Thursday, December 22, 2016

INEZ | 100th Anniversary of Christmas Memorial

Inez Milholland Boissevain preparing to lead the March 3, 1913, women’s suffrage 
         parade in Washington, D.C.                                                              Library of Congress

[The following appears in the East Hampton Star dated yesterday and delivered this morning, Dec. 23.]

A Suffragist Warrior, by John Tepper Marlin

Christmas Day this year will be the 100th anniversary of a huge memorial service on Capitol Hill for Inez Milholland Boissevain, a New Yorker who died on Nov. 25, 1916. Her death played a crucial role in the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. 
Inez was the probably the most famous American feminist alive in 1916. She led the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, D.C. Later that year she secretly married Eugen Boissevain, who was my mother’s uncle. It was front-page news all over the United States because feminism and marriage were then considered incompatible. The New York Times described Inez as “the fairest of the Amazons.”
She died weeks after collapsing in Los Angeles during a speech urging a vote against the re-election of President Woodrow Wilson because he opposed women’s suffrage and what was called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Her shocking death sparked hundreds of tributes and memorials around the country. The huge Christmas Day funeral service in the Hall of Heroes led to a White House meeting of members of the National Woman’s Party with President Wilson to urge him — in memory of Inez — to support the constitutional amendment recognizing the right of women to vote. 
Wilson’s response to the delegation was condescending. He explained that it was impossible for him to hold together the southern wing of the Democratic Party if he championed a federal amendment, as they would have known if they had done their political homework. The fuming delegation went back across Lafayette Square to the Woman’s Party headquarters and decided to picket the White House every day until Wilson changed his mind.
The picketers were in due course arrested and transported to the Occoquan Women’s Workhouse in Lorton, Va. They promptly went on a hunger strike and were force-fed like geese. When descriptions of this torture were smuggled out of the workhouse, public opinion shifted decisively, and Wilson decided to support the 19th Amendment. It was passed by both houses of Congress and became law in 1920.
New Yorkers were prominent in the achievement. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were from the Rochester area. Inez was Brooklyn-born and Vassar-educated. Her portrait on a horse has been hung over the mantelpiece in the National Woman’s Party headquarters in Washington for nearly a century. Money to support the party came from Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, whose castle at Sands Point on Long Island is widely viewed as the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” mansion.
One reason for Inez’s effectiveness was that she understood the media, as the daughter of a Lincoln Republican newspaper editor who in midcareer became wealthy by promoting underground tubes for the distribution of mail. Her father, an Irish Presbyterian, was the first treasurer of the N.A.A.C.P.

She championed the cause of the small upstart activist Delta sorority at Howard University to be represented in the women’s suffrage march when others in 1913 feared a backlash among whites in segregated Washington and the Southern states. I attended the 100th anniversary of that march three years ago. It attracted 5,000 Delta marchers from around the country, outnumbering by more than 10 to 1 representation by the traditional women’s organizations that existed in 1913.

In the wake of the defeat of the first female major-party presidential candidate in U.S. history in 2016, American women’s groups are organizing a Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21. The urgency and passion with which Inez and her colleagues in the National Woman’s Party pursued their cause turned around the media, the public, and then the president, in that order. Remembering how women succeeded in the years 1913 to 1920 and translating that to a radically transformed media environment might be useful for those planning the 2017 march.
© 2016 by John Tepper Marlin and The East Hampton Star.  To reprint email

John Tepper Marlin wrote a play about the women’s suffrage movement that was staged at Rochester’s Geva Theatre in 1998 and twice at the Springs Presbyterian Church in 2005. He has lived in Springs since 1981.

MILLAY | Edna's "Poem" after Eugen's Death

Edna and Eugen at sea, c. 1923.
My research on the Boissevain family proceeds slowly in part because of the language barrier. Much of the record is in Dutch. 

