9 To 5

I just finished looking through some of the Mary Holt Woolfolk Carlton Papers at Virginia Commonwealth University where I made one of my most favorite discoveries of all time. But first, who the hell is Holt?

Holt was a friend and comrade of Zelda’s and together they stormed that bastion of Virginia conservatism, our local chapter of the fourth estate. The local newspaper, the staunchly conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch, is not much different today than it was in Zelda and Holt’s heyday. While today you can read the RTD’s attack on Katherine Waddell and the Women’s Strike Force, in the 1970’s you could look forward to such gems as sex-segregated job ads and disparaging remarks about the Women’s Bank. In fact, the frequency with which these two allies and friends mention their frustration with the media in their letters makes me wonder if I shouldn’t turn my research in that direction.

Anyway, back to Holt. She was from a “Virginia family” (as a transplant, I learned that this is code for “rich, white and, at some point probably not distant, landed) and married a supportive lawyer. She is a trained social worker with a master’s degree and something of an expert on human sexuality who corresponded with Dr. William Masters, among others. She is quite poised and very intelligent, just the sort of person you’d want to have working for you, if you were the boss. This makes my new favorite discovery all the sweeter.

In one of many folders of correspondence in the collection I found two letters, both written to people who had interviewed Holt for jobs in the past. In the letters, which almost seem like therapy exercises, she writes of her frustration and feelings of helplessness when these two men made sexist remarks to her during job interviews. Her letters are both diplomatic and eloquent and she ends both with a hope that the recipient has changed his mind about women in the intervening years. One man does indeed write back to tell her that he has changed his mind.

I am simply blown away by Holt’s courage and, well, balls. These feelings must have weighed on her through the years and informed much of her activism, particularly when it came to “desexigrating” the Help Wanted ads. One of the letters is much more difficult to read than the other. This expressive letter was written to a man who told her that “women are just office furniture”. That Holt could write to him, clearly state her feelings at the time and then end by effectively positioning him to easily claim reform is not only brilliant but shows both an amazing maturity and a sound rationality. If I had received such a letter, I would be kicking myself for not having hired such a daring and brilliant mind.

Holt Carleton (as she is known) is still alive and I can’t wait to talk with her.


No Longer Starving

Wow. I’m sorry that I have been away so long. I didn’t think anyone would notice (I assumed I had 2.5 readers at best) but it appears that some have. So, here I am, back and ready to go.

As you can probably infer from the title, I am now a paid archivist! I have been working for The Valentine Richmond History Center for the last year and a half and can I just say that I adore it? I simply LOVE it. My job involves doing reference work via email and setting up research appointments, writing reference guides and dealing with publishers. However, my favorite moments are when I get to do some cataloging while listening to feminist podcasts!

I’ll have lots more soon on a fantastic new project we’re doing that involves documenting the various and wonderful tattoos to be seen around the River City!

“The Temptress” hardly says, “Come hither”


In my attempt to remarry the study of history with logic and the scientific method of questioning, I began reading books that made extraordinary historic claims to see what sort of evidence was cited and how well the particular case was argued.  It has seemed to me for quite some time that the study of history has become lazy in this regard and that in the present age where subjectivity seems to rule academia, many scholars are not called on the floor for their less than critical examination of sources.  Such is the case with Paul Spicer’s The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice De Janze and the Mysterious Death of Lord Erroll (St. Martin’s Press, 2010).  As you can probably deduce from the title, the extraordinary claim being made involves a murder accusation.  Specifically, the author claims to have evidence that Alice De Janze, an American expatriate living in Kenya in the 1940’s,  murdered Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll, her erstwhile lover.  The story is a complex one involving a group of (mostly) British ex-pats living in the Happy Valley area of Kenya from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, many of whom swapped lovers and married each other’s divorced spouses, all the while attending each other’s parties and staying fabulous friends for life.  Two of the key members of the Happy Valley set were Alice De Janze, an American divorcee and her on again, off again lover, Josslyn Hay, a playboy aristocrat-farmer.  It is your everyday, typical story of people with tons of money, titles and impeccable fashion sense who set up camp in the colonies in order to make yet more money to spend on things like exotic animals, cruises around the world and boarding schools for the children they abandoned long ago.  It is one long orgy fueled by sex, alcohol and the odd nervous breakdown.  In other words, it is the life of the world’s aristocracy post World War 1.

