Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cavendish Women You Should Know: Ethel Roosevelt Derby

Ethel after moving into the White House
Born at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, NY, Ethel was the youngest daughter and fourth child of President Theodore Roosevelt. Seven years younger than her half sister Alice, she had two older [Theodore (Ted) and Kermit]  and two younger  [Archibald (Archie) and Quentin] brothers. She was not quite 10 when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and her family took up residence in the White House. She would live there for seven years, having her “Coming Out Party” from Pennsylvania Ave at 17.

Unlike her more flamboyant and attention seeking older sister Alice, Ethel preferred not to be the center of attention. None the less she was a  “take charge” person from childhood, While her brothers would refer to her as “bossy,” her father once remarked: "she had a way of doing everything and managing everybody." In some aspects, this would be a lifetime role she assumed within her family.

In spite of her age, Ethel often filled in for her mother at the White House, be it care for her siblings, ordering meals or assigning tasks to the staff. In his Letters to My Children, President Roosevelt makes note of Ethel’s role within the family.

1904 to Kermit, Mother went off for three days to New York and Mame and Quentin took instant advantage of her absence to fall sick. Quentin's sickness was surely due to a riot in candy and ice-cream with chocolate sauce. He was a very sad bunny next morning and spent a couple of days in bed. Ethel, as always, was as good as gold both to him and to Archie, and largely relieved me of my duties as vice-mother.
Ethel is on the far right standing behind her mother.
 I few months later he writes to Ethel, I think you are a little trump and I love your letter, and the way you take care of the children and keep down the expenses and cook bread and are just your own blessed busy cunning self.

 A day later he sends a “Picture Letter” to Darling Ethel:
Here goes for the picture letter! [These are letter that he illustrates.]
Ethel administers necessary discipline to Archie and Quentin.

Ethel gives sick Yagenka a bottle of medicine.

Father playing tennis with Mr. Cooley. (Father's shape and spectacles are reproduced with photographic fidelity; also notice Mr. Cooley's smile.)

Leo chases a squirrel, which fortunately he can't catch.

A nice policeman feeding a squirrel with bread; I fed two with bread this afternoon.

There! My invention has given out. Mother and Aunt Emily have been on a picnic down the river with General Crozier; we have been sitting on the portico in the moonlight. Sister is very good. Your loving father.

In 1906, the President letters are addressed to Blessed Ethel or Darling Ethel, and on June 24, he has a question for her, Has the lordly Ted turned up yet? Is his loving sister able, unassisted, to reduce the size of his head, or does she need any assistance from her male parent? Your affectionate father, The Tyrant.

The President wrote to his children as equals and felt he could confide in Ethel, who was about 14 when he wrote to her while she was at Sagamore Hill. He said of a party of boys that Quentin had at the White House: "They played hard, and it made me realize how old I had grown and how very busy I had been the last few years to find that they had grown so that I was not needed in the play. Do you recollect how we all of us used to play hide and go seek in the White House, and have obstacle races down the hall when you brought in your friends?"

Cavendish was Ethel’s summer home as an adult. She would tell stories at the Library about what it was like growing up in the White House. Phyllis Bont related two of the stories Ethel told. Prior to state dinners, Ethel and her siblings would hide under the tables, easily concealed by the floor length table cloths. Once the women were seated, the women would slip off their shoes and the Roosevelt children would get to work mixing them up. Another time, the children placed a donkey in an elevator and pressed the button so when the elevator arrived at his designated floor, a snooty statesman they didn’t care for would be greeted by the donkey.

Ethel and Dick Derby
Married to Dr. Richard Derby in 1913, Ethel would volunteer with him in WWI as a nurse at the American Ambulance Hospital, leaving behind their baby with her parents at Sagamore Hill. While the four sons of Theodore Roosevelt are credited for joining the army long before the US entered World War I, it was actually Ethel who enlisted first in 1914. It is also where she began her close and lifelong association with the American Red Cross.

Ethel’s nursing background was instrumental in her abilities to help her family heal from numerous tragedies. Her brother Quentin, a pilot, was killed in WWI in 1918. Six months later her father would die. In 1922, her oldest son died of blood poisoning at eight years of age. The trauma of losing a child plunged Dick Derby into a deep depression that lasted for several years. It would fall to Ethel to maintain the household, the finances and the rest of the family.

Out of her four brothers, three would die at war-Quentin in WWI and Ted and Kermit during WWII. Ted died of a heart attack several days after D Day, where he lead troops Sadly Kermit took his own life while serving in Alaska.  

