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

Famous Guests: Hampshire Bookshop, part three

On the occasion of the Bookshop’s twentieth anniversary in 1936, the Daily Hampshire Gazette printed a historical summary written by co-founder and manager Marion Dodd. Included was a list of more than fifty poets, playwrights, critics, or academics whose presentations in Northampton were produced by HBS. Among the many literary luminaries such as William Butler Yeats, Archibald MacLeish and Robert Frost who appeared as Hampshire Bookshop guest lecturers are some authors of particular interest to this blog.

Amy Lowell sketch (Pinterest)
Amy Lowell sketch (Pinterest)

One of the staunchest supporters of the store was Boston Pulitzer Prize poet and critic Amy Lowell. Lowell was large, cigar-smoking, and openly lesbian. She lectured at least five times for the Bookshop, including at least once on Walt Whitman.

Ada Dwyer-Russell (Pinterest)
Ada Dwyer-Russell (Pinterest)

Lowell’s partner Ada Dwyer Russell also lectured there.

Further representing American literature via the Hampshire Bookshop were the playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder and openly bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Thornton Wilder (Pinterest)
Edna St. Vincent Milay (Pinterest)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (Pinterest)

In the 1950s, Truman Capote promoted Breakfast at Tiffany’s here.

Truman Capote (Pinterest)
Truman Capote (Pinterest)

British writer Vita Sackville-West, who was at one time Virginia Woolf’s lover, lectured here, as did the bisexual man she was in an open marriage with, Harold Nicolson.  British novelist Hugh Walpole gave multiple lectures on Modern literature. This friend of Woolf and Henry James was gay, and had defended The Well of Loneliness at its obscenity trial in British court.

Vita Sackville-West (Pinterest)
Vita Sackville-West (Pinterest)
Hugh Walpole (pinterest)
Hugh Walpole (pinterest)

__Dodd, Marion E. “Hampshire Bookshop Has Had Interesting History; Marks 20th Anniversary.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton MA. April 17, 1936.
__Wikipedia has an incomplete list of better known LGBTQ people with individual entries for each of the lecturers briefly included here.

Coming Next:
Hampshire Bookshop, part four: Changes and Closing

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

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.