Category Archives: History

The Mayflower Magazine

Happy Thanksgiving! Those of you who have followed the blog for a while know that I’m a big fan of graphic design and typography, especially from the earlier part of the last century. I love fonts from the entire era of print actually, and script as well now that I think about it, and paper: so when it all comes together in an integrated design, I’m pretty impressed. It’s been such a weighty few months, with the pandemic, and the election, and hours and hours of writing for me everyday: I think I’m going to get a bit lighter for the next month or so, to lift my spirits and yours! I’m beginning with this very festive magazine/catalogue from the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, titled The Mayflower. It has nothing to do with the ship Mayflower, or Plymouth, or the Pilgrims: it’s all about flowers—and the most robust lettering and chromolithography I have ever seen.

The covers might be somewhat sedate (except for this last one above), but as soon as you delve inside: wow! color—so vibrant you need sunglasses. The magazine was an advertisement for the big botanical business of John Lewis Childs, one of several garden entrepreneurs of this era and the first to establish a mail-order seed business. He created an entire town on Long Island named for his product: Floral Park. The Mayflower was published from 1885 to 1906, offering gardening tips and seed packets to an international audience as well as 2 or 3 colored plates in each issue. Childs also issued seasonal seed catalogs with the same combination of flourishing lettering and vibrant plates of perfect plants, or perhaps I should say too-perfect plants.

The Mayflower Magazine covers from Magazineart.org (a great website!); many more Childs seed catalogs at the Smithsonian.


Fair Ladies

Columbus is persona non grata these days, of course, but a hundred years ago and more his day was big in Salem and elsewhere, and the Columbian Exposition of 1893 was even bigger. The Essex Institute was charged with furnishing an entire room in the Massachusetts State building, a first-floor reception room no less, and so a committee was formed (led by two women, Mrs. Grace A. Oliver and Mrs. H.M. Brooks) to choose the Salem items which would go to Chicago: the complete catalogue of their choices is here. (How cool would it be to reproduce this room? I bet it would be a classic expression of Colonial Revivalism.) While I as looking through it (for probably the 100th time!), I noticed that Salem items were included in other exhibits as well, including the Education, Transportation, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, Government, and Justice buildings, and the “Woman’s Building” of which I had never heard! So I read all about it.

Prints and Postcards of the Woman’s Building, Smithsonian and University of Maryland Digital Collections.

After the organizers of the Exposition agreed to a separate woman’s building (and not to an African-American one), a Board of Lady Managers was created to choose its design, content and programs. Bertha Palmer, the president of said board, insisted that the building be designed by a female architect, and Sophia Hayden, a new graduate of MIT’s pioneering architectural program, was chosen, based on the conformity of her design to the overall aesthetics of the  “White City”. Poor Miss Hayden: this would turn out to be her first and last commission, as she experienced some sort of mental breakdown during the accelerated construction process. The official program lists the exhibits, which follow the general fair’s lead in their mix of handicraft and fine arts, but were made exclusively by women. Large murals were commissioned for the interior “Gallery of Honor”, including Mary Cassatt’s “Modern Women” triptych which was destroyed at some point in the deconstruction of the fair, and thus only exists in photographs. Lucia Fairchild Fuller’s Women of Plymouth, seen below in a photograph by Amanda Brewster Sewall, has survived, fortunately: it was “lost” for a century or so, but “discovered” on the walls of the Blow Me Down Grange Hall & The Attic Antique Shoppe in Plainfield, New Hampshire, where Fuller and her family lived.

Lost Cassatt and “found” Fuller: from the Blow Me Down Grange Hall and Attic Antique Shoppe facebook page.

Somewhere in that cavernous Gallery of Honor were the three works of Salem artist Harriet Frances Osborne (1846-1913), including her etching of Chestnut Street, below. I zoomed in on as many photos as I could find and could not find them. She also had a portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Massachusetts Building, making her one of the most exhibited Salem artists in Chicago—-I think only Ross Turner had more. I’ve been meaning to get to Harriet’s diaries in the Phillips Library for a while, but the pandemic and the book have made that impossible. So I don’t have much to tell you other than that she was an art teacher at Miss Cleveland’s School in the famed “Studio” on lower Chestnut Street: on the right in her etching. This must have been a major highlight in her life, and I wish I could say more to illustrate or confirm that hypothesis, but I’m at a loss for now: Harriet, part II in 2021, I promise! I’m not even sure if she made it to Chicago, but I hope she did.

