On Tuesday night, I had the most interesting convesation with a library customer. She was interested in checking out A Vision for Girls: Gender, Education, and the Bryn Mawr School. Cubiclemate, who was on desk before me, had found the book and gave her a couple printouts from one of our biographical databases when it was my turn at the reference desk. She ended up talking to me about how she had gone to Bryn Mawr starting when she was six years old. Let me say, Elinor was not impressed with the book -- it was written by a woman from New Orleans who was also connected to Texas. What did she know about a girl's preparatory school in Baltimore? I tried to convince her that the author had presumably come to Baltimore to do research and that the tone was more of academic than historical, but she didn't really want to hear that.
Elinor also told me to guess how old she was -- I knew she was old, but guessed seventy-five to be on the conservative side. Turns out that Elinor is ninty-one! Ninty-one! So she went on to tell me about going to school at Bryn Mawr and how the girls had to pass the college boards before they could graduate. I understand that the college boards were an entrance test that each individual student had to take in order to be admitted into school. I heard about how when she graduated -- the first class to graduate at their current location -- she wore a white dress and carried a basket of daisies.
It turns out that she has a card in our biography file. (Our biography file is an interesting mix of odds and ends mostly from the Baltimore Sun, including primarily obituaries, but also notices, listings in books, etc.) She was a Vagabond player who appeared in a show in 1940. Her father's obituary can also be found in the biography file. He was born in 1862 (!), when Maryland was still a slave-holding state! I cannot even imagine having a father that was born that long ago, but then again, I'm not ninty-one either.
I also got to hear about during the War -- World War II -- and how she worked at the USO at the YWCA, which is actually right across the street from the Maryland Department. She called herself kind of a duenna for the kids who worked at the USO because she had graduated from college (Elinor went to Smith). She told me about one serviceman -- a coast guard officer stationed at Fort McHenry who was such a good dancer that she loved to dance with him. One day he came to the USO and said that he was going to be transferred and he wouldn't be able to come next Sunday. So everyone got together a party with cake and lots of gifts for him the following Wednesday. The next Sunday rolled around, and he showed up back at the USO. He had been transferred from Fort McHenry to the quarantine, which is probably a mile or so from Fort McHenry, where people were quarantined after coming into the Port of Baltimore.
It was just so interesting. I heard from Cubiclemate yesterday that she used to come to the Maryland Department quite a bit, but hadn't been in as much in the past three years or so. Listening to her talk made me wish I had a tape record to get her stories preserved. I know my renditions of them are definitely not word for word, and just the fact that she is ninty-one (!) and seems as sharp as a tack makes her stories even more interesting. I hope she comes into the library again. I just wish I could figure out a way to say, hey, can I get your stories down on tape because I think they're really interesting. Maybe I should convince my boss to start an oral history of Maryland project. Or else I could just do it on my own...