DESEGREGATION AND DEATH THREATS: My Father's Role in the Integration of Arlington, Virginia Public Schools
I loved my father.
L. Lee Bean, Jr. was an amazing man, but I didn’t find out exactly how amazing until I was about 16.
Huge change was happening in the US in the 1950s. And on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided any law establishing segregated public schools to be unconstitutional. Every public school in America was required to integrate.
Southern states, to no one's surprise, refused to comply with the Court order. And thus began a long and painful stand-off. Virginia was one of those states who liked its segregation very much and had firmly established Jim Crow laws to make every aspect of Black Americans' lives difficult. Black public schools provided a sub-par education. Black Virginians also had sub-par housing, because it was difficult for them to get loans. Hard for them to get good paying jobs, because businesses were segregated. The list goes on (Visit "The Story of Segregation and Desegregation in Arlington" for further information).
My father - known as Lee - was a practicing attorney in Arlington in the '50s, and in 1957 - the year I was born - he was elected to the Arlington, Virginia School Board.
Arlington Democrats liked Lee, because he was known as a moderate and a general, all around great guy... but their opinion didn't count for much.
Republicans held the majority in Arlington, and they wanted my father on the Board, They had an ace up their sleeve: they knew if the School Board had to deal with the integration issue, my father would be between a rock and a hard place. If Lee voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration, he'd break Virginia state law and lose his license to practice. Neat, eh? Republicans were positive he'd keep things just as they were.
There were five members of the school board in 1959 - two ready to vote for, and two against.. And then there was my father - smack in the center. And when the vote came up, he voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration.
After that vote, our family received death threats and my father waited to lose his law license. But he never did lose his license. Instead the Arlington decision became part of a domino effect, and Virginia began to change.
Years later, my father told me the story. And then I asked him why... why with all that danger and tension he went ahead and cast the swing vote to integrate Arlington Public Schools, he paused for a moment. Then he said, "It was a matter of justice".
Yes, he lived his whole life that way, so I understood. And I'm deeply grateful to have been his daughter.
First, find a cheap Tavern...
As a "better do this while we're still young" married couple, in 1987 my husband, Chuck, and I took a leap of faith and purchased Birkett's Tavern in Hillsboro, Virginia. As you can see from the '87 photo above, we were very brave or very stupid - more likely both.
The original two-story structure of Flemish Bond brick (center) was built by John Hough in 1819. We knew the date by looking in Virginia State Archives to find the real estate taxes went from nil to significant on the property that year. And in 1824, John "Birkit," Sr. purchased the building from Hough and opened a tailor shop.
Sixteen years later - April of 1840 - Birkett took the half day's wagon-ride to Leesburg and acquired a license to operate an "ordinary" - a tavern - "from his home."
And it's been known as Birkett's Tavern ever since.
The Tavern stands on Charlestown Pike in the center of Hillsboro - one of only two brick homes built in the village. Back in its early days, the tavern had at least three outbuildings: a long stone kitchen (Indicated by an exposed stone wall inside the modern kitchen), a chinked-log smoke house (Good for a garden and tool shed!), and one large outbuilding (Likely a barn to hold the horses of the guests). All that’s left of the barn is a stone foundation - which sits a few inches under the sod at the back of the one-third acre property.
THE ca. 1819 BRICK SECTION
First job was to remove the decrepit porch that threatened everyone who tried to get to our front door. Chuck and his brother, Robbie, stationed themselves on either side of the porch, waited for traffic to clear, and in short order (really, really short order), the porch fell into Charlestown Pike. Quick work to clear the debris before the next car came over the hill.
Then we tapped a bit on the old plaster that barely hung on to the stone and brick sections and brought that down. Okay, okay - it was more than a little tapping. Anyway, we were getting somewhere! And it wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Now that people weren't going to die attempting to knock on our front door, we tackled the front "parlor."
When we removed some truly hideous red and white wallpaper, we found the ghost of a chair rail, some markings from the original tavern bar, and evidence of the various layers of milk paint - all the way down to the first coat: a bright salmon color. We liked it, so we recreated the color as closely as possible (Our test paints can be seen on the wall below). When we were done, we left an 8" square on the north wall - unpainted, so visitors could see the layers for themselves.
The brick section has three Rumford corner fireplaces: one in the front parlor, one in the dining room and a third in a second floor guest room. What the devil is a Rumford? A fireplace sytem designed created by Sir Benjamin Thompson - Count Rumford - to maximize heat and space efficiency.
Fireplaces are placed in the corners of rooms, are shallow and have a curved back wall that sends rising heat out into the room. They were placed in adjacent room corners and over one another on the next floor up so their chimney flues could intertwine. Nifty, eh? But since one of the chimneys had collapsed and we didn't have 10,000 bucks, all three fireplaces remained a decorative talking point while we lived there...
Birkett's tavern was very well-situated, as taverns go. It stood at the crossroads of Charlestown Pike and the old road to Purcellville. Back then, the road to Purcellville ran all down the tavern's west side (The current road to Purcellville - Rt. 690 - lies several doors down and east of the tavern and was built much later).
Now, the ca. 1900 west frame section was put on an early 19th century stone foundation (The type of stone work gave the date away), so we thought the stone foundation might have been built for an early, wide and deep covered porch.
Further proof: the brick section's west wall had two front doors - one from the parlor and one from the dining room. Why did we think they were doors to the outside? Dead giveaway was the transom windows. The west side dining room door that led to our living room had a completely intact transom window - still set with its wavy 19th c. glass. And the west side parlor door had been closed in by the time we got there (turned into a shallow entrance closet). but they left that transom space over the door. so we turned that into a little display shelf:
Birkett's property used to encompass an eastern patch of land - the east neighbor's name - where a red barn stands today. The tavern keeper owned other properties, as well (Like the little stone house to its west - the oldest structure in Hillsboro), and his total land amounted to around 12 or 13 acres. A typical early 19th century tavern required around 13 acres to support the business (Farmland for planting and pens to store animals brought through town by drovers). This was in the days before the trains, and there was only one way to get an animal all the way to the large markets of Alexandria: walk.
By the way, the house's original hand-carved mantels, the built-in corner cupboards, and all were "9 over 6" windows. (Nine panes over six). In the 1930s, the government established the Works Progress Administration to create jobs for a very depressed American economy. One thing they developed was the Historical Homes Study, and our home was lucky enough to be a part. This gave us clues on how we could restore them home. For instance, we knew the large brass locks had all been removed by the time we got there! Likely sold, as they were valuable. The WPA reports can be found at Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library.
We also learned that the front parlor mantel was gone. The original was described as "a Federal-style medallion with crossed arrows and side pillars," but the mantel that stands there now is a very simple affair. We did our best for it, though, and dressed it up nicely at Christmas time...
As we were hunting for historic clues to the home, we decided it must have been a fine tailor shop. We found evidence under the attic floorboards: they include scraps of fabric, a 19th century woman's apron re-made from an old dress (likely Civil War-era), a front piece from a pair of ca. 1810-1830 breeches, various pockets, a portion of bonnet lace, and a flattened beaver skin top hat. At first we thought it was a rat skin, but then... few rats are oval. When pumped up with a wide rim of cardboard, lo' and behold, a very worn ca. 1830 beaver hat appeared. John Birkett's? Whoever the owner, he was right-handed: the brim is worn on the upper right edge.
The framed receipts below the frabric scraps are a blue I.O.U., dated May of 1854 and signed by the then-Hillsboro resident Walter Friggins and written to Hillsboro Shoemaker William Fritz who lived across the stret. The I.O.U. is for the grand sum of 12 cents. Silly - until you realize a dozen eggs went for a penny, so the I.O.U.'s true value was around twenty or twenty-five dollars.
But the long piece of paper above it is the true treasure. It has no date, but as a Civil War historian I can say unequivocally it was written during the war. From the top the note reads, "Samuel Arnit Dr." and below his name, a list: "87 pounds butter, 6.37; 66 pounds rags, .37, 74 chickens, 1.54; 64 doz eggs, 64." Then another of the same sorts of items for different amounts.
Without question this is a list of items Union soldiers took from the tavern. The huge number of rags is the first tip-off (bandages were ever in short supply), but the sinker is the phrase "at 75 cents per hundred." Seventy-five cents on the dollar is what the federal government compensated civilians for goods taken by Union soldiers. We know the Union Army passed through Hillsboro on the way to Antietam in 1862, so it's highly likely this is when the goods were taken.
Now, the town was decidedly Confederate, and half way through the war Confederates gave up the idea of ever getting anything back from the government - that is, unless they swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. So the owner - one of Mary's sons-in-laws - "filed" the worthless receipt on the attic floor of the brick section of the house - allowing us to pick it up and solve the puzzle 130 years later.
We now resume our regularly scheduled program...
The stone kitchen that once stood about 12' back from the house was about 25 feet wide and 12' feet deep. Why was it separate from the home? Well the roof can tell you: there fireproof slate shingles on it, while the main house shingles were wooden. It appears there was a "Dog Trot" - a passageway from house to kitchen - that led from the dining room of the tavern (Where we had our dining room).
There is another door cut in this back wall which once led to an outside stairwell that went straight to the root cellar below the current dining room (this door is now set with removable shelves for an optional bookcase). While visitors can stand up in the basement rooms below the dining room and front parlor, the only current access to the root cellar is via a crawl space under the L-shaped back porch.
In the basement under the front parlor sits half of a ca. 1850 wardrobe. It was a great place to tell ghost stories, because there are hints of a dark tale:
During the Civil War, wood became scarce and coffins were always hard to come by, so tall wardrobes were often cut in half to use as replacements. There's a half a wardrobe lying in that cellar.
I used to love taking our son's friends down there and have them sit on that wardrobe while I told them a few ghost stories. I would end by telling them the other half of their "bench" probabaly sits in a Hillsboro cemetery. Highly effective.
