Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Aurelia Schober in the News, 1926-1932

During her college years in the 1920s, The Boston Herald daily newspaper, relying on press releases from the student Press Club at Boston University's College of Practical Arts and Letters, mentioned Aurelia Schober more often than one might imagine. It was not unusual for students to have so many extracurricular interests. The surprise is that Aurelia had such a high profile.

1926, May 25, p. 31: "B.U. Writers' Club Elects Officers" -- Aurelia Schober, elected Writers' Club vice-president, was also "president of the college German Club, and is well known for her ability in dramatic work."

1927, February 3, p. 28: "B.U. German Club to Present Play" -- "Miss Aurelia Schober of Winthrop has been assigned the leading part of Strubel in Sudermann's play "Die Ferne Prinzessin," to be produced by the German Club of the Boston University College of Practical Arts and letters Friday night, in place of Miss Emmi Koster of Hamburg, Ger., who is ill." [In this one-act comedy, "Strubel," a male poet, declares his hopeless love for a princess to a male who is actually the princess in disguise.]

1927, May 23, p. 4: "Who's Who in B.U. Yearbook" -- Under "Senior Honors" bestowed by peers at the College of Practical Arts and Letters, Aurelia Schober ranked third in the category "Busiest," second in the category "Most Studious," and first in the category "Class Dictionary."

1928, May 25, p. 3: "Miss Schober to give B.U. Class Valedictory" -- ["Class" means College of Practical Arts and Letters, class of 1928.] Besides being valedictorian, Miss Schober "was editor-in-chief of the junior yearbook, and has served as president of the German Club, and as a member of the student government board, the English Club, the Writers' Club, and Sigma." [Sigma was a scholastic society for seniors; according to the College's yearbook for 1929, page 44, Aurelia had been elected to that society as a junior, an honor granted to one student per year. Graduation day was June 6.]

1932, September 13, p. 13: "B.U. Alumni Directors Meet This Evening" -- "Mrs. Aurelia S. Plath, '28, Jamaica Plain" is listed as one of two women representing College of Practical Arts and Letters alumni. Mrs. Plath was then pregnant with Sylvia, to be born on October 27.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Aurelia Plath's First Love

Austrian civil engineer Dr. Karl von Terzaghi was invited to the U.S. in 1925 to teach and establish a program at M.I.T. and, incidentally, to explain why new M.I.T. buildings on the Charles River banks had been sinking an inch per year. Terzaghi (1883-1963) founded two new sciences: soil mechanics (the physics and hydraulics of soils; he proved that soil types, like any other building materials, had principles) and foundational engineering, now called geotechnology. Terzaghi hired "Miss A. Schober" as his secretary in 1926 -- not 1927, as Aurelia has it in her introduction to Letters Home. That's where Aurelia, who never gave his name, wrote about:

". . .[w]orking at the close of my junior year (1927) for a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had a handwritten manuscript in German dealing with new principles of soil mechanics. As he had a publication deadline to meet, I usually worked into the early evening, so we often had dinner together before I left Boston for home. It was during these meals that I listened, fascinated, to his accounts of travel and colorful adventures, fully realizing that I was in the presence of a true genius in both the arts and sciences. I came away with my notebook filled with reading lists. . ." (6)

She wrote that this self-education would one day benefit her children, but that is not the whole story. The friendship ripened into love.

For two years they enjoyed the theater, museums, hikes, camping, gardens, evenings with Karl's faculty friends, dining and dancing, and conversation most of all. The above photo was taken in 1926, when Karl, 43 and divorced, Boston's most eligible bachelor, chose Aurelia Schober, 20, moved by her innocence, intelligence, and sensitivity. He took her to her junior prom at the Kenmore Hotel on May 13, 1927 and then at 4:00 a.m. in Winthrop ate the post-prom breakfast Aurelia's mother had left prepared for them with instructions, Austrian style. Terzaghi wrote about it in his diary. His 82 volumes of diaries are in Oslo. I learned where his diaries were by reading his biography. ("Aurelia's boyfriend has a biography?")
Terzaghi centennial stamp, Austria, 1983

Shorthand transcription unlocked and confirmed his identity; he's the "Karl" in young Aurelia's lovelorn Gregg shorthand annotations in her copy of poet Sara Teasdale's Dark of the Moon. That book is in Sylvia Plath's personal library at the Lilly Library in Bloomington. Find the transcriptions here.

