Miss Pat: Pam’s Bedtime Reading

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It is hard to believe that it was only a week ago that I sat down to write about Miss Pat’s adventures in the juvenile series written in the first years of the 20th century, the first being published in 1915. After an announcement about the Presidential election was made I detoured and spent Sunday considering my deep affection for the voting process in our country. It’s been quite a week, but I don’t mind sinking back into thoughts of the early 20th century via fiction this morning. I hope you will grab another cup of coffee and join me.

The years between 1915 and 1918 in our country’s history have always interested me. The teens were years that seemed to hold great excitement in this country. Technological advancements abounded – photography change and improves rapidly and gives way to moving picture films – bicycles become early motorcycles and automobiles push horses out of the way. It was a wonderful, bright world and it just seemed to get better and better.

In these times, American women first rode bicycles, then drove automobiles and suffragettes fought for the vote. (I wrote about one series devoted just to women driving, The Automobile Girls¬†and it can be found here.) It was all evolving quickly it seems and I always feel a sort of giddy excitement radiating from it. For me 1916 is the pinnacle of this sensibility, all the hope and enthusiasm peaks – then 1917 comes, the US enters WWI, the 1918 influenza epidemic follows and the second half of the teens is a much more somber time. (Of course we’ve spent much time recently considering the epidemic of ’18, an attempt to read the tea leaves about our own Covid situation.)

By Ginther via the Bucks County Artist Database. Is that a black cat on her lap?

The first three volumes of the series, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, Miss Pat at School and Miss Pat in the Old World were all published in 1915. They aren’t long, but I assume they were written in the years before and the contract received for three at once.

Because it is the most accessible, I was able to obtain Miss Pat at School first by downloading it on Project Gutenberg for free. It appears to be the most popular volume and original copies and reprints are available. It is worth noting that the site Goodreads has been useful in figuring out the order of the books and how to acquire them. As noted in the first post, there is not so much as a Wikipedia entry about Pemberton Ginther or the books.

Arguably this second voulme,¬†Miss Pat at School, it is the best volume and a fair place to start if you aren’t a completist like I am – Ginther clearly drawing on her own experience at art school makes it more vivid. The Manhattan art school they attend is very reminiscent of The Arts Student’s League (which I attended briefly in the late 1980’s and in my life in the great before I walked past it on my way to and from my office daily), although I do not believe it is ever named as such. It is co-educational, unlike Moore College of Art which we know Pemberton Ginther attended, but she also took classes at the Philadelphia Academy which was probably a great deal like the Art Student’s League here.


Illustration for Miss Pat at School, by the author.

It is a classic book of its type – filled with dress up balls worthy of a Busby Berkley production by description; minor scholastic intrigue around a prize which the eldest sister, Elinor (whose nickname is Norn, never heard that name before and just love it), is hugely talented and who is a prime candidate to win.

These three young sisters living in New York alone and going to art school were clearly just on the edge of respectability for the times. They are orphaned and under the charge of Norn, who is probably about 18 or 19. For me these books are about that edge and the reality of the pressures of remaining respectable that women in particular at the time faced – as combined with the realities of making a living and being young and alone in the world.

Illustration by the author from a later volume, Miss Pat at Artemis Lodge

Many references are made to the specifics of the first novel and a great deal of plot that occurred in it and I was peeved I was reading them out of order. However Miss Pat and Her Sisters turned out to be harder to obtain. I was eventually rewarded for my diligence with a fairly inexpensive copy on eBay as I was unable to find it online.

Miss Pat and Her Sisters presents the three young women, recently orphaned at the death of their father, their mother longer deceased. We never get the backstory on either parent, nor their demise and find the three young women under the care of the eldest, but it is Miss Pat the middle sister, who engineers much of the plot and displaying the necessary pluck and drive to move the story.

The girls have inherited a lovely house, located in a small town which seems to be somewhere in northwestern New York state, from an aunt they didn’t know (is always good to kill off people no one will much miss), but sadly no money to maintain it. The book follows their endeavors to make money which include: candy making (hard work, but successful until someone steals the business out from under them, nefarious man!); giving music lessons; starting a library (also successful, but no one did the math to figure out that it wasn’t going to make enough to save their bacon); and taking in boarders – you can imagine how that might work out.

Drawing or illustration by Pemberton Ginther currently on sale on eBay.

Staying on the right side of being respectable is a large paradigm of this book. They feel they cannot let anyone know they need money which adds difficulty to earning it – being impoverished and without family evidently reflected poorly on young women at the time. Unlike ambitious young men their stories of self made fortune, women had fewer avenues.

Therefore, despite their enterprise their fortunes are ultimately largely turned by the appearance of a lost twin brother (yeah, we never really find out why or how they were separated so no spoiler alert there), and ultimately a marriage change their financial fortune. This of course is largely the only way women at the time really went from rags to riches. All in all, this volume only vaguely pays off on the promise of the delivery of the entire backstory. It disappoints in that sense.

The third volume, Miss Pat in the Old World, (this volume is available for free on Google Play books) takes them on a ship voyage to a Europe which turns out to be on the verge of war – sending them home abruptly. This volume has some marked racism so a heads up there. It is in part an interesting glimpse of the almost real time account of war beginning in Europe. I have to wonder if it reflects an actual experience of the author – it has that sense about it. In many ways I found it the thinnest of these. There are some passages of fairly wonky European history filling it out. I must say the ocean voyage was the most interesting part for me – the ship leaves Manhattan and makes a stop at Atlantic Highland, NJ near where I grew up and where I recently landed by ferry.

Miss Pat and Company Limited (also available for free on Google Play) returns us to the ancestral home, Greycroft. Miss Pat is back at her money making schemes and this time takes to raising chickens with mixed results. Norn has gone off to live in Manhattan with her husband to pursue a career as an artist, and this satisfying volume concentrates on Miss Pat and her younger sister, Judy (or Ju as she is known to family) residing in the aforementioned family home. Having removed the direness of her need for funds allows for a bit more fun in the enterprise. Miss Pat is able to glory in her pursuits and I feel well launched for the second half of the series.

Acquiring these books has been a bit difficult to map. I have a reprint of Miss Pat’s Holidays at Greycroft (book five, this in a reprint version I paid up for – they are available in a spotty way in reprinted paperbacks), Miss Pat at Artemis Lodge (book 6) safely tucked away on my iPad from Project Gutenberg, and Miss Pat’s Career (book 9) sitting on my desk. Original volumes can sometimes be found on eBay, or for significant amounts on other used book sites, but not consistently – in this sense Judy Bolton they are not. While waiting I began an entirely new series from the same period, centered around another orphaned but plucky young woman named Ruth Fielding, more to come on that.

Found this volume at a flea market a few weeks ago and started at the beginning of the series which is available on Google Play. I am excited for the period descriptions of film making.

However, even though they are quick reads I believe I have my bedtime reading more or less set until the beginning of the New Year – alleviating the daily concerns of 2020 before heading to the Land of Nod each night and setting me up for better dreams. I highly recommend it. Seems that Pemberton Ginther wrote a few other series and something called The Jade Necklace seems to have been very popular. I think between Ruth Fielding and these I will make it well into 2021, armed at bedtime no matter what the world decides to throw my way.

Miss Pat: the Prelude

Please note: I wrote this earlier this morning, before the news about the election being decided. Whatever your affiliation reader, I hope you will join me in a sense of relief that we as a country voted during a worldwide pandemic and that the system held, votes were counted and we have come out the other side. Let’s hear it for democracy!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I suspect many of us have found or continue to seek ways of comforting our tired brains, bloated as those brains are these days, with bad news and uncertainty. Pictorama readers know that one of the paths to calm for me has been baking. (An expanding waistline has sent me to exploring soups and stews more recently – more to come on that.)

