We Girls and One Boy

I have forgotten what I was searching for on the Internet Archive last week, but somehow I ended up looking at yearbooks of the turn-of-the-century graduating classes of the Salem Normal School, the founding institution of the university where I now teach, Salem State University.  The cover of the 1904 yearbook, entitled The New Mosaic, first caught my attention, then the fanciful illustrations inside, and lastly, the writing. I moved on to the 1905 and 1906 yearbooks, titled The New Mosaic and The Mosaic respectively, which were equally charming, and all the way up to 1914, when the yearbook was published with the rather odd title of Normalities (I get it–Normal School/Normalities, but still). It seems that for a brief time, generally the first decade of the twentieth century, the Salem Normal School seniors published really interesting accounts of their educational experiences—focused on what they learned and what was going on in their world rather than simply who they were. After 1915 or so, the yearbooks became Year Books, with the standard “facebook” format still used today: registries of students rather than their own reflections.

Mosaic 1904 Final Collage

Mosaic 1905

Mosaic 1906 collage

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These yearbooks are fascinating and rather poignant—they made me miss my own students! The seniors pay tribute to their teachers, to each other, and to the class behind them. We read all about their activities and clubs and how long it took them to walk down Lafayette Street from the train station. There are lots of whimsical drawings—which will be replaced by more straightforward photographs later. I’m including this post under my #salemsuffragesaturday banner as nearly all the students at the Salem Normal School were women in these days, and the editorial staff of these successive yearbooks were exclusively women. Men were admitted to the school from 1898, but their numbers were extremely low during this first decade of the twentieth century: this makes for some rather amusing class pictures, as we can see from the photograph of the 1906 graduating class below. The same ratio for the 1904 class, as the New Mosaic of that year registers excitement for the upcoming graduation of “We girls and one boy”.

Mosaic 1906 one boy (3)The 1906 graduating class of the Salem Normal School

I kept reading because I wanted to see what the students were saying about all the events of the later teens: war, pandemic, suffrage. The yearbooks became less creative, but they started to include editorials: a popular Geography professor who served in World War I died of pneumonia (brought on by influenza?) right after the Armistice and now there were more male students, so the war was very much on the minds of successive editors. Nothing is said about suffrage, which really surprised me: instead there is an overwhelming focus on reforms, developments, and opportunities in the teaching profession. But everything is much more serious than a decade or more before: when the girls, and one or two boys, lived and learned in a much smaller, less-threatening Salem world.

Mosaic 1904 Collage 2

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Salem Normal School yearbooks before and after World War I: so many Salem witches in the yearbooks from 1904-8; things get much more serious a decade later: the Liberty Club was dedicated to selling liberty bonds in 1918. The Boston Public Library has a vast collection of yearbooks from nearly every Massachusetts town, most of which have been digitized.


Summer 2020 Reading List: What I Would Have Read

I’m a bit late with this summer reading list: it’s August! And this list is more intentional than actual, so I’m not going to be able to give informed commentary on most of these books. I planned to read all of them, but as soon as the end-of-semester responsibilities were over, intensive gardening began. And as soon as intensive spring gardening ceased, family trips were taken. And then I returned home and BOOM: big book contract! So the last month has been all about writing rather than reading. Yet I have heard from many of you that you like my book lists, so I thought I would offer up one: I did choose these carefully, and many of them are sitting by my bedside, but I usually pass out before I can pick one up! I didn’t even have time to go back and look at my previous book lists but I bet there is a trend of increasing interest in historical fiction over the years: I used to be pretty snobby about that genre, but after reading several titles which were researched meticulously and crafted beautifully—enabling one to really plunge into the world in question—I have changed my tune. I think there are a few of these on this list: you’ll have to forward your assessments, and after my own book is finished I will either return to these books—or I won’t!