In 1928 Terzaghi left the U.S. for a prestigious engineering professorship in Vienna. Ten years later when the Nazis expelled his Jewish students and pressured him to work on the German Autobahn he returned to Boston, taught at Harvard and consulted worldwide. His legacy includes the Chicago subway system and the Aswan Dam, plus immortal equations and elegant problem-solving designs. In 1975 Bostonians in certain circles, or engineers, or Aurelia's college friends, could have guessed whom Aurelia was describing in Letters Home -- it's obvious, now that we know.

Their story is heartbreaking. For more of it, click here. Sylvia, taking her cue from her mother, married her own foreign-born male genius, Ted Hughes.

References: Karl Terzaghi: The Engineer as Artist (Goodman, 1998); Letters Home 1950-1963 (Plath, 1975); Norwegian Geotechnical Institute Terzaghi Library; Geoengineer.org; Wikipedia: Karl von Terzaghi (mentions Aurelia Schober, future mother of Sylvia Plath); Wikipedia: Ruth Terzaghi; Geotechnical Hall of Fame; American Society of Civil Engineers

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Aurelia Plath's Shorthand Transcriptions Have a Home

Aurelia Plath's shorthand annotations on the Lilly Library materials, cataloged and transcribed, are now available to all on the open-scholarship platform at Marquette University (my alma mater). The Excel files and short "keys" to each (PDFs) can be accessed and downloaded here. Take your time; there's a lot.

Marquette University Libraries digital librarian Heather James, herself a poet and Plath fan, welcomed the Aurelia Plath materials and skillfully uploaded the files. You must agree the Excel files are handsome and easy to use. Please credit Catherine Rankovic when referencing my work in your work. The Estate of Aurelia S. Plath granted me permission to release these transcriptions for scholarly purposes. Contact me at aureliascholar [at] gmail.com with questions re the shorthand.

Peter K. Steinberg kindly published a notice on his SylviaPlath.info blog that this project was ready.
I'm grateful that this project chose me. Currently I'm creating a chronology of Aurelia's life, gathering biographical information from every available source. It bears saying (because I've never heard it said) that Aurelia is an important key to Sylvia.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

One of Aurelia's Dreams

Sylvia Plath’s letter to Aurelia Plath of 11 June 1960 said that Ted Hughes had written a second play better than his first. On the envelope that contained Sylvia's letter of 24 June 1960, Aurelia penned a note, its latter part in shorthand:

[longhand:] Write about my dream of Ted’s [shorthand:] writing a play – a comedy about Khrushchev & it being played everywhere in the world and everyone laughing at it!

Sylvia's July 9, 1960 letter to Aurelia said, "So you are prophetic!" Sylvia reported to Aurelia that Ted had indeed written a play about a military captain, just accepted for broadcast by the BBC.

Friday, February 2, 2018

While Sylvia Went Missing, 1953

In the Daily Boston Globe newspapers of August 25 and 26, 1953, the search that used Boy Scouts, police and dogs to try to locate the "beautiful Smith girl missing at Wellesley" was front-page news. Peter K. Steinberg's research showed that news of Sylvia Plath's disappearance ran in newspapers all over the United States, but the source story sent over the national wire came from the Globe, the Plaths' hometown paper, and its reportage was from Wellesley. The Globe interviewed and quoted Plath's mother, Mrs. Aurelia Plath, on August 26, 1953:

"She [Sylvia] recently felt she was unworthy of the confidence held for her by the people she knew," Mrs. Plath said. "For some time she has been able to write neither fiction, or her more recent love, poetry. 

"Instead of regarding this as just an arid period that every writer faces at times, she believed something had happened to her mind, that it was unable to produce creatively anymore.

"Although her doctor assured us this was simply due to nervous exhaustion, Sylvia was constantly seeking for ways in which to blame herself for the failure and became increasingly despondent." 

This is the most complete version of this quotation. Other papers trimmed or summarized this quotation ("Mrs. Plath said her daughter had been depressed") -- because newspaper stories must fit their pages and fit among other stories.

Of particular interest is that the quotation calls poetry Plath's "more recent love."

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 Newspapers.com. 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 Newspapers.com:

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.