Vassar College Digital Library

Ladd-Franklin, Christine. Diary, 1866-1873

In this diary, Christine Ladd-Franklin chronicles her time at Vassar and several years following her graduation in 1869. She escribes her experience as a Vassar student, the challenges of financing her education, and her early years of teaching before beginning her graduate work in mathematics.
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"And renew a right spirit within me."

Vassar College. Sept 20, 1866. It is quite degrading to my high and lofty inspirations to be obliged to record them in so small and mean a book as this, but it is the best I can obtain, so it must suffice. With great sorrow I at once confess that I am grievously disappointed in Vassar. Instead of the independent University my imagination pictured, I find a fashionable Boarding-school; and instead of the tall intelligent and enthusiastic young women in blue merino that I fancied, I find a troup of young girls who wear black chamois and are wholly given up to the tyrrany of fashion.

Sept 22. To say the truth my estimation of Vassar fluctuates in quite a remarkable [ellipse?]. I begin to think that in time we shall see a College that will answer our highest expectations. This should I take into consideration, that I am tired of having waited more than one week although having a single class


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April 16, 1868. The Utica project came to an end at the Christmas Holydays. It is not necessary to recount here the causes of these things. Suffice it to say that Miss Backus and myself parted, not on the best of terms, and that she did not even give me a recommendation. So we dismiss the subject. In February I made a visit in Brooklyn. My aunt [Cather's?] family is perfectly charming, and I could not have enjoyed myself more. Last week I spent in Thompsonville, and now I am quietly at home with a prospect of some ennui. In May I intended to go to Boston and to Augusta, and for September, as usual I have Vassar in view. For the present I read Schiller and work problems in Trigonometry. I should have said that Mary Hall made me a visit of a few days in March. As for the domestic relations, they are at present enjoying the calm that succeeds a storm.


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Abbie [Speer]. Mr. Russel was there with his [trick], and Belle Morgan from far off Colorado. Dr. Cooke was very gracious and we made a very pleasant call upon Mrs. C and Mollie. Since then we have had a visit from Frankie and Harris. [?] Joseph and Henry had already made their appearance. I am completely tired of existence. Early in the season I devoted myself to Botany with enthusiasm and collected about one hundred and fifty specimens. For the last month I have read every day two pages of Caesar. I have also taken an occasional interest in bugs, and passed safely through a brief mania for stamps. But now I am tired to death of it all. I think what I want most is a good novel.
My prospects for the fall are quite brilliant. I have not yet ventured to put the Vassar project to the test of a decision, but my aunts M. and L. both


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invite me to spend the winter with them. Then I have a prospect of a school in Newburgh or in Augusta, besides the untried resources of [Mr. Shumerhorn]. This no longer affords me any amusement. I must go to sleep.

Aug. 7. I like not to know that other people read books. I would have the sacred thoughts of the great dead for myself alone.

Sept. 20. Behold me once more at Vassar. Only a week ago my Auntie announced her liberal intention toward me, and in a very short time my trousseau was completed and I on my way. I have a pleasant room, with Miss Norris, whom I used to despise, for a roommate Miss Lacey & Miss Case are also with us, and Miss Guiillon, a new student from the Sandwich Islands. Miss Lyman received me very graciously and the girls were glad to see me.


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21. I have | already | distinguished myself in Astronomy today.

24. Ditto. I was on of four to make no mistake in extraction logarithms and one of two to work another little thing, the other girl being one | old |who has studied astronomy before and is now in both classes. I do intend to work hard this year.

Oct. 3. That same girl is the mistress of my affections. Carrie Davis is her name, and she has inspired me with a passion that reminds me of the days when this tough old heart of mine was young and tender.
Mr. S. has written. He is established as physician and surgeon in Westfield. By the way, it has just flashed across me that he is now Dr. Sherman. I should never have thought of addressing him so. It appears remarkable to me that a young man of education, reading and some talent, should write so very


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Oct. 16. From the heights of prosperity to the depths of adversity! I have the misfortune to hold the office of critic in my society, and tonight occurred my inaugural address. It was hastily written, poorly read, and a most stupid production on the whole. The office is exceedingly disagreeable.