Another interesting item which can be seen and gotten to from the crawl space is the lower half of the original kitchen's stone fireplace. The fireplace is five feet wide and four feet high, but, because the kitchen floor was raised three feet above the original dirt floor kitchen, the fireplace in no longer accessible. It rests behind the back wall of the large kitchen pantry. But the outside of the fireplace chimney stands in the north wall of the back workroom.
A portion of the old kitchen wall an stood in for our mud room - just inside the back porch.
In the 1940s, the store was turned into three apartments, and in the 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Hoff purchased the property and turned it into a home. The Hoffs created the modern kitchen by raising the kitchen floor to the same level as the rest of the house. Although the kitchen has nine-foot tall ceilings, there is one low beam - the evidence remaining from a once a much higher ceiling beam for the dog trot. The stone kitchen foundation was easily mapped by visiting the crawl space underneath the existing kitchen. We renovated the kitchen again in 2000.
PART II: OF STONE AND FRAME
The stone section was added to the house in 1840 (Evidence: taxes on the house made another significant leap in 1839). This was around the time Birkett opened his tavern doors. No doubt he needed an extra tavern room or extra storage.
Leesburg Court House records note the cost of the bond to run an Ordinary was $150.00 (If you ever look through Loudoun County, VA records, keep in mind that the town of Hillsboro is usually listed separately in the back of these record books (all entries are alphabetical - look under "Hillsboro"). An 1856 post-mortem inventory of Birkett's Tavern and home are found in Loudoun County Court House records. Several kegs are listed, along with half a dozen tavern tables and bedsteads. It also lists the debtors to the tavern-keeper - which began on the day - perhaps even the minute - the tavern opened.
Soon Birkett's Tavern became known as Birkett's Hotel. In that day, a "Hotel" like Birkett's slept several men to a bed, and a drover's animals - be they goats, cows or sheep - would be kept in pens on the property (or on one of Birkett's many other tracts of land). Easiest to manage were the flocks of turkeys: the drovers just encouraged them to flap up into the nearest tree to bed down for the night.
His tavern guests must have feasted on fresh oysters from the Canal boats at Harpers Ferry, because we found hundreds of oyster shells in the backyard. Then there were all those kegs of course. A few good beers might have helped a man sleep through a crowded, smelly, noisy night with strangers - not to mention the noise from flock of turkeys in the nearby tree.
Hillsboro's Charlestown Pike (Route 9) fed into the Leesburg Pike (Route 7) - the main road that led straight to the docks at Alexandria. After Hillboro, a drover would walk a day and stop at Dranesville Tavern. They could make it to Alexandria by late afternoon the next day.
But Birkett and his family were not the only people managing this busy place. The 1850 slave census of Loudoun County lists John Birkett as the owner of seven slaves - a woman in her thirties and six children ranging from 2 to 17. It is likely the slaves lived in the upper room of the west stone section of the house and that the first floor area was used for tavern storage (large hand-hewn nails are still there on the open beams). One indicator was marks of an outside stairwell to the west loft.
In the second story, there are marks on the decaying, original ceiling plaster (now removed) which indicate the space was divided into three rooms with a hole cut in one wall for a stove. That one wall is still standing and now separates the bedroom from the hall stairwell. The wall is made from pine boards - some of them 18" wide - that are simply no longer available anywhere. Prior to 1870 (when the stair well was built in the stone section), the only access to the upper rooms was by a stair on the east end of the house - typical of slave quarters. "Masters" separated themselves from "servants." The outdoor stairwell is long gone, but the doorway is now visible (and became a bookcase), and the pre-Civil War door (found by the current owners under plaster) was restored by John Ware, Jr., Stonehedge Restoration of Hillsboro, and serves as a closet door in the upper stone room.
The slave history of Hillsboro was not known or recognized when we first moved there. In fact, the Hillsboro History pamphlet that existed then made no mention of them at all. When I asked why, I was told there were no slaves in Hillsboro! As an historian, I knew that was incorrect and determined to do the research and find the truth.
I already knew there were Quaker towns in Loudoun County whose residents were known to help the Underground Railroad. In addition, the sons and fathers of Quakers and German farmers formed Virginia’s only known Union troop – the Loudoun Rangers. And Hillsboro was a town of commerce and almost entirely Confederate. These farms and businesses were run with the labor of Loudoun County slaves, and their history must be recognized. I found the slave census for Hillsboro by visiting Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library. It wasn't easy. The entire book was alphabetical by owner, but cities were listed by themselves at the very back.
I've since learned the majority of Hillsboro’s slaves lived on the ridge of the south hill. Although I haven't walked up there, a local historian and townsperson said evidence of their log cabins are still there. One of the stories I found during my research was that of Zilpha Davis, a freedwoman of Hillsboro who lived down by Catoctin Creek. Read her story.
In 2019, Hillsboro United Methodist Church finally marked the slave cemetery. Now measures are being taken to protect their grounds. It should be noted that, although their slave cabins are disappearing, the stone and brick homes we enjoy today were built by their hands.
To find out more about black history in Loudoun County, visit the Thomas Balch Library or connect with The Black History Committee, Friends of Thomas Balch.
Part of the joy of renovating the home was to try to create looks that were appropriate to the time. For me, that meant painting the walls of the east stairwell (above) in the Limner style. Limners were 19th c. traveling artists who'd come into a town and take commissions to create quick portraits or decoratively paint a parlor or dining room wall. The techniques used counted on quick work (milk paint is fast drying), and to really save time portrait artists often painted the bodies of unknown future patrons and simply filled in the heads on the spot. Keeping the Limner tradition of working as quickly as possible, I finished the wall painting in a day and a half.
I also painted the faux marble on both downstairs fireplaces, and created a primitive pictorial of Hillsboro ca. 1850 on the dining room mantel at right. This mantel has been dated to 1850 but was not original the house. We bought the mantel (sans top shelf) from the former owners, installed it ourselves, added the mantel shelf and stained it to match the rest of the piece
My mother, Maxine Bean, had been an interior designer and came to live with us after my father passed. She helped us make a boatload of design decisions.
She had the second floor bedroom in the stone secion seen below, and chose to have the far east wall plaster removed to reveal the beautiful stone work. The stonework was then re-pointed, and a small stairwell was built to give access to a loft over the bedroom hall - an excellent writer or painter's garrett or playroom.
By the way, after Birkett added this 1840 stone addition, he apparently wanted the house to look "all of a piece," so he decided to plaster the entire house (brick and stone) and keyed it to look like blocks of marble (George Washington used exterior wood panels to simulate marble blocks at Mount Vernon). Each block was then "marbleized" with streaks of gray paint. You can see why I wanted to try the limner style...
When we purchased the house, the plaster was already irreparably damaged. So we made the hard decision to remove it from the stone and brick sections. Until then the brick section had never been painted, but we were told by more than one restorer that paint would be the safest way to protect the old brick.
Birkett died in 1854 and was buried in Hillsboro's Arnold Grove Cemetery. Court records note the 1876 court order that forced the sale of the house. Apparently Mary remarried within a year after John's death. Her new sons-in-law ran the tavern during the Civil War, but after the war, it began to "gather dust." "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" was put up for public auction in1876 and sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Hough (Likely Lydia was related to John Hough, the original builder).
Around the turn of the last century, the owners added a frame section to the west end of the home. At that time virtually all of the old windows were replaced to match the addition. Gone are the 9-over-six windows with bubbled glass (except for one remnant in the back work room). Now all the houses are set with tall Victorian window panes, 2-over-2. The frame addition became a general store in the early 20th century.
When we moved in, the floor of the long room had been painted, with the exception of a large rectangle of in its center - probably where the store's central cabinets sat. Previous Hillsboro residents remembered "The Weller Store", and folks could set their clock by Mr. Weller's 7 p.m. closing time. In summer months, he sold ice cream from the front bay windows (See below at the back of the room). Former Hillsboro resident Lucy Roederick once said, "You could get everything at that store - even bananas!"
We re-finished the floors, and suddenly the long wide room was perfectly suited for a Victorian dance....
PART III: TREASURES, DEEDS & 1930 ADDITIONS
During all the years we were there, we just kept finding treasures! WE found hand-blown marbles (Yep. They aren't round), Victorian paper dolls, and an 1870s children's school book. The book was probablyt issued by Hillsboro's first public school, the 1874 Arnold Grove Academy - now known as Hillsboro's Old Stone School.
And then there were china and pottery shards and all those oyster shells!. And up under the 1870 stairwell in the stone section (in a space we were trying to clear for wiring), we found a ca. 1917 flour bag from the flour mill that once stood at the west end of town, and in it were three items: a medicine bottle, an empty can of salmon, and a whiskey bottle. Perfect bag lunch!
TRACKING THE DEED
The tavern deed is easily traced back from its modern owners, but there was a gap in the deed track - a chunk of empty space in the records between 1874 and 1928. I happened to be volunteering at the Thomas Balch Library, cataloging entries from local newspapers, when I ran across a small advertisement: a notice of the sale at auction of "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" in 1874. It was sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Underwood.
Having finally found this connection, I was able to easily trace the deed up to 1928 through the records of wills and deeds, and so the deed track is complete (Lydia Underwood gifted the tavern to Joseph Underwood in her will which went into effect in 1878, and Joseph willed the tavern to Harriet Underwood in 1893). An interesting piece of history is the forced sale of the Tavern in April of 1874:
Birkit [sic](Defendant), S.P. et al vs Reed, Harman et ux,â" of the Chancery Index 1875-1940 (No. M 3533). The chancery case lists "John and Mary Birket" at the top of the page, then says Mary died intestat, "leaving no personal estate and but a small lot of ground in Hillsboro Loudoun County Virginia some 50 x 22 feet on the main street of aforesaid town and leaving no debts or liens so that said lot descended to her heirs at-law to writ your oratrix and Susan Birkit who has married D.M. Divine. Margaret - the wife of Wm. Allder. Sallie - the wife of J.W. Price. Cornelia - the wife of Wm. A. Baker (said Cornelia is insane). S.P. Birkit and John Birkit and Wm. Birkit - who is dead leaving a widow - Margaret Birkit - and children.
