"Abracadabra": Intimate Inventions by Early College Women in the United States.
The six undergraduate female friends who are the subject of this inquiry include a pair of roommates who lived in Hubbard House, a pair of sisters who lived next door in Hatfield House, and two long-time friends from Salem, Massachusetts; all the young women attended Smith College between 1879 and 1883. Elizabeth "Tip" Lawrence was the daughter of a congregational minister from Newton Centre, near Boston. She entered Smith as a sophomore and roomed for her last three years in Hubbard House with Mary "Pollie" Mather, who came to Smith from Plainfield, New Jersey, and then moved to Wilmington, Delaware. Mather's father was secretary to an insurance company. Frona Brooks and her older sister Daisy were born and educated in France, before attending the same high school in Newton, Massachusetts, as Tip Lawrence. Salome "Amy" Machado, was born in Puerto Principe, near Havana, Cuba. She and Margarette Osgood attended high school in Salem, Massachusetts. They initially roomed together in Washburn House, then migrated in their senior year to be with their friends in Hubbard. Machado's father was a professor, while Osgood's father is identified as a merchant. The papers of these six friends repeatedly cite another dozen or so close friends who shared their classes, invented clubs, "entertainments," and money-making schemes, and who commemorated each other in photo albums. They spent much of each day in one another's company, in rooms furnished for socializing. Twin beds were pushed together on one wall to maximize room for a tea table and chairs, a chaise lounge under a window, and always a rocking chair. They studied together, read novels aloud, and rocked each other when they were blue. Their undergraduate first-person narratives are augmented by stories they retell about each other in reunions over the next forty years. The records they created and preserved demonstrate how deeply committed they were to their class, to their education, and to each other throughout their adult lives.
Taken together, these six friends are representative of the demographics of their class of 1883 as well as the first decade of Smith college students. (1) Like most students in the first ten years, they are daughters of the middle-class, white, mostly Protestant, and except for Machado and the Brooks sisters, native-born. Most students in the first decade come from towns and cities in the Northeast, with a steady trickle from Chicago. From its first class entering in 1875, Smith was an intellectually elite institution with demanding entrance requirements and a curriculum as rigorous as men's colleges such as neighboring Amherst. Yet unlike Amherst, Smith's educational mission was intentionally democratic. The first president, L. Clarke Seelye, persuaded the trustees in the school's second year "to do all we can to secure those students who would be glad to enter the college and who are well prepared to do so, but are prevented on account of the expense," by offering tuition waivers and scholarships to students who, he believed, "add much to [Smith's] reputation and influence." (2) These scholarships often supported daughters of ministers and schoolteachers who were most likely to have studied Greek and Latin, but they also aided, in the class of 1883, the daughters of a mechanic, a hardware merchant, a farmer, a lumberman, a deputy sheriff, and several "orphans" whose fathers died in the Civil War. (3) The large majority of the class had attended public high schools in their communities and lived at home, as did all but two of about twenty represented in this study. Going to college was the first time most of these young women formed primary relationships with other women outside the domestic sphere of the family.
Only fourteen students entered Smith in 1875 when the college was founded, but the student body had mushroomed to 202 by 1879, the year when our group entered. Ninety-two women entered in the first-year class in 1879; the sophomore and junior classes combined numbered one hundred, and the senior class consisted of only ten. As the largest class ever admitted, the bumptious cohort exerted a disproportionate influence on campus life. The Class of' 83 believed "the Puritanic influence" of Smith's founder Sophia Smith "began to wane," as their social activities introduced "scenes of brighter coloring" into college life. They remembered themselves as "a large group of girls alert and most ambitious," whom President Seelye admired but "wondered how to discipline--never unruly but often unduly progressive." (4)
In the archive of the group, we witness multiple forms of self-representation occurring simultaneously as they build a vibrant student culture. Their narratives produce a collective and sustaining persona as college women. An ensemble cast emerges who are simultaneously narrators and audiences for their shared story. Although I call these separate collections "private papers" to distinguish from those meant for publication, they were not, for their creators, actually private, but intensely mediated by the conditions of their production and reception. The urge to document what they recognized was a historic moment for them as individual women was a group imperative, and the material acts of writing home, journal-keeping, and pasting in memorabilia books was a shared entertainment, which often involved reading and writing in each other's books.
Because the entity the "college woman" is best described not as an individual act of self-definition but as a spontaneous yet collaborative construction that arises out of their social relations, reading these subjects is necessarily comparative. To reconstruct events or to identify patterns across multiple sources requires an attention that embraces randomness and serendipity and a willingness to suspend categorization of what is central and what is peripheral for as long as possible. Cross-referencing accounts in the cumulative clutter of evidence, as Arlette Farge reminds us, does not produce a single or settled story from the archive, but its usefulness as a "social observatory" emerges "through the scattered details that have broken through." (5) The discontinuities and dissonance between accounts are as illuminating as the resemblances. As cultural historian Laura Doan advises, researchers need to become self-reflexive about the assumptions underlying inferences we draw and remain open to the messiness and ambiguity of the archive. (6) Finally, we must acknowledge what remains missing. These student papers, like any archive, are not transparent or comprehensive, but interested and partial. We know more about women for whom college was meaningful and memorable, and whose families valued their education enough at the time and in subsequent generations to save these mementoes, than we do about those women who dropped out. Of course, for most young women in the United States in the 1880s, college was not an option because of intertwined racial discrimination, economic necessity, and family formation that favored educating sons. The required education in classical languages and mathematics winnowed entrance to a college such as Smith to a privileged group whose advantages had been constructed over several generations.
INVENTING THE COLLEGE WOMAN
In the fall of 1880, fifty continuing members of the Class of' (83) gathered as sophomores for a photo on the steps of Hubbard House. (7) The group photo is a strikingly intentional act of self-representation, elaborately staged to display all the accoutrements of college life they had fashioned already. Unlike fashion plates in Godey's Ladies Book from the period that feature confining narrow skirts, trussed with ruffles and bustles, several women on the front row in the photo sit on the ground comfortably cross-legged. They lean casually on baseball bats and heft balls or cradle them in their laps. One sits sidesaddle on the porch railing, wearing a long frock coat and bowler hat, an open book on her lap and a letter in her hand, facing the camera. One holds a tiny ladder, an emblem of a science club. Tip Lawrence holds up a cup to the woman behind her, and a classmate beside her dangles another, perhaps boasting that college women drink caffeine. Their looks are declarative; they sign to us in a language we can't totally decipher, but their message is clear: look at us, here we are on the steps of something new. ft takes a while to register that the photo is suffused with easy affection. Although this is a formal photo, taken by a commercial photographer invited to campus, virtually every figure is touching another; arms are draped over shoulders, around necks or waists, or threaded through elbows. Students relax against each other, with their arms crossed behind one another's backs, or an elbow propped in a neighbor's lap. More conspicuously, Mary Mather reaches across the woman next to her to hold her hand. The photo communicates the group's sense that their experience is historically significant, just one year into the experiment of attending college. The photo hints at their bravado in adopting masculine sports despite President Seelye's anxious public silence about their involvement in sports; it testifies to intellectual ambitions in laboratory sciences, mathematics, the organization of clubs, and a penchant for resisting traditional gender expectations. The photo also speaks of female intimacy as the currency of daily life so naturally assumed that its gestures are almost invisible. In the photograph, the classmates wear the badges of their identity as college women nonchalantly yet almost provocatively. To witness the daily production of this persona we need to consult the bulging record of their memorabilia books.
