Tag Archives: books

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.

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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 really. 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.

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Suffrage Pittsburg 1915

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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. 

 

 


A Feminine Focus in the Garden

It wasn’t just Memorial Day: I feel like I’ve finally come to the end of a long string of obligations and am ready to focus on house, garden, reading, wandering about. We’re finally renovating our kitchen, so that will be a major focus for the next few months: I’ll do a “before” post next week, before nearly everything is torn out of that space, and then we’ll be able to celebrate the “after” later. The garden is looking good, although I fear it will turn into a construction zone. I do have a few last presentations—on Zoom of course–to give to several women’s organizations about the history of Salem women and the quest for suffrage. It is unfortunate, but certainly understandable, that that big anniversary is being overwhelmed by the pandemic, but I want to mark it in the best way I possibly can. As I was thinking about women’s history—and gardening at the same time—-I realized that a big part of garden history is women’s history, in all periods, as women are always charged with provisioning in one way or another throughout history. Certainly this was not an original thought, but it nevertheless led me down various trails, and I ended up spending a rather blissful Memorial Day (after I gave a speech!) looking though the photographs of women photographers over the last century or so. This is just one small aspect of the intersection of women’s history/garden history: I’m going to explore more this summer.

When I’m interested in something, I’m generally interested in something in the past, and then I bring it forward, but this exploration started with two contemporary garden photographers whose work I had been admiring online and in a book I just received:  the Luxembourg photographer Marianne Majerus and the American photographer Stacy Bass. The former is almost like a painter in the garden; likewise the latter is a master (mistress) of light.

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Garden Marianne Majerus Garden Images

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Stacy Bass Gate (3)Photographs ©Marianne Majerus Garden Images and ©Stacy Bass: much, much more @ Marianne Majerus Garden Images and Stacy Bass Photography.

Is there a tradition of women’s garden photography? I had to go back, following English and American lines (even though Majerus is from the Continent she was trained in England and seems to photograph a lot of English gardens!). Though not strictly a garden photographer, I explored the wonderful work of still-life photographer Tessa Traeger, and through Traeger’s portrait rediscovered the AMAZING Valerie Finnis, whom I identified primarily as the namesake of variant of artemisia before I dug a bit deeper: what an extraordinary plantswoman and photographer! Even though she was a serious botanist, gardening seems like such a social activity for Finnis: she like to photograph people in their gardens, and she was also very, very fashionable, like her subject below, Rhoda, Lady Birley. I’ve just ordered Ursula Buchan’s collection of Finnis’s photographs, Garden People, and I can’t wait to receive it.

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Tessa Traeger Valerie FinnisFinnis CollagePhotographs by Tessa Traeger, including her marvelous portrait of Valerie Finnis in 2000, National Portrait Gallery. Garden People includes this amazing Valerie Finnis portrait of Rhoda, Lady Birley.

The Smithsonian and Library of Congress have several archival collections of women photographers, including those who specialized, or at least ventured into, garden photography: I love the dreamy mid-century images of Molly (Maida Babson) Adams (1918-2003) who photographed gardens up and down the Eastern Seaboard over her 40+ year career. I did not identify the pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) with gardens before this little visual journey of mine, but they certainly constituted a sizable percentage of her impressive output.

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Johnston CollagePhotographs by Molly Adams of gardens in Maine and Massachusetts, and Frances Benjamin Johnston of gardens in Virginia, Long Island, and Rhode Island, Smithsonian Institution and Library of Congress. 

And I ended up with the charming photographs taken by another pioneering woman photographer, Etheldreda Laing (1872-1960), who experimented with the first color photography process—autochrome—by taking wonderful photographs of her daughters Janet and Iris at their home, Bury Knowle House in Oxford, over a succession of summers between 1908 and 1914: before-the-deluge images indeed! And also, I think, the female gaze.

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Garden Iris and Janet Laing c 1914The Laing daughters, Iris (younger) and Janet (older) in their mother’s photographs, 1908-14. More on autochromes here.


