On November 21, 1861, a baby girl was born in the little town of Hamilton, New York. She had a round face, big blue eyes, and was destined to have black hair, and a vivid "school-girl complexion." She received the name of Marie Moulton at her baptism. Her father was the Rev. Gemont Graves. Her mother was Maria Moulton Graves. Her father was the Episcopal Rector in Hamilton. Little Marie's ancestors on both sides stretched way back into English history.
The Graves clan is a very large one, in this country, and far back in the story of the mother country the clan had also many members. The Moulton family goes back at least to the time of William the Conqueror. DeVaux, mentioned in Sir Walter Scott's writings, was an able supporter of William, and there is a legend that some share of the family's ancestry can be traced to Alfred the Great.
However true all this may be (and there are many data supporting its findings), the Moulton family is well represented in American Colonial history. The Lakes, the Dudleys, the Mathers, the Goodyears, and others, whose rosters include Colonial Governors, as well as patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War, were all more or less directly responsible as ancestors for the birth of this little girl on November 21, 1861.
The Rev. Gemont Graves was born in Ira, Vermont, and with the exception of his residence in Hamilton, New York, and later, in Cambridge, New York, his entire ministry was spent in the diocese of Vermont. The name of George is a favorite one with all the Graves's and at first it was proposed to call him "George." Some, however, wanted the name "Vermont" to be attached to him in some way. So it was decided to take the first two letters of "George" and the last syllable of "Vermont," and thus the name "Gemont" was coined, given, and received.
The little girl's mother was also born in Vermont. Members of the Moulton family settled that part of the state which is near Randolph, Bethel, and Royalton. One of her forbears, while searching in the early days for new land for his growing family, found the site of what is now Bethel, Vermont. He slept in the open one night, while prospecting, and there came to him the celebrated dream ascribed to Jacob in Genesis. He saw the Ladder, and the Angels, in his dream. When he awoke, he said, "This place shall be called Bethel," and so it is called, unto this day.
The little girl's father and mother were to be blessed with six other children all of whom, save little baby Ernest Collins Graves, have lived to full maturity. Of this, more later on.
Marie Moulton, the eldest of the seven, received her first name likewise, as a kind of compromise. Her father wished to call her "Maria," after her young and wonderful mother. This, however, was changed at the mother's request, to another form of "Mary," and "Marie" was selected as the attractive compromise.
The young clergyman soon returned to his native state and diocese, and during the early years of his ministry he was sent to a number of the parishes and mission stations of Vermont. Thus little Marie had memories of Northfield, Middlebury, Arlington, and other towns, as her years began to accumulate.
In Arlington, where she lived from the age of eleven to fourteen, she became very religious. The fact of drought always affected her deeply. The parched land, browned grass, and shrunken streams all appealed strongly to her sympathies. There was a meadow behind the Rectory. And there was a large flat rock in its midst. One day her mother, while taking a "constitutional" in the pasture, came upon a little pile of dried fruits, flowers, and such like. Questioning her eldest child, she finally drew from reluctant lips the admission that these offerings were placed there by herself as a sacrifice, in the hope of bringing rain to the thirsty land!
From Arlington, where her father conducted a day school in which she was a proficient pupil, the family moved to Winooski Falls, Vermont, in order that the children might have the advantages of the Burlington schools, so close at hand. The two cities join each other. Father Graves took charge of the Church's mission in Winooski, and Marie by this time had advanced to the position of organist of the little chapel.
The Burlington high school at once became the center of her every ambition. She threw herself into the studies with the utmost ardor. Always of keen mental calibre, and unusually well grounded in Latin, especially, from the excellent training she had received at her father's hands in Arlington, she went at once to the head of her class, and took extraordinary marks. One whole month her average was 99 5/10 plus.
Her class graduated in 1880, and she was the valedictorian. The exercises took place in the Winooski Avenue Congregational Church, and her oration was built upon the inspiration which she had received from studying the architecture of Cologne Cathedral. "Gothic Architecture" was its theme.
