Category Archives: Culture

The Howard Street Church

The Howard Street Church was a short-lived institution, but it had an enormous impact on Salem’s nineteenth-century social and political life, far beyond the brevity of its existence or size of its membership. It is also a great example of how Salem’s history has been distorted by the exploitation and commodification of the Witch Trials: today the Church is little-known, and the adjacent Howard Street Cemetery is significant primarily as the place where accused victim Giles Corey was pressed to death upon his plea of “standing mute” and the imposition of peine forte et dure.

The Howard Street Cemetery in 1949 by Life photographer Nina Leen: it looks much the same now and the vantage point is approximately the location of the Howard Street Church.

The Church was founded out of a schism, and it too experienced schisms during its brief existence, from 1803-1864: both it pastors and its membership were active and engaged citizens, often to the extreme. As its last pastor, the Reverend C.C. Beaman, concluded in his 1861 history (Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 3): “the Church has been likened in reference to its trials to the bush that was in the fire and yet not consumed. On the slavery question and on temperance it has been a marked church, having early spoken boldly upon them;—and if the being cast into prison is a proof of regular descent from the apostles, this church has a strong claim, inasmuch as one of its ministers died in prison and another was confined there.” The men in question were the Reverends Charles T. Torrey and George Barrell Cheever. The latter was a passionate proponent of temperance, who targeted one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in town, John Stone, Deacon of the First Church and simultaneously Salem’s largest distiller (who also built my house), in The Dream, or, The True History of Deacon Giles’ Distillery and Deacon Jones’ Brewery: Reported for the Benefit of Posterity, which was first published in Salem in 1835 and later in New York City for national distribution. After its publication, Cheever was accosted in the streets, horse-whipped, and sued, convicted, and imprisoned for slander, but his campaign for temperance, waged from the pulpit as well as in print, did not cease. I wrote about this story way back in 2011, and now we have a distillery named after Deacon Giles (a perfect Salem story).

One of Deacon Giles’ Distillery’s great illustrations, from an edition at Boston Rare Maps.

So the Howard Street was a center of a temperance storm in the 1830s, but it was the center of Salem’s abolitionist activities from its foundation to its end. Its first pastor, the Reverend Joshua Spalding (sometimes spelled Spaulding) had welcomed African-Americans into his new congregation from the beginning, after his dismissal and his flock’s “separation” from the Tabernacle Church in 1802, and with each successive pastor the commitment to abolition became stronger. Spalding was an early advocate of public education for Salem’s African-American children, and he appointed an African-American man, Israel Freeman, as one of his new church’s deacons. A short-lived successor of Cheever, Charles Turner Torrey clearly could not stand to just talk about the evils of slavery in somewhat-enlightened Salem: he went south and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, dying in a Baltimore jail of consumption after facilitating the freedom of some 400 enslaved persons. In jail, he wrote his memoirs to support his family back in Massachusetts: Home or The Pilgrims’ Faith Revived was first published in Salem in 1845; following his death in the following year, Torrey “returned” to Massachusetts and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery with considerable ceremony. One of Salem’s most eminent educators and abolitionists, William B. Dodge, was a long-time member and Elder of the Howard Street Church: he first taught Salem’s African-American students in its vestry, where the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (among whose founding members were Dodge’s wife Sarah Dole Dodge and daughters Lydia and Lucia) also met frequently. The whole congregation, and indeed the city, was summoned to the Howard Street Church on occasions for prayer services for the end of slavery, as was the case in June of 1835.

