Monday, April 24, 2023

Did Sylvia Plath Look Like Her Mother? You Decide

Only once have I heard "She looks like Aurelia," and the speaker sounded horrified. Never have I read or heard any more about the mother-daughter resemblance.

Aurelia was 19 in the photo above, and Sylvia Plath was 20. Sylvia hated the above image of herself, which she scissored from its context, but 1) it is not as horrid as she said and 2) it was the only comparable photo, showing Sylvia close in age, facing the camera, and unsmiling. In Aurelia's time there was no cultural mandate to smile for every photo.

Both women were four or five inches taller than average, with sturdy frames. They wore each other's clothes.

Looking Austrian and Polish as all getout.
So what do you say, did Sylvia look like her mother? In photos taken later, Sylvia's face a bit lived-in, I think so, except Sylvia had that "lemony" look indicating Eastern European blood: her father's. Worshipful authors tend to cleanse Sylvia of any but her father's German heritage (they don't like to say "Prussian" because they aren't sure what it is) and favor photos of her doing very white-American ritual activities: bridesmaid; tanning; Yellowstone; aboard a luxury liner. Bitter Fame, of course, tried to show Sylvia as unappealing.

Yes, Plath fans play politics with images. I am doing it by showing young Aurelia and young Sylvia side by side. Have you ever seen them this way? Those with stock in Sylvia Plath have created or emphasized distance between them -- as if the apple fell so far from the tree that it was the tree's fault, or the apple created itself. Mother and daughter were close. Both women said they were.

Happy birthday, Aurelia (April 26). On this page you are reunited with your girl.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Another Suicide in Sylvia Plath's Family

Sylvia's maternal grandmother, "Grammy" Greenwood Schober (b. 1887) had six siblings. All left Vienna, Austria, for the United States. Grammy's brothers Joseph Greenwood (b. 1876) and Otto Greenwood (b. 1877) lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and worked as waiters in hotels. In 1951 Otto Greenwood hanged himself. He was 74, married, and 15 years retired from his waiter job. The Missouri death certificate says "Suffocation by hanging in his house Dec. 28 1951 about 12 noon."

Otto Greenwood was Aurelia Plath's uncle and Sylvia Plath's great-uncle. There is no reference to him or his death in any known Plath documents. He had a wife, Angela, and two grown children. Like Aurelia Plath's waiter father Frank Schober, Otto Greenwood belonged to the International Geneva Association for hospitality workers. [1] Greenwood was cremated on Dec. 31, 1951.

The Gregg shorthand character preceding the coded designation "974X" under "How did injury occur?" says "respiration."

[1] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 30 December 1951, p. 13.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Business Class: Aurelia's Final Years at Boston University

Boston University yearbook, 1967

Aurelia Plath’s teaching job at Boston University’s College of Business Administration began dissolving in 1959 when a new dean dismissed all secretarial-program faculty except for five aging tenured females. Aurelia was 52.

With 13 years left before BU retired her, Aurelia prepared to teach in a different department, taking a night course in German and then courses in teaching remedial reading. [1] She could have quit BU for a medical-secretarial job, her field of expertise, but even in her teens Aurelia wanted a teaching career, ideally in languages and literature. Her daughter Sylvia wrote that Aurelia secretly hated teaching typing and shorthand, yet 1) Aurelia taught more advanced courses than those, and 2) regardless of subject, Aurelia liked educating and advising young people. It was Sylvia who had secretly hated teaching.


Shocked in September 1962 by the new College of Business course catalog with none of her courses in it, Aurelia was not sure she was still employed. Sylvia in England was “appalled to hear your department is closing.” Secretarial studies as a college major was everywhere dying on the vine. Yet however marginalized, BU’s secretarial major persisted and so did Aurelia’s job. She was lucky; she needed the money a tenured associate professor could make. During 1962 she bought Sylvia a Bendix and lent her 500 English pounds to pay off Sylvia's house in Devon and paid her own way there and back; and Aurelia then offered a very troubled Sylvia, deserted by her husband, $50 a month.


BU’s yearbook for 1967 pictures 232 College of Business Administration graduates, 53 of them female. Of these, ten had secretarial degrees: nine “executive secretarial,” and a lone “medical secretarial.” One would think Aurelia sat around with no students. Yet 22 more of the 53 graduating females were Business Education majors. Taught secretarial and business skills and communications, they were also educated to teach those subjects in high schools or vocational programs where typing and shorthand were flourishing.


Business Education graduates thus bypassed secretarial jobs for teaching careers better respected and paid. Essentially they studied to become new Aurelias. Freshmen from Aurelia’s 1963-64 shorthand courses were in 1967 taking her course, limited to Bus Ed seniors, in how to teach shorthand. BU’s 1967 yearbook lists seven College of Business fields of concentration. Secretarial and Business Education were not among them. The end had come: the last secretarial students enrolled in 1968, and Bus Ed moved to the School of Education. [2]


Entitled to a leave of absence, Aurelia took it in fall 1970, six months before she turned 65, when BU would retire her. During her leave Aurelia quietly worked at her new job: teaching medical-secretarial at a community college eager to have her teach until she was 70.

[1] ASP to Miriam Baggett, 6 February 1960; Sylvia Plath to ASP, 17 March 1960.

[2] Thus the College of Business Administration (later, School of Business; later, School of Management) was purged of female faculty, as the 1973-74 Bulletin shows, and of a large percentage of its female students. For a time.