The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills

There was an upsetting ethics story in the obituaries last week. It told the tale of the rank injustice perpetrated by a famous and much-honored researcher, historian and author on his collaborator, from whom he withheld  credit and recognition—because she was his wife.

Dorothy Seymour Mills collaborated for more than 30 years on a landmark three-volume history of baseball with her first husband, Harold Seymour. Their work, originally attributed only to him,  is regarded as the first significant scholarly account of baseball’s past.  (“No one may call himself a student of baseball history without having read these indispensable works.” John Thorn in 2010, then Major League Baseball’s official historian.)

“Baseball: The Early Years” (1960), “Baseball: The Golden Age” (1971) and “Baseball: The People’s Game” (1990) all were completed with substantial and indispensable contributions by Dorothy, who, unlike her husband, was not a baseball fan. (“You write a lot more objectively about a subject you’re not in love with,” she once observed.) She was the primary researcher, organized the projects, typed the manuscripts, prepared the indexes (ugh) and edited each book before it went to the publisher. Because of her husband’s failing health, she wrote a substantial portion of “Baseball: The People’s Game.” Yet her husband adamantly refused to give her an author’s credit. Each book bore only Harold Seymour’s name, and hers was relegated to the acknowledgments.  The first book in the trilogy, “Baseball: The Early Years,” received rave reviews.  Sports Illustrated compared Seymour to Edward Gibbon, the iconic historian who wrote “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Dorothy was invisible, and her husband wanted it that way.

Finally, as the last book was nearing completion, Seymour’s abused collaborator and wife made a formal appeal for recognition. This time, in addition to her usual contributions, she had written the last third of the book, a full 13 chapters. In her 12-point written demand to finally receive the cover billing she deserved, she wrote, in part: “I sifted, analyzed, and organized all the research, putting it into a form that would make it intelligible and from which the writing could be done. I produced hundreds of pages of outlines interpreting as well as quoting from the research….Without this analytical study, the writing would have been impossible.”

Her husband as always refused.

Dorothy Seymour said in subsequent interviews that she tolerated this outrageous treatment because of “the times”. “Everyone assumed that he had done all that work by himself — that’s what he wanted them to assume, but we were equal partners,” she said in 2010. “He just couldn’t share credit. I didn’t say anything at the time, because at the time, wives just didn’t do that.”

Oh, I guarantee that some wives did “that.” Especially after the first book, there was no good reason for Dorothy not to sell her husband that either she received full credit for her indefensible work, or he could find someone else, if he could. She was not without leverage. She was horribly betrayed and mistreated, but if credit mattered to her, she was not without means of obtaining it. Other women would have benefited if she had forced the issue. (And now I’m wondering if I properly credited my mother for typing my thesis…)

To be sure, Dorothy Seymour’s plight was hardly unique. John Fuegi, an American scholar, claimed that Bertolt Brecht’s wives and mistresses were  co-authors of acclaimed works like “The Threepenny Opera” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Historian Will Durant took sole credit for first six books of his 11-book series, “The Story of Civilization,” though his wife Ariel was a substantial contributor. He began to hive her co-author credit  starting with volume #7. Sophia Tolstoy  published his books and  copied out “War and Peace” seven times by hand,  including multiple revisions. Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera, was his typist, editor and literary agent, and often forced him to rewrite passages that didn’t meet her standards.

In a other fields, Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva (she was also a physicist)  is believed  to have made major, uncredited contributions to her husband’s work. Architect Denise Scott Brown was ignored when her husband Robert Venturi received the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize  based on work they had done jointly.  As finally publicized widely in the film “Big Eyes,” Margaret Keane painted the pictures of the iconic “big-eyed children,” but her husband Walter accepted all the credit for her work until she took him to court for damages and  recognition as the real artist.

Zelda Fitzgerald accused F. Scott of stealing her words she read  This Side of Paradise:

I recognize a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

Nice.

It  took two decades after Harold Seymour’s death in 1992 for justice to prevail, but, happily, it did.

Dorothy began to discuss her contributions to his work publicly and to write about it.