Miss Osborne’s Chestnut Street, courtesy Historic New England; Maud Howe Elliott’s Art and Handicraft in the Woman’s Building (1894) from its Alice Morse Earle-esque cover, really conveys the “spirit” of the Woman’s Building; a few more recent books on the Woman’s Building.


Mother Harriet Maxwell

This entire year of posts exploring the experiences and achievements of Salem women on #SalemSuffrageSaturdays has not featured a single immigrant: a big slight given the important role of immigration in our nation’s, and city’s history. It certainly wasn’t deliberate: I’ve been working with the sources available to me and so far no émigré has emerged from them. But today, finally, I am spotlighting an amazing woman of Irish origin and, at the same time, opening up a window into turn-of-the century race relations: what one life, or even one episode in one life, can tell us! Mrs. Harriet Maxwell was born in Ireland in 1849 and lived in England for a decade or so following her marriage to James R. Maxwell, a sergeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards. After her husband’s death in service she emigrated to the United States in 1879, and to Salem: I’m not sure what the precise draw was. In 1886 she graduated from the Salem Hospital’s training school for nurses, and she worked in private service and at the hospital until the spring of 1898, when the call went out for nurses for the quarantine camps established during and after the Spanish-American War, the first war in which the U.S. Army relied on contract nurses in addition to those from the Red Cross and religious orders. Mrs. Maxwell immediately resigned her position at Salem Hospital and signed up: she was sent to the “city of tents” at Montauk, Long Island: Camp Wickoff, where over 21,000 soldiers were sent for quarantine to lessen the spread of yellow fever and malaria in the wake of the war.

Scenes from Camp Wikoff, Long Island, August and September 1898: the arrival of the 24th infantry, the “city of tents”, men of the 71st infantry regiment,Teddy Roosevelt in camp, camp “street” and nurses, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard Libraries and  Library of Congress.

Far more soldiers died from disease, principally yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid, than combat during and after the Spanish American War, including Salem’s own William Huntingdon Sanders. The American military seemed unprepared for the biological threat, both during and after the war. Camp Wikoff, named for the first American casualty of the war, was hastily constructed and insufficiently prepared or “manned”, in terms of medical staff, for the onslaught of troops which began arriving in August of 1898, including Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Following a succession of deaths (there would be 340 in all), and the outbreak of fever in the camp and surrounding community, Wikoff became the focus of sharp criticism in the national newspapers: the finger was pointed at Secretary of War Russell Alger in particular, and by extension, President William McKinley, who visited the camp in September. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s son and father of John, a soldier in the 71st Infantry whom he and his wife found emaciated when they visited the camp, expressed an opinion that seems to have been shared by many in the early fall of 1898:

From the great portfolio of contemporary Camp Wikoff texts and images by Jeff Heatley at Art and Architecture Quarterly.

So this is the situation Harriet Maxwell of Salem found herself in when she arrived at Camp Wikoff in August. She was not assigned to nurse the famous Rough Riders but rather one of the “colored” regiments in residence in the camp, in segregated quarters of course: the 10th U.S. Cavalry which had fought right alongside Roosevelt’s troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Many of its members were fevered when they arrived at Wikoff, and Mrs. Maxwell nursed them continually, forming the close relationships that were captured in an article first published in the Boston Globe and then in regional newspapers: the story of how she became a “mother” to these troops, a lasting designation that also ended up in her 1931 obituary in the Globe: 

The Boston Globe, 4 December 1898; the 10th U.S. Cavalry at Camp Wikoff, US National Archives.

It’s an endearing story, if a bit “matriarchal” and all too illustrative of the perceived boundaries of the time. Mrs. Maxwell’s time at Wikoff was brief but impactful, as everyone’s seems to have been. She went off to another fever hotspot, Ft. Monroe in Virginian, and then back to Salem, where she continued her practice and became a highly-respected member of the U.S. Spanish-American Veterans group and the namesake of its auxiliary. Mrs. Maxwell died in September of 1931, and her obituary (September 22 Boston Globe) notes that her two grandfathers were at the Battle of Waterloo. Two uncles were fatally wounded at the Crimean War. Again, what a life-span.