Here is a note from Engelien de Booij to her cousin Hilda van Stockum that is notable because it mentions a "poem" by Millay about Eugen after his death (she lived on after him for a little more than a year). I

t also shows that the flow of information from Engelien to me was often via HvS and in Dutch. After Engelien's death I was given documents by her cousin and executor that Engelien had left for me. As she promised in the note below, she did several translations of letters, mostly  from Willem van Stockum to his mother. She had been working on them in the months before she died.

The following is my transcription of Engelien's hand-written letter and my translation based on Google Translate and the Hippocrene Standard Dutch-English Dictionary. 

Bilthoven, October 21, 1998. 
Lieve Hilda, 
ik ontdekke dat ik Edna’s gedicht dat zij ha Eugen’s dood schreef, toch hier had – ik had het overgedreven uit moeder's gedichtenverzameling en zend het je hierbij (copie) voor John, misschien kent hij dit niet. Ik vind het nog altijd heel ontroerend, maar misschien lees jij het met anderen ogen? Over een paar maanden hoop ik de andere strikken voor John op te diepen. Heel veel lief. Engelien.


Bilthoven, October 21, 1998.
Dear Hilda [van Stockum], 
I discovered I still had here Edna's poem that she wrote after Eugen's death – I had transferred it from mother's [Hilda de Booij's] poem collection and send it to you here (copy) for John [Tepper Marlin], maybe he does not have it. I still find it very moving, but maybe you read it with others' eyes? In a few months I hope to unearth the other pieces for John. Lots of love. Engelien.

What is this "poem" that Edna wrote after Eugen's death? Three possibilities:

1. It may be the "penciled draft of a poem" – of which only the last three lines are cited in both Nancy Milford's biography (Chapter 40), Savage Beauty, and Daniel Mark Epstein's What Lips My Lips Have Kissed
I will control myself, or go inside. / I will not flaw perfection with my grief. / Handsome this day: no matter who has died.
These three lines were circled, says Milford, in a notebook found near a bloodstain on the Millay landing. This is the only poetry in Milford's book that might be construed as an epitaphic poem to Eugen. Neither biography includes the rest of the poem. 

2. The two lines that I have cited elsewhere, not in either biography.
The only thing I ever did for you was survive you. / But that was much. 
3. A third poem. 

I'm still looking. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The Boissevain Coat of Arms
The Boissevain coat of arms includes the motto – Ni regret du passé ni peur de l'avenir.  "No regret for the past, no fear of the future."  The motto is in French because the family originated in France and migrated to Holland.

My grandmother, born Olga Boissevain, was extremely proud of her family. I was prompted to remember her family motto when during my end-of-year cleanup of our apartment I came across a book called Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda by Dr. Arthur Freeman and Rose DeWolf (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990).

It struck a bell. The subtitle is: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities. The thesis is that people can be prisoners of their regrets and that their focus should be on the future. The past is over, we start from where we are.

Economists call this "path dependence". Economies and people develop from where they are, not where we would prefer them to have started. It's like the person giving directions to your hotel who says: "You really shouldn't be starting from here."

Two sections of Chapter One lay out the general advice:
  • "Why" Is Not Important
  •  What Next, Not Why.
Lucy is in a box of her own
The authors make clear that following their advice is not so easy as it might seem. You can't "just forget" something that you have decided was unfair or a mistake in your life. They suggest that you "change your mood" rather than try to "forget" something. The more we try to forget something, the more we may remember it. Don't try to substitute a vacuum for a negative thought. Instead, substitute a positive thought or at least something that will crowd out the negative thought.
One handy technique ... for interrupting the constant repetition of an unwanted thought is call thought-stopping. It means consciously replacing one set of thoughts with another. ... For example: The next time you find yourself saying, "If only..." start counting by thirteens. ... "[T]hirteen, twenty-six... and thirteen more is thirty-nine, and thirteen more is ..." ... You will find that it is not only difficult to count by thirteen, but it is practically impossible to do that and think about anything else at the same time. (p. 107)
The rest of the book is about goal-setting and the terrible "shoulds", the common disablers. There are chapters on:
  • The urge to get even
  • Comparing yourself to others
  • Lost loves and wrong lovers
  • Procrastination
  • Them – resisting pressure from others
I found that it all deepened my understanding of the family motto.

