Feminist reformer Burton and her great-granddaughter



BAR HARBOR — Author June Vail will be at the Jesup Memorial Library for an author talk about her book “The Passion of Perfection: Gertrude Hitz Burton’s Modern Victorian Life” on Thursday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m.

Burton, a feminist reformer whose writings and lectures in Washington D.C., Boston, and Maine promoted sex education, marriage equality and “voluntary motherhood,” was Vail’s great-grandmother.

“The Passion of Perfection” chronicles a brief, extraordinary yet unremembered, life, discovered in a trove of family photographs, diaries and correspondence.

“Burton’s true-life story has all the suspense of a good novel,” a statement from the library said. “While she confronts Gilded Age double standards by promoting sex education and marriage equality, incurable illness unexpectedly disrupted her life, ended her career and forced her to redefine success.”

Burton’s interactions with family, friends and well-known colleagues, including Alexander Graham Bell, Robert E. Peary and Clara Barton, illuminate her life and struggles of the time that mirror our own.

Her lectures and published writing confronted sexual double standards comparable to those evident in America today. Some of the questions she grappled with include how to create a meaningful life, how to preserve a sense of self, how to figure out a workable marriage and raise two children, and how to think about and prepare for one’s own death.

The book was a finalist for the 2018 Maine Literary Awards for Nonfiction. Jane Bronx, author of “Brilliant” wrote, “June Vail has given us a nuanced portrait of a young woman negotiating the late 19th century … Gertrude Hitz Burton’s journey feels both strikingly modern and entirely distinct from our own time, and Vail records it in a beautiful, compelling way.”

Vail founded Bowdoin College’s dance program and, as professor, chaired the department of Theater and Dance for many years.

In 2010 Bowdoin honored her with its Distinguished Service Award for Faculty and Staff. Vail wrote dance criticism and essays for the Maine Times and the Portland Phoenix and contributed book chapters to several anthologies.

Her first book, “Cultural Choreographies,” explored dance cultures in Sweden.

Books will be on sale that night courtesy of co-sponsor Sherman’s Books. Contact 288-4245.

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