So let’s start with fiction. I am dying to read James Meek’s To Calais, in Ordinary Time, which is set in England and France during the Hundred Years’ War and Black Death, and the publication date of Emma Donoghue’s 1918 book was moved up to Corona time. Talk about plunging into the past: I read Andrew Miller’s previous historical novel, Pure, last year and was definitely plunged into the world of an eighteenth-century engineer in Paris; Free is set in Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars, and I really want to go there. I always want to go to sixteenth-century England, even into the somber Shakespeare household following the death of Hamnet, from the plague, of course. Big jump in terms of both chronology and topics: I’ve been reading my way through Evelyn Waugh and his era over the years, and I loved these new covers so purchased them for my bedside stack (I purchased Martin Green’s Children of the Sun a few years ago for some context and insights into this era, but have read it only in snippets so far). And another favorite era in fiction and fact: the Daphne Du Maurier’s novel is from the 1940s, Nadine Akkerman’s scholarly book on female spies in the seventeenth century is much more recent.

Reading Pandemics

Reading Miller

Reading Hamnet

Reading Waugh collage

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For the first time every, I think I have more fiction books than nonfiction—-probably because I’m all nonfiction all the time for by work: both writing and teaching. I don’t really have time to indulge my curiosity this year, but if I did, I would move Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, about the medieval Lewis Chessmen, up to the top of my bedside stack: I’ve been curious about these guys forever. The other books are somewhat related to my book so I supposed I can categorize them as research: I’m writing about gardening and cooking right now, in my Chapter Three, so Floud’s and Dawson’s books are right by my side, offering some great insights and context supplementary to my primary sources. Newton is a little late for me, but I’ve got to read all about alchemy for my book as it creeps into several topics (medicine, beauty, even agriculture), so William R. Newman’s Newton the Alchemist will be illuminating, I’m sure.

Reading Chess

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Reading Newton Collage


The Fabric of Friendship

Back to my Salem singlewomen shopkeepers and businesswomen: they continue to be my favorite subjects among these #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. Socialites, authors and artists: too easy! I came across one of the most stunning nineteenth-century photographs I have ever seen: of Miss Eliza P. Punchard, dressed formally in black bombazine, in front of Ann. R. Bray’s dry goods store at 76 Federal Street circa 1875. The picture was taken by the very accomplished Salem photographer Edwin Peabody, and it is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, although you will never find it on the PEM’s impenetrable and unhelpful website: I make most of my PEM discoveries through old publications of either of its founding institutions, the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. In this case, the photograph was published in Museum Collections of the Essex Institute, published in 1978. It may seem like an old-fashioned way to access a museum’s collections in 2020, but believe me, such publications are your best bet for now.

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This photograph is so compelling, so sharp, so curious! Miss Punchard is not posing formally, yet she looks very formal! Her cheekbones! A literal window into a shop full of fabrics! I want to see more of the sign! So what’s the story?

Miss Eliza P. Punchard and Miss Ann R. Bray worked together in the dry goods business but they were not business partners: the former was always listed as clerk in the census and directory records while the latter was clearly the shopowner. They were, however, friends and perhaps life partners: after leaving bequests to a score of nieces and nephews in her native Gloucester, Miss Bray left the bulk of her estate, and her shop, to Miss Punchard in her 1875 will: I can only assume that this photograph marks Miss Punchard’s succession to the well-established Bray business: and is she wearing mourning? Miss Bray’s will implies that they were very close but I can’t presume anything more than that—although again, they lived together and alone (except for a succession of servant girls, several from Maine and several from Ireland) for more than three decades: every time they needed a new servant Miss Bray advertised for help in “a household of two”. Following Miss Bray’s death in 1875, Miss Punchard ran the shop until her retirement in 1886; she died three years later. And that was the end of a seemingly-successful woman-owned business in Salem, one of many: I am sure I am just scratching the surface with these posts. The Bray business had a long run, from around 1821 at least, when Miss Bray began advertising her services as a tailoress in Salem: not a seamstress mind you, but a tailoress. The “trimmings”took over and she moved into dry goods dealing from a variety of Federal Street locales: ending up at #76.

