Clara Studer was born Clara Trenckman 31 July 1897, the fourth of four children of William Andreas Trenckman and Mathilde Miller. William was the son of German immigrants who had come to Texas after the Revolution of 1848 and settled in a German-speaking enclave. William was in the first class at Texas A&M and came to be a publisher of a German-language weekly, a teacher, and author. Mathilde, too, was a German immigrant. The family—at least as represented by William’s positions—was generally progressive, opposed to racial discrimination and sensitive to the plight of Germans during World War I.
The family remained in Austin for Clara’s childhood—though the census has them variously as Truckmann and Tranchmann and Clara sometimes as Clora. Their street address changed, indicating they moved some within the city limits. I do not know where she went to high school. She attended the University of Texas, graduating in 1919. Apparently, she did some war work—the yearbook says, “She fought Germany with her trusty Underwood on Capitol Hill in Washington.” Afterwards, she moved away, physically if not emotionally, attending the University of Kansas in 1920 (at least); the yearbook there has her as part of the Texas Club, founded in 1919, which was home to Texas residents at the University.
In the early 1930s, she was still writing about aviation for the press and also writing press releases for the Woman’s Department of the Curtiss Wright Corporation in New York City. She was also associated with “The Ninety-Niner,” which was a magazine for an organization of women aviators. These articles were about women’s interest in flying and women becoming pilots—the era’s so-called Lady Pilots. She had a feminist take on the subject, as well as a developed sense of irony. One article began, “‘Why I Believe Women Pilots Can’t Fly the Atlantic’ was the title of an article by Lady Mary Heath in a weekly magazine dated May 21, 1932. And what Amelia Earhart did on that particular date in that particular connection has long since found its niche in aviation history. [She completed her Transatlantic flight.] Aviation is like that and women are like that in the way they have gone about contradicting a whole set of ‘women-will-nevers’ which grew up in the minds of persons interested in the trend of the aviation industry.”
Apparently she was living in Manhattan at the time, for on 14 September 1932 she was married there, to an Italian immigrant named Alfredo Studer, (the opposite of my usual research complaint, with women’s lives more difficult to track).
I don’t know as much about Alfredo as I do Clara. He was born 1 November 1904 in Roma, Italy, making him about seven years Clara’s junior. He came to America when he was 25, arriving in New York on 2 July 1929 aboard the Augustus, which had left from Naples. Three years later, he married Clara. And the following year, on 9 May 1933, he started the naturalization process. (The process was finished in 1939.) At the time, he was a steel engraver, a skilled profession that he had probably been practicing in some form or another for a long time. (Like his wife, Alfredo had completed college.) Perhaps Clara and Alfredo had even met on her earlier European trip, I don’t know.
After the wedding, the Studers continued in New York—Queens, to be exact—where Alfredo worked as an engraver, and Clara continued to write on aviation matters. In 1937, she published “Sky Storming Yankee: The Life of Glenn Curtiss.” The 1940 census had Clara as an editor for an aviation publication. Living with them were Luigi Studer, apparently a relative of Alfredo, as well as Luigi’s wife, Rita, a son, and Rita’s mother. Both Alfredo and Luigi engraved moulds and dies. According to Rita, who provided the census information, both Alfredo and Studer made about $2,000 per year—about $35,000 in today’s money.
Here, a second theme of Clara’s life started to break through in more public ways. She had maintained a reformist impulse at least since the 1920s. Then, she had been a student at New York’s Training School for Public Service. Run by the Progressive historian Charles Beard, the school aimed at applying scientific principles to the training of city administrators. Her research had been used in a 1921 report titled “Quantity and Cost Budgets for Clerical Workers.” A couple of years later, she reviewed “Assets of the Ideal City” for “The Southwestern Political Science Quarterly.” Opaque as these events in her life are—and they are: she was interested in reform and research, but it is not clear to what end—her work in the 1930s is even more confusing.
At some point, she went to work for the public relations company Carl Byoir & Associates. Among its accounts, CB&A represented (Fortean) David J. Stern’s “Philadelphia Record,” tourist bureaus in Italy (which may have been one reason she ended up here), Germany, and Austria, and promoted air travel (another reason). In the early 1930s, one of CB&A’s higher-ups, Carl C. Dickey, joined with the poet, Nazi sympathizer, and sometime Fortean George Sylvester Vierick to visit Germany, win the account of the German Railroads Tourist Bureau—and Vierick tried to get the Nazi Propaganda Ministry to work with CB&A, which got him on the public relations company’s pay-roll. As part of this work, Studer had the job of reading some 60 daily newspapers and compiling reports on Germany—reports that would facilitate the firm’s selling of Germany as a tourist destination.