Memorabilia books materialize the forging of group identities. Part of a late nineteenth-century fad for scrapbooks, especially among women, these "mem books," as students called them, construct an idealized self at the heart of a social scene; the persona is fun-loving, surrounded by friends, and above all, busy. No dark days are saved in mem books; they are testaments to belonging. In these records, each subject is the hero of her own story. I've chosen Mary "Pollie" Mather to be the central protagonist of this story because of the thick texture of her documentation of daily college life in two overlapping yet distinct records: three extensively annotated mem books from her first three years, and a journal in two volumes from her last two years. The differences between these two types of sources highlight the contrasting persona each medium produces; they also unsettle the distinction between public and private since evidence in both her mem books and her journal show these were willingly shared with others, although the circle of other readers for the journal is more select.
Early in her first-year mem book, Mather creates a named alterego, P.B.S., whose exploits she narrates in the third person, a strategy that emphasizes authorial control over her self-presentation. For Mather, campus life is a stage, and every event is a scene to be dramatized. Mather was credited by her classmates as being "our star originator of spectacular entertainment" (8) who helped create the collective student culture. Although Mather was the impresario of "Abracadabra," or the "Celestial Party," which closed their sophomore year in June 1881, her genius was to make it democratic by offering starring roles to all fifty-one members of her class, who improvised costumes as every planet in the solar system, as constellations, and as animated weather systems. The evening's performance of song and dance was staged before the entire college, including faculty, and it was a dramatic representation of their creative presence on campus. Remnants from "Abracadbra" appear in multiple mem books, and alumnae at their fortieth reunion vividly recall their invented roles and the impression they made, evidence of the staying power of these spontaneous events to forge new identities.
Mather also orchestrated germans, dance parties with elaborately complicated figures based on the quadrille, and when not enough women could perform them, she and Evelina Dickinson offered private dancing lessons at three cents for two minutes, or class lessons for ten cents per evening. (9) Dancing, like dramatics, shows college women colonizing every available space for entertaining themselves and filling all available roles with gusto. Daisy Brooks, whom Frona reports "doesn't dance well enough" to participate in the germans, nonetheless admires the show: "Last night's German was very pretty to look at.... Frona did very nicely as a gentleman, and led well." (10) Learning to lead was a pleasurable new experience open to any, and Daisy's voice was part of a chorus of peer approval for women playing male roles that students eagerly report in letters home: "the love-making part was done to the life. It was delightful to see Don Silver (Miss Brown) and Fidalina (Miss Fitch) rush into each others arms. It wasn't overdone either. Then where Don Silver stabs Fidalina's father, was very good." (11) When President Seelye attempts to curtail students cross-dressing as men in dramatic roles, peer approval easily trumps his objections. Their performance of masculinity is self-consciously playful, flexible rather than fixed, and served to punctuate rather than replace a more continuous reconstitution of femininity in their daily behavior. Yet these moments may provide a matrix in which homoerotic roles or tastes are represented as plausible.
REPRESENTING FEMALE INTIMACY
Individual expressions of homoerotic desire arise from the collective life, yet remain deeply embedded within the currents of group sociability. I want to juxtapose two sets of archival documents to explore the first-person representations of female friendships in the early 1880s and our difficulties reading them. The first is ostensibly private, Mary Mather's journals from 1882, while the second is inadvertently public, a parodie love poem written by a popular literature teacher, Kate Sanborn, about two of her students in the fall of 1881, and the swirl of hostile attention it received on campus and off. During the same period, Mather's attraction to Frona Brooks intensifies over two semesters, is recognized by their mutual friends, then mysteriously dwindles. In the early 1880s the response to this volatile dimension of erotic attraction in residential college life is neither predictable for individuals nor systematic by the institution. Mather's journal struggles to invent a language for erotic self-awareness before the categories of lesbian or homosexual were in circulation on US college campuses. In the hostile male reaction to Sanborn's poem, we see an early threat to the homosocial culture of women's colleges that would preoccupy college administrators by the turn of the century. Because the events these sources document occur simultaneously, they unsettle earlier generalizations that same-sex desire between women was tacitly accepted before critics of women's colleges in the United States repurposed the discourse of sexologists at the turn of the century to suggest these settings were dangerously unhealthy. Yet puzzling inconsistencies in Sanborn's treatment also suggest that no consensus was yet in place for policing these relations.
Since the 1970s, studies of representations of female sexuality in the nineteenth century have debated how to draw distinctions between romantic friendships between women, which may include erotic feelings and behavior, and the emergence of self-conscious "lesbian" identities. Following Michel Foucault's differentiation between acts and identities, an extensive body of scholarship has mapped the genealogy of how and when sexual classifications are discursively produced. While the taxonomies of late nineteenth-century sexologists mark one turning point in describing and defining identities, the circulation of these discourses among nonscientific populations is more uneven, occurs later, and was probably not common until after World War I. Earlier claims made by Lilian Faderman and Caroll Smith-Rosenberg that, prior to the turn of the century, romantic and sensual relations between women were openly acknowledged and compatible with dominant heteronormative social arrangements have been contested by scholars who offer archival evidence for the surveillance and punishment of eroticized friendships between women as well as the possibilities for resistance earlier in the nineteenth century. (12) More recently, Laura Doan, analyzing the contributions of queer theory to histories of sexuality, suggests that queer studies often emphasize differences between the past and the present rather than the continuity and sameness we find in early feminist "recovery" histories. Doan provocatively proposes that both are part of a "genealogical project" that traces back from contemporary notions of "homosexuality" to construct a lineage for the modern queer subject and, as a result, tends to reconstruct the past in relation to our "knowingness" about the meanings of identities in the present. (13) Following Doan, I want to focus on the ways the representations of desire are sometimes unintelligible and the attitudes toward its expression inchoate, highlighting the inconsistencies between these juxtaposed narratives. While Mather's passionate friendship with classmate Frona Brooks is explicitly about desire, rather than naming the relationship or ascribing an identity that prefigures our understanding of the modern lesbian, my focus is on the strategies of self-representation Mather chooses that are by turns suggestive and opaque.
Mather's two journals from 1882 detail her daily activities in the spring of her junior year and the fall of her senior year in almost compulsively comprehensive detail. Raised as a Quaker, Mather begins each journal at home on a religious note. In January 1882, Mather copies sixteen pages of pious poems in careful calligraphy, as if for a commonplace book to be used at college. This opening proves a false start, however, when Mather begins again at school, with this sterninjunction:
Rules of Journal I.--No sentiment II.--the truth--(14)
At home again for thesummer before her senior year, Mather opens the second journal withanother religious preamble, resolving "to put down everythingthat I think may be helpful to me in my work for Christ." Shetitles her journal, "Among God's Children," andthen adds "Records of God's Love" (September 1,1882). Despite these earnest beginnings, Mather is preoccupied in bothvolumes with the secular rituals of college life. Her crowded record ofher activities reveals college women are almost never alone, but move inshifting permutations of pairs to tramp together for long walks, makeexcursions into town, call on off-campus friends, and nap together inthe afternoons. These pairs re-form, sometimes every half hour, to studydifferent subjects with a series of classmates in different rooms.Evenings, they cluster in small groups to paste in their mem books,write letters home, or simply to "rest." They drop in onmultiple friends in their own or adjacent houses over the course of anevening, and they may spend the night in a friend's room whilethe roommates of each peripatetic student also circulate to other beds.In Mather's diary she and her friends seem in perpetual motion,distributing their attention and affection widely among an extendedcircle.
