Tag Archives: books

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.


Pickering House Perspectives

A well-interpreted house museum can offer up multiple perspectives, encouraging visitors to explore what interests them. I’ve been on some less-inspired tours of historic houses, believe me: too many family stories without any context whatsoever and too much plastic fruit are my own particular aversions. But a good house tour is a veritable–and personal–window into the past, and if it’s a particularly old house, many windows. One of Salem’s oldest houses, the Pickering House (c. 1664), been part of my life for a long time, but the other day I realized I had never taken a formal tour of it, or written a post! So I decided to rectify both slights this past weekend. I should lay all my cards on the table: the Pickering House was notable for having Pickering family inhabitants for decades but now is home to two good friends of mine, both energetic stewards who have hired in succession two stellar graduates of the History Department at Salem State as research docents: so I am a bit biased for sure. However, it seems objectively true that graduate #1, Jeff Swartz, really expanded the interpretation of the Pickering House during his tenure, and graduate #2, Amanda Eddy, is clearly following his example.

As Amanda told me, the Pickering House was always owned by John Pickerings, from the 17th century to the 20th, but the most conspicuous Pickering was Colonel Timothy Pickering, Adjutant-General and Quartermaster General of the Continental Army, Washington-appointed Postmaster General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and Representative, negotiator of Indian treaties, including one (miraculously) still standing, farmer. He himself was a multi-dimensional man, so if you’re going to tell the story around him, you’re going to have many stories. But the other Pickerings are interesting too: I could tell that Amanda was particularly fascinated with the John Pickering VI, who oversaw the trim transformation of the house’s front façade in1841, in the midst of a Gothic Revival craze in Salem driven largely by Colonel Francis Peabody of Kernwood and Harmony Grove fame. Mary Harrod Northend believed that Mr. Pickering was inspired by famous Peacock Inn in Rowsley, Derbyshire, but I’m not so sure.

Colonel Tim presiding over the Dining Room, Amanda Eddy showing us the evolution of the house; the Peacock Inn, UK National Archives.

So if it’s architectural history you’re after you have a wealth of styles to explore in the Pickering House: First Period craftsmanship of the seventeenth century, Gothic Revival style of the nineteenth, Colonial Revival elements added in the twentieth. If you’re more focused on material or visual culture, there are wonderful examples of needlework, portraits of Pickerings by Joseph Badger, and lots of little things to see. I love curio cabinets, and Amanda opened up the Pickering cabinet for us and took out: a piece of Old Ironsides, a pair of old eyeglasses, and the skeleton key to the front door. If your interest is more textual, there is a fabulous family library in the east room, a fragment of Timothy Pickering’s and Rebecca White’s wedding banns in the west, and a manuscript cookbook in the dining room. As Amanda is working with the family archives in the attic, she brought down several of John VI’s handwritten topical pieces for us to see, touch, and read.

Western parlor with portrait of Mary Pickering Leavitt (1733-1805) and her daughter Sarah by Joseph Badger; Hessians!; wonderful portrait by Mary, restored by textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen in 2017; the Pickering family arms; from the curio cabinet; LOVE this china pattern but forgot to ask what it is—please inform, someone; family books and one of John VI’s essays.

These are the kind of fabled places which should thrive during this pandemic as we all strive for connections: personal, cultural, social, historical. No crowds: just careful and curious people. There were just five of us, inside yes, but keeping our social distance with masks in place. We signed the register: proper procedure but also contract tracing. And yes, there were even a few witches.

Photograph by Salem photographer and artist James Bostick.

 


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     


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.

Plat-Jewel-House

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)


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.


Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For the most part, I’ve managed to avoid dwelling on the pandemic and I must admit that I haven’t been that affected by it either, apart from the radical reconfiguration of my work environment! My struggle is to improve my online communication skills so that I can convey my passion for history through the screen—and that really isn’t much of a struggle, relatively speaking. I feel grateful as I’ve been fortunate: fortunate in my profession, which enables me to work in isolation reading and writing about a distant time and place, and fortunate in my residence—Massachusetts was hard hit in March and April but the steady leadership of our Governor and the responsible compliance of (most of) our citizens has enabled us to contain the spread of the Covid. Most days I am in a sixteenth-century fog writing my book, but headlines from the radio and the television intrude, and of course, the numbers of the infected and the dead keep climbing. I can’t believe that the President would hold rallies in this environment, and I am fearful of the maskless merrymakers I see whenever I do get outside and happen to find myself near a body of water, which is often, because I live on the coast. These “mask slackers” (a great term that comes from the last epic pandemic, when an Anti-Mask League formed in San Francisco) do not in any way remind me of a proverbial and patriotic “live free or die” movement but rather another, older, proverbial expression of selfishness: “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die”. This is a biblical reference, of course, and as such it does not imply selfishness on the part of those partaking in the joys of daily life; rather it began to acquire its modern meaning at the time of the Black Death, or shortly thereafter. One of our best sources for the plague’s impact is the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, who set the scene for his tales of the Decameron by giving us a first-hand account of plague-time Florence, where

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. 