There is ample evidence that the Howard Street Church served as a hub for abolitionist activities in Salem over the first half of the nineteenth century, but it’s hard to pay tribute to a site that is no longer there. I can’t even come up with a photograph (well, there is a semblance, see below), which is really frustrating as the Church was the creation of Samuel McIntire! It had a tower, and a very famous bell, which might have ended up the adjacent Central Baptist Church on St. Peter Street after the Howard Street congregation was dissolved (but the City of Salem had a claim, so I’m not sure). The Church was almost in constant flux: it started out as the Branch Street Church, named for the lane that connected Brown and Bridge Streets, later called Howard, and assumed the name Howard Street Church in 1828. Its denomination changed too: from Congregational to Presbyterian and back to Congregational. It’s the individuals that stand out in the history of this church, though: Spalding, Cheever, Torrey, Dodge and more, It seemed to draw men and women of great conviction. And if Howard Street’s abolitionist history was not illustrious enough, there is the role that the Church played in one of the most deadly battles in pre-20th century naval history: the defeat of the USS Chesapeake by the HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813. The former ship’s crew was annihilated in the 12-minute battle, which was watched by North Shore residents from atop Legg’s Hill. The Chesapeake‘s captain, James Lawrence of “Don’t Give up the Ship” fame, died shortly after that famous plea, along with several of his officers. The Chesapeake was sailed to Nova Scotia by the British with its dead and wounded aboard, and Salem’s George Crowninshield retrieved the remains of Captain Lawrence and Lieutenant August Ludlow from Halifax at his own expense and returned them to Salem for a formal funeral at the “Rev. Mr. Spauldings Meeting-house” in late August 1813. And thus the Howard Street Church became the center of national attention.

Massachusetts State Library; Newburyport Reporter and Country Gazette, August 24,1813.

The Howard Street congregation began to dissolve in 1864 and the end of the material church (in Salem) came in 1867 when everything was auctioned off. The McIntire Church building was removed, not destroyed: it was floated (I assume) over to Beverly, where it became the new Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869, with some adjustments and alterations at that time, and more in the 1880s, so I don’t think that the photograph below represents what the Howard Street Church looked like—though perhaps some semblance. Its former location became the site of a new Salem public school, the Prescott School, but not for long: the growing Polish Catholic community represented by the Church of St. John the Baptist purchased the closed Central Baptist Church in the first decade of the twentieth century, and expanded its property to Howard Street in the 1960s. The history of Salem’s churches is indeed quite dynamic!

Salem Gazette; 1874 Salem Atlas @State Library of Massachusetts; photograph of the Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, Historic Beverly. The displaced congregation of St. Alphonse began worshipping in this Church after the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and it was destroyed by arson in 1963.


Postal Perspectives, Salem Edition

I was enthralled this week with news of the new technology which has unlocked “letterlocked” letters from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: before the onset of the envelope in the nineteenth century there were often-intricate practices of folding, cutting, creasing and sealing letters to secure their contents, making it impossible for modern scholars to pry them apart without causing considerable damage to invaluable sources. With every discovery of a locked letter, or a cache of locked letters, the pressure mounted to discovery another way to reveal the writing inside, and this very week, a team of scientists announced their process of “Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography.” This is BIG news: the letters are scanned and “virtually unfolded,” rendering their physical integrity intact. Secrets are revealed! I just can’t think of anything more exciting.

I’ve worked with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century letters before but they had already been opened up: hopefully they weren’t quite as “locked” as some examples and no harm ensued. It’s so interesting that envelopes became common so late in western history: really only from the 1830s. With the completion of my manuscript (and before readers’ comments come in) I had the time to indulge my curiosity a bit this week, the first opportunity in over a year, so I engaged in one of my favorite pastimes, putting a Salem spin on a much larger and more global topic. I haven’t engaged in “ephemeral history ” for a while so it was also nice to look at some pieces of paper. Both epistolary and postal history can reveal all sorts of interesting things, even on the surface, and two great sources for all things philatelic are the Stamp Auction Network in general and Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions in particular: all the letters below come from the latter source unless otherwise noted. First up, some folded 18th-century Salem letters from the Kelleher archive: addressed to Mrs. Hannah Pickering, Widow from 1725, and the nephews of John Hancock, Thomas and John, from 1796 (via the Salem “packet”).