As Jane Hunter argues, keeping a diary may beintended to teach Victorian girls daily discipline and religiousself-reflection, but for the diarist they were as often the instrumentsof self-invention. (15) Far from a record of religious self-examination,the narrative thread that compels Mather's most sustainedinterest is telling her sexual story, in which her desires are onlyhalf-understood, and the language to express her feelings often failsher. Mather's story is inextricable from her friendship group,illustrating Jeffrey Weeks's paradox that "identities aredeeply personal but tell us about multiple social belongings."Whatever meanings we attribute to our desires, Weeks argues,"sexuality is ultimately about interactions with others. It isthrough that interaction that sexual meanings are shaped and sexualknowledge produced." (16) The densely populated accounts ofMather's friends in her journal are not tangential to her sexualstory or a cover for it, but the very medium in which her eroticself-knowledge comes into being.
She casts her friends asdramatis personae in the recreated scenes from their intertwined lives,and she gives the central players code names, initially making herjournals indecipherably private. Fortunately, in transmittingMather's journals to the college archives in 1946, ElizabethLawrence provides a key, identifying students with their campus houses,room numbers, and class year. Lawrence's key to the journals,created sixty-four years after Mather wrote them, proves that these werenot secret names, known only to the diarist, but nicknames recognizedwithin the friendship group (and adopted by several) that continue to beused through decades of reunions. The invention of individual names, aswell as group names "the corporation" and "thefirm" for Mather's chums and "the Quintette"for Tip Lawrence's separate posse of Hubbard friends, pointtoward another feature of college life, a mutual conferring of newidentities that emerge from events in their collective history. Thesenames in turn consolidate relationships between members of the group andconfirm insider status among those who give and answer to them.
Caroll Smith-Rosenberg poses a critical question about therelationship between erotic self-knowledge and available language thatresonates with Mather's journals: "Can desire appearwithin a discourse that has not named it?" (17) To speak herdesire, Mather invents metaphors and private vocabulary that also seemto be adopted by her circle. Mather includes a cryptic quotation in ascrap in her mem book around May 17, 1882, and in a journal entry forMay 21, she writes, "He that hunteth unicorns shall be wise, buthe that hunteth hares is foolish." On May 27 she notes,"Tip and I had a 'Unicorn talk. I knew that we must haveit sometime." The unicorn-hare formula appears as a"Persian proverb" in Lawrence's mem book the nextfall on October 4, 1882, along with paper cutouts of hares painteddifferent colors. The erotic subtext of the "proverb"emerges in an extended teasing conversation among "Pomona"(Ida Imogene Paddock), "Bubby" (Mary Lou Stevens),"Q" (Evelina Dickinson), and Mather that she transcribesin her journal earlier that week. On October 1, Mather guesses"Bubby hunted a hare this morning. I knew by the look in her face... and I think she caught it, for at dinner the look was gone."On October 2, the speculation widens, "Does L.G. [CharlotteGulliver] hunt hares? I say no! but Q [Gulliver's roommate,Evelina Dickinson] affirms that she does." As the conversationcontinues on October 3, Bubby and Mather openly agree that they"hunt hares" in various colors and joke that"Pomona is trying to find out what 'Hares'are."
The choice to hunt either hares or unicorns (butnot both) hints at erotic preferences known or guessed at among thegroup, at the same time that understanding the coded terms (or not)confirms an individual's sense of belonging. As a fellow initiateof hare-hunting, Mather can recognize the look of thwarted desire onBubby's face, and later her satisfaction when she"catches" one. If hunting hares is "foolish"and yet hares abound in the college and are central in thisconversation, these remarks display a titillating fascination withfemale peers.
The conventional wisdom of the apparentlyinvented proverb acknowledges that virginal interest in unicorns (absentmen?) is wiser than foolishly devoting themselves to each other, thehares who may be identified by their class colors. Yet the in-joke alsoseems to be that classmates such as Pomona, who don't yetrecognize their inclinations, are missing out on some of the fun ofcollege life. The intense interest and oblique self-disclosure of theconversations seem to be a way of inventing a language to talk aboutnonconforming sexual feelings while minimizing risk of exposure beyondthe group.
The most frequently appearing code inMather's journal is the name she gives to Frona Brooks, "A[sup.2]G." Although the precise meaning of the term is never explained,the narrative of their intimate friendship becomes the most compellingthread in both journals. As an archival source, Frona leaves very fewrecords of her own. We know her by her older sister Daisy'sreports in letters home, Frona's infrequent, smudgy postcards inpencil, a few lines at the bottom of Daisy's multipage letters,signed "in a tearing hurry." We know she played zitherconcerts at a nearby mental hospital, enthusiastically led her partnersin quadrilles and germans, and was often lamented in Daisy'sletters for her irreverent hijinks. Although she writes several entriesin Mather's diary, her own has not been preserved.
Inthe spring of 1882, as a junior, Mather records her ordinary encounterswith Frona, which conform to the usual pattern of groupsociability--visits to each other's rooms, waltzes in the parlor,late-night conversations, long walks beyond campus--with newlyheightened feeling: "such a waltz!!!" "talked toFrona for 100 minutes!!!" Perhaps the code A[sup.2]G, which she uses interchangeably with "Frona," expressesMather's sense their friendship has been raised to another power,been squared in some dimension. Mather often proposes pseudo-equationsin her diary as shorthand for what she wants or fears in theirrelationship. These begin "2+2=" but end variously, with4, 5, 44, 45, or a question mark. These notations become freighted withanxiety. The apparent certainty of mathematical language is a poignantreminder of the uncertain emotional calculus they strive to representand, more often than not, Mather's notations cannot be summed. InMarch, she "considered the fact that 2 and 2 sometimes make5." (March 4, 1882). By May, she's desperately defiant:"2+2=4 always and forever more they must!!" May 14, 1882). (18)
Moments alone with A[sup.2]G are elusive. On June 14, 1882, near the end of the semester and theconclusion of the journal's first volume, Mather narrates anidyllic hour in Frona's room, watching a sunset that seemscharged with symbolic import, at least for her: "At the foot ofthe mountains was a little path between two trees--'a wayout'--above the sky was gray and pink and birds flew aroundblindly--and I knew I was an A [sup.2]G!" Unexpectedly, we realize that A[sup.2]G is not merely a name for Frona, but a role in a relationship, or, inMather's case, a predicament. Applied to herself, the term istinged with dismay and unwelcome emotional vulnerability. Frona goes offwith friends for the rest of the evening and Mather's entry endsin bitter disappointment: "I sleep in Pomona's roomtonight where Ishall rest all alone. I don'tcare" Mather's mem book creates a more complicated dialogue betweenthem. For the same date, Mather pastes a poem in Frona'shandwriting asking where her special friend has gone: "Where owhere is my A [sup.2]G / Who was so dear to me? / Fias she gone for a hare or a unicorn? /Where o where can she be?" Frona's poem situates hermissing A [sup.2]G in the hares and unicorns script of the wider group, as ifMather's tastes were uncertain, but it seems from a teasingreassurance in the repeated refrain "where o where can shebe?" that Frona regrets Mather's absence.
Inthe journal, two partially coded scripts about sexual feelings circulateamong the extended group of friends. Both broaden familiar scenarioslearned through families, school, and popular culture. The"proverb" about hares and unicorns functions to recognizeindividual desires organized by generalizable patterns of eroticattraction. The inclinations themselves are inflected by heteronormativesanctions (to be wise or foolish), but these are casually disregarded bythe friendship group as irrelevant to their own tastes and behavior. Thesecond script, about being an A [sup.2]G, connotes a narrative that is mutually constituted by individuals, ascript with consequences for both parties, among them not behaving asoneself. Although Mather remains anxious about not having a will of herown and losing her "poise," she courts emotionalintensity: "Frona did not come over, and I went to bed weary forthe good-night. I resolved that I wouldn't be an A[sup.2]G and here I am, just the same unsensible child. Am I sorry or glad? Theother day in Frona's room I wished that I could be intense oncemore and my wish has come true" (September 28, 1882).
