Thursday, September 10, 2020

Otto Plath and Lydia Bartz Plath, Voter Registration Rolls, 1914

Let's retire the fiction that Otto Plath and first wife Lydia Clara Bartz Plath, married in Washington State in August 1912, were together for three weeks only, because records continue to show it was closer to three years. In 1914 Otto was teaching in Berkeley, California, living with Lydia, and both were registered to vote -- as Progressives. Here's their voter-registration page. [Click the image to enlarge.]

Wait, but it's 1914, so women in the U.S. can't vote!?! In California they could and did.

Otto and Lydia are still at that address in 1915 as she enrolled in UC-Berkeley's summer school.

Source: California State Library; Sacramento, California; Great Register of Voters, 1900-1968.

Aurelia in Drag

"When students of the Boston College of Practical Arts and Letters gave a play recently, Miss Aurelia Schober was the leading man," says the caption.

Discovered in the obscure Eustis [FL, near Orlando] Daily Lake Region newspaper, March 4, 1926, page 8: a unique photo of college girl Aurelia Schober in faraway Boston, Massachusetts, outfitted as a man for her role in her college's German Club play. At the all-female Boston University College of Practical Arts and Letters (CPAL) German-Club theatricals, Aurelia was often (always?) cast as a man, being tall and talented. [See an earlier, related post noting her acting.]

The image must have been quite striking for an editor in Eustis, population then 2800, to clip from its original background and print.

Boston University's College of Arts and Letters' well-staffed and industrious Press Club regularly sent press releases with college news to numerous papers. Occasionally the Club's copy or photos were published in the Boston Herald, Boston Traveler, Boston Globe, Boston Evening Transcript. Photos were expensive to print and send, so how did this get to Florida? We do know that CPAL enrolled at least one student from Florida.

Aurelia's stage career extended beyond her college graduation in 1928 to a role (as a female) at Brookline High School in 1930, a performance Aurelia remembered impressed a theatrical agent in the audience.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Two Aurelias in San Remo, Italy

Aurelia Frances Schober was born in Boston on April 26, 1906 to Aurelia and Francis Schober, both natives of Austria. On February 8, 1909 in Boston, Francis Schober completed his U.S. Petition for Naturalization form: citizenship papers found copied in the Plath archives. Francis filled in its blanks:

My wife’s name is Aurelia. She was born in Vienna, Austria, and now resides at San Remo, Italy. I have one child, and the name, date and place of birth, and place of residence of said children is as follows: Aurelia F., April 26, 1906  Boston Mass.  San Remo, Italy


What? [Click the image to enlarge.] In February 1909 Aurelia F. Schober is not yet three years old, but away “residing” with her mother on the Italian Riviera? This is never mentioned again in any archives.


Located between Genoa and Monte Carlo, San Remo was and still is a residence and retreat for Europe’s wealthy and cultured. Empress Maria Alexandrovna after a visit in 1874 donated the now famous San Remo seaside promenade. Alfred Nobel’s former home there is a museum now. 


Francis Schober wrote “San Remo” on this form twice and clearly, so it is unlikely to be an error. 

A ship’s manifest for the Kaiser Wilhelm II, sailing from Bremen on May 18, 1909 and docking at Ellis Island May 26, 1909 yielded, on Lines 13 and 14, two Aurelia Schobers, the younger represented by ditto marks and the designation “ch.” For the adult Aurelia, the clerk scrawled: “U.S.A. Citizen” and “husb U.S.C [citizen].” [1] (By default, wives then took their husband’s nationality.) Aurelia Senior had left the U.S. an alien but returned a citizen, or a soon-to-be one. Francis's full citizenship was granted by the court on July 10, 1909. A handwritten note on Francis's Oath of Allegiance says as of July 6 his new address is 2049 Columbus Avenue, Boston.


So mother and daughter Schober were in May 1909 returning from at least four months overseas. If too young to recall that trip, did Aurelia Plath never hear her parents reminisce? Because Francis had a San Remo link too.


According to the ship's manifest, when Francis (as “Francois”) Schober left Europe for the U.S. in 1902, boarding the ship Vancouver in Naples [his Petition for Naturalization, dated 1909, says "Genoa"] he listed his last job as “butler” in San Remo. [2] Why in 1909 were his wife, age 21, and small daughter “residing” there? If vacationing, wouldn't their residence be Boston? Was Aurelia Senior “wintering” with relatives she had last seen in Vienna in 1904, bringing her toddler namesake? Did she find a job there? (San Remo's posh Casino Municipale opened in 1905.) Had Francis proudly sent his wife and daughter on a fine vacation? Perhaps they were not in San Remo but somewhere else. A mystery half-solved. 


[1] Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 14; Page Number: 28. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 (database on-line). Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

[2] The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943; NAI Number: 4319742; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: T843; NARA Roll Number: 052. [Francois Schober is on line 9.]

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sylvia Plath's Only Gregg Shorthand, Transcribed

Sylvia Plath wrote some Gregg shorthand after all! Her July 5, 1945 letter to Aurelia Plath, written from Camp Helen Storrow, includes three shorthand characters indicated but not transcribed in the Letters vol.1. Curious, I had a look at the original letter in the Lilly Library's Plath mss. II.