The party ended on January 24, 1941, when Joss Hay was gunned down in his car in the middle of the night after leaving the home of his latest lover.  There really were no shortage of suspects as Joss was famously having it off with half the women of Happy Valley and there was more than one angry husband (and several rejected lovers) hovering in the background.  Eventually, Jock Delves Broughton, the husband of his latest lover, stood trial for Joss’ murder and was acquitted, quite rightly so, in my own reading of the evidence.

So, that’s the story in a nutshell.  Telling this story takes up about three-quarters of an already short book (210 pages) which leaves very little time for our author to present his evidence, but no matter, the evidence is not only ridiculous in substance but there is precious little of it.  Let’s review the good and the bad.

The most compelling argument for Alice being Joss’ murderer is that Alice already had a history of shooting her lovers.  In 1927, she shot Raymund de Trafford in Paris after he tried to leave her (this didn’t make him think twice about marrying her five years later).  Uh oh, that’s pretty damning, isn’t it?  I must say that I agree with Spicer that this gives her a little bit of a history.  However, her situation with Joss was quite a bit different in that she and Joss had not been lovers for years when he was murdered and that, in fact, they were quite good friends.  Also, Alice attempted to take her own life after shooting de Trafford, as though she couldn’t live with what she had done, but did nothing of the kind after Joss was killed.  Further, she had an airtight alibi (a lover in her bed).  Spicer’s other evidence is just weirdly subjective.  He is suspicious of Alice’s solicitude for Jock Delves Broughton after he is arrested and living in jail, implying that it is the impulse of a guilty conscience and not just the empathy she might have for someone in a situation in which she had once been herself.  Finally, Spicer’s piece de resistance is straight out of Agatha Christie – a bloody hairpin found in Joss’ car.  He implies several times that this pin must be Alice’s, nevermind that Joss had at least ten trillion women in his car during his lifetime and was sleeping with half the damn town.  Also, the fact that the hairpin is bloody actually lends more credence to the idea that it was not shed during the crime.  For the pin to get blood on it, it would most likely have to already be on the floor of the car when the blood starting pouring.  If it was lost in some kind of a struggle, it would likely not have more than a speck or two of blood on it.

Spicer uses several other devices to help us imagine our way to Alice’s guilt, instability and sexual proclivities such as the actual fabrication of fantasies.  Page 54 is the best possible example.  Spicer tells the reader that we can assume that since Joss is such a playboy, that he would engineer that Alice sit next to him as he drove her and her husband to their home, because that way their legs would be close together and he could touch her as he reached for the gear shift, and all of this at their very first meeting and in front of Alice’s husband.  WTF?  This elaborate imagining has no basis whatsoever in any letters, conversations, etc.  It is simply pure imagination, no matter how likely it may or may not have been and more likely reflects Spicer’s own weird sexual obsession with Alice, which is in evidence throughout the book.

So, what are Paul Spicer’s credentials?  What sort of material does he research in order to back up this murder accusation? To begin with, Paul Spicer’s main source of information is his mother who knew Alice de Janze only peripherally.  We all know just how unreliable personal accounts are, particularly when removed by time and degree.  But this does not bother me nearly as much as the next, mind-boggling statement that I have to make.  Paul Spicer does not consult one single primary source document. Yep, that’s right.  No letters, diaries, etc.  His bibliography reads as a subject guide to already published material about the Happy Valley set.  There are some newspaper citations but those are arguable as sources that could have new or inside information regarding who really committed a famous murder.  Homeboy literally just read everything that everyone else wrote, cribbed the backstory and added his own uncritical observations and sexual fantasies.  He committed further crimes against common sense and logical thought by assuming that by exculpating Jock Delves Broughton (which he does very well) he was somehow convicting Alice de Janze by default.

