Mabel Eaton

I hope I have not made Mabel Leta Eaton, Class of 1898, into a sanctimonious goody-two-shoes because she seems to have been genuinely kind-hearted person.  In her college photographs, she has a modest but open expression, guileless, almost vulnerable. She looks like someone to whom secrets are told without prompting, to whom confessions are made in the hope of tender absolution. “Can’t you see her sweet smile,” an old classmate wrote after attending Mabel’s funeral, “the same in death as all through life. . . .It was this understanding spirit that opened to her the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.”

Mabel was, or so the newspapers reported, Bertha’s closest friend at the college, the one to whom authorities turned for information, the one whose photograph was shown along with Bertha’s to test the accuracy of those who claimed to have seen the missing student. Mabel was also editor-in-chief of The Mount Holyoke, the college’s monthly magazine, when Bertha disappeared;  I wonder if she thought to include some prayer for her friend in its pages, although none appears.

Mabel did not become a foreign missionary as she pledged to do, “if God permits,” at the age of twenty-one.  She worked instead as a clerk, a chaplain’s assistant and an editor, married William Stewart in 1904, was widowed in 1919, earned a master’s in psychology at Columbia, taught at an academy in Illinois and then at Hood College until retiring in 1938.  She and her husband had no children although, as an old classmate recalled, “Mabel adored children and they were drawn to her instantly.” When she died at the age of sixty-six on the morning of December 9, 1941, friends were gladthat Mabel left this world without knowing that her country was at war. Such knowledge, they believed,  “would have distressed her greatly.”