New Books and Noteworthy Omissions
As part of the patriotic backlash in the wake of 9-11, Katharine Lee Bates' song "America the Beautiful" has become to resurgent nationalism what "Amazing Grace" is to spirituality. So it was no surprise that someone would document the history of the song that almost became our national anthem. On his Nov. 29 PBS show Charlie Rose interviewed ABC-TV 20/20 correspondent Lynn Sherr, author of America the Beautiful: The Stirring True Story Behind Our Nation's Favorite Song ( Public Affairs Press, $25.00 ) . Sherr recounted the bare bones of the story, often told in this column, of Bates' trip across the Midwest to a summer teaching job in Colorado Springs and her sojourn at the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, 1893. She mentioned that as soon as Bates' poem was published on the 4th of July 1895, Americans began putting it to music...there were dozens of versions until the now popular one was adopted 20 years later, set to a hymn by Samuel Agustus Ward. I haven't seen the book yet and it will be interesting to note how Sherr treats the relationship of Bates and Katharine Coman, her life partner and travelling companion on the 1893 trip. Coman and Bates were both faculty at Wellesley College, which is also Sherr's Alma Mater...surely she would know they lived what was commonly called a "Wellesley marriage."
Two years ago Barbara Younger and Stacey Schuett published Purple Mountains Majesties: The Story of Katharine Lee Bates and America the Beautiful ( New American Library, $16.99 ) , an illustrated version for children in the 7-10 age range. Their version drew on Bates' diaries and was fluffed out with historical background for the trip. Included in this category would be comments about the treatment of African Americans and women at the 1893 Fair in Chicago.
19th Century Gay MenRead more story below....
Also new this year and previously reviewed in WCT is Jonathan Ned Katz' Love Stories: Sex Between Men before Homosexuality ( University of Chicago Press, $37.50 ) . I ran into Katz at the Queer History conference organized by George Chauncey at the University of Chicago last year. I mentioned Henry Blake Fuller to him as a candidate for his book, but I guess it was too late for inclusion. Chicago author Fuller, who published a novel and a play with homosexual themes, had interesting ways of meeting his sexual partners. Suggested in correspondence with Canadian Harold W. Curtis in 1897, a 40-year-old Fuller responded to the 20-year-old's complaint about the difficulty he was having fulfilling his sexual needs. Noting the unavailability of men who shared Curtis' sexual predisposition, Fuller apparently suggested he try "commercial travellers." Salesmen would no doubt be better partners than rougher trade. Later Curtis writes Fuller "I am glad to hear such good accounts of Washington ( D.C. ) and hope someday I shall be able to sample the men in these as well as other U.S. cities." While Fuller's letters to Curtis do not survive, these quotes are from Kenneth Scambray's A Varied Harvest: The Life and Works of Henry Blake Fuller ( University of Pittsburgh Press, 1987 ) . Curtis' letters to Fuller are at the Newberry Library here in Chicago.
Fuller, whose taste obviously ran to younger men, frequented classes and events on the University of Chicago campus and was a regular at the studios of Lorado Taft, often dining with the young students. He also made regular trips to the Indiana Dunes as a guest of a U.C. professor and his wife, and is remembered there affectionately by gay writer/artist Mark Turbyfill in his unpublished memoirs. ( Fuller described himself as "an old satyr" to Turbyfill. ) It was his habit to "cruise" the beaches in the afternoons. In a volume of reminiscences, published by Anna Morgan after Fuller's death, one young man recounts how Fuller tracked him down after such an afternoon on the Dunes. They had not exchanged names, but the young man had mentioned he was transferring to the University of Illinois from De Pauw University that Fall and Blake tracked him down through the registrars of both schools. That young man, William Emery Shepherd, would later accompany Fuller on his last return trip to Europe. This trip provided the material for Fuller's final novel ( Gardens of This World ) on the theme he began with his first book, The Chevalier of Penseri-Vani ( 1892 ) .
Read Between the Lines
I am still working my way through the 1,000-or so pages of Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: a Biographical Dictionary ( Indiana University Press, $75.00 ) . As I noted in an earlier column only four women were indexed under "lesbians"; however, women-loving-women lurk in pages throughout the book. Some are alluded to in Shultz's introductory essay as "...women ( who ) lived together quietly and unflamboyantly." The difficulty, of course, is the baggage accompanying the term "lesbian." Historians hesitate to apply to these women, a word ( and a hazily defined one at that ) not in use in earlier centuries. But many of subjects lived well into the latter half of the 20th century when writers such as Rita Mae Brown, Blanche Weisen Cook and Lillian Faderman popularized a more inclusive and political definition of lesbian. So the editors do not call the 30-year relationships of Frances Willard and others by the dreaded "L" word. But there are delightful discoveries like artists Kathleen Blackshear and Ethel Spears, even art historian Tee Corrine was not aware of. There are other entries that ignore the whole issue altogether, never mentioning partnerships...whether known or unknown by the contributors, I can't say. One omission concerns a woman who gave me a reference to law school at a time when I was aware that her partner was on the faculty at Northwestern. At least her biographical entry does not have the rubber stamp "and she never married."
Copyright 2001 by Marie J. Kuda. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org