Abigail, Abigail & Susan

I was hopefully thinking about transitions and inaugurations and first ladies and somehow I ended up admiring Abigail Adams’ yellow kid slippers in the Smithsonian. I can’t really retrace my steps as I was kind of in an election coverage daze. But here are the slippers, which were donated by Miss Susan Elizabeth Osgood of Salem. They prompted a #SalemSuffrageSaturday post, as I’m trying to look at Salem women’s history with the widest possible lens, as well as every possible filter. It’s been clear to me for some time that the collection (in both its active and preservation meanings) and curation of Americana is an important Salem topic, and one in which women played many key roles.

Abigail Adams’ Slippers!

The First Ladies collection at the Smithsonian was conceived by two Washington society ladies, Cassie Mason Myers Julian-James and Rose Governeur Hoes, a great-granddaughter of President James Monroe, in 1912-1913; their gallery of items collected from presidential families opened to the public on February 1, 1914. Their emphasis was on “costume” but the collection expanded in scope and scale over the next century and is one of the Smithsonian’s most popular exhibits. An absolutely great source, the successive Reports on the Progress and Condition of the U.S. National Museum for 1913-1914, gave me the Salem story: in the latter year, the Report reported that “Mrs. Julian James and Mrs. R.R. Hoes continued, with their customary zeal, their self-appointed task of securing materials for the period costume collection, and during most of the year they were closely occupied in arranging the interesting fabrics and other articles which had been received. The results of their labors, successful and most brilliant in effect, have already been described, and there only remains to be accounted for in this connection the many and valuable contributions of the year. Of costumes of ladies of the White House, forming the central and most prominent feature of the exhibition and including some accessories, six were received, [including] a dress, kid slippers, and fan and pearl beads, worn by Mrs. John Adams, received from Miss Susan E. Osgood, of Salem, Mass.”

The items which once belonged to Abigail Adams which were donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1913 by Salem’s Susan Elizabeth Osgood: the dress is navy blue, and shown by itself and in “company” (far right); the “pearl beads” are actually glass—so Mrs. Adams was well ahead of Jackie Kennedy and Barbara Bush with her faux pearls!

It took me a while to figure out how Susan Osgood came to be in the possession of these items: there was no readily apparent connection to Abigail Adams and I am no genealogical researcher! Miss Osgood was one of those maiden ladies from established Salem families who seldom shows up in the newspapers: the rule was birth, marriage and death only and since she was unmarried that left a large gap (especially as she lived a long life, from 1832-1920). The only time she really “appears” in public is in reference to her famous garden at 314 Essex Street. I chased down a few family connections and finally found the link: her uncle, the Salem historian Joseph Felt, was married to Abigail Adams’ niece, Abigail Adams Shaw, the daughter of her younger sister, Elizabeth Shaw Peabody. As Mr. and Mrs. Felt had no children, I’m guessing that the Adams items were passed down to their niece, Susan, after their respective deaths and were stored in Susan’s Salem house until the Mrs. Julian-James and Hoes put the word out. There are a few references to Salem sculptress Louise Lander playing an intermediary role in this story, but I couldn’t really substantiate them: she was living in Washington at the time, however. If my explanation of the Abigail-Abigail-Susan connection is accurate, that means that Mrs. Adams is connected to Salem through both of her sisters. Her older sister, Mary Smith Cranch, and her husband Richard lived in Salem for a time, during which both Abigail and John Adams visited occasionally. I presume (again) that the Adamses were introduced to the work of Salem artist Benjamin Blythe on one of those occasions, and commissioned their famous pastel portraits from him.

Abigail Adams by Benajmin Blyth, circa 1766. Massachusetts Historical Society.

 


Deviation, Discovery and Donors: my Last Word on the PEM’s Phillips Library

A big week—was there an election?—as the official judgement from the Massachusetts Judicial Court came down regarding the movement of the Phillips Library to a remote Collection Center by the Peabody Essex Museum in response to the latter’s petition for approval to deviate from the geographical restriction in one of its charter documents. Deviation is the legal term, as you can see in the judgement below:

