Category Archives: History

Seven Women of Salem: the Preservationists

I’ve been rather depressed about the state of historic preservation in Salem: after a strong commitment in response to full scale urban renewal in the 1960s and early 1970s we seem to be awash in a sea of vinyl siding and shed dormers. I’m not sure what happened exactly, although rising property values and the corresponding desire of developers to cram as many units as possible into old structures, thereby transforming their architectural profile beyond all recognition, likely has something to do with it. But history always brings perspective, and in recognition of both this Centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, my own #SalemSuffrageSaturday series, and the Preservation Month of May, I am focusing on seven women who really made an impact on the recognition, and preservation, of Salem’s material heritage. These women faced far greater obstacles than I am seeing now, and they should be celebrated. This post is partly repetitive, as I’ve featured several of these women before, but there are some new heroines as well, at least new to me.

In chronological order:

Caroline Emmerton (1866-1942): the founder of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association, and a founding member of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). Much has been written about Caroline Emmerton (especially as she was a rather mysterious woman), so I don’t have too much to add here, but she deserves recognition not only for reconstructing and creating the House of the Seven Gables and its campus, but also reorienting Salem’s—and the nation’s—appreciation of its first-period past. The House of the Seven Gables, and Emmerton’s vision of her native city, remains a strong counterweight to the commercial cacophony of Witch City. Emmerton seems like a rather “creative” preservationist to me, but certainly an influential one!

Emmerton Collage (2)Caroline O. Emmerton, The Chronicles of Three Old Houses, 1935

Louise du Pont Crowninshield (1877-1958): As a du Pont, Mrs. Crowninshield was not from Salem, nor did she ever live here (although she summered in Marblehead), but she has to be included on any list of preservationists for her key efforts towards the preservation and interpretation of several Salem sites, including the Derby House of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Peabody Essex Museum’s Crowninshield-Bentley and Peirce-Nichols houses. She was also a board member of SPNEA, as well as of the Essex Institute and Peabody Museum in Salem, and a founding trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. You can read more about Louise in this post, in which I appeal to a potential successor to to emerge in contemporary Salem!

louise-du-pont-crowninshield1Louise duPont Crowninshield (center) surrounded by the ladies of the Kenmore Association in Virginia, one of her first preservation projects, Hagley Museum & Library.

Bessie E. Munroe (?-1975): Mrs. Munroe waited out urban renewal in Salem in her lovely Federal home on Ash Street, with demolition ongoing all around her. She was a widow in her 80s when the Salem Development Authority began implementing its 1965 urban renewal plan, which called for the demolition of 145 out of 177 buildings downtown, including her house! She was compelled to sell to the SRA in 1970, but fortunately the agency agreed to her life tenancy because of her age and health. And then a new Salem Redevelopment Authority emerged, more intent on preservation than demolition: at the time of Bessie’s death in 1975, her house—the last historic residence standing, facing a parking lot—was saved and sold to a preservation architect. It is now on the National Register.

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SAL_2431 (2)Seeing red (demolition) in 1965; 7 Ash Street, the Bessie Munroe House, today.

Ada Louise Huxtable (1921-2013): Another woman who never lived in Salem (but long summered in nearby Marblehead like Louise duPont Crowninshield) yet had a tremendous effect on the city’s material heritage largely through her passionate indictments of the 1965 urban renewal plan (see above) published in the New York Times from 1965. Sometimes I think crediting her exclusively for the demise of this plan minimized all the efforts towards that aim by preservationists here in Salem, but still, there’s no denying her powerful impact, as she occupied a strong position of power as the architectural critic for the Times. Ms. Huxtable was not a strict preservationist, but she believed that it could be a useful tool against generic, thoughtless development with no historical or aesthetic merit: sterilized nonplaces. She kept watch on Salem through its new redevelopment and credited its mix of old and new in later articles and her 1986 anthology Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger. In praising Salem for “renewing it right” she also asserted that “Salem’s results promise to be a stunning rebuke to every community that has ever thought the only way to revitalization lay through….mutilation of what was often a unique identity for shoddy-slick, newly jerrybuilt anonymity.” Every day I wonder what Ms. Huxtable would think of Salem’s newest buildings.

Ada 1965 NYTAda Louise Huxtable’s condemnation of Salem’s 1965 Urban Renewal Plan in October of that year, the first of several pieces published in the New York Times.

