THE WORLD TRAVELS OF DOROTHY DIX
Austin Peay State University Clarksville, Tennessee
Having established herself as a columnist whose advice columns were widely read, Dorothy Dix at the age of fifty-eight made her first world tour to be followed by countless other travels. Dorothy Dix's book My Joy-Ride Round the World reveals her perceptive and humorous observations of human nature that enable the reader not only to gain new insight into the world's cultures but also to appreciate her warm empathy with her fellow man that explains her success as an advice columnist.
THE WORLD TRAVELS OF DOROTHY DIX
At the age of fifty-eight, Elizabeth Merriwether Gilmer, better known as Dorothy Dix, set out in September by ship from California on a world tour. Her voyage across the Pacific included visits to Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Manchuria, China, Hong Kong, Burma, Singapore, Java and India. According to her handwritten journal dated October 17, 1919, she stated, "We arrived in Yokohama this morning...we literally sailed across dark purple spheres of sapphire sea." In her book My Joy-Ride Round the World published in 1922 in London, England, Dorothy Dix quotes this description of the sea directly from her journal. Austin Peay State University has in its archives additional journals including her 1922 and 1924 western European tours, her 1931 South Sea Island, Philippines, and Australian voyage, and a 1933 South American trip. However for the purpose of this study of Dorothy Dix, we shall limit our view to what she demonstrates in her published travel book, My Joy-Ride Round the World, and the travel that produced her syndicated series entitled "In the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women" serialized in the New Orleans Times Picayune in 1929. Dorothy Dix's disastrous marriage, her illness, and her serious pursuit of her journalism career--all these factors enable us to understand her desire for a change. In the opening paragraph of her book she states, "I realized that I was sick of the great city (New York), sick of my work, sickest of all of myself, and that there was no health in me" (Dix 9).
Although she had not traveled extensively, her family's library offered Dorothy Dix, as a girl, an opportunity through her reading to explore the world vicariously. She also attributed her interest in traveling to her father in her book's dedication, "For my dear father from whom I inherited a wandering foot." Even though My Joy-Ride Round the World reflects life in the first two decades of the twentieth century, any modern reader would find her not only vividly descriptive but also astute as well as humorous in her observations.
Dorothy Dix, along with twenty other travelers, whom chance had dictated would be her companions, eagerly began her adventure of ten months. Unlike the vacations on a cruise or tour today she states, "For the most part these passengers are the modern soldiers of fortune, starting on great adventures in the name of commerce or science" (Dix 22). She appears undaunted by the weeks she spends on the ship, mentioning that it took twenty days to travel from San Francisco to Hawaii and on the return trip to Boston thirty-four days stopping only once to take on coal. She speaks of twelve mile rickshaw trips in Japan, of eating with chattering teeth in practically unheated trains in Manchuria, of making a trip in China by day to avoid pirates that might be present at night, and of precarious automobile rides on narrow unpaved mountainous roads. Dorothy Dix humorously describes one instance of tourists and chauffeur leaving their car to admire a view and "instantly the car plunged over the precipice hundreds of feet below...The chauffeur turned upon them with a beaming smile. 'It does not matter,' he said, 'the car is insured'" (71). She concluded, "I strongly advise anyone to get 'insure,' for when gasoline mingles with the oriental blood, it produces a demon chauffeur who would make any of our speed maniacs get arrested for obstructing the traffic by slow driving" (72). The most picturesque description describes her elephant ride in India. "My elephant had a rheumatic knee, and every time he put his foot down he flinched with a jolt that dislocated every bone in my body" (212). Travelers are always interested in the food they are served in another country; however, sometimes the food does not meet their expectations. Dorothy Dix, invariably approaches her food descriptions humorously, providing the reader an opportunity for a chuckle. For example, anyone who has tasted Hawaii's poi would agree with Miss Dix's description and also find it humorous.
"It smells and looks and tastes exactly like soured bill-stickers' paste, but it is the most nourishing and fattening article of food in the world. It is eaten by sticking your fingers into it winding the mess around them and sucking it off, and is known as 'one-finger poi' or 'two-finger poi,' according to the thickness and stickiness of it" (17). While shopping in Nikko, Japan, she says: "The merchant informs you that it is the custom of his country always to drink tea before doing business...and Japanese tea, without sugar, is not a beverage to ravish the fancy of any save the most rabid teetotalers. Nor do Japanese cakes, which look and taste like a slab of slightly sweetened tombstone, appeal strongly to the appetite of foreigners" (50). Also in Japan Dorothy Dix mentions that "the hotels are excellent except for the butter, which invariably taste as if Mrs. Noah had carried it into the ark with her" (24). The Koreans are described as gross feeders and are so stuffed from the time they are babies that a grown man can eat four pounds of rice a day. A Korean mother will give her baby all the rice it can hold sitting up, then lay it flat on her lap and feed it some more, tapping its tummy with a spoon to see if it is full. As a result the Korean men are all paunchy" (83).
