A grand tour of the West

July 29th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

Sometimes, serendipity throws lovely things your way.  Today, as I was looking at my to-do list before I go on vacation, I saw “blog” and wondered what I might write about.  It’s not that there hasn’t been plenty going on here, but it’s simply been too busy to slow down enough to write.

Earlier this week, I received a small addition to the Rachel Field collection, and that necessitated shifting some items around in our small collection alphabetical files.  As I was moving files from box to box, I spotted a title that caused me to stop and look at the object.  “Godfrey, Laura  Travel diary, 1885,” the folder title read.  Hm.  Perfect.

What could be better to send me off on my two week staycation?  I began flipping through and found that it was an epic vacation Ms. Godfrey recorded.  She traveled with her friend Grace Patten from Bangor, Maine, through various cities along the East Coast where they picked up more friends.  The diary chronicles their travels through the Midwest into the Western states.  It is a detailed little book with extensive notations on plant life, geographical features, the modes of transportation they used, layout of rooms in houses they visited, and descriptions of the people they met along the way.

Godfrey ends her  travel diary with the following entry:

“To the Elect of Car Four, Greeting.  June 1885.

The trees are clothed in leafy dress, the hills are garbed in green, and everywhere the richest hues, sweet smelling flowers are seen; the roses ope[n] their dewey cups and blush beneath your gaze, while daisies white and buttercups stand all in tangled maze; the sweet voiced birds on every branch sing all the livelong day, and odours floating everywhere betray the new mown hay.  It is the June! New England June! famed far for royal beauty, when days of ease and nights of peace, are all one wants for duty.  The trees and flowers the birds and clouds are painted to be seen, the perfumed air blows everywhere, to be enjoyed I ween; in ev’ry field, on many a bush, is seen the ripening berry; all Nature says “Come, eat your fill, be idle and be merry!”

We’ve seen the West; its mountains grand, its deserts vast, its ranches, where herds of sheep and cattle roam or where the ladened branches are hung with fruit of golden hue, of crimson or of yellow.  We gazed with joy.  We tasted well, the fruit so sweet and mellow.  We climbed the mounts, we saw the views, we “gushed” sometimes with wonder at Yosemite’s lofty peaks, Niagara'[s] deafening thunder.  Where the Pacific’s waves curl up, we walked the yellow sands, and looked across with longing eyes to stranger climes and lands.  We visited the Missions where our hearts grew reverent; we went to Chinatown and there our money freely spent; we gazed afar o’er prairies where tossed the growing wheat; we visited fine buildings, of wealth or power the seat: we “did” the West, and I suppose must say, “it can’t be beat!”

And then we turn our faces to see the rising sun, and towards Atlantic’s rocky shore, we come on fastest run the engine puffs, the cars speed on, each day we nearer come, till one by one, we meet again loved faces in the home.  And now we cry, “Who cares to go, where California lies?  Beauties as fair with fruits as sweet, lie thick before our eyes, for June is here! New England June! What more could mortal ask?  Let’s taste her sweets, her zephyrs breathe, and in her beauty bask!”

And what if hoary Winter shrouds the world in white sometimes, and Boreas blows a mighty blast?  His weird and wailing chimes, old Winters snow, the cold and frost have beauties of their own, which we can only learn to love, who have among them grown; and sure we are, no other land is loved by June so well.  Sweet dainty June! no poet can one half her beauties tell.  She tripping comes with flowers in train; what more can mortals ask?  Let’s taste her sweets, her zephyrs breathe, and in her beauties bask–”

Well, it may no longer be June, but I will be spending my next two weeks basking in the beauty of the New England summer.  I’ll be sure to write in my diary about it.  See you in two weeks!

Attitude…toward marriage and domesticity

July 18th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

posted on behalf of Catherine Fisher, MWWC Collection Assistant

Although Fanny Fern was married three times, twice happily, she did not hide the fact that she did not think highly of the institution as it had been structured traditionally, with the wife tethered and subservient to the husband.

“If you are romantic,” she said, “dig clams, but don’t get married.” (quoted in Joyce W. Warren’s Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman.)

She also did not think much of the expectations of women’s self-sacrifice when it came to the home, saying:

Nobody will thank you for turning yourself into a machine. When you drop in your tracks, they will just shovel the earth over you, and get Jerusha Ann Sombody to step into your shoes…So you just take a little comfort yourself as you go along, and look after “No. 1.” (New York Ledger, September 4, 1869)

So, how do you take care of “No. 1?”

Attitude…toward illness

July 18th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

posted on behalf of Catherine Fisher, MWWC Collection Assistant

Fanny Fern secretly battled cancer for the last nearly six years of her life, from 1867 to 1872.

In 1870 she wrote:

I know nothing more distressing to a self-helpful person than to be laid on the shelf – sick! To lie like a baby and be fed; to have your face and hands washed, and your hair combed for you; to be read to, instead of reading yourself; for, after all, how is anyone to guess that which you like best in your morning paper to hear? To have somebody else, over-water your pretty plants, or forget to water them altogether…Now I hate to be waited on. It hurts my independence. I hate to lie in bed…I like sunlight and tornadoes of fresh air. I hate gruel and messes and drugs, and hot pillows. I like ale, and a long walk, and light, easy clothing.


When you are free to choose, what do you like?

Attitude…toward being self-sufficient

July 13th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

posted on behalf of Catherine Fisher, MWWC Collection Assistant

After the death of her first husband, finding herself destitute and without family support, Fanny Fern began selling her writing to newspapers to support herself and her children.  She was first published in the Olive Branch.  Her own brother, who was editor of the Home Journal, refused to publish her work, calling it “vulgar” and “indecent.”  She began to write more steadily for the Olive Branch and the True Flag, and later landed an exclusive column in the Musical World and Times.  Her career exploded from there, with another column in the True Flag, and an offer to publish her columns in book form.  By 1856, Fern succeeded in buying and furnishing a house and providing for all of her family’s wants and needs.

Over the years, her newspaper columns often spoke out against women’s economic dependence upon men. In Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman, Joyce W. Warren tells of the 1868 summer Fanny Fern and her family spent in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. From there Fern wrote:

There are few people who speak approbatively of a woman who has a smart business talent or capability. No matter how isolated or destitute her condition, the majority would consider it more “feminine” would she unobtrusively gather up her thimble, and, retiring to some out-of-the-way place, gradually scoop out her coffin with it, than to develop that smart turn for business which would lift her at once out of her troubles; and which, in a man so situated, would be applauded as exceedingly praiseworthy. (New York Ledger, 1861)

Do you have a talent for business?

Attitude…toward good behavior

July 12th, 2011 by Cathleen Miller

posted on behalf of Catherine Fisher, MWWC Collection Assistant

In Fanny Fern: An Independent Woman, Joyce W. Warren tells of the 1868 summer Fanny Fern and her family spent in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. From there Fern wrote:

[I]f you see me coming in to dinner, and think it worth while to announce the fact, in a place where there is a dearth of news, just do it quietly, so that I sha’n’t feel like throwing a biscuit at your head, and don’t think because I am a literary woman, and a member of the “Sorosis” [a women’s literary club] that I live on violets and dew – I don’t. I wear awful thick shoes, and go out in the mud, and like to get stuck there; and I am horrid old – fifty-six – and ugly besides; and I shall speak when I feel like it, and when I don’t, I sha’n’t, because it is too much to be on my good behavior all the year round, and this is my vacation.”

How do YOU take a vacation from the world?