Peggy Pond Church was born in the Territory of New Mexico in 1903 near Watrous, at a place known as Valmora. Her father was Ashley Pond Jr., the son of a wealthy Detroit attorney. He had been in Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders before falling ill with typhoid fever and coming to New Mexico to recuperate. Peggy’s mother, Hazel Hallett Pond, was the granddaughter of a former Arkansas governor who had retired to Mora Country to ranch.
Peggy’s roots may have been in northeastern New Mexico, but her destiny awaited on the Pajarito Plateau in the Jemez Mountains. In 1914, her father joined four other Detroit businessmen in opening the Pajarito Club, designed as an elite hunting and fishing retreat. The venture failed, but Ashley Pond remained on the plateau to found a more successful operation in 1917—the Los Alamos Ranch School.
Peggy attended boarding schools in California and Connecticut, all the while angry with her father for designing his school for boys only. She had a love of horses and the outdoors and would have gladly traded places with her younger brother who was a student at the ranch school. Peggy had a younger sister as well, and their childhood was one of unique freedom. They were allowed to ride their horses through Pajarito Canyon, play in the cliff dwellings, build fires and roast apples and explore ruins. The sense of independence coupled with the isolation of the plateau nurtured Peggy’s keen sense of observation. At an early age she felt the need to express her thoughts in poetry, writing her first poem at age thirteen.
By the time she entered Smith College, Peggy had won awards for her poetry and was achieving recognition. Although she loved college life, she was homesick for New Mexico, and when the chance came to marry a young master at the Los Alamos Ranch School, she jumped at the opportunity to return to the Pajarito Plateau. She married Fermor Spencer Church in 1924, and they raised three sons at the school. During that time Peggy published two volumes of poetry and an award-winning children’s book, The Burro of Angelitos. She was a respected member of the Santa Fe writers’ colony despite living thirty-five miles away. Her first two books, Foretaste and Familiar Journey, were among the seventeen Santa Fe Writers’ Editions, now highly collectible. Her success and happiness on the plateau were abruptly uprooted in 1942 when the government took over the school for the top secret Manhattan Project. Distraught and somewhat bitter, the family moved to Taos, and in 1946 Peggy published Ultimatum for Man, a volume of poems considered by many to be her best and strongest work. The poems arose from her pain over losing her beloved home and from her pacifist beliefs that collided with the development of the atomic bomb.
In the 1950s, Ferm found work as an engineer in California, and Peggy entered into Jungian analysis at Berkeley. At the same time, she completed what would become her most famous work and a southwestern classic, The House at Otowi Bridge. It was a dual memoir of Peggy and her friend Edith Warner, who had been the connection between the old world of the Pueblos and the ranch school and the new world of the scientists. It was a book of healing for the many who had been displaced and felt loss because of the war.
In 1960, Peggy and Ferm returned to Santa Fe, where they would live out their lives. In a certain irony, their three sons became scientists and engineers and worked at Sandia Laboratories. Ferm poured his energies into the Citizens for Clean Air and Water, and Peggy continued to write of the beauty of the land and her sensitive observations of life. She produced four more volumes of poetry and wrote a biographical work about Mary Austin, a grand dame of the early Santa Fe literary scene. In 1984, Peggy was honored with the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts in the category of literature. Shortly before her death in 1986, Peggy was named a Living Treasure of Santa Fe. She was a source of pride for her native state and had been justly rewarded for interpreting its beauty and for her contributions to its cultural heritage. Most likely, however, in her unassuming way, Peggy would have voiced her basic belief in a simple way—“It’s the land that wants to be said.”
Published Works by Peggy Pond Church
Foretaste (Rydal Press, Santa Fe Writers’ Editions, 1933)
Familiar Journey (Rydal Press, Santa Fe Writers’ Editions, 1936)
Ultimatum for Man (James Ladd Delkin, Stanford University, 1946)
New and Selected Poems (Ahsahta Press, Boise, 1976) *
The Ripened Fields: Fifteen Sonnets of a Marriage (The Lightning Tree, Santa Fe, 1978)
The Lament at Tsankawi Mesa (Thistle Press, Santa Fe, 1980)
A Rustle of Angels (Peartree Press, Denver, 1981)
Birds of Daybreak (William Gannon, Santa Fe, 1985)
This Dancing Ground of Sky (Red Crane Books, Santa Fe, 1993) *
Accidental Magic (Wildflower Press, Albuquerque, 2004) *
The House at Otowi Bridge (University of New Mexico Press, 1960) *
“On Building a Bridge” in New America (UNM, Spring 1979)
When Los Alamos was a Ranch School (with Fermor S. Church, Los Alamos Historical Society, 1976, 1998 Second Edition) *
The Burro of Angelitos (Suttonhouse, Ltd, London, 1936, Award Winner of the Julia Ellsworth Ford Foundation for Children’s Literature, 1937)
Wind’s Trail: The Early Life of Mary Austin (edited by Shelley Armitage, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 1990)
* Still in Print
At Home on the Slopes of Mountains (working title) upcoming biography of Peggy Pond Church by Sharon Snyder.
The House at Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church, UNM Press, 1960.
When Los Alamos was a Ranch School by Fermor S. Church and Peggy Pond Church, Los Alamos Historical Society, 1998.
Note: David Laird, librarian for the University of Arizona and noted force in Southwest literature, was the reviewer who called Peggy “the First Lady of New Mexican Poetry.”
“It is the land that wants to be said” is one of Peggy's most identifiable quotes.