Category Archives: History

Whist Women

I’ve learned a lot about Salem women, both as individuals and collectively, during this year of #salemsuffragesaturday posts, but there remain some gaps I’m looking to fill in the next few months. Of course I don’t have to stop posting about women when this commemorative year comes to a close, and I won’t, but when you focus over a period of time things become apparent. I gave a Zoom talk about “400 Years of Notable Salem Women” (kind of a ridiculous old-fashioned title, but I couldn’t come up with anything better) last week, and and afterward I was asked a question about church affiliations/religious life, and I thought: wow I have really skipped over that this year! This is a bias of mine in my teaching too: most of my scholarly and teaching focus is on the medieval and early modern periods, when religious identity was everything, and so whenever I get up into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries I’m like “people are not religious now”. Of course nothing could be rather than the truth: religion just becomes more separate and less public, but by comparison with the earlier eras religious affiliations and institutions seem subsumed by the secular. It’s very apparent that Salem’s churches served at the center of many women’s lives in the nineteenth and twentieth century, however, so that is something I need to address. I’m also interested in the social life of Salem women: their leisure activities, amusements, and associations. So far my collective view has been focused on advocacy and reform—the political life of women—but when they just wanted to hang out, what did they do? There were so many clubs and societies: very public and reform-minded, very secret and social, everything from the little-known Female Religious and Biographical Reading Society to the well-known Thought and Work Society, but what did Salem women do for fun?

This guy’s recommendations seem more prescriptive than descriptive…….

One activity came up again and again and again, in memoirs, personal histories, and newspaper accounts, in the early nineteenth century, the later nineteenth century, and the early 20th century: whist, a card game that dates back to the seventeenth century. Because of the Puritan disdain for cards, you don’t see any references to whist in the earlier century, but by the early nineteenth century it is clear that this was a popular pastime for Salem women (and men) and it grows more popular: looking back at the “gay” 1890s, James Duncan Phillips recalled that:

It took something more permanent than dances and parties to organize the society of Salem of the Nineties, and there were social organizations of the most firmly established character. At their head stood “Our Whist,” as it was always proudly referred to by its members. You had to be at least a Silsbee, or a Phillips, a Rantoul or a Gardner, or related to one, to belong to it, and before you could possibly join you must have been asked to “fill in” at least a dozen times…..This was good old-fashioned Whist—-none of the new-fangled varieties of bridge or contract, but the ladies took it just as seriously, and they were all old, very, very old friends….Whist night was a sacred appointment, and the loyal members were not supposed to break it or go elsewhere, nor was the night changed without serious consideration, or for any frivolous reason.” James Duncan Phillips, Salem in the Nineties”, Essex Institute Historical Collections 89. (October 1953)

I am quite done with Phillips as a historian, having come across several letters of his in an archive which can only be described as racist, but sadly I can’t resist his remembrances, which are full of chatty details you don’t read elsewhere. He takes us right into the Chestnut Street parlor with this one, and goes on to report that the games were played in complete silence, but after the last hand the socialization began. I assume that sherry was in the hands of these genteel women (as in Boston) but he only refers to peppermints and “vulgar” chocolate bonbons as refreshments. Writing from the perspective of the mid-twentieth century, he does give us a valuable insight into the evolution—and end—of this venerable game: so many “new-fangled” variations emerged over the nineteenth century, and eventually several evolved into bridge.

So many different variations of whist—-trophy, progressive, duplicate, Boston, and more—and so much whist STUFF: markers, cards, chests, books. It’s a game that can be recounted through both literary and material culture.

If it was just a few Chestnut Street ladies I don’t think I would have bothered with whist, but I kept finding more references to it, indications that its popularity was more egalitarian and extensive. A case in point is this wonderful news item from the winter of 1900: Six Salem Willows Who Dug Out Snow-Blocked Street Railway After Employees Had Refused to Aid. Apparently the February 22 meeting of  Juniper Point Whist Club in Salem Willows was imperiled by the snow drifts which covered the tracks of the Lynn & Boston railroad, so a “shovelling brigade” of six of the Willows’ “leading ladies” (Mrs. Harry Esbach, Mrs. John Swasey, Mrs. Joseph Brown, Mrs. Charles S. Brown, Mrs. John Dunn and Miss Louisa Choate) was formed, enabling to meeting to go on! The Boston Daily Globe goes on to report that the ladies cleared 150 feet of track in two hours: they were determined. You start to see some subtle (and not-so-subtle) criticisms of whist-playing women in the next few decades, like this “vinegar valentine” portraying a masculine-dress Suffragette torn between her whist/bridge meeting and voting Election Day.

Determined Salem Willows whist women: Boston Daily Globe, February 22, 1900; “vinegar” valentine, Kenneth Florey Suffrage Collection.