Bray Salem Gazette 1821 (2) Best

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Bray black and whiteAdvertisements in the Salem Gazette and Register, 1821-1853: Cambric and Bombazine dresses from MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miss Bray was an enthusiastic advertiser in the Salem Gazette, Register and Observer and even the Wizard of South Danvers (now Peabody) and her stock got larger and more exotic as her business expanded: she offered gingham from the beginning to the end (and you can see it in the photograph of Miss Punchard) but added many other fabrics and frills from the 1840s on. I’m familiar with lots of things (merino, tartan, worsted, muslin and linen), but clueless about others: what in the world are “Russian Diapers” and “Circassian Bombazettes”? From some fashion historian crowdsourcing, I did learn that “Quaker Skirts” were a lightweight hoop, and Miss Bray offered other hoops as well, including the “Watch Spring” and “Bon Ton” varieties, and all manner of petticoats, including the popular Balmoral Skirt inspired by Queen Victoria. BUT there is definitely a patriotic shift during the Civil War: towards simpler fabrics, manufactured domestically. Mourning wear, unfortunately, was always in demand.After the war Miss Bray returned to her vast array of fabrics and accessories, and even included pianofortes in her stock! Just brief glimpses into two women’s lives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.

Bray Collage

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Bray EndSalem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.


Break for Ice Cream

I was reading and writing about the 1563 plague in London—very deadly and very overshadowed by later Tudor and Stuart plagues—when I had to take a break for ice cream in the midst of a stifling afternoon. The break went on a bit longer than expected because I became diverted into the history of ice cream: I just opened up an old cookbook I had for a moment (really!) but the recipe looked similar to some that I had seen in the seventeenth-century cookbooks that I am going to be writing about later in this chapter that I’m working on so I indulged myself for a bit longer in the name of “research”……and before you I knew it I had abandoned early modern England and was looking into the history of ice cream in Salem. From the plague to ice cream in a half hour: the balance of book and blog will not work well if I continue to be so indulgent (but it was hot).

earliest-ice-cream-recipe

Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with a blade of Mace or else perfume it with orang flower water or Ambergreece, sweeten the Cream, with sugar[,] let it stand till it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes, e[i]ther of Silver or tinn, then take, Ice chopped into small peeces and put it into a tub and set the Boxes in the Ice covering them all over, and let them stand in the Ice two hours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes, then turn them out into a salvar [salver = dish] with some of the same seasoned Cream, so sarve [serve] it up to the Table.

This is Lady Ann Fanshawe’s handwritten recipe for “icy cream” from the mid-seventeenth century and the Wellcome Library’s digitized recipe-book collection (MS.71113) . It is unusual when compared to the first published recipes for ice cream in the next century, which are more custard-style creams, made with egg yolks, and then frozen. But Lady Fanshawe’s ingredients–mace, orange-flower water, and even ambergris (well maybe I should exclude ambergris)–were not that unusual: early ices were made with a wide range of ingredients: all sorts of fruits and herbs, honey, tea and coffee, crumbled cakes and biscuits. Ice cream history in the nineteenth century is marked by two big developments, both in the US: the development of the portable ice cream “freezer” and “Philadelphia-style” ice creams, made without eggs. But nineteenth-century ice creams, sorbets and sherberts were still more exotic than we think they were, or at least thought they were: Mrs. Lincoln’s Frosty Fancies and Frozen Dainties, published in the late nineteenth century for best-selling freezer manufacturer White Mountain, feature lots of interesting ices, and ice creams made with arrowroot, cornstarch, and gelatin for their foundation, rather than eggs.

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And yes: I think this is yet another aspect of Salem’s history which seems notable, although I did not extend my break to make a city-by-city, town-by-town comparative analysis of ice-cream production and consumption. Salem had a very early ice cream “manufactory”, from at least 1856, as well as several antebellum retail shops or saloons. And these multiplied over the later nineteenth century and then of course opened up in the tourist destination that was (and remains) Salem Willows. Salem also had ice cream “peddlers” from the late nineteenth century on, and even a “millionaire milkman”: Gilbert H. Hood of the famous H.P. Hood Company, still very much with us, who spent the summer and fall of 1921 “learning the business from the ground up” while based at Hood’s Salem ice cream factory, now the site of luxury condominiums.

Salem Ice Cream

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Ice Cream Holly Tree

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Ice Cream NDN Aug 19 1989

Hood Collage

Notice of Salem’s first ice cream manufactory in the Salem Register, June 30, 1856; Salem Willows postcards from 1905; The manufactory at 271 Essex became a “saloon” in the 1870s and another popular ice cream parlor was the Holly Tree on Central Street (Collections of Historic New England); “Ira Moody Chute standing in front of his ice cream wagon, Salem, Mass., ca. 1898,” (Historic New England); The Newburyport Daily News, August 19, 1889; Gilbert H. Hood in the Boston Herald, October 9, 1921.

