Writer chose a profession and lifestyle denied to most women by Bermuda society.
On May 10, 1934, St. David’s changed forever; the island ceased to be “old” St. David’s and became, in the minds of all but its most recalcitrant inhabitants, an integral part of Bermuda. That day, Governor Sir Thomas Astley Cubitt opened the Severn Bridge, a short span that linked easternmost St. David’s to Stokes Point in St. George’s. You can still see the rust-stained pillars of the now-abandoned bridge as you cross the Swing Bridge at Ferry Reach. Few bridges have ever played so epochal a role. For the first time in the more than 300 years since the colony’s initial settlement, St. David’s found itself physically part of a greater world.
Conscious of the ceremony’s significance, Governor Cubitt invited 92-year-old Miss Martha “Patty” Hayward, St. David’s oldest female inhabitant, to accompany him in his carriage.
St. David’s Islanders saw the bridge as a decidedly mixed blessing. While it promised to ease the movement of fish, vegetables and lilies to Hamilton and St. George’s, in many a St. David’s mind it also threatened to dilute the purity of life in their little paradise. “That the Islanders were insular,” St. David’s best-known historian, Ernest McCallan, has confessed, “I do not deny. They were sufficient to themselves, and other people were to them barbarians or strangers.” Martha Hayward’s brother Thomas Burt Hayward had, for instance, long railed against any connection with the mainland (for so the rest of Bermuda seemed) because it would permit “trash” to come to St. David’s.
Over the years, a folksy myth of “old” St. David’s has persisted. Here was a tranquil, self-sufficient pocket of colonial life—a land of Foxes, Lambs and Haywards. A place where hardy men built hardy cedar boats. A happy community where men pulled turtles and fish aplenty from the sea. Where arrowroot, onions and lilies flourished and people arranged their lives around God and family. This image was solidly set in place by McCallan’s 1949 classic Life in Old St. David’s, Bermuda. Reflecting on his own St. David’s childhood, McCallan wrote that “our lives were crowded with sane wholesome interests.” More recently, Bermuda photographer Scott Stallard has given us the wonderfully evocative memoirs of his St. David’s grandmother, Emily Pugh, whose life on the island long before the Severn bridge exuded a sense of deeply-rooted, familial routine. “Change was slow, slight, and gradual,” Stallard writes in his introduction. Like McCallan, Pugh recalled the joys of insular youth: “There were no moving pictures, Morris Dancing classes, or Girl Guides in those days, so we had to make our own amusements.”
Lurking behind the romanticisation of old St. David’s lay a harsher reality. Reading between the lines, one senses that life in St. David’s—an island only two-and-a-half miles long and never wider than four-fifths of a mile—was stultifyingly dull and incestuous. For the men, life was a grim cycle of heavy and often dangerous labour on shore and at sea, punctuated by bouts of alcoholic camaraderie. For women, life was a sentence of domestic toil unaided by even a hint of modern convenience. On an 1870s visit to St. David’s, Governor Sir John Lefroy reported seeing a man ploughing his field with a team consisting of a donkey, a pig and his wife. Education was rudimentary; parents with any ambition for their children sent them rowing across the harbour to the private and religious schools of the more civilised St. George’s. Boats supplied the other accoutrements of civilzsation such as books and medicine. When the weather closed in, St. Davidians were left to their own devices.
Into this world of island pleasures and deprivation Victoria Hayward was born on February 4, 1876. Haywards were charter members of St. David’s; they could trace their roots back to the first marooned English colonists in 1609. A Hayward had married Christopher Carter, one of the three original colonists in Bermuda. Victoria would later proudly tell Ernest McCallan that Haywards had “turtled in home waters and west to Mangrove Bay” for generations. Haywards had even left their imprint on the St. David’s landscape. Emily’s Bay was named for Victoria’s grandmother. Her father, Thomas Burt Hayward, was a carpenter. Her three spinster aunts—Harriett, Martha and Emily—lived at Bay House where they anchored the family. Indeed, Bay House provided Victoria with some of her earliest memories. She recalled playing in its cellar, where an old cedar skiff—the “Bunga”–had been stored to save it from the predations of the “drinking men.” There she surveyed stored onions, arrowroot and pumpkins. There too she discovered the power of words. Old books, mainly religious tracts, had been stacked in the boat. These Victoria sampled “until mosquitoes drove me out.”