It went on to say the lot couldn't be split, so he (Reed) demanded they sell. The case was settled and "Birkett's Hotel" was sold at public auction to Lydia Hough.
For more information on Birkett's Tavern, marriages, deaths, censuses, town history, or Loudoun history, please contact The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA 20175 or visit the Loudoun County Clerk's Office.
THE 1930s SECTION
Yes, it looks smaller from the street, but the home is actually quite large. The back of the house was added some time in the 1930s or 40s, probably in order to support the store - much like the stone section for Birkett's Tavern. Chuck and I restored these rooms one by one, and they now contain a library, full bath, and office. We left one room in the house unrestored: the back storage/workroom.
And, off the library, one finds the most valuable item in the entire house: the original full-flushing toilet. Plumbers have offered to buy this gem of a fifteen-galloner from us, but we wisely refused. The bathroom once had layers of grimy linoleum, cracked and peeling false tiles linoleum wallpaper, and a claw foot tub... with no claw feet. After our renovation, it had a painted wooden floor, the same wallpaper in excellent shape (the addition of a chair rail above hid a multitude of cracks and tears), and four pedestal feet for the tub courtesy of my brother, Lorenzo Bean.
In 1999, we added a back porch off the kitchen and stone sections. One reason we put it there is because we'd found evidence of a porch along the south wall of the stone section: the original v-grouting stopped below the threshhold of a back door. We assumed if there were only stairs at the door, the v-grouting would have continued down to the ground on either side. Instead there was a clear line across the stonework.
Also, up around the second story were two metal flanges - leftover supports for a back porch roof. We hired carpenter Paul Pronske to create a Hillsboro-style porch, so he based the railings and columns on a home that sits across the street. And, while the original back porch apparently only attached to the stone section, we chose to create an L-shape porch in order to make it possible to walk on to the porch from the kitchen. A stone patio completes the sideyard.
Whe we left, Birkett's Tavern had a third of an acre, all fenced in and, beyond the back stone patiom we had a garden set with old-fashion roses - the ones with scent.. And there were peonies, lilacs, wisteria, and Butterfly bushes, alongside Hawthorn, Magnolia and Water Elms.
Then, at the front of the house, we placed Double Lace Cap Hydrangeas whose magnificent flowers and changing hues caused curious individuals to knock at the front door and ask about them.
And on that note, we end. our tale and say may Birkett's Tavern long stand and continue to delight all residents, visitors, and passersby alike.
I was born October 20, 1924, the third daughter of Hattie Mae Whirshing and Walter Gabriel Hay. They named me Maxine Lucy Hay – Maxine for an exotic French celebrity and Lucy for my mother’s beautiful baby sister… who married her first cousin (whoops).
I loved my Auntie for her free spirit and her love for her husband, Vernon Barlow, and her funny bone, and because she is part of one of my favorite memories: June 10, 1949, my wedding day. The wedding was held at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia on a typical, steamy Williamsburg day. The ceremony was set for 3 pm, and we were gifted just in time with a 2:30 pm tropical thunderstorm that caught most of the guests as they were coming in to the church.
To get inside, everyone had to splash through a huge puddle that formed in the old brick walkway. Now the bridesmaids were waiting for me in the vestibule, and the groom and groomsmen were stuffed and waiting in the ante-room of the pulpit area.
I began to navigate the rain and wind under an umbrella and managed to completely soak my organdy gown and bridal veil before entering that storm-drenched vestibule. As we prepared to walk down the aisle, I was now wearing a soaking wet organdy wedding dress and a wet and shrinking veil.
And I became distraught and on the verge of tears. I was always the sister most likely to cry, and my younger sister, Ruthie, turned and saw my distress. So Ruthie leaned in and helpfully whispered in that she would walk out of the church if I cried!
So, trying to quickly blink away my tears, I tried to focus on the congregation - to find friends and relatives. When that didn't work, I began to focus on the architecture of the beautiful Bruton Parish Chapel.
And it was then my Aunt Lucy saved the day.
My eyes floated up, way up, and there was Aunt Lucy: my happy, loving, hard-working Aunt Lucy was sitting in the Bishop’s Chair, looking all the world like the Queen of England in her Minnie Pearl hat and farmerette dress. She’d found the perfect spot to enjoy her niece’s wedding.
And I began to smile. How could I not be made joyful?
Now I was now ready to enhance my beautiful moment by heading up the aisle to join my precious man... who didn’t notice my condition at all! Never mentioned it once.
But another Aunt had enhanced the day as well: my Aunt Evelina – the practical nurse who had delivered me in a difficult birth. I was the third daughter in four years, and, yes, it was a risky delivery. My Auntie, who must have been in such a state, promised my mother she would give this little niece her diamond engagement ring if she survived.
And I wear that ring today.
So to Aunt Lucy and Aunt Evelina, Thanks for everything!
- written by Maxine Lucy Hay Bean, "for my children and my children’s children, etc. etc., with confidence this will not be posted on a Bulletin Board, Police Station, Church Hall or Psych Ward, and that it will be met with the same generosity of spirit in which it is given."
Maxine and Lee... heading for the honeymoon!
This was written by my mother, Maxine, in 2011. She passed away in 2014 and is deeply missed by all who knew her.
"And a Straight-Jacket for the Editor": Three Pro-Union Women Journalists Living in Confederate Virginia
A Union commander, to take charge of the Rebel Conscripting Officers.
A plaster for the [Second Street] mud-hole, it is breaking out again.
A straight-jacket for the Editor, who was bent on having her own way.
The Waterford News - 11 Mo. 26th, 1864, Vol. I, No. 6
In 1864, a young woman of Waterford, Virginia named Lida Dutton decided providing meals to Union soldiers and helping the wounded was not enough. She had to do more for the Union cause. Never at a loss for bold ideas, Lida soon came up with the concept of an underground newspaper for Union soldiers and promptly roped in sister Lizzie and friend Sarah Steer as fellow-editors. Thus was born, The Waterford News, quite possibly the only newspaper ever written by Union women to be published out of Confederate Virginia.
What kind of women begin such a conspicuously dangerous work? Why, the kind bent on having their own way, of course — ones whose story you are about to learn.
Lida (L) and Lizzie Dutton of Waterford, Virginia
When Barbara Black was a very little girl, her grandfather would sit her upon his knees and tell her the story, and, although she’d heard it a dozen times, she loved to hear it once more:  A handsome soldier in a Confederate uniform approached a pretty young miss for the purpose of asking her directions. His name was J. William Hutchinson, and he was actually with the 13th New York Cavalry, acting as a Scout in what he thought was enemy territory. The young lady was Lida Dutton, a Quakeress living in one of the only pro-Union villages in Lee’s Virginia.
By his uniform, she assumed he was a Confederate soldier. By the fact she was standing in Virginia, he assumed she was a Rebel. He politely asked her the way to a certain place, and from there things took an interesting turn.
Being a Quaker, Lida wouldn’t knowingly lie, but she also wouldn’t knowingly help a Confederate get where he was going any faster than he should, and so she cheerfully gave him directions using landmarks used only by the locals: “Left at Brown’s stump, right at Uncle Harmon’s well, left at Zilpha’s Rock...” As the end of the impossible-to-follow directions, Hutchinson quietly asked, “Miss, which side would you like for me to be on?”
Momentarily flustered, she finally blurted out: “If you’re a Rebel, I hate you, but if you’re a Northerner, I love you!” At this point, he introduced himself and showed her his Union insignia.
And that is how Lida Dutton met her match.
In the first three years of the Civil War, Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer could be found caring for wounded Union soldiers, hiding them from marauding Rebel troops, and managing to hold together the farms and businesses their fathers and brothers had had to leave behind to avoid conscription into the Confederate ranks. But in the spring of 1864, they decided they would do more, and nothing — not the lack of goods nor the abundance of Confederate soldiers — was going to thwart their good efforts.
At least eight issues of The Waterford News were published before the spring of 1865, and in each edition’s four, small pages these young women neatly packed a tidy meal of patriotic editorials, poetry, riddles, local news and humor, a sample of which reads as follows:
"The next day or two the rebels again visited this district and appropriated to their own use several horses and two wagons loaded with corn, belonging of course to Union citizens. They also visited the tannery of Asa M. Bond and arrested thirty-five dollars worth of leather."
A few stores... with Dry-Goods, Molasses Candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and hand-some Clerks not objectionable.
The soldiers ate it up... to put it mildly.
Not only did it boost the morale of the troops, it also brought in subscription fees – monies which the girls turned right around and sent back for soldiers’ aid.
The Waterford News was even perused by President Lincoln. Private Schooley of the 11th Rgt., Maryland Volunteers sent a letter to the President with this introduction, “To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln. Will your excellency please accept the two enclosed copies of ‘Waterford News’ and excuse me for taking the liberty of sending them to you... You will see by the Sending, the intention of the Fair Editresses in editing the Paper under the difficulties which they do. ‘Tis for to aid the ‘Sanitary Commission.’ They have already made up nearly 1000$ [sic] for the same purpose!”
To understand the nature of these exceptional young women, we must understand their social context: the history of Quakers (also known as “The Religious Society of Friends”) has been marked by unusual bravery and strength of character. Students of Quaker history find evidence of the persistent influence of a people of faith who helped change the course of American history, as well as evidence of America influencing the nature of Quakerism. These competing influences are best exemplified in the history of Loudoun’s Quakers — a people who found themselves struggling to maintain a pacifist tradition in the midst of Civil War.
