Bryn Mawr Girls

With my own nuptials fast approaching, I wanted to highlight a wonderful essay by the peerless E. B. White. In 1956, the editor of the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin asked him to write some impressions of life with Katharine Sergeant Angell White, his wife and a graduate of the university. The result was a rather bemused but touching account of the trials and joys of marriage to a “Bryn Mawr girl.” The simple elegance of White’s prose is captivating: “I once held a live hummingbird in my hand. I once married a Bryn Mawr girl. To a large extent they are twin experiences.” I could go on and on with quotes, but the text is below and it’s well worth reading in full. And as one who will soon similarly be wedded to a lovely Bryn Mawr girl, here’s hoping that Charlotte and I have as long and happy of a marriage as the Whites’ obviously enjoyed.


Call Me Ishmael: Or, How I Feel About Being Married to a Bryn Mawr Graduate

This is a ridiculous assignment. The sensations of a Bryn Mawr husband are by their very nature private. Even if there were some good excuse for parading them in public, a prudent male would hesitate to make the attempt, so greatly do they differ from common sensations. But as far as that goes, a prudent male wouldn’t have married a Bryn Mawr girl in the first place – rumors would have reached him of the wild fertility revels that take place on May Day, of the queer ritual of the lantern, of the disorderly rolling of hoops, and of all the other racy symbols and capers of the annual Elisabethan hoedown. A sober male, sifting theses disturbing tales of springtime debauchery, quite properly would have taken stock of the situation. A girl who has spent her senior year dancing around a Maypole and beating a hoop might easily take a lifetime to cool off. A prudent male would have boarded the first train for Poughkeepsie and sought out some simple, modest maiden with daisies in her hair.

Continue reading “Bryn Mawr Girls”

Happy 150th Anniversary!

On this day in 1863, Charles S. Stratton, better known to the world as General Tom Thumb, married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church. Stratton’s longtime associate P. T. Barnum promoted the event as “The Fairy Wedding,” alluding the diminutive stature of the bride and groom. General Tom Thumb was among the most famous performers in the United States, and had toured throughout the United States and Europe. His marriage to Lavinia Warren, who Barnum billed as the “Queen of Beauty” and the “Smallest Woman in the World,” was the social event of the season, overshadowing for a time even news of the war. In his memoirs, Barnum set the scene as follows:

The day arrived, Tuesday, February 10, 1863. The ceremony was to take place in Grace Church, New York- The Rev. Junius Willey, Rector of St. John’s Church in Bridgeport, assisted by the late Rev. Dr. Taylor, of Grace Church, was to officiate. Tbe organ was played by Morgan. I know not what better I could have done, had the wedding of a prince been in contemplation. The church was comfortably filled by a highly select audience of Iaci.ies and gentlemen, none being admitted except those having cards of invitation. Among tbem were governors of several of the States, to whom I had sent cards, and such of those as could not be present in person were represented by friends, to whom they had given their cards. Members of Congress were present, also generals of the army, and many other prominent public men. Numerous applications were made from wealthy and distinguished persons, for tickets to witness tbe ceremony, and as high as sixty dollars was offered for a single admission. But not a ticket was sold; and Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren were pronounced “man and wife” before witnesses.


Library of Congress
Library of Congress

The above hand-colored Currier & Ives lithograph depicts the bridal party, which included the dwarf Commodore Nutt and Lavinia’s sister Minnie, encircled by vignettes of their assorted performance routines. The illustration along the bottom shows the miniature carriage that the happy couple took through the cheering crowds to the fashionable Metropolitan Hotel at Broadway in Prince for the reception. During their honeymoon tour, the newlyweds were hosted by President Lincoln at the White House. Grace Greenwood, a visiting journalist, commented that she “noticed the President gazing after them with a smile of quaint humor; but, in his beautiful, sorrows-shadowed eyes, there was something more than amusement–a gentle, human sympathy in the apparent happiness and good-fellowship of this curious wedded pair–come to him out of fairyland.” The Strattons afterward traveled to Europe and eventually embarked on an ambitious three-year tour around the world in 1869. Charles passed away in 1883, but Lavinia remarried and lived long enough to appear in a silent film short, The Lilliputians’ Courtship (1915).

***UPDATE: For those in the New York metropolitan area, I’ll be giving a talk on the life and times of Charles Stratton at the wonderful Observatory in Brooklyn on Tuesday, March 19. Details here.

Sources: The Life of P. T. Barnum (1888); Abraham Lincoln: tributes from his associates, reminiscences of soldiers, statesmen and citizens (1895); A. H. Saxon, ed., The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb (1979).