Moving back a bit, I have to admit that my interest in whist was really sparked by another memory of James Duncan Phillips: of a “living whist” game/performance held in Salem in 1892.  This was a “famous” party, held at the Cadet Armory on Essex Street for the benefit of the Salem Hospital as he recalled, and “directed by a Madam Arcan.” Indeed, Madame Arcan directed living whist in over 25 American cities in 1892 and 1893, and the Salem event is prominently featured in several national newspaper stories. No pictures, unfortunately! Living whist seems to have been spin-off of the living chess “movement”, originating in Britain and spreading to the rest of the empire (and the US) over the 1890s, yet another expression of that very dynamic decade.

Living whist performances in Australia & San Francisco (right): the latter was directed by the famous Mme. Arcan, who also oversaw the Salem event in early 1892.


The Story of the Revolution

I envy the residents of the towns and cities neighboring Salem for their active historical societies, most prominently Historic Beverly, otherwise and previously known as the Beverly Historical Society, which offers up an impressive calendar of exhibits and events regularly, even in this pandemic year. In particular, check out the impressive online exhibit Set at Liberty, which explores the experience of the enslaved in Beverly through materials in Historic Beverly’s archives. There is a very clear commitment to interpretation and accessibility, and given the richness of its collections, much to look forward to for both initiatives. I had been to Historic Beverly’s Balch House and Hale Farm before, but never to its headquarters, the 1781 John Cabot House, so I took advantage of the occasion of a real exhibit to visit yesterday. Henry Cabot Lodge, a Beverly native and prominent U.S. Senator, published his two-volume Story of the Revolution in 1898, illustrated with (uncredited) images commissioned from some of America’s most accomplished artists. Several years later, the 45 paintings which were the foundation of the Revolution plates were donated to the Beverly Historical Society by Susan Day Parker, and 20 of these paintings are on view this week. They did not disappoint, and neither did the John Cabot House!

Before I went to the exhibit, I thought I should take a look at the book, but it was a bit disappointing, although true to its title! It’s a story, a narrative, with little analysis or context: the sort of straightforward and patriotic history that I imagine our President admires. But this was 1898 and par for the course. Senator Lodge did have a Ph.D. from Harvard, with a dissertation on the Germanic origins of Anglo-Saxon law. That caught my attention, as I have a new course on the constitutional history of England coming up next semester, so perhaps I will check out his contribution to the Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (1876). But as I said before, the paintings did not disappoint: many were colorless, but the intensity of oil was still there, and the battle scenes were also intense and very detailed, more so than the blook plates. I’m not sure you can see the difference with the collage below, but in person, these tonal paintings were striking.

Tearing Down the Leaden Statue of George III on Bowling Green, NY to Celebrate the Signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 9, 1776 (Book plate + painting), Frederick Coffay Yohn.

 

A bit of red in Yohn’s Concord Bridge painting, and four more Story paintings by Yohn: The Defense of Fort Sullivan, The Repulse of the Hessians Under Count Donop at Fort Mercer, Winter at Valley Forge, and The Battle of Bennington.

 

Hugh W. Ditzler, Washington Taking Command of the Army at Cambridge, Edward H. Potthast, Bayonette Charge at the Battle of Camden; and F. C. Yohn (again; I guess I’m a fan and clearly Cabot was too), The Siege of Yorktown.

My favorite painting in the exhibition did not make it into the book: Carlton T. Chapman’s The Running Fight (below). I’m not sure why it didn’t make the cut, other than perhaps Cabot’s preference for the war on land, but I love it. These paintings are on view for only this week, so if you want to see them for yourself, sign up for some (free) timed tickets and/or tune in to curator Abby Battis’s Facebook live event on Thursday afternoon.

The Story of the Revolution at Historic Beverly’s John Cabot House (117 Cabot Street) through September 26: more information here.


Lady Arbella

Certainly one of the most romanticized women in Salem’s history is Lady Arbella Johnson, who died here in the late summer of 1630, not long after she arrived on these shores in the flagstaff ship of the Winthrop fleet named after her, thus remaining ever young and beautiful. She was a Puritan martyr to Cotton Mather, “Coming from a paradise of plenty and pleasure in the family of a noble Earl into a wilderness of want, and unable to stem the tide of these many adversities of her outward condition, she died at Salem……and took New England on her way to heaven.” Her nobility is always noted: she was the daughter Thomas Fiennes-Clinton, the third Earl of Lincoln, and sister of Theophilus, the fourth earl. So there is a strong sense of sacrifice attached to her, as Mather’s assessment illustrates. Then there is her husband, Isaac Johnson, young, articulate, wealthy, committed to the cause, and apparently very much in love with the fair Arbella: he followed her to the grave a month later. They were both snuffed out before they could make their mark, leaving the field to their shipmates and fellow Lincolnshire Puritans: John Winthrop, Samuel Skelton, Anne Bradstreet, Simon Bradstreet.

Two prints by Moseley Isaac Danforth based on a painting by Charles Robert Leslie, 1837, British Museum and Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. 