Twelve-year-old Sylvia had written to her mother, “Can you tell me what-these signs in shorthand mean?” and drew three shorthand characters. The first two are linked by “and,” and the final character is in parentheses, followed by a period. Why these shorthand characters and not others? Sylvia was asking what they said, so did not know. But she copied them from a grid of 154 Gregg shorthand characters pre-printed on the back cover of the steno notebook she was using as her 1945 summer camp diary.

Sylvia, using her thick black ink, made four checkmarks on this grid. They mark two pairs of symbols that look near-identical. Sylvia chose one of each pair to copy into her letter. The third symbol Sylvia asked about, the one in parentheses, is the same as the second. The first character means both “far” and “favor.” Which of those two would depend on their context. Sylvia's second shorthand character says “got.” The third says “got” in parentheses. So go fill in the blanks in your copy of Letters vol. 1, page 24.

Ergo: “Can you tell me what these signs in shorthand mean? Far/favor and got (got)."
The other two checkmarked characters in the grid that look so similar:

In Aurelia’s lighter ink and elegant hand, on this notebook’s back cover, up top, two Gregg shorthand characters say “medical texts.” Aurelia had been hired in 1942 to teach a Medical Secretarial Procedures course at Boston University’s College of Practical Arts and Letters (Letters Home, 28-29).

These characters are from the Anniversary Edition of Gregg, taught from 1930 to 1949. I await permission to show on this blog a photo of the notebook's back cover.

Bless us, now we know three more words Sylvia wrote.

Images of the shorthand are from The diary’s official location at the Lilly: Plath mss. II, Series: Diaries and Calendars 1944-1957, Box 7, Folder 2, “Daily Journal at Camp Helen Storrow, July 1-14, 1945."

Photos from Aurelia's College Yearbook

A reader kindly sent me photos of Aurelia Schober from Aurelia's college yearbook, the one Aurelia edited, the 1928 volume of Sivad. That's "Davis" spelled backwards; T. Lawrence Davis  founded the school as Boston University's College of Secretarial Science in 1919, and was to be its only dean. The year Aurelia enrolled, 1924, the College's name had been changed to the College of Practical Arts and Letters (CPAL). Aurelia graduated with the degree Bachelor of Secretarial Sciences (B.S.S.), which CPAL was the first to grant.

Davis ensured that CPAL's students, all females, were educated not only in secretarial skills but in the arts and letters. There were even dancing lessons for students deemed in need of them. Aurelia's secretarial science degree was a liability for a woman who wanted a job teaching languages and literature. A year after graduation Aurelia set about to "rectify" (her word) [1] her B.S.S. degree by starting Boston University graduate school, earning in 1930 a master's degree in English and German.

Aurelia was editor-in-chief of her senior yearbook. In the above staff photograph she sits front and center. She is markedly taller and longer-limbed than her schoolmates. One of Sylvia's boyfriends later called Aurelia "statuesque."

Here is Aurelia's college graduation photo, taken in profile, as was Sylvia Plath's.

Active in the CPAL German Club, Aurelia on two documented occasions acted as the male lead in the club's German-language plays. She resigned the German Club presidency when appointed to head Sivad. The "class note" alongside Aurelia's graduation photo reads:

"The German Club nearly lost its sensational 'young man' when Sivad won an efficient Editor-in-Chief, but Aurelia played both roles admirably. The staff will never forget those board meetings, those would-be 'scoldings' and those cherished words of approval and praise."

History of Boston University's College of Practical Arts and Letters: (accessed 16 February 2020)

Dates of CPAL founding, renaming, absorption in 1955 into the College of Business Administration:

Many thanks to Sarah Manthe. The 1928 Sivad had been elusive while the volumes from adjacent years were not.

[1] XI. Aurelia Plath, Box 30, folder 67, Smith.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Smith College Shorthand Transcriptions Now Available

Transcribed into this downloadable Excel file (click the blue "Download" button when you get there) are Aurelia Plath's shorthand annotations on the Sylvia Plath papers in Smith College's Mortimer Rare Book Collection. Mrs. Plath donated her portion of this collection to Smith in December 1983. At that time Mrs. Plath was moving out of her house in Wellesley to an apartment in a brand-new retirement community called North Hill in Needham, Mass.

Compared with the wealth of shorthand annotations at the Lilly Library, those at Smith are few. I scoured the collection for shorthand and am pretty sure I captured what there is. Mrs. Plath wrote most of her annotations in longhand, but her most emphatic comments -- those she didn't want family members to read -- she wrote in shorthand. My favorite find: At the end of a typescript of the story "Among the Bumblebees," Aurelia wrote, "realistic."

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Otto Was a Rebound

Aurelia Schober was a Boston University undergraduate when in 1926 she started secretarial work for an M.I.T. guest professor 22 years her senior and a native of Austria. They fell in love, dated for two years, nearly married, and he -- Dr. Karl von Terzaghi -- wrote at length in his diaries about their relationship as it happened, leaving an unprecedented record of Aurelia's life before she became a Plath.

