Hart-Lester Harris

Like Catherine Hooper, Hart-Lester Harris’s photographs are a treasure trove of humorous and intimate photographs. Her memorabilia book showcases her sense of humor and mischief, from snarkily-captioned photos of Botany field trips, to “busy” signs hung on the door of her room (one of which was quickly vandalized by her friends to read “Boozy”), to valentines and teasing limericks given to her by friends.

One of Harris’s valentines includes a poem which reads, “I chose you for my Valentine / From all the pretty girls I know. / I’m sending you this little card, / Because I really love you so.” This sincere display of affection is placed next to a sarcastic one, a valentine which includes pictures of babies and reads “of course she wants her bottle.” This valentine reflects the practice of infantilizing freshmen and their crushes, also evident in “Babies’ Own Journal.”

Another poem given to Harris pokes fun at her cluelessness about etiquette surrounding inviting men to campus:

There was a young maid of Room 6
Who once asked a question like this:
“When prom comes again,
Do we send flowers to our men?”
This queer little maid of Room 6.

It is highly unlikely that the writer of this limerick meant “queer” in the way we use it today, since although the word was beginning to refer to sexual orientation, it was still directed almost exclusively at gay men at the time, in a very negative way. But regardless, the poem sheds light on gender relations at Smith in the early 1900s: Smith was a place where gender norms could be changed, and in this case even reversed.

In her photo album, Harris documents the occasion known as “Junior Frolic,” an event centered around Dramatics. Members of various houses would put on skits, known as “stunts,” for an evening of entertainment. For many, the Junior Frolic offered a valuable opportunity to dress in men’s clothing and take on male roles, if only for a night. A newspaper clipping describing Harris’s Junior Frolic includes “the juniors of Chapin House presenting among other things a group of amazing acrobats, a musical seal and a daring horseback rider” and “a gymnasium drill.” Harris’s photos of friends in costume include Ruth Lawrence, who looks quite comfortable in a full suit.






Photo of Hart-Lester Harris: 1913 Smith College yearbook, Smith College Archives.
Photographs, clippings and notes: Hart-Lester Harris photograph album and memorabilia book, Box 09159, Smith College Archives.