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Letters from Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1913 - 1920

Edna St. Vincent Millay, High School Graduation, 1909

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Corrine W. Sawyer were close friends and classmates at Camden High School in Camden, Maine. The “Red-Heads” enjoyed spending time together in the outdoors and as members of a reading group called the “Huckleberry Finners.”

After graduating high school in 1909, Edna -- known as “Vincent” to her family and closest friends -- went to live in New York and attended college at Barnard and Vassar.

Corrine entered Farmington State Normal School in 1921. She majored in Domestic Science and was active in the Christian Association, Home Economics Club and Soangetaha Campfire Girls at the college. She graduated in 1923 and then served as the assistant librarian at the Camden Public Library for 20 years.

Corinne and Vincent kept in touch for several years after high school through letters and gifts. The letters provide a glimpse into Millay’s experience in college and her affection for her friends and family in Maine. Here are some excerpts from her correspondence with Corrine:

New York City, Feb. 27, ’13

Dear old thing,

It was just as if you had come to see me, when I opened the package my birthday. Every bit of it was so like yourself. To think of it, and then to set out at once to do it, and to do it in just that way—with “blue because I hate it”, only I don’t hate that blue; it’s a beautiful shade. If only more people understood the difference between a beautiful embroidered tie and a beautiful embroidered tie with a note underneath! …

O, Corrine, I’m meeting such wonderful people, and doing such wonderful things! You must make the girls, Mama & Kathleen, tell you things. I do take time to write everything home, or most everything. But that is all I can do. You, who has been here, must know what it means to not have a minute to call your own. New York is different. It does just take the time. But when I get home in the spring —oh, when I do!

I am studying hard at Columbia (Barnard, it is really, the girls’ part). I have one awfully fascinating French course w a young Frenchman. I am getting so I understand him almost all the time — we talk almost always in French in class. At least, he does — and — we think we do. ...

— Lots of love,

Over the next six years, Millay published a number of poems and books of poetry and received critical recognition of her work. She wrote to her friend about the reviews in a letter dated January 30, 1919 and expressed her desire to visit Maine:

Millay, New York, ca. 1919
Millay, New York, ca. 1919

They were nice to me, weren’t they?--- It has become a sort of fad lately to review my poems. I have seen a dozen articles at least in the last two months about my books. …

I miss Camden terribly this summer — excepting a few weeks I spent on the Sound, which were wonderful. It seemed so funny to actually stay up all night sometimes because you simply couldn’t sleep for the heat. In town people sprawled about on the grass in the parks or on the beaches outside the city. — Pretty soon I shall miss it all over again, because it will be spring, all you people will be going up Mountain again for mayflowers

Please remember me to all my old friends and tell them I shall see them again just as soon as I get rich enough to spend my summer in Camden!

In 1920, Millay was living in Massachusetts and busy with her writing. She did not have time to visit Maine, although it was still dear in her heart. In a letter to Corrine dated June 24, 1920 she wrote:

We are spending the summer this year on Cape Cod---New York being unbearably hot---but someday when the hot weather begins I know we shall come to Camden instead. And I am looking forward to it with so much eagerness. I miss the Maine coast so much that I am even writing about it in my poems now. Did you know that?

Corinne kept letters and other mementos of her friendship with Vincent in a series of scrapbooks. While the much of collection is at the Camden Public Library, Corinne donated one scrapbook of photos, clippings, mementos and original letters to her alma mater, Farmington State Teachers College, in 1968.

Sources: Edna St. Vincent Millay Scrapbook of Corinne W. Sawyer, University of Maine at Farmington Archives. “Library Given Scrapbook”, Morning Sentinel, October 4, 1968, p. 16. Effesseness, 1923. Farmington State Normal School Rank Book, 1920-1935. Farmington State Normal School Attendance Book, 1922-1927.