Friends Center Series revisits the life of Mary Hobbs
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The words and life of Mary Mendenhall Hobbs were celebrated in the second session of the Friends Center Series. Married to Lewis Lyndon Hobbs, the first president of the college from 1888 to 1915, she had no official position at Guilford. A reading of her private letters offered a glimpse into the personal life of this woman whose public life involved leadership roles in woman’s suffrage, temperance, and pacifism.
On April 7, Assistant Director of Friends Center Deborah Shaw and Friends Historical Collection Librarian Gwen Erickson, presented “Up Close and Personal: The Intimate Side of Mary Mendenhall Hobbs’ Leadership” in Boren Lounge.
“Let Mary Hobbs speak to us tonight through her letters to her daughter Gertrude and friend, Rachel Farlow,” said Shaw, who continued by reading the encouraging and wisdom-filled letters Hobbs wrote to her 14-year-old daughter at Westtown boarding school in Pennsylvania.
“A woman this day and age is in poor plight without an education,” said Hobbs in response to her homesick daughter. “It is important for girls to get a good education and know the world before they get married.”
Hobbs’ letters reveal how she personally valued education, not only for her own daughter, but also for other women at Guilford.
She helped raise $10,000 to start the Girls Aid Committee at Guilford. This group built several cottages that housed girls that may not have had the chance to go to college otherwise.
Rachel Farlow met Hobbs as a student attending Guilford’s preparatory school while living in one of the cottages.
“Mary needed assistance on the homefront,” said Gwen Erickson, as she explained that not only was Mary raising a young family, but she also held several leadership roles in her many progressive causes. “A beautiful friendship was started when Rachel Farlow came to the Hobbs home to help Mary with her five children.”
Erickson explained that as much as Mary relied on Rachel, she encouraged her to seek higher education. She helped Farlow attend Drexel University in Philadelphia with the hope that she would receive scientific instruction in housekeeping and cooking. Her intention was for Farlow to come back to Guilford as a trained staff member to instruct the girls in modern-life skills.
Hobbs’ letters expose the warm, maternal relationship that she had with Gertrude and Rachel. She longed to have them close to her, but did not want to stand in their way of their educational opportunities.
Farlow eventually married a physician and had four children. Knowing the stress of having young children, Hobbs advised Farlow to “cuddle thyself for a while.”
While Gertrude was fretting over her studies at Westtown, her mother encouraged her to relax.
“Study your lessons as much as time will allow, if ye should drop anything let it be history,” wrote Hobbs to her anxious daughter. “Fun, laughter and merriment are one of the most righteous things we can engage in.”
It appeared that Gertrude took Hobbs’ advice and started to enjoy her boarding school experience.
“I am very sorry that you have concluded that you do not like to study,” wrote Hobbs. “First, one must understand what it is that has to be done, then it is necessary to figure out how it is done. And finally it is necessary to do it!”
The evening concluded with an impromptu poll of how many attendees were former residents of Mary Hobbs Hall. It appeared more than half had lived there, including George White.
“I bet they didn’t expect an 81-year-old man to reply to the Mary Hobbs reunion,” said White. “My grandmother became a Hobbs matron after she lost her husband, she put all four daughters through Guilford, and one of them was my mother.”
White’s father worked in the public school system and to save money, he moved the family into Hobbs during the summer months when White was younger.
“I used to teeter my tricycle on two wheels on the edge of the porch, I loved to make the girls scream,” said White to the laughing audience.
There are several events scheduled celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Mary Hobbs Hall on the weekend of April 17-19, 2009. For a complete list of events and contact information please visit: http://www.guilford.edu/alumni/gatherings/homecoming/HobbsReunion.html