Biography and History

Alfred LeRoy Hodder, attorney, author, and private secretary, was born in Celina, Ohio, in 1866, the son of Mahalia Riley Hodder of Celina and Alfred James Hodder, born in the Guernsey Islands. Although educated in the public schools of Forest Hills, Ohio, Hodder obtained his most significant education reading avidly in his father's library. At nineteen he went to Colorado and read law in the offices of Senator Henry M. Teller, becoming a member of the Colorado bar in 1890. Wishing to broaden his education, Hodder applied to Harvard College, but because of the scope of his earlier education, he was advised to enter the graduate school. He studied philosophy at Harvard with William James and later completed his education in Europe. On his return from Europe, Hodder took up a position as an English instructor at Bryn Mawr College where William James had recommended him to the president, M. Carey Thomas. He remained at Bryn Mawr (1895-1898) until he moved to New York City to study municipal conditions while serving as private secretary to district attorney William Travers Jerome. When his health deteriorated, he resigned his position, dying in 1907 of chronic gastritis. Hodder was the author of three books, The Adversaries of the Sceptic (1901), his doctoral dissertation; A Fight for the City (New York : The Macmillan Company, 1903) an account of Jerome's municipal campaign in 1901; and a novel, The New Americans (1901), as well as essays, speeches, and short stories. Also, under the name of Francis Walton, he collaborated with Josiah Flynt Willard in writing, “The Powers that Prey,” a series of articles based on the illicit relations between the police and criminals of New York City.

Although Hodder's life span was short, his personal life was full and turbulent. While a young man in Colorado, he married a dying young woman, Olive Dickinson, apparently to care for her during the last days of her illness, for the marriage remained a “marriage blanc.” In 1890 Hodder met Jessie Donaldson, a pianist, and she became his mistress after his wife's death. According to Donaldson, a legal marriage took place, but there was never any documentation to prove it. They lived in Germany ostensibly as man and wife while he pursued his studies in philosophy and literature and she studied music. A daughter, Olive, was born in 1893 at the home of William James in Zurich. (Jessie Donaldson and Mrs. James had become friends.) When Hodder returned to the States to teach at Bryn Mawr, he assumed that Donaldson and Olive were to remain in Europe, but soon after, they appeared at the college where she was known as “Mrs. Hodder.” A second child, J. Alan Hodder, was born in 1897. Hodder's claims regarding the children's paternity varied over the years, at times accepting reponsibility for both, for neither, or only for Olive. When he left Bryn Mawr in 1898, he sent Donaldson and the children to Switzerland, promising to join them; he never did. During his years at Bryn Mawr, he fell passionately in love with a professor of English literature, Mary “Mamie” Gwinn, and their extensive correspondence reflects the ardor of their feelings. This relationship provoked much comment at the college since it was believed that Hodder was married already. In June 1904, Hodder and Gwinn were married. Soon after this Olive died in Switzerland, and a devasted Donaldson considered suicide. Mrs. James counseled her to return to the United States which she did carrying a letter of introduction to Elizabeth Glendower Evans, a trustee of the Massachusetts state reformatory system. Mrs. Evans found Donaldson a position within the system and helped secure legal counsel to take action against Hodder. Shortly before the start of the trial, Hodder died in New York City. Jessie Donaldson Hodder, as she always called herself, went on to become a highly respected leader in prison reform not only in Massachusetts but also on a national and international level.

Mary “Mamie” Mackall Gwinn Hodder, professor of English literature, was born in Baltimore in 1861, the daughter of Charles John Morris Gwinn and Matilda Bowie Johnson Gwinn. She was an omnivorous reader and gathered around her an intellectually elite group of young Baltimore women, including M. Carey Thomas, later to become the president of Bryn Mawr College, and Mary Elizabeth Garrett, a philanthropist and suffragist. They believed that a woman's mind was a strong as a man's and being a woman should not be a deterrent to receiving and using an excellent education. Gwinn and Thomas became special friends with Gwinn leading the way by suggesting books to read and advising her how to critically interpret them. Thomas admired her as an intellectual with a brilliantly keen mind. In 1879 they went abroad to study at Leipzig and Zurich and traveled extensively throughout Western Europe, returning in 1883. When Thomas was appointed the first dean of Bryn Mawr, Gwinn went with her to study (she received a doctorate there in 1888) and teach. The women lived together at the Deanery, continuing the warm relationship they enjoyed as young women. Their correspondence contains over twenty of their pet names, including Squirrel, Rabbitkins, Mouse, Carina, and Bunnykins. In addition to her lectures, Gwinn did research in Old English and worked on a translation of Beowulf.

When Alfred Hodder arrived in Bryn Mawr, he and Gwinn became involved in what was at first a relationship based on mutual respect for their intellectual gifts but later became a deeply romantic affair. Accepting Hodder's claim that he and Jessie Donaldson were not married, Gwinn in her mid-30's fell passionately in love. In order to keep their liaison secret from M. Carey Thomas, Hodder and Gwinn often exchanged love letters using the initials F. W. (Francis Walton) and V. W. (Valentine Walton). When Thomas finally realized what was happening, there was an irreconcilable rift in her friendship with Gwinn. After their marriage in 1904, Hodder and Gwinn lived in New York City where Hodder was already working for district attorney Williams Travers Jerome. The romance of the “Fairy Prince and Princess” ended in 1907 when Hodder died. Gwinn and Hodder's mother, Mahalia Riley Hodder, believed in spiritualism and found comfort in “contacting” him from the grave. Gwinn never returned to an academic life but lived in Baltimore and later in Princeton, N.J. Although an ardent believer in higher education for women, she was not a suffragist. Gwinn died in 1940.

Source: From the finding aid for C0450

  • Alfred and Mary Gwinn Hodder Papers. 1875-1941 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0450

    The Alfred and Mary Gwinn Hodder Papers consists of writings, correspondence, documents, photographs, miscellaneous material, and printed matter of attorney and author Alfred LeRoy Hodder. Also included are similar papers of his wife, Mary Gwinn Hodder, who was a professor of English literature.