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PART ONE: Guy's Path to the Dance

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Miss Fenn

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
October 4, 1903


PART ONE Overview
1 - Wildcat Brigade
2 - Battle of Wilderness
3 - Field Hospital
4 - Orphan School
5 - Ladies' Man
6 - Mary Dinger
7 -The Masons
8 - Mary Rebecca
9 - Guy the Wanderer
10 - Farmer Boy
11 - Center of the World
12 - Birthday
13 - Fish Story
14 - Miss Fenn
15 - To the Dance

More Information

Dear Guy,Miss Fenn 2 [1]
            I know you are wondering what in the world I want of you, so I am going to tell you right away.  – It is simply that I have been thinking of you so much since I have been away, -- then I heard you had been ill and all together, I just wanted to visit with you a tiny bit, -- my good Boy whose friendship I have always so enjoyed and whose visits last winter I look back to with a great deal of pleasure. – And then that long walk out here to see me, you don’t know how much I appreciated it. – And yet I think possibly you do, for you are one of “My Boys” who I think, or at least I have always felt, has understood me. – And as the time grows near when I leave for the East, somehow I feel as if I were leaving behind many who are very dear to me.
            I know I shall see you, I hope many times before I go, but to-night I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the nice things you have done for me.  You don’t know how pleasant it was to have you come to school and wait for me after, as you often did last year.—
            And then that little tea set which I have thanked you for before. – I think it has grown prettier every day since I received it.
            I only wish it were in my power to help you as I would like to but if being a friend is any help, then I can help you, for I am your friend. – And I hope your life may be a splendid manly successful one. – I know it will, and wherever I am, I am going to watch “My Boy.” 
            I have so many interesting things to tell you of my trip.  I had a splendid time, but I will wait until I see you, and now I am going to bid you goodnight.

Most sincerely, your friend,
Julia Fenn

July 31, 1903
Call me up by telephone sometime if you have time. 

***

Miss Fenn’s July letter is now creased and wrinkled with rereading, but on this crisp October day a new one has arrived, sent from Massachusetts along with her photograph. Julia Fenn, principal of East High School until last spring and Guy’s beloved English teacher, has written from Radcliffe College, where she is pursuing her graduate studies. [2]

Guy doesn’t blame her for leaving the Falls.  The rules for teachers here are absurd.  They cannot marry, ride in a carriage with any man not a brother or father, wear bright colors, or stay out past eight in the evening except for a school function.  Two petticoats are required in public, and hemlines may be no more than two inches above the ankle.  Who would want to put up with such restrictions?  In contrast, this letter from Cambridge fairly vibrates with her excitement at newfound freedoms.  [3]

 East High School

It's been more than a year since Guy graduated along with ten classmates from East, but he likes still being remembered as one of the group Miss Fenn always called "My Girls and Boys." Guy studies her photograph -- that kind and familiar face, the dark smiling eyes -- and sighs.  There’s heartache in her latest encouraging message, especially her wish that Guy and the rest of her "boys" might be able to attend Harvard someday.  How would she feel about his new job -- as a clerk at a rolling mill? She with such lofty ambitions for him?  Would this be the “splendid success” she had envisioned for “Her Boy”?

Guy would gladly make the three-mile walk to her house in Tallmadge tomorrow if she were still there.  For she is quite simply the best teacher he ever had, and one of the finest people he knows.  He is not unmindful of the many other excellent instructors at East, including the physical science teachers who praised his careful drawings of the principles of ventilation, distillation, displacement, and the like, and gave him marks of A or A+ on every lesson.  But these were natural Force Pump Diagram
 16-year-old Guy's diagram of a force pump
 (click to enlarge)
proclivities, as was his prowess on the football field.

Miss Fenn had opened up a whole universe of intellectual endeavor. To her he owes whatever ability he possesses to read with understanding, to think broadly, to speak clearly. And who else had thought to tell him that paragraphs were like little essays?

She had introduced him to Shakespeare, to Tennyson, to Bacon and Carlyle.  It's because of her that he loves the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Perceiving his interest, Miss Fenn -- Julia, he imagines himself calling her -- pushed him to write creatively, and praised his short mystery romance about Miss Kearns and the curiously-set signet ring. In retrospect, he is grateful that if she saw herself in the attractive main character, she did not let on.  He’d worked harder on his King Lear essay than on any school assignment that year -- all because she expected the best of him. Is it any wonder he misses this gentle yet powerful young woman? He feels a strong kinship with her, one that began when they first discovered their fathers -- Florenzo and Lorenzo -- had rhyming names. The connection has only deepened with time.

King Lear TItle
TItle page to King Lear paper (1902)
(click to enlarge)
Yet there has always been an air of melancholy surrounding Miss Fenn, one that intensified after her mother died in 1901.  Beneath her wisdom and composure lies a vulnerability that speaks to Guy’s natural tendency to help and protect.  When his friends talk about their sweethearts, and ask after his, he just shrugs and changes the subject with a jest.  Compared to the refined and gentle Julia Fenn, the Falls girls he knows -- even Minnie and Katherine -- are shallow and silly.  Who among them would appreciate the notes for a poem he’s just jotted on the back of her letter? [4]  



Verse in Guy's hand found written on the back of Julia Fenn's October 1903 letter [5]

Is it any good?  Is it too forward, he wonders?  She has told him to write “simple home letters to a friend, and not specimens of rhetoric to a teacher.” [6] Will this give the game away?  Another sigh as he finds a fresh sheet of paper and begins to copy out the lines in his best hand.  He'll send the poem.

HS Pin Guy 
Guy's high school ring


 

Author’s Note 

Julia Fenn did not finish out her course of study at Radcliffe, withdrawing on account of poor health.  She later recovered sufficiently to resume her teaching career, and she and her elderly widowed father boarded with an East Cleveland family while she taught Latin at a nearby high school.  Julia Fenn died in 1910, at the age of 35.  Her obituary mentions her “sweet, vivid personality” and her extraordinary influence on and devotion “to the young people who came under her charge, and whom she called lovingly, ‘my boys and girls.’”  But there’s also an undercurrent of loss, longing, and suffering endured by the “dainty, gentle little woman” eulogized in the Leaf of Memories published at her death.


Footnotes

[1] Letter from Tallmadge, Ohio, written July 31, 1903, transcribed in full.  Photo from Julia Fenn’s memorial notes.
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[2] Details from Julia Fenn’s letters to Guy, along with memorial notes.
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[3] From a list of rules for teachers, Cuyahoga Falls, ca. 1915.
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[4] Detail about Julia’s mother from her memorial notes. A 1942 letter to Ada from Guy refers to his high-school classmate Katherine Howland, and a "dark-haired sweetheart" of old named Minnie.
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[5] Found written on the back of Julia Fenn’s October 1903 letter.  An alternative theory is that he wrote these lines for Ada, whose name Guy wrote along with Julia Fenn’s name on the envelope for this letter.
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[6] From the October, 1903 letter.
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