The book is not without its good points.  It is a great introduction to the Happy Valley set for those readers interested in what the aristocracy was doing in the years between the world wars.  Spicer is excellent in including details about the social life of expats in the colonies as well as what Africa was like in the early days of the second world war.  If Spicer had stuck to writing about the fascinating and scandalous lives of this group, inserting implications as points to consider rather than factual history, the book would have been far more tolerable.  I think it’s flaws can best be summed up by a passage from the book that concerns the beginning of the police investigation of the murder of Lord Erroll;

“With hard evidence in short supply [the Kenyan chief of police] was going to have to rely on psychological factors and a great deal of supposition to determine the identity of the murderer, ” (p. 169)

The inclusion of such a statement shows that Spicer has no idea of what constitutes evidence, legal or historical.

Perhaps you all think I’ve been rather hard on old Spicy but my aim is to show that history suffers when we do not apply logic and reason to its study.  Spicer used no primary source material, unless you can count the dubious statements of his mother, a mere acquaintance of Alice de Janze over seventy years ago, and the rumors she heard secondhand from other Kenyan settlers.  Spicer, like his Kenyan chief of police, also relies heavily upon pop psychology to finger the perp.  In Spicer’s case, it is a single book that informs his psychological profile of Alice, Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield.  This is seriously inexplicable as we have no way of knowing whether Alice was manic-depressive and why do we assume she had “the artistic temperament”?  This did not stop Spicer from diagnosing her, however, as having cyclothymia and then using this as a jumping off point to explain every subsequent action.  In short, Spicer’s evidence is nothing more than his mother’s overheard stories seen through the lens of a single overblown pop psychology text.  As readers, we are members of Alice’s posthumous jury and I’d have to say that the burden of proof has not been met.

I must say though that I had a great time reading the book during my flights to and from the U.K to visit the in-laws.  I’ve now started The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life by Charles Higham to see if Wallis really was illegitimate and a secret Nazi spy.  Well, that last one may not be such an extraordinary claim!  This particular book is an older one (published in 1988) but there has been a recent reprint so I’ll review it anyway.

I’ve saved the best news for last – the starving archivist  has been fed…PERMANENTLY!  I’m now a research assistant at the Valentine Richmond History Center!  http://www.richmondhistorycenter.com/index.asp I’ve been working there now a week and already love it.  I spend most of my days doing archival reference by email and in person in our reading room but I also have moments of cataloging and processing, etc.  In short, it is a great opportunity to experience being an archival jack of all trades.


Notes from Underground

Hello, archives fans! I’m sorry it’s been over a month since my last posting but there it is. As you may be aware, I’ve been working a temporary gig over at the Henrico County Library and having a fabulous time. I’d love to get on there permanently but you know the drill – the economy sucks, etc., etc. I DID have an interview for a position over at Appomattox Regional Library but that one was dead in the water, really. First of all, it was a telephone interview; quite weird considering it was local but whatever. This meant that in between answers you had those terrible pauses that could mean either people were taking notes or that they were exchanging rude drawings of what they think you looked like based on your voice. Either way, the interview was a serious bust. Crap kept coming out of my mouth that I didn’t even put there! This is remarkable as I made notes beforehand of what I was going to say but when it came down to it, a demon took over my body and just started saying crap. It was entirely strange to listen to myself speak and yet think in my head, “What am I saying? I don’t actually think that!” Oh well. Needless to say, I got a kiss-off letter within two weeks.