By 1928, with her husband doing much better and working at the Glen Cove Hospital, Ethel began what turned into six decades of volunteering with the Oyster Bay Red Cross. She played a major role in preserving Sagamore Hill, her father's estate at Oyster Bay and having it placed on the National Trust for Historical Preservation. She was a member of the board of directors of the Museum of Natural History in New York. Like her first cousin Eleanor, whom she was thought to resemble, she was concerned with civil rights. However, her focus was local first. In Oyster Bay, where she thought blacks were being discriminated against, Ethel formed a committee to bring low income housing to the community.
When asked to pose for her portrait, she opted for her Red Cross uniform

She gave the seconding speech for the nomination of Richard Nixon at the Republican National Convention in 1960. Her last visit to the White House was in 1977 when she visited the Carters.

"If there was any local activity of any kind, she either started it or was in it," said Leonard Hall, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a congressman whose district was made up of part of Nassau County. "'No' was not in her vocabulary."

Ethel was certainly involved in Cavendish activities, when she was in town.  Phyllis Bont describes how Ethel was one of the first people to stop by and welcome them to Cavendish, when they moved here in 1957, when Dr. Gene Bont became the physician for the Black River Health Center . Ethel brought wine, bread and “something else” Phyllis recalled. It’s very possible that the third item was salt and she would have recited the lines from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” -bread so you never know hunger, salt that you may always have flavor and wine for joy and prosperity.  Phyllis had no idea who she was, and thought she was a farmer’s wife. However, it wouldn’t be long before she understood who Ethel was.

Mary Davis, the realtor, invited Phyllis to come and play bridge with a number of other women in town. Ethel showed up and announced that while she didn’t play bridge, she wanted the women to know there was a new clinic -the Black River Health Center. The doctors were excellent and she suggested that the women change doctors immediately. Phyllis was mortified and said the bridge playing was tense at best. She noted that while that may have worked in Oyster Bay in didn’t work in a small rural Vermont town, where people felt a loyalty to their physician and weren’t about to change regardless of who the new provider was or who told them to make such a change.

Over the years, Ethel was to give Phyllis a copy of her father’s book, “Letters to My Children.” In the winter, Ethel would host a sledding party, inviting people to enjoy the amazing hill on their property off the South Reading Rd. Ethel helped to found the Cavendish Historical Society, served on the board and even donated to the first exhibit held at the Museum.

• Roosevelt-Derby-Williams Papers 1863-1977 Papers concerning three generations of the Theodore Roosevelt family. Chiefly contains correspondence, of Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, her daughter, Ethel Roosevelt Derby, and Ethel's daughter, Edith Roosevelt Derby Williams. Includes sizable correspondence of Emily Tyler Carow, Theodore Roosevelt, Quentin Roosevelt, and Richard Derby, as well, and numerous photographs.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Cavendish Women You Should Know: Phyllis Bont

Phyllis at her loom
--> By the time Phyllis Bont arrived in Cavendish in 1957, she was a nurse, wife and mother. From Grand Rapids, MI, Phyllis attended Wayne State University and graduated from Butterworth School of Nursing. Married to Dr. Eugene Bont, they had looked at various towns in Vermont before agreeing that Cavendish was the place for Gene to start his medical practice at the Black River Medical Center (BRHC).

Prior to the Bonts arrival, the physician serving the Cavendish/Proctorsville area died. Two fatal car accidents occurred and Cavendish found they could not rely on Ludlow for medical coverage. Community leaders meet with the University of Vermont Medical School and were advised to equip a medical office and then recruit a physician. 

Kenwood Mills, who purchased Gay Brothers Mills and its holdings in 1951, donated the stone building to help form the new BRHC. Phyllis was attracted to Cavendish because members of the community donated their time to renovate the building and workers at Kenwood Mills had $1 a week withheld from their pay to help create the medical facility.
Black River Health Center

In addition to raising seven children, Phyllis was involved in numerous community activities along with being a visiting nurse. In the 1970s, it was agreed at a family meeting that Phyllis would enroll at the University of Vermont’s in what would be their third graduating class of nurse practitioners (RNPs). For a year and a half, Phyllis worked Monday and Tuesday for the Visiting Nurses and from Tuesday night to Friday night she would attend class in Burlington. Some of her clinical experiences were at the BRHC, where Gene had recognized the critical need for physician assistants (PAs) and RNPs in the delivery of health care in rural areas.