JUDGMENT: “This matter came before the Court, Gaziano, J., on a Complaint pursuant to G.L. Ch. 214, §§ 1 and 10B, filed by the Peabody Essex Museum, (“Plaintiff” or the “Museum”), seeking approval of a deviation from a charitable restriction. The Museum asserts that relocation of the Phillips Library collections to the Museum’s collection center (the “Collection Center”), in Rowley, Massachusetts including materials originally held by the Essex Institute, is consistent with equitable deviation from the terms of the founding statutes establishing the Essex Institute, and is necessary to achieve the charitable purposes of those statutes. The Attorney General, an interested party, has filed her Assent. There are no issues in dispute, and this Court makes the following findings:

Pursuant to G.L. Ch. 214, §§ 1 and 10B and the court’s equity powers, the Court determines that the relocation of the Phillips Library collections to the Collection Center in Rowley, including materials originally held by the Essex Institute, is consistent with equitable deviation from the terms of the founding statutes establishing the Essex Institute (the “Founding Statutes”), and is necessary to achieve the charitable purposes of those statutes, because of the steps the Museum has taken to provide better long-term preservation of the Library collections, to increase Phillips Library storage capacity, and to ensure continued public access to the Phillips Library collections at the Collection Center in Rowley, and because of the commitments that the Museum is making in Salem, as set forth in the Complaint in Equity. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that the Museum is permitted to deviate from the terms of the Founding Statutes by relocating the Phillips Library collections to the Collections Center in Rowley. So ordered.

So the Phillips Library, constituting the primary archive of Salem’s history, is enabled legally to remain in Rowley, thus ending a process and a preoccupation (for me anyway) which began back in 2017 when the PEM announced the move at a meeting of Salem’s Historic Commission. This judgement did not came as a surprise to me: in order to make her recommendation (of assent), Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey convened a meeting of interested parties in the summer of 2019: she heard us out, and attorneys from her office regularly followed up, but I could see the writing on the wall. There was never any official objection by the City of Salem.

Even though I was not surprised by this ruling, it still saddens me. So I took advantage of the long election night as well as the anxious day after to focus on a distractive strategy of trying to isolate the precise reasons why. The Peabody Essex Museum does seem like a very different institution than that which made this move three years ago: much more focused on its community and its foundations. There is a new director, Brian Kennedy, who signaled both his community and historical consciousness by returning the storied anchor which sat in front of East India Marine Hall for a century or so very shortly after his arrival. There is much more Salem stuff on display in the expanded museum, in both permanent galleries and special exhibitions. But still, we are at their mercy, are we not? The PEM decides what to show Salem about its own history, when, and how. The powers of historical discovery, revelation and interpretation are in their hands, not ours. Let me illustrate my point with the words of two Directors: Mr. Kennedy and his predecessor Dan Monroe. The blog post previewing the current exhibition Salem Stories by curator Karina Corrigan opens with a quote by Mr. Kennedy: “Wouldn’t it be great if people could learn more about Salem’s and PEM’s history within our own galleries?” which seems like a very sharp contrast to the sentiments of Mr. Monroe, when asked by the Boston Globe to explain the hastiness of the Phillips Library removal. I can’t resist one last opportunity to showcase these words:

One statement is community-minded, the other not so much, but both express the now-confirmed fact that the Peabody Essex Museum owns Salem’s history: it is not ours, it is theirs, to do with what they want as long as they preserve it—and no one has ever cast doubt on their excellent stewardship, certainly not me. Preservation was always the chief rationale for the removal of the Library from Salem and it remains so: it’s right there in the judgement. But in this case, preservation not only trumps but also precludes access for the community: it is simply going to be difficult for Salem’s residents— students, retirees, just plain old history buffs— to experience the pure joy of making historical discoveries for themselves. Instead, their history will be handed to them, or “packaged” for them. I’m probably over-sentimental on this point: I just love local historical societies and want one for Salem desperately but the Phillips Library is quite a bit more than that. Within its collections, however, there are so many community resources: family papers, record books of all sorts of Salem societies, memorials of little local events which might not catch a professional researcher’s eye but are nonetheless fragments of the fabric of a society long gone. I still don’t understand why a suitable—and much more accessible—site for the “Collection or Collections Center” (both terms are used interchangeably, as in the above judgement) could not have been found in Salem, and that makes me sad, as does the emptiness of the beautifully-preserved buildings of the former Phillips Library on Essex Street.

