Here we have a political poster from the early 1960s, screen-printed on heavy cardboard, measuring 22″ x 28″. It reads “Elect Elaine Lady – House of Delegates – Republican Candidate. By authority of candidate.”  Based on the condition, it was probably used on the campaign trail (not simply a left-over).  It was donated by Donna Bassin in 1999, part of a large collection of mid-20th century political posters.


Elaine Lady of Chevy Chase served one term in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1966 to 1970, representing Montgomery County’s District 1.  A real estate agent, Mrs. Lady’s campaign platforms focused on education, pollution, lower taxes, and efficient government. Before her successful election in 1966, she ran for the House as a Prince George’s County candidate in 1954, and as a Montgomery County candidate in 1962; she served as Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals from 1964-66. In 1970 she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate, and appears to have retired from politics after that. Based on the candidate photographs used in the Washington Post, this poster dates from her 1962 campaign, probably from the November general election.

Mrs. Lady was not the first woman to serve in the Maryland legislature. That honor belongs to Mary E.W. Risteau of Harford County, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1922 (the first year it was possible for a woman to run in Maryland); she later served in the State Senate as well. Montgomery County’s first woman in the House of Delegates was Lavinia M. Engle, elected in 1930; she was followed by county residents Ruth Elizabeth Shoemaker, Genevieve H. Wells, Leona M. Rush, Kathryn J. Lawlor, Margaret C. Schweinhaut, Edna P. Cook, Alice W. Hostetler, and Louise Gore.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Once elected, serving in the legislature was not always easy. This 2009 article on Prince George’s County’s Pauline H. Menes, who also entered the House in 1966, quotes Menes: “It was made fairly clear to the few women who were here that we were not expected to accomplish very much, that we were not expected to stay very long.” (In fact, as of a few years ago Menes was the longest-serving state legislator in the U.S.)  Women were not appointed to leadership roles; there wasn’t even a ladies rest room near the chambers.  (There’s a good story about the rest room problem in the article linked above.)  It was sometimes a struggle simply to have their voices heard and taken seriously. 

Want to learn more? Visit the Women Legislators of Maryland site, or the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.


Today we have a silk quilt, an absolutely gorgeous one if I do say so myself (not that I had anything to do with it). It was made circa 1860 by two sisters from Sandy Spring, and is in a pattern known as “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” created with the English paper piecing technique.

First, the quilt itself. It is 8 ½ feet square, and is made up of . . . a lot . . . of silk hexagons, each one just under 2 1/4 inches wide. The borders on the sides and bottom are 12 inches wide (the top border is narrower, a design feature common to bed quilts), and quilted in clamshell and ocean wave patterns.  The silks are iridescent, and the same patterns appear frequently; it was probably not made of ‘dress scraps,’ but with purposely bought fabric. It is backed with a brown glazed cotton, with cotton batting or filler.

The ‘flowers’ were carefully, meticulously cut out so that there are matching patterns on each petal. The colors across the quilt were balanced, to create a pleasing whole. Each hexagon was quilted (that is, sewn through all three layers of the quilt) in a simple outline. The quilting is fine and even, and the stitches attaching each hexagon to the other are TINY. Perhaps it’s unprofessional of me to marvel this much over one of our artifacts, but seriously, look at these stitches:

Mosaic-type patterns (this one could also be called a variation on “Honeycomb” or “French Nosegay”) were popular in the mid 19th century, and have returned to fashion on and off throughout the next century. This quilt top was most likely created using a technique known as English paper piecing, often used for mosaic patterns. Each piece is wrapped around a paper template, cut to size, and the seam allowance is basted to the paper. Then the pieces are sewn together in whatever pattern the quilter chooses. Using a paper backing allowed the quilter to create precise shapes, and to attach small pieces together without the whole thing flopping around. The paper was usually removed after the quilt top was completed, but before the whole quilt (binding, filler and backing) was finished.  Here’s an example of a quilt with the paper still in, from the State Museum of Philadelphia.

Although a few of the silks suffer from inherent vice, and some of the purple border fabric is fading to green, this quilt is in remarkably good shape; the colors are bright, and there’s little sign of wear. It seems likely that, whether it was made for everyday use or not, it was packed away for posterity and seldom exposed to light, grubby hands, or drooling sleepers.