Once envelopes arrive, they become increasingly elaborate, especially with the coming of the Civil War. The Phillips Library has a large collection of Civil War Covers which I hope to see one day but the one below is from Kelleher: as you can see, it contrasts quite strikingly with the simple letter addressed to Mr. Robert Manning, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle. The Salem printer-publisher J.E. Tilton specialized in embellished envelopes: here is one showcasing John C. Frémont’s western expeditions in support of his presidential campaign in 1856. In the next decade Tilton moved his business to Boston, but other Salem printers took up the patriotic paper trade. The envelope illustrations seem to get larger and more colorful over the second half of the nineteenth century, leaving little space for the address—illustrated by the Spanish-American War cover from 1898.

In addition to patriotic purposes, envelopes were great means for advertising and commemoration: all sorts of engines start to appear from the 1870s on, along with a variety of other industrial (and agricultural) goods and of course, the company headquarters. Salem’s famous hotel, the Essex House, appeared on numerous envelopes in the later and early twentieth centuries. Clothing and shoe manufacturers took full advantage of their stationery (the 1895 letter to the Naumkeag Clothing Co. in Salem is from Downeast Stamps), and before the stamp became the chief expression of commemoration, it was all about the envelope.


Under Cover in the Renaissance

It’s a beautiful day here in Salem, but I’m in lockdown in my study, more than halfway through the very last chapter of my book! I am taking a break to show you some early modern masks, just because they are so wonderful. There is no material culture in my book: it’s all about information culture. But some of the instructive information I am coming across refers to very mundane matters like personal and household hygiene: one of my very favorite books is all about how to remove spots and stains from both precious and mundane fabrics, with dyeing advice if they won’t come out. Out, damned spot! Out, I say! This was of course a huge problem, as I am not dealing with a disposable society. Cleanliness was increasingly important for health reasons as well: sixteenth-and seventeenth-century people were living through constant pandemics of plague and various poxes and fevers, and while they knew nothing about germ theory, they had associated disease and squalidness. When they went outside, into the pestilential air, they covered up for protection if they could afford to: with hats, hoods, gloves and fans and yes, even masks. Everyone is now familiar with the beaked plague masks of the later seventeenth century, but this was just one, rather dramatic, form of early modern masks, which were also worn for “disguising,” for protection against the weather, for festivity, and for fashion. The most elaborate of fashionable early modern masks for women, the vizard or visard, which covered the entire face except for the eyes, seems to have had Italian origins, like so many fashions then (and now): when they began appearing in England, many commentators, especially of the Puritan disposition, were not impressed. In his Anatomy of Abuses (1583), Phillip Stubbes wrote: When they use to ride abroad they have invisories or visors made of velvet, wherewith they cover all their faces, having holes made in them for their eyes, whereout they look. So that if a man, that know not their guise before, should chance to meet one of them, he would think he met a monster or a devil, for he can see no face, but two broad holes against her eyes with glasses in them. Nevertheless, the household accounts of Queen Elizabeth’s reign list vizards among her purchases, and a century later, these “visors” were fashionable apparel for women of some means, who would wear them out and about, particularly when attending the theater. Samuel Pepys was so struck by one vizard-wearing lady at a performance that he went right out and bought a mask for his (long-suffering) wife. There are several digital sources for early modern apparel: I chose the images below from a late sixteenth-century album of costumes in watercolor at the Morgan Library and the “Friendship Album” (Album Amicorum) of a German Soldier in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

An Album of Costumes, Morgan Library.

Album Amicorum, LACMA.

Wenceslaus Hollar’s engravings of English women clothed for every season from the mid-seventeenth century illustrate the bit more utilitarian masks worn by women of means during the winter: many more Hollar images are at the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto and the Rijksmuseum, where I obtained these images—there is a new “Rijkstudio” where you can get creative with collection items; no time for that now, but later……..

Wenceslaus Hollar at the Rijksmusum.


