Researching what it means to be a Mennonite poet
Professor of English Ann Hostetler and senior Sarah Roth (Goshen) both discovered Mennonite poet Anna Ruth Ediger Baehr through the same poem, “I am Dancing with My Mennonite Father” – the readings, however, were years apart. In fact, Roth learned about Baehr through Hostetler’s Mennonite poetry anthology, “A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry.”
This summer, through the Maple Scholars program, Roth studied what it means to be a Mennonite poet and researched, archived and catalogued Baehr’s papers in the Mennonite Church USA archives, with Hostetler as her faculty mentor.
Roth spent much of her time categorizing the contents of more than 20 boxes containing Baehr’s personal papers and journals. She also had several unique opportunities for scholarly engagement, including attending a conference in Oklahoma for the Mennonite Mission to the Cheyenne and interviewing Baehr’s niece, who lives in Kansas.
Roth, a double major in English and history, said she has always been drawn to poetry. “I find it a helpful way of reflecting on a traditional culture that I’m a part of. It’s founded on a personal interaction with a broader narrative,” said Roth. Reading Baehr’s poetry has “been an interesting window into the larger sketches of Mennonite history and culture.”
Baehr did not start writing until her retirement, when she was in her late 60s. Born in 1916, she spent the first 18 years of her life in Oklahoma among the Cheyenne Indians, with her Mennonite missionary parents. “She was kind of removed from the traditional Mennonite culture,” said Roth.
Anna Ruth Ediger attended Bethel College for three years; she left in 1938 and married Carl Baehr, and the couple lived in Long Island, N.Y., where she supported the family by becoming a teacher, when her husband lost his eyesight.
“After retirement, she did what she had always wanted to do,” said Roth, “Anna started to research, explore her past. She loved stories from the Cheyenne and from mythology. She read feminist and Mennonite theology.”
Both Roth and Hostetler plan to continue studying Baehr together in the coming year. Hostetler, who had actively researched the late poet in 2003, hopes to write a collective book on Baehr; Roth hopes to use her research from this summer for her senior history thesis.
– By Megan Blank ’07