Mr. Berry’s Portfolio

The pen-in-hand sketching architect is one of my favorite perspectives of Salem’s material landscape, and there were quite a few, from the 1870s on. Salem was an important design source, from the Centennial through the height of the Colonial Revival in the 1920s. I recently discovered a slim volume of hand-drawn houses by a young architect from southern Maine, William E. Berry, which does not contain any Salem houses but is nonetheless so completely charming that I wanted to feature it: I love his drawings, which are much more impressionistic than measured, as well as his captions—even his chosen fonts! I was not surprised to learn that he was a friend and colleague of Arthur Little, another architect who sketched old buildings along the New England coast for inspiration: if you spend an hour or so looking at Little’s sketches in Early New England Interiors (1878) and Berry’s Pen Sketches of Old Houses (1874) you will be plunged into the world of the young New England architect of the era, engaging with the design details all around him (unfortunately I don’t think there are any similar volumes by her, although it would be interesting to compare if there were).

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Barry 3The “OLD Mansion” above is the Sewall House or Coventry Hall in York, Maine, my hometown: growing up in a large shingle house in the Harbor, this was always my touchstone for what a “proper” house should look like.

Barry 4 (2)Can anyone tell me about this house in Saco, Maine?

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Grove HallWOW. This is (was) the “Dearborn House” in Grove Hall, in Boston. You can read more about this amazing house here, or at least the search for more information about this amazing house. The photograph is by A.H. Folsom, c. 1868, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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Barry 6 (2) The Tufts House in Medford, an unknown (???) Boston house, and some exterior and interior details, including amazing “portable paneling”. Mr. Berry also went down south, but I am not going with him.


New Deal Salem

A couple of years ago I complained about the lack of WPA murals in any of Salem’s public buildings: this struck me, as an impression and little else, as a lack of New Deal investment in Depression-era Salem. I’ve had time to survey the paper trail now and boy was I wrong: Salem benefited tremendously from the work of New Deal agencies, and not just in terms of its infrastructure but its culture as well. So this post will serve to set the record straight. I don’t think there is a Salem neighborhood that lacked a WPA project: there was work on different installations around Salem Harbor, at two Salem islands (Winter and Baker’s), downtown, in Forest River Park in South Salem and at Greenlawn Cemetery in North Salem. And so many agencies worked here, fanning out from a major field office in Barton Square with 300 Federal employees at first, and then a smaller office situated in a renovated Old Town Hall. Whether it mitigated the impact of the Great Depression effectively is another inquiry, but the Federal government certainly had a presence in Salem in the 1930s, and left its mark.

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New Deal Machine ShopNews clips from Works Progress Administration Bulletins, 1936-39, Boston Public Library; National Youth Administration Photos and Records, NARA.

Well of course parking lots, wharves, and cemetery plots were necessary and I think the timely renovation of Old Town Hall was key, but my favorite WPA agencies were those charged with more historical and cultural endeavors, most especially the Historical Records Survey (HRS) and the Historic Architectural Buildings Survey (HABS). Salem was fortunate in that it had a demonstrated commitment to the preservation of historic records and buildings, in the forms of the long-established Essex Institute and concurrent initiative to establish the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, but the HRS was instrumental at documenting essential records of American history across the US at their most endangered moment. It was originally part of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project, but it spun off on its own and then became a unit of the Research and Records Program in 1939, charged with compiling indexes to major genealogical sources such as vital statistics, cemetery internments, military records, and newspapers. The reports of the HRS are nothing short of heroic (Salem actually needs one now; I have no idea of the location or state of many of its public records) but little interesting items were also published in the 1930s, showing how historical research was interwoven into daily life. And as for HABS: is it impossible to underestimate the value of its photographs, measured drawings, and documented details of Salem’s built landscape, and with over 600 entries Salem was particularly favored by these dedicated professionals, working away in large field office in Boston.

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WPA LastHABS records, Library of Congress.