After Mather, I don’t think anyone really cared about Lady Arbella, until she was resurrected in the nineteenth century: of course Hawthorne had to write about her, as he was always mining Salem’s colonial past and her story was right up his alley. She is the tragic first owner of Grandfather’s Chair, which bore the Lincoln arms and in which she sat in the summer of 1630, “fading away, like a pale English flower, in the shadow of the forest” which her husband away in Boston and her growing realization that “none should be here but those who can struggle with the wild beasts and wild men, and can toil in the heat or cold, and can keep their hearts firm against all difficulties and dangers.” This new world was not for her. The less-deft Romantic author Lydia Sigourney went even further in the tragic direction with Arbella, who is plucked right out of the Lincoln castle, Tattershall (where she never lived) and set upon a difficult voyage towards an inevitable death.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Grandfather’s Chair. A History for Youth, first published in Boston in 1840; Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Myrtis: With other etchings and sketchings. New York, 1846.

Lady Arbella remained a subject of interest after the Centennial: the Johnson’s short landing in Salem provided a tragic counterpart to the happier story of John and Priscilla Alden’s foothold on the South Shore. There is a particular emphasis in the later nineteenth-century stories on the graveless Arbella, a wandering ghost as she was buried in some unmarked “Potter’s Field” off present-day Bridge Street (near the present-day Arbella Street) in Salem: this angle makes her even more tragic, of course, and even more interesting. With the “recreation” of Pioneer Village and the Arbella for the Massachusetts Tercentenary of 1930, Lady Arbella gained a twentieth-century notoriety which is still (somewhat) alive today: the ship is no longer with us, but the Village is, though there are plans to move it to Salem Willows, perhaps in time for Salem’s 400th anniversary.

Postcards from the 1930s-1950s of the Arbella and what was originally called The Pioneer’s Village at the time, including a very healthy-looking Lady Arbella in front of “her” house.

Appendix:

Lady Arbella was one of eighteen children, and consequently her mother was considered an expert on childbirth: she was actually the first English woman author of an instructive book for women, The Countess of Lincoln’s Nursery, published in 1622. (I was just writing about this book for my book when I began this post!) A brother and two sisters also made it to the New World, and former Lincoln steward (and father of Anne Bradstreet) Thomas Dudley’s letter to Bridget, the Fourth Countess of Lincoln, remains an absolutely essential source for the early settlement of Massachusetts. The Sempringham-Salem connection consisted of multiple strands, and is best viewed in an Atlantic perspective, as this was the lived experience of both those who made the crossing, and those who stayed behind.

Appendix #2: I’m giving a lecture on ALL (or most) of my #SalemSuffrageSaturday ladies for the Pickering House tomorrow (September 20) at 5pm on Zoom: more details here.

 

 

 


Tragedy amidst the Everyday

I LOVE Diaries: they offer such personal perspectives into the past, encompassing both “big” events and everyday occurrences. I read diaries, teach with diaries, and think about diaries often. I even like books about diaries, such as Kate O’Brien’s volume in my favorite Britain in Pictures series. So it is rather odd that I have omitted one of the most important diaries of a Salem woman in this year of #SalemSuffrageSaturdays until now: that of Mary Vial Holyoke (1737-1802), the second wife of Salem’s most eminent physician, Edward Augustus Holyoke (1728-1829). Mary’s diary was published in a compiled volume of Holyoke diaries published by the Essex Institute in 1911, after having been in the possession of several collectors, including the famed Salem numismatist Matthew Stickney.

Photograph of a Greenwood Portrait of Mary Simpson Vial before her Marriage.

1771 Portraits of Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke and Mary Vial Holyoke by Salem artist Benjamin Blyth, referred to in Mary’s diary: Dr. Holyoke’s portrait, which descended in the Osgood family, is from the Northeast Auctions archive; Mary’s portrait, which descended in the Nichols family, appears to be lost at present.

 

Last week’s list of “notable Salem women” from the perspective of 1939 included Mary and drew me back to her diary, a record of 40 years of her rather enclosed life in Salem from 1760 to 1799. I had read it several times before but found it………….. unpleasant is the word I think I want to use. At first reading, the impression that I formed was of a superficial woman who gave birth to babies annually—most of which died within days—and resumed her social activities and household duties without missing a beat. None of this was unfamiliar to me as an early modernist: infant mortality hovered between 15 and 20% while 60% of all children born died before the age of 16 in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and childbirth was the leading cause of death for women, who were not especially introspective when they took pen to paper. But both Mary’s losses (8 of her 12 children) and her diary’s quickfire mix of the mundane and the sorrowful are comparatively extreme. Just one page of entries from the summer of 1767 contains entries about gardening, polishing or “scouring” furniture brasses, hanging bed curtains, attending “turtle” feasts and hosting the regular Monday assembly. Then on September 5 she was “brought to bed” at 2:00 in the morning, and gave birth to a daughter baptized Mary on the next day. On September 7 she reports that “The Baby very well till ten o’clock in the evening & then taken with fits.” Two days later, “It Died about 8:00 in the morning.” On the next day, we read simply “was buried” without even a pronoun.