So that’s one source of my lingering sadness; the other is the issue of donor intent. This is the question that I asked at the well-attended forum in January of 2018 at the PEM after its intent to remove the Library  was finally disclosed. Mr. Monroe waved me off and indicated that all was well on that front, but that is not what I have heard here. Several donors have commented on my Phillips Library posts, and I’ve received emails from others, all indicating that either they or their family members believed that they were contributing to a Salem repository and to Salem history. Such sentiments are also expressed in the Annual Reports of the Essex Institute over the years, and even when they are not expressed explicitly, you can infer the intent. For example, look at these large memorial funds from 1966:

Eleanor Hassam, who you can read more about here, came from a very wealthy Boston family, but had deep Salem roots and made bequests with clear geographical and institutional purpose: the Essex Institute received “a handsome and varied bequest” from Miss Hassam, including a legacy of $10,000, many personal and family items, and one-half interest in the the residue of her estate in 1941. The Annual Report from that year announced the bequest with reference to the keen interest in local history and genealogy of both Miss Hassam and her father. Miss Jenny Brooks, a Salem embroidery entrepreneur, established a memorial fund for her father Henry Mason Brooks with the generous sum of $40,000 in 1899: Mr. Brooks served as Secretary of the Essex Institute and was a prolific local historian and author of the Olden Time series. Another generous Salem daughter, Anna Pingree Wheatland Phillips, established an endowment in memorial to her father, Stephen Goodhue Wheatland, who served as Mayor of Salem during the Civil War. Ira Vaughan was a successful Salem inventor, manufacturer, and salesman of tanning machinery. Robert S. Rantoul, esteemed lawyer, politician, and officer of the Essex Institute, was memorialized as a “great student of Salem history” in his 1922 Boston Daily Globe obituary, and by his children with an endowment. Thomas Franklin Hunt was the author of the popular Visitors Guide to Salem and Pocket Guide to Salem issued by the Institute, and yet another prolific local historian. Like many of these memorialized men, Francis Henry Lee (I assume there is a typo in the above report) was actively engaged in Salem institutions and the collection and recording of his own Salem experience: his papers in the Phillips Library are among the most valuable sources of the city’s nineteenth-century history. I can’t speak for the dead, but both the donors and the namesakes of these endowments were all focused intently on Salem with an apparent pride of place, and I can’t imagine they would be pleased with this “equitable” deviation. I’m sorry we couldn’t bring the Phillips Library home for them, and for everyone who is interested in the history of this heritage-stripped city.

One of the PEM Collection Masks from the PEM’s shop, based on a fan donated by Eleanor Hassam; unfortunately it is sold out, as is one featuring the “Witch over Salem”. 


The Suffrage Seekers

I’m not going to write much on this #SalemSuffrageSaturday: I prefer to let one document speak for itself—or its signatories. Election Day is three days away, and if it is a struggle to get all the votes counted we can and should be reminded of the long struggle for universal suffrage. We can certainly wait a week, or a month, as these women (and men) waited for seventy years! The first Salem suffrage petition was in 1850; this one is dated 1880—there were more, representing more marching, writing, meeting, speaking, striving in so many ways….all the way up to 1920.

The citizens of Salem, Massachusetts petition the US Senate, May, 1880: Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Woman’s Suffrage; 5/26/1880; Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents which were Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary during the 46th Congress; (SEN46A-H11.2); Committee Papers, 1816 – 2011; Records of the U.S. Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/petition-massachusetts-suffrage, October 31, 2020].

We should not segregate the long struggle for the passage of the 19th Amendment: it represent the single largest expansion of voting rights in American history. But we should also note that many women were excluded from its provisions by the barriers of poll taxes, literacy tests, exclusionary acts, and other forms of voter suppression. The struggle continued after 1920, as it does today.

Officials in Rochester, New York have had to encase Susan B. Anthony’s grave in a protective barrier due to the evolving public ritual of placing voting stickers on her grave on Election Day. This year, of course, they’ve also had to come up with a Covid plan! For my part, I’ll be trekking up to Dr. Sarah E. Sherman’s grave in the Harmony Grove Cemetery on November 3 here in Salem.


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.