In other entries that fall, Mather develops an elaborate privatevocabulary that she and Frona apparently share, at least with eachother. Trips to a metaphoric "Desert Island" offer theseclusion necessary for mutual understanding: "We said good nightabout 1089 times. We went to the 'Desert Island' andplayed 'truth' there and / found 'my dearestfriend' and it was so peaceful. After the Island there is no need for'shaukels' any more. We talked until--dawn according to A[sup.2]G" (October 14, 1882). "Shaukels" is derived fromGerman and in Mather's usage suggests a seesaw or imbalancebetween them: "Frona came over at her time and her end of the'sch' was up and mine was not down, and it was so good tohave her" (October 1, 1882). Blocking communication in public andperhaps in private are "stone walls." Whether theyfunction as shorthand for individual inhibitions or social constraintsthat bar expressing certain emotions, stone walls infuriate Mather. Morethan once Frona resorts to the rocking chair to soothe Mather: "A[sup.2]G came and rocked me, while she talked to me upon the subjectof'stone walls." (September 30, 1882). But Mather sees theharm of repressing emotions in Bubby's pursuit of"hares": "Those two try the 'stonewall' plan and it is not good" (October 1, 1882). Ignoring stone walls or "comingover" them may indicate giving in to passion or beingunreasonable, or both. Alone, if not in public, Mather may find release:"Did not get to sleep exactly at ten--the result of coming overthe 'stone wall'" (September 28, 1882).Mather's entry for Sunday, October 8, marks an anniversary forthe couple and includes Frona's own stock-taking: "A yearago tonight-we talked of Logic and the appellation 'A[sup.2]G'--and now--tonight--A [sup.2]G says--'If you had not wanted me then, I should have missed muchhappiness and have been spared a great deal of pain.'"Embedding Frona's voice in the entry produces a dramaticretroactive reassessment for the reader. Frona crystalizes that whateverelse it means, being an A [sup.2]G means wanting and being wanted, and that desire, perhaps conflictedfor Frona, has already defined both of them for a year. Declarations ofsentimentalized or spiritualized love are frequent in representations ofnineteenth-century women's friendships, yet Mather never adoptssuch language to describe her feelings for Frona. Mather struggles toarticulate the more difficult terrain of wanting. Mather'slanguage in October and November seems frankly physical, erupting inunfinished fragments. After talking to Frona, Mather comes home"stirred up--as usual--and I am stirred up now--and Iwish--" (Oct. 23). The tension mounts with each encounter:"Frona came in and said good night to me and left me--avolcano!" (Nov. 1).
Mather seeks an antidote to theseturbulent feelings in being "rocked," and during Novembershe goes from room to room to be rocked by friends while passion bubblesbeneath the surface. These rocking chair rituals among friends are someof the consoling maternal gestures, like tucking up a pair of friendsfor an afternoon nap or kissing them goodnight, that structurefriends' affectionate intimacy in familial patterns. Between 9p.m. and the 10 p.m. curfew, all of Hubbard and Hatfield houses areregularly in a flurry of maternal solicitation, with multiple visits toother rooms, playing mother and child by turns. Suddenly, within a weekin mid-November, Mather moves from private turmoil to outspokendeclarations of her feelings. On November 13 Mather is enthusiastic:"Miss Knox came over and said good night to A[sup.2]G and we went the rounds and kissed a dozen people goodnight!!!"Afterwards, Mather reports, "We went to the 'DesertIsland' and--we found each other and settled everything in amathematical way--and I was satisfied. We talked ofunreasonableness.'" Then on November 17, Matherdramatically swears off the bedtime ritual with mutual friends:"Resolved', not to kiss anybody but Frona."
The intervening entryfor November 16 promises an explanation and yet resists interpretation.Mather arrives "by agreement" to spend time inFrona's room, while her roommate is elsewhere, and finds anotice, "No admittance to anyone but Miss Mather,"curtailing the usual drop-in visitors. Their rendezvous is delayedbecause Frona herself is out: "So I went in and found the loungeall ready for my comfort--I lay down and rested for I found myself tiredand excited and it seemed hours before she came--But at last I heard thestep and had her--." While the erotic charge of Mather'ssuspenseful narrative is palpable, the rest of this entry lacks theemotional crescendo it seems to promise. Sally Newman cautions thatresearchers "reading for romance" in relations betweenwomen may come with expectations shaped by "theheteroimagination" about how desire ought to drive love'snarrative to a familiar climax. (19) Once Frona arrives, Mather readsher English lesson while Frona changes her dress, arranging her hair in"Freshman style," yet nothing more dramatic is reported inMather's chronicle of their time together. In noticing theabsence of what we expect, we risk missing what is there. Thefulfillment of the meeting for Mather apparently consists in the relaxedfamiliarity of each other's company, intended, for once, not tobe shared with others.
Although individual desire arises outof intimate patterns of group sociability, Mather's journal alsotestifies to tensions that can exist between the group and the couple.As her attachment to Frona intensifies, she chafes privately at havingto share her time with others. She participates in the familiar rituals,but her heart is not in them: "We sang our songs and Mike (MiraHall) played the waltzes and our hearts ached as they did not in the olddays--at least mine did" (November 16). She vows "Resolved10:30 pm Nov 17--Never to have it 'Sunday night' withanyone but you." When she announces to friends her resolutions toshare her kisses and her Sunday evenings only with Frona, she may havebeen rebuked: "What their comments were I will not write here andI shall not forget" (November 18). Mather never herself voicesany self-doubt or guilt about the rightness of her feelings towardFrona, yet her silence about her friends' response bristles withhurt, indignation, and perhaps shame.
In Mather'saccount of a Sunday evening soon after, we see the friction betweengroup rituals, including the transparency of journal-sharing amongfriends, and Mather's own conflicted emotions. DespiteMather's resolutions, Frona's room is crowded with othervisitors as curfew, and their impending separation, approaches.Meanwhile Mather writes in her journal and composes a letter to DaisyBrooks, Frona's older sister, "on the subjects of'Fascination' and 'Sunday night."' Nodoubt Frona figures in both. Mather notes Frona's enjoyment ofher other guests: "A [sup.2]G was excited and talked French." Suddenly, in the last line ofthe entry, Mather erupts "It was a peculiar evening very--and Iwanted to get off--off--off over eight stone walls because I would not have it 45. So!!!" (November 26). Is her notation another unworkableequation, an unsatisfactory sum of what she and Frona add up to? In thetop margin of this page, apparently added later, Mather forbids othersto intrude again, "[Not to be read byanyone]." Mather's exasperated incoherence signals the pressures of peerapproval and self-restraint in the unsurmountable "eight stonewalls" that block expression in private as well as in public.Martha Vicinus highlights the interpretive challenges of a diary likeMather's. Intrinsic to any history of sexuality is asubject's "unknowable core," which no archive willyield. Yet the subject's effort to gain self-knowledge"inevitably grounds sexual desire in a language." (20) InMather's account, we repeatedly see her struggle to invent alanguage for her passion in mathematics or code words.
WhenFrona departs for Thanksgiving break, she leaves a daily"prescription" for Mather to follow, but we can'ttell what cure she recommends in her absence. Mather responds to thelast of these on December 2: "Arose and read the lastprescription. Indeed I am glad thee is coming back. If three days is thusly, what will all theyears to come be?" The trace of Mather's Quaker speechcould hint at religious reflection, yet she seems far from stoic aboutlosing Frona when they graduate. Entries taper off mid-December andreferences to A [sup.2]G suggest uneasy companionship rather than intimacy: "A[sup.2]G came over at 8:30 and we did Bible. It was such nervous work--Ithought I should fly. Tip showed me a letter from her mother before wewent to bed--and we conversed in sisterly style upon--'DarkProblems'" (December 16,1882).
