The Founders: Hampshire Bookshop, part two

“The Hampshire Bookshop (1916-1971) existed within, and helped create, a culture amenable to the bluestocking women who managed, staffed, and patronized it,” concludes the HBS’s historian Barbara Brannon. “This culture extended to the ease with which women, whether married or single could fit into all aspects of community life and manage their own affairs. Then as today, Northampton represented a welcoming environment for independent women and for lesbian couples (though it is doubtful that most of the women of Marion Dodd’s generation who shared their lives with longtime companions would have applied the term to themselves). The homosocial network, of which the Hampshire Bookshop was a central part, encouraged the freedom of women through mutual support.”

hampshire bookshop
The Hampshire Bookshop, 8 Crafts Avenue (Historic Northampton)

The two Smith College alumnae most responsible for the birth and initial health of the Bookshop, Marion E. Dodd and Mary Byers Smith, returned to Northampton when they were in their thirties to begin the creative business venture. Dodd rented an apartment in town and Smith commuted from her family home in Andover. Though a biography of the HBS’s personnel wasn’t the purpose of Brannon’s dissertation she notes that a history of HBS is “inseparable from the personalities of those who made it” and offers much information not available elsewhere.

Marion Dodd, from a NYC family in the booktrade, was the Hampshire Bookshop’s driving force throughout most of its existence, actively managing the HBS from its 1916 beginning until her retirement in 1951. Dodd also become one of the first (and most influential) female members and officers in the American Booksellers Association. She mentored many HBS staff who went on to their own careers in the trade.

Brannon calls Dodd “in many ways a pioneering woman in the male-dominated world of books. She envisioned herself as following in the footsteps of the famous bookmen in her family, assuming her place in a patriarchal order. In the ‘gentlemanly’ field of bookselling ‘Miss Dodd’ conducted business in a thoroughly practical manner no different from that customary among male colleagues. In writing an anonymous column in the HBS newsletter The Book Scorpion Dodd used a masculine alter ego “the Scorp’. In her personal life, too, Dodd appropriated characteristics traditionally associated with men.”

Allison Lockwood reveals a little more of Marion Dodd’s character in her Northampton World War II history, Touched with Fire. In 1944 some Hatfield citizens objected to the introduction of workers from Jamaica to alleviate the agricultural labor shortage. This same year, Roy Wilkins, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appeared at a forum sponsored by the Inter-race Commission of Smith College, where his topic was “Racial Tension and the War.”

In March of that year the Daily Hampshire Gazette noted: “Book Banned In Some Cities Now Is On Sale Here.” The flap was over Strange Fruit, a favorably reviewed novel which dealt with interracial love and the institution of lynching. The book was stocked at the Hampshire Bookshop and remained for sale there even when the business was threatened with possible legal action. In a letter to the Gazette Dodd responded, “We believe that mature buyers of books are entitled to use their own judgment as to what they wish to read. Censorship in this state has a checkered career, and this bookshop was influential…years ago in getting the clause in the Massachusetts law changed… Strange Fruit deals constructively with one of the most pressing problems at the present moment.” Unsurprisingly, to me,  she was a lifelong member of The Society of Friends Mt. Toby Meeting House, which occasionally held meetings for worship in the bookstore.

“Though the Bookshop certainly in many senses empowered women,” Brannon concluded that “it was never an overtly ‘feminist’ enterprise in the modern sense of the word nor in terms of the contemporary struggle for women’s rights… Instead its managers seem to have simply claimed from the outset an equal footing with men, in commerce, society, and politics.

Co-founder Mary Byers Smith was the daughter of Andover industrialists and philanthropists; she provided major financial backing for the Bookshop from a personal inheritance. She was also a poet who contributed a good deal to the literary character of the HBS. She wrote many essays for The Scorpion as well as much of the store’s publicity and catalog copy.

As president of the corporation for over a decade, Smith helped shape its goals and policies. Though she claimed she was never deeply involved in the Suffrage Movement, she marched in the 1916 Suffrage parade in Northampton and her progressive thinking is certainly reflected in some of bookstore’s unusual goals. These included “proving the aptitude of women for the book business; demonstrating that a college bookstore could sell more than textbooks, stationary and doughnuts; and making contacts between authors and their public.”

More on these women and others to come. I apologize for the lateness of this post. I had fully intended to get it out there shortly after HBS part one but it needed extensive editing and I was adjusting to the gardening season starting and, with it, my daytime job.

__Brannon, Barbara A. “No Frigate Like a Book”: The Hampshire Bookshop, 1916-1971. Doctoral dissertation. University of South Carolina, 1998. Unless noted most of the information in this series of articles on HBS is drawn from this dissertation. Copies of it are available at Smith College and UMass/Amherst libraries. Brannon is in the midst of rebuilding her web page, I hope soon to be able to provide a link.  here it is
__Lockwood, Allison M. Touched With Fire: An American Community in World War II. Northampton MA. Daily Hampshire Gazette, 1993. Source of the DHG photo identified in part one and the information on Dodd, censorship and racism c. 1944.
__”Robert Frost Is Guest At Bookshop’s Party.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 17 Apr 1936.
Looking For: Photos of Dodd, Smith, Dunn and other HBS notables.
Coming next: The “unusual” guests: HBS part three

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