Trial by Combat

Like most Americans, I am outraged by the pillaging of the Capitol on Wednesday by a mob incited by the President of the United States and his personal lawyer, once a serious figure, now a joke, who called for “Trial by Combat”. Tears and despair reigned on Wednesday and Thursday, but yesterday I was just mad: mad at so many things, but I think principally upset about the misuse of history by everyone on the wrong side of it. It’s really clear that there is massive ignorance of history in our country, enabling its constant exploitation. When you look at the scenes of the Capitol riots what do you see? Flags, so many flags: the Confederate flag was the most conspicuous, of course: we had never seen it in that building before. But there were several Revolutionary War flags as well, outrageously displayed in an ignorant attempt to establish some sort of equivalency or legitimacy. I’m used to the quasi-“medieval” emblems used by white supremacists, and I saw them on display as well: of course the Vikings never wore horned helmets—they are a Victorian creation—but these people don’t read so they don’t know. Anything medieval is just Game of Thrones fantasy to them, but how dare they use the “Appeal to Heaven” flag of the nascent U.S. Navy or the Gadsen “Don’t Treat on Me” flag.

A flag hangs between broken windows after President Donald Trump supporters tried to brake through police barriers outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

That casual reference to trial by combat, which was archaic in the sixteenth century at the very least! As it evolved into the duel, monarchs wanted a monopoly on warfare, and so it was disdained, not celebrated, as it was on Wednesday (by the cowardly “generals” who of course did not accompany their “army” to the Capitol). And we’re supposed to be more civilized? I hardly think so. Trial by combat is already depicted as “orderly” and idealized in the fifteenth century: it’s on its way out then, only to be resurrected in the twenty-first.

Trial by combat as depicted in two late medieval manuscripts (British Library MS Royal 15 E VI and Royal 14 D I) and a Victorian reimagining.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing about the Renaissance now and completely focused on its messaging, but I feel like we can only move forward by looking back. We’ve got to learn our history, our real history. I think I’m also a bit concerned about this now because the Liberal Arts are being challenged across our nation at institutions of higher education, particularly public ones like the one at which I teach. I’m worried we are going to be transformed into a vocational school by our administration with its “bold” plan: offering instruction primarily in social service rather than social science. We excel at teacher education in several fields (including history, of course) because that is our history, and nothing is more important than that now. How can we move forward if we don’t know where we’ve been?

Oh, and those “backward” medievals always distinguished between trial by combat and pillage: that’s what happened on Wednesday.

Pillaging, BL MS Royal 14 D I


My Favorite Penguins

Happy New Year! And my very best wishes to all for a better year than last! I’m a little bleary-eyed, having worked very hard over the holidays on grading and my forthcoming book, which is due at the publisher on March 1. And I’ve got to prep for next semester, which will include a brand new course on English legal history of all topics (yawn: a requirement for our department’s pre-legal concentration). So my posts are going to be a bit sporadic over the next few months but I did want to ring in the New Year with a post and give you all the heads up. Even after ten years, there’s still quite a few Salem topics I want to take on, and I’m hoping, like many of you I am sure, to travel at some point in 2021 so I should have some interesting posts after my big delivery date!

Normally I’m all about books on the blog this time of year: end-of-year best booklists, books I’m looking forward to reading, books for my courses. I’m so focused on my own book this year that I can’t really think about other people’s books during this particular January, except for very specialized academic books which I must include in my bibliography. Books for me are not just things to read however, they are objects which I like to have around, to dip into and just to look at. I love everything about book-objects: fonts, paper, cover design, illustrations, formats, colors. And my favorite books of all are Penguins: plain old orange-and-white paperbacks with yellowed pages and very pretty clothbound classics of more recent vintage and everything in between. I have evolving favorite series, and when I’m focused on a particular series I want to collect every volume possible: a couple years ago it was mid-century King Penguins and I remain very fond of them. People have given me gifts so I have quite a few now: I received “Compliments of the Season” this very Christmas.

My most recent Penguin obsession, however, is the Drop Caps series, a colorful collection of twenty-six classic hardbound books designed by Jessica Hische, lettering artist extraordinaire. I saw one in a bookshop this summer and suddenly had to have all of them, and I have collected quite a few in the past six months or so. They are very object-like: you can shelve them and stack them in all sorts of interesting combinations. This makes them the perfect Penguins for me now, as I don’t actually have time to read them. But I will soon.