Friday, December 9, 2016

MILLAY | Aria da Capo & The King's Henchman (Updated Dec 28, 2016)

My sister Brigid Marlin organized  a Millay Festival in London in 2005 through the Society for Art of the Imagination, a global association of artists that she founded and chaired.

Aria da Capo

At the event, Millay's allegorical one-act anti-war play Aria da Capo was performed. 

It was first performed in 1919-20 by the Provincetown Players, which Millay joined as an actress before she became a playwright. It was called by The New York Times critic Alexander Woollcott “the most beautiful and most interesting play in the English language now to be seen in New York.”

The theme of Millay's play was pacifist, and her husband Eugen Boissevain's first wife lived and died a pacifist. Millay, however,  later became a fierce advocate of the United States entering the war against Hitler, in part because most of her husband's relatives were trapped in Holland.

Aria da Capo was produced in 2005 by Ailise O'Neill, who also played one of the three parts. In what may have been a uniquely innovative move, she arranged for the two shepherd parts to be played by two of the three actors who open the play. The other two parts were played by Elliott James-Fisher and Katerina Alkalis.

Ailise had previously been on tour playing the part of Mollie Ralston, the young wife managing the guest house in Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap, the world's longest-running play.

Aria da Capo was published by Harper & Brothers in 1926 as the second of Three Plays. The first edition was published by D. Appleton & Co. in 1921, and an earlier date, 1920, is given on the copyright page, suggesting that one or more of the plays was first published in 1920.

The first play in the book is extremely short and on the surface is simple. Two Slatterns and a King: A Moral Interlude is 12 pages in a small-sized book. A king marries a slovenly woman whom he happened to find once in her life being tidy, whereas the tidy woman was by chance overrun by a dog on the day the king inspected. The message is that chance is powerful and that a sample of one can be dangerously misleading. 

The King's Henchman

I wonder whether Two Slatterns in some small way carried the seed of  Millay's opera, The King's Henchman. They both have kings who are humiliated and two people who compete for the love of a third. The opera was written on commission for Deems Taylor, who begged Millay to write a libretto for which he would write the score. 

The opera opened at the Metropolitan Opera in February 1927 to huge public enthusiasm and critical praise. Lawrence Tibett sang the part  of King Edgar, in his first major Met role. Edward Johnson sang Aethelwold, the King's henchman. Florence Easton was Aelfrida, hypotenuse of the love triangle. It was called the "Best American Opera" by The New York Times. Olin Downes of the Times wrote:
At the end of the [première] performance there was a full twenty minutes of applauding. Mr. Taylor and Miss Millay were acclaimed; then Mr. Tibbett; finally Miss Easton and Mr. Johnson. Mr. Serafin, the stage director, and others implicated had been earlier recognized. There was a pause and a silence when Miss Millay said, "I thank you. I love you all," with pardonable impulse and sincerity. Mr. Taylor hesitated, then blurted out, "That's just what I was going to say."
It had 28 performances at the Met and toured the nation. The published version sold out four versions in weeks. The opera should be revived–the year 2017 will be the 90th anniversary of the première and the 50th anniversary of the death of Deems Taylor.

The third, five-act, play in Millay's book is The Lamp and the Bell.  It is set, like The King's Henchman, in Anglo-Saxon Britain. In fact the story in The King's Henchman is much like that of The Lamp and the Bell. The difference, Millay's biographer Nancy Milford explains, is that "the bond was between two men [in the opera] and not between stepsisters" (p. 287).

Reviving the King's Henchman?

I was recently speaking with Riva Freifeld, who is working on a documentary on Millay, and Michael Cook, Deems' grandson, about reviving the Millay-Deems opera, the first major American opera. 

If anything materializes, I will keep you posted here. Meanwhile, please send any ideas that you might have for getting support for this project to me at