From “ONE HUNDRED YEARS WITH THE SHAKESPEARE STUDY CLUB” c 2005 by Elsie Owen Hevelin
(Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here)
Elsie Owen Hevelin
Where We Are Now
When ladies meet twice a month for one hundred years for the purpose of reading and studying, they probably learn a lot and have much pleasure, but they do not, as a group, make waves such as history sees fit to record. And yet, over those years, the ladies endured the aftermath of two world wars, assassinations, poverty, famine and depression, the advent of flight and trips to the moon, as well as radio, television and the recent world of computers. None of these things are mentioned in the club minutes. It is as if Shakespeare’s world took over center stage, dimmed the lights on daily sorrows and distress, and provided a brief escape from reality.
For that reason, I have chosen to concentrate on the characters involved, instead of the story. First characters first, and then a few of the more recent ones, who may have “strutted and fretted,” but are now seen no more. Let us begin with our founding members:
First Lady…Edna Carr, who proposed the club to Anna Hirst Groves following the production of “Midsummer Night’s Dreams,” in the front room of Ella Humphrey’s home. (This was the production where they wore men’s clothing and felt very daring indeed.) Edna attended Antioch College, and acted in many plays. In 1900, she was married, “the evening of the new year,” to Charles Ladley Carr. Bride and groom gave well-wishes the slip and escaped (through a well-planned maneuver) the planned shower of rice. Rumor has it that the groom’s brother, Ed, who was boarding a train at that time, received in good measure the rice intended for Edna and Charles.
Edna remained a member of the Shakespeare club until her death in 1938, a total of thiry-four years. Only nine days before her death, she asked who would be reading “The Tempest” at the next meeting, and said she would keep a copy by her bed to read along with them.
The Yellow Springs newspaper tells us “Edna’s love of the poetic beauty and keen philosophy of the lines of Shakespeare’s plays grew deeper and more discerning through those thirty-four years.”
Second Lady…Anna Hirst Groves, who became a founder at once when asked. It was she who paid tribute to Edna at a club meeting when Edna died. Mrs. Groves lived on Glen Street with her disabled son. Her sister Clara taught music in the local schools, and her other sister, Edith Wead, was married to a lawyer in Xenia. All three members were early members of the club.
In a letter dated March 7, 1934, Anna told Dean Birch, another member, that Anna had a deeper interest in the Yellow Springs Shakespeare Club than in any other club or group with which she had ever been associated.
Third Lady…Ella Humphrey was the second wife of Dr. W. H. Humphrey. When they married, he sold him home on Xenia Avenue and moved into her home on Elm Street. Each weekend, (presumably after the death of Dr. Humphrey) another club member, Mary Deis, sent her chauffeur from Xenia to get Ella for a weekend visit. Ella painted china, and took classes in Xenia. Mary Deis was her cousin.
Mrs. Humphrey sometimes opened her home to paying guests “as a kindness.” She didn’t need the money, and probably welcomed the companionship. One of our present club members, Miriam Dickinson, while in Yellow Springs for a job interview at Anttioch College, went to Mrs. Humphrey’s for a week, and stayed for twenty-six years.
Mrs. Humphrey’s stated ambition was to live to be one hundred years old. She made it, with three months to spare.
Fourth Lady…Jane Deming Chambers was “stricken from club rolls” in 1910. She was born in 1834, and lived in a peeled log house on a farm near Cincinnati. She was the middle one of nine children, a feminist at heart, though she would not have known the term. She was seventeen before she ever saw a train.
Jane taught school for ten dollars a month, saving to further her education. When she learned that a man doing the same work, in a school of the same size, was earning twenty dollars a month, she was incensed, and complained, at which, she was told, “a woman’s time isn’t worth any more than a hen’s time.” She was furious, but she continued to save, and at the age of twenty she entered Antioch College…the year after Horace Mann arrived. She earned her AB and her MA, and gradutated in the same class as Rebecca Rice.
During Jane’s six years at Antioch, she encountered many remarkable people. Horace Greeley, she says, was “smart, alert, wiry looking.” Edward Everett Hale was a trustee and frequent visitor, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, friend of Horace Mann, visited Jane’s economy class and held a rewarding conversation with her. Jane didn’t care much for the arts, but she was much interested in economics.
