Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?
Jo, whose childhood nickname was “Peppy,” lost a lot of her pep as the children came — a second daughter, Francine, who died in infancy while Peary was in the Arctic in 1899, and a son, Robert, Jr., in 1903 — and, as children do, caught the measles and scarlet fever, or cried incessantly, or needed new clothes. Jo’s letters to her husband began to exhibit the same peevish tone as his mother’s, as both women realized that their places in Bert Peary’s heart would always be secondary.
Had I known how matters stood when we were first married things might be very different now. But I do not feel equal to the separation from you again…(1893)
It is useless for me to say take care of yourself for my sake because that has lost its effect long ago but for the sake of the thing you love best in this world. success and glory, you ought to be careful…(1898)
Surely God will not take (Marie) from me too. She is all I have left to live for. I mean the only one to whom it makes any real difference…(March 1900, after Francine’s death)
You will wish yourself back with your sleek fat Eskimo woman after you have seen me… (April 1900)
When she wrote that last message, Jo was apparently unaware of her husband’s relationship with the Eskimo woman Alakasingwah, who was to bear him two sons. When she learned of it later that year, from Alakasingwah herself, it must have been a stunning blow. It is interesting that in her letters to Peary up to 1900, she generally saluted him as “My darling” or “My husband.” Afterwards, she adopted a cooler, oddly nostalgic tone: “My dear Old Man” (1902), “My dear Bert” (1904), “My dear old sweetheart” (1904).
As for Peary, he was capable of writing passionate love letters, and did, but there is a distracted quality to much of his correspondence with Jo that she was quick to notice. In 1905, for example, he wrote:
Am very sorry I can be with you only in spirit on your birthday, but you will be in my thoughts, you and the years during which you have doubled the joy and value of life for me,’ and I wish you many happy returns, for your sake, for my sake, for the children’s sake. My birthday present I shall deliver in person when I give you your birthday dinner….
The last line is followed by a penciled note — Never did — in Jo’s hand.
Still, she seems to have come to terms with this infuriating husband of hers, and where passion might have died, a deeper form of companionable love emerged. When she heard of his final triumph in 1909, she wrote to him: