Archive for Friday, March 23, 2001

Book is for the ages

March 23, 2001

The book is old. The spine is faded and the covers are frayed. The pages have yellowed and the print is lighter than it might have been when Alfred Whitman, the inspiratoin for the character of Laurie in "Little Women," gave "Evenings With the Poets and Sketches of Their Favorite Scenes" to Annie Soule.

Whitman wrote, "Annie J. Soule from her friend Alfred" on the inside cover of the book.

"It came to use by way of the consolidation of households," said Ann Hemphill of the book. "It's pretty well over 100 years old."

Hemphill knew Annie Soule as her great aunt Annie and knew nothing of her connection to Alfred Whitman.

"I didn't know anything about Whitman really," she said.

When Hemphill found out who the Alfred that signed her great aunt's book was, she knew that she had discovered a great piece of American history.

Whitman, who moved to Lawrence from Massachusetts at age 16 after his father Edmund helped to found the free-state town, more than likely met Soule later in life.

"There's little doubt that they became acquainted there (Lawrence) if they had not met back east," said Hemphill.

Whitman left his Concord, Mass., home and neighbors and became the founder of what is now Lawrence's Social Service League. Whitman's childhood neighbor was a girl by the name of Louisa May Alcott. According to letters written by Alcott to Whitman in 1969, he is the character Laurie in "Little Women."

Alcott wrote, "Laurie is you All my little girl-friends are madly in love with you."

"I've always enjoyed the book ('Little Women')," Hemphill said.

Besides being the inspiration for a character in an American literary classic, Whitman played a crucial role in the history of Lawrence.

In 1888 Whitman founded the Associated Charities, a group that helped the poor. Whitman's connection to Lawrence prompted Hemphill to donate the book to Lawrence's Watkins Community Museum. The presentation was made Friday.

"I told Steve Jansen about it (the book). He said he'd sure like to have it for the museum," said Hemphill.

Jansen, the director of Watkins is pleased to have the book.

"We're very grateful for the gift," he said. Jansen elaborated on Whitman's role in Lawrence history and said the connection between Whitman and Alcott only boosts the uniqueness of the donation.

"Alfred Whitman was a local realtor and settler of this area as well as the inspiration for a famous literary work," Jansen said. "It's one of the stories that is not as well known as others in Lawrence's past."

Hemphill said the donation is from her entire family, not just from her. The importance of a book passed down and intertwined between her relatives makes the donation even more special. Though Hemphill was surprised and intrigued by the connection and history the book held, she said that donating the book to the museum was not a difficult choice.

"We have a good many old books," she said.

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