A year ago Rich and I were in the waning weeks of our days as innkeepers. The shit had hit the fan and we were finding it increasingly difficult to work there. We hadn’t realized our days were numbered in single digits but we knew the Inn was for sale and our situation was precarious. Promises had been broken and our future was uncertain but we had bought a house in Vermont so at least we had a home if it all abruptly came to an end. Which it did.
It was a slow time of year. Most week days we had the big old mansion to ourselves. Until Adrienne arrived. She was a rare book collector and archivist. Her online reservation included notes with special requests. She had food allergies and was also allergic to mold.
We had dealt with these situations before and she was our only guest for three nights so we were sure we could accommodate her. Adrienne and I hit it off the minute she arrived. She was friendly and quirky and I sensed she was a kindred spirit.
Traveling on a budget, she had booked one of the smaller, less expensive rooms. She also brought her own linens. Forewarned of her allergy problems, I had done a deep cleaning of her room but the minute we stepped through the door she detected mold.
“Listen, you’re the only one here. I can upgrade you for no charge. Let’s take a tour.”
I showed her the other rooms and she settled on one of my favorites. The room Rich and I stayed in when we first arrived because the innkeepers quarters were a mess. We were responsible for cleaning all the dog and cat hair. We even shampooed the rugs – twice because Rich is allergic to cats and dogs. That should have been a warning sign but we were seeking this adventure and we ignored the signs.
The room had a king size bed and Adrienne had brought her own Queen size sheets but she said she could make it work. She asked me not to fluff the room. She was also allergic to scents and brought her own toiletries and cleaning wipes.
The following morning I prepared a giant bowl of fruit for Adrienne’s breakfast and boiled water for tea. She didn’t drink coffee. When I went to the dining room she was sitting on one of the sofas by the large fireplace, a stack of folded sheets and a blanket by her side. Sometime in the middle of the night she had relocated to the living room. Something in her upgraded room was bothering her allergies.
I apologized and asked what I could do. She said not to worry. She told me she was used to these inconveniences and found the sofa supremely comfortable. She was very excited about her day. Bob Seymour, a rare book dealer from the Colebrook Book Barn was picking her up at eight. They were going to investigate a collection of letters and papers that had been found in a box in a Connecticut home. They appeared to be connected to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffrage movement.
“What a fascinating line of work,” I said. It seemed like a perfect combination of my passions-books and history. “How did you get a job like this?” I asked.
She told me it had always been her passion but somehow or other, as we all know happens, there were bills to pay and better money doing work we don’t have a passion for. Reality and everyday life tripping us up. So Adrienne found herself working for a large government agency in Arlington, VA doing statistical analysis or something like that. I can’t remember. It was her dream job that fascinated me.
Years later she was suddenly hospitalized for a severe allergic reaction that involved a long complicated recovery. While she was in the hospital for several months, her husband retrofitted their home. She never returned to her desk job. She began to work at a job she had always been passionate about – archiving rare historical books and papers.
Adrienne and I spent three mornings together over coffee and tea discussing chasing a dream, following your passion, and the suffrage movement. Adrienne became increasingly excited during her time with us in Norfolk. She had a premonition she was in possession of something important but she told me she couldn’t tell me much about it.
At the time of Adrienne’s visit I was writing a series of blogs about Daydream Believers. It was named after the Monkees’ song. I was interviewing people who had left their day jobs to chase a dream of what they thought work would look like when they were young and optimistic.
Adrienne told me I could write about her but I couldn’t mention the suffragette papers. I never pursued it because from her enthusiasm and energy I knew the suffrage work was a huge part of her story.
A little over a year later, here in my house in Vermont sitting by the wood stove on a cold Wednesday morning, I opened my lap top and logged onto the New York Times as I do every day. I noticed an article half way down the page titled A Trove on the Women’s Suffrage Struggle, Found in an Old Box. I instinctively thought this could have something to do with the woman I met at the inn.
The box contained a collection of letters from Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, the half sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Isabella lived with her husband and three children at Nook Farm, a literary colony in Hartford, Connecticut, along with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain.
Shortly after Adrienne visited the inn I hosted a girls weekend. My friends and I visited Mark Twain’s house. At that time I had never heard of Isabella Beecher Hooker. Our tour guide did mention Nook Farm.
Many years after Isabella passed away, her suffragette papers ended up in Bloomfield, CT at the home of Elizabeth and George Merrow. Mr. Merrow’s grandfather had bought the former Hooker house in Hartford. Bob Seymour, Adrienne’s friend and colleague from Colebrook, recognized the signature of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and sent the letter to Adrienne. When I met Bob and Adrienne in Norfolk they were just beginning their research into this valuable cache of historical papers.
I had to smile when I read this:
“But as she (Adrienne) started sorting through the material, dusting away ample mouse droppings, she was stunned to realize it was a rich archive of suffrage material.” ~ NY Times
I remembered her returning to the inn in the evenings and telling me about the dusty old pages ands the mouse droppings she had encountered during her work day. I had asked how this effected her allergies. That’s when she showed me the mask she wore when doing research. She was fearless and passionate about her work. An inconvenient medical problem wasn’t going to stop her from pursuing her dreams.
The Times quotes her as saying: “It really shows you what these women went through,” Ms. Kitts said. “They really busted their butts for us.”
Yes, that was the Adrienne I met. The woman who slept on a couch in a big empty mansion, wore a specially fitted mask to get her work done, and braved mold and other allergens in pursuit of a dream.
And now here she was, a headline in the New York Times:
“It’s a stunning collection,” said Ann D. Gordon, a retired professor at Rutgers University and the editor of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project. “That it’s being delivered all in one piece, with such a clear provenance, is remarkable.”
I believe there is a message here for all of us. For me, it is to keep pursuing my dream of writing.
And for all of us struggling in the days of Trump the message is: Our small everyday efforts at protest will bring about results. As the New York Times reports:
“The material, mainly dating from 1869 to 1880, may not upend current scholarship, but Ms. Gordon said it sheds light on a contentious period within the suffrage movement, while underscoring the degree to which the movement was driven by complex networks of on-the-ground activists.”
Mrs. Gordon adds this optimistic thought:
“We don’t pay enough attention to what a local movement this was. We’ve warped the story by only knowing the names of the national leaders.”
And as Adrienne reminds us, we are busting our butts for our children, our democracy, and the planet’s future to name just a few of the struggles that are the story of our time in history. Although we may not be the national leaders whose names will be mentioned in the historical books written about the Trump presidency, this movement is being activated by those of us on the ground.
I sent Adrienne an email and told her I had seen the piece in the New York Times. She got back to me two days later and apologized. She had been on a road trip with spotty cell coverage. I can only hope she has found more boxes filled with pieces of history that will enlighten these difficult times we live in.
Adrienne’s email closed with a quote from Vincent Van Gogh:
“It is with the reading of books the same as looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, and with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”
There is hope my friends. Keep fighting for what is right and keep chasing your dreams.
If you’d like to read more about the suffragette papers the New York Times article is here.
I will close my blog with a quote from another brave woman who history will admire.
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” ~ Michelle Obama