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

Hampshire Bookshop 1916-1971: Beginnings

Marion Dodd, a man’s shirt and tie showing under her overcoat, holds a large basket of gifts that Grace Coolidge, the former President’s wife, hands out to departing draftees at the Northampton train station sometime during World War II. This Hampshire Gazette photo highlights the public prominence of the woman long at the heart of the Hampshire Bookshop (HBS). “Her masculine style of dress and demeanor – tailored suit, four-in-hand tie, closely cropped hair, cigarette smoking, direct speech – are still remembered by those who knew her,” writes Barbara A. Brannon in her dissertation on the Hampshire Bookshop. “Dodd is also most frequently noted for her avid hobbies of woodworking, sailing, and motoring, and her longtime ‘Boston marriage’ with Smith Professor Esther Cloudman Dunn.”

While Brannon’s dissertation, “No Frigate Like a Book,” largely focuses on the Hampshire Bookshop’s pioneering endeavors and influence in the profession of bookselling on a national level, she has uncovered enough detail on the HBS to delineate a “homosocial network” (my emphasis) of former Smith classmates, other alumnae, faculty, and staff that the bookshop drew upon, strengthened and expanded as it became an important center not only of several generations at Smith, but also of literary activity in the region over its fifty-five year history. Brannon’s scholarly work is the source of much of the information that follows.

At least half of the bookshop’s staff and most of the board of directors had some association with Smith. Most were women. With this essential support, the Hampshire Bookshop boldly pushed the limits of what a bookstore could be. Beyond being one of the first woman-owned and managed bookstores in the country, HBS was successful at much more than selling books. The HBS also maintained a student cooperative that returned profit to members, published more than forty books and lecture pamphlets under its own imprint, and brought more than a hundred authors of national and international repute to Northampton to present readings and lectures.

Marion E. Dodd (Smith ’06) and Mary Byers Smith (Smith ’08) incorporated the bookshop in 1916 with initial support from two other Smith alumnae, Emma P. Hirth (Smith ’05) and Edith E. Rand (Smith ’99), who lived together in New York City. The four of them became the first Board of Directors and with 82 other stock holders gathered an initial $25,000 in capital. They leased space at 41 Elm St. in a house purchased by Rand as the agent for the Smith Alumnae Association (now Duckett House). The Hampshire Book Shop, as it was initially named, opened for business in three first floor rooms staffed by Dodd and Louise Bird (Smith ’16).

In its first two months, the student cooperative enrolled more than 1250 members, and within a year HBS had outgrown the space. In 1917, they rented space at 192 Main Street in Shop Row. The business expanded so rapidly that within five years they ventured to raise another $25,000 in capital through the sale of stock and purchased their own building, moving to 8 Crafts Avenue in 1923.

The HBS choose as its motto a poem by Emily Dickinson that begins, “There is no frigate like a book.” The bookshop especially promoted poetry. Poet Robert Frost was an appreciative guest speaker at its Crafts Avenue housewarming, as well at later celebrations,. The new store, which was to house the main business for the rest of its life, featured woodworking by Dodd as well as a second floor lecture and exhibit space that seated 125.


hampshire bookshop
Hampshire Bookshop, 8 Crafts Avenue , the Metcalf building (Historic Northampton)

__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.
_____________________ “The Pioneering Journey of the Hampshire Bookshop: the First Ten Years.” In Paradise Printed and Bound: Book Arts In Northampton & Beyond. City of Northampton. 2004. A more accessible (try local library or WMRLS) and briefer summary that includes new financial detail as well as photos.
__”Hampshire Bookshop Incorporated at Boston.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 29 Apr 1916.
__Smith, Mary Byers. “New Book Store In Elm Street House.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 12 Apr 1916.
__”The Hampshire Book Shop.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 2 Oct 1916.
__”An Hour In The Hampshire Book Shop.” Daily Hampshire Gazette, 6 Dec 1916.

Looking For: Photos of Dodd, Smith and others.
Coming Next: Hampshire Bookshop Founders Marion E. Dodd and Mary Byers Smith.