Two terseentries separated by blank pages close the journal. Mather returns homewith her friend "Q" to celebrate her twenty-secondbirthday on December 25: "A birthday with a heart-ache in it andyet a sure and deep peace. Aunt Lizzie and I went up to the city to seeDr. Pepper and reached home at 1. Mother went over to dinner--and we hada bran pie. Q and I played tennis with Charlie and Ellwood. Iwant mine A [sup.2]G. Everybody gave me everything." The dissonance between herclaim she's found peace and her uncensored cry that erupts fromthese mundane details serves retroactively to unsettle the whole entryand deepen the heartache. A single sentence seals the journal on NewYear's Eve: "A Record of God's Love--yes I am surethat God is love." The intervening blank pages indicate Mather planned otherentries, but couldn't, or wouldn't, say more.Mather's reiterated faith may be so secure it needs noexplanation, yet for readers who have been immersed in the passionatemoods of October and November, her transformation from grief over herloss of Frona to consolation or sublimation seems abrupt and evenforced. Her last entry perhaps intentionally echoes the title for thejournal chosen four months earlier in September, "certainly'among God's children' I will find records of Hislove" (September 26, 1882). Yet Mather's original piousintention and her final declaration seem incongruous brackets to theteeming catalogue of secular college life and the arc of her desire forFrona.
When Mather doesn't return to Smith for thewinter term, her friends offer contradictory explanations. Alice Millerwrites home to her mother, "Miss Mather's not coming back.Her mother is ill and she is taking care of her for this term at least,so that the probabilities are against her graduating. It is a great lossto '83. Frona feels the disappointment more than anyone else forthey were constantly together." (21) Mather returns to campus forthe spring term in April and graduates in June, although she keepsneither a mem book nor a journal for her final semester. TipLawrence's mem book preserves the puzzling last words from Matherand Frona in a telegram they sent from Wilmington, Delaware(Mather's hometown), for Lawrence's birthday the nextfall. Although the tone is unmistakably exuberant, the content of theterse message is frustratingly unclear: "Unspeakably grandreunion. Many encores meet the Bullet. Shake Cinq." (22) Lawrencedoesn't translate. The telegram is signed "A. SquireGee," a pun on "square" that only deepens theriddle of what A [sup.2]G might mean. If we can guess what the end of the special friendshipcost Mather, we cannot determine its cause, nor the terms on which thepair jubilantly reunite after graduation. The archival importance ofMather's journal, I believe, is precisely the haunting ambiguityand unsolvable riddles we confront, the ways her record forces us toreevaluate what we hoped we would find.
My second case studyoffers a lens to examine the boundaries between the homosocial world ofthe college and external critical reactions to it. At the center of thisdrama are another pair of students from the circle of friends and a pairof teachers. Salome Machado and Margarette Osgood were friendsfrom Salem, Massachusetts, and were roommates throughout college. Osgoodfollowed Mather as class president in their second year and had astarring role as the Sun in Mather's astrological"Abracadabra" in the spring of 1881. Everyone in the groupstudied with Heloise Hersey and Kate Sanborn, both of whom taughtEnglish.
On October 4, 1881, the daily SpringfieldRepublican published a short poem, titled "The Conceited Lover," inthe top right corner of page two, crowded among five narrow columns ofwanted ads, rooms to let, patent remedies, and a sixth dense column ofliterary and art news. The author is identified as"K.A.S." Although the placement and relative anonymity ofthe poem would suggest a limited readership, the publication wouldreveal the permeability of the women's college community and itsvulnerability to male judgment. "I love two maidens, each sorare, / I know not which to woo," the poem begins, and in thesecond stanza, the lover contrasts the maidens: "Marg'ret,my pearl has deep blue eyes, / And earnest noble face; / But Salomie noless I prize / For her sweet Spanish grace." (23) The poem endsby railing against men and the fickle women who prefer them:"What! Both engaged? Don't tell me that! / Compared withme !!! inferior! flat! / I'll ne'er trust womanagain." Margarette Osgood and Salome Machado, juniors atSmith, were shown the poem by their teacher Kate Sanborn. Margaretwrites to her family that she and Salome "were very muchamused at it, both at the silliness of the rhyme itself, and that it wasabout us." Disclosed in private and read as a mark of a popularteacher's special favor, Margarette and Salome enjoy themoment: "we laughed over it with Miss Sanborn and then forgot allabout it." (24)
Sanborn was forty-one when she washired to teach English literature in 1880 on a yearly contract, typicalfor most teachers in the first decade of the college. She stood outamong the female faculty at Smith. Not only was she older than most, sheboasted literary connections in
New York, wrote fornewspapers, and gave entertaining, paid public lectures, frequentlyabout women authors, in addition to teaching. Clever at turningerudition to profit, Sanborn published "novel andlabour-saving" study guides covering figures from Chaucer toTennyson, sold at twenty-five cents each, that diagramed relationshipsbetween literary figures and their contexts. (25) Sanborn livedoff-campus but frequently served as chaperone for group outings.
When friends show Margarette and Salome the published poem,they assume Sanborn sent it totheRepublican and are "disgusted" that what amused them in private isnow a public joke at their expense. Osgood writes her parents that"it was exceedingly rude and horrid of Miss S. to have itpublished with our names still in it." (26) Although Osgood hadcopied out the poem in her letter home, she seems surprised at the"vehemence" of her family's replies. On October 9,she worries that her father's letter to President Seelye willstir up unwelcome attention for her and Salome, "now thatthe matter is entirely forgotten by everybody." She reassureshim, "Everyone knows Miss S. and everyone knows us, and no onefeels anything but sympathy for us and indignation at her.... our nameshave not been in people's mouths as much as you think"(Oct. 9). The campus reaction, Osgood insists, has been short-lived andmuted; only a handful of girls have mentioned the poem to them becausefew read the Republican. Yet certainly their close friends recognized all three. Tip Lawrencepastes the poem in her mem book, "cut from the Spring.Repub." with the date, spelling out Sanborn's full name,and identifying the girls as "class of 83." Among men,however, the response is unexpectedly amplified. In her poem, Sanbornindulges in satiric male impersonation and in that guise appears toconfess her homoerotic attraction to her students. Her crime seems to berecklessly publishing both aspects of Smith culture abroad and namingthe participants in it.
The humor of the poem'shackneyed parody gets increasingly misconstrued the farther afield ittravels. Two weeks after the poem appears in the Springfield paper, itis reprinted in the Amherst Student, then forwarded to Harvard. Most likely Lawrence, whose brother Georgeattends Amherst, heard of its publication there. Friends ofSalome's brother at Harvard send it to her on October 19.When Osgood writes home on October 21, she's received letters ofapology from President Seelye and Miss Sanborn, apparently prompted byher father's outrage. Osgood reads these to Miss Hersey whoclaims "most of the faculty were tremendously worked up about itand Miss Sanborn was suffering on every side" and also promisesto inform President Seelye of the expanding circulation of the poemamong male undergraduates.
Heloise Hersey was the femalefaculty-in-residence at Hatfield House and taught Rhetoric andAnglo-Saxon. Unlike most of the female teachers, Hersey had a BA fromVassar when she was hired in 1878, one of six women among fifteen men,and the only English teacher. She was twenty-four. At a Smith Collegereception for entering students, Osgood longs to dance with Miss Hersey"who seems just like one of the girls." (27) Salomeis initially smitten, too, writing her brother about "ourbrilliant young English teacher & her lovely little Sunday night'talks'" about leading a Christian life away fromhome. (28) Hersey's efforts to discredit Sanborn with the girls,the faculty, and the president may have been fed as much by herprofessional rivalry with Sanborn, a charismatic teacher whose literaryreputation extended well beyond Smith, as it did with her sense of thegirls' injury from Sanborn's indiscretion. Her campaignsucceeds only after the Class of '83 graduates.
