The Laurel Chain Tradition at Mount Holyoke College

I just returned from my daughter’s graduation from Mount Holyoke College. Mary Lyon founded the college in 1837 to promote female scholarship. Emily Dickinson studied there for a time. In the Laurel Chain tradition, the alumnae and graduating class process in a parade to Mary Lyon’s grave. The seniors carry a chain of Mountain Laurel and wrap it around the iron fence which surrounds the grave. It is a a sight to behold. Truly beautiful and terribly moving…

Literary Mystery: Why No 19th Century Blockbuster American Women?


Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts
Young Girl Ironing - Boston Museum Fine Arts

From the Guardian:

“Did housework really prevent a George Eliot or Emily Brontë emerging in 19th-century America?”


A very interesting question. Where were the great American women novelists in the 19th century? They can’t say they were busy ironing because Charlotte Bronte ironed AND dashed off Jane Eyre –  


“Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the Brontës. In 1839 Charlotte wrote wearily to an old schoolfriend, “I manage the ironing, and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking, and attends to the kitchen.” True, there was an elderly female servant, Tabby Ackroyd, who had been at the parsonage for years, but her increasing frailty made her more of a hindrance than a help.”

I think American women were more devoted to writing poetry. Much of the published poetry was of the Helen Hunt Jackson variety :






What freeman knoweth freedom? Never he 

Whose father’s father through long lives have reigned 

O’er kingdoms which mere heritage attained. 

Though from his youth to age he roam as free 

As winds, he dreams not freedom’s ecstacy. 

But he whose birth was in a nation chained 

For centuries; where every breath was drained 

From breasts of slaves which knew not there could be 

Such thing as freedom,–he beholds the light 

Burst, dazzling; though the glory blind his sight 

He knows the joy. Fools laugh because he reels 

And weilds confusedly his infant will; 

The wise man watching with a heart that feels 

Says: “Cure for freedom’s harms is freedom still.” 


(HMMMMMMM….well – not my cup of tea)



Helen also wrote books – so American women were writing, just not writing the 19th century equivalent of the blockbuster. Helen wrote “Ramona” a book about Native American rights – pretty ground breaking, but not nearly as famous as the Brontes or Eliot or Helen’s contemporary – Emily Dickinson who like Helen, came from Amherst, Massachusetts. She was, however, well received during her time by the likes of Thomas Wentworth Higgins who chose to publish her poetry in The Atlantic over Emily’s. At the time, Ralph Waldo Emerson considered Helen the greatest American woman poet. 


I suppose Ramona just doesn’t have the staying power of the Brontes or Middlemarch. It is free on line, try it and see what you think…

I Cannot Dance Upon My Toes…




April is National Poetry Month. I have neglected it sorely. Better late than never, right? If you are anywhere near Amherst, Mass in May – The Amherst Ballet has created a ballet to commemorate their famous recluse. They will cleverly use music found among the family possesions and readings of her poetry, while Emily flits here and there in her trademark white dress. I notice from the flyer they made an exact replica. I would have loved to do the costumes for this show – I had some really good ideas. Maybe they will put it on DVD so I can see it. I won’t be going to Amherst until the 24th for Mt. Holyoke’s graduation.

I hope their ballet is a huge success. How appropriate for it to be near graduation time, a time when Emily’s family hosted commencement teas and parties… It is a marriage of my favorite things … ballet and reading…

I leave you with Emily…


Amherst Ballet the weekend of May 15th...
Amherst Ballet the weekend of May 15th...

I cannot dance upon my Toes —

No Man instructed me —

But oftentimes, among my mind,

A Glee possesseth me,


That had I Ballet knowledge —

Would put itself abroad

In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe —

Or lay a Prima, mad,


And though I had no Gown of Gauze —

No Ringlet, to my Hair,

Nor hopped to Audiences — like Birds,

One Claw upon the Air,


Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,

Nor rolled on wheels of snow

Till I was out of sight, in sound,

The House encore me so —


Nor any know I know the Art

I mention — easy — Here —

Nor any Placard boast me —

It’s full as Opera –