Oct. 17. Me miserable! I had set my heart on a long walk today, and I awake to find it raining. Carrie Davis was to have been my companion. She is a strange girl. Her face, when in repose, is perhaps the most nondescript in the College, and yet she is exceedingly witty and never speaks without causing bursts of laughter.

Evening. By a rare chance it happened that I walked with her after all, for a few moments just before tea. She gave me her good wishes and I answered as awkwardly as possible.
Again a letter from S. He writes in an unusually cheerful mood, and he seems inclined to write quite frequently.


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Dec. 2. I certainly am happier here then I was two years ago. I think I am better- natured. I have much pleasanter room-mates for one thing.

Dec. 30. The second year at a school is much better than the first. I begin to be treated with some consideration. Miss Mitchell has been exceedingly complimentary to me of late. She does not hesitate to bring my name forward as the Valedictorian of my class. We have a vacation at present, but I am so tired of describing its points of interest in my letters that I shall pass them by in silence here. My amatory correspondence appears to be somewhat on the wane. Perhaps it is gathering strength for a final outburst.

Jan.10. Wonderful! I went yesterday to Professor Farrar for a moment of the pendulum at the twenty minutes bell, and came away at the beginning of the seventh period, which being interpreted means a stay of two hours, including the dinner hour. Professors seem to take


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At Springfield I met Dr. Sherman & promised to be his wife. The next | Saturday | Friday he came to my home and succeeded in winning the good opinion of my large circle of friends & admirers.

Sunday Aug. 29. A letter which has upon me a curious effect. Part of the answer.

Sunday March 13, 1870. The answer was written in some other place than here, and I have forgotten now the whole subject. A long, quiet, snowy Sunday reminds me that I have a journal, and I brush once more the dust from its pages. Can one believe that six months have passed since I have opened this book? Nothing convinces me so forcibly that I am growing old as the fact that time has come to seem so very short. One change the last half-year has wrought that is perhaps worthy of record. I have some to be no longer dissatisfied with my moral condition, I lament no more my depravity and I promise myself no further amend. In fact, I seem to myself to be a pretty good sort of a fellow


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five hundred a year is more potent with a poor teacher than three hundred and fifty. Moreover money is especially desirable to me this year, because next year I propose to be a pupil under Prof. [C??] or Prof. [P??], as the fates may decide.
But I came here to write of my beloved. At a concert, when the evening was half over and I looked idly upon the admirer, I became conscious of two eyes, magnificent as of old, warm and eager, waiting for recognition. Breathless I leaned forward, bowed, and there darkness fell upon me, for she had turned away. The sensation of that moment! All my person trembled, I was cold and faint and then the hot blood rushed tumultuously through my veins.


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Nov. 14. The fates are very good to me. This little town of Washington contains a man who ranks among the first ten or twelve mathematicians in the country, and this man | comes | devotes two evenings in the week to Me. Not only is he a fine mathematician; he is also an enthusiast. He is such a man as one reads of in books but such a man as I have never known before. He leaves his family to poverty and dirt, while he absorbs himself in quarternions. He walks the streets unconscious of his dearest friend. He takes a class in French and presently he forgets its existence. But take him on a difficult problem and he is inspired, his eyes glow, and the whole man is transformed. Is it a Socrates? Then will I be his most devoted disciple. He shall teach me to make the worse appear the better reason and I will follow his [???] to the bitter end. Cambridge and St. Louis


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March 1. For what reason am I watched this night? Tennyson is said to have found relief for his sorrows by [???] [ in memoriam]. Let me forget mine by analyzing [???] [???]. Prof. [Vose?] has been here, a common source of happiness unallayed. For the past week I have worked hard and I had tonight several little results that I was very much pleased with. Two of them proved incorrect and the others received no mark of approbation. [???] is a sufficient cause for woe.