A nicer development is a year-long archivist appointment open at Virginia Commonwealth University. I have high hopes for this one as they want someone to contribute to a particular consortium that I spent two years contributing to at the Library of Virginia, hence my familiarity with their standards, etc. I think that at the very least I should get an interview, don’t you? Well, the closing date is September 6th and I’ll still be in the U.K at that time. I don’t have a new laptop yet so I’ll just be taking my phone with me so that I can check my messages and I’ll pop in at local libraries to check my email. With luck on my side, I should have an interview set up on my return.

But of course you all know that this isn’t all that’s on my plate. What about Zelda?! Yes, the William and Mary archives should be starting their fall hours soon which means I’ll be able to begin my research in earnest. I’m really looking forward to it as I’m really, REALLY needing something intellectually stimulating in my life right now. I’m also helping to resurrect Richmond NOW, Zelda’s old group, and hopefully there will be a few people there who remember her and can give me all kinds of nice biographical anecdotes.

Well, the old ball and chain and myself are getting ready to fly out on September 2nd. Can you believe that we haven’t been back to the U.K in FIVE YEARS? Insane. I’m very excited to get back and have packed two books that I’ll be reviewing upon my return. The first is The Temptress by Paul Spicer which is about Alice De Janze and Lord Erroll and the other is The Duchess of Windsor: The Secret Life by Charles Higham, which is a reprint. What both of these books have in common is the fact that they both make startling historical claims that I am keen to check out. As I may have stated at the start of this blog, one of my most important interests is in bringing logical thinking as regards evidence back into the field of history. I can’t wait to read both books and see the kind and quality of evidence presented.

I do apologize for such a short and clogged entry and one without photos too! It’s been insane around here lately as I take on more and more to stimulate my flagging intellectual spirits and while I also look for a job that will keep me in both books and yarn. Keep your eyes open for updates on the VCU archivist job and look for my reviews, which should be published here soon.


The Confederacy: Partying Like it’s 1899

As you all know, I’ve been temporarily gainfully employed for a short while and so my posts have been infrequent. Though I’m working for the Henrico County Library System, I’m still trying to make my contribution to the Library of Virginia and their blog Out of the Box. I’d like to give you a peek at my latest, unedited LVA contribution. As it is somewhat professional, it does not contain my usual strains of jackassery though I did try to convince the blog’s editor that they should somehow incorporate my Prince reference in the title when it goes live.

Could you ever imagine that in 1896, here in Richmond, the heart of the former confederacy, soldiers on both sides of the bloody conflict that was the Civil War would come together and party? Well, believe it. The occasion was a reunion of soldiers who had spent time in the care of Sally Tompkins and the staff at the Robertson Hospital and the reunion register can be found here at the Library of Virginia.

The hospital reunion register records the names, signatures and sometimes military unit of former soldiers who attended a patient reunion during the Grand Confederate Reunion of 1896. Some wives’ names are also listed. A quick perusal of the document reveals that some attendees were soldiers who fought for the Union, further testimony to the respect and love that soldiers on both sides felt for the care Tompkins bestowed on all. The love was not one-sided as Tompkins paid for the entire blowout herself, renting a house and providing food and drink for the entire company.

Only a remarkable woman such as Tompkins could have engineered such a get-together. Born in Poplar Grove,Mathews City., Va., on 9 Nov. 1833, Tompkins moved to Richmond following the death of her husband and used her considerable inheritance to open a private hospital at the outbreak of the war. Tompkins opened the hospital at the corner of 3rd and Main Street at the home of Judge John Robertson, thus giving the facility its name. The quality of care at Robertson Hospital was of such a high caliber that Jefferson Davis allowed the hospital to operate after he closed all other private hospitals in the capital. In all, the hospital treated 1,333 soldiers from its opening until the last patients were discharged 13 June 1865. Only 73 deaths were ever recorded at Robertson Hospital during its entire existence. When regulations were handed down to the effect that all military hospitals must be run only by military personnel, rather than dispense with such excellent care as Tompkins provided, she was instead appointed a captain of calvary to comply with the new rules. Needless to say, Tompkins was the only commissioned woman in the Confederate Army.

