Friday, May 3, 2013

Peggy Parker, Girl Inventor

Peggy Parker, Girl Inventor
Ruby Lorriane Redford
Whitman, 1946

Genre: Realistic


Peggy Parker is a girl genius when it comes to mechanical gadgets. For example, the room that she and her mother share is full of mechanical apparatuses that Peggy has created, such as an automatic button that will put the window shade up or down and a gadget on the fireplace that will automatically start a fire. As the story opens Peggy is being honored for the second year in a row at the Dodson's banquet. She has made half a dozen time and labor saving devices for the plant and she is only 20 years old.

Peggy and her mom live in a small apartment since Joe, her brother, is in New Mexico. It costs so much to keep him in a sanatorium but he should be home in six months. It was lucky that an x-ray of all the boys at Pender High caught the spot on his lung. Their father died two years ago. They had moved northward and Peggy, who adjusted graduated, got a job at an airplane parts plant where their mother got a job as a stenographer. Along with her award Peggy is also getting a $500 bonus. She attends the banquet with Jerry Newton, a nice but non-mechanical fellow.

She returns home to find a letter from the sanatorium informing her that her brother is better and has to come home at once to make room for other patients. It is unfortunately midwinter and Peggy is concerned that if he comes home he will get sick again. If they have to move to a warmer climate Peggy is scared that she will have to leave the Dodson factory. Her mom has an idea. They can send Joe to his great uncle's plantation in the South until spring as he has been asked to visit before. They write to the great uncle the next day and quickly receive a telegram saying that their uncle has just died. A few days later they receive another message that informs them that the Pine Island plantation has been left to Peggy and Joe. Peggy’s mom thinks that their problems are solved but Peggy isn't too happy because she is now sure she's going to have to give up her job and be stuck on a boring island.

A few days later finds the family in Atlanta meeting up with Joe's train to head towards their new life. Joe informs Peggy that her mechanical mind will actually be a boom to the farming industry because everything is being turned to mechanical means of farming. When they get to Fair Port the driver who meets them, Ike, is the son of two people who worked for their uncle. They also meet Mr. Marshall, their uncle's friend and lawyer who turns out to be a handsome young man just out of law school who is the son of the local judge. They also discover some sad news. No actual farming has happened in the past few years. All they really are inheriting is the island and a house. Everything else went to a formal auction to pay off the funeral expenses. The house, while a mansion, is an utter disrepair.

Peggy wants to check out the farming equipment and discovers it is just as dismal. They have a few animals but they don't even have a tractor. Ben and their uncle did all of their farming the old-fashioned way. They don't even have a real working motorboat to get them back to the mainland—it has been allowed to rust over the years from no use. Ted Marshall is surprised to hear from Peggy that they plan to stay on and not sell the place. They refuse to sell because that is not what their uncle wanted. Trying to help them out, Ted invites them to see his father's plantation and their 15 machines. He also has a 19-year-old sister, Carol, who he wants Peggy to meet.

The family soon has a visitor, a man named Andrew Bateman from Gull Island, their nearest neighbor. He has stopped by to make a bid for their land before they sell it to anyone else. Peggy dislikes him immediately. Before leaving he warns them not to plant anything south of Waco Crick and Peggy remembers Ben saying that a lot of wild hogs roam there. Bateman offers one more time to buy up anything if they change their minds, especially that southern tract of land. Ben tells Joe that Bateman has been eyeing the island for a long time and that his uncle had always hated him. No one can understand why Bateman is so interested in that one piece of land.

Meanwhile, Peggy uses her mechanical skills to fix the motorboat and everyone heads out to see this southern tract of land. Teneh, Ben’s wife, goes with them because she swears she saw their uncle's ghost a few nights ago and refuses to be left alone. The area has a lot of timber and Peggy believes that they can sell this to finance their crop production.

