August 3, 2013 6:51:11 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
When novelist Louisa May Alcott penned her classic novel, "Little Women," in the late 1860s, she captured the imagination of readers everywhere with four young, genteel sisters who mature throughout its pages and sequels. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March valued virtue over wealth and dared to have ambitions of their own, beyond society's constraints on their gender.
Almost 150 years later, 10 modern-day little women aged 7 through 12 celebrated the art of being lady-like this past week at a serene and spacious homestead in west Lowndes County, all while having fun and expressing themselves. That was the mission of Emma Hatcher's Little Women Camp, a conservative day camp that "allows girls to not only be girls, but ladies as well."
In a media-driven world increasingly awash in what many consider negative influences, Hatcher, 19, was moved to make a difference.
"We started as a couple of art-themed camps a few years ago, but each summer brought new ideas, and finally, last year, Little Women was born," said the enterprising organizer. The East Mississippi Community College sophomore is grounded in family and faith, and exhibits a maturity beyond her years.
"It's a cross between doing outdoor activities and helping the campers prepare to become not only women, but ladies. We want to be a positive influence. After all, these are the girls we'll see representing the local community as time goes on. We want them to not forget how we were created and that there is beauty in our gender."
With a well-planned schedule of daily devotions, etiquette lessons, art, knitting and baking -- along with kayaking, fossil digging and horseback riding -- Hatcher and her friend and camp co-leader, 21-year-old Sarah Mutch, kept the girls active and engaged.
"When I was a girl, these were the kinds of things my parents and other impacting adults taught me, and I wouldn't trade the knowledge for anything," said Hatcher. "Too many people go to a box for dinner, scratch their heads when they see handmade items, or turn to electronics to entertain them. It's time we started bring 'hand-done' back into everyday life."
Lessons to live by
On Wednesday morning, in a cottage behind the Hatchers' home, an art session was in progress. A red and a green apple sat beside a white pitcher on the end of a narrow trestle table. The still life was the object of study for four girls with pencils in hand. French doors at each end of the little building were open, allowing a warm summer breeze to dance through. The room was accented with white wicker furniture and floral pillows, and a tall vase of feathery, pink crepe myrtle branches. The Hatcher's dog, Shiloh, sat at one of the girls' feet. Horses grazed outside the windows. One might have envisioned Alcott's fictional March sisters seated around the room.
"It's tempting to draw what you know is there, but draw what you see," said Emma calmly, walking around the table, encouraging each budding artist. She was soft spoken, yet confident. The girls, who hailed from Columbus, Starkville, West Point, Sturgis and beyond, talked about their first few days of camp. They chattererd about kayaking and were looking forward to horseback riding, which was to come, but also revealed that deeper lessons had stuck with them.
"We talked about how to respect God, respect your parents and respect your friends, and if you listen to your parents, you will probably get along better," said Anna Claire Cooper. The 11-year-old from Tampa, Fla., was visiting her grandparents, James and Charlotte Black of Columbus. Her first cousin, Megan Holbrook of Caledonia, was at camp, too. They're repeat customers.
"They've always loved camp, and being with Emma," said their grandmother later. She was impressed that the girls had an etiquette lesson Monday on how to graciously receive gifts and on writing thank you notes.
Don't embarrass yourself
When a group of campers who had been preparing dough for challah bread at the main house exuberantly joined the artists at the cottage, it was time for knitting. As the girls stitched, the talk turned to manners.
"If you don't have manners, everyone will think you're sloppy; you might embarrass yourself," smiled 9-year-old Kenna McGrew of West Point.
Parents are big fans of the attention Hatcher and Mutch give to good behavior, modesty and manners. They welcome all the help they can get raising girls bombarded by today's secular influences.
Laura and Jeff Daniels of Starkville had two daughters attending, Hannah, 9, and Evie, 7. Laura Daniels heard of Little Women Camp from friends whose children took part last summer.
"I called Emma, and she explained that it's a Christian setting and about all the activities, and that sounded fantastic to me. I think it's absolutely wonderful," praised Laura.
Emma Hatcher's commitment to encouraging healthy attitudes in young girls comes as no surprise to her mother.
"She's just a young woman with very strong principles," said Lenora Hatcher. "She seems to be gifted to hold resolve against the culture of the day, and in doing that, she's hoping to help the young ones coming up behind her."
The formula is an apparent success. Every camper said they were having so much fun they hoped to do it again next summer.
Alcott would probably be proud of Little Women Camp. By multiple accounts, she hoped for a state of American womanhood that not only cherished skilled homemakers but also championed individuality and produced young adults who could make their way in the world.
"This isn't just about today, or this summer," said Hatcher of the camp. "It's partly about equipping these girls to be creative, resourceful and confident for years to come."
Editor's note: For information about next year's Little Women Camp, email Emma Hatcher at [email protected], or call 662-327-3988.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.