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About the OI

Remembering Pauline Maier by Mary Beth Norton

Pauline Maier

Photograph courtesy of Andrea Maier.

Pauline Maier served on the Council of the Omohundro Institute from 1981 to 1984.

Remarks delivered on October 29, 2013, at the MIT celebration of the life of Pauline Maier

Pauline and I first met at Harvard on December 8, 1966. I can say that definitively because I did what Pauline would have done. In preparing this short remembrance of her and our relationship I consulted a reliable primary source: the diary I kept while I was a graduate student.

I wrote thus after a History Department luncheon, which I attended as a tutor: “I met there Pauline Maier, who’s working with Bailyn on her thesis (Sons of Liberty) & is almost done, & whom I’ve wanted to meet.” So I already knew of Pauline’s existence (but I didn’t say how I’d heard of her). I had by then been at Harvard for 2½ years without meeting her, which as we all know is pretty typical of students who, as we did, enter graduate school four years apart.

Later, I wrote of other encounters; at first, I still called her “Pauline Maier” in the diary, so we didn’t know each other all that well. I then spent the academic year 1967–68 off doing research. By the time I returned for my year of dissertation writing, she had finished her degree and was teaching at U-Mass Boston. I seemingly didn’t see her much (which is not surprising under the circumstances), but when I did record meeting her, she had become just “Pauline.” And so our long relationship truly commenced.

My first teaching job was just down the road at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. I recall that several times during the two years I taught there (1969 to 1971) I came up to Cambridge and stayed with Pauline and Charlie for the weekend. On those visits, Pauline and I talked about possibly writing a book together, with the two of us contributing alternating chapters—hers on the revolutionaries, mine on the loyalists. Somewhere in an old file folder I have a half-sheet of paper on which she wrote a brief rough outline of a book we tentatively titled Americans All.

A result of that early collaboration was papers we gave at a Library of Congress conference in May 1972. Her talk there was titled “The Beginnings of American Republicanism”; mine was, “The Loyalist Critique of the Revolution.” Pauline always loved that paper, published obscurely in a slim volume by the library. She frequently told me she liked to assign it to her students—and in 2011 she became the first person to cite it in an article in more than 30 years, as I discovered recently from Google Scholar. Incidentally, her memory of that conference, shared in a 2011 email exchange, included a comment I had completely forgotten. It came from the assistant Librarian of Congress about the two of us: Elizabeth Hamer, Pauline recalled, had looked disdainfully at our cvs and remarked, “I know you two are young, but is this all you have done?”

Once I moved to Cornell and began focusing primarily on women’s history, our scholarly interests drifted apart, but our friendship remained, cemented in particular by the academic year we spent together at the Charles Warren Center in 1974–75. Afterwards, I would stop to see her and maybe spend a night or two at her house when I was in the Boston area. In that period Pauline decamped for a year to Madison to teach at the University of Wisconsin. I knew she wasn’t going to stay in the midwest when she told me that she never opened a bank account there and when she also regularly returned to Cambridge to get her hair cut And sure enough, she soon moved back here to MIT in 1978.

Then I acquired my house on the Vineyard and she her house in Little Compton—thanks to the textbooks we both wrote. I visited her once in Little Compton, where some 17th-century ancestors of mine had lived, so we prowled through a cemetery looking for them, without success. She never visited me on the Vineyard, but she did come three times in recent years to Ithaca—once to meet with my graduate seminar to discuss American Scripture, and later to give a public lecture on Ratification. On those occasions she and the students were very pleased with the results of the visit. In our final email exchanges this past summer, she said she had become “quite fond” of some of my graduate students.

Most recently, she drove to Ithaca from Cambridge just 13 months ago to attend the conference that some former students organized in my honor. And last March, I was fortunate enough once more to attend a small conference at the University of Georgia with her. Pauline went out of her way to ensure that we would arrive in Atlanta and leave from there more or less simultaneously—in preparing this talk I counted 27 emails in my inbox from her on transportation arrangements alone! Thus we had many hours together for the first time in several years, including about 90 minutes each way on the shuttle bus to and from Athens. I know we amused the other passengers and the bus driver with our animated conversation as we caught up on many topics.

Since I have now returned to work on the revolutionary period, I thoroughly enjoyed trying out my ideas on her at the conference, and she felt the same way. After we were both back home, she emailed to say, “I was really pleased for the time we got to talk this weekend, and esp. to catch up with what you are doing on your 1774 book. . .I am delighted to have you back working on the Revolution.” I was looking forward to collaborating with her once more—not that we would ever write that book together we had planned so long ago, but that I would be able to rely on her wisdom and knowledge as I worked on a project she told me was much needed. But then, alas, her final illness manifested itself. We had some email exchanges as late as early July about sources I was working on. She could no longer speak by then, but she still could compose emails. Looking back at those underscored for me the depth of the loss to the community of Early American scholars and to me personally when she died so prematurely. I shall treasure the memory of those final interactions for the rest of my life.

I want to end with something completely different. If Pauline repeatedly said she loved my “loyalist critique” article, she regularly—and I mean regularly—chastised me for a decision I made while revising my dissertation for publication. I had omitted a passage she particularly liked, and she never let me forget it. And so, in her honor, I conclude my remarks today with an abridged version of that passage, which described the loyalist exiles’ longing in London for American foods:

One of the customs maintained in the [Thomas] Hutchinson household was eating salt fish on Saturday night, “when we usually have a smaller or greater number of our N. England friends [to join us],” [his son] Elisha informed his wife. An invitation to one of these dinners was always welcome; [the Maine refugee] Edward Oxnard regarded salt fish as “no small delicacy” because “the length of time that Fish is kept here renders it soft & flabby.”. . .

The exiles from all parts of America dispatched detailed orders for varying amounts of apples, nuts, corn, potatoes, cranberries, dried clams, and even pickled peppers to their relatives and friends. Thomas Hutchinson directed that the cranberries sent him be “the largest and fairest, picked when they are come to their colour, and not too ripe.” [They gave detailed directions about packing such foods. A New Jersey clergyman observed that a barrel of apples “got up in the common way” arrived more than half rotten, while one with individually wrapped apples was “superexcellent” in all respects.]. . .

Those whose relatives were lax in sending them such items from home naturally felt neglected. “You are a prety fellow for not sending an apple nut or any one thing,” [a New Yorker] told [his brother in law] in 1786, “I have din’d with all the Americans here and not one family that has not got everything from there that the Country produces Cranberry &c &c &c even oysters.”

Reading these words again for the first time in many years made me realize that Pauline was right: I should have left this passage in the book.

Mary Beth Norton
Cornell University