In 2010, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) announced that Harold Seymour would be among those receiving the new Henry Chadwick Award, recognizing significant achievements in  baseball researcher. Again, Dorothy was going to be snubbed, and this was after she had documented her role in making the Seymour books possible.  SABR’s female members objected strenuously,and the selection committee reversed itself, adding Dorothy to the list of awardees.Then the Oxford Press announced that future printings of the “Baseball” trilogy would bear Dorothy Seymour’s name, and above that of her late husband’s name on the cover of “The People’s Game.”

Dorothy Mills remarried, and began a successful career as a historical novelist. She also authored  a book of vegetarian recipes; a series of mysteries set inside an assisted living facility like the one where she lived, and “Chasing Baseball: Our Obsession With Its History, Numbers, People and Places.”

 

16 thoughts on “The Betrayal And Ultimate Triumph Of Dorothy Seymour Wills

  1. Revisionist feminist history. Despite being the providing partner in the relationship, having the idea, means and passion to persue it, his wife believes equal credit should belong to her. She obviously didn’t have the mind, drive or skills at the time required to successfully publish such a work or would have, so why does she deserve equal or now top recognition? She helped create something exceptional, I won’t trust her word on how much, but she was rewarded through her families success and later on under her own name.

    • I have no idea whether the author exploited his wife or not. But to suggest that failure to publish was a demonstration of lack of her desire or other rationale fails to acknowledge that women at the time were not considered subject matter experts.

      I remember vividly the outcry when the first woman sportscaster fought to get interviews in the late 70’s.

      Publishers obviously made decisions based on their understanding of the market and if they believed that a book on sports authored by a woman would not sell no amount of drive or desire by female authors would get them published. This is one case that calling something revisionist history may be uncalled for just as the publisher’s reactions to female authors writing on “mens” subjects were also uncalled for

      • Oh she is full of shit from the get go. Her 18 year senior husband was already established and proven. She was being published, for unrelated things, there is no evidence of her trying to establish herself in anyway as any kind of sports author, statician or historian. He was the one commisioned to author the history of baseball, even if you take everything she had stated as fact, you still fall short get to her claim that she deserves equal credit. Her revisions began after his death, it is simply disgusting. Who he was, his credentials, history and relationships he built were essential even before writing the first sentence of the book. But according to the way she lays it out she was also the one to get him his PhD, hell if she lived much longer we would have found out from her that he didn’t actually exist and it was all her and that she was really 18 years older than what we thought.

        • Thank you, Steve, for being a wonderful exemplar that some of the misogynistic attitudes which contributed to her not getting credit at the time of publication are still alive and well in our modern era, just in case anyone tried to claim they didn’t.

          Notice how quickly you elevated the male family member? Did you notice how you did so first without referencing any actual reasons to believe he was the more competent individual, aside from societal expectations, and instead used the justifications of belittling a woman in a situation that I doubt you have any first hand knowledge of? You extolled the virtues of her husband being the “providing partner”, then almost immediately attack her for a lack of “mind, drive, and skills”. Her reward, you originally asserted, should have been her partner’s success, regardless of how much work she had put into the document.

          Your second response makes it clear that you either hate or disdain something related to the situation. Indeed, you’re being so blinded by your emotions that you’re actually claiming things contrary to the historical record, just so you can justify them (she wanted credit for her work while he was still alive and documented attempts to gain it, but you claim that she didn’t until after his death, for instance).

          It would probably benefit you to do a little bit of introspection into what your emotion there was, and where those emotions came from.

          • “Thank you, Steve, for being a wonderful exemplar that some of the misogynistic attitudes which contributed to her not getting credit at the time of publication” You are very welcome but I am more in a contrarian mindset, with maybe a side of misogyny.

            “Notice how quickly you elevated the male family member?”
            He was already working his PHD when she was still working on her unrelated undergraduate, he was well established and already noted as such before they even met.

            “Did you notice how you did so first without referencing any actual reasons to believe he was the more competent individual, aside from societal expectations, and instead used the justifications of belittling a woman in a situation that I doubt you have any first hand knowledge of?”
            What the hell are you trying to say here? He was already a historian, a player, coach and mentor. She was not.