15. Happiness comes rarely, but when it comes it is passing sweet. A pleasant letter from Hollidaysburg has put me in good humor with the world. Is it the old, old story again? Warum sollte er sich die Muehe geben, mir schoene Briefe zu schreiben, wenn er mich nicht liebt? Wie schoen die Liebe! Then Prof. [Vose?] was more than usually angelic. What it is to be a man of genius! I look upon this man


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with ever increasing wonder. Again, Friday evening is of all moments the happiest, because it looks forward to a Saturday in which work is light, and to a long Sunday of repose. Blessings on him who first invented Sunday!

16. Twelve years ago! How short seem the years compared with the twelve that are coming! One disbelieves at heart the moralist when one is young, but at last comes a day when the truth of his sermon makes itself felt. Time is a [???], a [???].
All this long morning I sat in the sun and gave myself up to the enjoyment of the coming Spring. Her feet are yet only on the tops of the mountains, but her voice is through all the valleys. We know that she has never yet deceived us, and we believe that she will come at last, though she is very coy, and she lingers almost beyond the enduring of our patience.


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This evening I have spent at the library listening to an intelligent man, Dr. LeMoyne. He was one of the first of the antislavery agitators. In 1833 the movement was [???], and [???] owed to it his [???].
Thirty-nine cents or a shilling is the cost of books that you import yourself. Fifty cents is the lowest price of the importing houses.

17. [???GERMAN???]

23. Have we then come to the back of the North Pole? This day has been one long storm of snow and wind. Will the Spring come never?
Who can tell one what are the good things of life? When by hard work one gets money, the price of happiness, how shall one buy happiness most cheaply? Is it with travel or dress or study that one


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can drive the best bargain?

29. This wonderful man leaves one sometimes in a state of exaltation and sometimes a state of depression. It depends for one thing on the temperature of the room. Tonight it was hot.
The renown of having been educated at Vassar College has secured for me many pleasures. Last evening Mrs. Wills asked me to come over to her house to meet Mr. Wills, a lawyer from Washington, and a man intelligent in the extreme. He marks an era, for he is the first living Comtist that I have seen. Sarah Sweeny was the only other one invited, and to us he directed his conversation. The most striking point in that part of his faith which he expounded to us was that God is a progressive being,


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a family to save, to work hard, to accumulate for the future, or to give itself up to present enjoyment? And how shall it find enjoyment, present or future? Shall it cultivate its tastes or its appetites? Would this mother fulfill more perfectly her duties if she read Homer for an hour every day, if she gave her son for dinner potatoes and a lesson in Italian instead of greasy cakes and pies; if she dressed her daughter in calico clean and neatly made up, and sent her to | school until she was beauty | college? Of one thing I am convinced, that a scrupulous cleanliness is the first essential to a life of refinement, that it is the chief distinction between the brutish man and the gentleman.

Feb. 24, 1873. Georgie and I were in the midst of a theological discussion. Georgie said in a manner that showed he had long been thinking of it: "Kitty, now I just like to know


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organized. I will state in brief my objections, and I shall not require myself to enlarge upon them. First then the course of study is very little in advance of that afforded by a common ladies Seminary. By no means unimportant in the estimate I am forming is the multiplicity of petty rules. I so despise the idea that woman are not as competent to take care of themselves as men, that they cannot decide for themselves when to go to bed and when to get up, how much exercise to take, how much to pray and go to church. Still my greatest objection is to the class of girls who come here and to the social and political atmosphere of the place. Tis not correct though to say that I object to the political atmosphere of the place for there is none of any kind. I have barely heard the subject mentioned since I have been here. But in this social atmosphere it does not begin to come up to the


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standard I had raised. I know of but one girl who declares herself for the rights of women.

