Private thoughts made public

March 24th, 2014 by Sophie Glidden-Lyon

For the past few months, I’ve been pouring over the diaries of Vinalhaven native Lucy C. Williams. She filled daily journals during the bulk of the 1980′s and 90′s, faithfully recording weather, chores, the state of her garden and the health of her neighbors. Her grandson Bill makes many appearances – helping her with the house, struggling to find work or dealing with the various family dramas that would be familiar to anyone with siblings and in-laws. Her life is quiet and full of routine, but it is exactly that kind of ordinary, day-to-day chronicling that I find so interesting. Journals are the chance to glimpse into a person’s internal world, unique in their honesty. I don’t mean honesty in the sense that they lack bias, but more the idea that these were words written by one person and for one person only. I think it is safe to assume that Lucy never thought these journals would be read by anyone but her, and once I was able to reconcile myself to the fact that she may have found this intrusive, it led me down a very interesting path.

How do you record events when you are never intending to share those records with anyone? When it comes to familial struggles or pain, Lucy often skips over details entirely. After all, she knows the details already and does not need to explain anything. For me, the reader, it means I have to put puzzle pieces together, and I’m often guessing when it comes to who did what to who. What Lucy does record is how badly these fights and dramas are wearing her down, in a way that suggests she doesn’t share how she feels with her children or grandchildren. There is a lot more emotional truth in her writing than there is clear recording of events. This is part of what has been so rewarding for me while reading these journals. There is so much insight into a person’s life to be found here. The authors are, essentially, talking to themselves, engaging with their own thoughts in a way that can’t be achieved in quite the same way through oral histories, or even letters.

As I continue through her journals, I’m sure more and more will become clear concerning her grandsons and the dysfunction that keeps popping up between them, but more than that, I’m excited to learn more about how journals open up whole new worlds for historians and archivists. I’m excited to tackle emerging questions – how does a person’s journaling voice differ from how they might have spoken or written with other people? Are there things they might keep off the page entirely, censoring themselves even in their private thoughts? And what does that say about the author? These are things I’ve already asked myself about Lucy, but the beauty of journals is that any answers to those questions would likely be completely different with a different person. It brings a deep sense of the personal, and of individuality, to archival work, for which I’m very grateful.

Sorting out traces of our history

February 21st, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

For a number of years now, I’ve been meaning to get to fully processing our administrative files, which document the past 50+ years of collecting at the Maine Women Writers Collection.  In some ways, though, it is good that I have waited.  Now I understand how I use the collection, what kinds of documents we need to find easily, and how best it might serve us to organize it.  It’s a bit daunting, but the time has come.


For several days this week, I have taken advantage of the slow, snowy energy and put our focus on these papers.  Laura and I have been pulling out all the boxes, looking through all of the folders, and stacking everything in rough series to be more thoroughly organized later.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to look through the incredible correspondence that Grace Dow and Dorothy Healy carried on with numerous authors, donors, and other friends of the Collection.  I have been confused and dismayed by some of the odd things we’ve saved–the question “Why?” often hanging in the air between Laura and I throughout the process.  But the real “Why?” is the reason we are doing this at all–so that we can find the gems amidst the invoices and randomness; so that we can trace provenance and answer questions of how we acquired each collection.


It is an interesting process to look through the eyes of people who were not trained to think in terms of subject headings and organizational schema.  Grace and Dorothy built an amazing collection with little experience to guide them.  They were pioneers–warm, generous women who believed in the power of women’s words and women’s ordinary realities.  As I read through the letters that fill many a box, I feel an incredible sense of gratitude for these two thoughtful, determined women.

The tenderness and friendship that existed between the former curators and their correspondents always reminds me to write more thoughtful emails, to devote more attention to the ways that I portray our work in words, and subsequently causes me to lament the fact that volume has replaced quality in our communications.

I pulled this letter from one folder and the first line grabbed me right away.  “The trouble is, before starting a letter to you everything has to be just right, sun shining, outlook relaxed and still with it,” Florence Burrill Jacobs writes to Dorothy Healy in 1973.  She continues, “And that happy conjunction doesn’t often come about!”  Imagine if we waited for a sunny day to write an email to a friend!  (Well, this winter, we’d never write at all — let’s be honest here!)  Later in the letter, the conversational tone pulled me in further, making me just love Mrs. Jacobs’ style of corresponding. “And the stars!  Have you been where you could see the evening sky since September?  Hour after hour we have stood out back where no street lights intrude, and just gazed up.  Jupiter, Venus, M[a]rs, myriads of smaller ones, more brilliant than I ever saw them.  I am sometimes awakened in the night by a blazing west.”

I am looking forward to getting to a place in the processing when I can start to relabel folders with titles that will point to the contents clearly so that I can put my hands on these letters more easily.  The amount of information about acquisition procedures that resides in the correspondence alone is quite astounding.  That the letters are an incredible pleasure to read is just a bonus.  If you want to start up a correspondence with me, write to me about how the stars look when you go to bed at night, and I will write back to let you know that the stars here are sometimes dimmed by streetlights, but that your poems light up my world.  Yes, this is what keeps me in the archival profession, these beautiful private moments between people.

A Valentine from the National Woman’s Party

February 12th, 2014 by Tegan Talbot

With Valentines Day upon us it seemed as though timing was in my favor. I was reading newspaper clippings from the National Woman’s Party collection when a specific article caught my eye. But first, I shall give you a small background into my research at the Maine Women Writers Collection. I am a history student at the University of Southern Maine, interning at the MWWC, and working towards creating an exhibit for the collection at the end of the semester. I expressed my interest in studying woman’s movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, having previously done research on the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. When Cathleen suggested that they had a collection on the National Woman’s Party, I jumped at the opportunity to learn about a different women’s movement.