“I wanted to do a better job as a visiting nurse,” Phyllis gave as her reason for returning to school. However, once she had received her RNP, she found that she became frustrated when doctors did not acknowledge her ability to diagnosis patients. Given that Gene had been using PAs for quite some time, she joined the BRHC, where she worked until 1988, when they relocated to Albany Medical Center (AMC).

AMC offered its own set of rewarding experiences and challenges. Phyllis not only worked on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic, but she also expanded her role in the Family Medicine Department to include being a teacher and preceptor. Because the Bonts still called Cavendish home, they would return on weekends. Phyllis volunteered her time, and even her home, to those affected by HIV/AIDS in Vermont and New Hampshire.

When Gene and Phyllis decided to retire, they returned to Cavendish after having spent 11 years in Albany. Phyllis was quite adamant that she didn’t want to spend her retirement cleaning the large house, nor was she interested in being a nurse. In addition to spending time with her children and grandchildren, she returned to a childhood passion-weaving.

Phyllis's favorite pattern that she has woven.
Phyllis thanks her 4th grade practical arts teacher for allowing her to make use of a loom from grades 4-6. After that she didn’t have an opportunity to weave again until the 1970s, when she took classes in Charlestown. However, it was when she hung up her stethoscope and started collecting fibers that another whole career took off.

One of the original founders of Six Loose Ladies, Phyllis not only helped to staff the store, that for many years was on the corner of Depot Street and Route 131, but she taught weaving and sold her incredible shawls, scarves and other items. 
One of Phyllis's shawls

Phyllis continues her career as a healer through fiber arts.  The gorgeous shawls and scarves she makes is her way to continually wrap someone in loving-kindness. Her shawls, in particular, come with a note about wrapping it around you when you need a hug.

In the series Cavendish Women You Should Know, Phyllis knew all of the women being featured and her memories of them will appear in upcoming posts.

Listen to an interview of Phyllis on Vermont Public Radio

Friday, March 2, 2018

Cavendish Women You Should Know-Overview

As March is Women’s History Month, the Cavendish Historical Society’s (CHS) annual meeting on March 18, 2-4 at the Cavendish Baptist Church, will begin with the presentation Cavendish Women You Should Know. Throughout the month, CHS will be posting to their blog, biographies of  women who have made a difference in our town. When the Museum opens in May, there will be a special display Women in Cavendish History featuring Phyllis Bont, Ethel Roosevelt Derby, Natalia Solzhenitsyn, Mrs. Svetlova and Mary van Schaik.

It should be noted that this project is just the beginning and in future years, every March will see additions to CHS’s Women’s History Project.

 If you have information you would like to contribute to Cavendish Women’s History, please call (802) 226-7807, e-mail or send to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142

Today’s post is an overview of women in Cavendish history. We begin with the “keepers” of Cavendish history, which has been predominately women.

Mary Churchill spent a year documenting who was buried in Cavendish and was assisted by Harold Lawrence, Mrs. Thurston Owens, Mrs. Francis Ward and her son Dan Churchill. The resulting booklet, Cemeteries of Cavendish: 1776-1976 Bicentennial Project, is still used by many to locate their ancestor’s graves.

Sandra Stearns wrote Cavendish Hillside Farm 1939-1957 so that her grandchildren would know what life was like at one time in Cavendish. Called the Laura Ingalls Wilder of Cavendish, Stearns wrote, “During my growing up years on the farm I lived things that my children and grandchildren cannot even begin to imagine. Life was hard, conveniences were few and far between, but I was happy being outdoors and around animals. I appreciated school and church for they were my major chances to get away from the work and solitude. I was blessed to live and see and do so many things the old fashioned way! “

Barbara Kingsbury has written a comprehensive history of Cavendish, while at the same time telling the story of her husband’s family. In developing “Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish, Vermont : A Family and Town History 1876-1960 (updated in 1994), Kingsbury spent countless hours reading town reports, family diaries as well as interviewing many residents. This is a very unique town history, which will be of interest for many generations to come.

Linda Welch, a descendant of the Farr family and CHS genealogist, continues to research and document Cavendish genealogy. To date she has written four volumes in the Families of Cavendish series.

