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Christine Smith: Annette Chase Dimock

(Host)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.

Annette 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.

When 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.

Christine Smith is a history teacher at Spaulding High School and Barre Technical Center. As a women's historian she is committed to including the women's narrative in the k-12 school curriculum.
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