A Little Bit More about Lizzie

The other day I came upon another beautiful dress which was once worn by Elizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa (1858-1920), a Salem girl who had a very interesting life, mostly because of her marriage: to fellow Salem native Ernest Fenollosa, who became a famous art historian/curator/professor and aficionado/advocate of all things traditional Japanese. They traveled together to Japan in their twenties in order for him to take up the post as the first professor of political economy at the newly established Tokyo University upon the recommendation of their fellow Salemite Edward Sylvester Morse. The westernization policies of the Meiji Restoration gave them both an unusual opportunity to expand their own horizons exponentially: Fenollosa became submerged in Japanese culture but we have fewer insights into Lizzie’s (as everyone seems to call her) intellectual life. But her material life is more accessible: through photographs among the Fenollosa collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library and items like her amazing dresses, donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by her family. Lizzie was the daughter of a Salem apothecary who grew up in a lovely, but quite simple, house on Buffum Street in North Salem: it’s so amazing to think of her plunge into such a new, exotic, and sumptuous culture in her twenties. I wish she kept a diary!

From Salem to Tokyo: Advertisement for Elizabeth Goodhue Millett’s father’s business, Salem Register, 1851; Her two silk dresses from the late 1880s donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art by her daughter, Brenda Fenollosa Biddle (the bottom one is a Worth, which I also featured in this post); Two photographs of the Fenollosa’s Tokyo home, c. 1886, Houghton Library.

The Fenollosas remained in Japan from 1878 until 1890: his university contracts were renewed successively and in 1884 he was appointed Professor of Philosophy and Logic. Their two children, Ernest Kano and Brenda, were born in Tokyo in 1880 and 1883 respectively. Young Ernest died in the spring of 1887 in Salem and is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery; Brenda is one of the key memorialists of her parents’ life in Japan, and we can only get glimpses of Lizzie’s life through her. Recalling her childhood in Tokyo, she remembered the Fenollosa house (called Kaga Yashiki) as “a large establishment” with “two butlers; a cook, with his two assistants; two laundresses; a seamstress; two gardeners; a night watchman; three jinrikisha men; the bath boy; mother’s maid; as well as my Chinese nurse and Japanese maid.”Large indeed! Again, the contrast between Lizzie’s lives in Salem and Tokyo seems dramatic. When the Fenollosas returned to the United States in 1890 upon his appointment as the first curator of Oriental Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Boston papers were a bit feverish in their reporting on the glamorous couple: the Boston Daily Globe reported that “he has a manner of much refinement to match his mental cultivation,” while “Mrs. Fenollosa is a pretty woman, who dresses stylishly and has been heard to compare Boston’s gowns and prices with those of Paris in a way not complimentary to local talent and conscience.” [ouch] Their residence, the “White house” on Commonwealth Avenue, was “most artistic, almost a museum of oriental furnishings.” But all came tumbling down several years later when the Fenollosas divorced in very public fashion: he had taken up with assistant at the museum, Mary McNeil, and she went to Minneapolis (the Reno of their day?] for an uncontested divorce. The late fall of 1895 was definitely a read all about it moment for them, and I can imagine that this was absolutely devastating for Lizzie, but I really don’t know.

The divorce headlines and stories have common themes: a childhood romance, her beauty, his intellect: “Miss Millett had been for years an acknowledged belle of Salem, being a perfect blonde, with a real peach-blown complexion, and the union of one so brilliant intellectually with one so beautiful in face and form, and possessing so sweet a disposition was looked upon as portending a future of marital happiness beyond a doubt.” But alas, it was not to last. Fenollosa married his assistant Mary McNeil, and they took off for New York and Japan, while Lizzie remained in Massachusetts. Every summer she was up north in some society location, chiefly North Conway and Bar Harbor, always well-dressed. Again, we seem to be able to get to her only through her beloved daughter Brenda, and longer stories surface coincidentally with the latter’s marriage in 1913 to Moncure Biddle of Philadelphia. It is revealed that Brenda suffered the misfortune of a runaway husband in her first marriage, and I can only think of Lizzie, who endured the death of her young son, a very public betrayal and divorce, and then Brenda’s own betrayal. A strong woman, for sure, and also a beautiful and well-dressed one! I wish I knew more about her.

Boston Sunday Globe: Brenda appears to have found happiness at last. She and Moncure were married until his death in 1959; she died three years later.

As cited in Felice Fischer, “Meiji Painting from the Fenollosa Collection,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 88, No. 375 (Autumn, 1992): 1-24.


