Too Innocent Abroad: Letters Home from Europe 1949, by Joan Hibbard Fleming

Second paragraph of third letter:

It is hard to keep up and give you day-by-day descriptions, but it is better because I can't find time to write in the journal. By evening, I am very ready for bed. But I shall try to go back to where I left off at the last letter

In the course of my family research I discovered that Joan Hibbard, my father's American second cousin, had published a book of her letters home from her European trip of 1949. She had had two not very happy years studying music at Smith College in Massachusetts, and was about to switch to Barnard College in New York. She had been pestering her parents for a chance to study abroad, and the compromise was the Grand Tour led by Mrs Olive Kammerer, a chaperoned group of about ten girls all from the same sort of WASP background. This included two weeks in Paris, two weeks in Italy, a week in Switzerland, two and a half weeks in Ireland, ten days in Scotland and finally two weeks in England. It turned out that not all the expenses were actually covered and a lot of Joan's letters home include requests for more money.

She turned 20 during the trip and the letters are basically what you would expect from a well-to-do American teenager encountering Europe for the first time. As well as the usual, she has an audience with the Pope (73-year-old Pius XII) and, much more important, visits my father, his sister and his mother in Northern Ireland (my grandfather had died in January).

My father was 21 at the time. (My son has just turned 22.)

Joan started her two years at Barnard College almost as soon as she got back from Europe, and married as soon as she graduated. She and her first husband moved to Houston a year later, where she spent the rest of her life. She died in 2012, and there are obituaries of her here and here.

Mrs Kammerer, who led the trip, comes over as quite a character. She had divorced her headmaster husband in 1941 and gone off to work for the Red Cross in Europe for the rest of the war, and then seems to have made a living from her girls' tours until she set up the Villa Mercedes Junior College for [American] Girls in Florence, in 1956. She was killed in an air crash at Milan airport in 1959, aged 67.

The actual book is readily available on the second hand market in Houston; you can get it here.

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