The next day, Peggy is in town and runs into Bateman who once again asks them to name their price. He is disgusted when she denies him. He briefly even threatens her—“reckon you'll rue the day you make that decision.” She sees Ted who disappoints her when he says that she should probably just sell the land because they need the money for their farming. He does like her timber idea and offers to drive her to the pulp mill. The man in charge of the mill says that he can't help because he's already low on workers but if Peggy can get the timber to him he will buy it. Peggy decides that they will build their own barge and she will advertise for her own workers and provide them with transportation and lunch.

Bateman comes nosing around and wonders were Peggy got the labor from. Later that afternoon a number of the workers quit because the island is supposedly haunted. While Peggy is certain that Bateman scared the men off, Joe is certain that he didn't see Bateman talking to any of the workers. That evening there is a bad storm and Joe discovers their barge missing in the morning. There are signs pointing to it being stolen.

They visit Ted who takes them to his house where his father will probably let them borrow his own barge because this is an emergency. His grandfather believes that Bateman would possibly want the land to build a road connecting the two islands. Luckily, with the borrowed barge, work continues on the timber. One day a man, Luke Harper, is working on the top of the tree when the other men say he just disappeared. This causes more men to leave.

Peggy is invited by Ted and Carol to go to a yacht club dance. At the dance Peggy sees a waiter who looks exactly like the missing Luke. Ted tries to talk to the club's owner about the waiter while Bateman's son, Andrew Junior, tries to get Peggy to dance with him. He then has the audacity to propose to her which she flat out refuses. Ted tells her that Andrew proposed because it would be one way for the family to get Pine Island. The owner of the club says that the waiter is new and is supposedly named Mose Wallace.

The next today, Joe excitedly tells Peggy that he thinks he has found a way that someone could get from their island to Gull Island even though it is supposedly impossible. He discovered that at low tide a secret plot of land is made visible. Even more shocking it is a man-made path out of shells. He believes that Andrew made it so that he could reach the island without a boat. Peggy makes Joe pay off some of the past taxes on the island so that they have less of a chance of losing the land. She also decides that she might look into getting a cotton gin. Later that night and Andrew Junior visits. Joe accidentally lets it be known that Peggy has been working on a new invention in her shop that could bring lots of money. The next morning Peggy discovers her invention is missing. She is very sad because she was going to use the money as a down payment for the cotton picker.

Spring soon passes into summer and luckily Peggy's missing invention came to nothing as whoever stole it didn't try to cash in on it. Soon a Mr. Meyer visits them. He says that he saw their ads for labor repeatedly and he recently took a cotton picker from a heavily mortgaged estate and is willing to sell it for cheap. They get to ride it and test it out. He is selling it for $1,500. He convinces Peggy to talk with the bank about a loan and the possibility of putting up part of the land as security. He convinces her to put up the land south of Waco Crick. While it is risky Peggy decides to buy the cotton picker. The day that Mr. Meyer delivers it is raining. He picks a row to make sure that it works and it seems fine so Peggy pays him. The next morning when they get to work they notice that all of the batches they pick are dirty. Peggy knows that Mr. Meyer will claim they did something wrong because he physically tested it to make sure it worked. She knows that she is been scammed. Joe wants Peggy to try to fix it but she is wary of harming it even more. She heads to the mainland to find that Mr. Meyer is gone for parts unknown. Ike says that he took Meyer to the train station and that he said he was headed to Savannah and he looked mighty pleased with himself. He says that he also saw Meyer talking to Bateman. Peggy makes an appointment with Frank Dillard, a picker mechanic, in the hope that he can help. Dillard mentions that Sheriff Johnson was put into office by a political ring with a dark history. Peggy now understands why the sheriff hasn't been of much help him. It seems as if Bateman owns the whole town.

Dillard finds the broken parts of the machine but he doesn't think he can fix it. Peggy calls the manufacturer to see if she can get a replacement part but never hears back from them so she decides to take the matter into her own hands. She notices that the part appears to have been sabotaged. As she thinks of a solution Joe informs her that he believes he knows why Bateman wants their land. He thinks that the soil south of Waco Crick is valuable. Joe is going to take a soil sample to a chemist. Ted returns from a vacation and yells at Peggy for being stupid enough to be duped into buying the cotton gin, but she's feeling pretty good because she believes that she has created an even better cleaning component for the picker.