Elizabeth K. Reardon Frothingham (1923-1983): A Salem native descended from several notable Salem families, “Libby” Reardon was a passionate afficionado and student of early American architecture who went on to become a professional preservationist, shepherding Historic Salem Inc. though its most turbulent era and writing several detailed inventories for the City of Salem. All of her records, unfortunately, were donated to the PEM’s Phillips Library and therefore moved from the city to which she was so dedicated: you can read more about that here. Given the pandemic, I haven’t been able to access her records or reports up there, but newspaper accounts testify both to her discovery (as a mere “housewife”) of two camouflaged Salem first-period houses, the Gedney and Samuel Pickman (pictured in the Huxtable article above, as well as below) Houses, as well as to her steadfast defense of Salem’s material heritage in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a real preservation heroine, gone too soon: I can only imagine what she might have achieved in the 1980s or 1990s—or now!

Reardon Collage1965! What a year that must have been—-Salem’s preservationists had to have been functioning 24/7.

And speaking of gone too soon, I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize two women who were clearly effective administrators of their respective institutions as well as contributors to the preservation of Salem’s material heritage: Anne Farnam (1940-91) of the Essex Institute and Cynthia Pollack (1932-1992) of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Ms. Farnam served as Curator at the Institute from 1975 to 1983 and as its President from 1984 until 1991, while Ms. Pollack served as Superintendent of SMNHS from 1983 to 1992. I have no idea what their personal relationship was like, but they were clearly colleagues not only in advancing the missions of their institutions but also the stature of Salem as a heritage destination. Both were active in the Salem Project, the forerunner of the Essex National Heritage Area, and both worked towards a more layered and contextual interpretation of Salem’s history. When you study their careers, you can see how interpretation and preservation are integrated and complementary: as the chief administrator of an institution charged with the stewardship of eight historic houses, Ms. Farnam was by necessity a preservationist, but she also initiated the 1977 exhibition on “Dr. Bentley’s Salem: Diary of a Town” which seemed to have seamlessly merged textual and material history (I never saw it, but I do have the companion volume of the Essex Institute Historical Collections). Likewise, Ms. Pollack deserves high praise for her dedication to the restoration of Salem’s historic wharves, but at the same time worked to enhance Salem Maritime’s interpretive reach: as the tribute sign at the Visitors Center’s Cynthia Pollack Theater reads: There were stories to be told, and she wanted visitors to see, touch, smell, and feel the maritime spirit that the site embodies. We all have a lot to live up to, I think.

Women Preservationists CollageA Boston Globe (glowing) review for Ms. Farnam’s exhibition, Dr. Bentley’s Salem. Diary of a Town in 1977 and 1992 photograph of Ms. Pollack.


The Unveiling of Salem Women

A big transition here from New Deal Salem to Governor Endicott’s Salem but I am joyfully skittering back to the early modern era for #SalemSuffrageSaturday after spending too much time in the twentieth century for the #Salemtogether project of the last month or so! It’s dificult to uncover seventeenth-century women—both in Europe and in the New World: you generally need a flashpoint. Obviously the Salem Witch Trials was a HUGE flashpoint which created a window through which we can see several women closer up at the close of the seventeenth century, but earlier on, there’s not a lot to go on. So a debate about the veiling of women in the 1630s is an opportunity to examine perceptions of women—in a very general sense. Likely at the instigation (or at the very least the encouragement) of Governor John Endicott, often characterized as a “hot-headed” Puritan and certainly a strident separatist, the Reverend Samuel Skelton, the first minister of Salem’s First Church, ordered women to wear veils to church in 1630, “under penalty of non-communion, urging the same as a matter of duty and absolute necessity”. Under the remainder of Skelton’s tenure, and through the short term of his successor Roger Williams, this was the policy, and it was a controversial one, drawing the very public disagreement of the prominent Reverend John Cotton of Boston, who saw veils as more ceremonial than scriptural and demeaning to women in a more representative Reformed perspective.

pixlrThe MEN: pro-veil John Endicott and anti-veil John Cotton.