Sept. 26. The political status of our pastor has just declared itself, and I am suffering a real ostracism for my negro-worship.
The responsibility of decision in questions of importance is irksome, but the decision that is the result of careful deliberation bears its own reward. The two doubts that have risen in my mind express themselves thus: shall I graduate? and shall I connect myself with a Christian church? The latter I have considered it safer to answer in the affirmative; as to the former, I have today come to the conclusion that I shall not attempt it. I have written to my father a most ingenious letter, imploring the favor of a two years course, but my hopes of success are meager. For my own poor little year then I am to study Latin, Trigonometry, French, Geology and Music. In a school where there is some pretence of being thorough I find how utterly deficient I am in everything of which I pretend to have a smattering. It is a literal fact that I am


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pale and only wrote. The | day | night before I had reported the sermon brilliantly, the night before that I had partaken of the holy communion by her side, and now to show myself [passionate?]!
I sought her with the intension of apologizing but I could not find her at the time and afterwards it was too late. I have recovered my equanimity now, but I was very miserable at the time and I have fallen irretrievably in her estimation. Qui importe?
I really love the French lady, Mde de Griffin. She is so good and motherly and I find I like such people occasionally. She encourages me to enter the highest class in German, and I shall make one more attempt with Prof. Knapp.

Dec. 3. The young lady who addresses you is nineteen years of age. She feels that she is very aged, a very ancient maiden indeed, quite too old for the frivolities of life. Will every additional year bring such a burden with it? I just hate this


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little success, be it known, was very needful for my self-love. For it can no longer be denied that I am the personification of stupidity in each and every class I enter. And this through the languages and the mathematics I have been wont to regard as my strong points. O that I could arouse in myself the ambition to excede the world around me!

Jan. 4, 1867. A pleasant vacation of two weeks and a return to college duties. I am so fortunate as to be here in season, thanks to this Miss Glazier. Fortunate for it is rumored that condign punishment will be inflicted upon those who have delayed their arrival. Miss Evans greeted me kindly and Miss Liggett.

Monday, Jan 7. Prof Farrar has a large and enthusiastic Bible class, and yesterday he had the temerity to ridicule the efficiency of prayer. That is a startling sentence is it not? He placed it upon this ground God is infinitely good; it is


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blasphemous to say that man can influence him to be better, to do better. Prayer for the heathen, he would say, has no effect; prayer for our| selves | friends, if any, simply that of mind acting upon mind; prayer for ourselves is placing ourselves under the influence of God's Spirit.

8. All day Sunday I studied the question, and what time I had Monday. My thoughts were really deep and logical but I shall not attempt to carry out the train of argument here. I seem to have arrived at this solution. We speak of | ou | man's exertion as the cause of his being successful in business, but was it not the fore-ordination of God? Either God had decreed or he had not that that man should be successful. But if he had decreed it that man's exertion could not have been the same, and if he had not decreed it do you mean to say that that man changed the immutable purpose of God.


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I am heartlessly selfish. I am light and irreverent. I am immodest and utterly indifferent to every good motive. I do not know that this confession is to do me any good, for I have no intention of reforming.

Feb. 24. My father's finances are in an alarming condition, and I am not sure how I can justify myself for appropriating | to myself | so large a proportion of them. O this miserable, miserable state of uncertainty! I see before me a time when woman shall vote and have the consequent means of support, but at the present moment I know not how that support is to be obtained. I find I am acquiring a growing respect for the West as a land of freedom. I believe that the time will come when [N?? Harbour ?] will admit women to its privileges.

Apr. 5. A vacation crowns our labors. I am enjoying it much, but the burden of a duty


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Sept. 22. My educational talents have been tested and have proved themselves satisfactory, to myself at least. I am surprised to find that I am so good a teacher, and more than surprised to find that I really enjoy the work. I know not whether it is owing to the natural buoyancy of youth, or to the success of my morning's labor, that I feel so charmed with myself every day at two. I am glad I am young and strong and over flowing with exuberant feelings and poetic fancies. I am glad too that my year's labor looks attractive and not burdensome. Miss Backus and myself have arranged to make the year profitable. We are to read German diligently, and improve our time as school-mistresses should. I am to give Flora music lessons, and I am to commence a course of reading with Viola. Hurrah, for a gay old winter!