"Trials of a Tall Young Lady" may be Mary Prudence Wells Smith's first published story. A 1927 biographical article stated that Smith "began to write for the Springfield Republican when she was about eighteen. Her first attempt was entitled 'Trials of a Tall Young Lady'" (Gulliver 35). That information has been echoed in subsequent biographies.
If, indeed, "Trials" was Smith's first story to see print, then she was actually twenty-three when it appeared, for the story ran in the October 10, 1863, Republican on page 6 -- a page that generally featured poetry and short stories.
As a minor biographical note, there is no record of Mary Prudence Well Smith's height, but her husband, Fayette Smith, was over six feet tall. A photo of Mary P. Wells Smith standing in the doorway of the Elijah Williams house is online at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association's website. Architectural studies indicate the doorway is approximately four feet wide; using that as a gauge suggests Smith probably was close to the height mentioned in the essay.
"Trials of a Tall Young Lady" appeared under the pseudonym P. Thorne, as did most of Smith's magazine pieces and her first two books.
Lucile Gulliver, "Mrs. Smith and Her Books," The Horn Book Magazine 3 (August-September 1927): 32-36.
Fayette Smith, Passport Application, U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [NARA Series: M1372, Roll 209, Image 490], Ancestry.com
Kevin M. Sweeney, "Mansion People: Kinship, Class, and Architecture in Western Massachusetts in the Mid Eighteenth Century," Winterthur Portfolio 19 (Winter 1984): 231-55, JStor.
It has long been my opinion that we tall people are not fully awake to the insidious manner in which the lesser mites of humanity are gradually encroaching on our rights. Conscious of our own superiority, we have felt that we could afford to "let the dog bark at the moon." But there is a limit to everything; even our magnanimous forbearance may be carried too far. Therefore I have resolved, if possible, to open the eyes of others to a sense of their wrongs by a few "reflections," as the ministers say, on my own trials and tribulations as a tall young lady.
To prove to the tall people that I am not unworthy to be counted one of them, it will be sufficient to state that my hight [sic] is five feet six inches, exceeding by four inches that of the Venus of Canova, arbitrarily declared by short persons to be the standard of all womanly beauty. For my part, remembering her picture as it figured in the physiologies of my youth (contrasted with the modern corsetted belle) I should be well satisfied with beauty of less classic styles. Why may not we tall people rebel against this arbitrary standard, and set up one of our own -- the stately huntress, Diana, for instance, whom no less authority than Virgil declares "towered above her maidens by the head and shoulders."
As for myself, I was always one of those unfortunate children called "large of their age." At one time I seemed to stop growing. Old ladies, assembled in solemn conceive at my mother's tea parties, announced their deliberate opinion that "Sally was grown' sorter chunked, like her aunt Catherine." To whom my father's sole reply, with a sarcastic smile, was, "Look at her feet." They proved an unanswerable argument, and a true index of my future career, onward and upward. Of course, if a person is tall, the feet must be in proportion. Anything else would be contrary to Nature's laws, and hence a deformity. Therefore the success of the short people in making small feet fashionable is a deliberate attempt to tyrannize over us of larger dimensions, and compel us to torture ourselves to please their eyes. Will we, nill we? Let the weak minded submit if they choose, but my feet, clad in the thickest and largest of shoes, shall still continue to astonish the public by their gunboat-like shape and size, and be a sort of perpetual declaration of independence on my part.
Still another attempt to impose upon us, is the fashion of using the word "little" as a term of endearment. How common the expressions, "Good little soul," "dear little body," "she's a sweet little thing," "sometime I hope to have a nice little wife," &c., as if all the virtues were warranted to be bound up in any and every pocket edition of humanity. Though it may be deemed presumptuous, still I venture to make the statement that I have with my own eyes seen several "nice little" people who were by no means destitute of those frailties common to human nature. I was myself, on one memorable occasion, styled "that pretty little creeter;" but as this unprecedented compliment came from a kind hearted old gentleman, in whose eyes all youth is fair, I do not plume myself upon it as I otherwise should. Usually, people say, "Who is that tall girl?"
In novels I read that "she leaned on his arm and looked confidingly up in his face," while "he looked lovingly down upon the gentle face so timidly raised to meet his gaze;" and I feel, with a sigh, that such unparalleled delights are not for maidens of five feet six. In this degenerate age, our cavaliers being mostly of the "five feet five" species, so they will still remain, in spite of all their efforts in the way of tall hats and high heels; and the art of looking "confidingly down into his face" is yet to be invented. I have come to the conclusion that authors, as a general thing, are short people. Otherwise, why should they take such delight in depicting all the tall heroines as cold, dark and unapproachable, all intellect and no heart; falling in love, if at all, like tigresses, and forever plotting against the peace and happiness of the "sweet little blonde, with eyes of tenderest blue, golden ringlets shading a face of childlike sweetness and simplicity," and so on. It is needless to repeat the stereotyped description, so familiar to every novel reader, of that quintessence of honied sweetness, the tiny blonde. Of course, in the end, she bears off the hero triumphantly, in spite of the intrigues of the tall rival, who then does something desperate to wind up the volume. For this, at least, she deserves the gratitude of the much enduring reader.
Perhaps in no way are we more seriously injured than in the all-important matter of fashion. "As well be out of the world as out of fashion," is a truth as deeply felt by tall damsels as by their shorter sisters. Hence we must don high heels and towering bonnets, though conscious of adding thus an extra five inches to our hight, and drop the graceful flowing and bishop sleeves to display our broomstick arms in tight ones whenever it pleases the short people to make us ridiculous by altering the fashions. Efforts are even being made to abolish hoops. That would indeed be the last feather breaking the camel's back of our patience. We will resist that innovation to the death; it shall be our last ditch.
Why continue the story of our grievances? Many more might be added to the few already mentioned, but I trust enough has been written to arouse my fellow sufferers to a sense of their situation. Like all our great reformers, I shall content myself by pointing out the evil, leaving others to suggest a remedy. But here, as I was about laying down my trusty steel with a complacent feeling of duty done, a terrible doubt suggests itself. If the editor should happen to be a short man! Then should I go to "join the innumerable throng" of "mute, inglorious Miltons," whose numbers have been swelling ever since papers were printed and editors were cruel. Trembling I bow to the decrees of fate.
-- Springfield [MA] Weekly Republican, 10 October 1863
Copyright 2012 by Deidre Johnson . Please do not reproduce without permission.