Peggy soon receives bad news. It turns out that Bateman owns shares of the bank that they borrowed from and if they can’t pay their loan back in 30 days he will get their land. The soil test comes back and shows that the soil is high in phosphate. Peggy also eventually gets a letter from the parts manufacturer that informs her that those models aren't even made anymore. As if it seems that nothing can get worse a hurricane hits and destroys most of their cotton crop. When Ted comes to see how they fared after the storm he is upset to see Peggy apparently obsessed with the part she's attempting to make. He finally confesses that he loves her and says that he would do anything for her. She tells him that she needs a field to test her new machine on. He offers up his father's farm.

When she finally gets to test for machine everyone is happy at how much of an improvement Peggy's cleaner is. Her new component puts even the newest models to shame. However, Peggy is not happy because she believes she can make it even better.

Days pass until it is Friday the 13th and people from the picker company have come to see a demonstration of Peggy's model. Peggy hopes that it will work as their loan is due the following day. Unknown to her, Ted's father tested the machine once again and it worked perfectly. Coming to the demo are a lot of company individuals in the farming business. He hopes there will be a bidding war over her invention. The test again is a success creating a bidding war with an offer of $1,800. At the celebration dinner, everyone is shocked to hear that Peggy has declined a job offer and Ted announces that he wants to marry her. She now has the money to pay off the loan and then some. She is informed that while she was so busy with her invention some people from a fertilizer plant showed up wanting to buy the land south of Waco Crick. It turns out that Judge Marshall believed in her invention and he actually already paid off their loan so that Joe could begin negotiating mining rights of the land.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The main issues in this story are those of gender expectations and a few racist moments. The gender expectations tend to focus around Peggy and her very usual talents for all things mechanical. Let’s look at some examples, some of which are positive and forward thinking while some are of the “girls should be in the home” mindset.

Page 15:
The Dodson officials gave every encouragement to inventive ability. Before Peggy had been with them a year, she made a suggestion that saved them a hundred hours a month on the assembly line. When she invented a gadget that doubled the efficiency of her own machine, she received personal commendation from the president himself. “It's not often a 19-year-old girl shows such inventive genius,” Mr. Frank Dodson said at the annual banquet for the employees, when he was giving Peggy her first award.

Page 17:
“Peggy should have been a boy,” Mr. Parker had often said.
There was nothing she liked better then to don a pair of overalls, tear down an automobile motor, and put it together again. In spite of that, Peggy had a girl's fondness for pretty clothes and gay parties. Joe, on the other hand, was the retiring sort. He was satisfied to stay at home with his books and painting, since he was not strong enough to enter school sports. They were glad he had such tastes now. It gave him something to occupy his time and thoughts during the long months of convalescence.

Page 58:
Judge Marshall – “I've heard you're one of those new-age girls with lots of brilliant accomplishments already to your credit.”

Page 61:
After supper Peggy offered to help Teneh clear the table and wash dishes. The old Negress seemed shocked at the mere suggestion. “Dat my wuk, li'l Miss. You jes set dere by de fire and toast yo' toes atter yo' long journey.”

Page 68:
The man laughed rudely. “Farmin's no work for women and young ones,” he burst forth. “It takes a lifetime of experience to make good on the East Coast farms.”
“We're sure of that,” admitted Mrs. Parker. “We wouldn't go into it if we didn't have a very experienced person to take charge.”
“You mean old Ben? Why, that nigger's got one foot in the grave already.” . . . “What does that old man know about modern farmin'? He's still usin' the same methods his grandpaw used before the Civil War.”