I have to back up a bit chronologically and go back to England to put this issue in its proper context: Endicott’s point of view is confusing to me as it is actually CONTRARY to that of the Puritans back home, who identified veils with the traditional “churching” ceremony in which new mothers were “purified” through a ritualistic return to the Church. There was no scriptural reference to this ceremony, so Puritans rejected it. But on the other hand, there WAS a very key scriptural justification for women wearing veils in church, from the Apostle himself, St. Paul: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to wear a veil on her head, for the sake of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:710). So this was a paradox, between tradition, custom, and the Bible—which of course can be interpreted in alternative ways—leading to debate along the spectrum of English Protestantism from the Elizabethan era to the onset of the English Civil War. In the earlier period, Puritan Thomas Cartwright alleged that the customary wearing of a veil was a Judeo-Catholic invention which should be abolished, while Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift responded that this was a trifling matter, which women could decide for themselves: “let the women themselves answer these matters”. He asserted further that the wearing of veils was a civil matter, a custom, rather than a ceremony of the Church. Whitgift’s voice of moderation was echoed later by the Reverend Cotton, who not only engaged in a fierce public debate in Boston over the veiling of women, a debate that was so “enthusiastic” that John Winthrop had to “brake [it] off”, but also traveled to Salem to encourage the unveiling of its women in a sermon which was characterized as both enlightening and immediately effective by William Hubbard in his General History of New England (1680): Taking an occasion to spend a Lordsday at Salem, in his exercise in the forenoon, he by his doctrine so enlightened most of the women in the place, that it unveiled them, so as they appeared in the afternoon without their veils, being convinced that they need not put on veils on any such account as the use of that covering is mentioned in scripture…….[He] let in so much light into their understandings, that they who before thought it a shame to be seen in the public without a veil, were ashamed ever after to be covered with them”. Well, this was quite a moment, especially as Endicott seemed to be advocating for a policy in which women should wear veils “abroad”, meaning in public, rather than just in Church, and another reminder (there are so many!) that you can’t paint “Puritans” with a very broad brush, as is definitely the practice in Salem today.

Screenshot_20200515-205634_Chrome

Screenshot_20200515-210231_ChromeThe WOMEN: what were they wearing? Well, these are English women rather than Salem women but they are contemporary and this first portrait is one of my very FAVORITES: an anonymous painter and subject, it it titled “A Puritan Lady”, 1638, Berwick Museum & Art Gallery. I think it was back to the “steeple-crowned hat”, if they ever took them off! You tend to see veils for particular occasions and times of life: the second portrait is of Jane Trevor, Lady Myddleton as a WIDOW, so she is wearing a mourning veil. National Trust, Chirk Castle, c. 1670.


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


Molly Saunders

Though Salem is very much a foodie town today, I don’t think it has a historical culinary reputation, but there are four foodstuffs that do stand out in its long history: a daunting sour beer beverage called whistlebelly vengeancea “Salem” suet pudding, Gibralters, a hard candy invented and marketed by Mrs. Spencer–atop–her carriage, and Molly Saunders’ gingerbread, which came in two varieties: top-shelf and lower-shelf. The latter received acclaim even in mid-nineteenth-century Boston, which liked to lord over fading Salem at every opportunity. In her reminiscences of A Half Century in Salem, Mariane Silsbee gives us perhaps the best description of this storied item: Anybody who has never tasted “Molly Saunders’ gingerbread” has missed a pleasure. In a small shop on Central Street was a door, half wood, half glass, such as formerly were so universal, and the children could peep at the destined feast before lifting the latch, thereby tinkling a bell to give notice of a customer. The common name of this gingerbread was “upper shelf” and “lower shelf”. Upper shelf had butter in it, lower shelf had none; “upper shelf” was three cents a cake, “lower shelf” was two; and both were so delicious that whoever chose the one longed also for the other, but youthful funds were limited. It appeared and disappeared with the maker. Whether she was a Mrs. or a Miss is not now known; if she retired from business during life, or left it in dying, is a doubt not to be settled. The Bedneys were the next occupants of the shop; their election cake was good, but they were merely successors, not rivals, to the immortal Molly Saunders. There was a reappearance of Molly Saunders’ gingerbread in the twentieth century in the form of recipes in What Salem Dames Cooked (1910) and my favorite Hamilton Hall Cookbook (1947), but who knows which of these (variant) recipes are authentic—if either? (The Dames top shelf recipe doesn’t even have ginger in it, and contrary to what Mrs. Silsbee asserted, both varieties have butter as an ingredient). How were they passed down from the “immortal” though rather mysterious Molly Saunders?