Sally Tompkins was buried with full military honors after her death on 26 July, 1916 in Richmond, Virginia.

Well, that’s about it for any creative output I’ve managed lately. I’m sort of in the midst of a lot of varied career stuff right now. I’m still working on my Continuing Education survey, attempting to find permanent work, trying to write whenever I get the chance and, of course, doing what it is I’m doing now at the headquarters of the Henrico County Library System.

Oh, but I do want to mention that I managed to snag an interview this coming Wednesday at the Appomattox Regional Library System for a Reference Librarian position. Woot!

Murda Was the Case that They Gave….Samuel Ball?

It has been a crazy week over here in my house because….I GOT A JOB! Well, I got a temporary job, anyway. I think I may have mentioned at one time that I do reference one night a week at our public library in addition to being a kickass archivist? Well, said public library needs someone to fill in for three months so here I am, filling in for three months. Of course, this means that I’ll be spending all my time at the public library but rest assured that my archival proclivities will still have an outlet in the form of a biography I’m currently researching (see last post) and many many other projects.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently buried deep in Lee County court records over at the state library. Such paper-centric inhumation is usually not much to write home about. I’m never the archivist who makes fun discoveries like a long-lost Nathaniel Hawthorne novel shoved into some otherwise unremarkable records. Or like my buddy M.D. who recently discovered a perfectly formed origami crane mixed in with some chancery court records. It was so delicate and cool that it was featured on our blog. But today was my day. Yes, I made some fun discoveries for once. And that is discoveries with an s. Plural, baby. First up was a fun little murder case at which I’d been looking. It involved one Samuel Ball who shot a man in the gut during a dispute. Said decedent…well…died and Samuel was hauled up before a grand jury who promptly indicted him for murda. Well, someone paid the $1,000 bail to have him released on his own recognizance. Sam showed up for his hearings like a good boy until one day he didn’t. The court was not pleased and after a period of time, his bondsman went before the judge to tell the court that he knew that the plaintiff was currently in Texas and could he please go and get him? The judge then issued a “requisition”, which is, I think, fancy old-timey talk for an order of extradition, to the governor of Texas. The bondsman met with success in Texas (which, considering it was the 1870’s, is pretty damn successful) and carried his bounty back to an Appalachian jail cell from which Samuel Ball subsequently escaped. There is nothing else in the record to suggest that the bondsman engaged in yet another rescue mission so we might not be faulted for concluding that this murderer got away with it. Good times.

But, as captivating as murder is, it is the second discovery that I really like. Some of you may or may not know that I’ve a strong feminist streak and a weakness for primary sources that shed any light on women’s lives. Well, my second record of note is a very simple and otherwise tedious chancery case where a woman is asking for a trustee to be put in charge of her inheritance. “Why?” you might ask. “Why does she need a trustee for her own money?” Well, if you ask that then you’re obviously not smart enough to realize that women are absolutely stupid and cannot be trusted for one second with important stuff like money or politics or reproductive organs. Cleo Anderson, who is described by this legal document as “an infant married woman” needs a trustee because she is not yet considered an adult, being under 21 years of age. Married. But not an adult. A married child. An infant married woman. God save us. And do you know who brought this suit before the court and who wants to be the lucky trustee? Wait for it….her husband. So, let’s break this down. Cleo inherits some dough. Awesome! It’s enough to keep her in crinoline for the next fifty years! Aw, shucks. Wait a minute. She’s still a baby! A baby that has sex and bosses and slaps servants and bears her own babies but a baby nonetheless and she needs a big, strong man to tell her what to do with her money just in case she does something stupid like spend it all on Appalachian hookers or turn it into confederate bonds. How fortunate she is that John Anderson, beloved husband that he is, is willing to take on the burden of all that filthy lucre so that she needn’t soil her pretty white hands with it!

