Category Archives: Women’s History

Caroline Remond Putnam

Faithful readers of this blog will know that I am captivated by the Remonds, an African-American family of ten who lead exemplary lives of advocacy, activism and entrepreneurialism in Salem in the nineteenth-century, often centered around Hamilton Hall, the Federal reception hall right next door to my house. I feel very connected to them and I’m interested in everything they did. The parents, John and Nancy, clearly raised their children to be independent and assertive, and were both independent and assertive themselves. The most public, and therefore most well-known, Remonds were the abolitionist speakers Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker, and while I have the utmost admiration for them they have their historians, while their siblings do not. There are also no photographs (in the public realm anyway) of the other Remonds, so we don’t “see” them. So I’ve been collecting as much information as possible about the “invisible” Remonds, and I thought I would cap off my year of #salemsuffragesaturdays with a spotlight on the amazing life of the youngest member of this distinguished family, Caroline Remond Putnam (1826-1908).  She’s one of the most impressive women I have ever encountered. The closest I can get to her is her signature, sadly: on a petition against capital punishment signed when she was a teenager, on a letter addressed to Wendell Phillips sent from London (both from the digital collections of Harvard), on her passport application in 1865.

Even without an archive of personal papers to elucidate her life, it’s easy to see that Caroline was a very engaged woman: the advertisements for her businesses fill the pages of the Salem Register; her efforts towards abolition are referenced in successive issues of The Liberator. As the youngest Remond child, she had several examples to follow as every family member was busy: in business and in reform causes, or both. Her parents managed to enroll her older sister Sarah and Caroline in the Salem public schools, from which they were expelled for no cause other than their race, prompting the relocation of the family to Newport, Rhode Island. The Remonds returned to Salem when the girls’ schooling was complete, and to their several businesses. Caroline began working in hairdressing in partnership with several of her sisters, and on her own, and in the late 1840s she married Joseph H. Putnam of Boston, whose family was part of the African-American network of entrepreneur activists which extended to Philadelphia. Caroline never stopped working: as a personal hairstylist, as the owner of a Salem salon and wig factory called the Ladies Hair Work Salon with her sisters, and as the manufacturer of the popular “Mrs. Putnam’s Medicated Hair Tonic” for hair loss. She and Joseph had two children, Edmund and Victoria, but tragedy struck in 1859 when Caroline lost both her husband and her baby daughter within three months. Her reaction was to leave: she booked passage for Britain for herself and her young son Edmund to join her sister Sarah, and there are no indications that she planned to come back to the United States. But she did: back and forth across the Atlantic she went over the next 20 years or so, sometimes with a sister, often with Edmund. She came back because she had a lot to do: she had her businesses, and had assumed major leadership roles, chiefly in the realm of fundraising, for the American and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. After the Civil War she shifted her efforts towards the suffrage movement and the American, New England, and Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Associations, and was always recognized as a “well-known advocate” of the cause. Caroline clearly had many obligations in the United States, but she returned to Europe several times in the 1870s and eventually joined her sister Sarah in Italy (where she managed a hotel in Rome!) in the mid-1880s and then made a permanent move to England, where she died in 1908.

Abolition, Suffrage AND Pacifism: Caroline had big goals, and that characteristic Remond mix of activism and pragmatism regarding business matters.

It’s rather sad to see someone work so hard for the greater good in a country, and be so eager to leave it: after Frederick Douglass visited the Remond sisters (Caroline and Sarah, plus Maritcha) in Rome he reported that “they detest prejudice of color and say they would not live in the U. States, if you could or would give them America!” These sentiments were grounded in experience. Caroline experienced at least three cases of very public discrimination: she was with Sarah at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston in 1853 when they were ejected from their seats, on her first Atlantic crossing in 1859 she and her young son were barred from the first-class cabins in the Cunard liner Europa for which she had purchased tickets, and on a trip to New York City in 1870 her reservations for rooms at the Metropolitan Hotel were not honored. I’m sure these were just three public instances out of many more private ones. But still she pressed on, always trying to create a better world for herself, her family, her gender, her race, and pretty much everyone else.


