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Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay: Inspiring Co-eds to "Bob" their Hair

In May of 1922 the Cosmos conducted a survey about hairstyles on campus, as the 'bob', women wearing their hair short, had become a recent trend. The reporter was surprised to announce that about nine percent of Coe women (33 out of 364) had cut their hair. Although this seemed to be quite a number, when the campus was surveyed less than two years later, numbers had changed to 288 of 453, or sixty three percent of the Coe women. No one quite knew the explanation for this phenomena, but one theory was the influence of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a 'bob' haired young poet who gave a reading in the Coe chapel January 24 of 1924.

Millay, described in the Cosmos as "one of the youngest and most important poets of this generation," had a unique upbringing. At the age of seven she was raised solely by her mother, who had asked her father to leave. Her mother encouraged Millay - called Vincent by her close friends - to be ambitious  and continue to pursue her writing. It was because of her mother's support that Millay entered her poem "Renascence" in a poetry contest, where it placed fourth. When the poem was published in 1912, Millay was just twenty years old and received a scholarship to Vassar, graduating in 1917.

After college Millay moved to Greenwich village, where she continued to write and be involved in theatre. Her poetry and plays were controversial in may aspects, as she was a young woman in the 1920's addressing such issues as love, fidelity, erotic desire, and feminism. Much of her work was a reflection on her life as a bisexual woman, a matter she kept relatively private. In 1922 Millay published a book of poetry entitled A Few Figs From Thistles in which she describes female sexuality and puts forth the revolutionary idea that a woman has every right to sexual pleasure and no obligation to fidelity. It was in this same year that The Harp Weaver and Other Poems, another collection of her poetry, was published ad received a Pulitzer Prize. Millay was just thirty years old.

"The Ballad of the Harp Weaver," a tale of a poor son and his mother, was one of the poems that Millay read while at Coe. It is the story of a young man and his mother who have no possessions other than a harp that no one will buy. One night the boy falls asleep and dreams his mother is playing and the strings are spinning him clothes.

"And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke,
And when I awoke, --

"There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder,
Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,

"A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

"And piled beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king's son,
Just my size."

The Cosmos described her as "charmingly naïve and quaint," and that she managed to captivate the audience "both by her dramatic interpretation and her whimsical mannerisms," thereby leaving her mark on Coe with a quiet and profound strength. And bobbed hair.

About two months after Millay spoke, the Cosmos conducted a survey of women's fashion at Coe which reported that 63 percent of Coeds were 'victim' to the bob cut. In Voorhees Hall, 95 out of 115 residents had 'been bobbed'. Kappa Delta bobbed its way to first place among the sororities of the campus; twenty-two of twenty-eight members have shorn their locks. Delta Delta Delta ranks at the foot, or top of the list, according to your viewpoint, with only 15 bobbed haired members and 12 who still wear long hair. Chi Omega has 20 bobbed haired members out of a total of 30, while Alpha Theta approaches the Tri Delt standings with 15 bobbed and 10 long haired members."

 The different types of bob included the fantastic Marcel, the sleek "Tut" bob, the shingle and the "Dutch" bob. This wide selection ensured there was a style of bob for everyone. This fad continued to influence women for years to come, as Dorothy Gray wrote in the Freshman Folio of March 1930

To bob or not to bob, that is the question
Whether it would be better to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous Fashion
Or to take shears against a head of troubles
And by cutting end them.

 
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