Young Victoria was sent to school in St. George’s where under the Episcopal eye of the Rev. Henry Wood she was drilled in the ABCs of knowledge. Her classmate McCallan later noted that Wood “opened the eyes of some of us to the desirability of reading and writing good English.” For her part, Victoria remembered the daily drudgery of rowing across the harbour to school. Years later, after watching some kids messing around in a boat at Martha’s Vineyard, she would confide to her diary that “I must have looked as they do, except I had no comfortable trousers, only half wet skirts.”
Childhood in St. David’s was ambivalent for Victoria. She would never lose her love of island life. In later life, St. David’s would be joined by other islands-Newfoundland and Martha’s Vineyard in particular —as a focus for her aesthetic. “We entrained for our beloved Island,” she wrote of Martha’s Vineyard in 1939. “Ye who will, may take coast resorts, but for me, I want—an island. Where the wind blows wild and free. Now if Hitler had only been born on an island! But possibly he may end up on one, á la Napoleon.” Islanders were people with distinctive cultures. But by their very nature, islands also arouse a desire for broader horizons. St. David’s was too small and too confining a place for a young woman already smitten by the romantic power of words. The first hint of Victoria’s wanderlust came with the news that she alone at Wood’s School had obtained a prized Cambridge certificate; she had satisfied stiff British educational standards and in doing so had won her ticket of leave.
In 1897, Victoria left her native St. David’s. Future biographical profiles skated over the next years of her life. She simply “went to the United States, where she taught for some years at some of the best schools in the country.” Bermuda was a man’s world, unwelcoming to women who sought to break out of the domestic mould. In America, teaching had established itself as one of the acceptable professions for the so-called “new woman.” To teach was to carry the nurturing talents of women into the classrooms. Marriage, it was assumed, would reassert the call of the hearth and bring young teachers back to life’s real duty-motherhood. The alternative for women like Victoria was a life of dedicated spinsterhood, a career devoted to teaching future generations of young women.
Victoria never entirely severed her ties with Bermuda. Her sister Florence remained in St. David’s, where she taught music and arranged hymn sings. Their father’s death in 1905 left Victoria and Florence in possession of the family home on St. David’s Road (near where Hayward Drive now meets it). Although humble, the Hayward homestead afforded a fine view over Castle Harbour and St. George’s Harbour. With property and a mother who would live until 1912, Victoria had reason to return home. One of these homecomings would change her life forever.
In the late 19th century, Bermuda with its vivacious light and perpetual greenery became a winter haven for North American artists, most notably Winslow Homer. As well-heeled tourists began to frequent the colony, other artists began to cater to visitors’ craving for visual mementoes of the “Isles of Rest.” One of these was Connecticut-born Edith Sarah Watson. Born into an enterprising Yankee family whose interests touched farming, law, botany, journalism and commerce, Edith grew up in the Connecticut River valley and was educated at the renowned Hartford Female Seminary. An older sister, Amelia, had progressed from teaching to an artistic career and soon had Edith following in her footsteps. Amelia had a talent for nature painting; in 1894 she illustrated an edition of Thoreau’s Cape Cod for Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Painting in a studio they built at the family home —Wild Acres — in East Windsor Hill or at a cottage at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, the Watson sisters were by the 1890s enjoying modest artistic acclaim.
Art gave the Watson sisters an entree into New England literary and intellectual life. Writers, educators and other artists took to frequenting Wild Acres, where art and conversation abounded. Amelia and Edith Watson had become “new women,” they had developed skills, opinions and a modicum of income that allowed them to live independent lives. For Edith, this opened the way to travel. In the 1890s, she began to make annual sorties to Canada, ranging as far afield as British Columbia and Newfoundland. Historians of women have suggested that travel, art and writing were particularly appealing venues for “new women.” Travel allowed ambitious women to step outside the narrow perimeters of conventional female life, to experience greater intellectual, social and geographical freedom. Edith soon began to dabble in photography, a more versatile artistic medium for one intent on capturing the world’s diversity. Thus, by the 1890s, Edith’s art and photos were appearing in travel brochures and steamship posters. As her biographer Frances Rooney has noted, Watson became adept at horse-trading her artistic wares for the film and train and steamer passes that sustained her intrepid journeys to the edges of North American civilization.