By the early nineteenth-century, most Loudoun Quakers associated themselves with the Hicksite faction of the church which espoused a more liberal point of view than Orthodox Quakers. By the time of the Civil War, they were still pacifists, met twice weekly for Meetings, disciplined their members, and encouraged plain dress, but further assumptions are destined to break down. They had been living in the middle of a heated political situation for several years, and their pacifism had been sorely tested. When John Brown’s Raid occurred so near to Loudoun, local militias were formed. Quakers were told to show up for muster or pay a fine. At the beginning of the war, the Confederate army took Quakers for laborers or jailed them for use as bargaining chips. As a result, most headed north, but several risked church discipline and joined the Union army. One of those men was young James Dutton, brother to Lida and Lizzie. By 1862, Lizzie had fallen in love and become engaged to a Lieutenant Holmes of the 7th Indiana Regiment. The matter had become personal, such that when it came to a choice of allegiance between country or faith, Quaker women like Lida, Lizzie and Sarah stubbornly chose to support both. A Waterford News editorial boldly stated, “Christians make the best soldiers.”
At every turn, Loudoun Quaker women refused to be categorized. Regarding the tradition of Quaker “plain dress,” for example, there is this interesting notation in the very first edition: “Great distress is felt by the ladies of this vicinity at not being able to appear at meeting in new bonnets, dresses and wrappings, owing to the stringent blockade.”
These women were very well educated and strongly encouraged to express themselves. Only a few years before the war, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah had been active members of The Waterford Literary Society, writing essays whose topics ranged from a thoughtful, “What is There Left to Write About?” to a hilarious ode “On Chickens.” Essays were read aloud to the group, gently critiqued by the members present, and then recorded in a large bound book. Thankfully, the Society’s volumes survived the war and rest in the archives of The Thomas Balch Library of Leesburg, Virginia. One of the anonymous notes in the Society Essays reads, “Take life as it is, a real matter-of-fact thing, and do it justice,” and it is easy to imagine the “Fair Editresses” of The Waterford News taking the sentiment to heart.
Although the Literary Society provided a place for young ladies to sharpen their wits as well as their pencils, their excellent educations began at home. Several years before the war, Sarah Steer had been sent north to a Ladies Academy, and John and Emma Dutton had always encouraged their four daughters to exercise full use of their minds. In a letter written in 1864 to his youngest, Anna Ellen, John Dutton wrote, “I take great pride in my childrens’ writing. I want each to exert themselves in this particular branch of learning and now is the time whilst thy little fingers are limber... Make it a rule to study — to think — weigh thy thoughts well for thy self. Don’t conclude things are right just because the mass of the people say so.” As a result of such parenting and the Quakers’ insistence on female education (all this despite 19th century ‘Woman as Shelf-Ornament’ thinking), Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s writings are a treasure of womanly expression:
The young ladies of Waterford, Loudon [sic] Co., Va., are hereby notified to meet the first opportunity and lend their mutual aid in filling a large mud-hole with stone, said mud-hole being located in the middle of Second Street... the men have driven around it so much that it is extending each side. Being fearful the gentlemen will get their feet muddy, the ladies will try and remedy it.
While the state of the Second Street mud-hole made itself useful as a running joke (c.f. opening quotation), the young women knew how to turn a joke on themselves, as well. The paper contained a marriage column, but it was always empty. At the bottom of the column, a sad little footnote would appear, such as, “Words are inadequate to express our feelings on this subject.” Edition number three contained this note of surrender: “We think there is no prospect of having this long-continued vacancy filled until after the war: so we will discontinue it for the present.”
And how did the soldiers react to the news? In a word: quickly.
The very next edition reads, “After the marriage column was closed, the young gentlemen became very patriotic, volunteering to serve a lifetime, and proposals numerous flocked in. We will make them feel that delays are dangerous.” All humor aside, letters from Union soldiers which appear in the paper make it clear they had a serious appreciation for the young ladies’ efforts. And, make no mistake, it was an effort.
With no paper and no money, getting a newspaper out of Confederate Virginia was no small task. Draft copies of The Waterford News had to be smuggled north across the Potomac River. The Baltimore American voluntarily printed the newspapers for them. Subscriptions were handled through the Federal Post Office at Point of Rocks, Maryland; the active Confederate troops made it impossible for the girls to distribute the paper from their homes. For their efforts, the young women risked severe “discipline” by the Confederate army, as did all of Waterford for its pro-Union sentiment.
The worst Confederate attack on the villagers occurred in 1862: Confederate troops arrived to forage and announced when they were through they intended to burn the pro-Union village down. The wife of Samuel Means of Waterford ran to the only person she knew who still had a horse: a farmer who lived just outside of town. She asked him to ride to Union General Geary, stationed just a few miles away, and tell him to send Union troops to save the town. The fellow flat-out refused. She then asked him to lend her his horse so she could make the ride. Again he said “no.” She then said, “Then I will steal thy horse and go myself.” And so she did. General Geary promptly dispatched troops to the town, and Waterford was saved... for the time being.
With war literally at their doorstep, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah chose to publish the newspaper, despite personal risk, and even personal tragedy.
The July 2, 1864 edition of The Waterford News encouraged its readers to press on:
"Let not kind words, loving tones, and love of good deeds cease to find a place in our hearts. Now, if ever, is the time to ‘cast bread upon the waters,’ when tired and weary ones are all around us, and starvation stares so many in the face; when loved ones are struggling with pain, and joy and happiness are hidden in the distance; when hope leaves us and misery looks at us with hollow eyes. Let us be up and doing — old and young — we have no time to idle; every quickly flitting moment is to be improved, every space filled up."
This editorial, which might be dismissed as nothing more than flowery patriotic sentiment, becomes poignantly descriptive when we discover it was written soon after Lizzie received the news her fiancé, Lieutenant Holmes, had been killed in action.
Doing life justice means that much more when life isn’t doing you justice in return.
In late November of 1864, General Grant authorized a raid on Loudoun County. It has become known as “The Burning Raid,” but The Waterford News called it “The Fury Order in Loudoun.” Frustrated with the seemingly unchecked activities of Colonel Mosby’s Rangers, Grant’s concept was to burn out the farms still able to provide forage to Mosby and his men, and to this end a multitude of barns were burned and livestock was killed or driven off. In addition, men under 51 capable of bearing arms and any slaves remaining in the area were to be taken.
At this point, political sentiment was unimportant. Mosby gathered forage from whoever had goods, thus the Union army visited whoever had goods.
So, in a sad twist of fate, Pro-Union Loudouners had the unpleasant task of watching the Union army destroy in less than a week what they’d been protecting from bushwhackers and Confederates for four years. Between November 27th and December 2 of 1864, the skies over western Loudoun were dark with the smoke of hundreds upon hundreds of fires.
And, again, Loudoun’s Quaker women persevered. Major J.B. Wheeler of the 6th New York recorded that, “At Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia, two young ladies perched on the wide gate posts in front of their home, waving American flags and said as their hay was being destroyed, ‘Burn away, burn away, if it will keep Mosby from coming here.’ ” Tradition holds that one of those young women was Lida Dutton.
An editorial in the Jan. 28, 1865 edition of The Waterford News had this to say about the ‘Fury Order:’
We do not believe, if our Government had been as well acquainted with us as we are with ourselves, the order for the recent burning would be have been issued; but having suffered so much at the hands of the Rebels ever since the commencement of this cruel war, we will cheerfully submit to what we feel assured our Government thought a military necessity.
It should be noted not everyone reacted as stoically. When Union soldiers demanded matches from Quakeress Ruth Hannah Smith for the sole purpose of using them to burn down her barn, she quietly held the lucifers in the steam from her teakettle before handing them over. Her barn was saved.
We know that the effects of war did not alter Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s resolve, so it should come as no surprise that when peace came they continued to “do life justice.” Sarah Steer applied to the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Philadelphia Meeting and to local Quakers for the funds to open a school for the children of freedmen. The school was built in 1867, the first of five in the County, but Sarah didn’t wait for the walls to go up around her. She began teaching in 1865 and so became the “first teacher of black children” in Loudoun County.
The building, an historic property now known as “The Second Street School,” is owned by The Waterford Foundation and is the site of a unique living history program. As part of the Loudoun County’s Third and Fourth grade curriculums, children are able to spend a morning in the one room school house taking on the identities and responsibilities of the African-American children who attended in 1880.
An excellent summation of the trials and tribulations of Waterford Quakers is beautifully detailed in the Waterford Foundation book, To Talk is Treason, by John Souders, Bronwen Souders and John Divine. Most of the story of Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer is contained therein. It is abundantly clear from their histories, each of these women were capable of being that Editor referred to as “bent on having her own way.”
And what of Lizzie and Lida Dutton after the war? Both continued to write, submitting poetry and articles to local newspapers on occasion, but life still had a few surprises left for them.
Lizzie continued to live in the now quiet village of Waterford, and we could forgive her for assuming the exciting portion of her life was over. There had been one fleeting correspondence between herself and a Lieut. James Dunlop of the 7th Indiana - a friend to her fallen fiancé and the very man who’d written her with news of his death - but, after the war, Lieut. Dunlop had gone home to Indiana to marry his childhood sweetheart.
But fate decreed Dunlop’s wife would die within two years of the marriage. He never remarried, and for years he let the thought nag him: “Whatever happened to Lizzie Dutton?” In 1881, he came to Washington on business and used the excuse to send a card to the Dutton home. The reply was a letter from Miss Elizabeth Dutton.
He took himself straightway to Waterford. An account of the event reads, as the two renewed their acquaintance, “matters flowed on so easily, smoothly, and naturally, that in a few weeks Mr. Dunlop found himself at his Indiana home busily engaged in preparing for the reception of a new mistress, and soon the little town of Waterford was all a blaze of light and a scene of general rejoicing, for the lady was popular and beloved by all.” Joseph Dunlop and Lizzie Dutton were married January 22, 1882.
Last, but not in the least least, there was the matter of strong-minded Lida. Was she be able to square things with her Union Lieutenant after her bold attempt to hood-wink him? Yes, but not before he winked right back.
