In historical fiction, you can’t take anything for granted. Not even, as it turns out, the making of a bed!

Longtime readers know that whenever I make a mistake in one of my novels, I come clean here in my blooper file. Well, we’re only two months out from the publication of BECOMING MADAM SECRETARY and a reader friend brought to my attention something that completely slipped by me. This time, it’s not that I didn’t research it; it’s that it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to do so.

There’s a scene in the book in which Frances Perkins has brought her daughter to college at Bryn Mawr and the two of them are making up her bed together. Frances is desperate to connect with her baby who is on the cusp of adulthood; she is fearful of losing her, but also hopeful for her future. In writing this scene, I remembered my own mother fussing about my dorm room at Smith College, trying to make sure the bed was made up just right. So that’s what I had Frances do.

Except at Bryn Mawr, this apparently wouldn’t have ever happened. Here are my friend’s notes, included with her permission:

In Chapter Sixty, when I read the line about Susanna’s moving into her college dormitory, and read “we were stuffing clothes into closets, pulling sheets tight on the bed”, I immediately had the thought that Bryn Mawr women didn’t change their own bedsheets. When I toured a BMC dormitory in 1967, I observed white linen tablecloths in place for luncheon, and recall hearing that bedsheet changes were part of inclusive chambermaid services. That certainly wasn’t the case at MHC, nor would I guess at Smith. Curious about that BMC memory, I have now gone online in search of confirmation, finding various references to porters, maids and chambermaids. The best source, from “An Academic Life” (Chapter 5), by Hanna Holborn Gray (BMC ’50), published by Princeton University Press, had restricted access from DeGruyter. I was able to get the following excerpt, which confirms my recollection. “all three meals on fresh white tablecloths in the dining rooms attached to each dormitory, cleaning our rooms, and changing our beds.”

Another source (page 34 in, indicated that such services were eliminated or diminished in 1971. “From the beginning, the maids and porters helped make living gracious. In 1971 linen tablecloths and meals served in each hall vanished as dining was consolidated into fIve halls and maid service was reduced as part of the College’s program of economies.” Thus, it would seem likely that such services were provided in 1934, when Susanna Wilson entered Bryn Mawr College.