Vassar College

FANNIE SHOUSE-JAMES, Vassar College & Gender Equality

Compulsory Behaviors

Lady Principal Hannah W. Lyman

Miss [Hannah W.] Lyman was Lady Principal. She came from a school in Canada with very strict ideas. We had compulsory chapel and after prayers she gave us a talk on manners, dress, and deportment. I remember she said we should always wear gloves at every entertainment, even if only white cotton. She dressed beautifully herself and look quite regal in her lovely lace head-dress. She sat at the head of the Faculty table just inside the door of the dining room and one of the penalties of being late was that you had to bow to her and sometimes make your excuses. When we wanted to go to town shopping we had to show her our list and three girls would take a teacher as chaperon. When I wanted to spend Christmas with a friend of my fathers in Philadelphia and went to her with the telegram giving his consent I told her I must go to town and buy a new coat. She said, “Now My Dear, you go and brush your coat and wear it in for me to see.” When I did so, she thought I did not need a new coat, so I could not make the trip to town. The first thing I did when I reached Philadelphia was to buy a new coat.


Vassar women ride a wagon to Lake Mohonk

We had every year a trip to Mohonk, once we spent the night, the college sending up provisions in barrels. At that time Mr. [Albert] Smiley allowed no dancing, but the girls started a little old melodeon, some got out their combs covered with tissue paper, and we had quite a hilarious time. The girls were divided into sections and took turns waiting on the table, each trying to outdo the other, with one taking the part of head waiter.

Various Notes

Dr. Alida Cornelia Avery

The Professors had their homes in the towers, two families in each tower. The fourth floor was the Infirmary, with Dr. [Alida Cornelia] Avery in charge. She was very severe until you were really ill, then she was kindness itself.

We had chapel every morning and evening. The evening chapel was conducted with a good deal of ceremony, quite like a church service, while in the morning Miss Lyman, after prayers, would give a talk on table manners, etiquette, appropriate dress, insisting that dress should be changed for dinner.

From this point, there were notes in pencil, evidently with the idea of writing more fully at some later date. – Fanny James Egan

Professor James Orton

A Professor [James] Orton had already made one trip to South America and was always thinking and talking about the next one. President Raymond and his family lived in the main building on the second floor. Miss Brislin, the mathematics teacher, surveyed the land around the lake. Miss Lord, our Latin teacher went to Smith College. Miss Mitchell carried a carpet bag to classes and to meetings of society women. She was dressed generally in gray. On Founders Day we had an address by Geo. Wm. Curtis.

Impact on Society & the James Family

The legacy of Fannie’s education at Vassar permeates the Jesse James family today with astonishing impacts and stunning success.

Original Document from Vassar College

A copy of the original documents of the Vassar College memoir of Fannie Shouse-James was provided in 2009 to the author Eric F. James by the archives of Vassar College Library for use in his writing and publication of Jesse James Soul Liberty, Volume I. The author expresses his gratitude to Vassar College for the documents and for the multitude of archival images provided by Vassar College archives for this story.

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Tuesday March 2nd, 2021
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Photos from Jesse James Soul Liberty, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma & Silence's post ... See MoreSee Less

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Tuesday February 9th, 2021
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Theater advertisements for plays appeared like this in newspapers. This ad for Bloomer Girl appeared in August of 1845. Bloomer Girl was the product of Daniel Lewis James Jr. and principally his wife Lilith Stanward. The following excerpt about them appears in JJSL:

Written against the backdrop of World War II, when blacks were moving out of the South into an industrial workforce, and women also were moving out of the home into the workplace, Bloomer Girl is set in the pre-Civil War era, interweaving themes of black and female equality, war and peace, and politics. The play’s principal character, Dolly, is based upon the inventor of the bloomer, Amelia Bloomer, a contemporary of an acquaintance of Vassie James and Susan B. Anthony. As a fighter in the suffragette movement for women’s rights, Bloomer advocated, “Get rid of those heavy hoop skirts; wear bloomers like men; let’s get pants; let’s be their equal.” In the play, Dolly politicks for gender equality, as her rebellious niece Evelina politicks her suitor, a Southern slaveholding aristocrat, for racial equality. As the play’s librettist, Yip Harburg, stated,
Bloomer Girl was about “the indivisibility of human freedom.”

