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Beehive series: From Our Collections

Marion’s Hidden Curriculum: Sexuality Education in the 1930s (Part Two)

In my last post, I highlighted the curriculum for a mid-twentieth-century course on “the family” located in the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers. The young woman who attended the course was eighteen-year-old Marion Howe, whose diaries from the period elliptically document her questions and anxieties about sexual desire. These diaries, read in counterpoint to the formal curriculum on family life, suggest a hidden curriculum of social constraint that shaped Marion’s experience of her body, her emotions, and the choices she would face in forming adult relationships.

As an adolescent in the newly-constructed American youth culture, Marion’s experience of heterosocial was shaped by the social norms and expectations of her high school peers. Consider these snippets from the winter of 1934:

Johnnie snubbed me, and he and Charlie had another ‘argument.’ Gosh, I don’t know what to do. I like Charlie, I like Johnny, and I like Joe -- and I’m in love with one of them, and I don’t know who. I wouldn’t want to give up any of them -- Gee, I guess I must be awfully selfish. … I know I’m going to be called a ‘two-timer,’ but what on earth can I do about it? (3 January)

 

I can’t love Charlie. I might -- ! Wotta life! I wrote a note to Johnny, but I haven’t the courage to give it to him. But when I do, I’m gonna ask him if he’s going ‘steady’ with Elie. Gee, how I hate her, even tho’ I don’t know her! (5 January)

 

Got up rather late after raising Cain in bed with Shrimp and Dutch this morning. … Shrimp and I had a talk last night before going to sleep -- and we decided C, J, and I should all have an understanding. … I don’t know what Shrimp means when she says I haven’t learned my lesson yet. (13 January)

 

I guess I’m fickle, but as long as I’m gonna be an old maid, it’s okay. (23 February)

 

Charlie came up. Joe asked me if I would go to the movies. Though I liked Johnny. G[eorgie] G[lebus] asked me for a date. Helped prepare Ma’s party at church tomorrow. Cooked 100 or so cakes. (14 March)

As historian Beth Bailey has documented in From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), mid-twentieth-century youth culture differentiated between dating and “going steady.” Dating was nonexclusive and embedded one’s peer network whereas “going steady” meant exclusivity and a more serious intention to consider engagement or marriage. Yet in practice, where did one slide into the other? It’s clear in these diary entries that Marion is caught up in the pleasure of dating and fantasizing about the relationship potential of the young men who appear to be competing for her attention. Yet she also worries about being read as a “two-timer” for refusing to “give up” Charlie, Johnnie, or Joe. But Johnnie might be “going steady” with Elie -- and thus out of bounds for a casual date? Maybe it’s better just to be an “old maid” rather than navigate these uncertain waters.

Dating, and going steady, also meant negotiating physical intimacies -- something that Marion expresses a deep ambivalence about. Consider the entry from 1 April 1934:

After church at night Joe and I went for a ride. He let me drive. I’m glad he doesn’t try to get mushy. That’s the greatest trouble of boys of this age. Whenever they take you in their car, they expect you to start petting; and if there’s one thing only in this world that is sickening, it’s petting and the like. (Maybe it’s all right with the right boy.)

Is Marion’s “sickening” displeasure at getting “mushy” due to her own discomfort with relational sex, her disinterest in Joe (whom she will marry two years later), or tension borne of her social role as gatekeeper? It’s impossible to know -- likely a combination of all three. 

By her late teens, a job-seeking high school graduate whose parents resist her interest in attending college, Marion’s adolescent dating relationships take on a greater degree of seriousness and urgency as the year moves on. In August 1935 she writes of a flirtation with Jim, a lifeguard she has had a crush on, and then a series of entries are cut out of the volume. When the diary resumes, it seems clear she has had some sort of unsettling or violating sexual experience:

Got up about 8. All I could think of was what Jim would be doing. … I’d get thinking of Jim and then lose the sequence of the plot. I hate myself for falling for him. … [her close friend] Shrimp wanted to know more of the Experience Monday, so to oblige her, I told her some of it. The rest she doesn’t know, and so I won’t hurt her. At night it hurts most to remember. And I can’t forget, much as I try. (28 August)

Whatever lessons she has had about human sexuality have not helped her feel confident making sense of her the situation. Several days later, she reports that she’s “had the talk with Shrimp today about generation [and] realize how completely ignorant I have been” (1 September 1935). The details relayed by Shrimp, however, fail to relieve the anxiety she feels about sexual intimacy, and the following spring -- shortly after she and Joe commit “the indiscretion” together -- she screws up her courage and seeks medical advice:

I went to see a doctor, not so much because I’m afraid but because I am curious, and would like to end this lethal ignorance that always leads to worry. My greatest misery, however, lies in the fact that HE DOESN’T CARE if I worry…

The rest of the entry is ripped out, leaving the question of what constituted Marion’s worries unanswered, though we can make our educated guesses.

