An apology for becoming a flapper of the advanced age variety
“Off with my little old lady’s p—g!”
The grey haired spinster cried.
“Off with these scolding locks that have
So long my patience tried!”
So down she marched to the barber shop
And sat her in his chair
“Ten years I’ll shave off of your age!”
The barber did declare.
So he clipped and snipped and snipped and clipped
And laid the tresses by.
A side-long glance discovered them,
She winced to see them lie.
Symbol of dignity—alas!
T’was such to call forth tears,
To think she should have cherished them
These many, many years!
“Do you want this hair?” the barber asked,
The lady shook her head
“Pathetic little faded wisps!”
Unto herself she said.
“Now lady come and see yourself!”
The barber beamed with joy.
She looked—”Great God!” the spinster gasped,
“I’ve turned into a boy!”
Annie Montague Alexander, 1929
For most of Annie’s life, she had worn her long hair in a bun. As she says in her poem this was a status symbol for Victorian ladies. By 1929 however, the Victorian Era was over and years of field experience probably had something to do with her impulsive decision to cut it all off in a flapper-style bob at age 61. This poem is from a letter she wrote to her close friend Martha Beckwith.
We wanted to share this poem for Pride Month, to help celebrate diversity in the field of palaeontology. If you’d like to learn more about the intersection of the LGBTQ+ and science communities, we recommend: LGBT STEM, 500 queer scientists, and Lady Science.
Annie Montague Alexander & Louise Kellogg
We wanted to share this poem for Pride Month to celebrate Annie Montague Alexander and her partner Louise Kellogg, who lived and worked together for four decades. Though they never stated that they had a romantic relationship, they were very private and lived in a time when they would have faced extreme stigma for coming out. They lived happily together for over 40 years, and whatever the relationship was, by all accounts it was based in love for each other, and it only ended with Annie’s passing in 1950.
Annie was born in Hawaii in 1867, to a family with wealth, privilege, and freedom. She grew up traveling with her family (especially her father) and meeting scientists. She met her dear friend Martha Beckwith (to whom the poem was written) while doing field work in Oakland, and Martha was the one who first got Annie interested in palaeontology. Annie then went to the University of California to learn more about the history of the Earth.
When visiting Kenya with her father in 1904, he was killed by a falling boulder. For women at this time, everything you did would be allowed by your father or husband. Annie had neither, and her family had no desire to control how she spent her money. Annie went on to finance and participate in natural history expeditions.
She carefully selected women to accompany her, because it was far too scandalous for her to be alone with a group of men. When preparing to go to Alaska for two months (another trip Annie was financing), Annie struggled to find a female companion whose parents would allow her to go. It was by coincidence that she met and half-jokingly invited Louise Kellogg, who happily accepted.
Louise was born in Oakland in 1879, and grew up in love with the outdoors. She didn’t travel like Annie did, so found her excitement in the wilderness around her family home. She learned to hunt and fish and work with machinery. She loved working with her hands, but as was typical for a young woman of wealth and good social standing, her university degree was in classics, and she became a school teacher soon after graduation. In the summer of 1908 she met Annie and went on field work for the first time. They went on to spend the next 42 years together.
Annie not only proposed that UC Berkeley build a natural history museum, she bankrolled the project, along with a museum of palaeontology. During their many field expeditions, Annie & Louise collected fossils, mammals, and plants to fill the new museums. The two of them had a farm where the work was tough but rewarding. They loved field work and each other, and shared a life that revolved around nature and science.
Poem source & Annie Montague Alexander biography
- On her own terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West by Barbara R. Stein
Other sources on Annie & Louise