The Disposition of a Directress

Well I have to admit that I’m feeling pleased with myself this week as I have finished a challenging on-line semester of four courses while writing a book, my blog has reached its 10th anniversary, and I’m wrapping up my #SalemSuffrage Saturdays! Pardon my boasting, but sometimes you must indulge yourself. I’m really proud of the blog: I think that there is a lot here; I’ve certainly learned a lot while writing it, and that was my primary reason for starting it in the first place. Salem’s history is so deep; I don’t know if anyone can really scratch the bottom, and it is also wide-ranging, consisting of much, much more than the Witch Trials and the China Trade. Certainly this year’s focus on women’s lives has underscored that point, with its artists and authors, abolitionists and suffragists, physicians and shopkeepers, students and teachers. It’s been a bit challenging trying to draw out the details of some of these women’s lives in this particular year, but I’ve learned to be creative as Salem’s primary historical repository has been out-of-town and off-line for most of this blog’s life. Nevertheless there are holes and gaps and lots of work to be done to put together a cohesive and comprehensive history of Salem women’s lives. Before I end this year’s deep dive, I wanted to offer up something about women’s charitable roles in Salem: this is a topic with great continuity, as Salem women continue to be extremely active in charitable institutions, some of which are still extant after decades, or as in the case of the Salem Female Charitable Society, centuries. This is also a HUGE topic: the roles which Salem women played in institutions such as the Salem Children’s Friend Society, the Seaman’s Widows and Orphan Association, the Woman’s Friend Society (still with us), and the Salem Woman’s Club, just to name a few, were a really important part of civic life in Salem. For the most part, it’s only possible to write about this form of women’s work on very general terms, but we can get a bit more personal about the founder of Salem’s first woman’s charity, the Salem Female Charitable Society (SFCS), because of the remarkable obituary written by her friend, Mrs. James King. I’ve NEVER read so long an obituary of a woman in this era, much less written by a woman. Lucretia Ward Osgood must have been an extraordinary woman.

I love this, particularly the line she had the happy faculty, while she derived pleasure from the company and converse of others, to make them unusually pleased with her, and happy in themselves. Who doesn’t want that faculty? Yes, she was a good mother and Christian but we get some insights into her personality as well, which was obviously charming. These antebellum charitable societies get criticized later on for not lifting the poor up very far—essentially for training servants—but this is not the time nor the place to get into that. Lucretia and her fellow society ladies put themselves out there, got organized, dispensed charity, and impressed contemporaries like the Reverend Thomas Barnard, who spoke at their first anniversary in 1803: Ye, my female friends, feel her Spirit! In all the forms of society ye make your publick appearance: With your Directresses, Managers, and Members: With your Governess, and the Children of your affectionate charge! When ye first formed, I will confess to you, I, with many others whose judgement I respected, felt averse to your society. We thought Charity might be better ordered. But upon a deliberate view of your Constitution, I change my opinion. In the following year, the Salem Female Charitable Society was formally incorporated by Massachusetts law, and it remains so.

 


Christmas Suffragist Style

A great friend gave me the lovely gift of a Suffragist ornament the other day: I prominently placed it on my tree and went out to look for more. We were going to have no ornaments this year, just lights (actually, I didn’t even want a tree, or lights, but my husband did), and there is no way I was not going to put that lady on my tree and she needed company. It seems appropriate to go out of this year the same way I went in, in the company of Suffragists. I’m sorry that the ladies did not get their due in this challenging year, but I certainly learned a lot about the Suffragists in general and Salem women in particular on all these #SalemSuffrageSaturdays: two more to go! One thing I learned about the Suffrage movement in general, in both the United States and Britain, is how sophisticated it was in terms of visual messaging: the colors, the images, the products. Everything they produced or inspired still looks good.