Diaries such as Marion’s shed invaluable light on the experience of Depression-era teens exploring their sexuality and emerging adulthood in an era where reliable sexual health information was often difficult to come by -- particularly for young women. If you are interested in exploring Marion’s story further, the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. Family Papers are open for research and can be requested from offsite storage by contacting the reference department.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 October, 2014, 12:00 AM

Just Launched! Nine Fully Digitized Civil War Collections

Reading handwritten letters and documents by men who experienced Civil War battles and military life can be a riveting experience.  Nine collections of Civil War manuscripts are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society's website as complete online collections.   You are invited to examine digital facsimiles of over 9,000 pages including letters from a surgeon (Charles Briggs) serving in the 54th Regiment, letters from a 16-year-old drummer (Edward Peirce, who later served as a private) describing routine life within a military unit, and warm and informative letters from a Captain (Richard Cary) in the 2nd Regiment to his wife.

The following collections are available on our website:

Charles E. Briggs letters

This collection primarily contains letters by Dr. Charles E. Briggs, assistant surgeon with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863, and surgeon with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, 1863-1865. 

Richard Cary letters

Captain Richard Cary served in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  Unfortunately he was shot during the battle at Cedar Mountain in Virginia and died a short time later.  This collection includes the letters he sent to his wife, as well as condolence letters she received after her husband’s death.

Norwood Penrose Hallowell papers

Hallowell began his service in the Civil War in the 20th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and then later served as lieutenant colonel of the 55th  Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the second Black regiment in the state.  This collection contains letters and a large number of clippings assembled in scrapbooks. These materials relate to a wide variety of Hallowell’s activities—from his time as a student at Harvard College, through his years serving in the Civil War, to his activities as a Boston businessman.

Frederick Newman Knapp papers

Knapp was a clergyman and teacher from Plymouth, Massachusetts. He wasn’t a soldier, but he held the position of superintendent of the Special Relief Department, U.S. Sanitary Commission.  The focus of this commission was to assist sick and wounded Union soldiers.  This collection includes Knapp’s personal and professional letters as well as a manuscript of a history of the Sanitary Commission.

Francis William Loring papers

This collection contains letters Loring wrote to his mother and sister while he served in a variety of military units.  Loring was a sergeant major in the 24th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; first lieutenant and adjutant in the 38th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; and aide-de-camp for Gen. William H. Emory of the 19th Corps.

Edmund Miles papers

Miles was a lieutenant in the 41st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry Massachusetts Volunteers.  This collection includes letters Miles sent to his family describing his activities in the Civil War, and letters he received from his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Charles F. Morse papers

This collection contains letters (some with drawings) written by Lieutenant Colonel Morse of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who saw action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Resaca, and the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. The collection also includes some correspondence relating to his post-war activities in the railroad business.

Edward Burgess Peirce letters

Peirce was a drummer and a private in Company F. of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, from July 1863 to September 1865. This collection includes letters he wrote to his parents in Lowell in which he described many aspects of day-to-day activities as an enlisted soldier including accounts of camp life and troop movements.

Stephen Minot Weld papers

This collection contains letters written by Weld who was promoted several times during the four years he served in the Union Army. Weld was a second lieutenant and then captain in the 18th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1863, and later was lieutenant colonel and then colonel in the 56th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1864-1865.

Please explore and read these collections from any location where you have a web browser and access to the Internet!

Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 2 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

The Mysteries of the Elisha W. Smith, Jr. Logbook, 1853-1857: Part II

In a prior blog post I discussed a note on the inside cover of the logbook of the schooners Flying Dragon (1853) and William Freeman (1857), which identified the log keeper as Elisha W. Smith. This particular logbook contains a mystifying collection of logs, sketches, poems, engravings, and literary clippings. The engravings caught my attention with the bright crayon colors. A scrapbooker clipped, hand-colored, and pasted images into this logbook. Intrigued by the scrapbook curation, I hoped that identifying the engravings would tell me when the creator fashioned this curious assemblage.  

After coming up empty searching Google Books and Internet Archive for the poems and literary clippings within the volume, I examined the engravings in closer detail. The informative images depict locations such as the White Mountains and Lapland and highlight the creator’s clear interest in travel. Other selections within include maps, images of sailing ships, more distant locations and depictions of native peoples.

