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Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the Women’s Literary Club of Baltimore—the anthology of WLCB writers and writings that we’ve been working on for 2+ years—is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.

The book is currently being designed and typeset by Loyola’s Apprentice House Press, the first student-run publishing company in the country. And the first round of page proofs have arrived—clocking in at OVER 800 PAGES!! It is a hefty tome, indeed.

Page 1 of Parole Femine
The page we’ve all been waiting for: page 1 of Parole Femine: Words & Lives of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore.

We are working out some kinks with the design, but I am happy to share with you the first page of the book: the first page of the first section of the book, featuring writings about Baltimore and Maryland.

More to come!

Truth and reconciliation

This post from Rector Grey Maggiano at the Memorial Episcopal Church website hits close to home.

New deacon Natalie Conway, they recently discovered, was descended from people who had formerly been enslaved by Memorial Episcopal’s founding rector, David Ridgely Howard, whose family owned the Hampton plantation north of where Towson Town Center mall stands today.

This discovery inspired some 50 members of the congregation, including Deacon Conway, to travel together to Hampton plantation last week to learn more about their collective history.

Parishioners of Memorial Episcopal and St. Katherine of Alexandria churches tour the grounds of the Hampton plantation, formerly owned by Memorial rector David Ridgely Howard. Photo courtesy Memorial Episcopal Church, Baltimore.

This history intersects with the WLCB because David Ridgely Howard was the half-brother of Margaretta Sophia Howard Ridgely, the mother of Eliza Ridgely, first secretary of the WLCB. Eliza grew up at Hampton and later lived in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, just around the block from founding member Hester Dorsey.

A number of other Club members also attended Memorial Episcopal–during a time when the church fervently supported segregation. In fact, Clara Love and Katie Kazmierski spent some hours poring through church records early on in our research, when we were trying to find WLCB club members and where they lived.

As we’ve discovered, the history of the WLCB is intertwined with some ugly, long-hidden (and carefully hidden) truths about Baltimore and racial attitudes in the United States as a whole. The present-day parishioners’ visit to Hampton is a step toward reconciling this past with a more hopeful future. Read Grey’s post here.

Why the WLCB opposed suffrage

Anti-suffrage Quartette, Women's Journal, 1912
This 1912 cartoon from the pro-suffrage Woman’s Journal offers arguments from, left to right, “White Slavers,” “Antis,” “Big Biz,” and “Liquor.”

We have been puzzled and disappointed throughout our research on the WLCB by their reluctance to embrace suffrage. Many, in fact, were adamant “antis,” the name given to those opposing the women’s vote. This group happened to coincide with Club leadership, and as a result very little by way of pro-suffrage expression appears in any of the Club documents. Members who worked for the women’s vote did so outside the Club meetings.

How could these women, who sought artistic and professional independence and autonomy, NOT want the right to participate as full citizens?

A key reason, as documented in this op-ed by Goucher history prof Jean Baker appearing in today’s Baltimore Sun, can be encapsulated in a single word: racism. They were willing to sacrifice their own right to vote in order not to extend it to black women.

After the 19th Amendment passed, it was left up to the individual states to ratify and implement it in state law. And in Maryland, Baker writes, “Democratic legislators argued against women moving beyond the domestic sphere into a male public space and also expressed their fears about enfranchising black women.”

It’s mind-boggling to think that women were so committed to white superiority that they were willing to sacrifice their own rights. It’s mind boggling, but true. And it’s worth keeping in mind that people will overwhelmingly opt for self-interest over equality when given the choice.

Amazingly, Maryland did not ratify the amendment until 1941, which was also the year the WLCB officially disbanded. A revealing coincidence, one might say.

The bells of Baltimore

Church bells are an essential part of Baltimore’s sensory landscape. Some ring every day; some only on Sundays. The bells at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown have been ringing since at least 1812, when they warned Baltimoreans of British invaders during the War of 1812.

Old St. Paul's
Old St. Paul’s Church, at Charles and Saratoga Streets. The bell tower dominates the left side of the building.

Alice Emma Sauerwein Lord (1848-1930) wrote a poem about the church bells of Baltimore, which was published in her book A Symphony in Dreamland in 1899. One imagines her penning these lines as the carillons wafted in through an open window at her house on St. Paul St. just north of Penn Station, on a quiet summer Sunday morning.

Sabbath Bells (1899)
Alice Sauerwein Lord

Hark! I hear the murmuring of bells–
    Distant bells that pulse the city’s heart!
Silvery throb from hill to hill that tells, 
    What their wordless messages impart!
        Murmuring Bells!

List! The many voices rise and fall 
    With a resonance that fills all space,
Many-toned, yet blending, each with all, 
    Till sonorous echoes reach this place. 
        Chiming Bells!

Wherefore should my heart respond so fast 
    To this far-off music of the bells?
Is it that they whisper of the past?
    Can it be hope’s voice that still foretells? 
        O ye Bells!

You can still hear the church bells chiming across Baltimore on Sunday mornings, from the Baltimore Cathedral and the New Refuge Deliverance Church (formerly Christ Episcopal) in Mt. Vernon, to Little Italy’s St. Leo’s, to St. Brown Memorial Episcopal and Corpus Christi in Bolton Hill. And the bells at Old St. Paul’s are still ringing, more than 200 years after the British were repulsed from American shores.

One wonders which of the bells inspired Lord’s poem, and whether one still hears them today.

Summer farewells

Summer farewells (Dalea pinnata), courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

There’s a certain slant of light . . . not quite the same slant of light Dickinson made famous, the somber light of winter afternoons and cathedral tunes—but a light that lets you know fall is on its way. I’ve been noticing it during the past week or so, and with the beautiful, hazy late summer days, this poem by Marguerite Easter, one of the WLCB’s more accomplished poets, keeps coming to mind. That put it in my mind to share with you. Enjoy summer while it lasts. Fall is a-comin’.