            “You extolled the virtues of her husband being the “providing partner”, then almost immediately attack her for a lack of “mind, drive, and skills”.
            He was and I said she obviously didn’t have the mind, drive or skills at the time required to successfully publish such a work or would have, so why does she deserve equal or now top recognition? In all the decades preceding his death she had many opportunities to put herself out there she did not, nor did she demonstrate any desire to. In her own words she said she deserved equal credit, lobbied for it and waited until well after his death to create her narrative. I have zero issue with her receiving recognition for her accomplishments but what are they? are they equal? Her husband/boss obviously thought she didn’t deserve co author, his valuation of her work may have been unfair but she didn’t take action until well after his death and into her own legacy building period.

            “Her reward, you originally asserted, should have been her partner’s success, regardless of how much work she had put into the document.” Was the project his? or was it a Seymour family project? it certainly wasn’t a Mills project.

            “Your second response makes it clear that you either hate or disdain something related to the situation. Indeed, you’re being so blinded by your emotions that you’re actually claiming things contrary to the historical record, just so you can justify them (she wanted credit for her work while he was still alive and documented attempts to gain it, but you claim that she didn’t until after his death, for instance).”
            She received credit for her work, she was not happy with the credit she received. She provided documentation well after he was dead and unable to dispute her claims or documents. This was a big deal a decade ago and there was significant debate over it until feminist fury was unleashed and the Society for American Baseball Research capitulated. Nearly all you can find through simple searches these days is all affirmative of her and her contentions, she even had control over his pages. Jack may have some subscriptions or contemporary baseball publications that may contain a fuller picture of the debate. I became aware of the revisions at the time because a fellow Marine and friend is a baseball fanatic and his mother was a historian and a walking sports encyclopedia. As for my disdain it mostly stems from what looks to me as an effort by her to supplant her first husband’s legacy, I would find it equally objectionable if the roles were reversed. You really have to read her works or watch her interviews to get the full picture of what she was about.

            “It would probably benefit you to do a little bit of introspection into what your emotion there was, and where those emotions came from”
            I have a great distrust of revisionism, especially when feminism is involved, it rarely is a simple matter of recognizing female achievement, the tearing down or minimizing a central male figure seems always required, in this case she is now co author on all the trilogy, the first author on the last despite her claim that she wrote 13 of the 37 or so chapters, even using feminist math I don’t see how 13 is greater or more equal to 24. This is quite the example actually, not only is her reconginion now equal, she has also managed to get her 1st husband labeled as abusive and a near fraud.

          • This was a big deal a decade ago and there was significant debate over it until feminist fury was unleashed and the Society for American Baseball Research capitulated. Nearly all you can find through simple searches these days is all affirmative of her and her contentions, she even had control over his pages. Jack may have some subscriptions or contemporary baseball publications that may contain a fuller picture of the debate. I became aware of the revisions at the time because a fellow Marine and friend is a baseball fanatic and his mother was a historian and a walking sports encyclopedia. As for my disdain it mostly stems from what looks to me as an effort by her to supplant her first husband’s legacy, I would find it equally objectionable if the roles were reversed. You really have to read her works or watch her interviews to get the full picture of what she was about.

            You surely are onto something. It is likely, not absolutely certain but highly likely, that this has become a ‘feminist fighting point’. When that happens, the actual truth does not matter: they revise everything to conform to their ‘abuse’ narrative. They want something to be so, and they set out to make it so . . .

            Also note: Once such a story appears in the NYTs it immediately becomes suspect for me.

            The thing about ‘supplanting her husband’s legacy’ is also relevant. Take Véra Nabokov as a comparison. She was always a great help to her husband, but in no way could she ever have claimed co-authorship. Nor did she. She did translate Pale Fire into Russian though which must have been a daunting task!

            These days, you have to be extraordinarily vigilant. It is like every story, every article, requires a scientist’s analysis to separate the truth from the semi-truth and the lie . . .

        • So exactly what was her contribution? Are you saying he did all the research, analysis, writing etc. If so, what special knowledge do you have that helps establish your assertions.

          I understand that there are numerous stories of driven businessmen who sacrfice everything to build a business only to have it taken away in divorce cases. But this is not the case is it?

          Your comments indicate that this post hit a nerve. I won’t call you a misogynist like another but you clearly came across as angry. I don’t know where the truth lies but it is hard to persuade me with such vitriole toward the subject of the post.

