In observation of Women’s History Month, VPR is featuring a series of
stories about remarkable Vermont journalists. Christine Smith is a
history teacher at Spaulding High School in Barre and today she has the
story of writer and lecturer Annette Chase Dimock – who wrote a popular
column about rural Vermont agricultural life in the early to mid-1900’s
under the pen name "Aunt Serena."
(Smith) "Dear Peggy: I’ve been
on another toot. I am a regular old gadabout, these days. I’ve had my
first fling at the Springfield Exposition and I am in a twitter yet.(!)"
So begins another installment of the popular "Aunt Serena" series that
ran in the Burlington Free Press from 1922 to 1948. On the surface these
"letter’s to her niece" appear to be an advice column, but they
reflected the deep love of rural Vermont and the political consciousness
of the writer; Annette Chase Dimock.
Born on March 3, 1873,
Annette Chase grew up in a political household in Chaseville, New York.
After graduating from Pratt Institute in 1903 she taught Domestic
Science at two universities and eventually became a writer and lecturer
at a variety of Agricultural Colleges, including the Vermont
Agricultural College at UVM. In 1912, she married Julian A. Dimock, a
travel writer and photographer. They moved to Vermont to grow apples and
potatoes. Her teaching, writing experience, and love of
agriculture made her a leading political voice in not just the
newspaper, but in the Vermont Legislature.
"Dear Peggy: Who let
the cat out of the bag?… I’ve been lying low about letting you know
that I received the Republican nomination for town representative… Aunt
Serena. PS If I don’t get elected, I’ll have to do something for
excitement – perhaps bob my hair." Dimock was elected to the Vermont
Legislature for the 1925-26 session, targeting literacy and family
issues – specifically, the Sheppard-Towner Act which provided a $5000
fund to provide maternal training and health care to new mothers and
their infants. Both Dimock and Aunt Serena defended the program as
essential to the health and welfare of Vermont’s women and children.
When the bill passed in 1926, Dimock returned home to focus on her
column and her farm. After her husband’s death in 1945, Dimock sold the
orchard and moved to Bradford where she died at the age of 85.
Chase Dimock’s witty and down to earth writing style as the matronly
Aunt Serena made her a favorite to Vermonters by talking TO not AT them.
She regaled Vermonters with a variety of humorous stories about rural
domestic and agricultural life, but she also included in her columns
more serious topics such as poetry and politics. Some may not have
viewed her work as "serious journalism," but her writings illustrated a
deep understanding of important issues. Aunt Serena’s ruminations were
quoted as recently as last year in Vermont’s Health care debate.
Vermonters may not remember her name, but Aunt Serena was a loving Aunt
ready and willing to share her advice with all that would listen.
her column ended in 1948, Dimock asked her audience not to "get
emotional." She stated that while she would miss them, it was in her words "time to
call a halt" to her column – a typical sentiment from the woman who often ended her columns with, "This is all I have time for
now, your loving Aunt Serena."