Lieutenant Hutchinson followed his surprise introduction by telling Lida he planned to hold her to her bold promise — her promise to love him if he were a Northerner. When she regained her composure, she told him she believed she’d said “like,” not “love.” He strongly disagreed and promised to return for her after the war.
Well, like him or love him, when Lieut. Hutchinson came back for her, she married him. Apparently they continued the happy argument of “like” vs. “love” with their children as audience... their grandchildren... and, eventually, their great-grandchildren.
The two were man and wife for 53 years before William passed away. 
Heroes are the simple creation of continually choosing to do life justice in the midst of trying circumstances. Thanks to the preservation of Loudoun history, we’re able to celebrate the heart of these three heroes: Sarah, Lizzie and Lida... three women editors who were, thank heaven, absolutely bent on having their own way.
And they must have the last word:
Many threats have been made
about burning our houses over our devoted heads,
but Waterford is still standing.
And we trust it may stand long in the future
to remind other generations that in its time-honored walls
once dwelt as true lovers of their country as ever breathed the breath
of life-long-suffering but faithful... to the end."
- The Waterford News, July 1864
This article was first published in Citizen's Companion Magazine The author, Meredith Bean McMath is an award-winning historian and prize-winning playwright who resides in Loudoun County, Va. Her Civil War novel, Pella's Angel, is set in Loudoun County, Virginia during the Civil War and is available on Amazon and via Kindle.com
 Letter of Barbara Dutton Conrow Black to Ladies Home Journal dated Feb. 4, 1962 (copy in Waterford Foundation Archives, Waterford, VA)
 Waterford Perspectives, Education Committee of The Waterford Foundation, Waterford Foundation Archives
 To Talk is Treason, Bronwen and John Souders and John Divine, The Waterford Foundation, Waterford, VA (1997) p. 56
 The Waterford News, Vol. 1, No.’s 1-8 (copies in “Civil War File” of The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA and The Waterford Foundation Archives)
 ibid, Vol. I, No. 2 (Nov. 6, 1864)
 “Robert Todd Lincoln” papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (referred to in Oct. 6, 1955 article from The Blue Ridge Herald, “Lincoln Papers Reveal Waterford Had Newspaper During Civil War;” copy in “Civil War File,” Thomas Balch Library).
 To Talk is Treason, et al
 The Transformation of American Quakerism, by Thomas D. Hamm, Indiana Univ. Press (1988), p. 52
 “Girls Published Civil War Newspaper,” by Emma H. Conrow, Baltimore American, February 5 1922, p. C-3 (copy in “Civil War File” at the Thomas Balch Library and The Waterford Foundation archives).
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 6 (Nov. 26, 1864)
 ibid, Vol. I, No.1 (May 28, 1864)
 Essays of Friends Literary Society, Waterford, 1857-60, Rare Manuscripts — Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
 To Talk is Treason, p. 87
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 1 (May 28, 1864)
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 3 (July 2, 1864)
 Waterford Perspectives
 Hillsboro: Memories of a Mill Town, Hillsboro Bicentennial History Ctte, Pub’d by the Hillsboro Community Association, p. 25 (The Thomas Balch Library)
 To Talk is Treason, p. 92
 Ye Meetg Hous Smal, Werner and Asa Moore Janney published by Werner and Asa Moore Janney (The Thomas Balch Library) p. 42 - insert
 Friends Intelligencer, vol. XX, pp 250-251 (copies in Waterford Foundation Archives)
 The County of Loudoun, by Nan Donnelly-Shay and Griffin Shay, The Donning Co. (1988) p. 53
 Camp & Field, Sketches of Army Life, by Wilbur F. Hinman (Cleveland, 1892) (Ref., The Thomas Balch Library) pp 422-423
 “Commonplace Book” by Mary Frances Dutton Steer (collection of letters and memoirs), Waterford Foundation Archives, p. 15
Written by Meredith Bean McMath - first published in the former
“This is Martha at the Hill Tom Market. There’s a... This is kind of unusual, but there’s a woman here who... says she’s been walking all the way from Washington...”
“No… Washington State.”
“She says she’s been walking across America, and she’s looking for a place to put up her tent for the night.”
O—kay. Martha is asking if I’ll let a lunatic stay in our backyard overnight. We have a son...
“She seems really nice. She and her dog...”
“She said her dog can stay outside.”
Great. Our dogs will hate her. They’ll bark all night. They’ll...
“I was trying to think who might, you know, think it was okay to have her in their backyard, and I thought of you....”
What should I do? Haven’t heard about her on the news. But what if she really has walked all the way across? How could I let her walk past my house? Surely we’re only going to get a chance like this once in our lives...
Think, woman. Think...
Ten minutes later, my son and I were standing in the doorway of our home in Hillsboro, Virginia, watching for the arrival of a perfect stranger - with a zillion questions still running through my mind. What kind of a woman would do this? My husband and I had read Peter Jenkin’s book, Walk Across America, and he’d convinced us America was better off than we thought. But that was in the ‘70s. Had she found a different America? Wouldn’t it have to be different for a woman? Which brought me back around to.. Was she insane?
Then up she came. Her long brown hair sun-streaked and shiny; her skin not too darkly tanned; a full backpack swaying behind her, keeping time with her strong measured step; a sleek black labrador trotting happily beside her. I smiled when I saw the dog had packs, too — one on either side. When she was close enough to shake my hand, I caught the scent of fresh fields and road dust.
Her name is Ananda Woyer, and she was 26 years old when we met in November of ‘96. Her plan was to plant her toes in the Atlantic Ocean on the Delaware shore by Christmas and then fly home to Seattle, Washington. Seattle — where she’d begun her trek almost two years before.
She said the whole thing began when she was having lunch at a bar and saw a poster — an advertisement for people who wanted to walk across America. To this day she has no idea why it appealed to her, but she couldn’t get the thought out of her mind. Two weeks later, she quit her job and signed up.
Just like that.
Eighteen months later, she'd lost her fellow travelers, gained a sprightly black lab named Roxie, and walked all the way from Washington State to Virginia.
Right away I realized I could not possibly have this woman sleeping in our back yard. No way. She was going to have to stay in the guest room.
“Ananda, would you like to sleep in our guest room?”
She laughed and nodded. “Love to.”
Something about the laugh made me ask, “How many times have you been asked to stay in people’s homes?”
“Quite a lot, actually.”
Sometimes folks hear about her on the news, but usually they don’t know her from Adam. Still they take her in.
“And that’s the way it’s been all along. Sometimes I have to ask if there’s a place I can put up my tent.” She smiled. "But then I hardly ever need to put up my tent. Oh, and then some times someone knows someone in the next town and calls ahead for me.”
“Ever been in danger?”
“I got followed once, but eventually they left me alone. Of course, having Roxie along helps.” At this, Roxie perks up, presents a lovely grin and plants a wet kiss on my son’s face.
My son is enchanted. At seven year’s old, Palmer doesn’t understand the magnitude of Ananda’s walk, but he sure is impressed by her dog. As far as he’s concerned, only great people have great dogs, so Ananda has to be great. Actually, this makes sense to me, too. Roxie bounds around the house like a puppy and runs off to wrestle with our pooches: immediate best friends.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting in awe of our surprise guest. “So, what do you when you get sick?”
“I got a cold once back on the west coast. But that’s it. I haven’t been sick a day since. We walk about eighteen miles a day.”
“How does Roxie like the walk?”
“She loves it! You’ll see tomorrow morning: she can’t wait to get out on the road again.”
“Do you feel the same way?”
“Pretty much. Only now I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to do when I get back.”
“Will you write about it?”
“I’ve definitely been thinking about it.”
“So, if you write a book, what’ll you tell us about America?”
She grins. “That it’s safer and more friendly than you think. Especially in Kansas. Ever since I left Seattle, I’ve heard the same thing over and over, ‘Our town is terrific. Perfectly safe. Great people, but watch out for that town down the road.’ Same story in every town.”
“That’s funny, ‘cause I was just going to warn you about D.C... Hey!” I whacked my hand on the kitchen table with the suddenness of inspiration. “I just remembered I have a good friend in D.C.! Want me to give her a call and see if she can take you in?”
“That,” she said with a smile, “would be wonderful.”
Which is how Ananda met my friend Peg Grant... who had a friend in Annapolis, Maryland... and on and on Ananda walked...
And she was able to put her toes in the Atlantic Ocean by mid-December and eat Christmas dinner with her family back in Seattle.
Soon after that, she moved to Kansas.
Looking back, I can honestly say that - as much as Ananda taught us about America during her brief stay - she taught us even more about ourselves: how a split second decision to do something different and scary can lead to something wonderful — if we’ll just finish reading the poster on the wall... or allow yourself say:
“Sure Martha. Tell her to come on up.”
You know this one? The dream where you’re being married to someone you don’t like – by your history professor – while standing in your pajamas? Yeah. That one. Nightmares involving public humiliation are the worst: Didn’t study for the test? Don’t know where you are? Forgot to put on clothes!?!
This is why actors amaze me. For the joy of bringing a play to life and a chance to bring an audience to their feet, they are willing to face the possibility of public humiliation. Forgot a line? Missed your cue? Your skirt fell down!?! Yep.
Actors are the bravest of the brave. When the army is forming a front line to charge the enemy on the battlefield, bring up the actors. Tell them just beyond that row of critics holding semi-automatics there’s an audience waiting, and off they’ll go. And in community theatre, they don’t even get paid to run that gauntlet.
Many, many years ago, I became a volunteer in the acting army when I joined the cast of a Growing Stage production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
I hadn’t been in a stage play since college, where I was cast as Angel No. 2 in Medieval Plays for Christmas. I had one line. What I learned from that experience is that when the moment arrives to speak that one line, and you’ve practiced that one line four thousand times, it is virtually impossible to make that one line sound normal.
Next acting I tried was live radio theatre here in Loudoun County, Virginia. Radio Theatre is the Laz-E Boy Recliner of theatre experience: it involve no memorization, very little rehearsal, and no costumes, set, publicity or lighting. You can wear your polka-dot pajamas, if you like - a definite plus. But it has no audience — a fairly large drawback.
