Anne Firor Scott, ed. Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. xiii + 194 pp. $24.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-3055-0.
Reviewed by John Barnhill (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-SAWH (February, 2008)
A Groundbreaking Historian Profiles Two Groundbreaking Women
Anne Firor Scott is one of the pioneers of women's history. In the Brandeis University archives one day, she serendipitously happened across a collection of correspondence between Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware.
Born at the end of the nineteenth century, Ware (1899-1990) hailed from Boston's white elite. When she first encountered Murray, Ware was already noted as a historian, consumer advocate, and political activist. Murray (1910-85) was a black North Carolinian who graduated from college at sixteen and organized anti-segregation sit-ins in law school. She moved Ware from other causes into civil rights activism. Murray also involved Ware in her many projects over the next forty years, more so than she participated in Ware's professional activities. Late in life, Murray became an Episcopal minister.
Murray initiated the correspondence after attending a constitutional law class taught by Ware at Howard University in 1942, and the exchange of letters continued until Murray died in 1985. Preserved by Murray, the letters span the four decades from the mid-1940s to the 1980s. The two women discussed World War II, the Cold War and red scare, and the civil rights revolution. The correspondence continued long enough for Murray, in particular, to become old-fashioned and a part of history herself.
Scott has selected and edited approximately half of the collection, choosing pieces based on their representativeness and how well they illustrate the women's relationship. She has edited out much extraneous material ("How are the cats?" for example). Scott's footnotes are brief, sufficient to identify persons and events in the context of the correspondence without distracting from the flow. Arrangement is, as expected, chronological.
To provide context for the correspondence, which naturally ignores all the little things that close friends do not need to talk about or explain to each other, Scott provides brief biographies of the two women. Scott also includes a postscript that ties the Ware-Murray-Scott relationship into a fairly tidy package (not perfectly neat because relationships are rarely as tidy as we represent them).
Murray's professional development (and her finances) receive quite a bit of attention. Into the 1960s, Murray was cash-strapped as a self-employed lawyer, educator, junior member of a law firm, and author, and Ware provided occasional financial aid to keep Murray afloat. Another ongoing topic is the multiyear writing project that resulted in Murray's major work, Proud Shoes (1956), a precursor to the Roots phenomenon and by no means a money-maker. For years, Ware provided encouragement, editorial advice, and direction as Murray struggled through draft after draft, block and diversion after block and diversion.
The two women discussed politics frequently; both were strong Democrats and supporters of Adlai Stevenson. They also talked about civil rights, Murray's major interest. And Senator Joseph McCarthy lurks in the background of the 1950s correspondence; at one point Ware was denied permission to go to Chile as a part-time staff member of the Pan American Union, possibly because she belonged to a cooperative bookstore that McCarthy had labeled as subversive.
Early on, the correspondence is mostly from Murray. She comes across as a supplicant, to a large extent. That is not particularly surprising because she was the younger of the two, just starting her career, while Ware was well established and securely elite. Even into the 1950s, Ware provided Murray at least some financial assistance and a great deal of moral support.
During these years, Murray comes across as driven but unsure of her direction. Even successes failed to stabilize her, and she moved from one path to another--lawyer, author, professor, advisor to newly emergent Ghana, expert in civil rights and feminism--but had difficulty staying long enough with any one of them to become what Ware had made of herself, an expert in a given field, with all the professional opportunities and recognition that such stability provides. Much of the difference in stability is a matter of background and temperament. Scott notes in the introductory section that Murray struggled with identity issues early on.
A touch of the student-mentor relationship lingers in the late correspondence, when both women had stature and were aging not so gracefully. Scott notes that Murray's private papers show more resistance to this relationship than her correspondence reveals. For the most part, the letters flow easily back and forth, almost as smoothly as well-written narrative history. Sometimes, though, Scott omits Ware's response to Murray's entreaties, gripes, or requests. The presumption is that Murray failed to keep the missing replies, not that Scott cut them from the volume.
Scott's volume contributes to our understanding of Pauli Murray and Carolyn Ware, two important figures in twentieth-century America. In her explanatory notes, Scott uses the material that she has gleaned from biographies and unpublished sources to allow the reader to follow the correspondence with a sense of context. Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware is also significant as a reminder of the struggles that both minority and majority women endured in the era preceding the women's rights revolution of the 1970s.
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John Barnhill. Review of Scott, Anne Firor, ed., Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and White.
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