The quilt was donated by Dorothy Wetherald, who told us it had been made by her great-aunts Mary (1811-1877) and Esther (1814-1902) Wetherald of Sandy Spring. Mary and Esther were born in Liverpool, and in 1819 they emigrated to the United States with their parents Thomas (a butcher and Quaker preacher) and Anne, and two younger brothers. The family lived in Washington and, later, Baltimore, where Mary and Esther ran a school for several years. After Thomas’s death in 1832, his widow Anne moved to Sandy Spring with three of her children, Mary, Esther, and Joseph.

The census records do not indicate professions for the two sisters, except for 1880, when they are “keeping house” for their mother, brother, and his family. (Interestingly, that same year Joseph’s wife profession is noted as “Sews.”) More helpful, at least in the general sense, are the obituaries for each sister, reported in the Annals of Sandy Spring, though I can’t find anything that references their skills with the needle. Both Mary and Esther are noted as intelligent women, avid readers, and French scholars, who “seldom left the neighborhood.” Esther’s obituary adds that she wrote “stories for magazines,” and “enjoyed excellent eye-sight, never needing spectacles.” (No wonder the stitches are so tiny.) Mary’s obituary – she died first, remember – ends, “her inseparable companion and sister had much sympathy in her loss.”

(Here’s the back – note the hexagon-outline quilting.)

In town for the holidays?  Mary and Esther’s fabulous quilt is on display in the museum, but only through January 6, 2013.  My not-so-great photos do not do it justice; come take a look!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which reads in part: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  Essentially: if you let boys do it, you’d better let girls do it too… and while you’re at it, don’t just allow it, encourage equal participation.

Many longer and more thorough reports than mine have been written on the effects of Title IX and its current rate of success.  (Last week’s Gazette had an interesting series, including several local accounts.)  Though much of the popular focus has been on improvements in athletic opportunities, it’s worth remembering that Title IX applies to academics as well.  However, our collections are best suited for an example of the growth of women’s sports in county schools, so until someone donates a nice 1973 shop-class project by their mother or aunt (hint, hint), let’s take a look at a sport uniform.

This cotton/nylon jersey was worn by a currently unknown female student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, in the mid-late 1970s.  Happily, our library has a large collection of local school yearbooks, and the yearbooks for Northwood in 1973, ‘74, ‘75, ‘76 and ‘78 (sorry, we’re missing a year) give us some clues as to this jersey’s history.  (A full-on study of athletics at any given school requires more sources than just the yearbooks, of course, but I was mostly looking for pictures of uniforms; and hey, yearbooks are fun.)

Northwood High School opened in 1956, closed in 1985 due to declining student-age population in the area, then reopened in 2004 when the neighborhood once again required it.  In the 1970s, the school colors were black and red, and the team name was the Indians.  (Today the colors are the same, but the school mascot is a Gladiator.)  The Arrowhead yearbook gives a hint of the sports available for girls each year*.  In 1973, girls are shown participating only in swimming and gymnastics, though other teams (perhaps intramural) probably existed.  Only a year later, though, there are pages for girls’ tennis, field hockey, basketball, volleyball and softball.  The young women on the basketball teams (just one team at first, later the Junior Varsity team) in 1974-1978 are wearing jerseys like this one; the style also shows up on a softball player in the only photo of that sport included in 1974; by 1983 other uniforms have replaced it.  Two #44s appear in the books, whom I won’t call out in case they don’t want their names randomly appearing on the internet (although, hey ladies, if this is your jersey please let me know!).

I didn’t find any references specifically to Title IX, but the tone of the mid 1970s books does give a sense that yes, there is a new interest in, and attitude toward, girls’ athletics.  In 1976 that attitude (perhaps because of that year‘s editor?) is particularly evident.  That year, the girls’ basketball team had switched from a female to a male coach, a point which is emphasized in the yearbook: “He proved that men too can make good coaches for an all-girls’ sport involving skill and talent.”  The cross-country page features this headline: “Cross Country Team Includes Girl Runners” and, only a few sentences after informing us that one of those ‘girl runners’ was a state champion, the author points out that the (male) coach “expressed his lack of male chauvinism by insisting that the girls receive the credit due them.”  2012 gives that a sarcastic “gee, thanks,” but depending on the school’s culture at that time, such an “insistence” may have been highly progressive.  Happily, by 1978 the novelty of serious girls’ teams seems to have worn off, at least in the Arrowhead.

*Comparing the numbers and types of sports available to the county’s public school students since the late 19th century is actually quite interesting, and there were many girls’ teams in the early-mid 20th century… but that will have to wait for a later article.

