Catherine Horn's life is one for the booksWaynesville's oldest book club celebrates its oldest member
The Waynesville Book Club, the oldest book club in Waynesville, had a very special meeting Wednesday, May 14, at the home of Lyn Nygren. Catherine Horn, affectionately known by her friends as Kay, was honored as the book club’s oldest member during “Kay Horn Day.”
A celebratory social time was observed with fresh-made strawberry shortcake, homemade lemonade and hot coffee. Then book club member Jane Cole, a member of Friends of the Library and the Shady Ladies Quilting Group, interviewed Horn.
Horn was born Oct. 28, 1914, in St. Joseph, Missouri. After her and her sisters were born, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where her father was the superintendent of the telegraph office of the Chicago, Burlington and Qunicy Railroad.
She graduated high school in 1931, during the worst part of the Great Depression.
“It was really very tough, and I don’t think people realize today how hard it was on people,” she said. “I didn’t realize it at the time because my father had a good job. We had a nice house, but we didn’t have a lot of money.”
While several of her neighbors in Downers Grove, a suburb of Chicago, didn’t have any food, she was fortunate to find work at Marshall Field, an upscale department store in Chicago.
“It was the summer after my high school graduation and I was hired as a sales clerk to work part time during my lunch hour,” said Horn. “I worked from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and I got $5. In 1931. It was good money, really. By Christmastime, I was working from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week and I got $2 a day.”
In 1936, Horn entered a contest for young girls who “were to appear on the radio and give an extemporaneous talk for 1 minute,” she said. She was one of three young women who won and were given a job at the Chicago Tribune where she worked in the advertising department.
“When I was first there I would take ads over the telephone — want ads,” said Horn. “We had such a busy department. In those days, people would all rent rooms. Today, you have columns of houses for sale and apartments to rent, but in those days you had columns of rooms to rent. People who had an extra bedroom would try to rent it so that they could get some extra money to put some food on the table.”
She married her husband, Arthur, in 1938 at the age of 23 and they had two sons.
Horn recounted her years at the Chicago Tribune, working during a time of great social change. When asked how she, a woman in the workplace, was treated during a time of gender inequality, she said she “was always treated very well.”
“The Tribune was a very old-fashioned kind of a place,” said Horn. “Col. McCormick was the owner of the Chicago Tribune when I worked there, and he was a great respecter of women, but he didn’t think they were equal to men.”
And she talked about her time working with Leanita McClain, an African American journalist best known for her commentary on race and politics during the 1980s. McClain was briefly married to Clarence Page, a nationally known journalist, syndicated columnist and current senior member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
“She worked part-time for me as a copy reader and she was very good,” said Horn. “She got her degree and she wanted to go to Milwaukee … but I persuaded her go down to our newsroom and have an interview. They gave her a job … trying to ease black people into the white culture of the newspaper business. We employed a lot of black people and they weren’t always comfortable. She was very good at it.”
Unbeknownst to her coworkers, McClain suffered from depression through most of her life and committed suicide in 1984.
“It was very sad … We feel that people have made great strides, but at that time they were just starting to make those strides,” said Horn. “And the people that worked to try to make it come out were hardworking, good people. Clarence Page was one of those people, and Leanita was too, but she wasn’t strong enough to go against the culture.”
Horn and her husband moved to Waynesville Jan. 1, 1978, and she still lives in the house they bought together; they were married 54 years.
These days she enjoys reading, socializing with her friends and being an active member of the book club. She turns 100 this October, but her wit and sense of humor are still as sharp as a tack.
“If I live, I’ll be 100,” said Horn. “Like my grandmother used to say, ‘If I live, I’ll see you in the morning,’” she added, laughing.