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Elsa Barker papers

Biographical Note

Elsie Barker was born in Leicester, Vermont in 1869 to Albert Galvin Barker and Louise Maria (Taylor) Barker. When she was 13, her father died. The following year, as she related, she put on long skirts and took a teaching job elsewhere in Vermont, but came home on weekends and played with her dolls. At 16, she left teaching and learned telegraphy. At 18, she learned shorthand by taking night courses and became a private secretary first in Boston and then New York City and then a court stenographer.

In 1889, she married Edwin E. Gay of Springfield, Massachusetts and although the New York Times obituary reported that he died shortly after their marriage, there are legal papers in the collection stating that Elsa divorced him in New York State in 1893. For a while she was known as Elsie Gay, then, in 1900, she resumed her maiden name but dropped "Elsie" for the less homespun "Elsa".

In 1898, she treated herself to her first trip to Europe having earned the money by doing the stenography for a particularly difficult legal case. In 1901 she helped edit The Consolidated Encyclopaedia Library, penning the section on Hindu mythology. From 1904 to 1905 she was a lecturer for the New York Board of Education, then a copy editor, then an associate editor for various newspapers. She was a lecturer and, after 1900, as she became better known as a writer of poetry and short stories, she gave readings from her own works. She also began to teach writing privately which she continued to do into her eighties.

From 1909-1910 she worked at Hampton's Magazine and was the editor in charge of the big story of Peary's expedition to the North Pole. Her poem about the quest, "The Frozen Grail", appeared in the New York Times on July 6, 1908, the day the expedition officially departed, and Peary carried the poem with him to the pole. From 1910-1914 she lived in Europe, first in Paris and then London, spending the winter of 1910-1911 writing in Algeria. Her obituary says that she studied with Carl Jung during those years in Europe. It is certain that while in London, she was a liaison between the American and British branches of a Rosicrucian sect called the Alpha et Omega. She wrote her first book of spirit writings in Europe and it was published to great acclaim in 1915. In it, she channeled her recently deceased friend and spiritual advisor, David Patterson Hatch. She produced, in all, three volumes of his dictations which have been regularly republished into the 21st century.

She was a founder of the Poetry Society of America, which in 1942 named her as the winner of its Lola Ridge Award. She was also a founding member of the Progressive Stage Society. Her play, "The Scab", was produced both in Boston and New York in the early 20th century. Her mystery novel, "The Cobra Candlestick" was the first selection of the Crime Club. She died in New York on August 31, 1954.