Talking animals, wartime love letters, the DAR and murder…

December 23rd, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

All that in one post, you wonder? Well, yes, if it’s a post about the Clifford-Flanders Family Collection. We’ve just put the finishing touches on processing this intriguing array of materials from three generations of women, spanning the dates 1865-1989, and thought we’d share a few highlights.

Imagine a lonely little girl growing up in the 1860s on Londoner’s Island in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. Roaming the beaches alone, save for the company of shore birds and sea creatures, Mollie Lee Clifford had the good fortune to receive the attentions and encouragement of the poet Celia Thaxter who lived on the neighboring island of Appledore. She inspired little Mollie to learn to read and write and it was to good end as Mollie went on to write a host of poems, author numerous plays and publish two full-length novels in an animal autobiography series, “Yoppy: Autobiography of a Monkey,” and “Polly: Autobiography of a Parrot.”

The quiet Isles of Shoals drew great attention when, in 1873, a horrific double-murder took place on the island of Smuttynose. Though she and her family had moved to Dover, NH, the previous year, Mollie Lee had been acquainted with both the Norwegian-born victims and their Prussian killer. (At one point her descendants owned the murder weapon, an axe.) Mollie’s 1901 handwritten account of the tragedy is chilling, and excerpted here:

After marrying Henry H. Clifford of Dover, NH, Mollie Lee gave birth to a daughter, Margaret, in 1894. Margaret grew up to become a teacher and later gathered enough genealogical research to qualify her as a Daughter of the American Revolution. She married Earl Flanders of Dover, a mathematics teacher, and they spent many summers playing at York Beach before the birth of their daughter, Marion, in 1920. Throughout the 1930s the family spent summers at their camp on Lake Nippo in Barrington, NH.

During WWII, Marion worked as a clerk for the War Department at Camp Langdon, NH. This collection is thick with Marion’s love letters from various soldiers, which both illuminate the wartime experience and cause one to wonder why, with so many suitors, did Marion consciously decide not to marry?

A self-educated writer, a DAR, a wartime sweetheart — three generations of Clifford-Flanders women in one fascinating collection.

“…and all Good Wishes for a Happy New Year”

December 20th, 2010 by Gay Marks

Although I’ll admit to never having read any of Margaret Deland’s books, I now have a certain curiosity about her. I’m intrigued because of an inserted Christmas card found in one of the Maine Women Writers Collection books by Deland. This holiday card to “dear Mrs. Piper and her charming daughter Minerva” was placed in one of Deland’s two autobiographical books, this one entitled Golden Yesterday written in 1941—to be discovered later when the book was prepared for cataloging.

What is curious about the card has nothing to do with its vintage look—it’s a perfect holiday graphic from the 1950s, but is because of a funny little drawing created by Deland from the initials she uses for her signature along with two other sets (indicating her “family,” as she refers to them in the card). The intrigue for me is seeing that Deland has transformed the “D” initial in her name into the head of a snowman or snowwoman-like creature with huge ears and finishing the look with stick arms, spidery hands, a flowing skirt (may we assume we are seeing a snowwoman?), goofy shoes. The head of the figure is bald (all snow creatures are bald!), and the face somehow conveys an expression of surprise with its dots from her pen for eyes and mouth. And Deland has used the finishing flourish of her “D” to give the caricature a sense of motion. Is Deland sharing a moment of whimsy or humor– or is there something less festive behind the doodle? Was this creature known to Mrs. Piper and Minerva? Is Minerva a child who would delight in seeing the drawing on the card?

As with other inserts in the Maine Women Writers Collection, the unknowns about their origins, their paths into the books that harbor them, and their intent make them interesting for collection material. And gives me pause to wonder what I have closed a book on.

Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action

December 17th, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

Hooray! Our new online exhibit, Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action, is now up and running!  As an expanded version of Huston’s featured writers page, the site is rich with images, text, documents and excerpts to illustrate her remarkable global career as a journalist, activist and author; and her life as a mother and inspiring mentor to many. Take a trip around the world, and through time, with this extraordinary woman to learn about her passionate devotion to improving the plight of third world women and the planet as a whole.

From the Vote to the ERA: Feminist Waves

December 15th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

In the 1970s, women fought for property rights, equality in credit, fair divorce laws, wages for housework, and urged the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Ramona Barth

Flo Kennedy

The ERA was first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul under the name the “Lucretia Mott Amendment.”  This amendment was introduced in every term of Congress thereafter, finally winning passage in 1972.  Indiana was the last state to ratify the ERA in 1975, leaving the amendment three states short of ratification.

Because the ERA has not been approved as an amendment to the nation’s constitution, women still lack full protection under the law.  Supporters of the ERA continue to introduce the amendment in congressional sessions, and strategize to win its passage.

from the Nancy Dibner papers

The 1980s marked a backlash against feminism, and many debated the value of, or need for, the feminist movement.  In the 1990s, the “third wave” of feminism began to find its voice, calling for a deeper understanding of the intertwining of oppression based on race, class, gender, and sexuality.  Third wave feminists have worked to examine popular culture and politics, and have looked deeply at the notion that the “personal is political,” a slogan made famous by their mothers’ generation, who argued that the choices women made in their personal lives were absolutely connected to the inequalities in society.