Another WPA cultural agency that seems to have been very active in Salem during the later 1930s was the Federal Theatre Project, which staged a succession of productions at the Empire Theatre on Esssex Street and several benefits around town—several premieres, no less. I can’t discern similar activity on the part of the Federal Art Project in Salem, though I suppose Salem artists could have exhibited at the Federal Art Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston. As I was researching the FAP, I did learn that it was not the chief administrating agency of all of those lovely Post Office murals which started me off on my charge years ago, but rather the Fine Arts Department of the Treasury Department. Another cultural agency which was under the aegis of both the WPA and the Federal Art Project was the Index of American Design, which commissioned artists (over 400) to create watercolor illustrations (over 18,000) of intrinsically American decorative art objects, including several Salem items.

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Federal Theatre Project and Federal Art Project Posters from the Library of Congress; Salem Index of American Art renderings from the collection at the National Gallery of Art.

Finally, I don’t think I can conclude this survey of the New Deal’s contributions to Salem’s physical and cultural landscape without a brief mention of the Massachusetts volume in the American Guide Series produced by the Federal Writers Project:  Massachusetts: a Guide to its Places and People (1937). This book was a bit controversial in its time as it was one of the first American Guide books and it definitely revealed a pro-labor perspective in its first part, which introduces readers to the Massachusetts people and their institutions. It certainly reflects its time and its intent, but regardless, the second part of the book contains absolutely amazing walking and driving tours of Massachusetts cities and counties. I actually drive around with it in my car! There are several walking tours of Salem and they are much better than that stupid Red Line thing we have now; we should just arm all of our visitors with a copy of the WPA map to the city and they would be far better served.

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Molly Saunders

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

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

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

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Sarah’s Spectacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Fair’s the Thing

Like everyone else, I’m thinking about healthcare workers these days, so I wanted to focus on Salem women who were physicians or nurses for this week’s #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: I’ve found THREE practicing women physicians in Salem before 1900 and lots of wartime nurses. But I don’t have their stories straight yet: I need more context, more details, more narrative. They are not ready, or more accurately, I am not ready for THEM. So I thought I would focus on philanthropic ladies’ fairs in general, and one fair in particular, as these events were a major expression of the civic engagement of Salem women in the mid-nineteenth century. Starting in the 1830s and extending through and beyond the Civil War, Salem ladies held fairs for a host of benevolent societies and causes: seamen’s aid, widows and orphans of seamen, anti-slavery, the Sanitary Commission and other efforts to support the Union army, temperance, suffrage. These fairs were months in the planning, raised significant funds, and got a lot of press. They were not only a major form of civic engagement for women, but also of civic action and association. It seems impossible to underestimate them, although I’m sure I’m only dealing with the veneer of Salem society that had the time and the resources to dedicate to such endeavors. But still, you’ve got to follow your sources, and many of mine lead me to fairs.

Ladies Fair Boston 1858 (2)Ladies Fair for the Poor in Boston, 1858. Boston Public Library

I believe that the first fair in Salem was in 1831, but the first fair that made a big splash and set the standard for all of the fairs to follow was held two years later at Hamilton Hall as a benefit for the newly-established New England Asylum for the Education of the Blind (later the Perkins School for the Blind), the first institution of its kind in the country. Its founding director, Samuel Gridley Howe, has developed a reputation as the authoritarian husband of abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe of Battle Hynm of the Republic fame, but in the 1830s he was a handsome and dashing doctor (and also a passionate abolitionist) who had served six years in that most romantic of conflicts, the Greek Revolution, and wrote about it. It’s easy to understand how and why he inspired devotion among the ladies of both Salem and Boston: there were competing fairs for his school in 1833, which drew a lot of attention to both. There were quite a few articles on the rival fairs in a variety of newspapers, and we also have the Fair program, as well as the substantive research of Megan Marshall, who identifies Elizabeth Palmer Peabody as one of the prime movers behind the Salem event in her Pulitzer-prize-winning book The Peabody Sisters. Three Women who Ignited American Romanticism. 