A child’s shoe last from the first half of the nineteenth century, Historic New England

As I read the diary again over this past week more carefully, Mary emerged as a more thoughtful, caring, and substantive person. She was among a circle of women in Salem who were not just drinking tea and attending “turtles” (I love this name for social gatherings and think we should resume it) with great regularity, but also attending all those were brought to bed: for birth, for illness, for death: they were always “watching”. Mary was watched, her dying children were watched, and she herself watched. The entry above seems cold to be sure, but Mary generally referred to “my dear child” while noting the burials of her infants. And then there was the particularly poignant entry after the death of yet another of her newborns in 1770: the same as all the others. You almost can’t blame her for getting right back to the business of household work, which she does with great relish after she and the Dr. (this is how she refers to her husband) move into their permanent house on Essex Steet: this becomes “our house” and there’s a lot of work to do to maintain it: scouring, provisioning, ironing, soap-making, bottling, sewing, cooking, gardening, preserving (preserved damsons, a week too late! exclamation mine) and other tasks are all noted in detail. I think I dismissed the diary previously because Mary had little to say about the Revolution, but she does take note of the repeal of the Stamp Act and the “setting off” of a “feathered man” before the Revolution, and as it proceeds she gradually refers to the Americans as “our people”, perhaps reflecting her husband’s transition from Tory to Patriot. Dr. Holyoke was an early adopter of smallpox inoculation, and she records the constant outbreaks as well as the incremental inoculations. Earthquakes also appear with surprising regularity in the diary: I had no idea Salem was subject to so many tremors in the later eighteenth century. Extreme weather was also notable: Salem experienced some very hot summers and several “great” snows during Mary’s lifetime she elaborates on the former and is quite succinct about the latter. There’s more to learn about and from Mary Vial Holyoke, to be sure: you’ve just got to read carefully, between the lines and with careful attention to the personal pronouns, as she brings us into her world.

The Bowditch-Holyoke House at the corner of Essex & Central Streets in Salem, presently the site of the Naumkeag Block     


Salem Women of Note, 1939

The very last time I was up at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in Rowley, last February I believe, I requested a folder within which was the transcript of a short paper given at a meeting of the Zonta Club of Salem in 1939 by Annie Balcomb Wheeler entitled “Salem Women of Note”. I thought this would be the beginning of regular trips to the Phillips, but then came the pandemic closures. It is open now, but I just don’t have time to go up there with my book contract and four courses this semester: I won’t for some time, maybe never, unless I decide to take take up another book project, tentatively titled “Dead History: How America’s Most Historic City lost its Past” in my mind (the phrase Dead History is taken from a 1915 newspaper article about Salem’s deteriorating historic sites, but obviously it is a double entendre now). There’s some interest in this, but I’ve got to get through The Practical Renaissance first, and after that it might be better to leave Salem history in my rear-view mirror except for fluffy forays here. I remain rather forlorn about the state of Salem’s historic archives and interpretation, but am happy to see that the Peabody Essex Museum is diving into Salem history headfirst this fall, with two collections-based exhibitions on the Witch Trials and “Salem Stories“. This is quite a change, and I hope not just a reaction to the pandemic, which has reoriented many museums towards local and regional visitors. A renewed and sustained interest in historical interpretation and programming by the PEM could be a game-changer for Salem.

Ropes by Purely SalemA wonderful view of the PEM’s Ropes Mansion on Essex Street by my friend Matt of PurelySalem on Instagram! (He takes the most beautiful photographs). I‘m hoping that PEM’s foray in history involves looking at old things in new light: the Ropes is a great example because there are many stories that remain untold about it. It’s not a GOOD story, but we need to know more about slavery in Salem, and the Ropes Mansion was built by one of Salem’s more prominent slaveowners, Samuel Gardner. 

Well, high hopes for “Salem Stories” but back to Annie Balcomb Wheeler and her notable Salem women of 1939. I certainly didn’t expect this little paper to be my last dive into the Phillips collection for months and I didn’t spend much time with it: I just noted the women whom Annie Balcomb Wheeler found notable, because I wanted to compare her 1939 list with my evolving list of women spotlighted in my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. It’s so interesting to me to chart the highs and lows of written history: who or what we deem important now as opposed to who or what was important in 1939 or 1839 or 1739. Right now in Salem I think people are primarily interested in women of color, Charlotte Forten and Sarah Parker Remond in particular, as well as the traditional philanthropists, like Caroline Emmerton, the founder of the House of the Seven Gables. None of these women made it onto Wheeler’s list, which includes the Quaker Cassandra Southwick, poet Anne Bradstreet, accused “witches” Mary English and Elizabeth Proctor, educators Abigail Fowler, Lydia Very, and Ellen Dodge, physicians Sarah Sherman and Kate Mudge, diarist Mary Vial Holyoke and author Maria Susannah Cummins. I’ve posted on all of these women, with the exception of Fowler, Dodge and Holyoke: the educators are new to me but the latter is a definite oversight! It’s very notable to me that there are no artists on Wheeler’s list–nor entrepreneurs—as Salem women’s history is so rich in these categories, but I’m happy to see the emphasis on education and medicine. I wonder why she chose Mary English and Elizabeth Proctor, and not other victims or accusers of 1692? As it happens, I had just been looking at a document of testimony against the former at Yale’s Beinecke Library as I was trying to find some seventeenth-century writing that my students could actually read: here it is, along with the deposition of Mary Walcott against Proctor from the University of Virginia’s Documentary Archive and Transcription Archive, which has been the essential repository of Salem Witch Trials records and resources for more than a decade.

