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.