IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE: NELLIE J. HALLWILLIAMS AND THE CONUNDRUMOF GENDER AND TRAVEL IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY
As recently as ninety years ago, traveling simply for the joy of it was an activity charged with implications regarding gender roles. For women in the United States, traveling involved navigating a social landscape as well as a physical one, a situation that many women living in Western democracies would be unfamiliar with today. A lot of the research revolving around the social barriers inherent in traveling is centered upon female travel journals, on which there is a substantial amount of academic research (Bunkers; Smith; Schlissel). Scholars have studied women and girls who crossed boundaries in the arena of female travel as well as those who stayed within the lines of decorum, yet either way, diaries are unique and valuable tools for understanding “historical, social, and self-construction” (Bunkers and Huff 1).
In this article, I examine the 1923 travel diary of Nellie J. Hall, who was just twenty-one when she traveled from Maryville, Missouri, to Fresno, California, with her mother. Her diary falls into the “ordinary” category, noting items such as the food she eats, the types of plants she sees, and the kind of transportation she uses, without reflection on wider social themes or even deep personal feelings. Rather than embracing her situation as a trailblazing traveler, her journal reflects what she believed she was supposed to feel and “acknowledge[s] the conformist power of the dominant culture” (Braham 56). Such narratives, though more commonplace, offer a glimpse into the realities of living and traveling during a specific time period, and it is this kind of ordinariness that should be examined in order to get a more cohesive picture of what it meant to live in a certain era. Nellie Hall’s rhetoric offers an interesting look at the intersection of societal pressures, gender roles, and the experience of traveling, all of which she negotiates in a very specific way. In order to reject any notions of negativity in regard to her travel, Nellie chooses to project the identity of a “nice girl” by incorporating certain diction, subjects, and responses to her experiences that both underscore her support of traditional female roles and mitigate the liberalizing effect of travel.