They came from apartments on Beacon Hill and from brownstones in the Back Bay. Each had a different purpose, and each had taken a different journey to get to this place and this day. Some were writers; some were musicians, sculptors, or painters. But they were all members of the National League of American Pen Women, a society tuned to women’s voices, and they had come for the annual meeting of its Boston branch in 1929.
For the first time, a woman brought the official greetings of the Commonwealth. Mrs. Esther M. Andrews, a member of the Governor’s Council, spoke about the importance of “cultural progress” to the state and praised the league for furthering those ideals through its creative works.
Emilie Loring and her circle of writing friends listened. There were as many reasons to create as there were women in the room. Some did it for money–wives to help out the family finances, widows and single women to supplement inherited incomes. Others did it to fulfill a purpose.
There was a reason that Clara Endicott Sears’ biography was titled, “History’s Daughter.” It was simply essential, she believed, to understand the historical underpinnings of our existence, to see New England in context with all of the people who had made it their home, from its original inhabitants to colonists, Shakers, Transcendentalists, and simple farmers.
Sara Ware Bassett adored the unique society of Cape Cod people and saw their life slipping away. She wrote to preserve their memory, but she also wrote with the understanding that all of us are trying to find our way in this world, men and women. It’s impossible to read her stories and not identify with some part of their inner thoughts, their struggles and motivations, their wry humor and determination.
Emilie Loring wrote to entertain, and in the tradition of her family of playwrights, her stories revealed an understanding of life and of personal character. Her words conveyed thoughts and feelings so vivid that they were recognized by readers as their own.
Emilie Loring earned the National League of American Pen Women’s third prize for fiction in 1938 for her novel, Today Is Yours. First prize went to The Lost Queen of Egypt by Lucile P. Morrison, and second went to Wild Peach by Claire Cave.
At that meeting in Washington, D.C., Eleanor Roosevelt told the League that they had “a heavy responsibility, spreading the thoughts of women throughout the world.” Eleanor had a great number of thoughts, and her book, You Learn By Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life is a favorite of mine. I had all of my senior students read a portion of the book, and it became a favorite for some of them, too.
If you read it, I think you will have a spark of recognition. Emilie Loring’s fiction carried many of the same messages:
“Curiosity, interest, imagination, and a sense of the adventure of life… are the qualities that make all learning rewarding, that make all life zestful, that make us seek constantly for new experience and deeper understanding.” (E. Roosevelt)
After all, there was nothing like an absorbing interest to make one vitally alive from head to feet. Hilltops Clear
The possibility of adventure waiting round the corner thrilled her, not a doubt lurked in her consciousness. Something might happen on this expedition, something big, the atmosphere tingled with possibilities. Lighted Windows
“Nothing alive can stand still, it goes forward or back.” (E. Roosevelt)
Always she would go forward unvanquished by life, her weapon of defense gay courage. Gay Courage
“Any man who thinks deeply must move forward.” Swift Water
“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.” (E. Roosevelt)
“Because my imagination began to project all sorts of hazardous risks I determined to crash through or perish in the attempt. I won’t give in to a fear complex—ever again. I settled down to constructive thinking.” Lighted Windows
“Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.” (E. Roosevelt)
He had asserted that it was as much her right to know the treasures of the spiritual world as of the intellectual and material worlds. All he could do was to show her the way to them; the choice as to what they would mean in her life was hers. Uncharted Seas
“Whatever period of life we are in is good only to the extent that we make use of it, that we live it to the hilt, that we continue to develop and understand what it has to offer us and we have to offer it. The rewards for each age are different in kind, but they are not necessarily different in value or satisfaction.” (E. Roosevelt)
A chance to be of use had changed her from a pepless, unhappy old woman to an efficient person with courage, belief in her power to achieve, and with sparkle, definitely with sparkle. Beckoning Trails
“Different times, different brands of courage.” Uncharted Seas
“It is true that I am fundamentally an optimist, that I am congenitally hopeful. I do not believe that good always conquers evil, because I have lived a long time in the world and seen that it is not true…” (E. Roosevelt)
“I still believe that the beautiful things of life are as real as the ugly things of life.” Give Me One Summer
Surely, in the light of history, it is more important to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It can’t be done.” (E. Roosevelt)
“Be honest, have you ever known gloom or depression to solve a problem? Problems aren’t solved that way. ” Give Me One Summer
Alice Dixon Bond, the literary editor of the Boston Herald, wrote that a good book entertains, but it also “stays with you… It uncovers something that you can take for yourself.” There are books from every generation that connect this way, that touch the essential experiences of groping our way through life, making mistakes, striving for ideals, discovering our truths and joys.
Some fall by the way fairly soon, like Clara Endicott Sears’ and Sara Ware Bassett’s. A select few earn semi-permanent status in the literary canon. And some are handed down from one generation to the next, like cherished, family recipes.
Emilie Loring and Eleanor Roosevelt have already connected with three generations of women through their stories and essays. Make it a point to share them with the young people you know, so they will make it to a fourth. And when you have logs on the fire this holiday season, pull one of their books down from the shelf and enjoy.
2 thoughts on “A Good Book Stays With You”
Hi, Patti! At a meeting last Saturday, our discussion turned to the readers of today. The consensus seems to be they read for entertainment and don’t care much about craft. That disturbed us.
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A well-turned phrase IS entertainment to me! I’m sure you’re right that craft isn’t at the top of everyone’s list, but I like to think enough people appreciate it to make the effort worthwhile.