• Volume I, 2nd Edition: Includes families Adams, Baldwin, Coffeen, Dutton, Fletcher, Gilbert, Lowell, Proctor, Russell, Spafford & Wheelock
• Volume II: Includes families Hall, Parker (Abraham, James & Thomas), Pollard, Skinner & Spaulding
• Volume III: Includes families Adams, Blood, Burbank, French, Gammon and Giddings
• Volume IV: Atherton, Bemis, Heald, and Ordway

Margo Caulfield conceived the idea of a children’s biography of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived 18 of his 20 years in exile in Cavendish, while teaching a group of home school students about WWII veterans,. A third grader at the time, Isabelle Gross became very upset when she learned of Solzhenitsyn’s treatment during the war. She couldn’t understand how a decorated war hero could be removed from the front lines and imprisoned just because he had made comments about the leader of his country. She had many questions, which the book The Writer Who Changed History: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn answers.

Margo Caulfield also writes the weekly electronic newsletter “Cavendish Update,” which began as the “Quarry Update” in 2002. Today’s news becomes tomorrow’s history and future generations will have these “posts” to help them understand the beginning of the 21st century in Cavendish.

We are grateful to these women who have made such a significant contribution in the understanding of our history. All of the books listed, with the exception of Volume IV of Linda Welch’s are available from CHS.

Arey, Harriet Ellen (Grannis), author, born in Cavendish, Vermont, 14 April 1819. Her father, John Grannis, was a member of the Canadian parliament at the out break of the 1837 rebellion, and was obliged to flee to the United States. She became a schoolteacher in Cleveland, and a contributor to periodicals. She married Oliver Arey in 1848, and edited the "Youth's Casket" and the "Home Monthly." Her principal work is "Household Songs and other Poems" (New York, 1854).

Bacon, Fanny and Carrie Spafford: Wrote, edited and printed “The Scribbler,” in the early 1900’s where local writers could see their poetry, essays or short stories in print once a month.

Ballantine, Lisa: First female volunteer fire fighter, 1981 Cavendish Volunteer Fire Department

Baxendale, Imogene: The only female whose name appears on the WWII plaque attached to the Civil War memorial in Cavendish, Baxendale was stationed in the Philippines and Japan during and after the war as a nurse. She was the first woman to join the Legion of Guardsmen, a veteran’s organization in Bellows Falls. During WWII the women in Cavendish worked multiple shifts at Gay Brothers Woolen Mills, grew Victory Gardens, took turns manning the three spotter towers in town and “Did their bit and Knit” socks for soldiers.

Blanchard, Donna and Amy: In 1985, Donna Blanchard became the first female fire fighter for the Proctorsville Fire Department. Her sister Amy was the second female. Donna credits her time in the firehouse for teaching her to play competitive poker. Donna served in the Navy during the Gulf War and Grenada. Amy became a crew chief on a Black Hawk Helicopter for the US Army and served in Iraq and Turkey.

Coffeen, Susanna: With her husband and children was the first European settlers in Cavendish. Because she was the only women who stayed in the town during the Revolutionary War, she was granted property in her own right.

Dutton, Emily: Married Redfield Proctor ending a 75 year feud between the villages of Cavendish and Proctorsville. The merger of these families proved to be important to Vermont, since three governors and a United States Senator issued from this Dutton-Proctor line.

Foster, Gertrude: First woman elected to the Cavendish Select board in 1918.

Glidden, Karlene: In 2016 Karlene became the first female to achieve life membership in the Proctorsville Fire Department having served 20 years.

Haven, Florence: Founder of the Cavendish Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution)

Johnson, Elizabeth Captive: First European child born in Cavendish in 1754. Just after the outbreak of the French and Indian War, an Abenaki Indian raid on Charlestown, NH, Susannah Willard Johnson was captured with her family and marched to Saint-Francois-du-Lac, Quebec. Being nine months pregnant, she gave birth to Elizabeth Captive Johnson in what is today Cavendish. The marker of this event appears in Reading, VT.

Pollard, Ermine: Served in the Vermont Legislature in 1951-1952. She was the first woman on the Banking and Insurance Committee and was the State Regent for the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Pollard, Mary: A dietician in an Army Hospital on Ellis Island during WWI. She is the only female whose name appears on the WWI plaque attached to the Civil War memorial in Cavendish.

Skinner, Cornelia Otis: A great grand daughter of Cavendish native, the Reverend Warren Skinner, and daughter of the famous actor Otis Skinner, she spent summers at the family home in Proctorsville, which is now The Golden Stage Inn. Cornelia wrote numerous short humorous pieces for publications like The New Yorker. These pieces were eventually compiled into a series of books, including Nuts in May, Dithers and Jitters, Excuse It Please!, and The Ape In Me, among others. With Emily Kimbrough, she wrote Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.