In 1934, the House Committee on Un-American Activities took testimony from Dickey. The concern was that public relations was being used to give Hitler and Nazism a good image in America—especially ironic given that Carl Byoir was Jewish. Clara’s name came up in the committee’s testimony, though Dickey said he did not know her address, and he gave her maiden surname. I am not sure what Clara took from this work, if anything—was it just research?—but it put her right at the center of on of Forteanism’s more unpleasant networks. Vierick was friend to other Forteans, including Harry Benjamin and the source behind the Fortean Society Tiffany Thayer.
The emergence of the Studers’s political views is similarly oblique—sketchy—and implicated in a Fortean nexus. Early in the 1940s, she started writing about pacifism, which seems to have been a cause of hers. The August 1940 issue of “The Living Age” ran her “Peace and Its Wily Preachers,” which discussed the dexterity needed by peace groups in a martial age, but also came out against peace groups that said anything bad at all about fascism: at one recent meeting, only one speaker “did not emit a single snarl at Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin Hearst or Father Coughlin. Was for the others, it was precisely as if they were for peace with their fingers crossed.” It wouldn’t be hard to read this stance as supportive of fascism—Orwell did just this in a review of other pacifist writings.
And, indeed, in 1944 Clara was accused of having weak loyalties. In January, Newspaper Enterprise Association story went across the wires titled “'Peace Now’ Movement as Many Supporters of Doubtful Loyalty; Organization Accepts Ex-Bundists.” Peace Now advocated a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany and Japan. Studer prepared press releases, which the article called “propaganda.” The journalist Thomas M. Johnson, who wrote the article, slyly noted that she was the daughter of a German-American newspaper editor. One piece which she put out was distributed by students in Chicago (who were fined $25) and read into the Congressional Record by isolationist Congress member Clare Hoffman; it circulated among other isolationist and American Firsters.
Then, some time in the middle of the 1940s, seemingly after World War II, the Studers became interested in monetary reform; Clara’s turn to the subject may have something to do with her personal situation, as well. In 1935 she had lost her father; in 1945, her mother, It may just be coincidental that her parents passed as she (seemingly) became an advocate for social credit—an outgrowth of her pacifism—or there may be familial reasons. At any rate, she did become a critic of the American monetary system, of banks and the federal reserve.
An interest in money was shared by many modernist writers: Gertrude Stein, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, (the Fortean allied) Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams. As Michael Szaly has pointed out, there was something poetic in New Deal attempts to control the monetary system—treating money as way to access the desires of the population, as though money could speak. The various modernist authors looked to money similarly, as representation, a kind of language. Stevens, for example, was interested in money’s formal properties, as though it were the formal properties of a language. They were concerned, too, about the social control administrators exerted through their control of money—irritation that governments created money for its needs and then owed interest to banks, which was paid by the people. Thayer had a similar critique of government spending, and wrote about Pound’s ideas for monetary reforms as well as other proposals.
Social credit was one answer to the problems raised by industrialism and the monetary system, attempting to gave consumers more power in their relation to manufacturers and banks. Both Williams and Pound were active in the social credit movement, and both thought they were fighting against the destructive power of capitalism by restoring a true aesthetic via their poetry—as Alec Marsh puts it—though, ultimately, their solutions to were different. Ezra Pound pushed his social credit ideas so that they tended toward anti-semitism. He valued right-leaning corporatism, which was broadly in line with fascism. Meanwhile, Williams, infected by American pragmatism, advocated for a left-leaning localism.
In January 1947, Clara and Alfredo sent out a mimeographed pamphlet titled “Dear Citizen” that advocated social credit ideas; the text may have been written by Pound. Sent with it was a pamphlet on Thomas Edison and the monetary system. Extracts from these ended up on Williams’s magnum opus “Paterson.” The money issue seems to have connected the Studers tightly to Pound, who was a friend of Tiffany Thayer; they corresponded with him for many years—there are seven folders of letter in the Ezra Pound papers. In 1947, she also wrote about the Duke of Bedford, another social crediter with fascist leanings, reviewing his “The Years of Transition” in the magazine “The World.” (The Duke also had pacifist inclinations, though these were read by some as a form of support for fascism.)
I may have to causality backwards, but it seems to me that through their interest in the monetary question, the Studers became entwined with the community of modernist artists. They know Caresse Crosby who had established “Black Sun” to publish modernist works. They were friends with Pietro Lazzari, a muralist and sculptor. He had done work for the 99er, which Clara wrote for, and that may have been the first connection between them, but Lazzari also knew Crosby. She visited Ezra Pound when he was in an American asylum, held for his pro-Fascist broadcasts when he was in Italy.
The Studers’s lives become harder to follow in the 1950s. Clara’s eldest brother died in February 1950. The couple corresponded with Ezra Pound, Pietro Lazzari, and Caresse Crosby. (I have seen only the correspondence with Crosby; the rest may fill in gaps.) It seems at some point the Studers started spending most of their time in Europe, primarily Italy but also Paris, only occasionally visiting the American eastern seaboard. She did some translation work related to a stamp collection in 1957.