Boccaccio’s description echoed the late medieval Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”) allegory, an expression of the egalitarian and universal nature of all-conquering Death found in poetry, music, and images both before, and especially after, the Black Death. Late medieval people heard (or saw) the message as a reminder to be ready for Death, which could strike at any time, in a spiritual sense, not just as a call to indulge. Over the next centuries the hoarding isolationists and the dancing fools converged and the focus on sinfulness and salvation was diminished and forgotten, leaving us only with self-centered indulgence in the face of things we can’t, or won’t control: eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

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Screenshot_20200401-081302_TwitterAre we in a crisis? Death is just outside the door in The Feast of Dives, Master of James IV of Scotland, c. 1510-20, from the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum; I took this screenshot of Governor Kevin Stitt’s tweet back in March because I could not quite believe it: it was later taken down. I’m sad to say that Governor Stitt has recently announced that he is the first Governor to test positive for Covid and I hope he makes a speedy recovery. He attended the President’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 (without wearing a mask) but does not believe that it was where he was infected.

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Detail of a photograph of  the Danse Macabre frieze at St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck painted by Bernt Notke in 1463; it was destroyed during World War II.  Ink & watercolor Dance of Death by anonymous German artist, 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; inset of 17th century oil painting of the Dance of Death, Wellcome Library.


The First Crusader

One of the key themes emerging from my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts is the activism and organization of women: there is a paper trail of organized advocacy for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and all sorts of reform and relief. The beginning of that trail might have begun in the 1820s with protests against the Federal government’s policy towards Native Americans: I don’t see a movement but I do see one fierce crusader in Salem. Elizabeth Elkins Sanders (1762-1851) is yet another woman about whom we never hear anything in Salem: she was born into privilege, lived a privileged life, but was aware of said privilege in an age when most of her contemporaries were not, and consequently became a fierce advocate for Native Americans and an equally fierce critic of American cultural imperialism from the 1820s on—expressing views that become much more current a century later. She was not just an armchair observer; she published Conversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828), the First Settlers of New England (1829), and the Tract on Missions (1844) as well as several literary essays and reviews. The intense presidential campaign of 1828, pitting notorious Indian fighter Andrew Jackson against Massachusetts’ native son John Quincy Adams, inspired her to pick up a pen in her sixties: the Tract on Missions was published when she was 82!

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Sanders Circular (3)

Sanders contextConversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America, published by Elizabeth Elkins Sanders during the presidential campaign of 1828; Catherine Beecher’s Circular Addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States (from the Phillips Library, incorrectly attributed to Sanders), a call to action against the pending Indian Removal Act, 1829. Alisse Portnoy’s Their Right to Speak connects the anti-removal movement with the emerging abolitionist movement in the antebellum era.

Elizabeth Sanders (or Saunders) was a Salem representative of a larger movement against Indian removal which included the first national women’s petition campaign, organized by Connecticut educators Catherine Beecher (elder sister of Harriet) and Lydia Sigourney: in response to the Circular addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States nearly 1500 petitions were sent to Washington in 1830. I’m assuming Elizabeth sent hers, and wondering what other causes and organizations were the focus of her “expansive benevolence and strong mature intellect”.

Sanders Feb 22 1851

20200717_180254Salem Observer, February 22, 1851; 39 Chestnut Street, the home of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth E. Sanders.

 


Suffrage Stories

I apologize for my disappearance without a heads-up: the combination of computer problems and travel rendered me postless for a week! I am back with the first of what will be a series of reading lists for the summer, but first some big news: I’ve just received a book contract for the project I’ve been working intermittently but steadily on for the last couple of years, so expect The Practical Renaissance: Information Culture in Early Modern England out next year (or early in 2022) from Bloomsbury! This means that posts on early modern medicine, agriculture, mechanics, and navigation are going to turn up here occasionally, but the blog will also serve as a break from my more-scholarly endeavors: Salem history is still a rich minefield and I will still have a life! As these past few weeks have shown, history in general is as problematic, and public, and current as ever, and here I can indulge, and engage, and weigh in. And in matters more material, I still have my kitchen renovation to show you! (we are in a particularly messy and noisy stage right now).

