My Great, Great, Great Aunt – my grandmother’s great aunt– was Marcia Adelle Taylor, born July 27th, 1881. She was the second youngest of six siblings. Marcia never married, and never had any children. Of her siblings, she was certainly the odd one out: she wore her hair cut unfashionably short, and clothed herself in men’s suits that never fit her very well. She was seen as being very eccentric; while she was technically employed with her siblings at the family insurance agency, Marcia mostly stayed at home writing poetry.

It was my grandmother who first told me about how, once or twice a year, she was taken to visit her strange Great Aunt Marcia, who lived alone in a large house in Bangor, Maine. Grammy remembers Marcia being very cold, and always very cross. She remembers being instructed to sit in Marcia’s parlor, and not to touch anything. As if only to taunt her, there was always a crystal candy dish sitting on the coffee table, and if she was caught reaching for the lid, she’d get her hand smacked. How awful it must have been for something so sweet and beautiful to be forbidden.

But there’s something else my grandmother remembers about those visits to see Aunt Marcia: there was someone else in the house-  a woman. Upon her arrival, Grammy would catch glimpses of her, passing through the halls or watching from a distant doorway… But by the time her coat and shoes were off, the woman would be gone. She never spoke, no one spoke to her, and she was never spoken of.

All these years later, we’ve come to know that this woman’s name was Rachel A. Hall, and she lived with Marcia for decades in various houses and apartments in both Maine and Massachusetts. Census records as early as 1920 show Marcia listed as “head-of-household” with Rachel  listed as “boarder”. In 1930, Rachel was more boldly listed as “partner.” There are many missing details about Marcia’s life, but it has become quite clear that Marcia and Rachel were very much in love.

In Marcia and Rachel’s lifetime together, there was a lot happening in the world. They were alive for the  invention of numerous groundbreaking technologies, such as the steam turbine,  plastic photographic film, the dishwasher, the gasoline-engined car, and movie projectors. X-rays were discovered, the first message was sent by radio wave– and all of that took place before 1900, when Marcia was not yet twenty years old. After that, to name a few notable events, she and Rachel lived to see the Great Depression, both World Wars, women’s suffrage, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. In Marcia’s lifetime, the Wright brothers flew the world’s first airplane, and sixty-six years later, Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first steps on the moon.

And yet, in all that time, no major advancements were made in LGBTQ+ rights or visibility. For their whole lives, homosexuality was considered to be a mental illness. Had Marcia lived just seven months longer, she would have been alive for the start of the Stonewall riots, and in one year more, she could have attended the world’s first Pride parade.

Thankfully, throughout the complex and tumultuous times she lived through, Marcia had a great outlet: writing poetry. She self-published a few short volumes, and was included in a number of national anthologies. Reading her poetry, it is evident that it came from a kind heart, and a thoughtful mind; Marcia’s voice in her poems is one of great reflection and insight, shedding light on overlooked and underappreciated subjects and themes.

Along with the housing records and other clues, Marcia’s poetry holds further evidence of her sexual/romantic alignment. She wrote and published numerous poems that center around the appreciation and celebration of women; for example, there are a number of poems that serve as extended metaphors equating the sea, the seasons, and other natural phenomena to beautiful, powerful women. In Marcia’s poems, when they are written about a single person, are almost always about a “her;” when her poems address individual people, they most often describe the subject “you” in traditionally feminine ways, such as ‘graceful’, ‘radiant’, ‘beautiful’, etc, and liken the subject to things such as sunshine, flowers, and dreams.

Violets are a recurring theme in Marcia’s poetry, which no doubt stems from the frequent use of violets in the poetry of Sappho of Lesbos, an Ancient Greek poetess who famously wrote romantic poetry for other women– the term ‘lesbian’ has its root in the name of Sappho’s island home. In the early 20th century, violets were a sort of secret symbol for lesbian and bisexual women; they would wear violets on their lapels as code in order to identify each other in public. Being a poet herself, it seems clear that violets held a special place in Marcia’s heart.

In addition to providing evidence of Marcia’s deep love for many things, her poetry also holds compelling evidence that Marcia suffered from depression at some point in her life, if not throughout. A poem titled ‘Suicide’ likens despair to a black vulture patrolling the seas of the mind, who carries away courage, leaving behind ripples that widen “in contempt at human weakness.” Another piece, titled “Freedom”, asks the question,

 “So this is Death? This sudden ease of pain, This coming out of darkness To far light of stars?”

Another theme in her poetry was the recurrent imagery of fire. The flames she wrote about, however, were never described as a destructive force– instead, the fire in her poems held a purpose of cleansing. For example, she described the experience of releasing the spirits of the branches she cut by tossing them into a blaze; she wrote a poem about turning old and unwanted ideas and memory to ash, making room in her life for better things.

Marcia lived to be 88 years old. She died in 1969 when the interior of her home at 263 Pine Street in Bangor, Maine was engulfed in flames. The newspaper article about the fire said that, due to the flames being so widespread, the firemen believed that several fires must have started almost simultaneously in different parts of the house.

Though the fire department arrived fairly quickly, it is suspected that Marica was dead upon their arrival, of smoke inhalation. She was found at the foot of the staircase, clutching two wooden matches in her hand.

The county attorney gave a statement ruling the fire as accidental. In the end, Marcia’s death was treated much like her life: regardless of truth, her story could not be publicly acknowledged.

When Marcia died, Rachel had already been dead for about twenty years– we don’t know a cause of death; she was only sixty-eight. Marcia’s family must have supported their relationship on some level, because when it was time for Rachel to be buried, Marcia was able to have her laid to rest in the Taylor family plot, and listed on the family’s headstone, just as her brothers’ wives had been. Marcia lived alone for the rest of her life, and when it was over, joined Rachel in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, buried side by side.

“And they lay happily ever after”

Though this poem was written nearly forty years before her death, I feel that it could have fittingly served as Marcia’s final statement:​​​​​​​

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