She married a fellow Antiochian, Robert Milliken, and when he died, she tutored and taught school and assured the education of her husband’s two sisters. Later, she married Andrew Chambers, and came back to Antioch, where she taught, and eventually became Dean of Women.
Jane never wore a corset (one of four women at Antioch who did not), but she said the small hoop skirts were nice when they came in…they were cooler than the old narrow skirts. She never drank coffee or tea or liquor, and never smoked tobacco. Because Horace Mann was very health conscious, there was a gym in every dormitory, and Jane learned to take care of her health. At ninety-three years of age she could still do her daily mile.
I was amused to learn that she called Arthur Morgan’s marvelous Miami Conservancy District, with its five dams and associated parks, “a big drainage ditch in Dayton, Ohio.”
Fifth Lady…Bessie Totten was an early member of the Shakespeare Study Club, born in Springfield on January 11, 1876. Bessie’s grandfather, the Reverend D. F. Ladley, was the first minister of the Christian Church in Yellow Springs. He was a member of the subcommittee which chose the site on which to build Antioch College, and he signed the “articles of incorporation “ in 1852.
Both Bessie’s parents attended Antioch, as did Bessie, who won her Bachelor of Philosophy in 1900. After that she served as Assistant Librarian, Librarian, and Associate Librarian Emeritus until she retired in 1941, at which time she became Curator of Antiochiana. In 1953, Bessie received one of the few honorary degrees ever offered by Antioch College. President James P. Dixon said ofher, “She had infinite faith in the capacity of education to help people create a better world, and a rare capacity to express concerns of the present, always taking into account the history of the past.”
Thanks to Bessie and the archivists she trained, we have a very good collection of memorabilia concerning Antioch College and the village of Yellow Springs, including the several seasons of Shakespeare-Under-The-Stars.
Sixth Lady…Eva Fess, wife to United States Senator Simeon D. Fess and mother to State Senator Lowell Fess, wrote from Washington, at one time, that she saw Forbes-Robinson and Gertrude Elliott in “Hamlet” and found it “intensely interesting.” She wrote: “Forbes-Robinson is rather a sickly looking many. He looks tired and worn out. The veins stand out on his face and neck, but he seems to fit the place as no other man could….” It is plainly shown that (He) Hamlet loves Ophelia, for after he tells her to go to a nunnery, he slips behind her, when her head is bowed upon the table and kisses the hem of her scarf…He did not want her to know he loved her.”…”The scenery is beautiful, especially the orchard scene with Elsinore Castle in the background.”
That was in 1914. Through the years, while in Washington, away from her home, Eva wrote a weekly column for the Yellow Springs newspaper.
Well, while returning to Washington from Yellow Springs, near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, the Fess car skidded on a rainy road and zig-zagged into a culvert. Eva Fess broke her pelvis. Nobody else was injured.
After two very painful weeks in the hospital, Eva was able to take a few steps each day, and said she felt like a baby just learning to walk. A week later, she wrote a cheerful letter to the Yellow Springs paper, thanking all her friends for candy and flowers, and giving the latest news from her hospital room.
1. “Mr. Hess of the Botanic Gardens sends flowers often and one day sent me an aquarium containing six goldfish.”
2. Her son, Lehr, “fixed up a radio” for her. Probably this was a crystal radio, though she did not say.
3. One friend twice sent “a fine squab” with other good things to eat.
4. And the President’s wife, Mrs. Coolidge, visited.
Eva wrote, “I can see the Washington Monument, the Museum and Smithsonian in the distance, and a little farther away the Potomac, the trains crossing on the bridges over the river, sometimes a dirigible and an airplane.” And she says their car has come in from Uniontown “looking fine as a new one, and now as soon as I am mended, everything will be well and we shall try to forget it all.”
She wrote sitting in the sun parlor looking out over the wall just east of the White House. The grass looked green and beautiful.
Ten days later, on a snowy winter afternoon, they held her funeral at 2:00 p.m. In the Methodist Episcopal Church here in Yellow Springs. She had contracted pneumonia. Pall bearers were:
H. S. Kissel and Homer Corry
P. M. Stewart and Philip Nash
Dr. Ben McClellan and George Little
A quartet sang at the funeral, among them Earl and Mrs. Littleton, and “Miss Kaye Kershner,” according to the paper. We, of course, know Faye Kershner to have been a man.