Dorothy Dix leaves no doubt in the reader's mind how she feels about Indian food. "We ate at the little railroad station restaurants, where the food was always the same and always atrocious...You drink tepid soda until you swell up like a balloon, and you get to the place where your mind runs so continually on the thoughts of real food that you lose interest in antiquities and works of art" (226). As an experienced journalist and intensely interested in the countries she visited, Dorothy Dix made some perceptive observations about the United States foreign policies toward other nations. One concerned the United States "Open Door" policy in Japan when Commodore Perry knocked "with the mailed fist at the closed door of Japan" (28). Miss Dix devotes two pages to the quick change. "They took what they considered the best that each nation could give them. Today they are still learning from others, still copying others...instead of going vaingloriously about, as travellers from other countries do, boasting of their own country's superiority and learning nothing from others" (29). This insight of Japan gained in 1919 is today shared by American businessmen, economists, government representatives and others who may question the wisdom of America's 1863 "Open Door" policy in Japan.
A second example concerns the Philippines whom Miss Dix calls Uncle Sam's "white elephant." She describes the average Filipino as "ignorant, indolent, undisciplined, and physically undeveloped" (38). And as a matter of fact, "the Philippines don't love us, nor are they grateful to us...American hustle will for ever be a thorn in the side of those who wish to bask unmolested under a tropical sun" (139). She feels the United States should not leave the Philippines that "Our little brown brother needs to be...shown the way, and he needs to be protected from himself and the world" (40). Today one thinks instantly of the Marcos Regime and the troubles of the present government accentuated by natural calamities such as erupting volcanoes. Perhaps "our little brown brother" still needs us. By the time this travel book was republished in 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under the title My Trip Round the World, Dorothy Dix was at the height of her career. Her publishers, Ledger Syndicate in a brochure described her as the mother confessor of those who have strayed from the narrow path; the big sister of the troubled and perplexed.
In 1919, however, when the trip was actually made, it was evident that she was known internationally as she makes brief references to feeling privileged to be invited into homes as a guest. In one home she speaks of a Japanese host, "educated in America; therefore, holding advanced ideas, his wife was present. If he had been of old Japan neither his wife nor daughter would have appeared" (42). In Kyoto at a finishing school for young ladies, she was asked to speak and was surprised when the girls asked her about "suffrage" (57). She was also able to meet some highly educated Chinese in Hong Kong, and two former court chamberlains in China. One in Shanghai was Dr. Tang who received her in a room full of books and wonderful old blue porcelain. He spoke excellent English and was a fascinating speaker. In an anonymous article the statement is made that she perhaps never knows one joy of other travelers - she can never go any place where her identity is entirely submerged. Always Dorothy Dix's central interest wherever she traveled was the effect of men and women's relationships on their lives. Although this interest is certainly evident in My Joy-Ride Round the World, it is even more evident in a series of travelogues entitled In the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women focusing on five women who have intrigued Miss Dix. They are Cleopatra, Ruth, Eve, Scheherezade, and Helen of Troy.
By traveling to the homelands of these ancient beauties, she not only gives her impressions of them but also of their countrymen in the 1920's. She describes Cleopatra as "the greatest vamp in all history who possessed more 'it' than any other woman has ever had" (Times Picayune 17 Feb. 1929:22). Having this sensuous and beautiful seventeen year old flapper tell her hard luck story to Caesar, Dorothy Dix concludes "a man's sympathy for a woman is in exact ratio to her beauty" (17 Feb. 1929:22). Everyone knows Caesar was hopelessly ensnared.
Moving to the 1920's Dorothy Dix reports, "Anything that is female is out of luck when it is born in the Orient and this applies to the women as well as the cows and sheep" (24 Feb. 1929:24). The lower classes are like "beasts of burden," slaves to their husbands. The upper class women must wear veils and live in the harems with no outside social or professional contact. Their husbands whom they have never seen are chosen for them. Whenever the husband desires he may divorce his wife by saying simply "I divorce thee" three times. It is ironic as Miss Dix says, "that as the women of the Western World are trying to break down the sanctity of marriage, the women of the Orient are trying to build it up" (24 Feb. 1929:24). When Dorothy Dix introduced her article on the Holy Land she tells an amusing antidote about the tourist who exclaimed with amazement: "If I had known there was so much about Jerusalem in the Bible, I would have bought one and read it" (3 March 1929:24). Since Ruth and Eve, two of Miss Dix's intriguing women lived in the Holy Land, Miss Dix, through her vivid description of the environs provided the appropriate settings. She establishes that the distance Ruth and Naomi traveled was about thirty miles to the field of Boaz. Ruth "because she knew how to get her man," "charmed the rich farmer," as Dorothy Dix stated, "by her sex appeal. The way she used her youth and beauty to ensnare him continues to be an effective device for widows today" (3 March 1929:24).