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Peabody Sisters (3)Samuel Gridley Howe in the 1850s; Megan Marshall’s great book, although I also like the earlier text on the Peabody sisters: Louise Hall Tharp’s Peabody Sisters of Salem, which I read over and over again as a teenager—I think it’s one of the reasons I ended up in Salem! A really good example of collective biography.

Elizabeth was the eldest of the famous three Peabody sisters of Salem (who deserve their own post; I can’t believe I haven’t written about them yet!), all of whom became intertwined in a Boston world of romanticism and reform. Middle sister Mary would marry educator Horace Mann, and youngest sister Sophia would eventually marry Nathaniel Hawthorne, but in the 1830s they were all struggling in somewhat-genteel poverty. Elizabeth had made the acquaintance of Howe (through Mann) in Boston, and believed in him and his cause, but she also saw the fair as a way to promote the artistic talents of Sophia and possibly raise the family’s dwindling fortunes. This explains why Sophia’s name—(along with that of Hawthorne cousin Ann Savage)—are the only names in the entire program for the Ladies Fair.

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Screenshot_20200320-064501_DriveCatalogue of Articles to be Offered for Sale at the Ladies’ Fair at Hamilton Hall in Chestnut Street, Salem, on Wednesday, April 10, 1833 for the Benefit of the New England Asylum for the Blind, National Library of Medicine @National Institute of Health.

It is so great to have the entire catalog for this fair, evidence of the creative craftsmanship—and scavenging I suspect—of Salem ladies! Lots of dolls and figures (I would love to see the “large” Queen Elizabeth): so much needlework, so many pincushions, and the two “splendid” paintings by Miss Sophia Peabody, of a place she had never seen—but would much later, after she married Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was a huge success in terms of proceeds, a fact acknowledged even by the Boston papers, and inspired many repeat performances.

Ladies Fair Boston Post April 12 1833

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20200321_091844$3000! in proceeds reported in the Boston Post; Hamilton Hall this morning: still the site of much civic engagement, but unfortunately not today, or for a while……..

 


The Knave of Hearts

I have featured hearts in random ways for Valentine’s Day posts in the past: heart-shaped maps, the heart-in-hand motif, hearts seized by love during the Renaissance, hearts as emblems, the Queen of Hearts. This week I’m featuring one of her Wonderland associates—sort of–the knave of hearts: the title character of a beautiful book written by Louise Saunders (wife of editor extraordinaire Max Perkins), illustrated by Maxfield Parrish at the height of his powers, and published in 1925 in a large quarto encased in a black paper box with a gold printed title. This was Parrish’s last illustration commission, and he worked on the plates for three years, a labor of friendship for his (Cornish, NH) neighbor Louise. In typical Parrish fashion, the illustrations are positively luminous and their colors deeply saturated, but they also bear a sense of whimsy and the “everday,” as he supposedly featured items from his own household. The text presents a play, commencing with a raised curtain and involving tarts, of course, and not only is the title character—clad in “Parrish blue”—not a knave at all, but a chivalrous hero, whose theft is a plot designed to mask the shaky baking skills of the beautiful Lady Violetta.

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The Knave: All my life I have had a craving for tarts of any kind. There is something in my nature that demands tarts—something in my constitution that cries out for them—and I obey my constitution as rigidly as does the Chancellor seek to obey his. I was in the garden reading, as is my habit, when a delicate odor floated to my nostrils, a persuasive odor, a seductive, light brown, flaky odor, an odor so enticing, so suggestive of tarts fit for the gods—- that I could stand it no longer. It was stronger than I. With one gesture I threw reputation, my chances for future happiness, to the winds, and leaped through the window. The odor led me to the oven; I seized a tart, and, eating it, experienced the one perfect moment of my existence. After having eaten that one tart, my craving for other tarts has disappeared. I shall live with the memory of that first tart before me forever, or die content, having tasted true perfection.

