Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Joan Baez's Grinnell

Welcome to "Grinnell Stories," a blog that aims to resurrect stories from Grinnell's past, and thereby undermine the sometimes inevitable feeling that things were always this way. "The past is a foreign country," someone is supposed to have said, but it is too easy to assume that the present is only an extension of the past.  I hope that these posts will undermine that assumption, and perhaps also bring us all a little fun.
So, let's begin. Joan Baez....no, not that Joan Baez, but Joan Baez senior (as she was sometimes called). Yes,  Joan Baez the guitar-playing singer has been to Grinnell, most recently in November, 2006.  But long before that Joan Baez came to Grinnell, her mother—Joan Chandos Bridge Baez (1913-2013), "Big Joan"— lived in Grinnell because her father, Rev. William H. Bridge, taught at Grinnell College from 1920 to 1923.  During that time, the family lived first at 1110 West St. (now demolished) and then at 1215 Broad St.  The third year Rev. Bridge gained a leave of absence that he spent in New York, where he decided to remain, apparently never returning to Grinnell.

But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's rewind the story and start at the beginning.
William H. Bridge, 1923 Grinnell College Cyclone
William Henry Bridge was born in London to Henry James Bridge and the former Ellen Gibbon June 25, 1884. His father was a mercantile clerk (later a banker), who provided a home for his wife, his mother-in-law, William (his eldest son), two daughters (Mabel and Violet), and another son, Harold.  At the time of the 1891 London census, the Bridge family was sufficiently rich to employ a live-in servant at their home at 26 Halsey Road, Hyde Park, London.  By the time census-takers arrived at their 1901 home in Tottenham, Middlesex, Henry Bridge was dead, and Ellen Bridge and her mother maintained the household that now included another sister for William, Dorothy (age 7); by then William was sixteen and apparently contributed to the household income, working as a commercial clerk.
St. Ethelburga Parish Register, Dec. 1898

By 1908 William was ordained as deacon, and later that year he married Florence Annie King in London's St. Ethelburga parish. Bridge then accepted a post as Carlisle Curate at St. George's church in Millom, Cumberland where he served until 1910.  In these years Bridge was also studying at Durham University to receive his bachelor's degree and an L. Th., both preliminary to his being ordained to the priesthood in 1910. He then accepted a position as Carlisle curate at St. John the Evangelist church in Edinburgh.  Eldest daughter Pauline was born in Cumberland in 1910, and second daughter Joan in Edinburgh in 1913.

For reasons unknown, Rev. Bridge decided to emigrate from the United Kingdom, and in late November, 1913 he and his family boarded the R.M.S. Hesperian in Glasgow, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia November 30.  It may be that Bridge had earlier arranged an appointment in British Columbia, because he next surfaces in the records as Minister in Charge of Arrow Lake Mission (now known as St. Mark's Anglican Church) in B.C. Two years later he accepted appointment as Rector, Christ Church, Cranbrook, B. C., by this time making a life for himself and his family in the Canadian West. In 1916 he published an essay as well as a book of "folly and wisdom compiled by the average man." And the following year he joined with several others to edit the local newspaper during a vacancy in the editorial staff.

But 1916 also brought hardship: his wife Florence died in January, 1916, leaving the churchman in charge of two small children. Whether for this reason or others, in June, 1917 Rev. Bridge married Mabel Amelia Roberts, also an immigrant, her family having hailed from Torquay, England.  Almost immediately thereafter Bridge announced that he had received an offer to become rector of St. Mark's Church, Moscow, Idaho.  The family entered the U.S. in September, 1917, with Rev. Bridge assuming his duties at St. Mark's and also working as an instructor in English at the University of Idaho.  Bridge's name appears occasionally in newspapers of the region, but he seems to have exerted a relatively small influence on life in Moscow; for the most part, he appears in the records as officiant for weddings, funerals and other church rituals.  In November, 1918, five years after having abandoned Scotland for North America, the second Mrs. Bridge gave birth to a son, Robert Andrew.

In one of her memoirs, the younger Joan Baez, relaying her mother's stories, describes her grandfather as having had a weakness for domineering women.  Was Mabel Bridge domineering? Perhaps, but in a 1934 petition for U.S. citizenship Rev. Bridge reported that he had divorced his second wife in September, 1920 "on grounds of her adultery." But his report stirs some doubt: he mis-reported his wife's name ("Barbara") and he claimed to have divorced her in the Supreme Court of New York, where he was not living in 1920.  Additional evidence indicates that he and she continued to cohabit in Grinnell through 1922, so it seems likely that he divorced Mabel sometime after his move to New York in 1923.

In any event, in the summer of 1920 the Bridge family was still together, and moved to Grinnell, Iowa. How had Rev. Bridge found Grinnell College from his location in Moscow, Idaho?  And what exactly drew him to Grinnell?

These are intriguing questions, but hard to answer.  B. J. Ricker, still a Grinnell College trustee in 1920, as well as his brother-in-law, David Morrison, somewhat later acquired some property in Lincoln County, Idaho, but this land was a long ways from Moscow.  In any event, the Bridge family came to Grinnell before Ricker and friends purchased their Idaho farms, so it seems unlikely that Ricker or Morrison was responsible for having recruited Rev. Bridge to Grinnell.

Once in Grinnell, Rev. Bridge fashioned a rather secular occupation.  Unlike his position in Idaho, where he joined a church appointment with a college position, in Grinnell Bridge had only an academic appointment, first instructor, then assistant professor in the English department of Grinnell College.  Of course, there had been an Episcopal church in Grinnell—St. Paul's, first organized in the 1870s.  Although now recovered and flourishing, in the years immediately preceding Bridge's arrival the parish, without a priest and without a church, had disintegrated, so there was no episcopal appointment to be had there. Nevertheless, in part because so many of the college's students were Episcopalian, Rev. Bridge did periodically convene services on campus, and he occasionally celebrated the liturgy in Iowa City and in other churches in the area.
However, the transition to full-time teaching indicated where Rev. Bridge's real interests lay.  The 1920 Scarlet and Black printed a welcoming biographical sketch, emphasizing Bridge's acting experience: "He has played with Lawrence Irving in Edinburgh, and has taken many parts, including the leads, in an extensive list of modern and Shakespearean plays." No doubt Bridge himself had helped the campus reporter emphasize his interest in the stage, and a survey of Bridge's time in Grinnell—which will be the subject of the next post—makes clear how important to the clergyman drama had become.

No comments:

Post a Comment