Voting Matters

I am very, very anxious about the election and can think of little else. I have enough of a historian’s sensibility, of a human’s sensibility, to know that this is the most momentous election of my life. Of course there is little that I can do–other than donate and vote–so I have been appeasing my anxieties in my usual way: by reading about elections past. It has also helped me to read and listen to Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson, who has been putting the current situation in a comprehensive historical context for months now: talk about commitment! I have learned a lot about American history during this whole blogging experience, but I think I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than the past ten years: the problem is, I’ve been looking for the comfort of we’ve been here before but I seem to be surmising that many aspects of our current situation are truly aberrant! Apart from the search for context, there is just something very interesting about the logistics and detritus of elections past: in this digital age, we don’t have enough electoral texture. So here are just a few items that caught by eye.

Early Election Ballots: I love browsing through the early election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society: if you don’t understand the Electoral College—they are rather clear illustrations: also of the evolving concept of the ticket. Plus it’s interesting to see the emergence and disappearance of various political parties.

Mass Appeal: I love this flyer for Nathaniel Prentice Banks (also from the American Antiquarian Society), who was running for a Massachusetts congressional seat in the election of 1852. I don’t know if you can read it all, but he is appealing to all different sorts of men—mechanics, young men, middle-aged men and veterans! Plus he courts the ladies, and exhorts them to “stir up” their men!

 

Voting by Mail: since 1864. Very American. Poll Book from the Smithsonian Institution.

 

Poll Taxes! Who knew? I associated poll taxes with the segregated South, but in fact, people had to pay them right here in Massachusetts, and in other states as well, right up to the ratification of the 24th amendment in 1964! Imagine paying to vote. Imagine being an active suffragist, working your whole life for the voting rights of women, all women, and even after enfranchisement this barrier is still there! There were a few snarky articles published in the Boston papers right after the ratification of the 19th amendment in which the theory was put out there that perhaps women wouldn’t want to vote as they would have to tell the poll tax assessor their true ages! Unbelievable!

 

A Salem Parade Flag. Just because it must have been fun to see election parades, which I assume must have brought people together, but perhaps not. 13-star flag used in 1896 Salem parade, Cowan’s Auctions.

Pinback Buttons! Never can get enough of these: most are Roosevelt and McKinley, 1900 & 1904, from the Smithsonian; the Citizen pin is from 1915-20 and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection. I love the sentiment of Vote as you please but please vote.

 

A flyer from Margaret Chase Smith’s presidential campaign, 1964 (Smithsonian Collection). Because Margaret Chase Smith. And that’s as close as I am getting to our present time.


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

REading Untitled - 2020-08-03T132118.632

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

Reading Gardens

Reading Food

Reading Newton Collage


Women on a Pedestal

Obviously statues have been in the news of late, so I thought I would tap into the national (and international) focus by looking at some of our country’s more notable monuments to women, either striving for the franchise or striving in general, for this week’s #salemsuffragesaturday post. It doesn’t matter what your political inclination is, everyone seems to agree that there are not enough statues of women anywhere and everywhere, and corrective measures are being taken, along with initiatives associated with this Suffrage Centennial year. The husband and wife team who constitute Statues for Equality have established that statues of women represent less than 10% of public monuments in several American cities, and far less in most. In Salem we have only one statue to a woman: Samantha Stevens from Bewitched, situated in our city’s most historic square. She never accomplished anything (because she never actually existed) and her prominent situation and whimsical depiction mocks the real victims of the 1692 trials who were falsely branded “witches”, but nonetheless she is deemed worthy of monumental representation in Witch City. There are so many more women (real women) that deserve to be put a pedestal in Salem—that’s what this year has been all about for me.

pixlrSamantha is currently wearing an ensemble by local artist Jacob Belair, which I think is lovely on its own but also because it covers part of her up! I wish it extended to her unfortunate pedestal. I’m not in Salem now, so I asked my stepson ©Allen Seger to take the photos of Samantha in crochet.