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The Knave of Hearts: An alternative Wonderland in a book by Louise Saunders with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925.


A Feminine Focus

The Reverend William Bentley’s Diary is justly famous as a detailed source of much of Federal-era Salem’s history, but I think that three memoirs written by Salem women deserve a bit more storied reputation as sources: Marianne C.D. Silsbee’s Half Century in Salem (1886), Eleanor Putnam’s (the pseudonym of Harriet Bates) Old Salem (1886), and Caroline Howard King’s When I Lived in Salem 1822-1866 (1937). Of these three reminiscences, I find myself returning to Silsbee’s Half Century again and again, so I thought I would feature her on my third Salem Suffrage Saturday post. She is of the next generation, and in a much more enviable position, than the Hawthorne sisters of last week’s post: I think she was also a working woman (like all women!), but by choice rather than necessity.

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20200114_111551_20200120094207958A Half Century in Salem, and two photographs of Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee from her 1861 photographic album at the Phillips Library in Rowley (PHA 58): the first dated 1851 and the second 1861.

Marianne Cabot Devereux was born in Salem in 1812 to Eliza Dodge Devereux and Humphrey Devereux: I believe that her father, who had been captured by the British during the War of 1812 and imprisoned on Bermuda, was not present at her birth. Upon his release and return, Humphrey eventually moved his family into a Chestnut Street mansion, but Marianne’s early life was spent elsewhere: I’m not sure exactly where her childhood residence was, but she remembered spending a lot of time at her maternal grandmother’s house on Front Street. Around the time that the Devereux family moved to Chestnut Street, Humphrey commissioned a pair of portraits of himself and his wife by Gilbert Stuart: I was thrilled to discover the latter in the collection of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, but I could only find a heliotype copy of Mr. Devereux’s portrait in the The Pickering Genealogy. 

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Silsbee Humphrey Devereux Pickering Genaology Vol 1 (2)

Mrs. Devereux looks rosy-cheeked in her Stuart portrait, which apparently pleased her very much (her dress apparently was not as pleasing, so the artist Chester Harding later repainted the ruff and drapery) but she was in fact an invalid, and died eleven years after this portrait, when Marianne was sixteen. I’m on the precipice on the dreaded psycho-history here, but I think that Marianne’s reverence for older women, so apparent in A Half Century as well as other works, might stem from her mother’s illness and death. I’m on stronger ground stating that the early years covered in A Half Century were based on her mother’s letters to Marianne, rather than her own reminiscences. So you kind of get a double feminine focus in this text, which dwells on food, shops, schools, entertainments, dress, homes—the life of women, or should I say relatively wealthy women—as well as “external” events: Lafayette’s visit in 1824, when the first steamship line commenced trips to Boston. The book is much more focused on personalities than events however, and women really pop out: the honorable Elizabeth Sanders (who will definitely be the subject of a later post), the charming Mrs. Remond, who catered all the meals at her beloved Hamilton Hall.

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Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee expressed herself a bit more publicly, but she was a traditional woman of her time, focused on her family and friends. She married Nathaniel Silsbee Jr., son of a U.S. Senator and later two-term Mayor of Salem in 1829 and moved into the Silsbee mansion on the Common (now undergoing a major renovation and expansion). They had five children, two of whom, George and her namesake Marianne, died in childhood. The Silsbees left Salem for Boston in 1862 when he became Treasurer of Harvard, and there was another move to Milton following his retirement. Throughout this time she wrote poems and reminiscences, some published, some not. Her first publication, Memory and Hope, a compilation of mourning poems edited and introduced by her, was issued anonymously in 1851 (one can understand her interest in this topic given the early deaths of two children), and thereafter there are published children’s rhymes, a handwritten journal of poetry entitled My Grandmother’s Mirror, A New England Idyll (a reference to her maternal Dodge grandmother, who was a Pickering), a book about the Boston Ladies Club, and finally A Half Century in Salem. 