And so, after all those years I dared to "tread the boards" again, going out for a local production of Taming of the Shrew. I was hoping for at least two lines this time but was scared to have too many. Highly respectful of my wishes, Tim Jon, the Director, gave me very few lines — and four different roles.
We began rehearsals mid-July, a cast from every conceivable walk of life with one very important thing in common: no free time.
Planning a rehearsal schedule in which everyone is there for certain scenes takes the skill of an airline pilot (But it was pure coincidence our co-Producer and fellow actor, Stokes Tomlin, was a retired airline pilot). Tough as that scheduling turned out to be, the real fly in our ointment was a missing actor: we had no Hortensio (the original cast member bowed out due to illness).
If you’re not familiar with Taming of the Shrew, Hortensio is is the one who winds up marrying The Widow. Have I mentioned one of my roles was The Widow? Oh, fine, there’s a little more to Hortensio than just the marriage. He plays a huge and very integral part of the play — and it was six weeks from Opening Night.
All of us called every actor we knew that fit the director’s description, which by that time had narrowed to “Breathing — possibly male”. I had no luck at all: one guy was gone in August; another had a lead in a different Shakespeare play; another was called out west to fight forest fires for the National Park Service (the nerve...).
Days ticked by. The Widow began having nightmares about history professors and polka-dot pajamas. Practices were unsettling: half the time I was reading for Hortensio. You can sprain an acting muscle that way.
And that is why four weeks before opening night, I came to rehearsal depressed. But acting is an amazing thing: once practice begins, you somehow come to believe that everything will turn out right. I easily lost myself in the beauty and the humor of Shakespeare, the blocking of the movement in scenes, the characterizations, the thrill that is live theatre. Not to mention getting to work with the best of people.
I’ll bet most folks think of acting as speaking lines, but acting is mostly listening: its reacting to each other’s lines, working together when someone drops a line to bring a scene back on track, helping everyone stay in character when the set falls down. You hang together or you die alone. As a result, you make friends for life with some of the most caring, intelligent, creative and generous people you’ll ever meet. And when you get together, you share war stories like old veterans.
However, in order to bond properly, you also need a full cast — which brings us back to our missing Hortensio.
There we were on a lovely August night, practicing our lines in the courtyard of Leesburg’s Market Station (A very cozy Globe Theatre-like space, as it happens), when a very tall, mustachioed fellow in a three-piece suit stepped out on the balcony from The Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. Lots of diners had been watching us rehearse from the window above and we'd just gone on, show business as usual, when he called down in a friendly tone, “So, what are you doing?”
“Shakespeare!” we called up in unison.
“Taming of the Shrew,” our Director, replied.
And then a bit of a miracle occurred. The fellow nodded, stepped up to the railing and began quoting from the play.
And we stood below, dumbstruck. But when he kept quoting, we began nodding and smiling among ourselves, and our Director - who looked as though he’d eaten the proverbial canary cage and all - said, “Well, there’s our Hortensio.”
When the fellow was done, we applauded loudly and asked for more. He laughed and shook his head. “Funny. That’s not the response I usually get.” Then he said something about loving Shakespeare and launched into Hamlet’s soliloquy.
Tim offered him Hortensio on the spot. And he was brave enough to take it.
Four weeks later we opened the show, and I’m pleased to say we sold out every night; few lines were muffed; no sets fell, nor any rain, nor any costumes; Shawn Malone, former co-manager of The Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, had a blast playing Hortensio, and the cast bonded, just as they should.
If Shakespeare was correct and all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, I'm certain theatre is the best of all possible worlds.
Give it a try sometime. And be sure to look around for me... I’m the Director in the polka-dot pajamas.
Article first appeared in McMath’s "Good Neighbor Column" in the former Loudoun ART Magazine, published by Gale Waldron. Although she is no longer with us, her work and inspiration live on, and this is updated and posted in Gale Waldron's honor.
First published in The Piedmont Virginian, 2008 as
“Out of the Ordinary: Life in Hillsboro, Virginia”
In late summer of 1862, a fellow named Tom Syphert made his way into Hillsboro, Virginia with two things in mind: round up some horses for the Union Army and visit with old friends. The son of a Lovettsville blacksmith, Tom knew the area and the people well – or so he thought...
Before the Civil War, Hillsborough (as it was spelled then) was the second largest city in Loudoun County behind Leesburg and contained some twenty businesses, around 100 voting white males, their families, and a large population of slaves and freedman who, for the most part, lived along the Short Hills Mountain. Before the Civil War, the town was bustling with two flour mills, a textile mill and a dozen other businesses that kept Loudoun wagons rolling with fashioned clothes and furniture, cobbled shoes for humans and horses, and provided three different spots for gentleman to “belly up to the bar.” And over and next to these shops were the homes of the shop owners and behind them, the outbuildings: barns, chicken coops, pigpens, smoke houses, springhouses, and icehouses. Imagine the soot and smell from these concerns and then add one more distinct odor: the tannery smack in the middle of town. The smells could not have been pleasant to the students of the Hillsboro Ladies Seminary a mere four doors down.
This bustling, noisy village would be the Hillsborough Tom Syphert knew as a child - but not the one he found in 1862. By then, both armies had passed through several times and most of the businesses were shut fast due to the inability to re-stock shelves. Yet most of the people remained, and Union uniform or no, they didn’t mind bending Tom’s ear with the latest on all the neighbors.
After being there, Tom updated his brother in a letter: “Amy Ann – formerly Spates – now Fritts, is living in Hillsborough and is rampant Union, while Eliza Hammerly lives right across the street from her and is as rabid secesh [secessionist]. Dick Tavenner still lives in Hillsborough and is Union, while his wife and two girls are violent secesh. Amy Ann has two sons in the rebel Army, while a third who went to Illinois… was in the 68th Illinois and was here in the Army of the Potomac… and was often in skirmishes with [Colonel Elijah] White’s Rebel Cavalry, to which his two older brothers belong. The two older ones, however, were forced into the ranks. But this will give you some idea of how the demon of rebellion has sundered old friends and severed families.”
The next day, Tom rose up early and walked on to Snickersville, “for there are no horses in the country – the war has swept them all.” Oddly enough, his overnight accommodations were provided by the “rabidly secesh” Eliza Hammerly, who thoughtfully packed him a lunch but failed to mention where Tom might find horses: Hillsborough’s remaining steeds were safely tucked in “Jockey’s Cave” west of town in the Short Hills Mountain.
I like to imagine that during Tom’s stay at the Hammerlys, he took a moment to step next door for a drink at Birkett’s Tavern. John Birkett passed away before the war began, but his sons-in-law were still managing the business. Tom might have walked through the front door into the taproom, the air thick with the smell of smoke and liquor and the faint smell of hay from the mix of straw and sawdust lying on the floor to catch whatever fell there, be it liquor, spit, blood. He might have glanced around the room to see if any there would acknowledge his presence without sneering. If he saw no friendly faces, he might have stepped through to the back dining area, remembering the beer and fresh oysters served there (Oysters and beer used to come to Hillsborough fresh from Washington, D.C. via C&O Canal deliveries to Harpers Ferry - hmm, probably ceased by then, come to think of it).
But if the day wasn’t too warm, he might have preferred to step on to the Tavern’s wide side porch – the one standing at the crossroads of Main Street and the old road to Purcellville. Sitting down, he might have viewed the stone house across the way with its chimney marking: “I.H. 1827” and admired the stonework, not knowing the house was serving as a Confederate Post Office. If his eyes then strayed to the backyard, he would have seen some empty animal pens. Before the war, men known as “Drovers” would make the two day walk from Loudoun to the markets at Alexandria, but during the Civil War, Drovers couldn’t cross the line of Union pickets – if they still had animals to take to market. So, at that point, Tom might have realized he was going to get a good night’s sleep – no sheep bleating in the night, no turkeys gobbling from the tavern’s roosting tree. When Tom was ready to order whatever the Tavern had on hand, he might have been served by one of Birkett’s slaves. According to the 1850 census, Birkett owned eight slaves, a 32-year old woman, an 18 year old man, and seven younger children. While their names are not provided, I do not doubt where they lived: three small rooms on the second floor were separated from the rest of the house, accessible only by an outdoor stairwell.
It is likely the woman was the Tavern Cook, and she would have been working in the stone kitchen at the back of the tavern, separated from the house by a “dog trot” walkway. A five-foot high, four-foot wide fireplace with a swing arm was the heart of that kitchen, and the fire there generally never went out. The roof was covered with slate tile, so that if the kitchen burned, the tavern would still have a fighting chance.
Tavern fires were so legendarily frequent that at nearby Harpers Ferry the government bought a portion of White’s Tavern and forced the owner to re-locate the tavern to the back of the building - and as far away as possible from the Armory and its touchy contents. The danger wasn’t just tavern candles burning day and night, nor the straw and straw dust underfoot, nor the drunkards warming themselves by the fire: it was the barrels of alcohol. When the server went for a new barrel at Birkett’s Tavern, he walked out of the dining room, down the back stairs and right under that dining room. There he could stand up straight and choose a new barrel to send upstairs. So, think of a tavern (or “Ordinary” as they were known up north) as a collection of various forms of fire overtop a number of barrels of liquid fuel, separated only by straw, sawdust and a few creaky floorboards.
I'd think about that whenever I changed the fire alarm batteries in the home. I'd think about other things as I walked through the living room, built on the foundations of that old tavern porch. And I'd think a whole different set of thoughts when I grabbed the railing of the 1870 stairwell, built after slavery was abolished and the slave quarters were opened to the rest of the house. I'd think about all these things, because my family and I lived in Birkett’s Tavern... for 30 years.