Gingerbread collage

Gingerbread HH collage

Gingerbread 2 (3)Recipes & stories of Molly Saunders’ famous gingerbread were passed down in a variety of publications over the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…..

I am no culinary detective but I don’t really trust any of those twentieth-century recipes. Instead, I decided to refer to a publication closer to Molly Saunders’ own time: Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book, and Housekeeper’s Assistant, first published in Boston in 1849. This is such a great book: it has such an air of confidence about it and also of tradition: Mrs. Putnam and Mrs/Miss Saunders were coming from the same place and time and so I think their gingerbread recipes would be similar. New England cooks in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries discerned between hard and soft sugar and molasses gingerbreads, and I think this might also be the distinction between Molly Saunders’ top- and lower-shelf varieties, but whether it’s the hard or the soft or the molasses or the sugar I do not know! In any case, here are Mrs. Putnam’s receipts, and it is perfectly clear that we are talking about cake gingerbread here, and not the snaps or cookies that were sold more on the fly, at musters and fairs. And in addition to all of these recipes, I’m also offering up a book recommendation in this post (or two, as I think I have recommended Mrs. Putnam as well): Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, which also references a mysterious gingerbread recipe and started me on my little quest.

Gingerbread Putnam Collage

Screenshot_20200507-144659_Google


Mrs. Gibney did not have to rise to the Occasion

In the first few months of 1918, the Boston-area newspapers all carried a story about a local Salem family, the Gibneys of Oak Street, who had received a letter from President Woodrow Wilson thanking them for the service of their four eldest sons. All the stories printed the President’s letter verbatim, and detailed the service of the young Gibney soldiers, but they also directed a spotlight on their mother, Mrs. John (Alice) Gibney, who clearly represented the perfect wartime mother: an expert war gardener, frugal cook, and Red Cross volunteer. There are lots of stories about women rising to the challenges (and opportunities) of the home front during World War One, but I think Alice Gibney’s service was quite simply her life (and vice-versa).

Gibney-1-Boston-Sunday-Post-2

Gibney-2-3Boston Sunday Post, February 3, 1918 & Boston Sunday Globe, April 7, 1918.

So let’s look at the life of Alice Marion O’Brien Gibney (1869-1945) in the Spring of 1918. She was a Lynn girl who married a Salem boy in 1890: they had fourteen children, three of whom died in infancy. The family home on Oak Street looks like it might have acquired some additions over the years, but even in its expanded state it’s a bit difficult to envision it containing a family of thirteen although obviously there was more room with the four oldest boys in the service. At around the same time that Alice and John Gibney received their letter from President Wilson, he was laid off from his job at a Lynn shoe factory, so he fell back on what seems to have been a secondary line of work, ferret-breeding (and later, extermination). So Alice not only had a houseful of children but also ferrets out back. Nothing phased her: she told the Boston Post reporter that “surely we haven’t the right to grumble over a little personal discomfort” when boys such as hers “have taken their lives in their hands for the sake of their country.” In addition to her work as one of the founding members of the Bowditch (School) Parent-Teacher Association, she established the Company H Woman’s Auxiliary, which “carefully looked after 150 boys….even if they are far away in France (with her son Alfred): for Christmas of 1917 she personally packed 150 Christmas parcels for these soldiers. Along with the ferrets, there were several gardens out back: a vegetable garden which enabled Mrs. Gibney to can 150 quarts of tomatoes and 32 quarts of beans and “put down” bushels of carrots, parsnips, and celery in her cellar, and a flower garden “which brought forth 10,000 blossoms” in 1917, which were sold in the market. She made jars of pear preserves and grape “catchup”, all the while also supervising the war gardens of her younger children, who took top prize in the Salem Chamber of Commerce garden contest several years in a row.

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Grape Catchup CollageThe standard war-time recipe for grape “catchup”, sometimes called catsup and later ketchup: it evolves into a relish over the twentieth century, but earlier in the century there were many different types of catchups: cranberry, mushroom, any fruit or vegetable really, and it was recommended that such sauces be served with roasts. I bet Mrs. Gibney had a more economical recipe for her grape catchup as 2 pounds of sugar would have been very dear in 1918.

Every day, in her free time, Alice Gibney went to the Red Cross headquarters in Salem to work on surgical dressings, baby layettes, or knitting projects, “wherever the need is greatest”. She also turned her practical experience at provisioning and feeding her large family to account in the service of Salem’s food conservation campaign. All four Gibney soldiers came home at the end of the Great War, several had families, and Mrs. Gibney lived to see her grandsons go off to war as well. She died at the close of World War II and is buried in Harmony Grove cemetery, not very far from her lifetime home.

