“Dearest Betz,” the first of seven handwritten and undated letters began, and already before I finished reading the letter the words were out of my mouth, “who is Betz?”
The seven letters addressed to Betz are in Folder 7, Box 21 of Grace Raymond Hebard’s Papers held at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming and labeled along with two others as, “Women’s Suffrage.” The first 29 boxes of Dr. Hebard’s 87 box collection are digitized, making these three folders on woman suffrage some of her most accessible archival material. Last year, I finished transcribing the 318 distinct images that made up 131 letters kept in these three “Women’s Suffrage” folders into an excel spreadsheet, making them even more accessible to me.
Transcription is a tedious process but it opens doors to digital tools like “word search” and sorting by date with just a few clicks, not to mention allowing me to manage my citations. If you have never been to an archive, you might be surprised to discover that in many large collections the content is not organized beyond folder and box. In Hebard’s collection, it is common to find a letter from 1920 followed by one from 1932 and the next from 1913. It not even guaranteed that multi-page letters are going to be photographed and kept in order. I have untangled several letters like this, one of the letters to Betz included.
On my first pass at the Betz letters, my transcriptions were full of “[???in]”, “[????]”, and “heroic?” Dr. Hebard’s handwriting at times can be elusive. But the more I transcribe, the more I learn her hand. After reading and transcribing a few of her University of Wyoming Board of Trustees Meeting minutes from 1891, I returned to Betz. The neater, younger handwriting gave me clues to interpret the casual, loose writing that followed it 29 years later.
The letters, themselves, are a delight: full of the color a historian needs to tell a good story. They served as a self-described, “journal” for Dr. Hebard’s two trips campaigning for the passage of the 19th Amendment. They include descriptions of the crowds she spoke to, the praise she received, and the fashions she and other suffragists wore. But who was this Betz she described all of this to?
The mystery of Betz’s identity only remained such until I transcribed the seventh letter where Dr. Hebard wrote, “Gee I am glad you are my sister & I can tell you this.” The rest of the letters fell into context, especially the first with a clever reference to “your ancestors.” The origins of the nickname remain a mystery. How does Alice Marvin Hebard become Betz to her sister? It could be that Alice, like Grace, had two names. When Grace Raymond Hebard was born July 2, 1861, in Clinton, Iowa she was baptized as “Nora”. When the family moved to Iowa City later that year in September her mother told the maid “that my name was no longer Nora but Grace Raymond.” [Box 63, Folder 1] Could it be that Alice, also born in Clinton in 1859, had a name change as well? Alice’s middle name, Marvin, was also her mother’s maiden name. Perhaps the nickname pulled from their mother’s middle name Elizabeth?
Another nickname that features prominently in the Betz letters, is “Rena.” Dr. Hebard met up with Rena on her trip and they shared a hotel together. Rena, a mutual friend to the sisters, was looking well after being overseas and Dr. Hebard served breakfast “in bed for her.” I did not discover Rena’s identity until I followed a lead from Janell Wenzel’s 1960 Master’s Thesis to the 1911 Chronicles of the Alumni of the University of Wyoming. At first, it wasn’t obvious, I wasn’t looking for Rena when I followed this lead. I was just looking for Dr. Hebard’s first housemate.
In the 1911 chronicle, Harriet Knight Orr, class of 1898 reminisced “Miss Hebard and Miss Morse (it was before they were doctors) lived at Slosson house across the street from “St. Matthew’s Hall,” and when one was a little homesick it was the nicest place in town to drop into. They always had marshmallows or bananas on the table and instead of raising their eyebrows when you took several, they seemed really offended if you didn’t. They used to ride horseback a good deal with Prof. and Mrs. Soule, and no one was quite so rash as Miss Morse. They were so full of fun and enthusiasm and sympathy and help, it was worth going to the University just to know them.”