Salem Women Indictment Mary English Yale

Salem Women of Note Elizabeth Proctor1692 Depositions against Mary Hollingsworth English and Elizabeth Proctor, Beinecke Library at Yale and University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

I cannot account for all of Salem’s female schoolteachers: there are so many! Abigail Fowler seems to have had a career which spanned 50 years: upon her death in 1771, her obituary noted that this “noted school dame” had “finished her earthly labors. She was in her 68th year, and began to teach children before she was 18, and continued so to do till her decease”. I wrote about Lydia Very here: she was both an author (or poetry and children’s books) and public schoolteacher for many years, but her legacy has always been overshadowed by that of her brother, Jones Very. Ellen Maria Dodge was a longtime instructor at the Salem Normal School, and she also wrote the School’s history upon the occasion of its move from downtown Salem to its new campus on Lafayette and Loring Streets.

Lydia Very (2)

Salem Women of Note Ellen DodgeA privately printed book of poems by Lydia Very, 1882, Boston Book Company; Ellen Maria Dodge, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

I’ve written about Salem women physicians and Maria Susannah Cummins, the author of the incredibly popular Lamplighter, but recently I discovered a connection between Dr. Kate Mudge, who lived in the Bowditch House (currently the offices of Historic Salem, Inc.,) where Cummins was born. Like Bradstreet, I don’t really consider Cummins a Salem girl: her parents moved to Dorchester shortly thereafter. But still, cool connection: Dr. Mudge was certainly aware that she lived in the storied house of Nathaniel Bowditch and Maria Cummins, because her contemporary, photographer Frank Cousins labeled his photograph of the house (then around the corner on Essex Street) as such.

Salem Women Bowditch House (3)The Curwen/Bowditch House, Salem, 1890s. Frank Cousins/Urban Landscape Collection at Duke University Library.

So that brings me to Mary Vial Holyoke (1737-1802), the second wife of Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, and her diary. I have never appreciated this text properly, I think: Annie Balcomb Wheeler has convinced me to look at it again. It’s just that Mrs. Holyoke is so matter-of-fact about everything, especially death, including the deaths of her infant children and people all around her. This is certainly not a reflective diary, or a modern diary, but I should try harder to read between its lines, because I think Mary Vial Holyoke deserves her own post.

Salem Women of Note Mary Vial by GreenwoodPhotograph of a Greenwood portrait of Mary Vial Holyoke.


Lafayette Fangirls

I just love the idea and the historic reality of the “Farewell Tour” taken by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824: the exuberant reception, and the deep appreciation expressed by both Americans and Lafayette again and again and again, everywhere he went. I also like all the things that were produced for this occasion: prints, plates, paintings, ribbons, all manner of print and material commemorative culture. In honor of its namesake, Lafayette College has amassed a large collection of Lafayette memorabilia but it is by no means the only repository of such items. Like every American town and city where Lafayette alighted, Salem greeted him with great enthusiasm, on this very day nearly 200 years ago, and Lafayette left his mark: the main southern thoroughfare to Marblehead was named after him, as well as one of my favorite rooms (the room with the bar!) in Hamilton Hall. The Hall was the site of the elaborate dinner (including 65 separate dishes) for the General/Marquis prepared by its increasingly-renown African-American caterer John Remond and his wife Nancy, with the ladies of Salem providing the decorations: the Salem Gazette reported that the “whole effect was beyond our powers of description” on the next day.

Lafayette in Salem Collage

Even more so than the Hall, it’s these ladies that I am interested in, as I bet they were all decked out. I love the Lafayette ladies’ accessories from this era: the ribbons, hats, gloves, and fans which were worn at the parades in his honor and then tucked away in some keepsake box, perhaps brought out at the time of his death in 1834, and then packed away again. They’re not difficult to find, as Lafayette’s tour was so extensive, and women who could afford to displayed their patriotism in a very exuberant and festive fashion: we have to remember that Lafayette was not only a valiant foreigner who answered America’s call at a crucial time, he was also the last living Revolutionary General in 1824. He was more than “the Nation’s Guest”, but he was also French, so deserving of a display.

Lafayette Gloves

Lafayette Bag Cooper Hewitt

Lafayette-Ribbon-Lafayette-CollegeGloves with Lafayette’s image from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; a silk bag from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Museum, and a ribbon from the collection at Lafayette College.

