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Cyndy Bittinger: Malvine Cole


(Host) We return now to our series about some of the women who've worked in journalism in Vermont, as we observe Women's History Month. Malvine*Cole was a well known Vermont writer and activist, based in Jamaica and Stratton. Commentator Cyndy Bittinger tells us that she often teaches at the Community College of Vermont about many of the same issues Cole addressed.

(Bittinger) Vermont journalist Malvine Cole was willing to take on almost any issue. She wasa champion of the underdog, the dispossessed, and mistreated - and it made her an impressive force in her hometown of Stratton and throughout the state. Her 28 cartons of files, archived at the University of Vermont, show the wide swath she cut through the issues of the day, and her columns touch on everything from her opinion that skiing's economic contribution does not justify its environmental impact for the Bennington Banner newspaper - to Getting in the Wood for Vermont Life magazine. In her hey-day, from 1934 to 1994, her tool was a typewriter along with her formidable energy and knack for being in the right place when it counted. She once called herself the original woman's lib since from the age of 16 she did whatever she pleased within the limits of what was practical and in consideration of those she held dear.

Born in 1914, she was a New Yorker who attended Cornell University and graduated in 1934. Marriage brought her to Washington DC, where she began what she called a war nursery to help out working mothers.

But when she later divorced, she moved to Vermont where she raised two sons and wrote for a living. In addition to her writing, she plunged into local issues and got herself elected to the Vermont legislature from Stratton. There, she initiated square dances to lighten the atmosphere and created a Mock Convention to educate people on the reapportionment issue brewing in the state. She was a businesswoman as well calling the first meeting of the Stratton Mountain ski development committee in 1958 where it was proposed that the state build an access road to the mountain. She also could be critical of Stratton ski development, especially when the new management, in 1994, discharged storm waters into Styles Brook - which ran into her pond! She was directly affected since she owned 16 acres adjoining the mountain and rented out cabins to skiers.

As a representative from Stratton, she improved telephone service, upgraded back roads, and arranged more lines for electricity. Her methods included conversations, meetings, newspaper coverage and petitions until she got action. Her readers were encouraged to support her causes.

Once she encountered a sidewalk artist in Europe, and was so impressed with his work that she provided him with art materials and a studio so he could prepare an exhibit in London. His twelve years in prison for a series of petty thefts didn't deter her and she encouraged him to travel to the United States. She also helped establish Friends of Rehabilitation, a group which lobbied for alternatives to the present prison system and felt she had spent many columns educating her readers on prison issues.

She could also simply observe events in Vermont, writing, So many simple pleasures: the quick steps and high laughter of a child, a dog's wet tongue, the pounce of a cat, my cat, Smudge... spinning a grape across the floor.