Distilling Women

Distillation became an important household activity for many women in early modern Europe in the seventeenth century; we have ample evidence that they wrote, purchased, collected, annotated, and shared recipes for medicinal, hygienic, and sweet-smelling waters and spirits. I’m sure it was the same on this side of the Atlantic as well: indeed, the “secrets” of distillation might have been even more valued as opportunities to purchase ready-make substances were more limited. This is a big topic in women’s history, at the intersection of women’s work and domestic life. There are three ways to get into it: the prescriptive way, through popular printed books on distillation, the archival way, through extant written collections of recipes, and the ephemeral way, through advertisements by women who were producing distilled spirits for sale—this latter entry is more of an eighteenth-century window. Recipe-rich resources for the distilling activities (or goals) of English women in the early modern era are pretty ample: but do we have any evidence of distilling activities among women here in Salem?

Distillation is one of the “Accomplished Lady’s” (or her servant’s) responsibilities on the title page of Hannah Woolley’s Accomplished Lady’s Delight, 1684, Folger Shakespeare Library; inset of the frontispiece to The Accomplished Ladies Rich Cabinet of Rarities, 1691, Wellcome Library; Recipe for a classic cordial, Orange Water, in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s MS V.a.669, c. 1680.

I went through the Phillips Library’s Finding Aids and couldn’t find the kind of domestic journals I’ve seen kept by English women, which include general household account books and more specialized recipe books or some combination of both, but there is a presentation on Elizabeth Corwin’s household book next week so that might be an opportunity to learn more about a Salem woman’s domestic economic life in the seventeenth century. That left me with advertisements, and I did find two in which Salem women were selling distilled spirits, both of the medicinal kind and the alcoholic kind. Before I get to Anna Jones and Eunice Richardson, however, a word (or several) about the evolution of these spirits. Distilled waters start to appear in the later fifteenth century in England, and are generally referred to as “cordials” as their primary purpose was to invigorate the heart and thus one’s spirits: depending on the recipe, other waters were designated “surfeit” and prescribed for indigestion. By about 1700 or so, it’s clear that these waters are being consumed for pleasure as well as their perceived medicinal virtues. The line between medicine and merriment was fuzzy: aqua-vitae, for example, is a term used for a strong and pleasant drink, generally brandy, but was also an ingredient in several medicinal “spirits”. That said, the two Salem women who entered into this business—or carried on their husbands’ businesses—represent two sides of the distilling spectrum in the later eighteenth century.

Salem Gazette, 1770,1772,1796.

Anna Jones was clearly a small-time distiller, carrying on her husband’s business on Charter Street in the 1770s: the recipes for all of those cordial waters, with the exception of snake-root (an American plant), go all the way back to Tudor times. These were medicinals, but I’m sure they were pleasant to drink too! Mrs. Richardson, by contrast, was a purveyor rather than a distiller herself: rum was a much bigger business and was not made in the backroom stillroom (45 hogsheads!). The two big spirits of the eighteenth century, gin and rum, had no recognized medicinal virtues and thus the line between domestic medicinal distilling and commercial distillation became more sharply drawn in the later eighteenth century: Anna Jones and Eunice Richardson represent either side in Salem.

A seventeenth-century stillhouse, and two recent books on distilling women: domestic and commercial.


Witch City: the Film and the Moment

It seems ridiculous, but when I moved to Salem I remember being surprised at the extent of Halloween hoopla and kitsch in the city: it seemed really tacky to me but not particularly concerning. It was the early 1990s, I was still in graduate school, and frankly more wrapped up in the literature and discussion surrounding the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing than the 300th anniversary of the Salem witch trials. I was also much more familiar with the European witch trials, an extended crisis by which over 100,000 people were accused of witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so the Salem trials seemed like a much smaller event to me: in terms of size, extent, impact. I had visited Trier and Bamberg at the center of the witch-trial-storm in Germany, where hundreds had been executed for the “exceptional crime” in the 1580s and the 1620s: neither had transformed themselves in Witch Cities; I had spent considerable time in Essex, the county which was the most impacted by the less-intense English witch trials: no Witch Cities to be found there either. So I was surprised by Salem, even though I grew up only an hour away and had visited the Salem Witch “Museum” on a school trip (when I swear I saw the same “performance” that is playing there now). I suspect I was so bewitched by the architecture that I looked the other way!