More! The SERVING of ice cream was serious business a century ago, and Historic New England has some great examples from the Phillips House: ice cream forks, scoops, molds, trays, etc….: check them out here.


The Grande Dame

We know her instantly when we see her: from her famous John Singer Sargent portrait painted 20 years later: she is Ellen Peabody Endicott, the Grande Dame of Salem, Boston, and Washington society, standing right behind the bride at the first presidential White House wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom on June 2, 1886. As the wife of Cleveland’s Secretary of War, William Crowninshield Endicott, she was invited to the intimate “stand-up” wedding, along with all the other cabinet ministers and their wives and so appeared in national newspaper stories over the next few weeks: her face is strong and clear-cut. One would say it was the typical Boston face. Mrs. Endicott looks like the high-bred New England woman of long descent. She wore a red pompom in her handsome gray hair at the president’s wedding. Mrs. Endicott is her husband’s first cousin. Both are descendants of the Putnam family.

Endicott-Collage

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Screenshot_20200721-193543_ChromeThe President’s wedding from Harper’s Weekly, June 12, 1886 via the Library of Congress. Mrs. Endicott is on the extreme left above.

Yes, that’s correct: Ellen Peabody Endicott was an Endicott both my birth and by marriage, and a perfect example of how early Salem families, and slightly “newer” merchant families, liked to stick together. She was the granddaughter of Joseph Peabody, one of Salem’s richest golden-age merchants if not the richest, and was born (in 1833) and raised in two beautiful houses: 29 Washington Square on the Common (now the Bertram Home) and the summer house in Danvers, which the Endicotts later referred to simply as “the farm” (now Glen Magna, owned by the Danvers Historical Society). About a decade after her marriage to William Crowninshield Endicott in 1859 they established their primary Salem residence at the venerable Georgian mansion on Essex Street now known as the Cabot-Low-Endicott House: this house became quite notable due to Mr. Endicott’s rather spectacular career (Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Secretary of War in the Cleveland administration) and their daughter’s spectacular marriage to the British politician Joseph Chamberlain. The Endicotts moved into a Boston brownstone mansion on Marlborough Street following his retirement, but still spent all of their summers in Danvers.

pixlrMrs. Endicott’s houses: clockwise, Washington Square and Essex Street, Salem; 163 Marlborough Street, the Farm (Glen Magna).

Mrs. Endicott is a perfect example of yet another theme that has been emerging from these #salemsuffragesaturday posts: the difficulty of piecing together women’s lives when you only get references through an association—usually a husband. In Mrs. Endicott’s case, we hear about her because of her husband’s cabinet position and also because her daughter married the notable British politician Joseph Chamberlain in 1888: the transatlantic marriage was big news on both sides of the ocean and the bride’s parents are always characterized as old Yankees, Boston Brahmins, Puritan and/or Codfish aristocracy in all the stories (you can read all about the “Puritan Princess” here). There was also interest in the new Mrs. Cleveland, and on the several occasions when she traveled to Massachusetts, Mrs. Endicott was sent to meet and accompany her: consequently we get to hear about what both women wore in considerable detail.

Endicott Collage 2

But later in life, after her husband’s death in 1900, we begin to see Ellen Peabody Endicott for herself: in terms of her accomplishments and quite literally.  She oversaw (with the help of her son, William Crowninshield, Jr., and her son-in-law Joseph Chamberlain) considerable improvements to the house and garden at the Danvers estate, including the installation of the beautiful McIntire summer house which was originally built for Elias Haskett Derby’s farm on Andover Street a few miles away in what is now Peabody. And then there are the two amazing portraits by John Singer Sargent: in oil and charcoal. The latter is very appropriately in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, and was included in the Sargent exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum just last year.

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Screenshot_20200721-150804_ChromeWilliam Crowninshield’s death in May of 1901 was a national headline; Ellen Peabody Endicott (Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott), 1901 by John Singer Sargent, National Gallery of Art: Gift of Louise Thoron Endicott in memory of Mr. and Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott; Portrait of Ellen Peabody Endicott, 1905, John Singer Sargent, Peabody Essex Museum: Gift of Mrs. William Hartley Carnegie, 1957.

