TWO WARS AND A WEDDING: Betsy at Smith

With only one month (!!) to go until Two Wars and a Wedding appears in the world, I’ve been digging through some of the images I came upon while researching.

Want to join me on a whirlwind tour through the various worlds of Betsy Hayes, Smith grad, would-be archaeologist, and accidental war nurse?

As those of you following me know, this book covers a lot of ground, from snowy Northampton to the sophisticated social scene of late 19th century Athens to steamy Florida to the jungles of Cuba.  I’d meant to do it all in one post, but, as I started typing it up, I realized there was no way everything would fit!  (World’s longest post.)  So join me on a weekly adventure as I share the visuals and background material that inspired different parts of this story– starting with late 19th century Smith College!

Betsy and her best friend, Ava Saltonstall, are both members of the Smith College class of 1896.

This image of the Ivy Day procession is from the previous year (1895) but still gives you a pretty good idea what Betsy’s Commencement looked like.

Betsy is lucky to have made it to Ivy Day….  While Ava, who desperately wants to study medicine, applies herself in the labs (don’t you love this picture of an 1895 Zoology class?), restless Betsy flings herself from extracurricular to extracurricular, driving her professors (and best friend) mad.

Betsy might lounge in the hammock outside the library with one of her Greek texts, but for the most part she’s off performing in amateur dramatics, trying and dropping various sports teams, and having a ball in New Haven at Yale Prom.

As Ava complains:

“You said the same about the dramatic society, the hockey team, the Smith College Monthly. . . .” Ava began ticking off extracurricular activities on her fingers.

“Yes, yes, I know.”

“And the Philosophical Society, the Banjo Club, the Voice Club, the Gymnasium and Field Association . . .”

They had all seemed so important at the time. So much more urgent than her classwork.

Betsy particularly gloats over being invited to Yale prom, a major social event at the time.  An 1893 newspaper refers to Yale Prom as a “Vortex of Pleasure”– I don’t know about that, but it was certainly a feather in a girl’s cap to be invited.  The dance card below is too early (1880), but it gives you an idea.

As the Yale Alumni Mag reports, “The 1893 newspaper report on the Prom singled out one attendee’s dress as “pink satin en traine over a Venetian red velvet petticoat slashed, displaying pink satin pleating.” Do you think that could have been Betsy??

Meanwhile, here are some of Betsy’s dance partners: the 1895 Yale Football team.  We’ll be seeing some of these guys later in Cuba….

In researching Betsy and Ava’s life at Smith, I relied heavily on back issues of Smith College Monthly (in publication since 1893), which gave a strong flavor of campus life.

I’m deeply indebted to the contemporary Smithies who wrote thinly veiled versions of their time at Smith, particularly Josephine Daskam Bacon’s (class of 1898) Smith College Stories and Caroline Macomber Fuller’s (class of 1895) Across the Campus: A Story of College Life.

For a general overview of Betsy’s Smith, you can also dip into L. Clark Seelye’s The Early History of Smith College, written by the man who served as President of Smith from 1873 to 1910.

Is there more you want to know about Betsy’s time at Smith?

Join me next week as we head to Athens!

Two Wars and a Wedding is heading your way on March 21st….

4 Comments

  1. [email protected] on February 22, 2023 at 2:06 pm

    So love all the historical content and old photos that you provided. Your research before you put pen to paper always makes for a fascinating read!

    • Lauren Willig on February 23, 2023 at 9:23 am

      Thanks so much, Diane!!

  2. Sheila C. on February 22, 2023 at 5:02 pm

    Are there any pictures of Betsy herself

    • Lauren Willig on February 23, 2023 at 9:22 am

      I thought I had a picture of Harriet Boyd Hawes (my model for Betsy) during her Smith days, but if I did, I can’t seem to find it….

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