Though the suffrage centennial has been drowned out by the pandemic and protests of this eventful year, it remains a focus for me. I’m sorry that this notable anniversary is getting lost— along with the bicentennial of my home state of Maine and the 400th anniversary of the passage of the Mayflower. As I am neither an American or modern historian, I really had to read up on the long struggle for suffrage–both in America and Europe–to get the context and perspective I wanted for my #SalemSuffrageSaturdays. The literature on the American and British suffrage movements has grown exponentially over the last few years, and I couldn’t read everything, so in typical academic fashion I started with some key primary sources, read a lot of reviews, narrowed down what I thought might be the essentials, and spread out from there. I was looking for a trans-Atlantic approach, which I didn’t really find, and also more personal stories—and the quest for the latter took me into fictional territory, so I do indeed have a few novels on my top ten (actually eleven) list. I wouldn’t consider these texts sources, of course (although they were certainly well-researched) but they fleshed things out for me. And I have some real suffragist stories too.

Books My Own Story (2)

suffragette-books (4)

Books Suffrage Kitty Marion

Books Broom

Books Collage

Books Picturing (2)

Books Lucy Stone Collage

Books Gilman (6)

Fictional Suffrage Collage (2)

How I learned about the Suffrage movements in the UK and US: 1) Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story (1914), because you’ve got to start with the founders; 2) Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up, Women is my favorite British survey—focusing on personal stories (and from Bloomsbury!) 3) here is our trans-Atlantic activist, Kitty Marion, whose extraordinary life is explored in Fern Riddell’s Death in Ten Minutes; 4) images are so important to this movement—on both sides of the Atlantic—and I’m obsessed with the work of British photographer Christina Broom; 5) and 6) I didn’t really find the writings of the founders of the US movement very accessible or enjoyable, so I went for more recent interpretations: Lisa Tetrault’s Myth of Seneca Falls and Faye Dudden’s Fighting Chance were particularly helpful in explaining some of the divisions in the movement; 7) Allison K. Lange’s brand-new Picturing Political Power explores the very important visual projections of Suffragists in the US; 8) in Massachusetts, it’s all about Lucy Stone, who must have visited Salem 100 times: she is the subject of several works, but I found Sally McMillen’s Lucy Stone: an Unapologetic Life the most helpful; 9) Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898) provides classic context, and 10) and 11) two works of fiction in which Suffragettes and the Suffrage Movement play key roles: Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels and Lucy Ribchester’s The Hourglass Factory.

I couldn’t limit my list to 10 and I had to throw in some fiction: happy reading, everyone, and Happy Fourth!


Feeding Suffrage

Sorry I’m a bit late today with my #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: I’ve migrated up to Maine for several weeks and the wifi situation is a bit challenging! But I think I have it together now. I’m going to move into some national suffrage history for a few weeks and then go back to the parochial, because the long-term suffrage movement was successful ultimately because it operated at several levels: the national and the local, the exterior and the interior. I have been continually impressed, as I studied this movement this year, at how adept the marketing was, with every concern taken into consideration: messaging, branding. graphics, audience. Lately I’ve been reading some wonderful suffrage cookbooks, which in many ways were the perfect venue for the Suffrage message: not too radical, traditional really, but also containing themes of practicality, self-sufficiency, and above all, femininity. The first Suffragist cookbook, the Woman Suffrage Cookery Books, was edited and published by Mrs. Hattie Burr of Boston in 1886 with exactly that message in its forward:  Alarmists of both sexes will shrink back abashed before this cook-book, for at least two recipes, which she has tested with success, will be given over the signature of each fair suffragist who contributes to its pages. It will be a confession book, a proof that, even if they wish to vote, the suffragists cherish a feminine interest in culinary matters.

Suffrage 1886 2 (2)

Suffrage-Cookbook-1890-2nd-ed-2

First and Second Editions of Mrs. Hattie Burr’s Woman Suffrage Cookbook, 1886 & 1890: you can read the text here.

Indeed there was nothing at all alarming about this cookbook: no radical recipes! In addition to recipes for everything from soup to nuts, there are sections on the care and feeding of invalids and helpful household hints, followed by “Eminent Opinions on Woman Suffrage” (starting with Plato!) only at the very end: an appendix. I think the relative banality of this book must have helped the cause considerably, and it certainly inspired regional editions as well as the first British Suffrage cookbook in 1912. I also think it inspired valuable support, in the form of advertising, from commercial food producers, such as Fleishmann’s Yeast (referenced in several of the recipes) and Kellogg’s Cereals. All in all, it seems like the cookbook was a very nourishing genre for the Suffrage movement.

Screenshot_20200605-093743_Chrome

Suffrage Pittsburg 1915

Suffrage British Cookbook 1912 (2)

Suffrage Ad Collage

suffrage all-stirred-up-9781643134529_lg

Suffrage cookbooks from Washington State (1908), western Pennsylvania (1915) and the UK (1912), from the Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection. Fleischmann’s Yeast and Kellogg’s advertisements from the 1890s and 1914. I bet that Laura Kumin’s All Stirred Up, which will be published in August, will have lots more details about the publication and impact of these cookbooks. 


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