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“My Love to Judson”

Published in The Triangle
May 27, 1939

“My Love to Judson”
Memorial Address, May 21, 1939
By Dr. Bessie Martin, Chair of the Division of Social Sciences
Student, colleague, and friend of Miss Kirtley

(For those Alumnae who were unable to attend the memorial service to Miss Kirtley held in the Alumnae Auditorium Sunday afternoon May 21, the following address given by Dr. Bessie Martin, chairman of the Division of Social Sciences at Judson, is printed in full.)

Anne Kirtley (right) in Venice

Emerson once said, “The great man is one who reminds us of nobody else.” That, I think, is the way Judson girls feel about Miss Kirtley. As they usually express it when they come together, “Miss Kirtley is wonderful. There’s nobody like Miss Kirtley.” Then feeling that Miss Kirtley defies classification and generalization, they begin telling one another stories about Miss Kirtley. Stories may be inadequate characterization, but they are something more; stories of our friends are dear possessions that we treasure and share. Mental snap-shots. I think that if some how all “the Judson girls” of the past half century could be brought here today, they would bring with appreciation, sometime in laughter and in tears, many stories of Miss Kirtley. They would tell them to show that she was unique, great. May I give four little story-pictures of Miss Kirtley that are suggestive of hundreds of others?

Once when Miss Kirtley and a party of friends were traveling in Egypt, they came upon an archaeological expedition excavating in the edge of the desert. Miss Kirtley asked the head of the expedition to dig a little. It was granted. “May I have what I find?” she asked. The archaeologist replied that they had been digging for weeks and found nothing, so she was welcome to all she found. Miss Kirtley turned up a little piece of pottery, about four inches in diameter with a mouth, identified by the archaeologist as a lamp of the neolithic age, probably ten thousand years old. Finding a lamp in the sands of Africa. It was an experience that Miss Kirtley repeated thousands of times in her life. She was always seeking and finding–sometimes in places where others found nothing. She collected old records, antique furniture, rare glass and silver, pictures and first editions of books. In nature, she found beauty that invariably refreshed her–the purple tone in the bark of an elm, the rhythm of a summer oak, the lines of a landscape, the grace of rain, the majesty of a storm. In literature she found innumerable riches which gave her culture for which she was distinguished. And finally in human lives she frequently discerned gems where others saw only common clay. In every experience she found a lamp. She had the zest, originality, and the undaunted courage which characterized the successful explorer. Miss Kirtley was a discoverer.

Another story-picture of Miss Kirtley. One summer day she was standing in the back yard of her residence practicing speaking. She was saying a passage of one of Shakespeare’s villains when she was interrupted by a shout from the left. Through the hedge there bust a neighbor with a stick in his hand, ready to be at the villain who was threatening Miss Kirtley and her sister. When Miss Kirtley read, listeners frequently burst through the hedge. She had a voice which a noted teacher once praised as the voice of a prima donna. Miss Kirtley did not use her voice in singing but in reading. She read like a prima donna. When Miss Kirtley read Shakespeare, she was a whole troop of actors–star actors. She made her students laugh with Falstaff, suffer with Lear, love with Rosalind. With delicate intonation, she made her students thrill to a subtle interpretation of Browning. Not only in literature but in life, she could transfer her emotions and thoughts to others in such a way that they felt them to be original. She was the answer to one of Job’s prayers; “O for an interpreter.” She had the wide range of interests, the dramatice power, the keen sense of humor, the understanding of people, and the deep spiritual resources that characterize the interpreter of life. Miss Kirtley was an interpreter.

Again: Miss Kirtley in her study talking to one of her students, whom she summoned. This student had recently made a speech on a public occasion and received the customary congratulations for such efforts,–but not from Miss Kirtley. “Now,” Miss Kirtley said, “What you had to say, dear, was good, but the way you said it was very bad.” Then she gave instructions to the would-be speaker in taking voice exercises and ordered her to report regularly for further assistance. This occasion is typical of Miss Kirtley’s method in dealing with students–discriminating criticism, praise of virtues, specific assistance in overcoming defects, encouragement towards self-development. So it was with each according to her needs. Someone said to me yesterday, “I have had many a homesick cry with my head in Miss Kirtley’s lap.” A concert singer of national reputation has said, “Miss Kirtley taught me many things that have been of help to me in my career.” A successful journalist has said that she first became interested in words through Miss Kirtley’s teaching. Another, who is a poet, has said, “Since my mother’s death Miss Kirtley has been a mother to me.” Indeed, the half has never been told about Miss Kirtley’s gifts to her students. Her success as a teacher lay largely in the fact that she considered each student an important individual. She remembered each through the years. On one occasion a former student who had returned for a visit said, “Miss Kirtley, I know you don’t remember me. I was here thirty-six years ago.” Miss Kirtley replied, “Yes, I remember you,” calling her by name, “but you are mistaken about the year. It was only thirty-five years ago.” So her interest followed each person, even to her children’s children. Like the Master whom she knew so well, Miss Kirtley gave herself freely. Miss Kirtley was a giver.

This last picture: On May the second 1939, Miss Kirtley was sitting at her desk at her home writing a card to a friend–as it happened, the last communication she addressed to Judson College. I am sure that she sat with her customary erect, graceful posture, in perfect command of herself as she always way, with the air of distinction that always surrounded her. “I have not been well,” she wrote, “I long for the sunshine of Alabama…” She closed with these words: “My love to Judson–A.E.K.” “My love to Judson.” Those words are written in many places: in Rose Sunday and other ceremonies she instituted, “My love” established; “My love to Judson” in The Triangle and the annual, publications she established; “My love to Judson” in the Archives and the objects of the Historic Room, collections she made; “My love to Judson” in the lives of hundreds of Judson girls.

Today I am sure the reply is written in many a heart–”My love to Miss Kirtley.” Miss Kirtley, discoverer, interpreter, giver, lover–”My love to Judson.”