          • Chris Marschner you are correct it does hit a nerve and I may be more distrustful than warranted. My Grandmother was a force of nature, a CEO, board member for multiple organizations, writer and fought mob corruption in the trucking and oil industries. My Grandfather was a powerhouse in his own right, also a lawyer, entrepreneur and explorer. My Grandmother was a trail blazer and had to courage to put her name out there and make something of it. She didn’t wait till my grandfather was dead and claim any of his legacy, she was central to all his accomplishments and he was to hers until his death. She always said it was a partnership but never once claimed equality in any of his ventures regardless of her level of work on it. It was the same for him. She was front and center for her own passions and projects and he never sought to diminish her accomplishments. My grandmother died in 95′ and had the courage and passion to make something hers and to risk failure. Dorothy Jane Mills in comparison is weak, a strap hanger and unethical. Her legacy is supplanting that of her husband based mostly on that she is a (marginalized) woman, In her own words she said she deserves equal credit, I just don’t agree. I really think it is the notion that because she had some part in the project that she deserves equal credit. Even when you look at his bibliography page that she controlled it all starts in the 40s, but by then he is already recognized as an authority on baseball before they even met. Passion, knowledge and determination lead to the works being created, something she claims she didn’t have, even if she was completely truthful about her contributions it still falls short of equal.

            I guess the line for me is the trilogy. I think, partly based on her brother acknowledgment that she did write about the last third of the final book she should be recognized as the co author for that but not the first two, the concept or his dissertation.

    • 1. SABR did a fairly exacting research job that verified her contributions.
      2. That aside, sharing credit is virtue; insisting on one’s maximum share is not.

      I have shared the authorship credits of several stage shows where I was the initiator and the creator of 75-95% or more. There are two shows, a drama and a musical, that have made substantial money without my sharing in any of it—one because I added co-authors out of respect for their non-authorship contributions, the other for which I got no credit at all despite making the alterations that made the difference between the show being a hit and a flop. My wife thinks I’m a sap and a patsy. No, I think sharing credit is the right thing to do, and that generosity should be the rule, not the exception. And I will continue to do unto others what they should have done unto me, even if the others usually don’t.

  2. I read most of the Durant series which partially was responsible for me to choose to major in history for my B.A. At least Will Durant woke up eventually to give his wife credit for her important work. I’ve seen it go the other way too where a relative was cajoled into giving his wife credit as a lyricist for several musical compositions he had written. She had no musical training.

    • Many pop stars (Madonna being a chief offender) made a habit of changing one or two words to a song and then insisting on a writing credit. The most notorious examples seem to be female. But I’m sure plenty of men have done this too.

  3. I was a record producer in the early 1980’s. (Still am.)

    In ones early 20’s it was unheard of to be a producer unless one was in the group. To be a woman in their early 20’s was shocking to most every man who would arrive to the studio to see me in charge. They often assumed my boss was coming.

    The men were always respectful and helpful as I cut my teeth in those early days.

    How did I get a job like that?

    The label owner, who was a studio musician and had played with The Righteous Brothers and other acts had heard 3 songs I wrote on an album (my boss chose them and was the producer) and loved them. He asked my boss who wrote them, and he said I had. (And that I assisted on production on those too) so the owner said. “have her write and produced the next record, this stuff is amazing!”

    So along with my then boyfriend, I did.

    Yes later I was a mom and asked to produce for another label. (Women producers still unheard of) and I accepted and asked my husband to help.

    I’ll never forget his reply.

    He kindly declined saying. If he did, I’d not get the credit, they’d think, “oh she helped her husband and probably nagged for credit.”

    I was hurt because I wanted him to share in it. He explained nicely again how it wouldn’t support my Dream. And he LOVED producing too .

    I’ve often felt lucky he was so supportive and reading this I realize how very fortunate I am to have had him by my side.

    I’m glad this story is being told. This woman deserves credit and I can see why men would both want her to, and not.

    Insecurity is abundant in all both sexes. So is security. Thankful voices are speaking up.

    I have been told lately I should as well as woman producer ms are not as rare now at all.

    Maybe I will make that Wiki page after all.

  4. I had written a comment about my experience as a woman producer in a mans world of music production.

    It’s missing.

    Should I try again?

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