In the 1960s, she returned her attention to Amelia Earhart. She worked to get Earhart put on a stamped elected to the National Aviation Hall of Fame—which meant putting down persistent rumors. There were claims that Earhart was spying on the Japanese military (which would have irritated Studer for more than one reason). And every time some piece of debris or skeletal remains were found on a beach in the Pacific, there would be public musings about the possibility to was from the Earhart wreck. Studer spent time in Washington, D.C., going through official records and insisted that there was no mystery in Earhart’s “disappearance.” Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan crashed near Howland Island after giving her final position in a frightened voice, she said. Studer’s public rations work was successful, and Earhart did get put onto a stamp. In 1963, the favor was returned, in its way, and the Amelia Earhart medal was presented to Studer in Rome.
Clara subsequently lost both her second brother and her sister, William in 1964, Else in 1969. The last public mention I have of her is from 7 July 1972. Though a resident of Rome, she had come to New Jersey to join the “People’s Blockade,” a tri-state peace group that had 19 protestors sitting on railroad tracks and praying outside the Earle Naval Ammunition Department in Leonardo. The goal was to stop munitions headed for Vietnam. They were arrested and put on trial, where the defendant’s attorney tried to turn the case into a measurement of the legality of the war. Studer told the court, “I wanted to do everything possible to prevent more bombs from being sent to Vietnam.”
Clara Studer died 19 June 1979. Alfredo passed away 4 July 1988.
The Studers seem to have come to Forteanism through Ezra Pound. Pound and Thayer were friends, and Thayer was anxious to help Ezra while he was in the asylum—in part by helping to free him. Over time, they became point persons in the network Thayer constructed of monetary reformists and pacifists; this network overlapped with those with fascist sympathies, and Clara certainly expressed appreciation for that class of Fortean, whether she belonged to it herself or not.
The first connection I can document between Clara and the Fortean Society is in late 1946. Sometime before 21 September, Clara had written to Thayer on behalf of Ezra Pound. Thayer was looking for ways to his energy helping Pound. Apparently, Thayer and Clara (at least) connected some time in the next two years, in person or in correspondence, I don’t know. By the summer of 1948, he’d heard from her that she had gone to Italy, and then to Washington, D.C., where she visited Pound. Thayer wrote Pound, “That must have been pleasant for you both. Isn’t she dynamic?”
Unsurprisingly, Thayer got the Studers to join his Society; he was always on the look out for members. There is no evidence that I can find that either of the Studers had any interest in Fort, Forteana, or skepticism. They seem to have been connected entirely for Thayer’s political project. They appeared in Doubt, the magazine of the Fortean Society put out by Thayer, in October 1950 (issue 30). It’s probably for the best that they did not come into the Society earlier, since that might have meant seeing Thayer’s first magazine, which blamed Earhart’s death on science and faulty geographical knowledge—and might have turned off Clara entirely.
That first issue was only a brief note. The cover page was emblazoned with the phrase “Peace is a Red Plot.” Thayer started the issue by reporting on the arrests of various peace activists, in the course of which he noted that “MFS Studer” (presumably Clara) had told him of some Jehovah’s Witnesses being detained on suspicion of “excessive pacifism.” Alfredo then appeared in the next issue, which came out in January 1951. Thayer published an open letter Alfredo had written to Harry S. Truman. He attacked Truman for seeming tone some kind of authoritarian—no one else had any control over America—and the American people for proclaiming their independence (and mocking the fall into totalitarianism by Europeans and Asians) while being robot-like themselves. No one seemed to be standing up to the U.S.A. embarking on yet another war. He thought the Americans were being sold a bill of goods.
So far so typical for opponents of what Eisenhower had not yet named the military-industrial complex. But the end of the letter tied Alfredo’s critique into both monetary reform and a style of pacifism that could be mistaken as not only passive but surrender: “Should Stalin today or had Hitler yesterday meant to and actually succeeded in conquering the world and had our only opposition been limited to trying to convince them that it would not be right or sensible to do so, humanity would be one hundred ties better off than we are today or will be tomorrow after trying to stop them by force and total destruction. The only difference would be—had we adopted a passive resistance attitude—that there would be no markets for international financiers, no busted-up countries, no need for loans, no generations of mortgaged lives!”
Thayer definitely met the Studers in person in 1952, when he traveled to England, Ireland, and Italy. he and his wife Kathleen spent the night with the Studers, where they talked a great deal and they introduced him to Pound’s son-in-law, Boris Rachewitz. Boris of course became a member of the Society. Meanwhile, the Studers went back to their chores, building chicken coops.
The relative quiescence of the Studers during the 1950s may be explained here, by their building a life in Italy. It may also explain the small participation they had in the Fortean Society: they shared a set of ideas about money and peace, but had lives to live. They appeared only once more in the pages of Doubt. In issue 43 (February 1954), Clara eulogized the Duke of Bedford: “To this Fortean, he will always seem the most spiritually fine, intelligent, articulate person of his age. Certainly the bravest Englishman, if not man.”
It was a suitably ambiguous end.