MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

The Literary World through the Eyes of a Woman at the turn of the 19th Century

Miss Ella M. Boult, writer and editor, served as assistant editor and secretary to Edmund Clarence Stedman from 1899 until his death in 1908.  Stedman was a journalist on the staffs of the Tribune and the World, as well as a poet, critic, and editor of literary anthologies.    Through her capacity as Stedman’s “right hand man” – as she is referred to by Edward Everett Hale, author, historian and clergyman, in a letter from September 9, 1899 – she became a frequent correspondent with many of the literati of the early 20th century.

Letter to Ella Boult from Edward E. Hale, 1899, in the Ella Boult Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.12..

Stedman made his home in the Lawrence Park neighborhood of Bronxville in the 1890s, and many other writers and artists soon joined him, establishing the Lawrence Park Artists’ Colony.   Much of the correspondence in the collection is sent between New York City and Lawrence Park.

Letter to Ella Boult from Tudor Jenks, 1903, in the Ella M. Bout Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.75A.

Miss Boult  migrated between several part-time residences during her life, and Stedman’s home in the Lawrence Park Colony was among those;  many of the individuals she corresponded with either had homes or stayed as guests in the colony.  Several letters in the collection include notes such the one to the left from the author and poet Tudor Jenks, stating “I wish you were back in the Park again.”

Jenks sent the letter above to Miss Boult upon publication of her epic poem The romance of Cinderella; being the true history of Eleanor de Bohun, and her lover, Hallam Beaufort, duke of Somerset: together with divers happenings concerning the mysterious black knight, and other illustrious persons: also setting forth the unnatural and inhuman conduct of the Lady Eleanor’s stepmother, and her two stepsisters, Mistress Rotraut and Mistress Dowsabel.   The book was illustrated by Beatrice Stevens, Miss Boult’s close friend, living companion, and artistic collaborator.

Upon originally learning of Miss Ella Boult and this collection of papers, I immediately (and mistakenly) called to mind an image of an early Peggy Olson from Mad Men; I thought the main difference was simply half a century and a typewriter.  However, not only did Miss Boult correspond with several literary figures in her capacity as Stedman’s secretary,  she formed personal relationships with the likes of Ridgley Torrence, who was instrumental in the advancement of African American theater; John Dos Passos, who is best known for his work the U.S. A Trilogy; and Reginald Birch, illustrator of Little Lord Fauntleroy.   Throughout the collection, these individuals and others consult Miss Boult on editorial and artistic questions regarding their own work, provide congratulations on her writing achievements, and also correspond about personal matters.  An illustrated card from Birch is pictured below.

Illustrated Card from from Reginald Birch, undated, in the Ella M. Bout Papers. Museum of the City of New York. 50.211.76.

This collection provides a unique glimpse not only into the life of a working woman of the early 20th century, but also into the New York literary world.  Despite the gender assumptions of the era, Miss Boult was clearly accepted by a predominantly male literary scene as one of their own.

Special thanks to one of our many summer interns, Marika Plater; without her detailed research into Miss Ella Boult and this collection of papers, this post wouldn’t be possible.

About Lindsay Turley

As the Museum's Director of Collections, I oversee projects involving the stewardship and access of the Museum's collections objects.

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This entry was posted on November 15, 2011 by in Manuscripts and Ephemera and tagged , , , , , .

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