In 1898, Watson’s wanderlust took her to Bermuda. Fleeing the New England winter, she rented a small cottage in St. George’s and used it as a studio to produce water-colours and photos, which she sold through the hotels to tourists. In 1908, Watson provided a series of beautiful Bermuda pictures to illustrate a reprinting of Julia Dorr’s classic account of the colony in the late 19th century, Bermuda: An Idyl of the Summer Islands. Thus in 1911 Watson met Victoria Hayward. The two were immediately drawn to each other; art, travel and writing were the common denominators. At 49, Edith was 14 years Victoria’s senior. Watson was serious, critical and driven; Hayward counterbalanced this with her romanticism and even temper. Edith took to calling her new friend “Queenie.” Within a year, Victoria adopted Edith’s routine and took up residence at Wild Acres, a mutually supportive arrangement that would last until Edith’s death in 1943.
Modern day prurience might tempt one to see more in Edith and Queenie’s relationship than was actually the case. When asked by biographical dictionaries, Victoria reported that she had a “working partnership” with Watson. Years later in her diary she wrote more lyrically: “Edith is a true-blue sport and she & I have hitched together since 1912 to our mutual benefit. The travelling we have done together would fill many books.” Contemporaries called such liaisons “Boston marriages,” a term probably pulled from Henry James’ The Bostonians. Modern-day feminist scholars have suggested that Boston marriages were “intentionally passionate but not consciously sexual.” For middle class women intent on pursuing non-traditional careers, such Boston marriages provided a solid domestic and emotional base for women who defined their existence not by heterosexual ambitions but by feminine sensibilities. They were “women-identified women.” Jane Addams, the Chicago social reformer, and Mary Woolley, president of nearby, women-only Mount Holyoke College, provide two telling examples of contemporaries of Edith and Queenie in Boston marriages.
There was an immediate synergy between Edith’s art and Victoria’s writing. Travel galvanised their muses. They travelled to Newfoundland in the summer of 1913; the National Archives of Canada houses a striking album of photos taken on this trip by Watson “and her friend.” Europe followed in 1914. Through the years, the list grew: Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, France and Italy. And always the summer trips to Canada. Magazines, advertisers and tourist boards were their bread and butter; book illustrating and exhibitions provided the artistic flourish. But it was Canada that drew out the best in Victoria.
In 1914, war cut Watson and Hayward off from Bermuda and Europe, but it also created writing opportunities elsewhere. One of the most visible effects of total war was that it transformed women’s role on the home front. Women entered the factories, toiled in the fields and won the vote. Watson and Hayward chronicled these shifts in Canada. They made women caught in everyday work the focus of their work. This, they suggested, was not just a man’s war, but a war sustained by women’s sweat and patriotism. In a series of articles in The Canadian Magazine, Hayward wrote of the “women workers of Canada.” They were a “noble army… whose clicking needles held the trenches in the early days against the German Berthas.” “Women “were the real busy bees of the hive, representing the true pulse of the country from the food-producing point of view.” And not just solid, white Anglo-Canadian women. Hayward extended her praise to “foreign” women who had only recently emigrated to Canada.
They too were patriots, even the Russian Doukhobour women, who many regarded as too alien to become Canadian. Hayward went further: native women harvesting salmon contributed to the national good. Canada was thus a nation of many “people.” For all these articles, Edith furnished photographic illustrations that not only captured but also enobled women at work.
After the war, Hayward explored Canada further and in 1922 convinced Macmillan in Toronto to publish what would prove to be her crowning glory—Romantic Canada. On rich vellum pages interlaced with Watson’s photos, Queenie spelled out her vision of Canada. In writing that is at times florid by modern standards —flowers do not bloom, they are “a-blooming”— Hayward laid out sketches of Canadian life in her book. She wrote of fishermen on the east coast, Indian basket-makers on the shores of the St.Lawrence, the Mennonites of the Prairies and again the communal life of the Doukhobours. Canada was a jigsaw of ethnicity. And here was the essence of Romantic Canada’s message: Canada was not an American melting pot—it was instead a society of tolerance and diversity.
Romantic Canada was no best-seller. Macmillan released it too close to Christmas to reap lucrative holiday sales. The reviews were, however, flattering. The Canadian Historical Review found it “more than a mere gift book for tourists…a contribution to the social history of Canada.” The definitive Literary History of Canada would later acknowledge it as “the most readable” travel book of the period. The lasting legacy of Hayward’s book lay in the subtle new image of Canada it lay before Canadians. Some have claimed that Hayward coined that most quintessential definition of being Canadian—that Canada is a “mosaic.” Hayward in fact only uses the word once in the book—”a mosaic of vast dimensions and great breadth.” Nonetheless, Hayward’s vivid portrait of Canadians from coast to coast, reinforced by Watson’s visual images, surely helped to lay the foundation of the most durable self-image Canadians hold of themselves—their multiculturalism. Hayward’s approach was romantic. Decades later, what is probably the most incisive sociological treatise on Canada’s society—John Porter’s 1969 The Vertical Mosaic—would bring academic theory to Hayward’s romanticism.