Fans are the most elaborate of Lafayette mementos, in my humble opinion, and several Salem ladies had fans for the farewell tour–whether they were domestically produced or French imports I do not know. There’s a lovely Lafayette fan featured in the Museum Collections of the Essex Institute which I assume is still in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I can’t find it, of course, because PEM. The Museum of Fine Arts has two fans which likely belonged to Elizabeth and Sarah Derby, if the initials are any indication. If they did in fact belong to the Derby girls, I don’t know if they had them in hand on that day, this day, in 1824: all of the newspaper accounts reported heavy rain in Salem. And after that he was gone, but the adoration continued: in a piece that was reprinted up and down the east coast the Salem Gazette observed that “Everything is Lafayette, whether it be on our heads or under our feet…..” in October.

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Lafayette Fan Elizabeth Derby MFA

Lafayette Fan Sarah Derby MFA

Lafayette-Salem-Oct-12-Gazette

Fans in the collections of the Essex Institute (Peabody Essex Museum?) and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Salem Gazette, October 12, 1824.


A Victorian View of Salem Witchcraft

I had not thought about the prolific and pioneering author Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) for years: until I encountered a portrait of her by the Salem artist Charles Osgood in the Catalog of Portraits at the Essex Institute (1936). I was looking for some lost portraits of Salem women—portraits which are still presumably in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum but which we have no access to either digitally or in person, and for which no accessible catalog entry exists except in the Smithsonian’s Catalog of American Portraits. I found many such portraits in this catalog, but I did not expect to find Harriet, a popular British author whose many works contributed to the emerging fields of sociology, economics, and political science. Martineau was cast into the breadwinner role for her impoverished family while in her 20s, and so she picked up a pen and produced an astonishing array of texts illustrating the contemporary social and economic structures of the British Empire: taxation, the poor laws, industry and trade. While these might seem like dry topics then and now, Martineau had an extraordinary ability to interpret, translate, and distill abstract and complex theory into clear and engaging prose: both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria were fans!  Travels to the United States and the Middle East expanded Martineau’s range of topics as well as her abilities to report and observe, and she moved beyond illustration and theory into methodology, thus contributing to social-science practice. Martineau accepted no limitations: of genre (she wrote both fiction and non-fiction) or gender, and neither her encroaching deafness or her many illnesses stopped her from writing. When diagnosed with fatal heart disease in 1855, she wrote her own obituary, noting that: Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching to genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize while she could neither discover nor invent. She lived, and wrote, for another twenty years.

Harriet Martineau by Charles Osgood Catalogue of Portraits in Essex Institute (2)

Harriet Martineau Richard Evans 1834 NPG (2)Harriet Martineau by Salem artist Charles Osgood, c. 1835, Catalog of Portraits in the Essex Institute (1936); and by Richard Evans, c. 1833-34, National Portrait Gallery.

In 1834, the same year that her Evans portrait was exhibited in London, Harriet traveled to the United States on a research trip: she wanted to observe and analyze the dynamic economy of the new nation, as well as its “peculiar institution” of slavery. Her time in America refined her observation skills but also made her more of an activist: encountering both slavery in the south and the fervent abolitionist community in New England intensified her own anti-slavery sentiments. She published her American observations in Society in America (1837) which contains a forceful critique of the Southern economy’s exclusive reliance on slave labor and a much more favorable view of New England based on principles of the “moral economy”. In the Slave South, “one of the absolutely inevitable results of slaver is a disregard of human rights; an inability even to comprehend them”, while in the egalitarian North “every man is answerable for his own fortunes; and there is therefore stimulus to the exercise of every power.” Martineau goes on to extol the economic (and social) virtues of Salem, where she was in residence for several weeks at the Chestnut Street home of  Congressman (and future mayor) Stephen C. Phillips. She loves everything about Salem: its beautiful historic homes, its bustling tanneries, its “famous” museum, but especially its social mobility: “what a state of society it is when a dozen artisans of one town—Salem—are seen rearing each a comfortable one-story (or, as the Americans would say, two-story) house, in the place with which they have grown up! when a man who began with laying bricks criticizes, and sometimes corrects, his lawyer’s composition; when a poor errand-boy becomes the proprietor of a flourishing store, before he is thirty; pays off the capital advanced by his friends at the rate of 2,000 dollars per month; and bids fair to be one of the most substantial citizens of the place!”

brm0399-bachelder-salem-1856-1024x794 (2)Salem in the mid-nineteenth century from John Bachelder’s Album of New England Scenery.

Harriet Martineau was far more interested in the present than the past, and she predicts that the “remarkable” Salem, “this city of peace”, “will be better known hereafter for its commerce than for its witch-tragedy.” [if only!!!] Nevertheless, it happens that both one of her earliest and one of her last American publications was focused on Salem witchcraft: reviews of Charles Wentworth Upham’s Lectures on Witchcraft comprising a history of the delusion in Salem, in 1692 (1831) and Salem Witchcraft with an account of Salem Village and a history of opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects (1867). Her review of the latter in the Edinburgh Review displays her interpretive abilities perfectly, managing to both summarize Upham’s work and supplement it with a Victorian sensibility as well as the perspective of a social scientist. Like many of her contemporaries, Martineau was interested in psychological experimentation: the practice of mesmerism, in particular, was interesting to her for its curative powers as she experienced challenging medical conditions from the 1840s. Her interest in the powers of suggestion influenced her reaction to Upham’s study of the Salem trials, but so too did her sociological studies of organized religion and community interactions. She manages to display both historical empathy and the presentism which characterizes so many interpretations of the Salem Witch Trials at the same time as she emphasized “the seriousness and the instructiveness of this story to the present generation [this could have been written today]. Ours is the generation which has seen the spread of Spiritualism in Europe and America, a phenomenon which deprives us of all right to treat the Salem Tragedy as a jest, or to adopt a tone of superiority in compassion for the agents in that dismal drama.” [this could not].

