Friday, May 4, 2018

Sexuality and Silence: An Unresolved Mystery in the Archives

Photograph of Arthur Soule, class of 1908, in character as a woman in the Dartmouth Players' production of "For One Night and One Night Only."
"Here boys is what they used for women in Dartmouth College plays in the days when Colby was just another college away off in Maine."
 – Larry Griswold ’08

For a college that would not admit women until 1972, the idea that men could cross-dress as women characters and be celebrated may seem preposterous. However, Dartmouth Theater has a long history of "female impersonators," a term which back then was used to describe men who regularly played women in theater productions. From the College’s founding in 1769 until 1925, Dartmouth Theater productions, which were predominantly performed by the group called the Dartmouth Players, only had men in the cast. In 1925, forty-seven years before the college would become co-educational, the Players began casting women in their productions. At face value, one might assume a "forward thinking mindset" was growing on campus. As I culled through the litany of hand-written letters, playbills and magazine articles, I discovered that this was not the case. Instead, it appears that fear and tragedy are the cause.

In 1921, four years prior to the integration of women into Dartmouth Theater, President Hopkins writes to Doctor Bancroft, a friend and psychologist, that "[he] is exceedingly anxious to send one of
First page of President Hopkins's letter to Dr. Bancroft
our boys down to talk with you because I feel certain of the advantage that it will be to him to feel free to talk with somebody…I do not think that in his case abnormality has gone any detrimental extent as yet…"

The student in question is James Harvey D. Zuckerman. Zuckerman is a junior at this time and a member of the Dartmouth Players. He is also one of their female impersonators and played one of the leading ladies in the past fall’s production.

President Hopkins is very aware of this background as he writes to Bancroft and, as common for his letters addressing these subjects, he dances around the issue with his descriptions of "unnatural instincts" that are "out of keeping" with Dartmouth’s values:

"Sometime I want to talk with some of your authorities on mental hygiene in regard to the general problem of whether playing girls’ parts in the dramatic performances make a man effeminate or whether being effeminate qualifies him for playing girls’ parts. I am considered, among the dramatic group, as being unduly concerned on the question and if so I want to get over it. The fact is, however, that we have had a distinct tendency among a considerable number of the men who have played the so-called leads in girl characters to develop exotic or unnatural instincts which are thoroughly out of keeping with what the College means to stand for."

Perhaps uncharacteristically, President Hopkins’s next few sentences are rather direct:

Second page of President Hopkins's letter to Dr. Bancroft
"In one case, three years ago, the boy wandered off from Hanover and safeguarded the College reputation to the extent that he committed suicide in New York rather than here, but the underlying fact was that his affection for one of his dramatic club associates was not only unappreciated but was rebuffed."

The correspondence never fully concludes whether or not "playing girls' parts" is the cause of the "exotic or unnatural instincts" of which President Hopkins is so concerned.

While there is a lot to unpack in President Hopkins' anxieties surrounding the gender performance of the Dartmouth Players, I was shocked by the story about the student who committed suicide and how much President Hopkins knew about the incident. His information about the student's "affection" for another Dartmouth Player and that this affection "was rebuffed" made me believe there was an investigation surrounding the incident. As such, I thought it would be fairly easy to figure out who this student was – President Hopkins even gave a timeframe: "three years ago." However, as I searched through records of students who would have been at Dartmouth in 1917, 1918, or 1919, there was no other information about the incident.

The 1940 catalog, which lists graduates and non-graduates of Dartmouth up through 1940, does not have any student who fits President Hopkins' description. The catalog places an "*" beside the names of alumni who passed away by 1940 along with a description of death. From 1911 to 1921, there is no student, either graduate or non-graduate who fits the given information.

Furthermore, no Dartmouth Players listed in the playbills died under mysterious circumstances: their alumni files describe their long lives after graduation. However, there are only two playbills from 1916-1919 which means some names could be missing. The Aegis includes some of the cast lists, but this is also not comprehensive, and, of the Players listed, none died by 1921.

There is one interesting letter from a Mr. Axtell to President Hopkins in which Mr. Axtell discusses that his son will respond to these inquiries after returning from service abroad. His son, F. Donovan Axtell, was elected Assistant Director of the Dartmouth Dramatic Association for 1917-1918, the years in question. However, there is no reply from F. Donovan Axtell to President Hopkins or any other correspondences. There are also no other indications in the records that President Hopkins wrote to any other members of the Directorate.

In the 1919 Aegis, there is an "In Memoriam" page for Norman Kingsley Pearce, Assistant Business Manager of the Dartmouth Dramatic Association. According to an article in the Dartmouth, he passed away suddenly on April 15th, 1918 in Mary Hitchcock Hospital due to sudden complications with a cold. He received an operation in Mary Hitchcock which slightly assisted in his recovery before losing consciousness and passing away shortly thereafter.

Who is the student that President Hopkins refers to in his letter to Bancroft? I have no clue. Perhaps President Hopkins over-embellished in the hope of gaining Bancroft’s support for intervention? It is possible. Perhaps the information has been lost or even purposefully excluded. Both of these are also possible, and we may never know which one is correct. What we do know is that the archives seem to be silent on this question, leaving us to wonder why.

To explore this mystery for yourself, or to learn more about the Dartmouth Players, come to Rauner and ask to browse the Dartmouth Players records (DO-60, box 6522, Folder 21 “For One Night and One Night Only”) and President Hopkin's Presidential Papers (DP-11, Box 6764, Folder 101 “Undergraduates S-Z”).

Posted for Katie Carithers '20, recipient of a Rauner Student Research Fellowship for the 2018 Spring term. The Rauner Student Research Fellowships provide full funding for a Dartmouth student to conduct research with primary sources during an off-term on a topic of their choosing. For more information, visit the fellowship's website.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day

Title page of Cesar Chavez with letter from Geoge McGovern pasted in along with other clippingsIt is a fitting day to feature a very curious book in our collection. It is a copy of Jacques Levy's Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa, but one that has been transformed and re-titled "Journal of Protest" by Dr. George Margolis, professor of Pathology at the Dartmouth Medical School from 1963-1982. Margolis chose a book about someone he most admired to collect his own story of protest by pasting the book full of mementos of his fight for social justice.

Margolis was an advocate for diversifying the medical profession by actively recruiting minorities into the field. He also protested the Vietnam War and was co-founder of the New Hampshire chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, but he had a particular attraction to Chavez's movement to organize migrant farm labor.
Letter from Susan Drake, secretary to Cesar Chavez, to Dr. Margolis

The book is plastered with letters and news clippings from Margolis's rabble rousing as well as his personal reflections on his successes and failures. It is an odd example of a kind of cultural appropriation. He literally obscures the words of the book with his own memories, but simultaneously pays homage to Chavez--seemingly trying to meld their work into one. But, does his work blot out Chavez's work? Or, does Margolis see Chavez as a power so strong that he can support Margolis's own labors?

Letter from United Farm Workers to Margolis thanking him for donation to support strike against Gallo
To judge for yourself, ask for Rare R707.M37 1993.