During her high school course she did a large amount of collateral reading in literature. She was gifted with a "reviewer's eye," and could take in a whole page at a glance. Later on, when she was a public school teacher in the Winooski or Burlington schools, she became a devotee of the Fletcher Free Library, and a trusted friend of Miss Sarah Hagar, the able librarian. One result was that she read nearly all of the best fiction contained in the entire library, and a great deal of the best poetry as well. While in the high school, she had actually read the whole of Spenser's The Faerie Queene, a feat which, as is well known, puts one, in matters literary, in the same class of achievement occupied in golf by those who make the first hole "in one," or in fishing, by those who "land their tuna," or in music by those who play a score of Beethoven's sonatas in one program from memory.
The modest dwelling in Winooski called "the Mansion Home" was the family's abiding place for a while. Eight souls and bodies filled it well. The children, named as follows, in order of birth, Marie Moulton, George, Lillian Carol, Harmon Sheldon, Charlotte Williams, and Dudley Chase, were all endowed with good health, bright minds, and eager wills. They established a family one-ness which has been most unusual, and which has lasted throughout the subsequent years in a very remarkable manner. "A Family is a Unit," so runs the adage over the fireplace in their community house at Grand Isle, Vermont, the unique summer home of which more will be written later in these memoirs.
It was found wise, after a while, to move nearer to the Burlington high school, so Father Graves and his growing brood went to the frame house at 329 Colchester Avenue, while his work as a Missionary took him to Milton, Fairfax, Georgia, Buck Hollow, and Underhill, in turn, the family residing thus in Burlington, while he was away for the week-ends holding his services.
After graduating from the Burlington high school, at the age of nearly nineteen, Marie Moulton was invited to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Graves, in New Haven, Connecticut.
This was a great experience. Burlington was at that time a snug little city of about 15,000 population, nearly one-half being French Canadians who worked in the large mills. And these were the largest places that Marie had lived in during her entire life thus far.
To exchange these for a city large as New Haven, and to enter into the social life of a young girl whose cousins were students at Yale, was in truth most interesting, exciting, and at times thrilling. Gifted, enthusiastic, and unspoiled, she avidly entered into all the available variety of manifold activities, and enjoyed it all to the full. Periods of real homesickness not unnaturally formed a background, but the whole year in New Haven was an expanding and deepening period in her development.
A Missionary's daughter, however, must face the solid facts of limited income. Vermont as a diocese probably compensated her mission clergy as well as did most dioceses, and those were days when a dollar had some real value. Yet the task of bringing up and supporting a family of eight on $1,000 a year or less, and that not always promptly paid, simply demanded that every child should go to work as soon as possible. So, in spite of her brilliant work in high school, it was found impossible to continue Marie's studies in college, and she went to work as a school teacher in the Burlington public schools. The salary, even with the comparatively large purchasing power of the dollar at that time, was pitifully small. Of course she lived at home, and was thus relieved from the burden of paying board and rent, yet the $225, which she received for the school year, seems today to have been a miserly proposition on the part of the school board, and the generous taxpayers who elected it.
At first she taught in the Pomeroy school, where she served as assistant in the intermediate department. This school was located in a somewhat sparsely settled portion of Burlington, and the walk from her home was a long one. Of course her ability, her thoroughness, her keen sense of humor, her firm but reasonable discipline, her conscientiousness and high sense of responsibility, won at once the attention of the officials of the school board. Soon she was promoted to the Pine street school, where she was assistant in the primary grades. Some two years or more were spent in this school, located possibly a long mile from her home at 329 Colchester Avenue. Then her promotion came when she was sent to the Falls school, near Winooski, quite close to her home. Her brothers tell dramatic stories of trudging through the snowdrifts early in the winter mornings, to light the fire in the frigid building, thereby earning the munificent reward of one dollar per week. She could also tell many tales of her struggles with the children of the French Canadians and other nationalities, whose parents worked in the mills that provided Winooskians with their livelihood.