Harriet Upham 1831 (2)

mdp.39015026502115-seq_593-2The first Upham work to be reviewed by Harriet, and a sketch of Miss Martineau at work in Fraser’s Magazine, November, 1833.


Delights for Ladies

This was one of those weeks that the book took precedence, so it was difficult for me to find the time to research a proper #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: it really has been time-consuming to find all those lost reformers, gentle ladies, and entrepreneurs—though the authors and artists are much easier. I have a few more I want to highlight before this commemorative year is over, but this week all I have is book for ladies, written by an Elizabethan author whom I am sure could not have conceived of universal suffrage in his wildest imagination even though he was a relatively progressive fellow for his time. Hugh Plat (1552?-1608) is featured in several of my chapters: his work was very wide-ranging. He wrote about agriculture and gardening, alchemy, engineering, medicine, and all sorts of little inventions meant to improve daily life: an everlasting “tube-like” victual called macaroni for seamen on long voyages, a prototype raincoat, cheaper candles and lanterns for the homes of “the poorer sort”, and even dentures! He was an absolute believer in the art of alchemy, not as some secret enterprise, but as a way to extract the inherent spirits and virtues out of natural substances, and make them more efficacious. He wanted to make English land more fertile, English homes lighter, and English bodies healthier. Plat can certainly be criticized for selling ineffective plague pills during the pandemic of 1593, and I’m still wrestling with that. There are two great books on Plat: Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House. Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution and Malcolm Thick’s Sir Hugh Plat: the Search for Useful Information in Early Modern London. I’m grateful for both, as they are based on manuscript evidence which I can’t access as well as Plat’s many publications, but I need to find my own Hugh Plat.

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Plat’s major work, still being published nearly 50 years after his death.

The Jewel House of Art and Nature was popular, but a book aimed at the relatively new feminine audience was even more so: first published in 1602, Delights for Ladies, to adorn their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories was published in 13 editions up until the middle of the seventeenth century, sometimes bound with a companion text, A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, or the Art of preserving, conserving, and candying. The original is available here, and two editions were published in the twentieth century: one by the Trovillion Press in 1939 and another edited by historian G.E. Russell after World War II. I have a badly-beat-up Trovillion edition, which still manages to be a beautiful little book, and some day I am going to have a pristine one!

Plat Cover (2)

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Delights is a book of “still-room secrets” with which women could whip up precious potions and waters to take care of their daily needs and concerns. It is also a rather specialized cookbook, and general housekeeping book: you really understand that word—housekeeping—when you read it, as Plat’s concern here, also evident in his other books, is to preserve foodstuffs and keep them fresh for as long as possible. He detested spoilage and waste. So there are preserves that we would recognize today, including “marmelades” and “gellys” made from fruit, but also instructions on how to keep fish and meat for “many days”. The house also has to be kept clean and well-provisioned with both food, drink, and medicines for maladies minor and major. There is a lot of expensive sugar in this book, which obviously catered to early modern English tastes, but also indicates that this was certainly not a book for the “poorer sort”: Plat’s huswife, a term that came into use during his lifetime, was a “courteous gentlewoman” who could read. And what might be her personal concerns, besides provisioning her house? Something to keep her face fresh, clean, and spot-free, a lovely hand lotion, tooth paste, and a dye to return the chestnut or golden luster to her hair (or her husband’s beard). Something to help the “ytch” and take out stains from her garments and bedclothes. A pomander for the plague-time, and headache powders, and sweet-smelling perfumes for any time. The more things change………….

Plat Table (2)

Plat Rose Water (2)

Plat Dye

Plats Pimples

Plat Teech (3)


Bells were Ringing

We’ve come to THE week of this year-long suffrage celebration, which has unfortunately been overshadowed by other events! But I think we should all stop and recognize the anniversary, coming up on the 18th, of the constitutional ratification of the 19th amendment 100 years ago. Since the 1970s, Womens Equality Day has been commemorated on August 26, the day that the ratification was certified, but a century ago, everyone realized that the Tennessee vote on the 18th was the big moment: the suffragists themselves, the newspapers, and even the anti-suffragists! The photograph of Alice Paul extending the flag of 36 stars from a balcony, symbolizing the realization of the two-thirds majority, while her colleagues jump with joy (well I like to think they were jumping) below, captures this moment perfectly.

