Marianne Moore: Poetry

November 29, 2010

Ellen Thayer, Bryn Mawr Friend, Dial Colleague

The Dial Office (today) Built 1846

When Moore was a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, she occasionally wrote home about her friendship with Ellen Thayer: that she planned to take her to a dance and composed a Valentine verse for her (SL p. 24), that she took tea with classmates including Ellen (SL p. 27). Thayer graduated with a degree in Latin and French in 1907, two years ahead of Moore.  In 1925, Ellen became Assistant Editor at The Dial, the same year Moore became Editor. The two women worked closely together until the magazine’s demise in 1929.

Ellen (1885-1971) was the daughter of Albert Smith Thayer (1854-1942). His siblings were Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940), famous as the author of “Casey at the Bat,” Ellen Olive Thayer (1861-1932), later Mrs. Samuel H. Clary, and Edward Darling Thayer (1856-1907), father of Scofield Thayer, founder of The Dial. The Thayer patriarch Edward Davis Thayer owned woolen mills in various Massachusetts towns, sources of great wealth. His son Edward continued to manage the mills without his siblings.

Albert Thayer graduated from Harvard, as did his father and brothers, and became a real estate lawyer, practicing in New York City. He married Josephine Ely and they had two daughters, Ellen, born December 15, 1885, and Lucy Ely, born November 9, 1887, in Flushing, Long Island. Both girls attended Flushing Seminary, a girls’ boarding school.

After Bryn Mawr, Ellen spent the years 1909-11 at the Sorbonne, taught French at Wolf Hall, in Denver, for the next two years, and after some time abroad, taught at the Phoebe Ann Thorne

The Dial Garden (Today)

Model School in Bryn Mawr. At the same time, she served as “Reader in French” at Bryn Mawr, 1916-1916. The next year she matriculated for an advanced degree in English at Johns Hopkins, switching to French in 1918. By 1920, she was working as a governess in the home of Milton and Mildred Gundersheimer in Baltimore, presumably in charge of their daughter Jane, age seven.

While in Baltimore, Ellen met Hildegard Nagel, a native of St. Louis working on her degree in social work at Hopkins. They became lifelong companions. Hildegard (1886-1985) was the daughter of Fannie Brandeis (sister of Justice Louis Brandeis) and Charles Nagel, Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Taft (1909-12), and Hildegard, having finished her schooling at Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, became part of the social set in the capitol, attending parties with Helen Taft, the president’s debutante daughter.  Nagel went on to a career as a psychiatric social worker in New York, a founding member of the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, a student and translator of Carl G. Jung, and a prolific translator of German works, largely in the field of psychology.

In 1925 Ellen and Hildegard lived at (or at least gave as their address on a ship’s manifest as) 152 W. 13th Street, the building that housed The Dial. Both women translated essays and reviews for the magazine, prompting Moore to recall that “foreign letter translations- -unsigned in accordance with Dial practice –should make the ghost of the magazine intensively apologetic to . . . Ellen Thayer and Hildegard Nagel” (Nicholas Joost, Scofield Thayer and The Dial (1964) p. 186). Ellen joined Hildegard in the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, an organizations of Jung enthusiasts, attended Jungian conferences in Switzerland, and assisted in translations of Jung’s work. She was present in 1937 when Jung delivered to the Club his lectures that became Psychology and Alchemy.

Moore and Thayer kept in touch over the years. They attended Four Saints in Three Acts together in 1934. In 1954, Moore inscribed a copy of her translation of The Fables of La Fontaine to her. Moore and Norvelle and Frances Brown ran into Ellen and Hildegard at Stonehenge during a 1965 trip. No doubt there were many more encounters than survive in the published correspondence.

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