Osgood, at least, doesn't blame Sanborn, "whodoubtless knew nothing of it," for the boys' actions, andshe reassures her parents that "very few of the boys at Amherstknow us by name." (29) Nothing in the archives specifies thecontent of the male gossip about Salome and Margarette, but weassume that sexual impropriety is at the heart of it. Whatever theHarvard students said, it was inflammatory enough to provokeSalomes brother to defend the roommates' honor.Machado's papers include a handwritten statement of"eternal gratitude" for Jose AntonioMachado's "chivalrous defense" and his"knightly conduct" at Harvard, signed by 114 Smith women.By this point, the public harm of implied sexual rumor has been done,not just to his sister and her best friend, but potentially to all his"Smithsonian sisters" who extend their "heartysympathy for the blow and the black eye he received on our behalf." (30) Salomes andMargarette's names appear at the top of two columns ofsignatures, which fill three pages of ruled notebook paper. Among the114 signatures are 46 members of the class of 1883, including Mather,Lawrence, Alice Miller, Imogene Paddock ("Pomona"), andBelle Gleason from their circle, and almost thirty each from the classesof 1882 and 1884, as well as a handful of resident graduates from theclass of 1881. Strikingly, the collective response among Smith studentsis a declaration of gratitude to a male defender off-campus, not astatement denouncing Sanborn's behavior or asking for anyinstitutional action against her.
During October 1881, KateSanborn may have experienced what Anna Clark calls a "twilightmoment," characterized as indulging in forbidden behavior andthen returning to ordinary life without penalty. Sanborn might pretendat least to cross a sexual boundary beginning to be marked by collegecommunities yet not lose her respectable identity within it. To Amherstand Harvard readers, as well as Osgood's father, thespeaker's desire in Sanborn's poem to "woo,""want," and "strive to win" both maidensapparently confirmed male distrust of friendships at women'scolleges, especially those between female teachers and students, aspredatory and immoral. In Clark's elaboration of the twilightmoment, she emphasizes that such morally and sexually suspect behaviorsaren't consolidated into permanently shameful identities asstigmatized minorities, and Sanborn and her students seem to emergeunmarked. Whatever rumors circulate about them at men's colleges,neither Salome's nor Margarette's reputationssuffer on campus. In fact, that winter they champion students'rights to cross-dress as men in house dramatics when the presidentattempts to ban the practice. Machado writes a satiric"Apology" to the "only one of our faculty over whomwe do not have desirable control [who] has vetoed the unabbreviatedexpression of the masculine factor of society." They ridicule, inmany verses sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan'sPatience, the president's prohibition of impersonating "a young& green young man / An old & gray y. m. / A man medieval /or with us coeval / Or age-of-the-ark y. m." (31)
YetSalome could as successfully play the flattering feminine rolewhen her class sends her as "our prettiest ambassadress"to persuade Seelye to allow the class to present their senior play to amixed-gender audience during commencement. (32)
Perhaps moresurprising than students resisting administrative regulation of collegeculture is that Sanborn's close ties with students outside theclassroom continue, and her popularity as a teacher is undiminishedafter her poem goes public. She supports their money-making schemes,paying students to mend her clothes and make a quilt. Yet Sanborn nowrecognizes alliances with her students might be misunderstoodoff-campus. Mather's mem book contains a letter drafted bySanborn for the group:
The whole affair [making and selling candy] has been gotten up as a sort of a 'lark' from beginning to end and we find we must clip its wings & not let it fly out of our near neighborhood, [or] go forth out of our own home nest. What we do in college has a different aspect & gets talked about in a different manner from that which we undertake at home. The fear (taught by past experience) that the next report would be that candy-making had taken the place of our regular work & making other things so easy to be said yet so difficult to recall. (May 21,1882)
In June1882, Sanborn's annual teaching appointment is renewed by thepresident and approved by the trustees. Then in June 1883, more than ayear and a half after the blare of publicity over her poem, PresidentSeelye unexpectedly asks for Kate Sanborn's resignation. (33) Thearchive contains both sides of an extraordinary exchange of lettersbetween Sanborn and a devoted former student, Nina Browne of the classof 1882, tracking both the campus response and Sanborn's. Browne,who becomes the college's archivist in 1922, preserves bothSanborn's letters and her own draft replies amongSanborn's papers. Throughout the exchange Browne's specialrelationship to Sanborn is revealed: she's eager to impress herformer teacher with her reading, willing to do her personal errands, andalways ready to gossip about other teachers. In January 1883, Brownefetches materials from Sanborn's Northampton apartment forSanborn, who spends the winter term writing in New York. How unawareSanborn is that winter that she'll be fired in June is evident inan essay she completed in January 1883 for Demorest'sMonthly Magazine. In "Social Life of Smith College," published in July1883, Sanborn praises the institution's liberality and thestudents' maturity: "Treat a girl of eighteen or twenty asif she were a sensible, honorable woman, [and] she will prove herselfone." (34) The article details at length the"frolics" of the class of 1883; the"ingenious" production of the "CelestialParty" in May 1881 (Mather's "Abracadabra"),class songs, and several verses from Machado's"Apology," all evidence of her deep involvement in studentlife. Her article staunchly defends women's colleges against anycharges of "maudlin, morbid excrescences ofsentimentality" and extols Smith in particular: "I thankmy good fortune for being connected to so grand an enterprise and thinkthere is no better place to live in and work for than Smith College.(35)
In retrospect, we can detect some uneasiness as Sanbornlays out ambitious plans for the spring term: "You know I amdeeply interested in my work at the College and shall not leaveunless--requested to." (36) Yet if her dismissal in June of 1883is somehow connected to the notoriety her relations with studentsproduced for the college in October 1881, why is her punishment sobelated? The delayed decision may be evidence of how thoroughlySanborn's reputation as teacher and ally was restored amongstudents and, by contrast, how uneasy the institution's toleranceof Sanborn's assertive presence was. The Class of '83votes her their favorite female teacher in June. No awareness of herdismissal appears in their numerous letters and mementoes ofcommencement. Although her recuperation from her twilight moment seemssecure, other networks of power and influence are at work beyond Sanbornand her student coterie. On April 15, 1883, Alice Miller, who attendsSanborn's public lectures, writes her parents:
Miss Sanborn is rather startling sometimes, and is severely criticized, but she is sure to know all the literati of New York--[S]he gave us an account of the Nineteenth Century Club, where literary men hold forth on the "vital questions of the age" and to which visitors are seldom admitted. It is odd to hear the different opinions of Miss Sanborn. Some people ... take it for granted that she is quite the shining light at Smith College, and the member of the Faculty who reflects most credit on the institution. Others speak of it as "very unfortunate for the reputation of the college that a person like Miss Sanborn should be identified with it." The secret of it seems to be that she is admired extravagantly among a certain clique in New York and not outside of it.
An outspoken, irreverentpersonality, with literary ties to New York, access to elitemen's clubs, and a success on the public lecture circuit, Sanbornoperates outside the conventions of femininity that might be expected ofwomen faculty, and her greater ambitions may have contributed as much toher downfall as any rumored impropriety with students.