 

Then I spotted a timeworn masthead of a literary magazine pasted under the engraving of travelling Laplanders. Through the wear and tear I could clearly read the words “Gleason” and “Companion.” The Gleason’s Literary Companion masthead appeared several times in the scrapbook. The inclusion of an official “citation” made my day. I researched the Literary Companion and found that Frederick Gleason published this literary magazine from his Boston home near Franklin Park from 1860 to 1870. He also published several other pictorial magazines during his career. The MHS does not hold Gleason’s Literary Company but does hold Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-room Companion (1851) and several of Gleason’s engravings.

Satisfied that I had discovered the origin of the engravings, I remained curious about the scrapbook’s creator. Who put the care into selecting, coloring, and pasting these images into the logbook? In my final post, I will delve into discovering the scrapbooker’s identity.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 19 September, 2014, 1:00 AM

The Art of Ludvig Sandöe Ipsen

 

 

On 27 January 1880, the Apollo Club of Boston, an all-male chorus, performed Mendelssohn’s Oedipus at Colonus at the Boston Music Hall. The program for that concert featured this beautiful design by Danish illustrator Ludvig Sandöe Ipsen (1840-1920). It is one of the 51 black-and-white ink illustrations that make up part of the Apollo Club records, on deposit here at the MHS since 2012.

The Apollo Club was founded in 1871, incorporated in 1873, and is still going strong. In fact, it is Boston’s oldest active male chorus and the second oldest continuously active male singing group in the country. Throughout its long history, the club has performed at many notable occasions, including the funeral of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in 1874, the centennial celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1875, and the memorial service for President William McKinley in 1901.

Arthur Reed, the club’s first secretary, commissioned Ludvig S. Ipsen to design covers and page details for concert programs and publications. Ipsen was quite a “get” for the Apollo Club. After training as an architect in Copenhagen (not to mention serving in the Danish Army engineer corps during the Second Schleswig-Holstein War), he had immigrated to the United States in 1867 and soon made a name for himself in Boston as a designer of book covers, book plates, posters, etc. His illustrations appeared in volumes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but arguably his most important and best-known work was the illustrated edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese published in 1886.

Ipsen designed 130 program covers for the Apollo Club over 23 years. His illustrations include historical and mythological figures, as well as musical instruments and notes, trees and flowers, cherubs, birds, ribbons, seascapes, etc., all carefully composed and depicted in amazing detail.

 

Ipsen also designed the Apollo Club seal, still used by the organization today.

Many memorials of Ipsen and reviews of his illustrations note that he worked at a time when advances in printing technology made the reproduction of images faster and cheaper, and original hand-drawn artwork for mass-produced books was in decline. But Ipsen found a receptive audience in the Apollo Club, and the result is a beautiful and skillful synthesis of music and art.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 1:00 AM

The Western Front Recedes: The St Mihiel Operation

In the autumn of 1918, the Great War in Europe was nearing its termination after four years of fighting. Beginning in August of that year, the Allies launched what became known as the Hundred Days Offensive, a series of attacks against the Central Powers which pushed the Western Front and the German lines out of France and, ultimately, resulted in an armistice. One such two-day offensive occurred near the French town of St. Mihiel on 12-13 September. The action was carried out by the 26th Infantry Division under the command of Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Edwards.

 

 

The 26th was formed by Edwards in the summer of 1917 and the first units of the Yankee Division sailed in September, “the first fully formed American division in France.” Over the next several months the division undertook training in France with their English and French counterparts so that they could acclimate to life in trenches and amidst hostile fire.

Fast forward to September 1918. Edwards and his division were in the area of St. Mihiel as a result of several months of fighting on the move in the northeast of France. Despite the rain and mud that slowed down some units from reaching their start line the night before the offensive, “the attack came off without any major hitch, following a tremendous artillery barrage during the early morning hours of September 12, 1918.”

Here at the Society are the Clarence Ransom Edwards papers, within which are several reports providing details about the operations performed by the 26th Division. One intelligence report, dated September 11 to September 12th, 1918, 16 o’clock to 16 o’clock, states that

The enemy, surprised by our attack, and with all communication to the rear out by our artillery fire, offered what resistance he could during the day, chiefly with his machine guns. In the open country the resistance was very weak. In the woods his machine gun nests proved fairly effective. The first day’s objective was reached before 22 o’clock.

These intelligence summaries, along with correspondence, memoranda, and other materials in the Edwards papers provide detailed insight into some of the operations of the “war to end all wars” and also highlight some of the personal drama between Edwards and his military colleagues. If you would like to learn more, visit the MHS library and see them for yourself!

 

-Shay, Michael E., Revered Commander, Maligned General: The Life of Clarence Ransom Edwards, 1859-1931. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, c.2011.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 13 September, 2014, 5:18 PM

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