Changes and Closing: Hampshire Bookshop, part four

Historian Barbara A. Brannon notes a change in the working relationship between Hampshire Bookshop founders Marion Dodd and Mary Byers Smith that coincided with the arrival at Smith College in 1922 of Esther Cloudman Dunn, a professor of English. In 1925, Dunn became Dodd’s housemate. They were partners for the rest of their lives. The two rented joined apartments at 76 Crescent Street which allowed them each to have office space. The offices had custom bookshelves made by Marion. Since 1921, Dodd had been hosting summer reunion picnics at her restored farmhouse in Maine for invited Smith alumnae. Now Dunn and what Dodd called their “literary” cat joined her for summers there.

In 1927, Mary Byers Smith resigned from the presidency of the bookshop. Though she remained on the board, she withdrew from direct involvement with the business. Smith never married, but had family obligations, including an aging mother, in Andover. After she moved back there, she remained in touch with college friends, chief among them Grace Hazard Conkling, English professor, poet, and divorcee. She also continued to be active in Smith College affairs, particularly in the Friends of the Smith College Library.

Frequently in town for business, Smith often stayed with Margaret Storrs Grierson, a professor of English and college archivist at Smith. Grierson eventually met a life companion, Professor of French Marine Leland. They met among Esther Dunn’s close circle of women friends, and lived in a house near Dunn and Dodd’s final home on Massasoit St.

At home in Andover, Mary Byers Smith had a historic building renovated as her own home near the one she was raised in, employing a woman architect. She did volunteer social work at Tewksbury State Hospital, served the Andover community on the school and library boards in the local library. In later life, she returned to college at Radcliffe and bought a home in Boston, where she expanded her volunteer work and friendships with women in professions, particularly social work. After Smith’s death in 1983, her personal letters were destroyed at her request.

In 1931, the HBS opened a branch on Green St. to accommodate students more readily as the campus grew westward down Elm Street. Other notable expansions included the production of bookfairs, and a traveling bookshop (station wagon) that traveled to prep school campuses and other venues to sell books.

As she neared retirement age, Marion Dodd began training a successor. Cynthia S. Walsh (Smith ’39) joined the HBS board of directors in 1943, then was hired as assistant manager in 1947. Like Dodd, she was unmarried and shared her home with another woman, Frances Mayhew, in a discrete lesbian relationship. Dodd retired in 1951. She hired Walsh as manager, but stayed on as chair of the board until 1957.

Marion Dodd died in 1961, leaving her estate to Dunn, who in turn, after her death in 1977, donated a portrait of Marion to be hung in Wright Hall in a room bearing Dodd and Dunn’s names. Dodd did not live to see the demise of her beloved enterprise. After fourteen years as manager, in 1965, Walsh was forced by personal circumstances to resign. Within a year, the Hampshire Bookshop was sold. In 1966, Robert T. Hale bought it, only to resell it in 1969 to Ralph and Oudi Intorcio, who had no bookselling experience. The business had declined so substantially that it soon was auctioned for debt. Of note is the fact that Ralph later found fame in Northampton with the Young at Heart Chorus.

While I had visited HBS shortly before it closed its doors I had forgotten about this remarkable enterprise until reminded by Northampton resident and historian Jan Whitaker. And it seems particularly poignant that in 1979 when the Valley’s first feminist bookstore Womonfyre opened on Masonic Street none of us knew that the grandmother of all women’s bookstores had existed, gloriously, a few short blocks away. I like to think that the ghosts of the remarkable HBS proprietors still linger, even unrecognized, to bless ventures by women in Northampton that inform, inspire and connect us.

__Brannon, Barbara A. “No Frigate Like a Book”: The Hampshire Bookshop, 1916-1971. Unpublished Doctoral dissertation. University of South Carolina, 1998. Dr. Brannon has a new webpage

Coming Next: Scraps of the Past: Just before the Revolution

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6 thoughts on “Changes and Closing: Hampshire Bookshop, part four

  1. Ralph Intorcio was my godfather and I lived briefly in his house. The house was littered with remnants of his time owning The Hampshire Bookshop from paperweights, letterhead and envelopes. My memories of Ralph speaking about the bookshop was that he was ill prepared for the book industry, often overbuying stock and taking a loss.

    Another odd caveat was one of my relatives worked at the bookshop in the 30’s and 40s. He was a bachelor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bambi. What was your relative’s name? I had wondered about the few men that worked there, packing and shipping book orders I believe, but saw nothing on their marital status. Some new documents have shown up since Barbara wrote her dissertation that expand the known employees list. Would be great to find a photo of him to include as well.


  2. I own the Maine farmhouse owned by Marion Dodd , Mary Byer Smith, and Esther c Dunn. The deeds made no sense until now. The estate I bought it from purchased it in 1961 from Esther Dunn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh John that is wonderful to hear! Might you like to share a photo of the house? I have often wondered where they spent summers, the town? and if they had a Maine circle of friends as well as Smith visitors. Knowing the location would help me ask.


  4. The house is in Northport between Camden and Belfast Maine .overlooking Penobscot Bay. I’m still researching the Smith connection. Once we retire we will complete the restoration/ modernization .The small area we are in has a high percentage of gay couples both retired and working .


    1. Thank you John!! I wonder if that area of Maine has been gay attractive for a long time? in one of the posts about tea house, “T is for…” , the Northampton owner, maybe following Dodd and Smith faculty friends, opened a seasonal tea room in Maine. Not sure where. There is a film preservation non-profit in Maine that has found old films of lesbians there, the Lesbian Home movie Project.


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