Picture_20200430_182434877We just discovered that Hamilton Hall served as a Surgical Dressings center for the Salem Red Cross in the summer of 1918, so Mrs. Gibney might have worked there—my attempt at a ghost sign for the Hall!


Garden Gateway

Since the beginning of the corona quarantine, I’ve been contributing to an initiative called #salemtogether which has focused on past episodes of challenge and adversity in Salem’s history in an effort to kindle some context, and perhaps even resilience. There has been a flurry of social media posts on the great Salem Fire of 1914, the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919, and this week it’s all about World War I. I wish we could go back farther, but I do have to say that I have developed great respect for the people that lived in Salem in the second decade of the twentieth century: through fire and flu and war. They really got going, without too much whining (that I can detect). I’m at a bit of a disadvantage compared to my partners in this project as they are the keepers of archives and I’m just armed with a few digital databases, so I have to be a bit creative in my search for portals into the past. Just reading contemporary newspapers made it very clear that the primary responsibilities of citizens during 1917-1918 were to: 1)produce; 2)conserve and 3)buy liberty bonds. As the first two obligations were focused on FOOD first of all, I then browsed through as many gardening publications as I could find, as I don’t have access to the records of the Salem Public Safety Committee on Food Production and Conservation (wherever they are!) and settled in for a delightful afternoon with The Garden magazine, which was issued between 1905 and 1924. This magazine was entitled Farming before it became The Garden so it’s a bit more practical than some of its contemporary sister publications, but still, before the war it was far more focused on aesthetics than produce. Then comes a stark change in the spring of 1917: from flowers to vegetables, from conservatories to cold frames, from sundials to tools, from the “hospitable garden” to the “patriotic garden”. And then back again, when the garden can be “demobilized” after the Armistice of November 1918, and attention can return to perennials and pergolas.

Garden Magazine Covers 1916-1919

gardenmagazine23newy_0241 May 1916

gardenmagazine2519unse_0011 February 1917

gardenmagazine2519unse_0291May 1917

gardenmagazine26newy_0045 September 1917

gardenmagazine26newy_0089 October 1917

gardenmagazine27newy_0069 March 1918

gardenmagazine27newy_0191 May 1918

gardenmagazine27newy_0245 June 1918

gardenmagazine27newy_0281 July 1918

gardenmagazine2829newy_0007 August 1918

gardenmagazine2829newy_0045 September 1918

gardenmagazine2829newy_0185 Demobilizing

 

gardenmagazine2829newy_0225 Feb 1919

gardenmagazine30newy_0051 Sept 1919

I’m not sure that this national publication can capture the Salem scene but at least these covers can (decoratively) symbolize contemporary attitudes. As you can see, the messaging gets increasingly strident until the Kaiser ends up canned! The more I read about the homefront during the First World War, the more I realize just how important canning was: “turn the reserves into preserves”!


Sarah’s Spectacles

In my mission to ferret out lesser-known Salem women for my #salemsuffragesaturday posts I seem to be focusing on quite a few unmarried women, but they are not your typical “maiden aunts” known only to their families: some public activity has to have been documented or they would leave no mark other than personal memories. Today I am featuring the older sister of a very famous Salem family, described by none other than the New York Times as “eminent for genius and enterprise”: Sarah West Lander (1819-72). Sarah’s siblings included Civil War General Frederick W. Lander and sculptress Louisa Lander; they were the great-grandchildren of Elias Hasket Derby and the grandchildren of Elizabeth Derby and Captain Nathaniel West, whose spectacular divorce rocked Salem in 1806. I wanted to write about Sarah mostly because I’m envious of the amazing houses in which she lived throughout her life, no doubt in the midst of all that famous Derby furniture: a charming and long-gone Barton Square house, the famous McIntire creation Oak Hill in nearby Peabody (also long gone, but with interiors preserved at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and the brick townhouse that now houses the Salem Inn. But in her own time, I think she found considerable fame as the author of a series of juvenile travelogues titled Spectacles for Young Eyes: eight volumes were published in all during the 1860s, encompassing cities from Boston to New York to Berlin and St. Petersburg. It is through these spectacles that we come to see Sarah.

