearance when leaving the home. Mary Lee Harris died in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1986, during the terrible heat wave that summer. Fortunately, her letters, diary and various artifacts survive to this day so that we can tell her story.
As of today, I have officially processed the collection and moved these documents from a crude looking box to professional document boxes, and labeled them appropriately so that future researchers can come and find these primary documents from Mary Lee Harris. If you are curious, come by the Arkansas Studies Institute building and head up to the second floor research room and check out the collection: UALR.MS.0245. See you there!