Her final promotion in Burlington came when she was assigned to the principalship of the Main street school, where there were only grammar school children, and where she was in full charge of an entire floor. Her salary had been raised until it was $450 a school year. Always confronted with the dire need of ready money at home, where the increasing expenses of a growing family strained to the utmost the slender income.of the Missionary's stipend, she saved from her limited salary steadily, year by year, until, at the time of her marriage, nine years after she began her work as a teacher, she had over $600 in the savings bank. It would be difficult to exaggerate the rigid economies and the unflinching self-denials which she unhesitatingly faced as a matter of course, in order to feel that there was a fund accessible in case of any emergency that might attack the family.
One year of these nine was spent away from Burlington. Her uncle, the Rev. William H. Collins, was the Rector of the Episcopal Church in Brattleboro, that most picturesque and thriving little city in the southern part of Vermont, and he secured for her an invitation from the Brattleboro school board to become the teacher of drawing in all their schools. She at once accepted, and her home for that year was the Rectory. The astonishing element in this new departure was that she had never taught drawing, and she couldn't draw! Yet she was such a born teacher, and understood the principles of her profession so clearly, that she made drawing the most successful study that year among all the children of Brattleboro, and the children became, not only so enthusiastic, but so proficient, that the Congregational Minister (one of the leading exponents of public opinion in Brattleboro) called distinct attention to the value of her work, so that the proficiency of the children under her care might be more widely known among the parents and other adults. She was put to many a shrewd shrift to avoid drawing something for the children themselves, as pupil after pupil would come to her with their autograph albums begging her to write in the books and to adorn the pages with something from her gifted pencil! She never "gave herself away," as the phrase goes, and she rightfully felt that she was not engaged by the Brattleboro people to draw, but to teach drawing. And in this she was most successful.
She greatly enjoyed her life at the Rectory that year. Her uncle was well read in history, as in other branches, and she devoted much of her leisure time to reading English history. All of Hume, all of Macaulay, and all of Froude, Motley's Dutch Republic, and Boswell's Johnson, she read thoroughly, with that swift eye and retentive memory, and at the table she and her uncle would discuss the scenes and characters day by day, as she met them in these well known pages.
In Brattleboro, as in Burlington, Marie Graves was a great favorite in the social life of the young people. Extremely good-looking, and carrying her head like a queen at all times, she was a good dancer, and in conversation she shone with sparkling brilliance, wit, humor, and incident. She joined the "Junior Friends in Council" in Burlington, this being the title of a very select literary club of unmarried women, and her papers were always anticipated with keen interest. Her unusual technique in swift reading, which enabled her at will to swing through the pages of a work of fiction at a tremendous pace--often running through an entire novel in fifteen or twenty minutes, and yet, at the close, describing the plot and the gist of the principal scenes accurately--made it possible for her to cover a wide range of subjects and data. All of this she heartily enjoyed, as a background of recreation and interest, in the midst of the hard and monotonous work of teaching.
Her year as a teacher of drawing in Brattleboro being completed, Marie returned to Burlington. Her family had moved from the home at 329 Colchester Avenue, to the two-storey and basement frame house at 96 Colchester Avenue.
Once more in Burlington, Marie found her time well occupied by a variety of duties and opportunities. Her regular work of teaching of course absorbed most of her time and strength, but she entered into other phases of the city's activities as well. In Church circles she took the important position of head of the primary department in St. Paul's Sunday school, and one Christmas, when a generous parishioner gave the Rector money to be expended for presents and the like at Christmas, Marie was selected as the person to handle this sum, to make purchases and to distribute the presents. Occasionally she would impress her young brothers and commandeer their evening-time in part, as when she would be invited out for some evening gathering in midwinter, and at the orthodox hour of 10 or thereabouts, would have the boys call for her with their sled, on which they would draw her home through the snowy sidewalks or streets. The boys often spoke of the privilege of this kind of escort at family gatherings in later years.