Let’s turn to some more serious representations. Ever since it’s installation 15 years or so ago, the Boston Women’s Memorial has been one of my favorite monuments: not only is it aesthetically pleasing and immediately engaging, but it represents a spectrum of women who shaped Boston’s history (as well as that of Massachusetts and the nation): Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone. These women are not just on pedestals (actually they have come off their pedestals) but depicted by sculptor Meredith Bergmann in the process of thought and activity, with their words accompanying them. Monumental women are in large part, active women, the feminine counterpart of all those masculine equestrian statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-082234_ChromeThe Boston Women’s Memorial by Meredith Bergmann; photographs from her website.

Meredith Bergmann was also commissioned to create the most anticipated installation of this Suffrage Centennial Year: the Women’s Rights Pioneers Statue in Central Park in New York City, which will be unveiled on August 26, the date on which the ratification of the 19th Amendment was certified in 1920. This will be the park’s first statue honoring real women, and it also focuses on their activity: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are gathered around a table, intently focused on drafting a document. The statue had a controversial conception in that Truth was originally excluded, but public discussion and debate resulted in a more inclusive—and representative—monument.

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Screenshot_20200612-082623_ChromeModel and Mock-up of the first and final monument to the Women’s Rights Pioneers by Sculptor Meredith Bergmann, to be unveiled in Central Park on August 26, 2020.

As the state which ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, Tennessee takes its suffragist history very seriously and has produced two notable monuments to the women who worked so hard to make it happen (because it’s really not all about a wavering state senator is it?) There is the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial (2006) in Knoxville, depicting Lizzie Crozier French, Anne Dallas Dudley, and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, and the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument (2016) in Nashville’s Centennial Park, featuring Dudley along with Abby Crawford Milton, J. Frankie Pierce, Sue Shelton White and Carrie Chapman Catt. Even more recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia—always the site of so much statue furor—dramatically increased its commemorative depictions of accomplished women with its Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden initiative, honoring the “full scope” of women’s achievements with twelve representative statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-072336_ChromeThe Knoxville and Nashville Suffrage statues—both by Tennessee sculptor Alan LeQuire—and the unveiling of seven statues of prominent Virginia women last fall: former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen points to a statue of Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, and suffragist Adele Clark among the crowds (Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch).

I like the fact that so many of these monuments are collective, featuring women engaged with each other. Sometimes they are working, sometimes they are simply “conversing”—or meeting for the first time like one of the most famous Suffragist monuments, the “When (Susan B.) Anthony met (Elizabeth Cady) Stanton” statue in Seneca Falls, New York, portraying the moment when these two icons were introduced by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in 1851. My very favorite “conversation piece” is the lovely statue of two prominent Rochester, New York suffragists, Anthony and Frederick Douglass, having a cup of tea: I would love to have been a fly on the wall (or the bench) for that conversation!

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Screenshot_20200613-080112_ChromeThe Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue (1998) by Ted Aub in Seneca Falls; Ira Srole’s “Let’s Have Tea” (2009) in Rochester.

The most official Suffrage statue of all, Adelaide Johnson’s “Portrait” monument to Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott completed (and dedicated) in 1921, is also a collective representation but the women don’t seem particularly engaged with each other: it’s not my favorite statue but that doesn’t mean I think it should have been hidden away for most of the twentieth century! The “unfinished” appearance of the work also engulfs the women in their “pedestal” rather than placing them on it, but rumor has it that Johnson was making room for at least one more prominent woman—perhaps the first female president—to be carved out of that raw marble in the back at some point in time. Clearly not 2020.

Capitol StatueOffice of the Architect of the Capitol.