Stevens, Nettie: Nettie Stevens was born in Cavendish in 1861. The child of working-class parents, Stevens was raised during a time when women's educational opportunities were limited. In spite of this, Stevens ultimately received a PH.D. from Byrn Mawr and was given an assistantship by the Carnegie Institute. In 1905, her work on sex determination was published. Investigating meal worms, she found female cells contained 20 chromosomes, but male cells contained 19 large chromosomes and one very small one. She showed that the X body paired with a 20th, much smaller chromosome in meiosis. She proposed that these two chromosomes be called X and Y, and explained that females contained two X chromosomes. Some believe her position in the field of genetics has largely been ignored because the credit for the discovery of X and Y chromosomes and their role in determining gender is instead generally given Edmund B. Wilson, who had read Stephens’ manuscript on chromosomal patterns before publishing his own theory, and T. H. Morgan, the biologist with whom Wilson shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery. Stevens died in 1912. Women in Technology News, Fall, 1994, Vol. 11, No. 1

Timko, Robin: With the assistance of April Hensel, Suzanne Meaney and Will Hunter formed Concerned Cavendish Citizens Association (CCCA) in 2002, which successfully defeated the attempt of McLean Quarry to build a quarrying operation that would have extended from the end of Tierney Rd and onto Route 131 between the two villages. CCCA would eventually be renamed Cavendish Community and Conservation Association, which is still under Robin’s leadership and now includes the Cavendish Community Fund. Robin is also an accomplished Irish flute player, artist and is also co owner of Crows Bakery in Proctorsville.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Scribbler II Winter 2018

Please note that while the Winter Newsletter generally includes the Annual Letter from the President as well as financial statement, this year due to the content of the newsletter, we were not able to fit it in.  This information will be posted shortly and will be available at the Annual Meeting on March 18 (Sunday) 2-4 pm at the Cavendish Baptist Church. 


March 18 (Sunday): Annual Meeting 2-4 PM at the Cavendish Baptist Church. This year’s program will feature “Cavendish Women You Should Know.” The program will start at 2 with the annual meeting to follow. Refreshments will be served. The President’s Letter and Budget will be available at the meeting.

May 27 (Sunday): The CHS Museum opens for the season. Hours are Sundays, 2-4 from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day Weekend (Oct. 7). Other times can be arranged by contacting CHS at the numbers above.

May 31 (Thursday): Memorial Day

June 30 (Saturday): Annual Plant Sale. If you have items you would like to donate to the sale, please contact CHS at the numbers above.

July 28 (Saturday): Cavendish Town Wide Tag Sale

September 9 (Sunday): Annual Phineas Gage Walk and Talk, 2-4 pm. The “talk” begins at 2 pm at the Museum and will be followed by the walk to the scene of the accident, with stops at the site of the boarding house where Gage stayed as well as the surgery of Dr. Harlow.


Cavendish has been home to women whose lives have had significance in all aspects of life. Scientist and geneticist Nettie Stephens was born in Cavendish while the author Harriet Ellen Arey, also born here, edited the “Home Monthly” and wrote “Household Songs and Other Poems.” Cornelia Otis Skinner spent her summers at the family home in Proctorsville, now The Golden Stage Inn. She wrote for the New Yorker and was co author of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.

As part of Cavendish Historical Society’s (CHS) annual meeting (March 18) there will be a presentation Cavendish Women You Should Know. Often thought of in terms of their husbands, fathers or even in the case of Mrs. Svetlova, son-in-laws, they have lead lives of service and meaning in their own right.

Each week in March we will feature a different woman’s story, which will be posted to the CHS blog. When the Museum opens is May, there will be a special display Women in Cavendish History. If you have information you would like to contribute to Cavendish Women’s History, please forward it by mail, e-mail or call us at the numbers above. Below are stories of some of Cavendish’s amazing women.

Phyllis Bont: Many know Phyllis Bont as a nurse practitioner, who for many years worked along side her husband Dr. Eugene Bont at the Black River Health Center. However, when she went to Albany Medical Center, she added the role of teacher to her clinical practice, working in the Department of Family Medicine. While her contributions to family and community were outstanding- some will remember the teen center she ran for local youth-she has taken on a whole new role in retirement.

When Gene and Phyllis returned to Cavendish after having worked in Albany for  over 10 years, Phyllis was quite adamant that she didn’t want to spend her retirement cleaning the large house where she had raised seven children plus half the community’s. Instead she decided to return to a childhood passion-weaving.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, MI, Phyllis thanks her 4th grade practical arts teacher for allowing her to make use of a loom from grades 4-6. After that she didn’t have an opportunity to weave again until the 1970s, when she took classes in Charlestown. However, it was when she hung up her stethoscope and started collecting fibers that another whole career took off.