The National Woman’s Party was first formed in 1916 to fight for women’s suffrage in all states of the U.S. The party gained much of their influence from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Nation Woman’s Party collection holds newspaper clippings, photographs, pamphlets, and reports of conferences and meetings held by the party. The “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” was the party’s main focus when they first formed. The Amendment would later become the 19th Amendment in 1920, when it was finally ratified and women gained the right to vote.

The clippings I came across in the collection, were Valentine’s Day poems and images. The National Woman’s Party used these poems and images in the hopes of persuading politicians and businessmen to support the women’s suffrage movement. The Image in the clipping is the valentine they sent to President Wilson to gain his support. The women are holding little hearts that say “votes.”

Clipping from a National Woman's Party scrapbook

These valentines are a very different way to look at the holiday most people associate with flowers, chocolate, and loved ones. The women of the 1916 National Woman’s Party were much more concerned with gaining their right to vote than who they would be spending their Valentine’s Day with. The clippings from the collection allow us to glimpse back at a world where women’s live were much different than ours today.

Arts + Health: finding the words

February 3rd, 2014 by Cathleen Miller

Over the past few months here at UNE, there has been an upsurge of energy around connecting the arts with health and health professionals. There have been exhibits, webinars, some talks, and a mixer. In all of this, I felt mostly like someone on the outskirts because the juicy action was happening in the School of Social Work. I went to connect with colleagues, to make the Maine Women Writers Collection visible in small ways at these events, but my real motivation was personal. Over the past years, I’ve been playing, exploring, grappling, but feeling mostly unprepared to produce “real work” on the subject of health.

from "Paper Passages" by Allison Cooke Brown and Martha Hall

What does “real work” mean, anyway? Well, that’s a question I explore quite often, too. I want to make poems and multimedia work that speak to the personal experience of illness without focus on the woe is me aspect of such experience. I think about the work I see and read here at work and I imagine myself in a more polished form. But then I look closely and see the raw emotion that makes these works powerful.

a page from "Prescriptions" by Martha Hall

When students come to the Collection to look at our artists’ books, they are visibly moved by the personal narratives contained in these works. It is there in the diaries and letters we hold, too, but these visual representations are far more accessible to most, and require no deciphering of handwriting. It is a privilege to introduce people to these books, and my appreciation for their power grows every day. While the complexity of bindings and printing techniques is often stunning, the simplicity of human emotion is enough to make these books worth collecting.

a page from "She Tells Me" by Sissy Buck and herbal remedy cards

Our new display in the Collection highlights a few of the resources we hold that relate to art and health, but there are many more, including many diary collections that chronicle women’s struggles with illness, mental health, and living satisfying lives. As I spend more time with these materials, I find the threads of my own words and imagery to explore these themes.

"Phlegm" from "Old Physiology" by Rebecca Goodale

Dorothy Wright Simes reflects on World War II

January 7th, 2014 by Ann Morrissey

The Maine Women Writers Collection is pleased to announce the addition of the Dorothy Wright Simes Papers which include diaries that cover 33 years of her life.  Dorothy Wright Simes lived from 1886 to 1974 and was the daughter of Augustus R. Wright who founded the A. R. Wright Company in the late 1880s and which still exists in Maine today as WEX (Wright Express).  She married Charles F. Simes in 1923 and lived in Portland on Bowdoin Street and summered regularly in Cape Elizabeth on her Father’s waterfront estate which is still in the family.

Many of the diaries skip through the young school and married lives of her two daughters, and follow her domestic concerns about the upkeep of her two houses but Simes also pays attention to the events of the Second World War.  She made almost 50 notations about the war starting as early as 1939 and continuing through 1945.

Her very earliest notations about the war were about helping out with “Friends of France” and the British Relief.  In June 18, 1940 the war hits close to home: “C telephoned they had ruled the company was not a public utility.”  C was her husband Charles who ran A. R. Wright during and after the war.  The company started as a coal delivery business and became a home heating fuel business.  During the War apparently many Bauxite deliveries came and needed to be repackaged as quickly as possible as Bauxite was a necessary ingredient in the making of aluminum.  There were many notations about Bauxite:  “C was late coming home as they were beginning to unload the Boxite [sic],” and “C is trying to arrange a priority so that he can get a machine for trimming out the Boxite [sic].”

The most fascinating entries are the more personal notations:

  •      Sun, Dec 7, 1941:  ” I had gone up to my room to rest, when Vicky called to me that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour at Honolulu.  Later we learned that had bombed Manella [sic] too, and we are in for it.  Even Sen. Wheeler says “we must beat hell out of them.”  C is at the plant, as they are putting up a new tower.  I don’t know if he even knows it yet,”
  •      Thurs, April 12, 1945: “President Roosevelt died very suddenly at Warm Springs of a cerebral hemorrhage.”
  •      Tues, Aug 14, 1945: “Am sitting waiting to hear official announcement of Japan’s surrender. … we got the news on the radio (7 p. m.) of the unconditional surrender of Japan.  The Star-Spangled was played and the feelings that surged up in us, were something I shall never forget.”

These six years of war diaries are spectacular resources and immediately available to staff or students (perhaps Historians or English majors) who want to understand more closely what happened in the United States during the Second World War.