The time between May 6 and May 12 is National Nurses Week, and that seemed like a natural for A Fine Collection. Looking through our medical collections in search of nurse-related materials, I found these two pieces from Mayna Dwyer of Unity. I’ve long meant to do more research on Mayna, and this seemed like the perfect time.  (Note to fans of the history of nursing: this is not that post.  (Feel free to lobby for a future exhibit!))

Mayna Dwyer’s diploma, dated May 27, 1911, certifying that she had “completed Three Years in The National Homeopathic Hospital Training School for Nurses, and that she is now qualified to take charge of Medical, Surgical and Obstetrical Cases as a Graduate Nurse.”

Mayna Dwyer was born in 1882, the only child of Dr. John D. Dwyer (a dentist) and his wife Sue Burton Dwyer. Both Dr. and Mrs. Dwyer were from Triadelphia; Dr. Dwyer built his home, Bleakwood, in 1877 in Unity. (For those less well versed in the tiny towns of Montgomery County, Unity is just northwest of Sunshine, on Route 108; Triadelphia is, basically, underneath the Triadelphia Reservoir.  I believe Bleakwood is still standing, on Damascus Road.) Mayna was named after local doctor and friend of the family Henry Maynard of Laytonsville. Bleakwood remained Mayna’s home, on and off, for most of her life; she died in 1981.

She is not always an easy woman to trace through history. She married three times, and sometimes reverted to her maiden, or a prior married, name; census takers didn’t always know what to do with the unusual name “Mayna,” misspelling it or writing the wrong name altogether (e.g., Marion), and she sometimes went by Maynard. The items in our collections – including the diploma and certificate shown here, other archival material, and a large collection of postcards and greeting cards received by her and her mother – help make sense of the slightly confusing records.

Mayna attended the small Unity School, the Fairview Seminary in Gaithersburg, and Western Maryland College.  She married Walter Smith Lanning in 1901; they had one daughter, Sue Madesta Lanning, born in 1903. Walter and Mayna divorced shortly thereafter.

Informational circular for the Training School for Nurses, found in Mayna Dwyer’s archival collection. The name “Maynard Dwyer” is noted on the back. Click the images to enlarge and read!

In the 1910 Federal Census, Mayna Dwyer (back to her maiden name) is counted twice: once at Bleakwood with her parents and her daughter, and once as a nurse at the National Homeopathic Hospital in DC.  (The Library of Congress has several photos of the NHH Nurses Home from this era.)  The diploma indicates that she graduated in May, 1911. In June of that year she was certified as a Registered Nurse by the Nurses Examining Board of the District of Columbia.

“Be it known that Mayna Dwyer has met all requirements prescribed by law or by the Nurses Examining Board ordinances for a registered nurse and is therefore entitled to append to her name the letters R.N. to show that she is a Registered Nurse According to act of Congress approved Feb. 9 1907. [signed] . . . eighteenth day of June 1911.”

By 1920, the census shows that while Madesta is living with her grandparents at Bleakwood, “Maynard Dwyer” is working in DC as a “trained nurse, registered, in private family” (specifically, for Edward and Gertrude Long). In 1928, Mayna married a second time, to Nathaniel Elkins; the 1930 census has the newlyweds at home at Bleakwood with the widowed Mrs. Dwyer, and oral history evidence suggests that Mayna was by then retired from her nursing career. Nathaniel Elkins died in 1943. In 1950, shortly after the death of her mother, Mayna married Charles Henry Smith; he died in 1964. Mayna Dwyer Elkins Smith (she seems to have completely dropped Mr. Lanning) spent the rest of her life at Bleakwood; her 1981 obituary points out that she was survived by one daughter, three grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.

The correspondence collection, which includes cards between Mayna and her mother as well as many cards sent to the former by friends, nursing colleagues, and relatives, will help fill in some of the gaps in this census-heavy history. They have not been completely cataloged yet, but I’ve read a few when searching for Christmas cards and the like, and I think they’ll add some fantastic details about the lives and careers of both Mayna and her equally-long-lived (1852-1949) mother. What we don’t seem to have, unfortunately, is a photo of Mayna. For now, we have only this snapshot of unidentified nurses, perhaps some of her classmates at the Homeopathic Hospital; maybe Mayna is one of these young women?

As the contents of this blog attest, I have a lot of “favorite” artifacts in our collections. If you really push me to name my most favorite, however, I might have to go with the portrait of Foresta.