Lander Barton Square 1904 (2)

Lander Oak_Hill (2)

Oak Hill Parlor MFA

Lander Cousins (2)Five Barton Square, Sarah’s birthplace, in 1904 by Frank Cousins from his Colonial Architecture in Salem (1919); Oak Hill in the early twentieth century, Peabody Institute Library; Five Summer Street (left), Sarah’s home after 1850, in a 1890s photograph by Frank Cousins, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum via Digital Commonwealth.

Sarah didn’t begin writing her children’s books until the onset of the Civil War: the first one, originally titled Spectacles for Little Eyes and focused on nearby Boston, was published in 1862, the same year that her brother died from injuries sustained in battle and the onset of pneumonia. His Washington funeral was attended by President Lincoln and members of the Cabinet; crowds lined the streets of both the capital and Salem after his body was returned home for burial in the Broad Street Cemetery on March 8. It is impossible to know how Sarah processed all this: it is tempting to offer up escapism through travel writing but certainly that’s taking too many liberties!

Lander Funeral FOUR

Lander Funeral March New York Times, March 9, 1862; C. Mathias, “General Lander’s Funeral March”, Library of Congress

Seven more books followed Spectacle for Little Eyes, all issued in multiple illustrated editions with the revised series title Spectacles for Young Eyes. Contemporary trade journals refer to Miss Lander’s success at selling 50,000 plus copies per title: while the rest of the country was occupied with war and reconstruction, she was clearly focused on her writing, publishing poetry and translations from French and German as well as the Spectacles books. Obviously Sarah knew Boston, but I can’t find any evidence that she visited any of the other cities she wrote about, using the experiences of the wandering Hamilton family as her “spectacles”. Her younger sister Louisa was well-traveled, but Sarah was an armchair traveler, settled in a Salem which she describes as very pleasant, quiet, staid, [and] neat-looking—as if it were Sunday all the time. The spirit of the Puritans seems hanging over it still [very Hawthornesque!]. Hers was a quiet Salem, not a busy (though declining) port, a burgeoning industrial center or a cauldron of reformist activism.

Lander Collage

Spectacle2 (2)

Lander zurich 2 (2)

Lander Spectacles 3 (3) Spectacles: Boston, St. Petersburg, Zurich, “Pekin”.

Indeed, in her 1872 obituary, the Salem Gazette is pretty much in the same position to view Miss Lander as I am: it belongs to those who were favored with her intimate acquaintance, to speak of the attractions and virtues of her private character. But we may be permitted to refer to those productions through which she has become known to the public, i.e. the Spectacles, much praised for their great research, their moral tone, beauty of style, and great fidelity of description.


The Death of Bradstreet Parker

The death of Bradstreet Parker of Salem in September of 1918 was not only tragic but representative: of those many young American men who rushed to fight in the Great War, only to die before they left these shores from disease, of the lethal impact on youth of this particular form of influenza, and of the confusion that reigned in that frantic fall. Mr. Parker is reported to have died at home, in the hospital, in his training camp, from both influenza and pneumonia. We know more about Bradstreet Parker because he was the son of a notable man, George Swinnerton Parker, the founder of Parker Brothers in Salem, but several young Salem men from less notable families who signed up in 1918 also died “in training”: charting their deaths is like mapping the course of the pandemic. Omer Morency died at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, where the second wave of the “Spanish Flu” began, Herbert Street next-door neighbors Joseph F. Murphy and Konstanty Wesolowski both died at Fort Devens, often referred to as “ground zero” of the pandemic, along with Salvatore Terranova and John Butler, while John McDonald died at Camp Upton in Long Island, another center of influenza infection.

boston007Red Cross Nurses assemble masks at Camp Devens, October 1918. National Archives and Records Administration

