March 20, 1896 - Edith Bowen's Diary

I have yet to master the art of conversation. Three years at Primrose and still I am tongue tied to speak with the young men from Brown. My behavior this very afternoon exemplifies my point.

I was looking at the bulletin board outside the front gate of campus. A recent addition in color had captured my attention. The paper was advertising an appearance and oration scheduled for tomorrow at Union Station. William J Bryan, a lawyer and famed orator, was running for the Democratic nomination for President. He is quite young, only 36, to be running for the high office and many of the papers have been making a spectacle of the matter. I must say my curiosity was piqued and seeing that I was free on Friday, I was mulling over attending.

It was while I was staring at it blankly, undoubtedly smiling too much, that a young man started talking to me from behind.

“Are you going” He asked.

“Umm…” I stuttered looking for my voice. By the direction of my gaze it must have been hiding near the young man’s feet.

“Pardon me?” He queried.

I managed to look up at his face. His eyes were piercing and I found myself nervously looking anywhere but in his eyes.

“Yes, I think I am going.” I finally managed to blurt out at twice my normal volume. My hand covered my mouth almost instantly. I could not bare to look at the young man.

“Oh well um. Good afternoon, miss.” His footsteps retreated quickly.
A few other students had paused to stare at my obscenely loud declaration of uncertainty. I blushed and began to walk back toward Carrington Manor.

Despite my years at Primrose College I have never really been comfortable with the other girls. I have always stood out from them. Being an orphan, I never expected the opportunity to attend a college and in not for the Women’s Suffrage Scholarship I would not have been able. The other girls usually keep their distance but my difficulty with the young men has been a source of ridicule. They often tease and laugh at my expense when such embarrassing moments occur. Today was no different.

Mrs. Carrington’s warm smile is all that kept me from tears. She has become a surrogate mother for me. Never before in my life has anyone care as much or as deeply about my well-being. I was undisciplined and rude when I first arrived here, but she took the time to correct my faults and show me a better side of myself.

We drank tea in her drawing room. I still cannot enter the room without memories of my early days rushing to the surface and bring blush to my face. In those times I would have been resting over Mrs. Carrington’s lap or stretched over her desk rather than comfortably seated in the chair as I was today.

We talked lengthily about William J Bryan’s forthcoming visit and speech to Providence. We both were familiar with the substance of his campaign. The shortage of currency and the now long running depression are familiar topics for us. At times within the college gates our community seems shielded from the outside world. Still there are effects from the depression to be seen all around. The shortage of food on the dinner table is the one the girls notice most. Unlike myself, the majority of girls at Primrose come from well off families where wealth has shielded them from the pain of poverty felt by so many others.

Our conversation was joined by Mr. Carrington who had only just returned from a meeting of the school board. It seemed the topic of the day had been finances. He was obviously tense from the verbal bickering that must have occurred.

“Times are bad indeed. The board is entertaining the closure of Primrose College once again.” He said, sipping carefully from his steaming cup.

“They can’t be serious.” Mrs. Carrington replied.

“Indeed they are and please, will you speak properly.”

“Yes, of course. Forgive me.”

“Will they help the current students transfer elsewhere to complete their studies?” I asked struggling not to bite at my lower lip.
“I suspect no consideration has been given as to the future of any existing students. The matter at hand is the cost of teaching the students.”

“They could remove certain classes and consolidate the teaching staff.” I said thoughtfully.

“Yes, but what classes? Who would decide which teachers must go and which must stay?”

“I have mentioned before, there is duplication…” I began and was interrupted by Mrs. Carrington.

“That is not a subject to be reopened, Edith.”

“What is this subject?”

I looked into my tea cup and sat silently.

“Speak up one of you.” Mr. Carrington demanded.

I cleared my throat and looked at Mrs. Carrington. She appeared less than happy but nodded at me to continue.

“I believe it would be possible to consolidate classes.” I began again feeling nervous.


“There are several classes which are taught at both Brown and Primrose. I see no reason why those specific classes could not be taught in both schools by the same teacher.” I held my breath waiting for disaster.

It never came.

“Intriguing.” Mr. Carrington said after a long pause.

“Edith would you excuse us? I need to speak with my wife about interruptions while others are speaking.”

“Yes, sir. Good afternoon.” I replied and placed my cup back down on the serving tray.

I made my way to the door.

“Edith?” Mrs. Carrington said.


“Mrs. Berry intends to take Andrew’s class to Mr. Bryan’s speech tomorrow. I am certain she would appreciate your assistance supervising the children if you can attend with them.”

“Yes, ma’am. I will make the arrangements.” I said and left the room, carefully closing the door behind me.

Written by Ashley J and Melanie

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very satisfying chapter as Edith progresses in her journey from orphan to confident young lady.
Mr R Fane