A Feminine Focus in the Garden

It wasn’t just Memorial Day: I feel like I’ve finally come to the end of a long string of obligations and am ready to focus on house, garden, reading, wandering about. We’re finally renovating our kitchen, so that will be a major focus for the next few months: I’ll do a “before” post next week, before nearly everything is torn out of that space, and then we’ll be able to celebrate the “after” later. The garden is looking good, although I fear it will turn into a construction zone. I do have a few last presentations—on Zoom of course–to give to several women’s organizations about the history of Salem women and the quest for suffrage. It is unfortunate, but certainly understandable, that that big anniversary is being overwhelmed by the pandemic, but I want to mark it in the best way I possibly can. As I was thinking about women’s history—and gardening at the same time—-I realized that a big part of garden history is women’s history, in all periods, as women are always charged with provisioning in one way or another throughout history. Certainly this was not an original thought, but it nevertheless led me down various trails, and I ended up spending a rather blissful Memorial Day (after I gave a speech!) looking though the photographs of women photographers over the last century or so. This is just one small aspect of the intersection of women’s history/garden history: I’m going to explore more this summer.

When I’m interested in something, I’m generally interested in something in the past, and then I bring it forward, but this exploration started with two contemporary garden photographers whose work I had been admiring online and in a book I just received:  the Luxembourg photographer Marianne Majerus and the American photographer Stacy Bass. The former is almost like a painter in the garden; likewise the latter is a master (mistress) of light.

Garden Marianne Majerus

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Garden Marianne Majerus Garden Images

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Stacy Bass Gate (3)Photographs ©Marianne Majerus Garden Images and ©Stacy Bass: much, much more @ Marianne Majerus Garden Images and Stacy Bass Photography.

Is there a tradition of women’s garden photography? I had to go back, following English and American lines (even though Majerus is from the Continent she was trained in England and seems to photograph a lot of English gardens!). Though not strictly a garden photographer, I explored the wonderful work of still-life photographer Tessa Traeger, and through Traeger’s portrait rediscovered the AMAZING Valerie Finnis, whom I identified primarily as the namesake of variant of artemisia before I dug a bit deeper: what an extraordinary plantswoman and photographer! Even though she was a serious botanist, gardening seems like such a social activity for Finnis: she like to photograph people in their gardens, and she was also very, very fashionable, like her subject below, Rhoda, Lady Birley. I’ve just ordered Ursula Buchan’s collection of Finnis’s photographs, Garden People, and I can’t wait to receive it.

Garden Tessa Traeger

Garden Tessa Traeger 2

Tessa Traeger Valerie FinnisFinnis CollagePhotographs by Tessa Traeger, including her marvelous portrait of Valerie Finnis in 2000, National Portrait Gallery. Garden People includes this amazing Valerie Finnis portrait of Rhoda, Lady Birley.

The Smithsonian and Library of Congress have several archival collections of women photographers, including those who specialized, or at least ventured into, garden photography: I love the dreamy mid-century images of Molly (Maida Babson) Adams (1918-2003) who photographed gardens up and down the Eastern Seaboard over her 40+ year career. I did not identify the pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) with gardens before this little visual journey of mine, but they certainly constituted a sizable percentage of her impressive output.

Gardens Maida Smithsonian

Garden Maida Buttrick Garden Concord MA Smithsonian

Garden Johnston (2)

Johnston CollagePhotographs by Molly Adams of gardens in Maine and Massachusetts, and Frances Benjamin Johnston of gardens in Virginia, Long Island, and Rhode Island, Smithsonian Institution and Library of Congress. 

And I ended up with the charming photographs taken by another pioneering woman photographer, Etheldreda Laing (1872-1960), who experimented with the first color photography process—autochrome—by taking wonderful photographs of her daughters Janet and Iris at their home, Bury Knowle House in Oxford, over a succession of summers between 1908 and 1914: before-the-deluge images indeed! And also, I think, the female gaze.

Garden Etheldra-Laing-autochrome-rose-arch Iris and Janet Laing 1910

Garden Etheldra-Laing-autochrome-blue-bonnet Iris L 1910

Garden Iris and Janet Laing c 1914The Laing daughters, Iris (younger) and Janet (older) in their mother’s photographs, 1908-14. More on autochromes here.