Among her most ardent admirers was a young college boy, some two months her senior in age, who had been one of the audience at the graduation exercises of her high school class in the June of 1880, and had been deeply impressed by her magnetic and brilliant beauty, as well as by her dramatic and poetic grace as she delivered her valedictory on that occasion. Later, on her return from her year at New Haven, when Carl Zerrahn of the Boston Handel and Haydn Society was struggling with an amateur chorus in the Howard Opera House (trying to teach his untrained singers in three days of rehearsal to give a public performance of "The Creation" Oratorio) said young collegian was doing his best at an afternoon rehearsal, among the basses, when Marie walked into the Opera House, after school hours, to listen to the three-cornered strife between Zerrahn, the singers, and the score. As she walked down the center aisle of the Opera House, said college boy was completely fascinated by the way she carried her head, and by the laughing defiance of her brilliant eyes. He lost his place in the score--so Zerrahn exclaimed, at any rate.
Still later, that same winter, there was one of those dancing parties which Burlington's socially-disposed folk were wont to arrange in those days, under the leadership of Louis Turk and others, when, in order to meet the demands, they had to call on the college boys to help by attending. This particular dance was held in December at the old American Hotel, in the big dining room of the hotel.
Marie was one of the young ladies present. It was no easy achievement to secure her as a partner, so much was she sought for at any party, but this young junior of the U. V. M. (the University of Vermont) succeeded, in spite of all the other fellows. That evening settled the future for him. There had, of course, been "dances many and girls many" during his college years, but this splendid thoroughbred of a girl, keen, quick, dashingly handsome, well-read, a lady to her beautiful finger-tips, simply swept him up into a fascinated elysium from which he never escaped.
Outside of recitations and a certain amount of preparation for their exactions, the rest of his college course centered around Marie Graves, and it is probable that he absorbed a very large proportion of her available time. There were long evenings at her home--not so long, of course, as was wished for by her caller, for her excellent father had an almost superstitious reverence for the orthodox hour of 10 p.m. as the proper time for eviction.
Then there were buggy rides, and, in the gay old winter time, cutter rides, just as often as the necessary one-dollar-and-a-half could be scraped up from the remnants of the college boy's allowance of cash. And in the warm evenings of spring, summer, and early fall, there were walking trips galore down College street to "Shambo's" row-boat livery at the foot of said street. (His real name was Archambault!) And many were the row-boat excursions on beautiful Lake Champlain, especially on moon-lit nights. Of course there were many dances, and the school-ma'am and the college boy were usually the first to arrive and the last to depart.
Then there were evenings at St. Paul's Church, where the collegian was the organist, and where he would open the "north door" with his own key, and no one else was admitted save the Ideal of his dreams, while he played on the organ for her benefit only. Sometimes the music was of his own crude but vividly-meant composition. Sometimes he played as he never played at any other times!
He wrote music for her own delectation. One waltz was entitled "Don't Step On My Toes." He wrote a song called "Morn, Noon and Night," both the words and the music, and dedicated it to her. Her sister Lily sang it for years, though it was never published. They studied German conversation together during his senior year. He took it as an extra, entirely outside of his college studies. He found that he was so thoroughly beaten by her, when it came to their studying together, that it was a mighty stimulus to his best endeavor even to try to keep partially in line.