18th century Witch Trial relief sculpture in Düsseldorf: Horst Ossinger dpa/lnw 

After several years in residence, I lost my naiveté and came to realize just how insidious witchcraft tourism was in Salem and how powerful were its purveyors. Halloween just got bigger and longer, as the city’s identity, as well as the experience of residential life, were fused with a holiday that had a very tenuous connection to the 1692 trials, whose victims were not witches. One of the effects–an unintended consequence, I’m sure– of the 1992 commemoration was to provide a rationale for the continued commercial exploitation of the trials, under the label of toleration: Salem has risen above its moment of extreme intolerance so it is perfectly ok for us to profit from it! We are not profiting we are educating! This message facilitated the Halloween steamroller perfectly and kept it rolling; it is still rolling. Salem’s children are not in schools during this pandemic, but tourists fill our streets: priorities. So obviously, I’m not a fan, but even more so than the exploitative nature of Salem’s Halloween I am bothered (and actually a little bewildered) by the lack of any public dialogue about it. There is simply no procedural opportunity for any person—resident, victim descendant, whomever—to say Hey this is wrong, or even ask to tone it down. The city puts out a questionnaire to Salem residents after every Halloween season, but all the questions are about logistics (traffic, parking, carnival): it is either assumed that everyone buys into the hellish Halloween, or the city government just doesn’t care what its residents think about it. When I look back over my long residence in Salem, I think there were only two eventful opportunities to discuss the way the city was selling itself: a brief moment prior to the placement of the Bewitched statue in Town House Square in the Spring of 2005, and the first screening of the documentary Witch City in the Spring of 1997. The more recent opportunity was extremely limited, as the Salem Redevelopment Authority (SRA) moved fairly quickly to grant permission for the statue’s placement in Salem’s most historic square in time for TV Land, its sponsor, to reap the benefits of cross-promotional advertising for the film Bewitched in June of 2005. The city of Salem was unmoved by the fact that the statue of a fictional witch would stand in close proximity to the location at which the very real victims of 1692 were condemned as witches or the appeals of those victims’ descendants in 2005, and it remains so. There was controversy over Samantha in 2005, but I remember more controversy about the debut of Witch City in 1997, but that might be just because I had a more invested view.

City of Salem advertising in the 1990s: a still from the 1997 documentary Witch City. City of Salem advertising today.

Whew! That was a long preamble to the central topic of this post: the documentary itself, and its Salem debut, prompted by its recent availability (for the first time) hereWitch City is a fast-moving, often-funny, always spot-on documentary about Salem’s escalating Halloween in the 1990s, a place and a time when “American history encounters American capitalism” (I think the latter won). It was made by several local filmmakers, Joe Cultrera, Henry Ferrini, Philip Lamy, Bob Quinn and John Stanton, and in classic documentary fashion it lets most of the participants speak for themselves: Arthur Miller and Elie Wiesel at Tercentenary events, the- then Mayor of Salem, Neil Harrington, the “official witch of Salem”, Laurie Cabot, and the owner of the Salem Witch “Museum”, Bif Michaud, among others. Mr. Michaud, of Marblehead, made an unfortunate and perplexing comment equating the Witch Trials and the Holocaust (you’ll have to hear it for yourself) in the film which leaked out, causing considerable discussion in town and the Peabody Essex Museum to cancel the Salem premiere so not to offend its neighbor. Somehow, my colleague Tad Baker and I came up with the idea that our Department might sponsor the premiere: we were new to Salem State, untenured and unconnected, but we had the encouragement and support of our senior colleague John Fox, who had worked with Joe Cultrera on an earlier film, Leather Soul. And so that’s what happened: the History Department sponsored the Salem premiere of Witch City at Hamilton Hall of all places: I remember the tech people laying wires all day long in the Hall but I can’t recall why we didn’t have it at the university! The show was sold out, the Hall was packed, and we had a great panel featuring Tad and Danvers Archivist Richard Trask, now both acknowledged as THE authorities on the Trials. There was lively discussion, and I remember thinking: we can talk about this, we will talk about this when it was over. Witch City went on to be screened at the Immaculate Conception church and eventually on our local PBS station, WGBH, but unfortunately the Hamilton Hall premiere was not the beginning of a sustained public dialogue about Halloween in Salem, but rather just one brief shining moment.

Boston Globe piece on the premiere by Anne Driscoll, a Salem Award winner 20 years later.

You can rent, stream, or download Witch City here.


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