Above, “Summer Days on New York’s East Side,” Raymond Crawford Ewer, centerfold in Puck, August 15, 1914, Library of Congress
Emma Dumpke Daschel, August 1913
August 13, 1913
My dear Hedda,
Of course, you can stay with us as long as you want. Forever if you wish.
You must plan to be here on a Friday night. Heinrich, or my cooking, has attracted quite a salon of young bachelors on a weekly basis, all with ravenous appetites. Conversations over dinner are animated, with spirited disagreements over literature or world events never avoided yet never disturbing the underlying camaraderie.
Viewpoints are more diverse than those to which I was accustomed, particularly concerning politics. Only one of the professors who joins us has an umbilical cord tied to Germany. The rest are all American-born.
I finally understand how glorious it must have been for you to grow up in such a stimulating environment. With gatherings of highly opinionated professors at your father’s apartment almost every night of the week, it is no wonder you are so well-spoken… and outspoken.
I find myself no longer as reticent to voice my theories and beliefs during these lengthy meals, and no one dismisses my remarks because I am female. Of course, that has both positive and negative ramifications. While they greet my contributions with respect, femininity provides no shield. They attack my positions as ferociously as those of their colleagues, but I have learned to stand my ground when right and retreat without shame when out-maneuvered. It is exhilarating to have men treat you as an intellectual equal.
Unlike in your home where you stayed up late into the night listening to the professors’ debates until the voices beginning to slur signaled the opportunity to utilize your unimpaired faculties to plunge verbal daggers through their increasingly flawed rationale, I do withdraw to the kitchen and the dishes soon after dessert. The cigar smoke drives me away, and the strong brandy men consume drains all logic from their conversation. Mercifully, I serve as no sober witness to their progressive slide into the arms of Bacchus. Morpheus lays claim to me; I am sound asleep before the discussions descend into nonsensical babble.
I cannot wait to take you on an expedition to some of the more curious bookshops I have found. Feather-dusters are an invention their owners know not, but brushing off the accumulated layers of dust can be rewarding. Although we rely heavily on the library for current reading materials, Heinrich and I sometimes indulge ourselves by spending all of a Saturday meandering in and out of used bookstores in search of ancient, well-worn treasures.
You must promise to remember every conversation you have with our old nursing school friends in Germany because I plan on making you repeat every word to me. I want to know who is working where, who has quit after marrying well and the age and sex of all their children.
The only damper on the news of your impending visit is my dislike of serving as an instrument deepening your entanglement with Otto Koehler. I do so blame myself for not removing you from San Antonio as I left.
I never envisioned that you would be infatuated by his initial fawning attentiveness. You claim everything is perfect, that your relationship with him is totally different from mine. For your sake, I pray my distrust is not merited and you are proven right.
I will refrain from offering any additional unrequested advice and pledge not to harass you even one minute while you are our guest. We shall have great fun in this exciting city.
Let me know all of your travel arrangements as soon as possible, and, again, make sure they include a Friday night “salon chez nous.”
This entire chapter is a figment of the Author’s imagination.