Of course he had no monopoly of the time and attention of so brilliant and popular a young lady as Marie Graves. One tragic day he spent by himself all alone, while he knew that she was taking a long drive and boating excursion with one of his competitors for her favor. It was a very long and wretched day for him, but he fancies that she rather enjoyed the experience. Another dismal and solemn occasion was a sleigh-ride and dance to "Dunbar's," just outside Winooski. A lot of the young people had clubbed together for this winter night of social pleasure, and Marie went with John Henry. At midnight the orchestra (three pieces!) took the opportunity when the dancers were enjoying modest refreshments, to get gloriously drunk, so that they couldn't play any more. The consequence was that poor John Henry was impressed as substitute pianist, and he had to play all the rest of the night while Marie danced with Frank Crandall, and a lot of the other boys! The party broke up between 5 and 6 a.m. That was another sorrowful experience for him, which he really thinks that the young lady rather enjoyed. It appealed to her keen sense of humor.
Her family were friendly and considerate to John Henry, though at times some of the plans they suggested were not crowned with glittering success.
One such plan, carefully elaborated by Marie's sister Lily, turned out to be at best but a moderately brilliant affair. It was novel enough to have succeeded, however. It was nothing less than that, one Christmas morning (it was the last Christmas of the college boy's Burlington home-life), he should rise very early, and in some way make his way to 329 Colchester Avenue (it was a good two miles from his father's home, in South Burlington, where he resided during his junior and senior years at the University of Vermont), and should hide behind the front door of said 329, so that when Marie descended before breakfast to open her "stocking" of presents, he should be there, on hand, unexpectedly, as a kind of an animated Christmas card.
He carried out his part of this unusual performance literally and punctually. Those were the good old Protestant Episcopalian days when the Christmas service was at the orthodox hour of 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, so there had been no Midnight Mass and no early celebration to distract his attention from Lily's well-laid plan. He rose at what seemed to him a rather unearthly hour, walked through whatever weather the Vermont December chose to provide on that Christmas morn, and carefully hid himself behind the said front door of the Graves residence at 329 Colchester Avenue. In due time the Queen of the affair descended for the interesting ceremony of opening her presents, and her surprise was as complete as her very mild acquiescence. She took the position that it was not altogether proper for a young man to invade a young lady's home so early in the morning. In which exceedingly decorous decision she was undoubtedly quite correct. The somewhat crestfallen youth never forgot the lesson he learned at an early hour on that particular Christmas Day! His long acquaintance with Lily, in after years, gave him many opportunities to enjoy many other and much more successful schemes which her busy and fertile brain so often planned both for pleasure and profit. He also acquired a keen realization of what Marie felt at any time to be proper or the reverse.
And so the happy months of his senior year sped far too swiftly to their climax at the Commencement in mid-June. Burlington, one of the most beautiful cities in the world (so exclaimed no less an authority than one of America's leading literary men, years ago), is at its best in June, and the atmosphere of romance, not unmingled with sadness, which dominates the closing weeks of almost every senior's year, was keenly realized by both of these young people to the full. Every available minute not commandeered by school duties on her part and by studies, fraternal society affairs, and church organ appointments, on his part, was devoted by them both to each other. He considered that they were engaged, fully and unfailingly, to be married. Marie, though two months or so younger than John Henry, admitted the engagement, but the future was to show that he had not at that time matured sufficiently to win the utter and complete devotion which she eventually found it possible to bestow upon him. This was no fault of his, and the limpid honesty of her character surely showed that it was no fault of hers. They were both young, in their twenty-second year, when the train steamed out from the shabby old railroad station at the foot of College street, and his journey to far-off California had actually begun.
There were the usual uncertainties in his mind, during senior year, as to what his future work should be. Law was suggested. The ministry was also urged by his relatives, but he felt no call at that time to its life and work. Business opened, in a way. His uncle, Col. Isaac Doolittle, was working for the Standard Oil Company in Pennsylvania, and offered him an opportunity to learn a part of the oil business. Then his uncle, Caspar T. Hopkins of San Francisco, offered him an opening in his office, the head office of the California Fire Insurance Co., and said that if his young nephew showed sufficient capacity and industry, he would place him on the road as a "special agent" in three years, with income enough for him to marry, if he so desired. So, a week after Commencement, John Henry and Marie bade each other goodbye, and he started for California.