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20200121_111833The Silsbee Mansion on Salem Common in 1884, George H. Walker; Memory and Hope (1851); Title page of My Grandmother’s Mirror (Essex County Collection, Phillips Library, E S585.3 1878).

Much of her writings dwell on home life, social life, all the little things that surround one’s daily existence: one poem in My Grandmother’s Mirror creates a scene in the old Pickering house, while another is written from the perspective of a woman who dwelt within the border, of the town of peace and order, Our pleasant little Salem, on the margins of the sea surrounded by her children and children’s children. Yet Mrs. Silsbee was also an active and engaged woman: a mayor’s wife who carried on a long personal correspondence with abolitionist Lydia Maria Child and whose personal photograph album compiled in 1861 contains as many photographs of soldiers and politicians as it does her own children and grandchildren. Most of the men in uniform are her own family, including her older brother, George H. Devereux, former adjutant general of Massachusetts, and his soon-to be heroic sons, Arthur F. Devereux, commander of the Salem Light Infantry and later the Massachusetts 19th at Gettysburg, and John F., a Captain in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, as it was perhaps impossible to separate the private and public spheres at this particular time. Several photographs of President Lincoln are included, but also an image of what I can only presume to be the family cat! When it was over, once can hardly blame Marianne Silsbee for desiring to look back to a dimmer, and thus more pleasant past.

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The private and the public: Mrs. Silsbee’s poetry and President Lincoln in her photograph album: Phillips Library E S585.3 (1878) and PHA 58 (1861).


Salem Picturesque

I don’t think the word “picturesque” could be applied to the city of Salem in 2020: certainly some residential neighborhoods, but the major arteries of the city, which both access and divide said neighborhoods, are increasingly lined with residential, commercial, and even public buildings of which no one could possibly ever state, much less believe, that aesthetics was the highest criteria of construction (or even a consideration). I have no idea what the priorities of Salem’s planning department might be besides more density, but I am sure that “it’s better than what was there before” is the sole aesthetic standard. The Spring semester starts this week, which means on my “commute” I have to find creative ways of avoiding the MONSTROUS new Hampton Inn rising and sprawling on lower Washington Street, which is now the street of banal buildings (and the Bewitched statue, of course). It’s too big, too impossible not to see, so I’ll just have to close my eyes (when walking, not driving). As usual, when the present is objectionable, I always retreat to the past, so obviously a title like Salem Picturesque is appealing! It’s a slim volume of just 23 photographs, published in the 1880s by the Lithotype Publishing Company in Gardner, Massachusetts. It features select “Public Buildings, Churches, and Street and Birds’ Eye Views” of Salem, Massachusetts”: to be fair to the present, Salem was a densely-settled industrial city in the later nineteenth century, so not every quarter was picturesque, and this book features only those that were. Also, and again: someone has been cleaning up after all those horses! Still, there was an apparent striving to make the public part of the city aesthetically pleasing at that time which is not present now, in terms of preservation, maintenance, and most especially new construction. I’m nostalgic.

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screenshot_20200114-154003_flickrSalem Common/Washington Square 

screenshot_20200114-154012_flickrLanding at the Willows

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screenshot_20200114-154213_flickrCourthouses on Federal Street

screenshot_20200114-154241_flickrThe City Almshouse

screenshot_20200114-154245_flickrPhillips Wharf: the Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron Company.

screenshot_20200114-154024_flickrCorner of Norman, Summer & Chestnut Streets

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screenshot_20200114-154018_flickrEssex Street

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screenshot_20200114-154233_flickrChestnut Street

screenshot_20200114-154136_flickrCorner of Flint and Warren Streets

screenshot_20200114-154143_flickrBroad Street

I’m also nostalgic to see pictures of houses lost to the Great Salem Fire in 1914 on Warren and Broad Streets—and the Bulfinch Almshouse. Salem Picturesque is just one of the interesting Flickr albums of the State Library of Massachusetts.


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