happy alice paul’s birthday
I remember Mabel [Vernon] being probably the most eloquent and best public speaker in Swarthmore. She was a year older than I was but for some reason or other (I don’t know why; she was later in getting to Swarthmore) she graduated the year after I did. I remember we were in a Latin class together—it is the only class I can remember being in, studying the poems of Horace—I can remember that very well. I was named what they called the Ivy Poet at Swarthmore. Every year they had what they called the Ivy Stone; another stone was put by a class into the building. And they had an outdoor ceremony at commencement with all the alumni present and all the college present and they had somebody—a boy always—who made the speech and presented the stone, and then they always had an Ivy Poet. So suddenly I was told that I was the Ivy Poet, to my great horror and amazement. I remember being oh, so troubled by that, terrible. [Laughter.]
What did you have to do?
I had to write the poem.
Oh, write it; not just select one and say it.
No, you had to write it. You had to compose, and a boy had to compose a proper speech connected with the placing of the stone, and the Ivy Poet had to sort of set the atmosphere.
It was a great tragedy when this happened to me. I had once written a little sort of jingle which was published in the college paper and I guess that gave me the reputation of being a poet, probably [inaudible]. I remember I struggled away and I struggled away and I wrote a little poem and took it to our English professor and asked him if it would pass as a poem. He thought it was a very good little poem.
So then I thought, “Well, I’ve done all I can on composing, and now the awful problem, with my complete lack of oratorical knowledge or any oratorical power, how will I deliver it outdoors to all these people?” So then I went to Mabel Vernon. [Laughter.] maybe she told you this.
No, she didn’t.
And I said, “Now will you train me so I can deliver my poem?” So she undertook very religiously to have me practice and practice and practice my poem. So when the day came—I think she had gotten me up to a point where probably people could hear me—and this great audience [was there, and] I gave my little Ivy Poem. I wish I could remember a word or two of it. I’d have to think about it to see if I could. [pause] Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Since it was my first poem, I think about it once in a while.
Had you written much poetry or been encouraged in that in your Quaker household?
No, I never thought of writing anything. Anything of any type. Hardly such an idea!