I’ve been collecting stories and data about these men for a project initiated by the Mayor of Salem, Kimberley Driscoll, designed to provide context (and perhaps provide inspiration) for our presiding epidemic from past episodes of adversity in Salem which drew the community together: all of the assembled information on the twentieth-century’s four-horsemen-esque storm of disease, death, war (+fire) is at Preserving Salem/SalemTogether. It’s a bit of a slapdash effort, falling short of what a real historical museum could and would do, but as the quest for historical perspective is a constant mission for me I am happy to participate. I’m pretty familiar with Salem’s experience of war and fire, but epidemics are new ground, and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 is particularly challenging territory. It’s almost impossible to gauge in the aggregate, as the numbers are so large and approximate, so looking at how the death of just one man, in this case Bradstreet Parker, was reported is illustrative. Massachusetts doctors were not ordered to record “influenza” as a cause of death until mid-October of 1918, more than a month after the pandemic began, and the virus often induced pneumonia, which was then recorded as the cause of death. These factors explain the not-necessarily conflicting reports of Mr. Parker’s death, and the wide estimates of influenza mortality at the local, state, national and even international level. This year-end survey of Massachusetts Vital Statistics for 1918 provides another example: influenza deaths are listed as 13,783 and pneumonia at 10,339, but the preceding TEN pages and graphs all list alternative causes of death which were induced by influenza, so that 13,783 number could be much larger.

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Which of course leads me to the observation that the more you focus on the numbers, the more you lose sight of the human loss—a lesson I’ve learned many times over while teaching courses in which plague tears the fabric of society every generation or so. Bradstreet Parker was not just a statistic, nor were Omer Morency, Joseph Murphy, Konstanty Wesolowski, Salvatore Terranova, John Butler or John McDonald (who all, thankfully, have veterans’ squares dedicated to their name and sacrifice). Who was Bradstreet Parker? He strikes me as a young man in a hurry: he left Harvard to work in the family business at the end of his sophomore year and to get married: to the former Ruth Mansfield of Brookline. And then the war came: he entered an officers’ training school in upstate New York and then the U.S. Naval Aviation Detachment at MIT while she trained to be an ambulance driver with the Red Cross. In August and September, the MIT Aviation Detachment became another early hotspot of influenza infection: 220 of Parker’s fellow trainees came down with the flu. Both Parkers became ill in mid-September: he died on September 21 and she survived, appearing as “Mrs. Bradstreet Parker” in the Boston society columns for the next five years or so. Mr. and Mrs. George S. Parker lost their other son, Richard, only three years later when he died in an airship accident in France, and both forever-young men, along with their entrepreneurial father, are memorialized by a stained-glass window commissioned for the First Church of Salem by Grace Parker following the death of her husband in 1952. She chose a Camelot theme, which strikes me as most appropriate, especially as the first Parker Brothers version of the game was called Chivalry.

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Chivalry (2)Bradstreet Parker at MIT in the summer of 1918; and in September 24 and 25 Boston Daily Globe articles reporting his death; Ruth Parker (center right) demonstrating her ambulance service training in August of 1918, Boston Daily Globe; the Parker Brothers board game “Chivalry”, 1890s, New York Historical Society Collections.


It was Her Shop

Looking through classified advertisements in eighteenth-century Salem newspapers is one of my favorite pastimes: I can’t think of a better way to gain insights into the public lives of people at that time, though their private lives are, of course, another story. The other day I was wandering around in 1769 and a particularly enticing notice caught my attention: with its large letters and array of goods it could not fail to do so. Priscilla Manning, in big bold letters, listed her worldly goods, encompassing all manner and colors of cloth, caps, hose, shoes and tea, of course, all available at “her shop in Salem, a little above Capt. West’s Corner, at the lowest prices for Cash.” First I had to figure out what all of these eighteenth-century fabrics were: taffeta, satin, lawn, cambric, and linen were familiar to me, but somehow I have made it to this advanced age without knowing what “calamanco” was. I assumed it was an alternative spelling for calico, but no—a very different, thicker, embossed woolen cloth, which has its own (tortoiseshell) cat association in some parts of this world. Not only was I ignorant about calamanco: I had no idea that our neighboring city to the South, Lynn, was a major producer of calamanco shoes in the eighteenth century, well before it became known as an industrial Shoe City. But there’s the reference right in Priscilla’s inventory: best Lynn-made calamanco and silk shoes. My friend and former colleague Kimberly Alexander, author of Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories of the Georgian Era, set me straight: calamanco shoes were the “everyday footwear of American life” and Lynn-made shoes had such a good reputation in the Boston area that merchants such as Priscilla “proudly trumpeted their origin”. Yes, that’s right: Priscilla Manning was a merchant; why is that occupational term reserved only for men?

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Calamanco Shoes Deerfield

My calico cat Trinity and some anonymous tortoiseshell I stole from the web, as apparently some parts of the word call torties “calamanco cats”; calamanco wedding shoes from c. 1765, collection of Historic Deerfield (object #HD 2004.26, photo by Penny Leveritt).

