queen victoria kelly

My great-grandmother, Queen Victoria Kelly, left this magazine behind. Physical culture! July 1890. It must have been her mother’s as she was born in 1889. My grandfather (1 of 9 siblings) kept a number of them, and my mother gave this to me last month.

Queen Victoria’s (my mother claims this was a common name in the day) father owned a monument (gravestone) company he founded in Johnston, PA, in 1873. It stayed in the Kelly family, it seems, until 2011. The business and family money were given entirely to her brothers, leaving her to searing poverty. Queen Victoria married a coal miner and she died in the birth of her ninth child when my grandfather was sixteen. He was sent to California and Oregon with the CCCs shortly after.

There was a portrait of her (I recall it being much larger) over the fireplace in my grandparents’ house. This is the only photo I can find, with my cousin, taken (by me) on December 25, 1990. My grandmother’s massive elephant collection stands on the mantle. We used to help her dust it.

In the decades that my parents worked themselves out of poverty (the 1950s-1970s, working no harder than their parents did), tax brackets on the affluent were high, never lower than 70%. And yes, apologists, most of those taxes were paid and the wealthy still had more than enough. This allowed for programs like the GI bill and VA home loans (my father was in Japan in WWII) that made a decent, modest life possible. These programs were often not available to people of color, a concession Democrats made to Republicans. Those were prosperous years for America? For a far larger number than today, yes. America is still prosperous. It’s wealth is simply concentrated at the top, and workers are aggressively denied a living wage. Wages for workers were also much higher in this period than today.

Piketty’s Inequality Story

Piketty’s Inequality Story

It is not a coincidence that my family worked their way out of poverty when income inequality was at it’s lowest, and started struggling again when it began to soar. But be clear: everyone, in poverty and out, always worked.

It’s one thing to believe you are superior and meritorious because you were born to tremendous access and luck, and therefore deserve to hoard 100 lifetimes worth of wealth and opportunity—or to admire or support those who do. It’s understandable. Our system rewards, superficially, for greed, delusion and narcissism, and creates pop-science to back it up.

It’s quite another to believe you do so with any sort of moral conscience or concern for democracy.

These are not simply ideas and concepts to me. They exist in my life as concrete numbers, as well as accessibility to the most basic of needs, which have impacted those close to me in the last few decades, especially since 2008.

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