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Jack London State Historic Park
Photograph from Jack London State Historic Park
Courtesy of the Sonoma County Library

Charmian Kittridge London

Charmian Kittridge was the woman that became Jack London’s “mate woman” and life partner. She was born November 27, 1871 in Wilmington, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles.   Her Mother died when she was 6 years old and she was raised by her Aunt Netta and Uncle Roscoe Eames in Oakland, CA. 

Home schooled by Netta, Charmian studied literature, geography, and art.  She had a genuine love for music and had the discipline to train herself to become an accomplished pianist, organist and singer.  Netta instilled the ideals of feminism, vegetarianism, socialism and a modern outlook on sexual activities.  

Charmian learned shorthand and typing skills from her Uncle, skills that would later help Jack in his writing career. She attended Mills College and supported herself by working as secretary to  Susan B. Mills, President of the college.  Her motto―”work as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Charmian was ambitious, both socially and intellectually and worked hard to advance herself.  She went to work as a secretary for a shipping firm in San Francisco and earned enough money to support herself and travel to Europe.  For this time period, it was very unusual for a woman to work in an office and be so independent.  Charmian had a deep love of horses and was a woman of great physical courage.  She rode her horse cross-saddle when women were riding English side-saddle and became an out-spoken advocate defending it.

Charmian and Jack fell in love in the summer of 1903 at a time when Jack’s marriage to Bessie Maddern  had fallen apart.  Jack was impressed that while Charmian knew domestic arts she refused to domesticate her mind and was better read than most of his friends.  She was the comrade that he sought and game for adventure but not ultra feminine.  They were married on November 20, 1905 shortly after Jack’s divorce was final.  Their marriage was successful and lasted until Jack’s death in 1916.

 

Charmian fit perfectly into Jack’s life with her spirit of adventure and fun. She became Jack’s “mate woman,” and was his steady companion on many of his adventures and his working life.  On several occasions during the cruise of the Snark, the entire crew became ill and Charmian became the skipper, cook and nurse of the crew to keep the ship afloat.  

Charmian and Jack’s dream of parenthood never materialized.  Charmian became pregnant twice.  One child whom they named Joy survived only a few hours and the other child was lost due to a miscarriage.

After Jack’s death in 1916, Charmian committed herself to saving Beauty Ranch and promoting Jack’s legacy.  She sold his writings and worked with the movie industry to convert Jack’s books into films.  She travelled frequently to Europe to work with agents, publishers and translators. She became a well-known personality in her own right and never remarried.

She built her new residence 1919-1926 and named it “The House of Happy Walls” (HOHW) to display artifacts related to Jack and their happy life together.   Charmian wrote three books – Our Hawaii; The Log of the Snark; and a biography The Book of Jack London.  She also wrote a daily journal (diary) 1900-1947.  

Charmian died January 14, 1955 at the age of 83 and her ashes joined those of her beloved Jack  under the rock on a little knoll in Jack London State Park.  After her death, Irving Shepard, her heir, facilitated Charmian’s wishes to donate her House of Happy Walls and 39 acres to the State of California.  Her wishes were fulfilled in October of 1960 when Jack London State Park was officially opened to the public.

(1954—Charmian typewritten note—Huntington files)
“My love for Jack is a sort of worship.  Not a fetish sort of thing.   It is a grand emotion—a high passion.  I seem to love, as always, as in a beaming light of him.  Whom better could one worship?  I say it to a friend of his.  He was so grand.  His light is immortal to me—even if he is not.  I think you recognize the feeling.  It preludes despair or true loneliness.  It HAS BEEN and the after-glow is, and shall be forever.  I know he would weep should I miss one thrill of living.  Rather, would he rejoice in that he better fitted me for life and living.

Cheerful, I rise from my bed.  I possess worthwhileness, whether worthwhileness really be or not.  I will to create worthwhileness for myself, while I may last in the flesh.  I will not die while I am still living.  I will not to die by moments, by inches.  I will to die all at once, and completely.

Is that a worn and tattered creed?  I think not.”

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