Priscilla continued to carry on her business until 1772 when she married a widower from Andover named George Abbot: he brought his two young girls to Salem, and if advertisements are any indication, took over her shop. Suddenly it is George Abbot who is offering all of theses splendid goods, from the same shop, with only a few slight changes, including cash given for empty snuff bottles. Priscilla disappears!  Certainly the commercial contacts necessary to conduct such a cosmopolitan provisioning business were hers, and I bet she continued to work them, but she is no longer the public face of her business. Actually the newspapers give us few insights into the Abbots during the Revolution: George appears in a 1774 letter addressed to General Gage protesting the closing of the port of Boston, and then we don’t see another advertisement until 1783, when the shop has moved to “Main Street”. In the following year, he died at age 37, leaving Priscilla as the guardian of her two stepdaughters and their daughter, also named Priscilla.

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So what does Priscilla do? She re-opened her shop, “just above the town pump”, and built a big new house—both in her name. I do wonder if she had more freedom of operation as a widow than a miss, but that conspicuous advertisement from 1769 indicates she was under no commercial constraints before her marriage. The papers carry notices of the marriages of her stepdaughters and, sadly, the death of her own daughter at the tender age of 16, but they can offer no other insights into the life of Priscilla Manning Abbot, until her own death in 1804. What she left behind, to be disposed of by her executrix Elizabeth Cogswell: her mansion house and barn, one-half of wall pew #6 in the “Rev. Dr. Barnard’s meeting-house” and of course, her stock in trade.

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I think this plaque should read Priscilla Manning Abbot, Merchant.

Appendix: Priscilla Manning’s ad caught the attention of an expert in the field as well as wandering me: check out Carl Robert Keyes’ analysis at the Adverts 250 Project.

 

 


Salem Doctresses and Doctors

I was watching a rerun of Antiques Roadshow last week when a woman from Ohio presented a wonderful trade sign from the 1830s to folk art dealer Allan Katz: on one side it read “Mrs. Dupler, Female Physician” and on the other “Mrs. Dupler, Doctress.” I have been researching the first female physicians in Salem over the past few weeks so this appraisal really caught my attention: that odd word doctress had popped up several times, and I didn’t really know what it meant. Mr. Katz explained that it had “magical’ connotations, but I think it also referred to traditional herbal healing: the first doctresses to advertise as such in Salem newspapers all had the word “Indian” before their “titles”.

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Doctress-Coly-Salem_Register_1862-12-04_3-1Advertisements in the Salem Register, 1852 & 1862.

The founder of New England’s first medical school for women, the New England Female Medical College (1848-1873), asserted that the ladies of the profession should have a title exclusively their own, and not be compelled to share one with dentists, apothecaries, cattle curers, professors of divinity, professors of law, and male physicians of all descriptions and specialties, but most of his graduates did not agree with Dr. Samuel Gregory. And no wonder: these were women of science who wanted to distinguish themselves from itinerant folk healers, mediums, and other “eclectic” practitioners!

pixlrThe Female Medical College campus on East Concord Street in Boston.

The New England Female Medical College was absorbed into the new Boston University Medical School after 1873, and most of Salem’s first female physicians were graduates of the latter. From the graduation of Sarah E. Sherman in 1876 through the retirement of her former associate Mary Roper Lakeman in the later 1920s, Salem had several successful medical practices run by female physicians. Drs. Sherman, Kate G. Mudge, and Lakeman all included M.D. after their names and Dr. before: they never referred to themselves as “Doctress”. These women attended medical conferences, published papers, attained leadership positions in professional associations, and mentored other female physicians—bringing a succession of young female doctors to Salem. Indeed it’s clear from both the Salem Directories and Polk’s Medical Register and Directory of North America that doctress remained a designation for women who had not attended medical school. I am certain that the esteemed Dr. Sherman (who also was among the first women elected Salem’s School Committee in 1879) was not happy to be grouped together with doctresses like Mrs. Lydia M. Buxton, “Clairvoyant Physician”, and after the 1880s, she was not.

Doctress-Salem-Directory-1902

Screenshot_20200408-072249_InstagramSalem Directories, 1882-1892.

Appendix: for much, much more information and context about the history of women physicians and health workers, check out Drexel University Medical School’s great “Doctor or Doctress?” site: http://doctordoctress.org/.


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