No one believed more heartily in the education of her children then mother. No expense was too great. Her sister would complain, “If you send Maydell to college, all she’ll learn will be poker, and smoking and drinking.” Mother would reply, “They could teach her worse things.” whereupon Aunt Dell would reach for her camphor.
The day after high school graduation when I had given my salutatory in Latin, with Easter lilies in my hand, mother took me to Wellesley. It was a beautiful summer day and we walked down the broad campus-drive under an arch of trees. Lake Waban glinted blue in the sunlight. Birds and flowers and long stretches of greensward added to the beauty of the buildings. The hollows were filled with brilliant rhododendrons. Mother was impressed, until a new-woman type came along and directed us to College Hall in these words “Follow this dappled road until you come to an eminence overlooking the lake. Upon its peak, you will find a brick building. Enter the portico”. “If that’s what education does to you, you’d better come home”, said mother, but having gained the eminence, she arranged for my to stay.
The first years in Wellesley were a nightmare. Every Saturday father would appear and I’d throw myself on his neck, weeping. Sunday night when he left, he would have tears in his own eyes, when Mrs. Nye, the housemother admonished him, “Be brave, Doctor, be brave.” All during the week, I trudged the mile from Mrs. Nye’s in the village to the campus recitation rooms, with rivulets streaming down my face. No one could console me. I studied about Roman Emperors, and watercress , and putting a cookie in a pail in logic class. I wrote Latin and daily themes in English, and I wrote home to come and take me ere I died. One of the sophisticated freshmen took particular delight in giving me something to cry for. Her people had been missionaries, and she told me stories of horror- of hunger so intense that girls like myself had turned cannibal. Doubtless the tales were inspired by the excellent meals we had and our wastage of good bread-dough which we used to roll into little caps to adorn the newel-posts. I was so haunted by a particularly vivid description of a girl gnawing a human arm that, like the Ancient Mariner, I buttonhold one of my home-town girls and begged her to listen. Maude had to work her way through college and was a rock of sense. On a narrow bench in front of Stone Hall, with the sun dancing across the lake and the brilliant autumn leaves falling gently into our laps, I told that story with all its embellishments. I told it without interruption. When I was through, that angel of mercy beamed in friendly fashion, and said, “Any time you hear another just pass it along. I don’t mind a bit. In fact, it’s rather funny.” We both laughed. From then on, not even the worst of Edgar Allan Poe had any effect. In fact, the second year, I began to write ghoulish fiction of my own. which prompted my English instructor to write, “Resembles Hogarth”. I didn’t know who Hogarth was, but I thought it better to tone down my next offering.
It was just as well that my optimism was beginning to flower, for my second year found me in Stone Hall. We drew lots for living quarters and Stone was my luck. I had a spacious room at least twenty feet high overlooking the lake. The building itself was a gloomy affair set on top of a hill in a thick cluster of trees. We had no screens and in the evenings the walls outside and sometimes the walls inside were covered with bats. I was mortally afraid of anything that looked like a mouse, even a cloth one, but I had nothing on my neighbor, Hattie Brown. Hattie was quite the wealthiest girl in the dormitory. She slept nights with a chamois bag around her neck, filled with magnificent rings and pins, which she worried about constantly. “Father just loaned them to me from the family vault”, she would say, and even in class she would automatically clutch at her bosom to see if the diamonds were still there. Hattie had frizzy hair, a huge mop of it as black as night. The bats apparently loved it, for let one swoop into Stone Hall, and he was caught in Hattie’s hair as in a net. I remember only one which actually had to be cut free, but Hattie was always running along the corridors shrieking, with the bats after her, and the chamois bag clutched to her breast.
When the bats were scarce, there was hazing to worry about. In the tiled center of Old College Hall there was a statue of Harriet Martineau seated in a marble chair. Every freshman was dragged through the rounds of the chair. When it came my turn, I was nearly the cause for the permanent unseating of Miss Martineau. I stuck fast. No amount of pushing or pulling, no strenuous kicking or wriggling on my part, could separate me from Harriet. At last, a hastily-summoned faculty member appeared and commanded that most of my clothing be cut away. No attempt was made to push fat girls through Harriet after that. It was against the Victorian decencies.
