Julia C.R. Dorr papers
Scope and Contents
Seven archival boxes of materials pertaining to the poet and novelist. The bulk of the papers date from the 1890s and early 1900s. Mrs. Dorr’s correspondence includes a wide selection of esteemed literary figures of the late 19th century, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, who states that, “You Vermonters should have rare inspirations: Nature, our travelers tell me, has made no fairer land”; Ivy Compton Burnett; William Dean Howells; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who admired “the dignity, the finish, the melody of the verse you have given your audience in place of the cheap entertainment they commonly have to put up with.” Also included in the collection are Dorr’s holographic drafts of her prose manuscripts, with corrections; galleys that have been pasted into bound volumes; drafts of her poetry; and assorted reviews, press notices, and contracts; and also includes related posthumous material from her daughter, Zulma DeLacy Steele.
Conditions Governing Access
Open for research without restrictions
Conditions Governing Use
For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biographical / Historical
Julia Caroline Ripley Dorr was perhaps the most celebrated and well regarded female poet and author of her age. She was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 13, 1825, the only child of William Young Ripley and Zulma De Lacy. Just nineteen months later, Julia’s mother died and William took Julia back to Middlebury, Vermont, where he had grown up. Julia was often given into the care of Mrs. Hastings Warren while William was away on business. In 1831, he married the Warrens’ young daughter, Jane Betsy, who became a mother to Julia and also gave birth to six other children. In 1837, the family moved to Rutland, where William Ripley established a successful marble business and built a home called “The Center.”
On February 22, 1847, Julia married Seneca Milo Dorr, a lawyer who was later elected a representative to the Vermont state legislature. The two moved to Ghent, New York, in 1847, where their three eldest children were born. Julia’s literary career began with her submission of poems to The Columbian, which accepted two for publication in 1848. Seneca was supportive of her literary career, even sending one of her poems to the Union Magazine without her knowledge. Julia wrote two successful novels, Farmingdale (1854) and Lanmere (1856), using the pseudonym Caroline Thomas.
After ten years in Ghent, the Dorrs still struggled financially, and so Julia and Seneca determined to move to Oregon. They sold their home in 1857 and journeyed to Rutland to visit with Julia’s family before departing. Having second thoughts about the removal to the West, they decided instead to build a home in Rutland on the banks of Otter Creek known as “The Maples.” For the following half century, Julia published novels, stories, articles, travel books and a column, “Leaves From The Maples,” containing practical advice on home management, family relationships, and other domestic problems. She had four children upon whom she lavished love and attention, and her long marriage to Seneca ended only with his unexpected death in 1884.
Dorr was best known for her poetry, the themes of which were mostly everyday events: a visit from a friend, a birthday, a walk in the woods, a sunset. Her favorite poetic form was the sonnet, and her poems appeared as both periodicals and anthologies in the half century following the Civil War. She was invited to compose Vermont’s “Centennial Poem” in 1877, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Vermont’s independence and the Battle of Bennington. The Rutland Herald reported that “the effect of the poem was remarkable, melting many to tears, and then calling forth loud bursts of enthusiasm such as are rarely witnessed during the reading of a poem on such an occasion.”
Julia Dorr attended the “Holmes Breakfast” in 1879, to honor Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes on his seventieth birthday. She was one of the three women to whom special attention was shown, the other two being Julia Ward Howe and Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1907, she was introduced at a “Longfellow Dinner” as one of the few present who had known Mr. Longfellow personally. Middlebury College awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in 1910, with the declaration that “you have written the peace and beauty of our northern valleys … you have sung your quiet way into the hearts of Vermont men and women.” She continued to write until her death on January 18, 1913.
Source: Clifford, Deborah. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Vermont Women. Guilford, Conn: TwoDot, 2009.
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The papers of Julia C.R. Dorr reveal a poet and novelist who was, in her own time, celebrated along with Julia Ward Howe and Harriet Beecher Stowe in the pantheon of 19th century female literary greats. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that her poetry was “written with an elegance which shows much practice & easy command of lyric metres & expressions; but much more than that, with great tenderness & humanity.” She was also (before Robert Frost definitively assumed the role) unofficial poet laureate of Vermont. From the Dorr residence on the banks of Otter Creek known as “The Maples,” she penned poetry celebrating nature and society in northern New England. She composed the “Centennial Poem” for Vermont in 1877, and became only the second woman to receive an honorary degree from Middlebury College, in 1910.
The collection is arranged in five (5) series. Series I: Correspondence; Series II: Prose Manuscripts; Series III: Poetry; Series IV: Reviews, Press notices, Contracts; Series V: Miscellaneous Papers.
Other Finding Aids
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Zulma DeLacy Steele to the Julian W. Abernethy Collection of American Literature.
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