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Archive for March, 2011

Ragged Isle is a great, creepy webseries that began this month.  It  is a mystery that takes place on island off the coast of Maine and, in the three episodes that have been posted so far, the tension has been mounting and questions adding up. I’ve posted part I below and the rest can be found on the show’s youtube channel.

Hosmer spent some time in Maine in her later life, visiting her old friend Cornelia Crow Carr, who had a house in Bar Harbor.  One summer a poem titled “Bar Harbor” appeared in the New York World, describing the activities of those spending time in the  resort.  The stanza on Hosmer read: While Harriet Hosmer, shut up in her den/ Has laid down the chisel, assuming the pen/ And is writing a book on a subject so queer–/Well–no–I won’t blab–as it soon will appear.” The poem continues to sing the praises of Bar Harbor: “Then the air of the mountain/ The air of the pint/ The air of the ocean, their fragrance combine/ And lend to Bar Harbor such wonderful charm/ That Newport and Lenox start back in alarm.”

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I will be discussing Harriet Hosmer at the LoDo branch of the Tattered Cover this evening-Tuesday March 22–at 7:30.  While I will be giving an overview of Hosmer’s entire career, I will also be talk about a trip Hosmer made to Denver in June 1889 to distribute art prizes and discuss her work.  She wrote a great letter detailing her trip.  The day after the prize ceremony, she went to Leadville.  “There I was taken a partner in a gold mine and then and there presented with shares of stock in it!” We had a charming party, and returned on Wednesday. On Thursday we went to the heart of the Rockies, up the Loop, a wonderful journey, but here comes a pause.  Owning probably to a chill I got on the way, I took to my bed on returning  . . . Everyone is kindness itself, and they sent the loveliest flowers, but I have missed all the hospitalities which have been arranged for me, the reception of Mrs. Evans (the governor’s wife) among the rest.”

Below is a newspaper clipping about the art prize ceremony.

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As some of you know, I will speaking about Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography at the LoDo Tattered Cover on March 22 at 7:30. When I contacted my high school’s alumni office about the event, the alumni coordinator kindly suggested that she feature the event in the alumni e-newsletter and highlight me in the “Alumni Corner.”  (Scroll down). As a biographer, it was fun to think back on how my high school experiences shaped my later life.

The high school in question is Kent Denver, known as the Kent Denver Country Day School when I went there.  The school’s most famous alumnae is Madeleine Albright, who graduated from Kent in 1955, when it was still a school for girls.  (It later merged with the Denver Country Day School for boys).  When I was finishing my dissertation, I would often wake up (kind of in a panic) in the middle of the night, wondering if and when I would be done and what would become of me afterward.  During of those bouts of insomnia, I watched a documentary about Albright in which she discussed finishing up her Ph.D. while taking care of her young children.  It put my struggle in perspective and was oddly  comforting.  (And I loved her appearance on the Gilmore Girls) So let me conclude by saying Go Sundevils!

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As I mentioned earlier, Hosmer considered Louisa, Lady Ashburton her wife for many  years.  I am sure they would both applaud Congressman Jerry Nadler’s attempts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.  I’m pround to call Nadler my representative.

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The height of Harriet Hosmer’s career was in the 1850s and ’60s, before she turned 40.  Her decline in popularity in later years came about for a variety of reasons, including changing American tastes after the Civil War, changes in Rome after Italian unification, and the attention Hosmer devoted to her relationship with Louisa, Lady Ashburton.  But another reason was that Hosmer turned much of her creative energy to her attempts to create a perpetual motion machine.  She was not alone in the endeavor–many other people were attempting to the same thing.  But Hosmer spent decades on this project, eventually proclaiming, ” I would rather have my fame rest upon the discovery of perpetual motion than upon my achievement in art.” Some of her friends were less than enthusiastic; the Irish reformer and author Frances Power Cobbe bemoaned the fact that “She was lured away from sculpture by some invention of her own of a mechanical kind over which many years of her life have been lost.”

One of my happiest moments as a researcher came when I found the drawings of the invention Hosmer had submitted to the British Patent Office at the New York Public Library’s Science and Industry branch. I had gone in the hopes of learning how I would go about contacting the British Patent Office to begin a search.  But I lucked into asking a very knowledgeable, very helpful librarian, who knew the library held the patent office’s Official Journal, which includes the descriptions and illustrations submitted with patents.  It took him a while to find them, as they had been miscataloged, but he finally dug out the volumes I needed, which clearly no one had looked at in decades.  They were covered with dust.  While I had read her descriptions of the machine, it was amazing to see illustrations of them. I couldn’t believe the information was right here in the New York.

The patent below is the one she submitted in 1881.

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Visiting Middlebury with my grandparents and cousins, spring 1987.

In the spring of 1987, I was trying to decide between matriculating at Middlebury or Bowdoin. They were in many ways similar, of course, and I was basically framing the choice as being near the ocean or being near the mountains.  Then one day at school, Mr. Warner came up to me; his official title was the “Dean of Discipline,” and he seemed quite gruff, but he was really very sweet and concerned about his students.  This seems amazing to think about, but in 1987 a lot of the small liberal arts schools in the Northeast had been co-ed for less than two decades.  Middlebury, however, had admitted women in 1883. Mr. Warner said, “Bowdoin is still a boys school.  Middlebury has been taking women for over one hundred years.  I think you will be happier there.”  It really struck me, and while it wasn’t the only factor in my decision, it certainly played a part. (And no offense to any one who went to Bowdoin, which is a great school).

Middlebury students in 1886.

I thought of that conversation a few years ago when a friend of mine who is a very loyal Wesleyan alumn noted she wished there had been more older women alumni to turn to for career advice when she first graduated in the early 90s .  (Wesleyan turned co-ed in 1970).

Anyway, this is all a long prelude to say the Middlebury (Not-So) Old Girls Network has been firing away this week.  A college pal is the award-winning blogger Book Club Girl, and she allowed me to post some thoughts about Harriet Hosmer and the challenges of writing a biography in honor of women’s history month.  If you are in a book club, or just are interested in contemporary fiction, make her blog a regular stop on your trips around the internet.  She has giveaways, great guest posts, and lots of fantastic information about new books.  She also hosts an internet radio show, giving readers a chance to ask questions of some of their favorite authors.

Book Club Girl and me (on the right) at a performance of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States in 2008, just a month before her adorable daughter (and perhaps future Middlebury alumnae) was born.

By the way, I have written a series of reading questions for Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography.

(Pictures from the Middlebury website.)

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