Herbravado collapses at Seelye's decision, probably announced afterstudents leave for the summer, and she immediately decamps to Hanover,New Hampshire. She asks Nina Browne to pack up her apartment "sothat I need not go back to stay at Northampton." Nonetheless, sheyearns for "every mite of gossip" from Browne:"What do you hear? I know my influence was good on the girls, never bad--In fact I rarely saw them but atrecitation." (37) From Sanborn's phrasing, we might inferHersey's methods were the power of innuendo, and becauseSanborn's moral taint is unspecified, its meaning has the powerto ramify by word of mouth. By mid-July Sanborn fumes, "I do notget over the gross injustice done me by the Pres It was a sly mean thingand entirely undeserved. Of course you know my place waswanted." (38) When Sanborn's letters stop after Browne completes a longlist of requests, Browne attempts to revive their connection by stokingSanborn's belief in a conspiracy. She reports Hersey has takenover Sanborn's English literature class, and she blames "ablind and apron-stringed President and a deep & cunning MissHersey" for Sanborn's dismissal. (39) Suspecting sexualinnuendo was the means for discrediting Sanborn, Browne retaliates withhyperbolic gossip about Miss Hersey. On January 16, Browne had gloated:"One of Miss Hersey's five former lovers is here in townwith his wife. Subject for imagination, Miss Hersey'sfeelings." In September, after popular philosophy professor M. S.Phelps dies in a hunting accident, Browne is vindictive onSanborn's behalf: "Here rumor says Miss Hersey was reallyengaged to him. Serve her right. She will have a joyous year without himand trying to fill your place." Both Sanborn and Hersey move onin 1883. Sanborn launches a lucrative speaking tour in the Midwest,takes another teaching job in Cincinnati, and loses touch with Browne.Hersey resigns that fall as a result of Phelps' death and movesto Boston, founding a girls' school there in 1887. Howeverimportant their ties with their students, they were by necessityentrepreneurs first, carving out a living as single professionalwomen.
Juxtaposing Mather's journal with the Sanbornscandal reveals the contradictory cross-currents at work in the samehistorical moment during the early 1880s: the coalescing of same-sexdesire into the mutually constituted relationship of being an A[sup.2]G coexists with male ridicule or disapproval of women's collegeculture. Although Mather signs the statement of gratitude toSalomes brother for defending Smith women's honor atHarvard, the flare-up of negative male attention is not a deterrent inher pursuit of Frona. In fact, in the same week that Sanborn'spoem is published, she pastes a triumphant trophy--"A bow from A[sup.2]G's dress!!!"--in her mem book (October 6, 1881). OnOctober 8, 1881, which they mark retrospectively as their invention ofthe "appellation A [sup.2]G" as shorthand for their desire, neither expresses fear ofexposure or rebuke while the tempest about Sanborn roils aroundthem.
The bonds between these undergraduate friends last fordecades, despite geographical distance. In the class photo for theirfortieth reunion in 1923, we see our group together again among thethirty-six women in the picture. Although almost all pose with handsfolded demurely, the circle of friends stand or sit close to each other.Elizabeth Lawrence becomes an informal historian of her class; shecontributes a chapter on "Student Life" for PresidentSeelye's Early History of Smith College, published just in time for the reunion. She stands out near the centerof the photo in a plaid dress, her elbow resting on Mather'sshoulder, seated in front of her. Lawrence earns an MA from Smith andmarries a professor from Williams College (who taught at Smith while shewas a student) in 1892. She becomes a trustee in 1894. Like many of herclassmates, she sends her daughter to Smith.
MaryMather's completely white hair matches her white reunion dress.This will be her last reunion, and she vows to march in the alumnaeparade despite severe rheumatism and failing eyesight. By her death twoyears later, she is blind. Although the decennial census for Wilmington,Delaware, lists Mather's occupation as "none,"between her graduation and her death, she made a career as a volunteerin progressive organizations, as did many of her classmates. Herobituary lists her pioneering work in the YWCA temperance and settlementwork. She organizes the Delaware branch of the AAUW and establishestraveling lending libraries for children in rural Delaware andeducational programs for adult immigrants in Wilmington. With herlong-time partner ("special friend" in the obituary) AliceP. Smyth, she donates a Browsing Room for the women's college ofDelaware. (40) Smyth, whom the class of 1883 adopts as an honorarymember, stands just behind her in the photo. As single women they arenot a minority in the class, half of whom never marry, yet recognizingSmyth as an honorary member of the class and including her in thereunion photo forty years later demonstrates the continuing centralityof Mather to the class and the durable fabric of group loyalty that canincorporate both Mather and her partner. Together they donate a sundialfor this reunion. At the dedication, Lawrence introduces Mather as"the one who first started us in this spirit of co-operationtoward the class and loyalty to the College." (41) MargaretteOsgood and Salome Machado sit together at the center of the frontrow, next to Mather. Machado marries a Latin professor at Harvard twoyears after graduation, while Osgood is typical of many classmates whomarry late. By this reunion, both have been widows for almost twodecades. Frona Brooks stands in the back row, taller than anyone else,her hair strikingly dark at sixty, looking directly at the photographer.While her older sister Daisy earns a medical degree at the University ofMichigan (one of seven women in her class of one hundred), Frona studiesdivinity at Harvard for two years but is denied a degree. She marries anengineering professor in 1888, moves to the Midwest, has four sons andfour daughters over the next decade, and earns an MA from Smith in 1893.In 1925, Frona writes Mather's obituary for the SmithAlumnae Quarterly.
With any archive, the evidencethat remains is only a fraction of what might have been preserved.Reconstructing the route of Mather's journals, we know that shekept them until her death in 1925, and that Alice Smyth, who must haveread them to know Frona might want them, sent them two decades later toFrona, a mother of eight and grandmother many times over. Frona knewthat Mather had chronicled their relationship in the journals since sheread them at the time and contributed entries impersonating Mather.Frona, in turn, sent them to Lawrence, who maintained lifelong ties toSmith. In sending Mather's journals to Margaret Grierson, theSmith College archivist, in 1946, Lawrence doubts their worth:"Frankly I think you are going to be disappointed in the 2books." Lawrence warns, "There is not as much of thecollege life in them as there is the 'introspection' ofone person! The amount of 'striving' after variousthings--the many references to church--prayer meetings &cwould--it seems to me--be very different from a girl of the presenttime." (42) Perhaps she's put off by Mather'sreligious preambles, although she does notice the romance: "Inher junior year she evidently had what we then called a'crush' on Miss Brooks--who was in the class just aboveher--'82--and was the sister of Frona Brooks. It has much amusedme to see this development--of which I never knew." Lawrence is85 when she rereads the journals and provides her key, yet it'spuzzling that she correctly identifies Frona as A[sup.2]G in the key and misidentifies her sister Daisy (always "MissBrooks" in the journals) as Mather's"crush." Her misrecognition of Frona, who was alsoLawrence's friend, may be belated self-defense. The homophobia ofthe culture in the mid-1940s may also influence Lawrence's claimshe "never knew" about Mather's feelings, althoughshe was her roommate for three years. In retrospect, Lawrence feelsMather was always essentially different from herself: "We nevergot on together--our natures did not jibe--and yet of course we studiedtogether--and shared what we could." (43) The startlingdifference between this judgment and the playful exchanges betweenLawrence and Mather in their mem books reveals that what the archivemeans depends on when we read it and what sympathies we bring.Nonetheless, Alice, Frona, and Tip collaborate between 1925 and 1946 toensure Mather's narrative is transmitted to the archive, knowingwhat it contains.
