Thursday, December 28, 2017

Otto Plath's First Wife Lydia, and Her Career
Otto Plath’s first wife, Lydia Clara Bartz (1889-1988) was “Mrs. Lydia Plath” all her long adult life. She is buried in her home town, Fall Creek, Wisconsin. She and Otto married in 1912, lived together about two years, and maintained some contact after they separated. Apparently Otto’s youngest sister Frieda became Lydia’s friend. Most of this material except where noted came from The bracketed material is mine.

I had wondered what became of Lydia. She never remarried. Here's what I've learned so far:

1913-14: The UC student register for Berkeley shows Lydia Clara Plath as an undergraduate (p. 113) and Otto Emil Plath (p. 48) as a graduate student. Both live at 2216 Bancroft Way.
1915: Lydia Clara Plath, "housewife," appears in the register for UC-Berkeley summer session.
1919, June 6: After three years of training, Lydia Bartz-Plath graduates as an R.N. from the Evangelical School of Nursing in Oak Lawn, IL. Frieda “Plath-Hendricks” was in the Class of 1918. [Frieda's married name was actually “Heinrichs.”]
1922: Lydia has four months of post-graduate training in surgical nursing. 
1925: Takes and passes the Wisconsin nursing license exam.

Lydia's nursing school closed in 1988.
Highlights from the Eau Claire Leader, archived at

1928, April 21: Mrs. Lydia Plath is identified as “operating nurse, Luther Hospital [Eau Claire].”
1929, June 27, p. 4, “Mrs. Lydia Plath, who has been visiting at Chicago, returned home to spend the rest of her vacation with her mother, Mrs. Mathilde Bartz.”
1930, Sept. 8, p. 8, “Mrs. Lydia Plath has gone to Los Angeles, California, to visit her brother, Rupert Bartz, and her sister Alma.”
1932, Aug. 12, p. 2, “Miss Elsie Roettiger [R.N.] of Fountain City [WI] arrived here Wednesday at the Mathilde Bartz home where she will spend several days visiting with Mrs. Lydia Plath who is spending a month’s vacation from her duties at the Luther Hospital in Eau Claire.” [Had Lydia learned at this time that Otto Plath had divorced her and remarried?]
1932, Oct. 22, p. 3. “Mrs. Lydia Plath motored to Oshkosh Sunday where she will attend a nurses’ convention.”
1934, Sept. 25, p. 12, operating room supervisor; on the faculty of the new Luther Hospital School of Nursing.
1934, Nov. 24, p. 2, contributes to the Eau Claire Community Welfare Fund.
1936, May 14, p. 4, named one of the Directors of the Tenth District of the Wisconsin State Nurses Association.
1939, Sept. 15, p. 4: "Mrs. Lydia Plath described her visit to New York, including her trip to the NBC studios, Radio City, and seeing King George and Queen Elizabeth, guarded by 4000 policemen, at the World's Fair."
1942, Feb. 26, p. 2, "Lydia Plath, R.N., supervisor, shows there was a monthly average of 271.3 cases while in 1935 the average was 179."
1950, Nov. 2, p. 5, "received recognition in a monthly bulletin, 'Ideas of the Month,' published by a hospital supply company," outlining an instrument-sterilization process used at Luther Hospital.
1951, Jan. 11, p. 5, Eau Claire Daily Telegram, the article “Luther Hospital Guild Purchases New Surgical Table for Operating Room” says “Mrs. Lydia Plath, supervisor of the surgical department at Luther Hospital, demonstrated the machine."
1960, Jan. 19 [1]: Lydia took the annual Wisconsin nursing license renewal exam for the final time; she was 71 years old.

Rupert Bartz (1890-1934) introduced his sister Lydia to Otto Plath. Lydia’s sisters were Alma, Dora, Odelia, and Caroline. Of all the girls, only Lydia married.