Obstacles were no deterrent for the Harvard boys who were sent to Wellesley for their initiation stunts. On the bitterest winter nights the poor victims were forced to plunge into the icy waters of Waban, and then get back to Cambridge as best they could. Many a night we saw the shadowy figures, but I never heard of a classmate meeting one at close range–not in those days.
One night, a girl who felt much as I did about home, walked into the lake and was drowned. For weeks, the girls in the front rooms of Stone saw her ghost among the trees. Finally President Hazard must have heard some rumors of the restlessness among us, for she called us together, 1100 of us, called us her “dear girls”, and told us to go to her house at any time of day or night and ask for her when we were troubled. It was a lovely human thing to do. I doubt if a single girl called upon her, but it gave us a sense of security when we needed it most.
Professor Sophie Hart, as elongated as a Botticelli Madonna and with the same ethereal face and pale yellow hair, attracted me greatly. She was head of my dormitory table and presided with the elusiveness of a Buddha. She ate morsels, but we seldom knew when. Often she would bring dinner guests, weird men and women we thought, Esperanto enthusiasts and wandering poets. The end of these special dinners was always the happiest time for me–for when I got back to my dark room, there would always be a heaping plate of ice-cream waiting. It was the love gift of a maid who had taken a fancy to me because my name was hers. “There, darlint,” She’d whisper, “eat it fast as the little black hen gobbled the worm”. And the second “Murphy” would return the whisper with a prudish, “You mustn’t do this. It might get you into trouble”. But sanctimony didn’t kill the joy with which it was eaten..Nothing ever tasted better.
It was not until Senior year that I stopped crying for home. It was not my absorption in learning that wrought the change. It was the fact that the bunch of senior girls in Pomeroy kept me so busy, I had little time for reflection. I was occupied with Saturday trips to the second balconies of Boston theaters, Sunday afternoon concerts, lectures by visiting celebrities like Willy Yates, and a course in baby production. That course nearly finished the class of 1907, for most of us were unaware until our senior year in college that we didn’t grow from rose-bushes. Though I came from a doctor’s household, I was no exception. The professor believed in visual aids. She passed around the various stages of the human embryos, in alcohol bottles. Dozens of us took one shuddering look, and promptly fainted.
I was concerned, also, in solving two major problems of thwarted personality in my own dormitory. One was the mania of an efficient friend who entered my room, every time my back was turned to set it in order. Every little ribbon in every drawer would be arranged in a row like so many three-inch herring. Every pair of shoes marched around the room, two by two, because there was not enough closet space. On the pin-tray, every pin pointed due East, and there wasn’t a chance in the world for a pencil to be out of its groove. Nightgowns were transferred to baby-ribboned hangers, and coats were encased in sheets. It made no difference that such order drove me to frenzy. The silent war went on.
The other case lived across the hall. She was what might be described as ‘mauve’– a gentle mouse of a girl with hair the color of old straw, and a voice that sounded as if it had drifted across a glacier and thought of fading back into the unknown. Over her desk was a picture of the Blind Beatrice. It makes me shudder even now when I look at a copy, for I can see Louise drifting down the hall and gliding into my open door, walking in her sleep. Perhaps she hated the pictures on my walls as much as I hated hers. As I recall it now, I had Georgioni’s consumptive monk which I considered the height of aesthetic art, and Burne Jones’ goitered female known as “Spring”. I had wanted a sewing-table to make my room domestic but compromised on a gold thimble and a marbled stocking-ball which I kept in a conspicuous place. At least I did not indulge in burnt-wood plaques nor college pennants.
Graduation brought me a part in the out-of-door class play, “Aucassin and Nicolette”, where I flourished among the rhododendrons, as the Countess. My gown was of hunter’s green velvet bordered in gold. Why I thought countesses had to be fat, I do not know, but I remember stuffing my gown with two sofa cushions. The golden sandals were cut from the brocade of another sofa-pillow, and I wore a paste ring whose size an Empress might have envied. When the breezes from Waban rustled through the trees my veils of chiffon rippled and sighed. It was a thrilling ending to my undergraduate career. A few days later I came home.