One of the original founders of Six Loose Ladies. Phyllis not only helped to staff the store, that for many years was on the corner of Depot Street and Route 131, but she taught weaving and sold her incredible shawls, scarves and other items. Phyllis continues her career as a healer through fiber arts.  The gorgeous shawls and scarves she makes is her way to continually wrap someone in loving kindness.

Listen to an interview of Phyllis at Vermont Public Radio.

Ethel Roosevelt Derby: The youngest daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, Ethel spent summers in Cavendish and was also one of the founders of CHS and contributed to the first exhibits at the Museum.  Growing up in the White House, Ethel’s mother encouraged her to keep a low profile as women should only appear in the papers when they were born, married and died. While on the quiet side for a Roosevelt, she was neither retiring nor reticent.

During WWI, she served as a nurse in France at the American Ambulance Hospital, where her husband Dr. Richard Derby was a surgeon, In WWII, she worked with the Red Cross and was the Nassau County Chairman.

Edith’s nursing background would support she and her family time and again. Her oldest son died of blood poisoning when he was only eight. The trauma of losing a child plunged Dick Derby into a deep depression that lasted for several years. During this time, she needed to maintain the household, the finances and keep the family together.

An active participant in the American Civil Rights Movement, she hosted meetings in her own home to help to secure low-cost housing for minority families in the Oyster Bay area.

Like her father, history was important to Ethel. She was a member of the board of directors of the Museum of Natural History in New York and played a major role in preserving Sagamore Hill, her father’s estate in Oyster Bay. Ethel was also vice chair of CHS and a benefactor of the Old Stone Church in Reading.

Natalia Solzhenitsyn: The wife of the Nobel Prize author and Soviet dissident Aleksandar Solzhenitsyn, Natalia lived in Cavendish from 1976 until their return to Russia in 1994. In the New Yorker article by David Remnick, Aug. 6, 2001, he described her life as follows, While Solzhenitsyn wrote, often staying in his study for days at a time, she ran the household, raised their three sons (a son from her previous marriage, Dmitri, died in 1994), carried out research, typed and retyped manuscripts, edited a series of volumes on Russian history, administered a fund for camp veterans using the proceeds from “The Gulag Archipelago,” organized the family archives, and planned their move home. In Vermont, Natalia was Solzhenitsyn’s liaison with the world; she retains that function here, dealing with publishers, reporters, readers, harassers.

Prior to their return to Russia, Natalia, her mother and two of her sons participated in an oral history about their time in Cavendish. On the challenges she faced in helping her husband and her children, she said, So it is clear that one must help one’s husband as much as possible and I’ve done that. It is also clear that when one is exiled from one’s country and in one day everything from your past is cut off, your friends, your life, your property, and language, then from that moment on one feels, perhaps mistakenly, one feels that one’s children have been punished, that they have been deprived of everything. And then a mother, as I imagine, any mother, because of her nature, becomes a “mama bear,” becomes a lioness, who must protect. And this gives one great strength, the feeling that one must replace for one’s children everything they might have lost. To replace their lost environment, to fill the home with the sounds of the language of which they were deprived. Because, of course, at home one could even turn on the radio and hear one’s own language, but here no. To create for them... So you see, to sum up, when one finds himself in an extreme situation of one sort or another, and clearly our exile put us into such a position for many years to come, then simply one no longer has a choice one simply must overcome the situation and do everything one can do to make some semblance of a normal life. And if there is a secret to it, when one is thrown into the water, one must swim.

Today Natalia lives in Russia and is the president of the Solzhenitsyn Foundation and editor of an edition of  30-volumes of her husband’s collected works. She also serves on the jury of the Solzhenitsyn Prize, awarded annually to recognize writers living in Russia and writing in Russian.

The interview of Natalia and her family will be on display this summer at the Museum.

Yekaternia Svetlova: For many Cavendish residents the Solzhenitsyn brothers and “Mrs. Svetlova,” the mother of Natalia Solzhenitsyn, was the face of the Solzhenitsyn family. Mrs. Svetlova could be seen daily picking up the mail, going to the post office, driving her grandsons to and from school, or shopping at local stores. Even though she spoke only Russian, her smile did the talking for her. The postmaster at that time, Sophie Snarski, spoke Polish and some Russian. Sophie described how they communicated, “I’d try Russian, then she’d try Polish, and when all else failed, we drew pictures.”