Foresta Vinson was born on April 11, 1830, probably in Rockville. She was the daughter of Thomas F. W. Vinson (ca. 1785-1843) and Mary “Polly” Hickman Vinson (ca. 1796-1875), third of their four children. The Vinsons were a prominent Rockville family; her father was the county Sheriff, served as a Judge of the Orphan’s Court, and owned both land and slaves. In 1853, Foresta was 23 years old and engaged to be married. Artist Thomas Cantwell Healy was commissioned to paint the young lady’s wedding portrait.

The large oil painting, in an elaborately carved and gilded frame, shows Foresta in a white dress, with a gold ring on her left ring finger and an open pocket watch in her right hand. She’s standing indoors in front of a nicely finished wall and an expensive chair, with a pastoral landscape visible outdoors behind her. The landscape-out-the-window setting was a common portraiture convention, implying the subject’s wealth and status. Foresta herself has a placid expression on her face, thanks to a faint smile and a slightly off-kilter gaze. The portrait is signed (on the wall above Foresta’s right shoulder) “T.C. Healy Rockville Md AD 1853.”

As the story goes, in December of 1853 Foresta Vinson died of typhoid either the night before, or the morning of, her wedding. The painting descended through the family of her niece, Julia Vinson Anderson, and was donated to us by Julia’s grandsons. The Andersons believed that it was finished after Foresta’s death, and the open pocket watch may have been used by the artist as a symbol of mortality; timepieces stopped at the time of death were sometimes included in postmortem portraits, though the subjects were portrayed as alive. There is also some speculation that her just-a-little-off expression – her eyes aren’t looking in the same direction, to be quite honest – was a deliberate choice made after her death. Any art historians better versed in the symbolism of 19th century portraiture want to weigh in?

Poor Foresta. Almost everything we know about the portrait, short of the artist and date, comes from Anderson family stories, and even that is sparse. Only a few references to her can be found in the family records, and she’s basically dismissed as one of TFW Vinson’s no-genealogy-to-follow children (“Foresta, died on her wedding day”) if not forgotten altogether. The only physical reminders we have – the portrait, and a pair of postmortem daguerreotypes – relate to her death. What was her life like? Unfortunately, she didn’t live in a time or place that exerted much effort recording the lives of young unmarried women; her family’s money is the main reason for the little we do have (portraits aren’t cheap). There are so many unanswered questions; I can’t even find the name of her fiancé. 

So why is she my favorite? The easy answer is that it’s a great portrait hanging just out of sight (the top of her frame is visible over the false walls in our exhibit gallery), and I feel sorry that she seldom gets out and about. But on a deeper level, something about the whole package – artifacts, sketchy records, pitiful story – speaks to me, just as certain events or individuals speak to other historians. There are Civil War buffs and Benjamin Franklin fans; call me a Human Interest Story afficionado, eager to share these stories with others like me.

Postcards are an (almost) endless source of information, from the image on the front to the text on the back. Often the publisher is the least interesting part – to a local historian, at least – but occasionally the publisher, printer or photographer is a local individual or business, and one’s Montgomery County history radar is engaged.

Above: Front and back of “Brookville Road, Chevy Chase, Md., Publ. by Mrs. M.E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked April 21, 1912, and addressed to Miss K. Beham, Roxbury, Ct.: “Hector said you wanted to hear from me.  Hope all are well.  Jessie.  222 Ontario Wash. DC.”

While going through our postcard collection here at MCHS, I noticed many cards – particularly from the down-county area – published by Mrs. Minnie E. Brooke of Chevy Chase. Intrigued, I did a little research in our library . . . couldn’t find much, other than the census records . . . finally pinned her down as Mrs. Minnehaha [awesome!] “Minnie” Etheridge Brooke, wife of Wentworth Brooke and at one point owner of the Brooke Farm* restaurant in Chevy Chase. I then went to the internet for additional info . . .

. . . And discovered that Minnie and her postcard business are well-known, and are featured on not one but two local websites: The Chevy Chase Historical Society has a great online exhibit on Minnie and her many social projects and business ventures, and this site takes more of a postcard-collector view.  (Be sure to click at least one of those to check out Minnie’s portrait.)  So much for my groundbreaking research. No matter! Minnie Brooke’s story is pretty great, and it fits in with the theme of Women’s History Month, so I will blog onward.