What is retained and remembered isremarkable, yet what remains stubbornly unintelligible, or unsaid in myarchival sample may be most powerful in helping us think about theuneven, asynchronous, and erratic formation of sexual identities.Mather's metaphors, unworkable sums, and the conundrum of A[sup.2]G are only partially intelligible strategies of self-representation thatcan't be translated or reduced to the modern language of sexualself-recognition. Although she often dramatizes scenes with friends,complete with dialogue, Mather transcribes only one conversation withFrona that we nonetheless take as the Rosetta stone for the journal:"If you had not wanted me then, I should have missed muchhappiness and have been spared a great deal of pain." The gaps inthe record about Sanborn are everywhere. Except for the extremelymediated evidence of the poem, we know nothing of what might be hersexual feelings. We can only guess what the boys said at Harvard, andwhat Hersey told President Seelye, or what Seelye said to Sanborn inasking for her resignation. What deserves interpretive attention is whatsurprises us. Mather's relationship with Frona and the ways it isenmeshed in the group suggest they did not see it as distinct from thecirculation of erotic potential that is intrinsic to group sociability,but as an extension and intensification. The eighteen-month delay inSeelye's response and the immediate suturing over ofSanborn's breach by students that endures for decades of reunionspoint toward the resilience of the homosocial world despite externalhostility.
The mandate of a college archive is to preserveadministrative records; in order to document student culture, a collegearchive depends on student and alumnae contributions. A college archivewill always reflect the institution's demographic, which in thenineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century at Smith waspredominantly white and middle class, although not exclusively so. Thefirst African American student, Otelia Cromwell, graduated in 1900, andthe daughters of African American novelist Charles Chesnutt, Ethel andHelen (classes of 1901 and 1902, respectively), appear in theirclassmates' mem books and photo albums. By the mid-twentiethcentury, evidence from the archives could tell a different story when amore self-consciously political collective emerged within studentculture in the clubs, protests, and organized resistance by AfricanAmerican students. Their efforts had a powerful shaping role on theinstitution, including on admission policies, faculty hiring, and thecurriculum, establishing a department and major in African Americanstudies in 1969, one of the earliest in the country. (44) And on a finalnote, self-identified lesbian students become visible as a group in thearchives in the 1970s, calling themselves "Sophia'sSisters," after the college's founder Sophia Smith. Noevidence exists that their self-naming was a kind of "recoveryproject" of lesbian forebears that Doan cautions against. Yet itsuggests a collective sense of belonging to the history of theinstitution that Mather and her group passionately shared.
(1.) Sarah Gordon, "Smith College Students: The First TenClasses, 1879-1888," History of EducationQuarterly 15, no. 2 (Summer 1975): 147-67
(2.) Office of thePresident, Annual Report, 1875-1876, 7. All unpublished papers, unless otherwise noted, are fromthe Smith College Archives, Northampton, Massachusetts.
(3.)Sarah H. Gordon, Class of 1972 Alumnae Biographical files, researchmaterials for "Smith College Students," Box 2254,n.d.
(4.) Belle Gleason, "A Saga ofEighty-Three," Class Records, Box 1400.
(5.) ArletteFarge, The Allure of the Archives, trans. Thomas Scott-Railton (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,2013), 94.
(6.) Laura Doan, Disturbing Practices:History, Sexuality, and Women's Experience of ModernWar (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).
(7.) HubbardHouse, photographs, Box 215.
(8.) Belle Gleason, "ARamble in Reminiscence," June 26, 1923, Box 1401.
(9.)Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence, memorabilia book, March 26, 1882, Box1411.
(10.) Frona Marie Brooks, postcard to parents, February25, 1882, Box 1402; Esther "Daisy" Brooks, letter toparents, February 26, 1882, Box 1395.
(11.)"Daisy" Brooks, January 18, 1880, Box 1395
(12.) For a critical overview of the debates in scholarship aboutwomen's relationships in the nineteenth century, see MarylynneDiggs, "Romantic Friends or a 'Different Race ofCreatures'?: The Representation of Lesbian Pathology inNineteenth-Century America," FeministStudies 21, no. 2(Summer 1995): 317-40. More recently, the special issue"Theory, Methods, Praxis: The History of Sexuality and theQuestion of Evidence," Journal of the History ofSexuality 14, nos. 1-2 (2005), offers useful analyses of archival methods and newparadigms in the history of women's sexuality. See especiallyAnna Clark, "Twilight Moments": 139-60; Julian Carter,"On Mother-Love: History, Queer Theory, and NonlesbianIdentity": 107-38; Sally Newman, "The Archival Traces ofDesire: Vernon Lee's Failed Sexuality and the Interpretation ofLetters in Lesbian History": 51-75; and Jeffrey Weeks,"Remembering Foucault": 186-201. For an overview oflesbian historiography from the 1970s to the present, see MarthaVicinus, "The History of Lesbian History,"Feminist Studies 38, no.3 (Fall 2012): 566-96.
(13.) Doan,Disturbing Practices, 23, 58-61.
(14.) Mary H. Mather, journals, January 26, 1882,Box 1413. Subsequent citations to Mather's journals are annotatedin the text using only the date of the entry.
(15.) Jane H.Hunter, "Inscribing the Self in the Heart of the Family: Diariesand Girlhood in Late-Victorian America," AmericanQuarterly 44, no. 1 (March 1992): 58-59.
(16.) Weeks,"Remembering Foucault": 193, 197.
(17.) CarrollSmith-Rosenberg, "The Body Politic," in Comingto Terms: Feminism, Theory, Politics, ed. Elizabeth Weed (New York: Routledge, 1989), 101.
(18.)In the original, handwritten document, all emphasized words wereunderlined. In this article, such underlined text has been italicized inkeeping with style convention.
(19) Newman, "ArchivalTraces of Desire": 73-74.
(20.) Martha Vicinus,Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), xxii, xxiv.
(21.) Alice Miller to Sarah Mason Miller, letter, January 7, 1882,Box 1414.
(22.) Telegram pasted in Lawrence'smemorabilia book, November 11, 1883.
(23.)Springfield Republican, October 4, 1881. The clipping with date and source is pasted inLawrence's memorabilia book for 1881.
(24.) MargaretteOsgood to family, letter, October 5, 1881, Box 1406.
(25.)Kate A. Sanborn papers, faculty files, Box 1004.
(26.)Osgood, letter, October 5, 1881.
(27.) Osgood, letter, fall1879.
(28.) Salome Machado to Jose Antonio Machado,letter, September 28, 1879, Box 1405.
(29.) Osgood, letter,October 9, 1881.
(30.) "Letter of gratitude" toJose Antonio Machado, undated, ca. fall 1881, Machado papers, Box1405.
(31.) "Apology," March 11, 1882,Dramatics Records, Box 2.
(32.) Belle Gleason,"Ramble," 6, Box 1401; Elizabeth Lawrence, memorabiliabook, June 19, 1883, Box 1411.
(33.) Smith College Board ofTrustees, minutes, June 1882, June 1883, Volume 1, 1872-1907.
(34.) Kate Sanborn, "Social Life of SmithCollege," Demorest's Monthly Magazine (July 1883): 539, Sanborn faculty files, Box 1004.
(36.) Kate Sanborn to Nina Browne, letter,February 13, 1883, Box 1004.
(37.) Kate Sanborn to NinaBrowne, letter, July 3, 1883, Box 1004.
(38.) Sanborn toBrowne, letter, July 13, 1883, Box 1004.
(39.) Browne toSanborn, letter, September 17, 1883, Box 1004.
(40.) MaryMather, obituary, Wilmington Evening Journal, May 9, 1925.
(41.) 1883 Class Records, Box 1400.
(42.) Elizabeth Lawrence to Margaret Grierson, July 26, 1946, donorfiles, Classes of 1879-1909-Class of 1883, Mary Mather file.
(44.) See, among others, records of theBlack Students Alliance, faculty minutes, and the papers of PresidentThomas C. Mendenhall.
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|Title Annotation:||Women's Friendships|
|Author:||Van Dyne, Susan|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
|Next Article:||Young Women's Friendships across Three Generations: Insights from Norway.|