Success in Canada emboldened Hayward. Even before the Canadian book was in the stores, she was lobbying Macmillan in New York for a contract for a book on “romantic Bermuda.” Throughout 1923, Queenie scrambled to prepare a manuscript while Edith assembled illustrations. Late in the year, the manuscript was ready. The history of Bermuda, Hayward wrote, was a “pocket of romance,” a colony that had evolved through a succession of of ages—adventure, company control, trade and so on. ‘Mudians had a “genius for the sea.” But beyond this, “Romantic Bermuda” lacked the insightfulness of its Canadian counterpart. At times, it lapsed into syrupy prose: “The cedars on the hills seemed to have voices. Build, build, build ships!” The writing was headlong. Hayward had trouble making sense of modern Bermuda and the emergence of tourism as the mainstay of its economy. The manuscript peters out with an unfocussed discussion of dinghy racing and golf courses. Most striking in light of her sensitivity to Canada’s ethnic diversity, Hayward seemed incapable of including blacks and Portuguese in her story of the colony.
“Romantic Bermuda” was never published. Macmillan was edgy about the smallness of the market for Bermuda books. It wanted some assurance of sales and suggested that the Bermuda government take 1,000 copies for “propaganda.” When this idea fizzled, the Phoenix Drug Store offered to take 100 copies at a steep discount of 40 percent. This Macmillan said was “absolutely unsatisfactory” and there the matter rested since Hayward herself could not underwrite such a deal. All she salvaged from the project was a 1925 article in The Canadian Magazine on “Rediscovering Bermuda.”
Throughout the 1930s Queenie and Edith concentrated on journalistic work, selling photos to magazines and newspapers. Income from such sales was paltry and the duo often found themselves living on a shoestring. The beloved cottage at Martha’s Vineyard was rented. But the travel continued. Trips to the Maritimes sparked another book project: Edith assembled a trove of photos of ship figureheads as a tribute to the age of wind, water and wood. One of these appeared on the February 1936 cover of The Bermudian but the book never surfaced.
By the late 1930s, the elderly Edith’s health began to deteriorate; chronic indigestion often made her cranky and dyspeptic. Queenie was always at her side. Winters were spent in Florida. Bermuda slipped out of their life. The last bond was cut in 1942 when Victoria lost her family home in St. David’s through expropriation to the American air base construction. The ₤1,531 settlement brought welcome cash but the St. David’s of Victoria’s youth was gone forever. In December 1943, Edith died in Florida, leaving Victoria deep in sorrow. Edith’s tombstone bore the inscription “They seek’d a country.” What country? A destination suitable for travel writing? Or, more existentially, a country that freely accepted their art and lifestyle?
Victoria Hayward lived until 1958. Her health and income were precarious. The Martha’s Vineyard cottage was sold to support her in a nursing home. When she died, the death certificate described her as “writer—self-employed.” True to her character, she was buried on an island, Martha’s Vineyard. Her passing went unnoticed in the Bermuda press.
What are we to make of Victoria Hayward? In truth, she was never a great writer—only one memorable book is attached to her name. No, her glory probably lies elsewhere. She broke the mould. Born into the tight world of old St. David’s, Victoria chose a profession and a lifestyle that colonial society denied women. Writing for money was considered a male profession. Even for men, journalism was a stiff fight. Bermuda’s other offshore success in 20th century journalism—Walter B Hayward (1878-1957), a distant relative of Queenie’s from St. George’s—was also obliged to leave his homeland. Like his female relative, Walter left Bermuda early, at age 18. Unlike Queenie, he found success in the male journalistic establishment, rising to become an editor at the New York Times and an author. Nevertheless, despite her limited reputation, Victoria pioneered a path for aspiring women writers in Bermuda. Her life showed that talent could not be denied, that social attitudes can be shifted.
Was Victoria a pioneer in any other sense? We cannot say for sure, but we can say that Victoria Hayward and Edith Watson lived a life together marked by both its unconventionality and its creativity. It was an alliance—a Boston marriage —that society in old colonial Bermuda would not have openly entertained. But the little girl who once avidly read old books in the cellar of Bay House showed us what can be achieved by women who will not deny the power of their own mind and pen.