Appendix: Painting Ellen’s Portrait!  The Sargent oil portrait in situ in Karin Jurick’s painting “Sitting Idly By”: you can see more of her work here.

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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For the most part, I’ve managed to avoid dwelling on the pandemic and I must admit that I haven’t been that affected by it either, apart from the radical reconfiguration of my work environment! My struggle is to improve my online communication skills so that I can convey my passion for history through the screen—and that really isn’t much of a struggle, relatively speaking. I feel grateful as I’ve been fortunate: fortunate in my profession, which enables me to work in isolation reading and writing about a distant time and place, and fortunate in my residence—Massachusetts was hard hit in March and April but the steady leadership of our Governor and the responsible compliance of (most of) our citizens has enabled us to contain the spread of the Covid. Most days I am in a sixteenth-century fog writing my book, but headlines from the radio and the television intrude, and of course, the numbers of the infected and the dead keep climbing. I can’t believe that the President would hold rallies in this environment, and I am fearful of the maskless merrymakers I see whenever I do get outside and happen to find myself near a body of water, which is often, because I live on the coast. These “mask slackers” (a great term that comes from the last epic pandemic, when an Anti-Mask League formed in San Francisco) do not in any way remind me of a proverbial and patriotic “live free or die” movement but rather another, older, proverbial expression of selfishness: “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die”. This is a biblical reference, of course, and as such it does not imply selfishness on the part of those partaking in the joys of daily life; rather it began to acquire its modern meaning at the time of the Black Death, or shortly thereafter. One of our best sources for the plague’s impact is the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, who set the scene for his tales of the Decameron by giving us a first-hand account of plague-time Florence, where

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. 

Boccaccio’s description echoed the late medieval Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”) allegory, an expression of the egalitarian and universal nature of all-conquering Death found in poetry, music, and images both before, and especially after, the Black Death. Late medieval people heard (or saw) the message as a reminder to be ready for Death, which could strike at any time, in a spiritual sense, not just as a call to indulge. Over the next centuries the hoarding isolationists and the dancing fools converged and the focus on sinfulness and salvation was diminished and forgotten, leaving us only with self-centered indulgence in the face of things we can’t, or won’t control: eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

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Screenshot_20200401-081302_TwitterAre we in a crisis? Death is just outside the door in The Feast of Dives, Master of James IV of Scotland, c. 1510-20, from the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum; I took this screenshot of Governor Kevin Stitt’s tweet back in March because I could not quite believe it: it was later taken down. I’m sad to say that Governor Stitt has recently announced that he is the first Governor to test positive for Covid and I hope he makes a speedy recovery. He attended the President’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 (without wearing a mask) but does not believe that it was where he was infected.

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Detail of a photograph of  the Danse Macabre frieze at St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck painted by Bernt Notke in 1463; it was destroyed during World War II.  Ink & watercolor Dance of Death by anonymous German artist, 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; inset of 17th century oil painting of the Dance of Death, Wellcome Library.


The First Crusader

One of the key themes emerging from my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts is the activism and organization of women: there is a paper trail of organized advocacy for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and all sorts of reform and relief. The beginning of that trail might have begun in the 1820s with protests against the Federal government’s policy towards Native Americans: I don’t see a movement but I do see one fierce crusader in Salem. Elizabeth Elkins Sanders (1762-1851) is yet another woman about whom we never hear anything in Salem: she was born into privilege, lived a privileged life, but was aware of said privilege in an age when most of her contemporaries were not, and consequently became a fierce advocate for Native Americans and an equally fierce critic of American cultural imperialism from the 1820s on—expressing views that become much more current a century later. She was not just an armchair observer; she published Conversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828), the First Settlers of New England (1829), and the Tract on Missions (1844) as well as several literary essays and reviews. The intense presidential campaign of 1828, pitting notorious Indian fighter Andrew Jackson against Massachusetts’ native son John Quincy Adams, inspired her to pick up a pen in her sixties: the Tract on Missions was published when she was 82!

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Sanders contextConversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America, published by Elizabeth Elkins Sanders during the presidential campaign of 1828; Catherine Beecher’s Circular Addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States (from the Phillips Library, incorrectly attributed to Sanders), a call to action against the pending Indian Removal Act, 1829. Alisse Portnoy’s Their Right to Speak connects the anti-removal movement with the emerging abolitionist movement in the antebellum era.

