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.
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.