Mrs. Brooke was born in North Carolina, and married Wentworth Brooke in 1896. The census gives only a glimpse (if that) of Minnie’s work as a suffragist, club manager, restaurateur, hotelier and postcard publisher; in fact, her occupation is noted as “none” in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and the 1930 census lists both husband and wife as “salesmen.” (Neither Minnie nor Wentworth appears in the 1920 census, confusingly enough.) No hint here that this entrepreneurial woman managed the Cosmos Club in DC; ran several successful restaurants and tea rooms in the DC area, including the Brooke Farm Inn (sometimes called Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room) on Brookville Road; belonged to the National Woman’s Party, helped organize the 1913 suffrage parade in DC, and often stood on the side of Pennsylvania Avenue espousing the suffrage cause; started a mini-publishing industry with her penny postcards; and eventually operated a souvenir shop in DC. (She died in 1938.) Thus are the limitations of my beloved census revealed.  But of course, any record that lists the majority of female residents as having “no occupation” (which is often demonstrably false, even discounting the work performed in the household) should be viewed with some skepticism.

The Chevy Chase Historical Society’s online exhibit has even more information on Minnie, and on the postcard craze she hoped to cash in on; they also have many of her Chevy Chase cards visible, as does the other site linked above. Her cards focus on the down-county area (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Great Falls) and the District of Columbia. Currently it’s unknown if she took the photos herself, or purchased images from other photographers. The cards included here from our collections show Brookville Road in Chevy Chase (donated by Joseph Valachovic), and Rock Creek Park in DC (donated by the Dwyer family).

Above: Front and back of “View of Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., Publ. by Minnie E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked October 26, 1907, and addressed to Mrs. D.J. Dwyer, Unity, Montg. Co., Maryland: “Dear Aunt Susie.  Aunt Ida was down three days last week.  Isn’t this beautiful weather.  Hope you are well. Love to Uncle Dave and a share for yourself.  Jennie.”

*The Brooke Farm restaurant, also known as Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room and Brook Farm, was owned by Minnie Brooke from the 1890s into the 1920s; it was operated under the same name(s) by other owners later in the century, and the cottage-like building is now home to La Ferme Restaurant.

Today we have a fabulous silver chatelaine, from the 1890s. Designed to hang from the belt, it supports a pencil holder, a buttonhook, a scent or smelling salts bottle, a pill box, and a celluloid or similar memorandum pad (“aide de memoire”).

The clasp-and-chains chatelaine and the attached pieces may have been purchased separately (different silver marks appear on several pieces).  The little bits and bobs are attached to the chains with clips, so they could be removed and changed when necessary. However, it all goes together fairly well; the clasp has Greek or Roman motifs – including what looks like an infant throttling two . . . dragons? Griffins? – and the bottle and aide de memoire continue the theme, with a griffin on the latter and a Greek/Roman-type head (with a dragon on the helmet) on the former. (Photos are merrily scattered throughout this post.) The hallmarks on the clasp are hard to decipher – especially as the entire piece is suffering from an overdose of silver polish residue – it looks like it might have been made in Birmingham, UK though I’m not prepared to swear to it.

The piece was given to Mrs. Sophie McQueen Van Hoesen in 1922 by Miss Katherine McQueen (1874-1954), possibly her aunt. The only further hints of earlier ownership are the inscription “A.B.K. 13.2.92” on the cover of the aide de memoire, and “ABK” on the lid of the pillbox; the identity of this person is unknown, and while the 1892 date might be the date of acquisition, it might be something else significant like a birthday or wedding anniversary.  Chatelaines were quite popular during the 1890s, however, so I’ve gone with it as an artifact date.  Mrs. Van Hoesen, who lived in Capitol View for much of her life, donated the piece to the Historical Society in 1962.

When we think of chatelaines – if at all – we may envision a bunch of large metal keys hanging from the housekeeper’s waist. Technically, a chatelaine is defined as basically the mistress of a chateau or other large estate, or “a clasp or hook for a watch, purse or bunch of keys.” Some earlier sources define it as the chain about the waist, rather than simply the belt hook. The name for the belt hook stems from the idea that the “mistress of the chateau” kept the keys about her person at all times. The concept of the conveniently-hung-at-waist set of tools dates from the 18th century, though their popularity was not constant (they don’t look so hot hanging from a diaphanous, empire-waisted dress). Chatelaines came back into fashion in the late 19th century (along with voluminous skirts and normal-waisted gowns) and became highly decorative.  The ultimate accessory: practical and attractive!  They were used to hold all kinds of objects. Ours here seems to be sort of generally useful; other examples are geared toward specific tasks, like sewing or nursing. Options for your chatelaine were numerous; in addition to the pieces shown here there were coin purses, spectacles cases, timepieces, key rings, flasks, whistles, baby rattles, vinaigrettes, match safes, mirrors, lockets, pocket knives, face powder boxes, and an assortment of needlework and sewing tools. (Stay tuned next week for a regular-size purse attached to a chatelaine.)