Karl was Aurelia's first love and he, M.I.T.'s engineering genius-in-residence, introduced Aurelia to his friends, took her to her junior prom, sat at her hospital bedside. They hiked, dined, camped, danced, went to museums and concerts. She was dazzled; his feelings confounded him. "What shall I do with my love for this child?" he asked his diary. He called her "Lilly," a nickname for an idealized German-speaking girl. A civil engineer in mid-career, Karl often traveled to consult at distant construction sites and, in summer 1928, just after Aurelia's college graduation, he spent four months in Central America working for the United Fruit Company. Aurelia, age 22, worked that summer at Camp Maqua in Maine, hating it and worrying that her 44-year-old Karl didn't need her anymore.

Karl returned to Boston in September 1928 to a stack of job offers. He took what he had planned, a professorship in Vienna, and would be moving to Europe in a year. Already in April he had confided to his diary that he would not ask Aurelia to marry him. In November 1928 the couple had the dreaded "talk" and broke up. Devastated, Aurelia cried and asked Karl, "What will become of me if you leave?" On their final date they saw the Chicago Opera Company's Carmen. He wrote about their evening, “It was like a farewell and symbolic. [Aurelia] does not want to be an 'episode' and I can offer no more. The dear little girl. She takes life so seriously.[Footnotes are the end of this post.]

Not three weeks later, on December 18, 1928, Karl met with and dined with a smart, independent female college student Aurelia's age: Radcliffe graduate student Ruth Doggett. Smitten -- the more so because Ruth was a geologist -- Karl fought for a year his impulse to propose, but finally proposed to Ruth from half a world away.

The word "rebound" meaning "post-relationship phase" has been around at least since 1818, so yes, in the 1920s it helped drive people's choices as it does today. After a breakup, sometimes long afterward, people resembling the lost one tend to catch our eye or attract us.

Boston Herald, April 1, 1930, p. 4

About the news clipping pictured above, from The Boston Herald, April 1, 1930: It says Miss Ruth Doggett at Cambridge City Hall was denied a license to marry her fiance Karl Terzaghi of Vienna because he lived overseas. A reporter noticed Karl's still-newsworthy name. 
Boston was Aurelia's hometown, the daily Herald had printed Aurelia's name frequently during her college years, and later printed her daughter Sylvia Plath's first published poem. So most likely at least one of Aurelia's classmates, friends, neighbors or family members, all of whom had known Karl Terzaghi as her beau, read the Herald and saw "Radcliffe Girl to Wed Viennese Professor" and told Aurelia, or Aurelia herself read that Karl was engaged. Maybe she already knew.

How Aurelia felt about this we do not know. The Herald story was no April Fool's joke: Karl and Ruth wed two months later. We do know that around April 1, 1930, Aurelia was completing her Boston University master's degree and bilingual thesis about Paracelsus as a literary figure, consulting with her German instructor Professor Otto Plath -- like Karl, a fine-looking, German-speaking, divorced European-born professor of science two decades older than she. On the semester's final day, Otto asked Aurelia for a date: a weekend with him and his professor friends who owned a farm. "I was ready for some fun," Aurelia recalled in Letters Home, so she agreed to go.

During the year-plus that she and Otto Plath dated, if Aurelia noticed any "red flags" she ignored them or married Otto in spite of them. They married on January 4, 1932, and were not happy.


Goodman, Richard E. Karl Terzaghi: The Engineer as Artist.  Reston, VA: ASCE Press, 1999, pp. 108-121.

Norwegian Geotechnical Institute (Oslo), Karl Terzaghi Library, Terzaghi Diary 26.1: entry 24 August 1926, "Miss A. Schober, unmarried, every evening until dinnertime and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the warmhearted, clever girl"; Diary 27.1: 13 May 1927, junior prom;  29 September 1927: "What should I do with my love for this child?"; 2 October 1927, "In the evening three hours in the Homeopathic Hospital at the bedside of my girl"; 4 December 1927, "The poor one still needs her crutches"; Diary 27.2: 6 April 1928, "Thought seriously about marriage. Settled for me"; 6 November 1928, "hated Maqua," "What will become of me if you leave?"; 3 December 1928, "I can offer no more"; 27 April 1929, "Back to 1928: Dec. 18. Phone call from Miss Doggett. . .Called in my office 5:00 p.m.  . . Dinner at University Club"

Plath, Aurelia S., ed. Letters Home by Sylvia Plath, Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 6-10.

Plath, Aurelia S., to Mary Ann Montgomery, 21 April 1980, re the hospitalization: Mrs. Plath wrote that she broke her ankle at age 10 and again at age 20. In October 1927 Mrs. Plath would have been 21.

"first published poem," "Poem" by Sylvia Plath, Boston Herald, August 10, 1941.

"Herald had printed Aurelia's name frequently," "Studying Aurelia Plath," blog post May 14, 2019.

"The word 'rebound'": "The heart was caught, Miss Edgeworth says, on the rebound" Letter to S.E. Williams, December 8, 1818, A.G.K. L'Estrange, ed. The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, Told by Herself in Her Letters to Her Friends, vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1876. Mitford used "rebound" in that sense in a novel she published in 1830 (OED).