Summer’s-Farewells (1892)
Marguerite Easter

(Local name in Virginia for late wild-wood flowers of Aster genus.)

Unto the complaining woods suddenly they came, 
To the fields so desolate but the day before,
To the unsmiling paths and to the hills that wore 
Such sullen looks; there was no further need to blame 
Nature’s improvidence, for lo, where pin oaks flame,
And large leafed yellow hickories sprout with more 
Than Spring’s abundance seemingly, they bloomed o’er
Her lately bereaved breast. I asked their name—

That suddenly to wood and path and meadow came—
And that on warm upland slopes were white in hue, 
But in hollows, where I had thought but shadows grew,
Were purple-petaled, with calyxes the same
As ragged-robins have, and stamens that became 
Golden or red, as by chance of birth they knew
Of sunlit clearings, or of depths where pines renew 
Themselves perpetually. I asked their name.

“‘Summer’s-farewells,’ we call them here.” Summer’s­ farewells!
They are the final gift of sentiment to sight.
O certainly, the earth should be contented quite
To be remembered so.— “We call them here ‘Farewells.’”
O love, I am the field, the wood, the path, the hill 
Before these come. Alas, I bide thy coming still—

Who have been gone so long, so long. E’en summer days 
Send back greeting to the earth they loved of late,
But thou abidest in silence, and I must await
Thy recognition. Hateful clime! whose woodland ways 
No Summer’s-farewells have;—I am that clime that stays
Wrapt in November’s loneliness, my woods debate
Their dolor, my falling leaves deplore their fate,—
There are no Summer’s-farewells to my Autumn days.

“‘Summer’s-farewells,’ we call them here.” Summer’s­ farewells!
They are the final gift of sentiment to sight.
O certainly, the earth should be contented quite
To be remembered so.— “We call them here ‘Farewells.’”
O love, I am the field, the wood, the path, the hill 
Before these came. Alas, I bide thy coming still.

Whew! A hefty tome, indeed

The manuscript of Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore, has been edited. I mean, it’s been EDITED.

This work has taken me and my summer assistant, Miranda, all of June and July. Here is the MS in all its glory– some 2000 pages (the pages you see are printed double-sided).

The 2000 pages of Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore, in all its edited glory.

In all, comprising:

  • a 33-page introductory essay
  • 50 section and author introductions
  • 2 complete novellas
  • Over 200 poems
  • 21 short stories
  • 3 plays
  • Excerpts from 7 novels
  • 26 pieces of newspaper journalism and nonfiction
  • 21 illustrations
  • Hundreds of annotations identifying people, places, historical events, and literary allusions
  • Bibliography with over 1000 discrete publications listed from over 50 authors

Each of those little post-its you see above indicates a different work, grouped by color according to author and section. It’s all very exciting!

This has been a lot of work, but it really pales in comparison to all the work that’s been put in by students over the past two years. Students selected the texts, transcribed them, checked the transcriptions, annotated them, and researched and wrote the headnotes. To the students: YOU DID A WONDERFUL JOB.

What next?

Once I check everything one more time, it goes to the designer at Loyola’s Apprentice House Press, Kevin Atticks, who will pour all the Word files into InDesign pages. As a teaser, here’s the cover design, in case you forgot.

Book cover
The cover was designed by Ellen Roussel, with help from Jill Fury.

Then I will get a few days to check the proofs. And soon after that, you’ll be able to order your very own copy on We should have books in our hot little hands by the end of September– just in time for Bmore Historic, the annual Baltimore history conference held at the Museum of Industry the last Friday of September.

Students who have worked on the project will get complimentary copies–if you want one and I don’t have your address, please send! And if you are in the area and want to be part of the book launch at Bmore Historic, let me know that also. We could stage another salon!

Congrats, team! The book is finally becoming a reality!

Beach read

Lucy Meacham Thruston

On a beautiful summer day, this untitled poem from Lucy Meacham Thruston’s Songs of the Chesapeake (1905) seems apropos. The poem is one of hundreds by WLCB members that we will be including in our forthcoming anthology, Parole Femine: Words and Lives of the WLCB

Enjoy–especially if you’re one of the lucky ones to be at the beach this week! Here’s the poem.

Under the old gray wharf
The waters ebb and flow;
And the jellied nettles, with milk white tentacles 
Pulse, and curl, and beat the barnacles
On the wave-worn piles below.

There’s a low swift hush,
And a short crisp rush
Where the gray blue streak, with the wind
at its heel,
Runs with the rippling and dark curled wave;
till we feel
Our boat and our sails are a-flush.

So ho swing wide the sail
Where lasts this feathery gale!–
With toss and turn, with quiver and strain,
and rushing sound
Of music made by waters cleft, filling the 
air around
So ho, we sail! We sail!

See, through the misty flow,
Green and blue, the bright rainbow
Curves at our keel. The cloud is past: with shimmering haze
Now runs the stream like molten silver ’neath the rays
Of the sun strong his glow.

The sail hangs loose against the mast
There’s not a breath: so fast
Sped wind and wave together. Peacefully now we rest
With rock and lurch, soft cradled on the river’s breast-
The tide has turned at last.

Borne homeward by the tide
And splashing oar along our side
We reach the wharf–Quick, slip the mast,
And seek that cool green shade betwixt the piles.–How fast
The ripples form and break and float away at last– 
Now listen to their song–

It is the eternal flow
Of waves that ever go
Running to the sea.
It has an under moan
That touches the deepest tone
In the heart of you and me.