About the collections included in this exhibit:

Ramona Sawyer Barth papers
Ramona Barth (1911-2002) was a feminist activist, author, spokesperson for the National Organization for Women (NOW), and teacher.  She was one of the founders of Maine NOW, but participated in protests and actions in many cities along the East coast.   The photographs here represent a small portion of the materials she collected.  These photos document actions, and highlight some of the activists who Ramona Barth worked with during her years in the feminist movement.

Nancy Cushman Dibner papers
Nancy Dibner (1926-2007) was instrumental in the formation of the first Maine chapter of the National Organization for Women.  She served as the chapter’s secretary from its inception. In her own words, she stated that her significance in the NOW organization was her diligence in reminding people of the “necessity in chap[ter] and state of adequate record keeping and files [of the] communications within chap[ter] and organization, [and] press coverage of day-to-day activities as well as actions.”  Dibner was appointed by Governor Ken Curtis to serve as council member from Portland for the Governor’s Advisory Council of the Status of Women activated by the 106th Legislature.  Nancy Dibner became president of the Southern Maine chapter of NOW in 1973 and represented Maine at the 8th NOW National Convention.  She was also the co-editor with Anne Hazlewood-Brady of Mainely Now.

Anne Hazlewood-Brady papers
Born in Sloatsburg, NY in 1925, poet and playwright Anne Hazlewood-Brady graduated from Vassar College in 1946. She completed graduate work in literature at NYU, Columbia, and the University of Maine. She now lives in Arundel, Maine.  She became increasingly active in the women’s movement upon moving to New York City in 1969. Her activities there included the founding of the Women’s Interart Center and involvement in the organization of the Women’s Strike for Equality (1970), which commemorated the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
Anne Hazlewood-Brady’s papers document her writing and the production of her work, as well as her personal life and activism.

National Woman’s Party collection
While these papers primarily document the Massachusetts chapter of the NWP, the influence of these women was felt across the country. The suffragists held bold pickets, confronted state and national government officials with the reality that women were being treated as second-class citizens, and were jailed and physically assaulted for their actions. This collection includes photographs, campaign books, journals, records of members and officers, copies of laws affecting women, membership forms, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks.

We hope you have enjoyed this online exhibit.  These collections offer wonderful resources on the study of feminist action in the United States in the twentieth century.  If you are interested in viewing material from any of these collections, please contact the curator for assistance.

The Roosevelts’ Happy Holiday Home

December 13th, 2010 by Gay Marks

Discovered in the Maine Women Writers Collection copy of Margaret Sanger’s Happiness in Marriage (1926) was an unsigned Christmas card inserted among the book’s pages.  The single-sided card shows a photo of a living room scene in sepia tones (only a few hand-colored flames curl around the fireplace logs), and a couple seated on a couch in front of a traditional fireplace, with dogs at their feet.  Printed on heavy stock, it gives no indication to whom the card was sent.  But the couple on the couch is easily recognizable, and the printed greeting on the card confirms that the card is the official holiday greeting from then-Governor of New York, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt–”Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from The Governor and Mrs. Roosevelt” reads the text to the right of the homey image.

Franklin Roosevelt was New York’s governor for only one term, 1928-1932, so matching the 1926 publication date of Sanger’s book with the holiday card, it might be assumed that the card was left in the book close to the time of the book’s publication.  The author, Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate and lifelong activist in many humanitarian causes, authored the book as a manual of sorts to help men and women begin their marriages as she says in the dedication, “seek[ing] happiness in marriage based on truth.” Is it reasonable to infer that the original owner of book (before it began its journey to MWWC) was a supporter or even more closely connected with the Franklin Roosevelts, and also a follower of Sanger?

If so, these relationships imply a progressive political philosophy for the book’s original owner or at least for the one who inserted the greeting card, a reader who, at a very challenging time in America’s political and economic history, sought guidance in that turbulent time.

Interestingly, although the specific route that the copy came to Maine Women Writers Collection remains unknown, at one point it was held by the Southwest Harbor Library in Maine and then gifted to MWWC.  In doing some reading about Sanger, I learned that some of her causes were secretly supported by undisclosed funds from the Rockefeller family, who, coincidently, summered on Acadia for generations.  Is it possible that one of the home libraries of a Rockefeller weeded its book collection to donate to a local island library?

And finally, when thinking about this particular insert, one cannot escape the irony of both the image of marital harmony that the Roosevelts’ holiday card projects and the subject of Sanger’s book, happiness in marriage, with what historians have revealed about Franklin Roosevelt’s infidelities during his marriage to Eleanor. Eleanor maintained the marriage charade publicly, but we now know that fireside scene of domestic bliss to be just that, and in more ways than one, a photo opportunity, as America tumbled toward economic disaster.