For most of us, winter is the time to sit in a blanket by the fireplace, sip a hot drink, and pine for summer. Some, however, embrace the last three months of the year, journeying far and North where the winter never ends. In this two part series, we’ll adventure with Kate Scudder, a voracious traveler, and Emma Lee Orr, a local schoolteacher who braved Alaska, as they boldly pursued the midnight sun. For those of us who can’t (or would rather not) go with these intrepid ladies, they have left behind detailed accounts of their experiences for family and friends who prefer more temperate climes.
Kate Scudder, a popular community figure, is known for her work as a founder of the Baker-Hunt Art and Cultural Centre just a block away on Greenup. She was also an avid tourist, and left florid journals of her travels, which available on the library’s website. She gives detailed information about her journeys, telling her readers everything from the size of the country she’s visiting, to what she knows of its history, down to anecdotes of her experiences at the landmarks she sees. They are, in essence, Lonely Planet Guides by an educated nineteenth century woman, and though she has some strong opinions, it is still fascinating to read.
Most famous are her travel diaries from her 1882 and 1886 expeditions through Europe, which can be read in the Special Collections section of the library website. Lesser known is her journal from her trip to Norway, which might be often dismissed for the Grand Tour of Europe, but she describes it in favorable comparison.
“Small wonder that we were in love with Norway before we put foot on her soil, and our admiration increased with every step; when one has read Norwegian history, they appreciate the delights of entering Christiania in the 19th century, when the enclosure of her fortress is turned into pleasure grounds…”
Norway Travel Journal, pg. 7.
The history she is referring to is mostly Viking history, about which she writes somewhat profusely, to set a precedent for Norway’s progress. She describes Viking life as “Treachery, bloodshed, and misery…through a long line of Harolds, Erics, Haakons, Magnus’, Sigurds, and Olafs” (Norway, pg. 15). The story takes a turn for the better, in her opinion, after St. Olaf’s Christianization of Norway, and she tells the full story, to some depth, in her diaries. In her opinion, Norway is more cultured and civilized because of it.
Not all of Norway needed be tamed for Miss Scudder. Her descriptions of nature are also beautiful, even poetic.
“The Southern and Western coasts are cut into a deep fringe; in fact as you look at the map, the country looks like some great monster, lying on his side, with hundreds of arms stretching out into the water, grasping after the innumerable islands that belt the coast… The Sea often seems to lose itself in these dark, narrow lanes of water between perpendicular walls of rock that are sometimes 3& 4000 ft. high. The sides are water worn, jagged, wild, and roaring torrents from the plateaus and snow-capped peaks above, dash over these almost naked cliffs (Norway, pg. 8).”
It is descriptions like these that move us, and really make one feel as though they were with her on the journey.
Miss Scudder also gave several speeches and papers to the Covington Culture Club, established in 1888 as an ongoing lecture series on varying topics. One of her more popular presentations was her treatise on Russia. In contrast to her fondness of Norway, it didn’t seem to be one of her favorite places to visit. She has a very strong opinion about the people there, especially those emigrating from Siberia to the United States, which seemed to be a relevant issue at the time she presented the paper.
“The common classes are hardy, capable of great endurance, good natured, patient; Their years of serfdom making them slavish and resigned, always ready to follow, seldom ready to lead. Their trying climate and merciless under officers of State leave very little to soften their natures, added to these occasional famine, and the only wonder is
Culture Club Presentation on Russia, pg. 11
These reflections, as well as others throughout the presentation, are a product of their time. It is important to note that Scudder herself, as well as her fellow Culture Club attendees, would have borne such an attitude of noblesse oblige. To be able to travel in the nineteenth century, especially as a woman, required wealth and circumstance. This, of course, resulted in bias on the part of the traveler, and later the listener, given that the flow of information was delivered from the perspective of an upper class lady, whose experiences were, in many ways, tailored to her. She describes the view of a Russian mountain road with “Artificial fountains [that] refresh the traveler, and improve the vegetation. Nothing could be wilder or more beautiful” (Russia pg. 5). There’s nothing like taking in pristine artificial fountains from the window of a carriage.
To be fair to Miss Scudder, she goes on to describe “dashing rivers, lost in a mist below snowclad mountains, green glaciers, narrow canyons, a hundred times wilder than Switzerland,” saying that it makes “a picture worth stamping on one’s memory”.
Kate Scudder’s travel diaries are perfect for curling up in a chair and journeying to the Arctic, hundreds of miles, hundreds of years, freezing seas and frosted peaks away. All of them are scanned as PDFs on the Kenton County Library Website, and located in the Special Collections section under the Genealogy tab, which is linked at the bottom of this article. Our next Winter Adventurer is Emma Lee Orr, who spent years teaching children in Alaska, and brought back photos and stories from her experience. Until then, stay tuned, and most of all, stay warm!
This blog post was written by Stephanie Zach, Library Associate in the Local History and Genealogy Department.