Incidentally, Harriet Knight Orr or “Mud Springs Hattie” Knight also played Dr. Hebard during her senior year’s “class night,” a night of student sketches and jests. The topic chosen by the class of 1898 for their play? The kidnapping of Shakespeare and Ditto, the two cats who resided at “Old Maid’s Paradise” and belonged to “Prof. Serene Re-Morse, Ph.B., M.A. (Morse)” and “Miss He-Bored, B.S., M.A., Ph.D. (Hebard).” And the cats? Identical. So much so, that Ditto’s tail was docked–the sketch does not say by whom– leaving ornery students to wonder what would happen if they docked the other tail? “Action and speculation were soon one and the result was that Shakespeare became Ditto and Ditto was ditto…” The so-called, “Tale of Two Tails” remained a mystery for several years until a signed confession was discovered while reframing some pictures in Paradise. “We did it-tail. Vina Wyman, Helen Barrow and Eugene Wilkerson.” At least one mystery had been solved.
Paradise, their home described in the Tale as the “headquarters for student conferences, love affairs and Saturday afternoon teas” was shared with Dr. May Preston Slosson and her husband, Dr. Edwin E. Slosson. Dr. May Preston Slosson was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from Cornell University during the 1880s. After graduating, she moved to Hastings, Nebraska, and began teaching Greek and Philosophy at the local college. When Edwin Slosson got word of his job offer to teach chemistry in Wyoming the summer of 1891 while on a Paleontology Expedition for the University of Kansas, he “sent off two telegrams on important matters; one was to the bank for $75, which was all the money I had in the world, and the other was to a professor of Greek in a Nebraska college, who had promised to pay me a long visit whenever I settled down.”
A long visit indeed, as the two began their married life together in Wyoming. Dr. May Preston Slosson worked briefly at the University before beginning a lecture series for prisoners at the State Penitentiary (then located near Laramie) featuring university professors. She won over the prisoners who petitioned the Governor in 1899 to appoint her as Chaplin to the penitentiary, a position she held until the prison moved to Rawlins in 1903. Edwin sat on the Experiment Station Board with Dr. Hebard and while desperately looking for a place to live soon “discovered what I later often verified, that the best person in the state to go to for advice was Miss Hebard, because she always knew of some way out of every dilemma. She promptly suggested I take a house and rent half of it. I objected that I did not know where I could get either the house or roomers, whereupon she offered to find both for me. And she did. It was a nice little house and the roomers where two maiden ladies, very quiet and well behaved for the most part, except whenever one of them put the other into a closet and locked the door.” It was an ornery Old Maid’s Paradise shared with a pair of Honeymooners.
Full of alumni anecdotes, I turned back to the archives and Dr. Hebard’s papers. Harriet Knight Orr: Box 40, Folder 40. Edwin E. Slosson (May Preston): Box 45, Folder 8. Irene Morse: Box 40, Folder 23. Obviously, I turned to Morse first. As always, I hoped for some personal correspondence between the two women who took turns locking each other in the closet and kept their kitchen stocked with marshmallows and bananas. These boxes are not digitized. I collected this material with two University of Wyoming students who I paid to scan and photograph the collection with me, collecting thousands of images every day. Together, three of us collected images of Boxes 29-47 in a week and a day. Now, it is organized by box and folder on my computer as I slowly transcribe and make it powerful. Having her correspondence folders at my fingertips has enabled me to bounce from person to person as a letter or anecdote sparks a new lead. It took me more than half a year into this project, but now in an instant, I can call up Box 40, Folder 23.
