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News archive

2012 | 2013

[September 2012]

Papers of 19th Century Author and Mill Worker
Find a Home in the SSC

"You may think me indelicate or wanting feminine reserve to speak so frankly," Harriot F. Curtis wrote to a suitor in 1836, acknowledging the shocking nature of her sentiments. In a time when well over 90% of all American women married, Curtis assured her correspondent that "matrimony is an ocean upon which I shall not probably ever embark," and anyway, "I am not what any person would want for a wife." Born in rural Vermont in 1813, Curtis defied her parents to join the thousands of young New England women who moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, to work in its textile industry. There, in addition to her work in the mills, she developed a career as an editor and bestselling author.

Letter from Harriot Curtis to Hezekiah Morse Wead, 1836
Letter from Harriot Curtis to Hezekiah Morse Wead, 1836 (click image to read full letter)

The fully processed and newly opened Harriot F. Curtis Papers include thirty-five lengthy letters in her own hand, full typed transcriptions of each, her two novels, and a volume of her wisdom. These thirty-five letters she wrote between 1836 and 1845 to her suitor, Hezekiah Morse Wead, descended through his family, several members of which aspired to write a biography, a screenplay, or a work of historical fiction about Curtis' life and relationship with Wead. Lila Wead Berman, in her research for the task, acquired not only Curtis' published works, but other works written by and about New England's mill workers. Curtis' letters, writings, and Wead Berman's research materials came to the Sophia Smith Collection earlier this year via Wead Berman's daughter, Maria Deforest McLeish.

Wead's family had reason to express such interest in Curtis' life, as she delighted in flouting convention whenever possible. In an era that bound women to the domestic sphere, Curtis left her family's home against their wishes to undertake paid work in Lowell's textile and publishing industries. "It is the very height of enjoyment for me to show what a dunce I dare be, of what foolish folly I dare be guilty," Curtis wrote Wead in 1845, summarizing her thoughts on public opinion. She scoffed at marriage, turned down proposals, explored spiritual practices like Swedenborgianism, and "nearly rendered my mother insane" by threatening to join Shaker communes. Strikingly, Curtis also studied the discipline of phrenology under one of its leading proponents and developed a short-lived public career as a lecturer and practitioner of phrenology in the late 1830s and early 1840s, though she lost interest in it before the end of her correspondence with Wead, whose phrenological reading did not reflect what she knew of him.

Published materials from Harriot Curtis Papers
Selection of published materials from Harriot Curtis Papers

Curtis' marriage-critical novels Kate In Search of a Husband and Jessie's Flirtations, though they went through many editions and were wildly successful in their own time, are now extraordinarily difficult to find in print. Their presence in the Harriot F. Curtis Papers, alongside her remarkable letters, will prove a valuable addition to scholarship on US women of the era, particularly of working class women, New England's mill girls, and and female authors.

-- Adrienne Naylor, graduate student intern who processed the papers of Harriot F. Curtis, Summer 2012

View finding aid for Harriot F. Curtis Papers

[September 2012]

Bridge 2012

Imagine a televised presidential debate this fall in which women of color are asking the questions. When the focus turns to the hot-button reproductive rights issues that are in the headlines - abortion, rape, same-sex marriage, funding for contraception - what questions would women of color pose? What would the candidates have to answer for?

About 50 first-years, all students of color, pondered this possibility as they participated in “Saving Our Stories: Women of Color Remember the Past and Shape the Future.” This pre-orientation session introduced them to the riches of the Sophia Smith Collection that document the lives of their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations. The students viewed and discussed videotaped oral histories in which African American, Native America, Latina, and Asian American activists describe tackling a range of issues, from environmental pollution and sterilization abuse to immigration status and maternal mortality, in their efforts to gain reproductive health and rights in their communities.

So while we may not see that imagined election-year debate in 2012, we take heart. We look forward to seeing these new Smith students in the SSC over the next four years as they prepare to assume responsibility for framing the questions that guide public policy and hold national leaders accountable in years ahead.

bullet Browse the Women of Color subject guide

March for Women's Lives, Washington, D.C. (2004)
March for Women's Lives, Washington, D.C. (2004)

[April 2012]

Red Flame

On April 4 and 5 , Hampshire College student Jaymes Timpson Winell presented a most engaging and inspiring song-and-dance performance entitled Red Flame. Based on the life and work of her grandmother, Anne Burlak Timpson whose papers are now in the Sophia Smith Collection, Jaymes' performance has made great use of these materials. So, too, will the archived material provide rich sources for her final research paper, all part of her Division III senior project. Timpson (1911-2002) was a Communist Party official and labor organizer who went to work at fourteen and within two years became an activist, fighting for the rights of workers as she would continue to do for decades. Her papers include correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, speeches, photographs, scrapbooks, interviews, audiovisual materials, and an unfinished autobiography. In Red Flame, Timpson's granddaughter presented an emotionally-charged and spirited look at one woman's efforts to make social, political and economic justice a reality for all Americans. At the same time, it was very much grounded in the historical context.

Anne Burlack Timpson, 1931
Anne Burlak Timpson, 1931

As Jaymes herself said, "This performance is an attempt to put history on its feet, share some songs and stories, and explore what fearlessness might look like." The Sophia Smith Collection is pleased and proud to be a part of such endeavors.

Timpson Family

William Timpson, Jaymes, Kellee Timpson, Kathryn Anne Wright,
April, 2012. Photo by Kathleen Banks Nutter

[January 2012]

SSC images now searchable!

Digital images from the SSC can now be searched and viewed in the Smith College
LUNA image database.

To date, over 300 images from our collections have been added and the online collection will continue to grow.

More information on finding images

Photo by Diana Davies
Women Strike for Peace, Washington, D.C., 1969. Photo by Diana Davies

For older news stories:

bullet   View PDF versions of the SSC's former newsletter, Imposing Evidence

bullet   Read selected articles (1998 to 2004) from past newsletters


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 © 2011 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063 Page last updated on Tuesday, 07 May 2013