In 1904, Miss L.E. Stearns compiled a small pamphlet, “Books of Interest and Consolation to Spinsters.” In it, she listed dozens of titles of… well, interest and consolation to spinsters, apparently, dedicating it to Miss Myrtle Stearns, “Spinster Pro Tem.” Later, this pamphlet was presented to Alice Boardman, a long-time employee of the State Library of Ohio who, according to the inscription, held the title “Spinster Exemplaire.”
This small pamphlet is a hoot. It is meant to be. In a time when women were still labeled “old maids” if not married by the time they turned thirty, these women were thumbing their noses at tradition. They laughed in the faces of those who might have felt pity with statements like “I’d rather not be married and be sorry I wasn’t, than be married and be sorry I was.” It’s a sentiment that most of us today can understand but, frankly, was a brave stance to take at the turn of the 20th century. Yet take the stance they did, and they did it with humor.
Many of the titles included in the pamphlet, though not available in Ohio Memory, can be found in full-text via various Internet sources. Some titles, such as Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, are familiar to readers. But many are not:
- Maids, Wives and Bachelors by Amelia E. Barr
- Love Affairs of an Old Maid by Lilian Bell
- Wits and Beaux of Society by Grace and Philip Bell
- Unhappy Loves of Men of Genius by Thomas Hitchcock
And my two favorites:
We hope you’ll enjoy browsing this pamphlet and will laugh along with its compiler. We also hope that, while you’re observing Women’s History Month this month, you’ll pause to remember women like Myrtle Stearns, Alice Boardman, Lutie Eugenia Stearns, and all of the women throughout history who bucked tradition and loved it.
Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!