Wednesday, June 7, 2023

I.W.D. Peters (1870s?-1931)-The Second Woman Author

Née Idella W. Donnally
Aka Ida Donnally Peters, Ida D. Peters

Author, Telephone & Telegraph Operator
Born November 27, 1870s?, Callaghan, Alleghany County, Virginia
Died March 14, 1931, at home, Chastleton Hotel, Washington, D.C.

If you're going to write a biographical sketch of Idella W. Donnally Peters, you'll have to gather and assemble scattered bits of information and not rely on her obituary ("Mrs. Ida D. Peters, Writer, Is Buried" in the Washington, D.C., Evening Star, March 16, 1931, page 7). She was not born on a plantation near Monticello or Oak Hill in Virginia. Instead, she came into the world at Callaghan, a humble place situated in a narrow valley in western Virginia, in the shadows of mountains. Her father was not a doctor. Instead, he was a glovemaker. She is supposed to have attended Powell School in Richmond, Virginia, as well as Women's College of Richmond and what is now called Columbia University in New York City. Some of that can be squared with her work as a telephone and telegraph operator in Richmond. Then again, maybe it can't quite. She was born on November 27. Of that we can be sure. Her obituary doesn't give her age or the year of her birth, but her headstone does, as do census records. She was almost certainly not born in the 1880s, however. More likely, she was born in the early 1870s, possibly in the period 1871 to 1873.

Her father was Allan Donnally (1831-ca. 1905), who, on May 31, 1861, at age thirty, enlisted as a private in Company K, 14th Virginia Cavalry, in service of the Confederate States of America. He served for six months and was discharged on November 22, 1861. Donnally was a farmhand, a glovemaker, and a store clerk. In 1868, he married Margaret E. Dickson. In 1870, they were living in Covington Township, Alleghany County, Virginia. Callaghan, the place of Idella's birth, is in Alleghany County. I suspect she was born in about 1873, possibly a little earlier, possibly in about 1871. I base that on her later employment, in 1889 and after, as a telephone and telegraph operator, a job she could hardly have held at age six. She had an older brother, Charles E. Donnally. He may have been the same Elwood Donnally who died in November 1877 in Alleghany County at age eight.

I haven't found the Donnally family in the 1880 census. In 1888, Allan Donnally was working as a clerk in Richmond. He entered the Old Soldiers Home in Richmond in the 1890s or in 1900. He left that place in April 1900. The last record I have found for Allan Donnally is a census record: in June 1900, he was living in the county poorhouse at Boiling Spring in Alleghany County. He was a widower. An unsupported source on the Internet says that he died in about 1905.

So it may have been that Idella W. Donnally Peters was an only child and that she lost both of her parents when she was still young. There is so much we don't know about her or her family, including something as simple as her middle name. She lost a foot in a childhood accident and walked with a crutch. In 1889, 1891, 1892, and 1900, she was listed in the Richmond city directory as Ida W. Donnally, a telephone operator, with an address at Union Passenger Depot, 320 East Franklin Street. On February 16, 1902, she married (Emmett) Eugene Peters (1880-1933), a druggist, in Baltimore, Maryland. She was employed at the time by Western Union Telegraph Company in the same drugstore where her new husband worked.

In 1912, the Peters moved to Washington, D.C. In the census of 1920, they were enumerated in that city. Ida was employed as a writer for magazines. In 1930, they were in the same city, and she called herself an author of books. Ida D. Peters' obituary says that her early stories were "humorous Chinese sketches." I have no idea what that means. I have found mention of two of her books, Colonial Children and Girls of Long Ago (1930), the latter illustrated by Mabel Pugh (pictured below). She also wrote nonfiction, as well as short stories for children, and her "Sketches of Historic Personages" were broadcast on the radio. She was a member and district auditor of the District of Columbia League of American Pen Women. She died on March 14, 1931, at home in the Chastleton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and was buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, also in the nation's capital. Her husband died exactly two years later, on March 14, 1933, after having fallen out of a barn loft and fracturing his skull. They are at rest now, side by side, as their shared headstone reads, "Until the Glorious Resurrection."

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I discovered the identity of I.D.W. Peters by looking at The FictionMags Index. There is a story--a single story--listed there by Ida Donnally Peters, "A Lover of Freedom," which appeared in Detective Story Magazine in the issue of June 29, 1920. Just two entries above that is the lone story by I.W.D. Peters, "The Gallows," which was in the inaugural issue of Weird Tales, March 1923. That was the connection, and it led after a little research to an answer to the question of "Who Was I.W.D. Peters?" Now we know. Thanks to The FictionMags Index.

* * *

I have a few more credits for her:

  • "The Girl of His Dreams" (short story) in the Boston Herald, Aug. 6, 1911, magazine section, p. 9.
  • "Woman: The Same Yesterday, Today and Forever" (Bible story) in The Woman's Magazine, St. Louis Star and Times, Jan. 16, 1912, p. 13.
  • "The Chinese Language" (nonfiction) in the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat, Sept. 7, 1912, p. 22.
  • "All on a Summer Night" (short story) in the Nashville Banner, Dec. 9, 1916, p. 17.

These works were probably all syndicated.

* * *

I.W.D. Peters' Story in Weird Tales
"The Gallows" (Mar. 1923)

Further Reading
"Mrs. Ida D. Peters, Writer, Is Buried" in the Washington, D.C., Evening Star, March 16, 1931, page 7.

I.W.D. Peters' Story:

"The Gallows" is yet another prison story, another story of marital infidelity, and another story of murder. It's told in the first person by a man named Traylor, who has killed a man with whom his wife was having an affair. Traylor is waiting to be hanged for his crime, and he wants to die.  He hopes that his wife's efforts to save him will fail. The story closes with a statement made by the prison warden, another example of an introduction or closing to a story that helps to illuminate or explain it.

"The Gallows" is brief, a mere three pages long and the first of what Weird Tales called a "five-minute story." It's a crime story, a love story (love gone wrong), and a confessional. There aren't any weird elements in it at all. The first issue of Weird Tales has several nonfiction fillers. We might as well say that it has several fictional fillers, too, "The Gallows" being one of them. A magazine made leaner would have left them all out.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for pinning this one down - I had an internal note wondering if Ida Donnally Peters was the same as I.W.D. Peters and it's great to have it confirmed.