My husband and I bought the ca. 1819 building back in 1987, determined to restore at least one old home in our lifetime. Turns out that one was quite enough. When we moved there, Hillsboro had transitioned from that long ago mill town to a quiet village of 33 homes and 122 residents, give or take a baby or two. The devastating economic effects of the Civil War and the Great Depression were hard on the residents of Loudoun County, but the homes were basically intact and ready for restoration.
By the time we bought Birkett’s Tavern, it had changed hands seven times. The previous owners were the first to turn the building into a true single family home, but there was plenty left for us to do: electric switches hanging from the living room ceiling, live electrical sockets jammed into cutouts along the baseboards, and our telephone wires coming in over the windowsill (we had a choice in the winter: close the window for warmth or enjoy telephone service). But they’d done some fabulous things, too: like establish baseboard heat and raise the kitchen up from dirt floor level to meet the rest of the house.
We set our own priorities and went right to work removing the rotting Victorian porch from the front of the home. And that’s when it began to happen: neighbor after neighbor came and introduced themselves. They told us all about our house, their own homes, the neighborhood, the history, and then invite us to supper or the next community association meeting. When the old porch finally came down, we received a bottle of champagne from the lady across the street: “With thanks for improving my view.” After another grueling day of clearing away debris, a couple invited us over for cocktails. We were too tired to even think of showering and dressing and began to decline their kind invitation. They smiled and laughed. “Come as you are! We insist!” My husband and I looked at each other and thought to ourselves, Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.
Two years later, our son was born, and then, when my father passed away, we invited my mother to come and live with us. For the next sixteen years we busied ourselves with family, work and restoration. And suddenly 30 years were gone. Our son moved away, my mother had passed, and it was time to move to a smaller home… one that required a lot less loving attention.
But I think Tom Syphert would like what we did to the place. The floors are polished, the building has electricity, no need to chop wood to heat the place, the kitchen is actually inside the house, water comes right in and goes right out, and there’s a different sort of horsepower in the driveway. Oh, and I'll be the drinks are free, if you're nice to the new owners.
Tom would like the look of the whole town, too. Hillsboro survived the Union Burning Raid of 1864 (although it cleared out several backyards). The hills around town are being farmed once more - most often with rows of grape vines, and the neighbors care about their old homes and respect their integrity while they improve the amenities. Right now (2020), the town is in for a huge adjustment: telephone lines and cables to be set under the road, sidewalks improved and road circles placed on either end (instead of hideous stoplights). Can't wait to see the finished product!
It was a pleasure to be a part of Hillsboro for a while and rebuild that beautiful old place. It's an experience we will never forget or regret. In fact, we think everyone should restore a tavern... at least once in their life.
"You may have people in your life who don't expect much from you — don't value your potential or input for whatever reason: too young, too old, too inexperienced... I am not one of those people."
If you’re an actor who’s been in one of our theatre productions, you've heard me say something like this the very first day.
When I direct, I tend to treat young actors like they’re adults and all actors like they're professionals - each one of them with opinions and ideas that matter. And if all goes well, by the end of a production the actors own the show as much as I will... because that's when the magic happens.
I’ve seen other directors' approaches. Heck, I’ve TRIED the other approaches. And if a director is brilliant and creative and can get actors to do exactly what they say, the show will shine. And everyone will feel great about being a part. And that's good.
But I want actors to do so much more than just mimic my intent or the meaning of the play.
BUILDING A PLAY ONE CHARACTER AT A TIME
I want actors to internalize the process like professional actors do - things they would have learned in drama school. I'll start them off with a character concept, but from there they need to read the script and make that character their own. I encourage full character development, even if they have no lines or are a member of the Chorus. As we go, I'll teach Method Acting, which involves improvisation and emotional recall, and then go over how thet might best learn a script: audio, visual or movement - whatever helps an actor get where they need to be.
And as rehearsals progress, I'll start soliciting their ideas. And if the idea serves to: 1. Further the plot, 2. Reveal more about their character, or 3. Set the audience up for a pay off (in this scene or later), then I’m going to want to try to work it in. When actors of any age approach a play this way, they start finding relationships and possibilities that as director I might have missed. And I will always want to be open to their idea, because amazing things might come of it.
BE WILLING TO KILL YOUR FABULOUS IDEAS
When I became a published author years ago, I had to defend my choices to an editor. So what if I spent five hours crafting that paragraph? If it doesn’t develop a character or relationship, further the plot, or provide a payoff, I had to be willing to let it die. Note: clearly this requires the director to know the play inside and out, because if you haven't prepared yourself, you're going to get defensive. Add a really tiny ego, and you just... might... snap.
So in a my directing world, I have to be prepared and confident... but also realize they may not be the best ideas in the room. Yes, I know I have a creative brain, but why wouldn’t I tap into a larger creative brain if I had a chance? Actors have a chance to dive into these characters much more than I do. They're going to find things there I didn't see, and as the other actors do the same, relationships and situations things are going to happen - good things - "If she's going to react that way because of what happened earlier, and as her sister, I would know that, that changes the way I should react..." - if you let them happen.
And, as a result of all of the above, actors begin to take ownership - of their characters, a scene and the play itself. This is where the magic begins.
So even though this will replace the absolutely brilliant idea I had as the Director, well... gulp... let's do this instead.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REALLY BAD IDEAS...
Okay. What if your actor comes up with an idea that just won’t work? Is truly horrible? Makes no sense to the character's history, etc.? And they present it to everyone before I've heard it.
Then I have to thank them for the idea, say No and tell them why. Why? Because 1. I want them to know suggestions are respected and appreciated, and the next one they have may be perfect (and often are), 2. Explaining why it won't work helps everyone understand more about the character, the plot or the scene mentioned, and 3. An explanation gives everyone in the cast a chance to further understand the setting, the character or the plot of the whole thing.
Obviously at this point a couple of things are crucial: a directors needs to love their actors enough to know how to say no diplomatically or actors won't offer ideas for fear of retribution. But directors also need to avoid wanting actors to loooove them, or they'll never know how to say no to a bad idea, and the whole cast and the whole play will suffer.
But, in the end, whether a good idea or a bad one, thanks are due to actors. Because their process and commitment is how a good play becomes great.
LAY OUT THE GROUND RULES
Lest you think rehearsals should devolve into a free-for-all “sharing time,” I'll point out ideas are solicited only at certain times in the process:
1. Creative input falls mostly in the beginning of the rehearsal schedule. Group discussion is good. And this is also a great time for the Director to underscore the story arc of the play, the scenes, and the characters.
2. Then when we begin to run scenes regularly, actors are asked to hold their ideas until the next break - and then share those ideas only with the director.
3. Crucial to the entire process: actors do not get to suggest what other actors can do. Ever. They can certainly ask why another character does something, but... that's it.
Simple reason: every actor must be entirely focused on their own character/s, their actions, feelings, backgrounds, etc.. This is the process professional actors use, and I love bringing it to community theatre, because, when actors take this process on, shows get reviews worthy of professional productions (Think I'm lying? Check out Run Rabbit Run Theatre reviews).
And when an actor is completely focused on developing their character in a scene, it often leads another actor to have a revelation about their own character.
Lastly - without exception - actors should never simply tell another actor to “do it this way" or "try it this way". That would be called directing.
THE GRANDE FINALE
In the end, there is solid success in the "Do what I tell you" approach to directing: learning and doing a task well gives actors a sense of accomplishment and the applause is gratifying. But in the end, those actors will make the required effort – and often little more. They don't want to rock the boat, so they won’t challenge themselves to think about their choices or the process, or engage their own creativity. And they know that the same director can do the exact same show with another group of actors the next year, and it'll look and feel almost identical - with the same applause. They never get to own the show. They just... borrow it for awhile.
But when actors have a chance to make the show their own, the audience immediately knows it. All the nuances are there: they aren't pretending to be someone, they're real - real three-dimensional characters, with relationships, tensions, actions - all real. And that's the ultimate audience reward. And that's professional acting at its best: when every actor - young and old - walks away knowing there will NEVER be another show like the one they just created.
They own it and it will always be theirs. And that's theatre magic.
I learned how to direct from producing dozens of shows with various directors using many techniques. But I learned the most from the best directors in the Loudoun / DC area: Dolly Stevens, Tim Jon and Tom Sweitzer. They start with respect and end with actor ownership, and now I just can't see directing any other way.
First... there was a mouse.
Yes, it's true, We'd bought an old house in the country, and anyone crazy enough to do such a thing should expect country things like mice, right? Well, we were of exactly the same mind, and at first, having a mouse just seemed to be one of many quaint, adorable things about country life.
In fact, as I recall we handled our initial contact with a good deal of humor: "Look what the little fellow put in your boots, honey! Why, he’s taken dog food from the bin, crawled all the way up the side of the boot and dropped it in.... like a busy squirrel!”
In short, we were the worst sort of city slickers. We brought with us all those city sensibilities about “being kind to animals,” and the like. After all, I’d had a cage full of pet mice when I was young. I just adored mice.
“We’ll just buy some air-tight containers and seal up our food good and tight, and the little guy will give up and move to somebody else's pantry,” we said. “Yes, that’s the humane way to handle things. No mouse trap, no, no. That would be cruel.”
And our neighbors smiled and laughed, Heh-heh-heh.
Then the mouse showed us he could do a really neat trick - better than taking dog food to the top of tall work-boots; why, this little fellow could actually nibble through air-tight lids!
"Wow," we said. "Imagine that!" So we decided to try to confuse him by re-arranging the pantry.
Nope. He continued to leave his eensy-weensy little Lincoln Logs all over the shelves — just to show us he had caught on to our little game of “Hide the Food.” And he continued to patiently collect the dry dog food into my husband's work boots.
I laughed and said, “Look, hon, I’ll bet he thinks after he’s filled these up, he can just walk out of here in them,” but my husband’s sense of humor had begun to wane.
We soon bought a clamp-lid, thick-sided bucket for the dog food and brought the work-boot merriment to an end.
Well, it was not soon enough.