The first item in the folder was a clipping of an obituary. Irene Morse served as the first woman to head the history department or any department for that matter at the University of Wyoming, also receiving the distinction of being the first woman professor there. After leaving Wyoming in 1902, she studied medicine and graduated as a doctor. With the outbreak of WWI, she attempted to enlist as a medical doctor. The United States refused and suggested she enlist as a nurse instead. Rather than heed their advice, she enlisted as a doctor and served under the French flag in a moveable gas hospital near the front lines. She received a citation for bravery from France and was promoted to Captain when she refused to abandon her post and follow orders that all women doctors and nurses retreat to safety away from the firing line. Being the only doctor at her hospital who could speak English, French, and German she refused to leave and while caring for a patient with clothes soaked in gas, she suffered from a gas burn on her lung. She returned home, likely in 1919 after the war had ended and the treaty was signed. While Dr. Morse tried to recover her health, Dr. Hebard helped to pay her bills because the U.S. refused to pay her a pension for her service in France, and France refused to pay her one because she was an American. She lived until 1933, ultimately succumbing to the effects of the gas. The rest of the folder are a handful of letters giving notice of Irene Morse’s death. Then–there, in a letter from Dr. Hebard to “Mrs. Slosson”–I read a sentence that made me stop, “Rena had been ill for perhaps three years.” Rena.
Dr. Irene Morse was Rena, the same Rena being served breakfast in bed in May 1920, as disclosed in a letter to Betz. The time overseas was service in the war overseas. The Dr. Morse who gave Dr. Hebard a licorice throat swap for her raw throat after speaking to hundreds in Connecticut, was Dr. Irene Morse, Rena. The rambunctious, determined, intelligent, and rash, Dr. Irene Morse, as Hebard called her in these collections of letters, “beloved friend.” A beloved friend she had hoped to be buried next to, “I am not grieved over the departure of Rena [in reference to the drawn-out suffering from illness], but it leaves a peculiar vacancy in my heart. I regret one thing and that is that we had always intended that she should be cremated and her ashes were to be placed in my lot by my side when I will answer the last call. But for some reason this was not done and she was buried in Exter, New Hampshire with her people. Perhaps it is wise that she is with her relatives rather than here on the plains and prairies which are sometimes very bleak.”
The more I read in Dr. Hebard’s papers, the more I understand but in order to date the Betz letters I had to again look beyond her collection. This venture was taken with much more purpose than my meandering discovery of Rena’s identity. At first, when reading the seven letters, I assumed they were all from the same event. Upon further examination, six of the seven belong to the events for the Connecticut Emergency Corps in May 1920 and the seventh describes the events during the Victory Suffrage Convention held February 12-18, 1920. Labeled “Sunday,” the Sunday that fell between those dates was February 15, 1920. Since this date falls in the middle of the convention, I needed to double-check the details from the letter against some sort of formal program for the event. My search brought me to a collection of the “Woman Citizen” digitized by Google and giving detailed accounts of both events attended by Dr. Hebard that year. Yes, this program confirmed the Victory Banquet was held on February 14, 1920, and the next day Dr. Hebard wrote to her sister, “Well Betz last night I spoke at the Victory Banquet– I am sorry to have gone into your melon patch- but I was “funny.”” I applied the same treatment to the other six, using a calendar from May 1920 to assure the days of the week matched my dates. Cross-referencing the Betz letters with the Woman Citizen, some Laramie newspapers, and the speeches Hebard delivered, a dynamic picture of the fight to ratify the 19th amendment emerges.
Being a historian is much like being a cold case detective, using clues to piece together some semblance of truth. This sleuthing consists of hours upon days, upon months of reading and transcribing punctuated by “a-ha!” “what?!” “OH!!” Yet, I am also just collecting data. My excel sheet tracks my citations; makes the letters word-searchable; and allows me to organize them by date. Dr. Hebard’s life was too full to keep track of it in any other way. In the year 1919 alone, she presented the first honorary Wyoming State Flag to Governor Carey; continued her advocacy for WWI servicemen and women; served on the Oregon Trail Commission, placing several monuments across the state; and fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment in Wyoming. What’s more, is that I am sure that this isn’t an exhaustive list of her 1919 activities. My attempts to track and understand her life are beginning to be rewarded with the recognition of a name or a mention of a topic that connects me to another box, another folder, another lead.