Continuing her discussion of the veiled Moslem women in the Holy Land she cleverly suggests that as much as veils could limit anyone's activities there are some advantages. "Nobody can tell whether you are a bathing beauty or homely enough to stop a clock, whether you have a feather-bed figure or a boyish form. It beats counting your calories or having your face lifted, and if I ever get time to start a reform I shall organize the Amalgamated League of Veiled Women of America" (3 March 1929:24). Most of the nomads in the desert have only one wife and she is always faithful because if she is not, her relatives are forced to kill her or have the entire family disgraced. Dorothy Dix adds, "such 'goings on' as are revealed in American divorce courts would shock these simple people of the desert. A man who dishonors a woman even with her permission is punished as if he were a murderer" (17 March 1929:30). Dorothy Dix adds that, "a man who falls in love with his neighbors wife, as will happen in every circle of life, doesn't try to steal her. He goes and buys her from her husband, and everybody is happy" (17 March 1929:30). It seems evident that men and women regardless of country, civilization, or time face similar dilemmas today.
Although the exact site of the Garden of Eden is unknown, it lies in an arid region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Dorothy Dix describes Eve in Paradise as "so bored she was ready to flirt with any glib talker and risk any danger that would put a little pep into life" (31 March 1929:24). Dorothy Dix concludes ingeniously, "I had always cherished a personal grudge against our first mother for gambling the family fortune, forcing us to earn our living by the sweat of our brows instead of being able to let the ripe fruit fall into our mouths. It certainly has made me feel resentful and bitter at having to worry about frocks, hats, the length of skirts instead of being able to be handsomely clothed in my birthday suit. But having given the old homestead the once-over, I forgive her. We were lucky to get evicted" (31 March 1929:24). Scheherazade is drawn from the Arabian Nights. As the wife of the powerful sultan, who was convinced of all women's unfaithfulness, Scheherazade saves herself from death by spinning colorful yarns to her husband for one thousand and one nights. Rinsky-Korsakoff's opera Scheherazade was performed first in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the winter of 1888-89. Dorothy Dix says that, a woman may win a husband by her beauty, but to keep him she must be as clever as Scheherazade.
Baghdad, Iraq, which became a household name during Desert Storm in 1991 is the setting for the Arabian Nights. When Miss Dix visited the city, it was notably under the influence of the British who the natives felt had tried to force their civilization upon the local Moslem population. A sheik pointed out, "and they set us a very bad example, these Christians. They drink, they gamble and look at the women! With their skirts cut off and cut down (he described an arc at the neck), there is nothing left to guess any more. And they go to the public places, where they play the jazz music and dance very rude dances" (31 March 1929:24). Concluding the trip, Dorothy Dix views the site of Ancient Troy where the Greeks and Trojans fought a war over Helen "who got so fed up with a platitudinous husband that she was ready to elope with any pretty boy who told her what beautiful eyes she had and how different she was from all women" (14 April 1929:30). "The story of men and women, although old, will be forever new as long as there are men and women" (14 April 1929:30) Dorothy Dix said in 1929. The women of today are telling these same old stories as Dear Abby and Miss Manners would agree in 1991.
Dorothy Dix was more than a writer of travelogues. She was interested in the anthropological problems facing the men and women as relationships and customs changed with the times. To achieve a readable informal style, Dorothy Dix employed humor to convey her impressions. A writer for the Philippines TVT Publications for whom Dorothy Dix wrote said, "Dorothy Dix is a philosopher, not a 'sob sister' as are most of those who have attempted to copy the column. Her attack is upon the reason, not the emotions of her readers" (T.V.T. Publications/Scrapbook/August 2-6, 1931).
Dix, Dorothy. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. New Orleans Times Picayune, February- March 1929.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Specialist in love takes you to the home of greatest vamp." 17 February 1929:22,27.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Land of Cleopatra looks upon her sex without sympathy." 24 February 1929:24.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Ruth with Naomi visioned in field of old Palestine." 3 March 1929:24.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Most fascinating of world's cities is old Jerusalem." 10 March 1929:33.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Dainty ghosts line roads of holy land and haunt byways." 17 March 1929:30.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Finds harem party with shingled hair and parisian gowns." 24 March 1929:24.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Finds Eve did well by being driven out of Garden of Eden." 31 March 1929:24.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Persians so lovely, shah issues orders that veils must go." 7 April, 1929:26.
-----. Dorothy Dix in the Footsteps of Famous Fair Women. "Memories of Helen cling about shores along Grecian seas." 14 April 1929:30.
Dix, Dorothy. My Joy-Ride Round the World. London: Mills & Boon, Limited, 1922.
T.V.T. Publications Scrapbook. 2-6 August 1931. Dorothy Dix Collection, Woodward Library, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee.