Tag Archives: Eugenics

Mary Weston and O A Merritt-Hawkes – a Dilemma of Identity?

7611011883Mary Weston wrote three books in the 1940s: a successful travel book informing wartime Britons about the homeland of their American allies; a novel about a woman gaining wisdom from experience; and a memoir of her early life entitled One American Child.

Only the last of these revealed that she had written three previous books under the name of O.A. Merritt-Hawkes, which was almost her real name.

Onèra Amelia Merritt was born on February 15th 1877 in New York City.  Throughout her childhood the family’s financial circumstances seesawed between owning a string of ponies and scrubbing floors for a living.  As a child she was tomboyish and need-to-know bookish, unlike her sisters, and at about 13 was packed off to boarding school near London.  Clearly the experience was formative; she settled in England.

Early dreams of being a great actress were abandoned in favour of science.  She attended Fabian lectures in London, gained a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Zoology, and married a Birmingham dental surgeon.  In fact she married Richard John James Hawkes twice, once at a civil ceremony in Birmingham (1901) and again in a London church (1904).  Three children followed.

Sometimes she used her legal surname Hawkes, but most of her zoological research papers were published as by O.A. Merritt Hawkes, with or without a hyphen.  Under this name she also gave lectures for the Eugenics Education Society, wrote popular articles, broadcast some talks over BBC local radio, and produced three books about life and travel in Staffordshire, Persia and Mexico.  In the first book she described her family’s country-cottage retreat from weekday Birmingham, writing pleasantly of the Kinver area and her neighbours who included England’s last cave-dwellers.  However she gave very few details about her own life; this was to be typical of all her books, even her childhood memoir from which her real name is absent and in which her father’s name is not the one on her marriage certificates.

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