Elizabeth Sanders (or Saunders) was a Salem representative of a larger movement against Indian removal which included the first national women’s petition campaign, organized by Connecticut educators Catherine Beecher (elder sister of Harriet) and Lydia Sigourney: in response to the Circular addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States nearly 1500 petitions were sent to Washington in 1830. I’m assuming Elizabeth sent hers, and wondering what other causes and organizations were the focus of her “expansive benevolence and strong mature intellect”.

Sanders Feb 22 1851

20200717_180254Salem Observer, February 22, 1851; 39 Chestnut Street, the home of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth E. Sanders.

 


Not so Ephemeral

I was a casual collector of ephemera for years, so I’ve always been impressed with the more serious seekers and crafters of entire collections, most prominently Eric C. Caren, founder of the Caren Archive of paper Americana. With its tagline “History Unfolds on Paper”, the collection extends to about a million items I believe: Mr. Caren has culled it down with a series of auctions over the last decade or so–at Bonhams, Christie’s, and Swann’s among other houses–but I suspect that he continues to buy with feverish enthusiasm. The eighth Caren collection auction is now ongoing online at Sotheby’s, and I have really enjoyed perusing the lots: ephemera can really take you into an era, by offering intimate, “everyday” or administrative perspectives on the events of the day: often it’s surprising how weighty these little strips of paper can be. A serious collection of ephemera makes such items less ephemeral and more evidential, and with digitization, the ephemeral is also transformed into a lasting testimony. My browsing was edifying as well: who knew, for example, that the famous Gerrymander, spawned right here in Essex County in 1812, died in the following year? Certainly not me! This skeletal monster is just one of several intriguing items in the auction: here are my picks.

Dead Gerrymander

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Gerrymander cartoon in the Columbian Centinal via the Salem Gazette, 1813; Horatio Gates’ Recruiting Instructions, 1775; Benjamin Harrison, Governor of Virginia, grants land to Daniel Cumbo, and African-American soldier, in return for his service in the Revolutionary War (quite a contrast to the Gates document, which prohibits the recruitment of “any Stroller, Negro or Vagabond”; John Paul Jones mezzotint, 1779; Alfred Swaine Taylor, early “photogenic drawing” photograph of a fern, 1839; Brochure for “Bloomer Girls”, a touring baseball team, from the Young Ladies’ Athletic Journal, 1889; Stop Lynching, Shame of America poster, 1937; US House of Representatives Calendar No. 61: Impeachment of Donald John Trump.


The Coal Queen of Salem

There is no question that the women I’ve come to admire the most as I’ve been compiling my #SalemSuffrageSaturday stories are the entrepreneurs: the artists and writers and activists are both interesting and impressive of course, but women entrepreneurs leave less of a mark, and were much more daring in their day. It was fine for women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to “dabble” in painting and writing, but business was another thing altogether: no dabbling there. And no one is interested in them, so their stories remain untold. We have to hear about (very worthy, but still!) House of the Seven Gables founder and philanthropist Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton again and again and again and again and again, but I’m telling you now: her contemporary Charlotte Fairfield was far more interesting.

So who was Charlotte Fairfield (1864-1924)? Well, I have labeled her “Salem’s Coal Queen” and the Boston papers refer to her as both a “Model Business Woman” and “Salem’s Smartest Business Woman”, among other glowing terms. She was the daughter of James Fairfield of Salem, a dealer in coal and other commodities, but she did not simply inherit the family business: she pursued her own bookkeeping career in Boston, principally with the dry goods firm Babcock & Sargent, until the combined forces of her own illness and her brother’s death compelled her to come back to Salem and work with her father. In 1903, when she was denied a vote in the Salem Coal Club, she and her father decided to go “independent” and undercut their competition, lowering the price of coal in Salem and exposing what was essentially a cartel in the process to great acclaim and notoriety: the newspapers simply could not write enough about Miss Fairfield in the winter of 1903: she became the “Fighting Coal Dealer”.

