This article originally appeared in the December 1, 1926, issue, inaugurating a feature called “These Modern Women,” “a series of anonymous articles giving the personal backgrounds of women active in professional and public life.” The editors explained, “Our object is to discover the origin of their modern point of view toward men, marriage, children, and jobs. Do spirited ancestors explain their rebellion? Or is it due to thwarted ambition or distaste for domestic drudgery? The next article is by a woman who, though willing to fit into the conventional picture, found herself unable to do so.”
I come from the oldest American stock. I can say that I with absolute truth and without implication of snobbery because one of my ancestors, on my father’s side, was an Indian girl. On my father’s side we are English and Scotch back to 1636, when his first ancestor in this country came from England. On my mother’s side, we are, with the exception of an Irish great-grandmother, of unmixed English blood, straight back through a signer of the Declaration of Independence to an ancestor on the Mayflower. It is, I believe, my father’s blood-a long line of farmers-which has most influenced my thinking and is responsible for a kind of militant idealism which marks many of my family. It is, I believe, my mother’s blood–a long line of mill- workers and mill-owners–which has most influenced me aesthetically. That strain has given me an intense love of beauty; a feeling, more poignant perhaps, when beauty is expressed in color rather than form.
There are two stories, hang-overs from the RevoIutionary period in my father’s family history, which always glow in my imagination. One is the story of a woman and the other of a man. The woman was the wife of my direct ancestor of that period. On the morning of April 19, 1775, her husband was plowing. Suddenly a man on a sweating horse stopped on the road in front of the house and yelled to him: “To arms! To arms! The regulars are coming!” My ancestor dropped his plow, rushed into the house, put on his coat, seized his musket, and ran down to the road. Once there, it occurred to him that he had not said goodby to his wife. He turned to wave to her– she had already taken his place at the plow.
The other story concerns the same battle. Deacon Josiah, one of my collateral ancestors, followed the British for miles along the line of fighting. That night he did not return. The next day he was found dead behind a stone wall. He had shot his last bullet, for there was not one left in his pouch. He was eighty years old.
Those stories made a profound impression on me. Sometimes I have wondered if they were not the real reason why for years I–naturally the most timid of created beings–was always in one civic fight at least; often in two; sometimes in more.
My early life was passed in Boston. I received the education typical of the upper middle-class in Massachusetts a generation ago. I went to four public schools–primary, grammar, high school, and normal school. I went to Radcliffe College. We were poor; genteelly poor; not poor enough to live in the slums and to know the thrill of haphazard picturesque slum existence, but poor enough to float along at a dead level of a lamb-stew existence. Yet the family life was informed with that idea of plain living and high thinking which was the New England ideal fifty years ago. As I look back on my life, it seems to be bound by the Boston Transcript, the Boston Public Library, the Boston Symphony, and the Atlantic Monthly.