Bloomer Girl opened on Broadway on October 5, 1944. Dan (Daniel Lewis James) insisted Lilith’s (Dan’s wife) name come first in the show’s credits. The play was an instant hit, lasting 654 performances. Dan remained modest about the show’s success, considering his contribution a failure. “...I seem not to have given full credit to my collaborators on the 1944 musical comedy Bloomer Girl...The facts, in brief, are as follows: the originator of the story idea from which the musical grew was my wife, Lilith James, who charmingly chose the perversities of Fashion to dramatize the early struggles of the Women's Rights movement. She also developed the principal characters. I joined her in writing a first draft of the libretto. It failed to satisfy our lyricist, E. Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen, the composer. It also failed to satisfy us. An impasse developed at which point all agreed to call in the team of Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy who were experienced writers in the field of musical comedy. They reworked the material to the satisfaction of everyone but Lilith and myself, who had hoped to invade Gilbert & Sullivan territory, with what we thought was a light-hearted paradoxical look at history. What I took for a personal artistic failure for which I blamed, first of all, myself, went on to become a lavish entertainment which played on Broadway for eighteen months and has since often been revived in summer theater. If I was not delighted, audiences certainly were and full credit for this should be given to Sig Herzig and Fred Saidy (now deceased) without whom the production would never have taken place...”
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Wednesday February 3rd, 2021
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YOU CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER...What might have happened if Alan Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to track and capture Jesse James?In 1856, twenty-three-year-old widow Kate Warne walked into the office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago, announcing that she had seen the company’s ad and wanted to apply for the job. “Sorry,” Alan Pinkerton told her, “but we don’t have any clerical staff openings. We’re looking to hire a new detective.” Pinkerton would later describe Warne as having a “commanding” presence that morning. “I’m here to apply for the detective position,” she replied. Taken aback, Pinkerton explained to Kate that women aren’t suited to be detectives, and then Kate forcefully and eloquently made her case. Women have access to places male detectives can’t go, she noted, and women can befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspects and gain information from them. Finally, she observed, men tend to become braggards around women who encourage boasting, and women have keen eyes for detail. Pinkerton was convinced. He hired her.

Shortly after Warne was hired, she proved her value as a detective by befriending the wife of a suspect in a major embezzlement case. Warne not only gained the information necessary to arrest and convict the thief, but she discovered where the embezzled funds were hidden and was able to recover nearly all of them. On another case she extracted a confession from a suspect while posing as a fortune teller. Pinkerton was so impressed that he created a Women’s Detective Bureau within his agency and made Kate Warne the leader of it.

In her most famous case, Kate Warne may have changed the history of the world. In February 1861 the president of the Wilmington and Baltimore railroad hired Pinkerton to investigate rumors of threats against the railroad. Looking into it, Pinkerton soon found evidence of something much more dangerous—a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before his inauguration. Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to the case. Taking the persona of “Mrs. Cherry,” a Southern woman visiting Baltimore, she managed to infiltrate the secessionist movement there and learn the specific details of the scheme—a plan to kill the president-elect as he passed through Baltimore on the way to Washington.

Pinkerton relayed the threat to Lincoln and urged him to travel to Washington from a different direction. But Lincoln was unwilling to cancel the speaking engagements he had agreed to along the way, so Pinkerton resorted to a Plan B. For the trip through Baltimore Lincoln was secretly transferred to a different train and disguised as an invalid. Posing as his caregiver was Kate Warne. When she afterwards described her sleepless night with the President, Pinkerton was inspired to adopt the motto that became famously associated with his agency: “We never sleep.” The details Kate Warne had uncovered had enabled the “Baltimore Plot” to be thwarted.

During the Civil War, Warne and the female detectives under her supervision conducted numerous risky espionage missions, with Warne’s charm and her skill at impersonating a Confederate sympathizer giving her access to valuable intelligence. After the war she continued to handle dangerous undercover assignments on high-profile cases, while at the same time overseeing the agency’s growing staff of female detectives.

Kate Warne, America’s first female detective, died of pneumonia at age 34, on January 28, 1868, one hundred fifty-three years ago today. “She never let me down,” Pinkerton said of one of his most trusted and valuable agents. She was buried in the Pinkerton family plot in Chicago.
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YOU CANT HELP BUT WONDER...What might have happened if Alan Pinkerton assigned Kate Warne to track and capture Jesse James?