Small-town newspapers in those days reported on hunting parties, birthday parties, who checked into or out of the local hotel or the hospital, and even the card party thrown for Rupert Bartz when he left town in 1914 to work in real estate in North Dakota.
[1] Wisconsin Board of Nursing; Registered and Practical Nurses Permanent Record Cards, Circa 1912-1982; Series: Registered and Practical Nurses Permanent Record Cards; Book Series: 2675 or 2676

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Otto Plath's First Wedding

While seeking background information about Otto Plath, I dug up Otto Plath's Certificate of Marriage to his first wife, Lydia Bartz, on August 7, 1912 in County of Spokane, City of Spokane, Washington. Click on the image to enlarge it for reading.
Below is Spokane in 1912, a boom year for that city, in a photograph from the Spokane Public Library.

As you know, Otto Plath's first marriage did not "take" and the couple separated without troubling to divorce. Otto got a divorce in Nevada in 1932 when he wanted to marry Aurelia Schober. Otto had been to Nevada; a notice in the Reno Gazette-Journal (16 September 1914, page 8): "Otto Plath of Berkeley is visiting Reno relatives for a few days." Why? Let's say he suddenly had been made to feel unwelcome in Berkeley in August. There's more to the story.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Sylvia Plath and Speedwriting

c. 1960s

Sylvia Plath did learn a form of shorthand -- "Speedwriting," the "cn u rd ths" note-taking system invented in the 1920s by Emma B. Dearborn, a suicide, and persistently advertised for 50 years in the unglamorous back pages of Mademoiselle, but also in Popular Mechanics, Glamour, and Ebony: pretty much everywhere. Plath certainly saw these now-iconic ads; they ran in the August 1953 issue of Mademoiselle Plath had guest-edited. Mademoiselle had the last word, printing in September 1977 the latest Speedwriting ad I could find. It said, in plain block letters, "Yes, I went to college. But Speedwriting got me my job."

And so it was with Smith and Cambridge graduate Sylvia Plath who couldn't get her secretarial job at Harvard in 1959 without it. I wrote a paper, "Sylvia Plath and Speedwriting," that goes into depth about the topic. It includes the history of Emma Dearborn, her invention of Speedwriting and why it became big business, when and where Sylvia learned and used Speedwriting, and why she wanted to use it again while living in London. There are no known examples of Sylvia's Speedwriting, but some might yet be discovered. 

Shorthand and 1950s office practice and office machines will always be relevant in Plath studies, as they were in her life. Plath's clerical and secretarial skills -- typing poetry manuscripts, keeping track of submissions, filing carbon copies, answering editors' letters -- were essential to Plath's career and her husband's. My paper was published in Plath Profiles, vol. 11, 2019.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The First-Ever Aurelia Panel

The Sylvia Plath Conference at Ulster University hosted an unprecedented "Aurelia panel," titled "'Old Barnacled Umbilicus': Considering Aurelia Plath." I was delighted to have as co-panelists Dr. Adrianne Kalfopoulou of The American College of Greece, and Dr. Janet Badia, of Indiana University-Purdue University. "Panel on Aurelia is on fire!" said a tweet from our audience as we knocked it out of the park. Some other comments: "Jaw hit the floor." "Mic drop."

Cathleen Allyn Conway chaired a thrilling 90 minutes that acknowledged that Sylvia Plath had a mother, or shall we say a parent, who introduced her to poetry and helped shape her voice, as Dr. Kalfopoulou described in her paper, "Witches in the Gingerbread: The Making of the Plathian Voice." After Dr. Badia presented "'There is nothing between us': Mother-Daughter Intimacy in the Plath Archive," there can be no question Aurelia was Plath's first and most important poetry critic. During her formation and as an adult, Plath sent her mother sheaves of poems, requesting feedback.

I'm not saying Plath loved or used all her mother offered. We don't know, right now, what her mother offered. Plath burned her mother's letters. Like any daughter Plath worked against her mother's influence as much as with it. But you can't do either without first having a mother who has influence.

Bolstered by the new Volume One of Plath's complete letters, most of them to Aurelia and her family, the Aurelia panel provided Plath biographical scholarship with much-needed corrective lenses. We have liked to believe with the Romantics that artists create themselves and their work independent of their contexts, cultures and families. But those provide the support and friction that help a born artist become a consummate and pathbreaking artist.