This mouse had learned what sort of pushovers we were. And the first thing mice do when they find they have the run of the house is... run all over the house.
That’s when we found out this was not one mouse at all. A large brown mouse ran across the living room floor one evening. A medium sized mouse did it again the next night. The next night a very fast and very small mouse ran around the edge of the kitchen counter as I was making dinner. I could swear it stopped, put it’s little paws up to its ears, and said, “Phhhhft!” before skittering down behind the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, in the great outdoors, my husband found a snake in our garden shed. A nice, long black snake. Harmless, but, hey, it was still a snake. So it needed to be gotten rid of, right?
But while chatting with the neighbors that weekend, my husband found, to his surprise, our snake was a highly-coveted prize.
"So you're saying you don't want your snake?" my neighbor asked.
"Why should I want my snake?"
"Takes care of mice and garden rodents."
"Oh, oh. Well, we don't have a garden yet."
"You saying you'd give up your snake."
My husband hesitated. "Well... yeah."
"Can I have it?"
Our neighbor, who had a shed that needed rodent control, came over that very afternoon and hauled away our three foot long black snake. He was pleased as punch.
This whole incident was just another in a series of difficult concepts for us. Snakes: good. Mice: bad. What was the world coming to?
Then came the day I was doing my son’s laundry. I pulled out one shirt and then another from the clothes drier and they all had these odd reddish-brown spots on them. Did he have a pen in his pocket I hadn’t seen? What’s going on?
I reached in for the next shirt and lay hold of a motley, sort of furry little ball that I took out and examined, and...
That's when we doubled up on the plastic containers.
Hey, it was magic!
Problem solved. No more food taken. No more miniature Lincoln logs. Our cereal was safe once more! We congratulated ourselves. “They’ve moved on!” my husband said. “No more mice in the dry clothes!” I said.
That's when we began to hear them in the walls.
Yes. They had taken to eating our plaster. As we soon learned, the plaster walls of an old house can be a veritable retirement village for small rodents.
"Honey, could you hit that wall, again? I'm trying to eat breakfast, here..."
And then the dishwasher broke. Only, it didn't break; it was vandalized... by a group of vindictive, plaster-fed mice. Perhaps in retaliation for the guy they lost in that nasty dryer incident - we'll never know - but they actually ate part of the rubber hose that feeds water to the washing machine, et voila! Flooded kitchen.
We mopped up. Called in a repair guy. "What can possibly be the problem," we asked; "This machine is brand new!"
"Heh-heh-heh" said the repairman. "See this hose? They ate right through it."
“Well, I don’t see it very often — like once in twenty years, maybe — but every once in a while mice take a liking to rubber. Yep. Definitely mice.”
"You don't say," I said.
This little interview marked a turning point in our lives: that moment we abandoned our sweet suburban attitudes and began to go for the tiny jugulars.
We bought mousetraps and cheese... in bulk.
The mouse’s response was to pat each other on the back and say, “Look! It worked! They’ve started feeding us again!”
Cheese gone. Traps empty.
One of our neighbors suggested peanut butter in the traps. And we actually caught one! Hurrah! Grotesque, yes, but uniquely satisfying.
We encouraged each other - our trials would soon be over. We were going country.
Days went by. Weeks. The peanut butter required constant refreshing, and no more takers.
After a month of this, it occurred to us the mouse we caught might have been the village idiot.
We finally tried poison. "Oh, puh-leeze," said the cunning little country mice.
Next we gave those new-fangled sticky triangle tents a try.
Only one of their little brown legion was dumb enough to walk into it, and he knocked off half the cans in the pantry in his successful bid to free his snoot from the goo. Of course he made it out alive. He was probably a teenager whose buddies dared him to run through it, and we all know teenagers never suffer the proper consequences for their actions.
It seems to me it was around this time my husband and I finally learned the lesson the country was trying to teach us: in the realm of destructive arts, there is only one thing more effective than human technology and that’s nature itself.
Since we’d been so short-sighted as to give away our fine black snake, we got for ourselves the most efficient, reliable mousetrap nature can make: a cat.
I’ll admit a cat once meant no more to me than a lap warmer with an attitude, but the term "Mouser" brought a new appreciation for the species. "Self-cleaning — low maintenance — never needs sharpening.” We had a great deal of respect for Meow-Meow's natural talents (since you asked, my son named him), and the cat was a valued employee. In fact, I would go as far as to say he became a member of the family.
I know that in the city, felines are often de-clawed for the sake of precious furniture, but country-folk prefer, "Our home is mouse-less" to "Our home was recently featured in Architectural Digest."
We lived in that fine old house for 30 years, and while there we were the death of many, many mice. We also changed from linear-thinking yuppies to open-minded pragmatists. Folks out with an appreciation for the concept of live and let live that city-folks could use more of, but it comes with its own little sanity clause: “Just as long as you stay out of my pantry.”
Furthermore, learning to let nature fight nature has led me to reassess human nature, too.
For example, I’ve decided the best way to keep developers at bay is to encourage them to sue each other for economic hardship due to reckless zoning approvals. See how easy that was?
And, in closing, for the record we really were sorry about the mouse that somehow got himself into the laundry basket between the wet and dry loads and tumbled, as it were, to his death amongst our son's wear-ables.
But we learned something from that experience as well.
Mouse blood will wash right out in the very next load.
The year was 1942. For Maxine and Jean, college loomed just a few months away, and they counted themselves lucky to grab jobs as Mail Girls in the new Civil Service office in downtown St. Louis, Missouri...
Tom and Lee, two young lawyers sent out to St. Louis from Washington, noted the mailmen had suddenly gotten better looking... and promptly struck up a flirtation.
In the weeks that followed, Tom developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde, Jean, while Lee? Well, Lee also developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde.
“Too late, Lee. Already got a date with her,” said Tom one afternoon, “but… I think I can set you up with her friend, Maxine.” Maxine - a very tall brunette - was shy and equally pretty and laughed at all Lee’s jokes, so Lee got to thinking that might be all right after all.
Now, one thing you’ll have to know about Lee - besides the fact he was the kindest man that ever lived - was that, just a few years before meeting Maxine, life had dealt him a terrible blow.
The summer after his freshman year of college, he’d taken a job at an Ice House in his southern Virginia hometown to keep in shape over the summer months. He’d played football for the Hampden Sydney Tigers his freshman year, and he wanted to be all the more prepared to play again that fall.
But one month into his work at the Ice House, he awoke with pain in his legs. When the pain became excruciating, he was rushed to the hospital.
Lee had contracted polio.
He went through three months of wanting to die, followed by two years of painful physical rehabilitation. His mother came in every day to exercise his limbs hoping the muscles would come back.
Eventually Lee was able to regain the use of his arms - but never his legs. His father admonished him to, “Get up and quit feeling sorry for yourself,” and Lee looked around him – at the sight of those who weren’t so lucky... whose lives would be lived entirely in an iron lung - and decided to take his father’s advice. Metal braces were required to keep his legs straight, and Lee learned to walk with crutches.
But it was not the slow walk of the injured. No. Somewhere during those long two years, Lee made a decision about life, and he walked like a young man who had somewhere to go.
He took himself back to Hampden Sydney College. There were no handicapped facilities back then, but an old football buddy helped by slinging Lee over his broad shoulder and carried him up and down the college’s stairs like a sack of potatoes. And that’s how Lee completed his degree.
When he finished college, he was accepted into The University of Virginia Law School. In order to make ends meet while there, he worked in the Dean’s office through one of President Roosevelt’s youth job programs. And after law school, he took a job with the government… and found himself working in St. Louis, Missouri.
Which is where he began to fall in love with the tall brunette.
Maxine, for her part, liked Lee from the start. Whenever she came through the offices, he put aside his paperwork to chat. She loved his laugh, his smile, his good looks, and the way he rolled up his shirt sleeves. By the time he stood up and she saw he was on crutches, it was too late to matter.
Some of life would be hard, yes, but what was the point of thinking like that when you’d have those dark brown eyes to gaze into, and enjoy his laughter, his kind heart — really, what did anything matter when you found yourself in love?
But Maxine’s mother, Virginia, was vehemently opposed to her daughter seeing Lee. And as the two dated during Maxine’s college years, Virginia continued to tell her what a poor choice she was making. “Only think what you’re doing! Throwing your life away on a... on a LAWYER!” Virginia couldn’t admit Lee’s handicap was a problem to her, so she blamed his Doctorate of Jurisprudence.
Eventually Virginia demanded Maxine quit seeing him. Maxine obeyed, and the months that followed were the most miserable of her young life. The only thing she looked forward to was being a bridesmaid at the marriage of her best friend, Jean, to Tom.
And Lee was Tom’s best man.
When the wedding day arrived, it had been twelve long months since Maxine and Lee had seen each other. After the ceremony, Lee approached Maxine, looked into her eyes and asked in his sweet southern drawl, “How you been, sugar?”
After that, Virginia was just going to get over it.
Maxine and Lee were married in 1949 at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. There’s film footage of the moments before they left on their honeymoon. You can see Lee’s parents, looking on with pride. You can even see the somewhat sour look on Virginia’s face. And then there’s Maxine, smiling like the sun just rose for the first time, and Lee, with a lovely grin, rushing to the getaway car so quickly you wouldn’t think he had crutches at all.
And now they’re driving off together — a look of deep satisfaction on their young faces — my parents, Maxine and Lee Bean. Forever my favorite Valentines.
They say, "Oh! to be young again!" --
not something I've wanted to do.
'Though it was grand,
I'll stick to the plan
of living beginning to end.
But, wait! Not so fast.
Hold on just a sec...
There's one moment I'd gladly re-do!
That's when our eyes met,
Our hands touched,
and he whispered, "I love you!' "
(August 8, 1943)
- Maxine Bean, 2011
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc. She has written books and plays, an opera's libretto, and book adaptations for the stage. She has degrees and awards and is grateful for all... but sometimes wishes writers and directors were paid a little more.