Page 90:
“You’re different from any girl I ever met. I can't get used to a girl who likes machinery. My sister doesn't know the first thing about anything like that.”
“The war has proved that a girl can be just about as good at mechanics as a man. Soon as I get things sort of lined up on the island, I'm going to rig up a shop and go ahead with an idea I started working out for Dodson.”

Page 134:
“You'll laugh when you hear what I thought you were like.” (Carol)
“Do tell me.”
“I pictured you taking long strides, your hair rolled up tight, your voice loud and mannish.”
Peggy did laugh then. “Well my appearance would match my interests, eh?”

Page 138 – conversation with Bateman Jr.
“Ah, come off it now! Why does a girl like you want to worry your pretty head with work? If you'd marry me, you never have to get those pretty hands dirty with work again.”
“I can't imagine anything more boring than never to work again.”
“You sure don't look like the kind of girl they say you are.” He laughed. “Never saw one who likes to monkey with machinery.”
“Then you must've been asleep as long as Rip Van Winkle. The war produced literally thousands of women with a flair for mechanics.”

Page 149 – The sheriff – “Women and young ones got no business trying to farm a big place like that anyhow. You'd be better off to sell out and move to town.”

Page 162 – “They seem to have a notion in that little old town of Fair Point that a woman isn't cut out for anything but housekeeping. They give me a pain!”

Page 170-171:
Peggy didn't care a rap for what Carol had told her about women from the best families not going into the fields. The war years had taught her that there was nothing to be ashamed of an honest work anywhere. Maybe she could help break up those foolish ideas still held by some women of the South's first families.

Page 198 – Mr. Dillard – “Believe I did hear something about your inventin' things.” He laughed. “Never thought a woman with that kind of turn would be pretty, gray eyed miss.”

Page 248 -
“She’s already promised me a dozen or more improvements on machines I have here at the plantation,” said Mr. Marshall. “And now that she's going to be my daughter, I'll see that she gets to work.”
As Ted slipped his hand over hers under the tablecloth, Peggy thought one heart couldn't hold all the happiness she felt. She was glad there was another to share it.

And the racist comments:

Ben, Ike's father
Ike's racist dialect:

“Yassum. Sho do. My Paw and Maw live dere. I'se Ike Grubbs—son o' Ben and Teneh Grubbs. Dey wuz borned and live all dey life on Pine Island wid Mr. Joe and he fambly” (p. 39)

“I knowed it wus y'all de minute you step off dat train. De young Massa dere is de very spit of his paw” (p. 40).

 “Dat you, Mr. Ted, wid my new white folks?” asked the old Negro on reaching the porch (p. 49).

 “Yas'm, I sho got a good son. Many's de time when rations git low he turn up here wid somep'n fer us to eat, so Massa don't never know 'fore he die how low us wuz” (p. 50).

Page 140 –
“You know, Peg, you could easily be mistaken. People who are accustomed to lots of Negros have difficulty in distinguishing one from another.”
“But I went all the way from Fair Port to Pine Island with him that day he started work. I believe Luke did have a mustache and kinky hair. This man's hair looks smoother, and he's clean-shaven,” Peggy replied.
“He could easily change all that. They often get their hair pressed for special occasions,” explained Ted.

Page 148 – The sheriff – “You better forget the whole matter,” advised the county official, a note of impatience in his voice. He bent and shot a stream of tobacco juice into the spittoon at the right of his desk. “Most niggers are slippery as eels when it comes to pinning anything like that on 'em.”

Page 164:
“Peggy, it seems rather certain the thief was a white person.”
“What makes you think that?”
“These Negros around here wouldn't realize the value of an invention—or know how to cash in on it if it was stolen.”


  1. We had this book at home when I was growing up. I started it several times but could never get into it. Didn't it start with her bed-making machine? Now I wish I had read it. My sister probably still has it somewhere in her basement.

    1. You are close--it starts out with an invention of Peggy's where she pulls a lever and it starts the fireplace in the bedroom enabling a warm fire to start so she doesn't have to get out of bed and walk across the chilly floor to start the fire herself!