Last week I had the good fortune to gain access to a dissertation titled “Field Hockey in American Education with Special Emphasis on the Colleges of the Northeastern United States,” written in 1960 by Bernard Dolat of the Columbia Teachers College. Reading it has made me feel good about what I have done so far — there were no major people or events of which I hadn’t already learned, but there were plenty of leads for new research to fill in the details of what I already know. One thing that struck me was the degree to which I, using computer searches and the internet, have identified almost all of the same major primary sources as Dolat, who I’m sure needed to put in a heck of a lot more legwork in his day to discover the identical materials.
While I’m forever grateful for the ease with which I’ve been able to do research from my home, I have definitely encountered some dead-ends and frustrations that probably could have been avoided by doing things the old-fashioned way. The most recent example I can think of involves the woman who the director of athletics at Vassar College around the time that Constance Applebee was first demonstrating field hockey in the United States. Her name, depending on the source, was either Harriet Ballantine, Harriet Ballintine, or Harriet Ballentine.
I didn’t catch on to the multiple spellings until last week, when I was perplexed by my inability to find more information about her. I don’t even remember which spelling I had been using in my searches or how I figured out that I should be trying different variations, but I do know that I spent several hours chasing a definitive verdict on the correct spelling. I eventually settled on “Ballintine,” which seems to be the spelling that Vassar has been using fairly consistently when referring to her since around 1950. One of these days, though, I might try to track down some sort of birth record, death record, social security statement, or something written in her own hand to truly settle the matter.
There are other examples of search strings that have failed me because of the spelling or wording being different from what I expected. Constance Applebee sometimes becomes Constance Appleby in print, for example, while field hockey could be ground hockey, lawn hockey, or in one bizarre and seemingly isolated case, “long polo.”
From The Springfield Republican, March 24, 1902, this reference to Applebee’s upcoming visit to Mount Holyoke:
“At a meeting of the athletic association Friday afternoon it was decided to introduce at the college long polo which has grown so popular lately in some of the other colleges. Miss Appleby, the English woman who has done so much to awaken the enthusiasm for long polo in this country, will be secured to give lessons to those desiring to learn.”
By the following month, the paper had decided to refer to the sport as lawn hockey rather than long polo, but Applebee was still Appleby. No doubt the copy-editor at the time anticipated my late-night research sessions more than 110 years later and chuckled quietly to himself.