Sadly I couldn’t find a good photo in our collections of a County lady sporting a useful chatelaine, and my beloved Victorian fancy-goods catalogs have let me down today, but if you’d like to see some examples of chatelaines in both artifact and vintage-catalog form, click here.

So if you’ve always longed for a utility belt, consider bringing an antique chatelaine back into fashion. Or if you’re of a crafty bent, you can make a brand new one for yourself. (While you’re at it, make me one for my work keys; I may not be the “mistress of the chateau,” but I do have a lot of keys.)

Just a quick post today, before we head off to the Thanksgiving holiday!

Our “turkey” parasol is one of the more fanciful artifacts in our textile collections, though unfortunately we know very little of its history. It has a modified-pagoda-shaped silk cover, a long (just over four feet) wooden shaft, and metal spokes and ferrule. The carved handle is shaped like a standing turkey, complete with colored paint and glass eyes.  The parasol itself is not in good shape, as is often the case with such fragile, and well-used, items; the spokes are too bent and broken, and the (rather fabulous) silk cover too tattered, to open the shade all the way.

The metal spokes, brightly patterned silk, and extreme length of the shaft put this sunshade in the early 20th century. The only clue to its provenance is the name “B. Altman & Co.,” meaning it was purchased at that store, probably in New York City. Other than that, its past is a mystery. During the early years of the Historical Society we were happy to accept almost any artifact or collection, and were occasionally – shall we say – lackadaisical in our pursuit of the written record. No doubt someone knew this parasol’s history at some point.  Every so often I am able to match up the unknown artifacts with the what’s-this paperwork; perhaps one day our little turkey’s history will be identified once again.

Today’s artifacts, a ceramic teacup and bread plate, come from the National Park Seminary (NPS), a late 19th – early 20th century girls’ school in Forest Glen. Both pieces are marked in gold with the Greek letters Chi Psi Upsilon. The bread plate is stamped on the reverse with the maker’s mark for Warwick China Co. of Wheeling, WV (1887-1951). They were donated to MCHS by Helen Gruver Kline, NPS class of 1921.

The Seminary is one of those Montgomery County places that bring just a hint of mystery to the landscape. In this case, the mystery tends to be either “What is that fancy, old-looking building you can see from the Beltway?” or “Did we really just drive past a pagoda?” The short answers are: 1) A fancy hotel/school/condo development, and 2) Yes. As for the long answers…

The first building at NPS was actually a resort hotel, Ye Forest Inne, built in 1887 to take advantage of the county’s new suburban railway. Many of these railroad hotels prospered, but the Forest Inne did not. It was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Cassedy, experienced educators who opened the National Park Seminary, an elite girls’ preparatory school, on the site in 1894. Over the years additional dormitories, classroom buildings, and clubhouses (more on that in a bit) were built in and around the glen. The hilly, wooded landscape was dotted with picturesque bridges, romantic statuary, and elaborate architecture. Students came from across the country to take advantage of the school’s much-touted proximity to the culture and society of the Nation’s Capital.

The clubs, or sororities, at NPS were a unique feature – or, as the 1920-21 catalog phrased it, “peculiar and original with this school.” For one thing, they were not associated with national sororities; they were social clubs, with voluntary membership (no recruitment or hazing), created by the students and faculty to promote sociability, congeniality and the development of life skills. For another thing, each group’s clubhouse was built in a distinctive style. Thus a stroll through the NPS campus takes you past a Dutch windmill, a Swiss cottage, a “Spanish mission,” an English Colonial house, a bungalow, a “castle,” and, yes, a “Japanese” pagoda.

The Japanese Clubhouse pagoda was built in 1905 – in a style that veers a little more toward Chinese than Japanese, but what can you do. (Interestingly, the name was changed to the Chinese Pagoda during World War II.) It was home to the Chi Psi Upsilon club/sorority, and our teacup and plate were used here. I haven’t found a list of the club’s membership, but presumably our donor belonged to “Chi Psi U” during her years at NPS. (The 1920-21 school catalog does list Helen Russell Gruver of Washington D.C. amongst the registered students, but club affiliation is not inculded.) We have a nice assortment of catalogs, viewbooks, yearbooks, photo albums and scrapbooks in our library collections, allowing me to trace a little of the clubhouse history over time, but in the interest of brevity – or such brevity as I can muster – the images and text here come from the 1920-21 catalog/prospectus for potential and incoming students.