Alright, I admit that some of the details of that last part could be pure speculation. Maybe she was an ardent feminist who really wanted to take that money and buy a ticket for the next train to Seneca Falls, New York. Or maybe she wanted someone else to be the trustee during her minority (or while she grew out of the infantile stage, if you will) but her husband drugged her and made her sign a paper declaring him the trustee. Or maybe she was totally insane and evil and the husband didn’t really love her but only married her to get the money that her family made off of the backs of some long-lost family member of his.

Either way, it just shows you how fun primary sources can be.

Kiss My Royal Ass

So, after spending countless hours of my professional life explaining to just about anyone who has ever engaged me on the topic of genealogy that more than likely they will not be able to trace their family back longer than perhaps two hundred years at best, I have hypocritically stumbled upon a major revelation in my own family background. I have found a royal connection and thus, centuries of ancestors are now open to me for study. This royal line is a direct one, going through my mother’s side, through her father and his mother and so forth. It leads to the Spencers in England (Yes, like Lady Diana Spencer who is my fifteenth cousin thrice removed – she’s obviously not in my direct line!) and straight to the Staffords who were the earls of Sussex and who, very far back and still in my direct line, welcomed a former Queen of France into the family who was in turn directly descended from the kings and queens of Jerusalem and then the tree leads (supposedly) all the way back to Julius Caesar who is, by some accounts, my 44th great-grandfather. Now, don’t get too excited. While it is true that royalty often kept loads of genealogical information, these inbred fools can’t always be trusted. There are many instances of disputed parentage, mistaken recordings or just plain fabrications to make a family look too cool for school. Case in point: Julius Caesar claimed to be descended from a goddess. So far, I have been able, by using the most reliable historical sources and, when that failed to deliver, basic historical consensus, to trace as far back on that line to the 580’s. Not too shabby. It certainly provides plenty of fodder for future research into my purported divinity.

But what about serious research, you say? What about the kind of stuff that you’re always talking about doing but not producing? Well, I’m hoping to get started soon on my biography of Zelda Nordlinger. I know you’ve never heard of her because she has a crazy name and you’d KNOW if you’d heard it. Anyway, Nordlinger was an intrepid Richmond feminist beginning in the 1960’s when she put up a notice at the local YWCA, asking for other women to join in a discussion group. Thus was born what would later become the Richmond chapter of the National Organization of Women. Anyway, I’ve done some research and wrote a couple of short (very short) articles on her. I’ve always found her exciting and so I’ve decided that her story needs to be better known. I did help put together an exhibit on her last year but it, like my articles, was very small. I’m amazed that no one has taken her on before but there you go. At least it is there for me to take, right? And I’ve got nothin’ but time.

Time. Well, it may be running short soon. I know it seems incredible but I’ve had three job interviews in the last few weeks! Well, make that two interviews and one offer of an interview that I had to turn down because the pay was even less than I made years ago as an administrative assistant. But anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that the jobs are on their way back! The two I interviewed for both seem really great but you already know about Virginia Union University so let me tell you instead about the Valentine History Center. It’s the place to go for Richmond history but also, they have the most fantastic collection of historical photographs of the city and its people that you’ve ever seen. Take a look at any book that even peripherally talks about Richmond’s past and if there’s a photograph, chances are that it is credited to the Valentine. Seriously. It’s amazing. Anyway, the job I interviewed for is not really a professional job but I don’t care. It is as a research assistant and I’d still be processing collections and keeping up with my museum experience by accessioning artifacts. FUN! The main gig though entails lurking about the reading room. I’m so down with that. Even though the pay is bad and it is not full-time or even, as I said, professional (meaning, using my masters degree), I think this sort of job is just the sort of thing from which I could get some great, still professional-level experience. I won’t know anything about this job until sometime probably near the end of the month so keep your fingers crossed. VUU? They told me they would get back to all of us whether we got the job or not which I think is very kind. However, they said that would be during the first week of the month and I’ve not yet heard anything soooooo….I don’t know.