Coal Feb 15 BSG

Coal Collage 2

“Lottie” Fairfield transcended her gender with that particular headline in the Boston Sunday Globe, but the story beneath it, and most stories about her in 1903 and later, are overwhelmingly focused on it: Thoroughly independent, with a mind, a will, and a brain all her own and a masculine adaptability for business, Miss Fairchild is decidedly feminine, not at all what you would call a strong-minded ‘new’ woman, but an up-to-date, stylish, well-gowned, attractive, bright, lovable little body, who, with the proverbial inconsistency of her sex, with coal by the wagonloads on her wharves, has burned coke for a couple of years in her furnace reads the February 15 illustrated story in the Globe. Wow! That is quite a characterization. The Boston Post caricatured her “arrogant” competitors in the Salem Coal Club, most prominently Major George W. Pickering, while headlining her as a heroine.

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Coal Boston Post 13 Feb 1903 2PMBoston Post 13 February 1903

And so she was: because the result of Miss Fairfield’s war with the Salem Coal Club was the lowering of the price of coal from $12.00 to $9 a ton in Salem: imagine the impact that had in an era when coal was a major household expense! Charlotte Fairfield appears in the Boston papers again and again over the next twenty years, always portrayed as plucky, business-savvy, and well-dressed. After years of pleading with the city of Salem to dredge the Harbor so that coal-laden ships could reach her docks, she took matters into her own hands and then submitted the dredging bill to the City, which refused to reimburse her. One of her docks was damaged because of the inaccessibility of the Harbor. She filed suit against the City for both reimbursement and damages, and eventually won both, though the legal process stretched out for years, earning her more headlines in the local papers. She was a fierce advocate for Salem Harbor, and not just for commercial reasons: at this time the City was dumping raw sewage into it and she and others protested regularly to state and federal authorities. She was very involved in the relief efforts following the Great Salem Fire in 1914 (which did not burn down her waterfront storehouse, as it was built of “modern” materials) and she gave a job to every Salem soldier returning home from World War I.

Coal 1910 Beverly Directory (2)

Coal Harbor

I became so enamored of Charlotte Fairfield that I actually gasped when I found accounts of her death in the papers: a tragic end to a very full and active life, from injuries sustained when her clothing caught fire while she was standing too close to a gas heater in her home at 13 Pleasant Street (there is actually quite a list of Salem women who died when their clothes caught on fire!!!) She was able to call for help, and was in stable condition for the first few days in Salem Hospital, but she died on January 30, 1924, leaving only a niece, and a substantial estate, of course.

Coal-28-Jan-1924


Delaware River Towns

With the new book contract, I won’t be traveling anywhere for quite a while so I guess our trip down to New Jersey last week was my last road trip! My husband is from the Jersey shore, and so we go down once or twice a year. I’m not really a beach person, so in the summers, I generally take the days that we are there to explore and come home for dinner with everyone: I think my husband’s family thought this was odd at first but now they seem quite adjusted to my behavior. I’m just very curious about Jersey: it’s one of those states I have always driven through and seldom explored thoroughly, and there’s a lot to see. This time I was set on visiting Lambertville on the Delaware River, just about due west from where we were on the Shore, and I also wanted to go south (and west) to the other Salem, New Jersey, to see the Nicholson House: I made it to the former but not the latter, so next time. But I thoroughly enjoyed Lambertville, a really cool historic city which is also the antiques hub of New Jersey, as well as its adjacent towns on both sides of the Delaware River. This is a perfect road trip if you are not too far from the region: just drive up NJ Route 29 from Trenton to through Lambertville to Frenchtown, then cross over to Pennsylvania, and travel south along Route 32 through New Hope to the Washington Crossing Historic Park. Here’s my trip.

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20200628_104548How perfect is Lambertville? Clean, every storefront filled, an interesting array of houses, perfect SIGNAGE, and city-council candidates who run on a platform of stopping overdevelopment!

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20200628_120911Still in New Jersey, heading north on 29 past the John Prall House and Mill, now a wonderful public park, into Frenchtown.

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20200628_143358Route 32 in Pennsylvania, past the Thompson-Neely House, where Washington’s troops waited to cross over the river prior to the Battle of Trenton, into Upper Makefield, site of the Washington Crossing Historic Park, ending up back in Jersey at the Johnson Ferry House. Obviously there was a lot more to see in Buck’s County, but I had to make it back to the Shore for dinner!


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