The broad purpose of the club system is summed up next to some of the photographs of the “artistically beautiful” houses: “The Clubs mean the sub-division of the school into small families with the mother-relation sustained in each. . . . A Student’s retreat for rest and recreation. A club girl learns how to work in organization; how to respond to the needs of community life; how to render efficient social service; how to be a companionable woman.” And finally, in case you, as a parent of a potential student, are still not convinced that it is worth the time and money to send June/Dorothy/Helen/Marian to school: “A companionable woman makes the best wife and mother.”

(Please don’t think I’m making fun of the school, its administration or its students – I’m not! The ins and outs, whys and wherefores of women’s education throughout history is fascinating to me, and I love NPS. A lot of very positive things came out of schools such as this one, and if convincing Mother and Father that an NPS education was the surest ticket to a good marriage with a diplomat’s son was the way to get things done, so be it.  I do my best to remember that the work of people like the Cassedys and Mrs. Kline gave Modern Me the space, distance and opportunity to be a teeny bit sneery.)

And what happened to the school? Well, to make a long story short, the campus was bought by the US Army early in World War II, and became the Walter Reed Hospital Annex; for many years, the classrooms, dormitories and grand spaces once occupied by young women were occupied instead by convalescing soldiers. Over the years the various structures fell into disrepair, and in the late 1980s members of the surrounding community formed Save Our Seminary, a group dedicated to finding new uses for the old buildings. Happily for those of us who love a bit of architectural variety in our suburbia, the remaining dorms, classrooms, clubhouses and support structures are in the midst of a major renovation. You can – if you choose and are able – live in the Seminary. (But I’m sorry, I believe the Pagoda has already been purchased!)

For more information – since here I have blithely whipped through 100+ years of the school’s history, and have hardly done it justice – please visit the Save Our Seminary site, or this site, created a few years ago by an NPS fan.

Today’s (somewhat lengthy) post was indirectly inspired by the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. As I poked about in our records looking for challenged books, I remembered that several of our diarists describe their reading material, and how much I enjoy learning what people read for pleasure. Let’s take a look at what some county residents* were reading in the past, presumably censor-free.

*Only ladies today, but that’s simply because I remembered these particular diaries – nothing against the men!

Caroline Miller (1842-1904) grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, daughter of a prominent Quaker family. In 1867 she married Roger Brooke Farquhar of Sandy Spring, and lived her married life at “Rock Spring,” a farm between Rockville and Norwood. She kept a diary during her teenage years, and again from 1885 until her death. The first volume of her diary gives us a hint as to her reading preferences, and to the problems she faced because of them.

October 22, 1859: . . .After tea I read a good while in a magazine, but Mother reproved me for reading so much that was pernicious in its tendency, and advised me to go to my sewing, which I did. In a short time I put my work up, I read some of Leigh Richmond’s letters to his children, in which I was much interested; I shall read more of them, and endeavor to profit by the good and beautiful rules which he lays down for his children.

November 17, 1859: . . . I enjoyed [Quaker] Meeting very much, I had a good many good thoughts, and the Extracts from the minutes of the Yearly Meeting, which Sarah Wright read, I liked very much, especially what was said about the reading of pernicious books, which I wish I could follow.

February 15, 1860: . . . I have just commenced “Irving’s life of Washington,” and so far I am much interested and I think I shall grow more so, as I go on; it is a great undertaking I know, for me, to read so large a work, there being three volumes, but I hope I may persevere and get through with it and derive some benefit from it; I can see in what I have already read, that Washington, even in his youth was remarkable for his forethought and carefulness in all matters of business.

In addition to these specific passages, Carrie mentions reading “some trifling stories” several times, and in December 1859 she reads Adam Bede (George Eliot, 1859) though without editorial comment. In the back of the volume she made a shopping list (below) that includes The Mill on the Floss (Eliot, 1860) for 87 ½ cents.

In the later volumes from her youth, Carrie no longer frets about the pernicious tendencies of her reading. In the back of the 1863 diary she lists twenty works by Sir Walter Scott, and a shopping list at the end of 1866 includes Wives and Daughters (Mrs. Gaskell, 1866) for $1.50. Either she’s come to terms with her own taste for novels, or she’s stopped telling her parents. And what of adult Carrie? In the 1885-1904 volumes there are few references to specific works other than the Bible, A Tale of Two Cities, several Shakespeare plays (read aloud by family members), and a Civil War-themed novel called In War Time, published in 1884. She makes no judgement calls about any of them, though In War Time did occupy her “all the evening” (March 18, 1886).  The rather arduous life on a farm may not have left her much time for novels.