New Deal Salem

A couple of years ago I complained about the lack of WPA murals in any of Salem’s public buildings: this struck me, as an impression and little else, as a lack of New Deal investment in Depression-era Salem. I’ve had time to survey the paper trail now and boy was I wrong: Salem benefited tremendously from the work of New Deal agencies, and not just in terms of its infrastructure but its culture as well. So this post will serve to set the record straight. I don’t think there is a Salem neighborhood that lacked a WPA project: there was work on different installations around Salem Harbor, at two Salem islands (Winter and Baker’s), downtown, in Forest River Park in South Salem and at Greenlawn Cemetery in North Salem. And so many agencies worked here, fanning out from a major field office in Barton Square with 300 Federal employees at first, and then a smaller office situated in a renovated Old Town Hall. Whether it mitigated the impact of the Great Depression effectively is another inquiry, but the Federal government certainly had a presence in Salem in the 1930s, and left its mark.

New Deal Building Collage

New Deal Greenlawn Collage

New Deal Collage 4

New Deal Machine ShopNews clips from Works Progress Administration Bulletins, 1936-39, Boston Public Library; National Youth Administration Photos and Records, NARA.

Well of course parking lots, wharves, and cemetery plots were necessary and I think the timely renovation of Old Town Hall was key, but my favorite WPA agencies were those charged with more historical and cultural endeavors, most especially the Historical Records Survey (HRS) and the Historic Architectural Buildings Survey (HABS). Salem was fortunate in that it had a demonstrated commitment to the preservation of historic records and buildings, in the forms of the long-established Essex Institute and concurrent initiative to establish the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, but the HRS was instrumental at documenting essential records of American history across the US at their most endangered moment. It was originally part of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, but it spun off on its own and then became a unit of the Research and Records Program in 1939, charged with compiling indexes to major genealogical sources such as vital statistics, cemetery internments, military records, and newspapers. The reports of the HRS are nothing short of heroic (Salem actually needs one now; I have no idea of the location or state of many of its public records) but little interesting items were also published in the 1930s, showing how historical research was interwoven into daily life. And as for HABS: is it impossible to underestimate the value of its photographs, measured drawings, and documented details of Salem’s built landscape, and with over 600 entries Salem was particularly favored by these dedicated professionals, working away in large field office in Boston.

New Deal HRS (2)

New Deal HRS Collage

HABS MAP

NEW Deal HABS Boston (2)

New Deal 29 Washington Square (2)

WPA LastHABS records, Library of Congress.

Another WPA cultural agency that seems to have been very active in Salem during the later 1930s was the Federal Theatre Project, which staged a succession of productions at the Empire Theatre on Esssex Street and several benefits around town—several premieres, no less. I can’t discern similar activity on the part of the Federal Art Project in Salem, though I suppose Salem artists could have exhibited at the Federal Art Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. As I was researching the FAP, I did learn that it was not the chief administrating agency of all of those lovely Post Office murals which started me off on my charge years ago, but rather the Fine Arts Department of the Treasury Department. Another cultural agency which was under the aegis of both the WPA and the Federal Art Project was the Index of American Design, which commissioned artists (over 400) to create watercolor illustrations (over 18,000) of intrinsically American decorative art objects, including several Salem items.

New Deal Theatre Collage

New Deal Theatre Now and Then LOC (2)

Federal Art Project collage

IAD Collage

Federal Theatre Project and Federal Art Project Posters from the Library of Congress; Salem Index of American Art renderings from the collection at the National Gallery of Art.

Finally, I don’t think I can conclude this survey of the New Deal’s contributions to Salem’s physical and cultural landscape without a brief mention of the Massachusetts volume in the American Guide Series produced by the Federal Writers Project:  Massachusetts: a Guide to its Places and People (1937). This book was a bit controversial in its time as it was one of the first American Guide books and it definitely revealed a pro-labor perspective in its first part, which introduces readers to the Massachusetts people and their institutions. It certainly reflects its time and its intent, but regardless, the second part of the book contains absolutely amazing walking and driving tours of Massachusetts cities and counties. I actually drive around with it in my car! There are several walking tours of Salem and they are much better than that stupid Red Line thing we have now; we should just arm all of our visitors with a copy of the WPA map to the city and they would be far better served.

Massachusetts Guide Collage


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