MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

MacEdward Leach - Personal Life


MacEdward Leach Fishing (MUNFLA Photo # P10760

MacEdward Leach was born in 1892 (or 1896, or 1897--it is rumoured that he misrepresented his age to avoid forced retirement) in Bridgeport, Illinois, the son of Edward and Lilly (Madding) Leach. He entered the University of Illinois, where he was trained in the study of medieval literature and philology and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1916. Leach's interests mainly lay in medieval literature. His interest in folklore may have been spurred by the knowledge that many, if not most, early romances and epics entered the canon of medieval literature via oral traditions. Versions of these tales, as scholars discovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, are still to be found in the repertoires of storytellers from a number of traditions.

His friends, colleagues, and students shared stories about him (published in the Journal of American Folklore 81, 1968) at the time of his death. Roger Abrahams recounted that "I can never forget his marvelous classes. But when I think of him, it is not of Mac in the classroom, but on the farm, shooing the ducks, bringing in the wood, sitting around the fire talking. That is what I loved most, the talking." Russell K. Alspach remembered his "immense fund of tales...If I questioned a tale, he would just grin. The story, for instance, of the frog that pulled itself up Mac's fishing line 'hand over hand' and, when it was close to the fisherman, gave him a quick, reproachful look and leaped back into the water." Richard M. Dorson described "the dignity and humanity of his presence, and the natural eloquence of his talk...the deep and sensitive understanding of people, whether people as folk or people as students. There was the feeling for the outdoors, for boating, for an independent life on a homestead far from the crowd. There was the tolerance. Everyone likes to show off his mud pies, he used to say, and he realized that folklore was his, and our, mud pie."

He married twice, first to Alice May (Maria) Doane, with whom he had a son, Donald; and second to Nancy Rafetto, with whom he also had a son, Douglas. MacEdward Leach died on July 11th, 1967.

Leach's first wife, Maria Doane Leach (1892-1977) from Nova Scotia, was also a folklorist of international stature. She is probably best known as the editor of the Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1949-50, 1972). In addition, she published on narrative and legend, belief, and riddles. Her books include The Soup Stone (1954), The Rainbow Book of American Tales and Legends (1958), Noodles, Nitwits, and Numbskulls (1961), How People Sang the Mountains Up (1967), Riddle Me, Riddle Me Ree (1970), and Whistle in the Graveyard (1974). Her connection to the people of Cape Breton undoubtedly influenced MacEdward's decision to work there in the late 40s. He often said that Nova Scotia was the place he liked best.

Nancy Leach: Photo from the Leach Collection P10761We have, thus far, been able to find out little about Nancy Rafetto Leach, his one-time student who became his second wife in 1950, the very year of his first visit to Newfoundland. She accompanied him on his travels and was a lively participant in the conversations he had with Newfoundlanders. His photo collection contains many snapshots of her, including the one to the right of this text. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1952 for a dissertation entitled "Edith Wharton: Critic of American Life and Literature."

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