Now let’s move forward several decades, to two women who are unapologetic in their tastes. Mrs. Ethelyn Clagett Pratt of Rockville kept a small journal from 1919 through 1930, in which she wrote down the menus served at her various club meetings. In the back of the book she also noted a few novels, complete with plot summaries:

Visitors to Hugh [actually Hugo] by Alice Grant Rosman. Invalid young man. [Published in 1929.]  —– Pirate’s Face by Norval Richardson. Queer story – Lucienne and Meredith marry – father makes the match – loss of memory. Couple to go South America. At last everything turns out OK. [1928. Sign me up! This book sounds awesome.] —— The Fifth Latchkey by Natalie Sumner Lincoln. Murder story – near Wash[ington]. Rockville Court House &c. [1929. I bought and read this book last year, and it does indeed take place in Rockville.] ——- A Lady of Quality, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Beautiful girl – grows up wild like weed, becomes fine woman. [First published 1896.] —– Read in July 1930: Shepherds by Marie Conway Oemler [1926]; The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter author of Just David [1917; Eleanor H. Porter also wrote, more famously, Pollyanna].”

We’ll end our survey of “What Are You Reading? The Past Edition” with Catherine Dawson (1910-1974) of Rockville. According to the evidence of her childhood diary, Miss Dawson was a voracious reader. Nearly every entry includes time spent reading, and she finishes books with great rapidity. Just in the first four months of 1922 (remember, she’s 12 years old) she buys eleven books, reads at least sixteen books, and borrows several more from friends and the Rockville Library. Here’s a sample day, Monday January 9, 1922:

“Went to school and had a pretty good time. After school I went with Lillian to Hazel’s. About four o’clock I came home and read Two Little Women and Treasure House. After dinner I practiced and got my lessons then I finished Two Little Women. It is just fine, and peachy.” [I couldn’t identify Treasure House, but Two Little Women is by Carolyn Wells, 1915. Catherine uses “just fine” as in “simply great,” not “only so-so.”]

Catherine doesn’t provide all the titles, and some books are only mentioned by author – including Dickens – or series, but in case you want to recreate her list (many are available as free ebooks, if you search for them) here’s what is named from January to April 1922:

Outdoor Girls at Bluff Point [Laura Lee Hope (also wrote The Bobbsey Twins), 1920]

Georgina’s Service Stars [Annie Fellows Johnston (also wrote The Little Colonel), 1918]

“[Street &] Smith’s College Stories” [a pulp magazine]

The Border Boys Across the Frontier [Fremont B. Deering, 1911. Clearly Catherine was an equal opportunity reader of boys and girls stories.]

Mildred’s Boys and Girls; “it is fine.” [Martha Finley, 1914]

Elsie Dinsmore [borrowed from her friend K. Hicks. Also by Martha Finley; it’s not clear if Catherine meant the first book, or one of the series published 1867-1905.]

The Best Man [I’m not sure about this one, but it is probably the novel by Grace Livingston Hill, 1913.]

The Lost Prince [Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1915]

The Veiled Lady [Not positively identified; I really want this to be the short story by Agatha Christie, one of Poirot’s early adventures, though I can’t find a reference to it being published before 1923.]

One or more books in the Grace Harlowe series [Josephine Chase writing as Jessie Graham Flower, 1910-1924]

The Lucky Sixpence [Emilie Benson Knipe, 1912]

These lists of books, and the occasional plot summary or mini-review, are highly entertaining to me, as a modern reader. Some of the best parts of reading old diaries and memoirs are those moments of connection between your own experience and that of your predecessors, whether it’s complaining about homework or housework, enjoying a good time with friends, or sharing an opinion of a book. Who hasn’t felt guilty for reading “trifling stories,” as Carrie Miller did, or gone to school and had “a pretty good time” like Catherine Dawson? Plus, I love reading old novels – whether Mrs. Gaskell or an Outdoor Girls story – and these lists give me some good tips. Judging from Mrs. Pratt’s description of Pirate’s Face, it is a Must Read.

Sources: Caroline Miller Farquhar’s diaries were donated to our library by her son, Roger Brooke Farquhar II.  Mrs. Pratt’s menu journal (which has been featured here before) was donated to the library by a member of her family.  Catherine Dawson’s diary is still in the hands of her family, but a copy was provided to the library by Beth Dawson Rodgers.   Authors and publication dates, when not given by the diarist, were gleaned from many internet searches.  Alas, we do not have any of these exact novels in our collections.