Suffragist Christmas Ornaments (+ Joan of Arc, a very important Suffragist symbol herself) fron the Peabody Essex Museum Shop and RosieCentral .

 

Christmas cards from the Museum of London and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection (a great resource!)

 

Tea Towels from the Radical Tea Towel Co.

 


Dress UP Salem

Maybe you’ve seen this week’s New Yorker cover: a woman in her apartment on her computer, presumably in a Zoom meeting. She’s wearing a lovely blouse, earrings, and lipstick and her hair looks great, so all “above” is perfect. But below, out of sight of the computer screen, is another matter: she is wearing gym shorts and slippers, there is scattered paper everywhere, along with Amazon boxes, drinking vessels, and two cats. And she’s drinking a cocktail. That, dear readers, is me in the fall of 2020, teaching four courses while writing a book, with a new kitten running all around. Next week classes will end and I’m just about finished with a particularly difficult chapter: then I’m going to put on a skirt and tights and real shoes. This sad state of sartorial affairs has depressed me, as generally in December I’m thinking about what I’m going to wear to the Hamilton Hall Christmas Dance and other holiday events: obviously not happening this year. We’re also fortunate in Salem to see attendees of the Commonwealth Vintage Dancer’s Fezziwig’s Ball walking through the streets to Old Town Hall: again, not this year. So I’ve mustered up some historic Salem dresses and some new-old dresses in historic Salem settings to get myself in the holiday mood, material girl that I am.

My favorite Salem dress ever is Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s wedding dress, in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. I looked for something similar with Salem provenance, and found this lovely pale pink gown with amazing sleeves. I also found the wonderful blog of historical clothing maker Quinn Burgess, The Quintessential Clothes Pen. Since Quinn has attended several events in Salem wearing her own creations, I thought you would like to see some period clothes in situ, at Hamilton Hall and Old Town Hall. Her dresses below are designs from 1812-1813, about a decade earlier than Sarah’s wedding dress and its more muted cousin.

Sarah Ellen Derby Roger’s Wedding Dress, made in Salem from materials from India,1827, Peabody Essex Museum (Gift of Jeannie Dupee, 1979); Pale pink silk gown, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions. Quinn Burgess at Hamilton Hall and with her friends at Fezziwig’s Ball in Old Town Hall–an annual event sponsored by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. Photo credits: L. Stern (white and red dresses at Hamilton Hall) and James Sabino (The Festive Ladies at Old Town Hall).

Let’s go forward a bit to the middle of the nineteenth century, not really my favorite period for design, but the ladies below make it look good! I came across this Civil War photograph of Marianne Cabot Devereaux Silsbee, author of A Half Century in Salem (1886) in her photograph album at the Phillips Library in Rowley. Despite the volume, I imagine this must be a day dress, but I found a very colorful chartreuse and purple ballgown from a Salem family in the archives of Whitaker’s auctions in Philadelphia. I always thought I liked that color combination, but now I’m not so sure: I think I prefer Quinn’s more subtle gown—hardly a “little” black dress–indeed Quinn tells me it is blue!

Marianne C.D. Silsbee, Phillips Library PHA 58; Civil War Era silk ballgown from a Salem family, Charles A. Whitaker Auctions; Quinn Burgess in a navy c. 1860 dress at Hamilton Hall (photographer credit: Emma Forrest).

And speaking of little black dresses, I’m going to jump forward a century to show you one from a Salem purveyor: a Mollie Parnis dress from the Mayflower Vintage shop on Etsy. Gorgeous. I’m not sure I’d wear this to the Christmas Dance, as I prefer more of a ballgown for that occasion, but (if I could fit into it), I’d find someplace to wear it. I’m looking forward to the moment when I can even think about what dress I might wear, where.

Mollie Parnis dress from Mayflower Vintage.