The act of making something from dispirit parts, the smell permeating the tiny apartment while cooking, and the lovely, nourishing end product are balms for a frazzled Pam. (Some of my baking posts can be found here and here.) I sometimes wonder what Kim makes of suddenly having a wife who not only now makes two out of three meals a day (I took over lunch recently and we are consuming simple but thoughtful ones), but is fully re-exploring her atrophied cooking muscle. Generations of cooking ancestors are having a field day with me. The days of heating up pre-made dishes are largely a memory here.

Meanwhile, although I have continued my work out via video with my long-standing trainer (shout out for Harris Cowan – love you!), with limited time and no access to a gym my cardio has sadly fallen away. I admit that I never liked it as much as lifting, but it was built into a routine and if nothing else my body misses it.

Early morning on York Avenue this week.

I attempted to cure this ill with walking up our 16 flights of stairs (part of Kim’s regime), but never found it really satisfactory. This week I have started an attempt to reclaim some early morning time from work (yes, I am one of those people whose work hours have more or less consumed all my waking ones) with walks along the East River. The opening of a long-closed gate which leads from Carl Schurz Park to a path down the East side has served as my destination thus far. The East River, sparkling with morning sun runs along one side and the speeding cars on the FDR are on the other. Now that I have told you all about it perhaps it will help me maintain my resolution as the weather turns foul.

Impressive pigeon gathering a few mornings ago in the park. I have a video that runs for a full minute, walking past these pigeons.

The other way I clear the thorny issues from my mind is my bedtime reading. My bedtime reading is separate from my audio book listening (what I listen to when I exercise or am stuck waiting in line somewhere which happens increasingly these days) which runs to contemporary novels and some historic fiction. Nothing you would be embarrassed to be seen reading in public, but nothing too trying to the frayed nerves. (I have a friend who made me laugh recently when she said she only reads historic non-fiction because she knows how it ends!)

Bedtime reading has been juvenile fiction from the early 20th century for quite awhile. It certainly predates my quarantine reading, (posts about Grace Harlowe and even Honey Bunch can be found here and here and date back to 2016), but I devoted the first few months of pandemic life largely to the pursuit of Judy Bolton, girl detective. I have already opined on my affection for Judy Bolton (those posts can be found here and here) and Kim has just taken them up so I am happily reliving them.

This series of 30 books has been hard to replace in my affection. Their plucky young heroine and her escapades were always good at setting me right before drifting off to sleep – mind relieved of fretting about work and world and instead thinking about the exploits of Blackberry her cat and others.

Our good friend Everett Rand, who along with his wife Goioa Palmiari, founded and edits the annual mag Mineshaft, was responsible for introducing me to Judy Bolton. It was to Everett that I turned to for my next fix. Among his recommendations were the Miss Pat series.

Written by Pemperton Ginther (nee Mary Pemperton Ginther, a name I am fascinated by so it is fortunate I am not naming so much as a kitten right now), this series of ten books was written between 1915 and 1920, a prodigious output. Ms. Ginther, more obscure than Margaret Sutton of Judy Bolton fame, does not currently enjoy so much as a Wikipedia entry, but I did find a bit of biographical data on a database devoted to Bucks County artists.

Ginther was born in 1869 and was a painter, illustrator and novelist. Evidently some of her stained glass designs still grace churches in Philadelphia and Suffolk, Virginia. She attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, (a woman’s college at the time and one I was very interested in attending until on one visit with my mother we found a junkie curled up in the hallway entrance to the dorm – mom vetoed it after that) and she was prolific.

A painting by Pemberton Ginther found on an auction website.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this post, I will regale you with the joys of the Miss Pat series as I am at more or less the halfway point in the series. I know you are on the edge of your seat! For now, having just completed a Saturday morning call for work, I am going to pour myself another cup of coffee and make my way outside for that morning walk!