Compared to Switzerland, where we only lived for two years and four months, Americans, and Vermonters in particular could understand you very easily in any language. So if I ever spoke to anyone, let’s say in the store, in Russian, my grandchildren would always ask me,” Why are talking to them in Russian? They don’t understand’ And I would say, ‘You see they are doing exactly what I am asking them to do.’ ..I had relations with all kinds of people, all over the place, especially in the same grocery store, down at Grand Union in Ludlow, at Singleton’s, all the tellers at the bank. They always wave to me, they call me by name when I come in, and although my vocabulary may be all of ten words or so, may be a little more, I always seem to be able to get across what I want to say, it is always a joy to do. No one ever gets irritated at all. So, I feel really comfortable here. Very much at home.”

Svetlova was an aeronautical engineer in Russia but in Cavendish she not only handled various household chores, but she also helped in preparing her son-in-law’s books for print by painstakingly turning English letters into Cyrillic script. Her eye for detail would prove to have a very important applications when a bank robbery happened in Ludlow. I arrived at the Vermont National Bank in Ludlow almost at closing time. So I come in at about 4:30 in the day. I came up to the first teller window, I wanted to cash a check, so I giver her the check and turn around and at the window next to her is a tall blond man in a hat, kind of a cowboy hat, and in his hand was a gun. We were the only customers in the bank. I looked at the tellers, saw their pale, stunned faces. Perhaps because it was the end of the work day, most of the money had been stored away already. So they what they had in any case, in a little bag, and gave it to him. He took it and left. So I came up to the door, behind him, I opened the door, and looked where was going. In any case, I cashed my check. ..Actually a person had come up at that point and she showed the person, that is where he went. So, later on I was asked to describe him to the police, which I also did, so I was able to be of some help. And I was a hero there for at least a full year.”  Within the family, while a good story, they weren’t surprised by Svetlova’s actions. As her daughter noted “We always knew that she was a hero.”

Mary Mattison van Schaik: Featured in the spring 1979 edition of Vermont Life,  Mary was well known for her love of gardening and her bulb sale catalogue. Born in Trenton, NJ in 1909, she was one of four children. Graduating from Smith College in 1931, the friendships and connections Mary made there would play a significant role throughout her life.

After graduation she became a speech writer and researcher for presidential candidate Al Smith. However it was through her job as observer at the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland that she would meet Henri van Schaik in 1934. They were married in 1935 and in 1936 he would compete in the summer Olympics, taking a silver medal in dressage for Holland.

During WWII, Mary lived in occupied Holland raising six children. These were not easy times and as she would write in a Letter to the Editor of Life Magazine in 1957, in which she encouraged the proposal of parachuting food into Hungry,  Our family with six young children benefited from the British and American food-drops in German-occupied Holland in April 1945. The food saved lives. The act boosted morale.

Shortly after WWII, while Mary was still living in Holland, she was asked to contribute to the 75th Anniversary Fund of Smith College. Since it wasn’t possible to send cash from Holland, she sent bulbs to classmates and asked them to sell them, with the proceeds going to Smith. The idea worked and an exporting business was born.

At the time of the Vermont Life article, Mary was sending out over 5,000 catalogues of her bulbs. With the help of a group of Cavendish and Reading women, orders would be filled and sent all over the United States and Canada.

Mary’s love of bulbs and Smith College culminated in her writing The Gardens and Arboretum of Smith College This relationship was mutually shared as in 1997, a tulip garden was dedicated at Smith College’s Capen Garden as a tribute to Mary Mattison van Schaik ’31, an ardent supporter of the Garden. She was a frequent visitor to the greenhouses and played a significant role in helping to beautify the Smith campus.


If you have not joined the Cavendish Historical Society, need to renew your membership, and/or would like to be a volunteer, please complete the form below and sending a check, payable to CHS, to CHS, PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142. All contributions are tax deductible.

Name: _______________________________________

Address: _______________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________    E-Mail: ____________________________
Membership Level
__ Individual Member $10  ___ Senior Member 65+ $5  ___ Sustaining Member $500
__ Household Member $15  ___ Contributing Member $250                            

___ I would be interested in serving, as a volunteer .I would be interested in serving on the following committee(s):__ Program Planning  __ Fundraising    __ Building (Museum)
__Archives                       _ Budget           ­­–– Cemetery    __ Carmine Guica Young Historians

Donations are always welcome and can be designated as follows:
__ For general purposes                   __ Young Historians                  __Publications
__ Archeological Activities                _ Museum & Archival             __ Special Events
__ Rankin Fund                             __  Williams Fund                             __ Solzhenitsyn Project
__ Other (please specify)                   __ Cemetery Restoration           __ Preservation Projects

Friday, February 2, 2018

CHS Briefs February 2018

Please also check the Cavendish VT Facebook page for photo albums of various CHS activities.