 

Highlights from Charles A. Whitaker Auctions.

More of Quinn Burgess’s work can be found at: The Quintessential Clothes Pen; www.quinnmburgess.com; Twitter (@thequinnpen) and Instagram (@thequinnpen).

You can see more period dances and dancers at vintagedancers.org +upcoming events.


The Dance Will Go On!

There is no contest for me: my favorite Salem event has always been the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall: I have never missed it in all the years I’ve lived in Salem, even in the one year I had to go alone. Last year I was in terrible pain from sciatica, but I still hobbled over there and stayed for as long as possible. It’s just that important to me. Anything related to Hamilton Hall is a women’s history topic, very appropriate for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, as women have worked in the Hall, danced in the Hall, held fairs and other fundraising events in the Hall for a variety of causes, and supported the Hall in myriad ways for its two+ centuries. Women continue to support the Hall through two major fundraising events which date to the period right after World War II, when the Hall was in dire need of repairs: the annual Christmas (now Holiday) Dance and Lecture Series, traditionally held on Thursday mornings in February and March. I served as President of the Hall for six years, and on its board before and after, so I know how very, very important the funds from these events are: when we received the checks from the Dance Committee (all ladies) and the Ladies’ Committee which runs the Lecture Series, we breathed a sign of relief. The Hall was built by subscription, and incorporated only in 1986: at that time it had a very small endowment, and it still does: events have always supported it, making an event-less 2020 a very precarious time. But as always has been the case, the ladies rose to the occasion: the Lecture Series will be virtual, increasing accessibility for many people as it always sold out in a week or so, as will the Holiday “Dance”, with some very special patronesses.

I’m so happy about this invitation and event! It combines two endeavors which are very important to me: the preservation of the Hall and its traditions and the showcasing of some remarkable women of Salem who have not received the attention they deserve. There’s a long tradition of naming patronesses for dances at the Hall; these hostesses ensured the success of everything from military balls to debutante assemblies. When the Christmas Dance began, patronesses (and now patrons) became as integral to its popularity as the famous bourbon punch (which I am now realizing that I’ve referred to as rum punch in posts past. What can I say? It always knocked me out). I was a patroness about ten years ago and it was not only an honor but also great fun: waiters with silver trays of champagne kept coming over and people bow and curtsy to you—what could be better? When the chair of the Dance Committee notified me that this year’s dance would go on virtually with patronesses from the past , I was thrilled: what a perfect way to recognize the Suffrage Centennial in this challenging year! I was happy to put forth some candidates, but the ladies of the Dance Committee made their choices, and it was all their idea. I’m just thrilled to see Margery, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah (Symonds), Nancy, Louise, Clarissa and Sarah (Sherman) get their Salem due! Especially Nancy, whom I think of whenever I step inside the Hall, toiling away in the hot downstairs kitchen on the Rumford Roaster, while everyone was dancing in the ballroom upstairs.

Post-war Patronesses in a photo belonging to my friend Becky Putnam: staring directly into the camera, while in a perfect curtsy, third from the left, is her lovely mother Rosamond Putnam; Debutantes in 1969 in curtsy—-sorry for the quality but I wanted you to see the extended-front-leg curtsy which I found difficult to do when I was a patroness—they do too, although they really had to go low! My two favorite Hamilton Hall dresses: left is vintage Ceil Chapman from the late 1950s which I wore in 2004; right is from 2017. For some reason I cannot find a photo of myself as a patroness–if anyone has one, let me know! Even though there will be no dance IN the Hall this year, it is still as dressed up for Historic Salem’s virtual Christmas in Salem tour. Here is Jetsan, who belongs to current Hall president Michael Selbst, exhausted from his decorating efforts. 

Hamilton Hall Holiday Dance link: a video will be uploaded for ticket-holders on December 19 featuring the patronesses and dance history. To the Ladies!


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.

 


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.


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.


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