Suffrage-Celebration-ALice-Paul-2Library of Congress

I wanted to ascertain, and feel the local reaction to the ratification, so I checked out as many local papers as I could. We’re handicapped with 20th century history when it comes to newspaper coverage as the Salem Evening News is available only on microfilm and our public library has been closed since the pandemic, so I have relied primarily on Boston papers which covered the region. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of little anecdotal reactions, but here’s the slightly-bigger picture: rapid registrations, bells chiming out, a big celebratory evening at Faneuil Hall, and a Boston parade, of course. After celebration came deliberation: as the pundits tried to assess the impact of all these new voters on the upcoming election.

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Suffrage BDG Collage

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Suffrage Cel

Suffrage Bells Aug 28

Suffrage Victory Parade

Suffrage Straw Poll

Griswold VotesThe aftermath of August 18, 1920: headlines and editorials in the Boston Post and Boston Daily Globe, August 19 (I didn’t realize the Ponzi Scheme was in the news at this time!), primaries were coming up, so there was an immediate focus on registration, big victory celebration at Faneuil Hall on the 23rd; supposedly there was a national bell-ringing event on the 28th (?), the last Woman Suffrage Association parade in September; a straw poll in October and Mrs. Almira C. Griswold’s registration made NATIONAL headlines on September 11-13, 1920.


The Gardener’s Labyrinth

I’m having this really neat synchronicity of research, writing and life right now, as I’m working on Chapter Three of my book, which is focused on Elizabethan horticulture. So I get up, water my garden, and then go upstairs into my study and read and write about English gardening texts from the sixteenth century. Or there is the alternative day: I get up, drink coffee, read and write about English gardening texts, and then go downstairs for “cocktail watering” at the end of the day.  Regardless of when I sit down to immerse myself in this topic, it is obvious that there was a lot to write about then, and so I have a lot to write about now: new plants, coming from the Continent or the New World, how to feed the rapidly growing city of London, how to harness the power of plants for a variety of medicinal purposes. There were kitchen gardens, physic gardens, market gardens, and “summer gardens” for pleasure and relaxation. No matter what the purpose of the garden, the general belief was that it should be adjacent to the house and laid out in beds segregated by paths and walkways: the influences of the French parterre and medieval precedents encouraged the creation of a “knotted” or knot garden, which seems to have become a Tudor symbol. The pioneer of English gardening texts, Thomas Hyll (or Hill) published his first book, The Profitable arte of gardening in 1558: it was reprinted frequently thereafter and published in an amplified edition called The Gardeners Labyrinth posthumously in 1577. The Labyrinth was also very popular, due to the combination of Hyll’s “plain” instructions on how to lay out, enclose, plant, fertilize, irrigate, protect, and harvest a garden as well as its wonderful illustrations, the most reprinted of which are his images of watering the garden, something we all need to think about right now in the August doldrums (at least in New England). And true to its title, the Labyrinth also includes illustrations—templates really, for knot gardens, mazes, and labyrinths. Somehow I am more appreciative of his watering advice right now, in these 90-degree days!

Gardeners Collage First

Gardeners Labyrinth 1594 (2)

Gardeners Labyrinth Ch. 20 (3)

Gardeners Labyrinth 1594 watering through troughs (2)

Gardeners Labyrinth Watering (3)Tending to and ordering your garden in the Elizabethan era: Thomas Hyll’s Gardeners Labyrinth.

I am a bit confused by these two alternative watering techniques: “the maner of watering with a pumpe by troughes in the garden” and “the maner of watering with a pumpe in a tubbe” as Hyll is quite clear in the text that “water rotteth and killeth above ground.” So do we water from above or below?  I generally do both: aiming for the roots when I start watering and then just lazily arching it from above when I get tired and lazy—especially if I am watering with wine-in-hand. So many tools we use now were used then—rakes, hoes, shovels, watering “pottes”: and he calls his tin watering devices “great Squirtes”! August was hot in those Elizabethan summers as well: and Hyll instructs his readers to get out there and water in whatever way they can.

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20200810_070845Bad cocktail watering (?) and the garden in the morning.

There are several knot garden examples in The Gardener’s Labyrinth as well as mazes: Hyll had to appeal to the literary public, which was essentially a monied and aspirational one, and so his gardens had to have ornamental qualities as well as utilitarian ones. The knot or maze is a perfect and very literal example of man bending nature to his will, a key Renaissance preoccupation: man is at the center of everything. The perfectly-ordered gardens that appear in the backgrounds of English portraits from this era reflect very well on their individual subjects, as well as the society at large.

Gardeners Knot (2)

Gardeners Maze (3)

Lord Edward Russell

Gardening Young Man

Garden Lettice Newdigate 1606Knot & Maze designs from the Gardeners Labyrinth, 1577; Lord Edward Russell by George Perfect Harding, watercolor copy of a 1573 portrait after unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery; Isaac Oliver, a Young Man seated under a Tree, 1590-95, Royal Collection Trust; Lettice Newdigate, c. 1606, Private Collection: Arbury Hall, Warwickshire.


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