Happy Candlemas Day, or as it is better known, Happy Groundhog’s Day. It really doesn’t matter if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow as living in Vermont, one could only hope that winter ends in six weeks.

If you are wondering where this custom comes from, it turns out that a number of Germans settled in Pennsylvania, the home of Phil, and noticed how similar the groundhogs (woodchucks) were to the European hedgehog. In Europe, when clear skies occurred on Candlemas Day (Feb. 2), an extended winter was forecast-“For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May.” The German’s noted that if the sun shown on Candlemas, a hedgehog would cast its shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. Given how cold it is at the moment, I don’t think any self-respecting woodchuck is venturing out in Cavendish.

Preparing packages
Homeschooler’s Cavendish Care Packages: This year’s flu is off to a roaring start, and early indications are it’s going to be a banner year-and not in a good way.  To help with both flu awareness and to provide some comfort to those affected, -it’s also part of CHS’s efforts to teach town stewardship-the Cavendish Homeschool community in conjunction with the CHS, Cavendish Connects and the Cavendish Baptist Church are preparing Cavendish Cares Packages (CCPs). The packages contain items to help prevent the spread of flu as well as provide comfort to those who already have it. These are available now through April (flu season).

We love the logo the kids designed for this project along with the personal get well notes they include with each package.

Packages are available by e-mailing or calling 226-7131.  

If you would like to help with this project, you can drop off the following items for the CCPs at the Cavendish Baptist Church between 7am and 7pm every day through the side entrance at the back of the church - through the double doors under the porch supported by crosses.  There is a bin labeled "Cavendish Cares Donations" just inside those doors.  

• Tissues, toilet paper, paper towels
• herb teas
• honey 
• cough drops
• lip balm
• hand sanitizer
• disinfectant
• Water
• Electrolyte solutions, such as Gatorade and Powerade
• ibuprofen
• acetaminophen
• children’s acetaminophen

If you would like to help in other ways, such as being a distribution or collection point, please e-mail or call 802-226-7807. See the Dish for tips on flu prevention. Learn more at

Solzhenitsyn’s 100th Birthday Year: Activities are underway on the collaborative exhibit at the Vermont Historical Society’s Museum in May. It’s been interesting reading the archives to help with the exhibit. While the state’s proclamation honoring Solzhenitsyn was read out on January 3, we are working on a date for a more formal dedication later in the legislative session.

Museum: It took the dedication of Bob Naess to dig and sand a path into the Museum, but it’s important to do a “winter check” on the building. We’re happy to report that it is wintering over quite well.

Archeology: Volunteers continue to work throughout the winter months with South Champlain Historical Ecology Project.  We're cleaning, identifying and cataloguing all that was found during the summer dig. We’re turning up a lot of Native American pottery, which has very interesting designs. Pictures of the Cavendish Town Elementary School’s 6th grade (class of 2017) are on display as part of the SCHEP exhibit. Volunteers of all ages can help make important discoveries.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovach: Book Discussion & Movie: As part of the year-long celebration of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 100th birthday, on Feb. 13 (Tuesday) at noon there will be a book discussion and showing of the movie “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” at the Fletcher Library in Ludlow. In the madness of World War II, a dutiful Russian soldier is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp. So begins this masterpiece of modern Russian fiction, a harrowing account of a man who has conceded to all things evil with dignity and strength."  Barnes and Noble

Solzhenitsyn’s only publication in Russia before his exile, “One Day in the Life” alerted the world to the existence of the “gulags.” Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Solzhenitsyn was exiled from Russia in 1974 and lived 18 of his 20 years in exile in Cavendish, VT where he wrote “The Red Wheel.”

Margo Caulfield, Director of the Cavendish Historical Society and author of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Writer Who Changed History will be leading the discussion.

The Library is located at 88 Main St., Ludlow VT. Those attending are asked to please use the rear entrance of the library, which is adjacent to the parking area.  FMI: 228-8921

Annual Report: The CHS Annual Report is being prepared and will be in the Winter Newsletter. An annual meeting is being planned for March.

If you can help with any of the following, please contact CHS; 802-226-7807 or PO Box 472, Cavendish, VT 05142

• CHS is looking for new board members as well as volunteers who can help with various activities.