Tag Archives: Japan

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.

The Two Mrs. Fenollosas

I came across a dress so beautiful the other day that I started thinking about its owner/wearer, Elizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, wife of the famous “Orientalist” and cultural ambassador Ernest Fenollosa, who happened to grow up in the house right next door to mine here in Salem. Actually “Lizzie” Fenollosa, who was also Salem-born and -raised, was Fenollosa’s first wife, who accompanied him to Japan, where he was eventually appointed Director of the Imperial Museum in Tokyo in 1888. Here is the Worth dress, which the curators of the Philadelphia Museum of Art believe might have been worn for her presentation at the Imperial Court coincidentally with her husband’s appointment. [Correction: please see comment below; Mr. Fenollosa was a professor of philosophy at Tokyo University and a curator at the Imperial Museum, but not its director.]

Fenollosa Dress

Women’s Evening Dress: Bodice and Skirt. Designed by Charles Frederick Worth, English (active Paris), 1825 – 1895. Worn by Mrs. Ernest Fenollosa, c. 1886-1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Owen Biddle, 1978.

I had never seen this stunning dress before but I was not surprised to see it in the collection of the Philadelphia museum, as the Fenollosas’ daughter Brenda was married into the prominent Biddle family of that city in 1913. Her son Owen Biddle and his wife donated the gown (along with another) to the museum, and she herself donated a lovely Meiji scroll from her father’s collection (and in his memory) in 1941. I was surprised to see another Fenollosa-related item in the museum’s collection, however: a photograph of her father’s second wife, Mary McNeil Fenollosa, by the photographer Eva Watson-Schütze, dated 1905. Obviously this item was not donated by the Biddle family, for the Fenollosa divorce was scandalous its day. I have no idea what Brenda’s feelings were, but her mother named Mary as a co-respondent in the 1895 proceedings.

Fenellosa Mary

Portrait of a Woman in Japanese Dress (Wife of Ernest Fenollosa), Eva Watson-Schütze, 1905. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1905. Gift of Harvey S. Shipley Miller and J. Randall Plummer, 2004.

Ernest and Lizzie Fenollosa were childhood sweethearts in Salem; they were married right after his graduation from Harvard and then set off together for Japan, where he took up a position at the Imperial University at Tokyo and became fully immersed in traditional Japanese culture, eventually rising to his post at the Imperial Museum. He converted to Buddhism, but they did not appear to lead an ascetic lifestyle, if their house, their many western visitors (and her dress!) are any indication. During their time in Japan, Fenollosa also acquired a huge collection of traditional Japanese art, which he sold to Boston physician and philanthropist Charles Goddard Weld with the condition that it eventually be donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it now constitutes the Fenollosa-Weld Collection. The Fenollosas returned to Massachusetts in 1890, where he was appointed curator of the Department of Oriental Art at the MFA and organized several high-profile exhibitions. After he took up with Mary McNeil Scott, a twice-married southern secretary at the Museum, both his marriage and his curatorial career were over–although he continued in his scholarly activities. Lizzie and Brenda remained in the Boston area, but Ernest and Mary took off after their marriage: to New York, back to Japan (she had spent time there too, which explains much of their instant connection), to Mobile, Alabama (her hometown), and to London, where he died of a heart attack in 1908.

Fenollosa CollageElizabeth Goodhue Millett Fenollosa, Ernest Fenellosa, Mary McNeil Scott Fenollosa.

The two Mrs. Fenollosas were very different women bound together by one man, as well as their experiences in Japan, I suppose. Elizabeth Fenollosa seems to have been a private woman, although by all accounts she was a gracious hostess and certain details about her divorce did leak out to the papers…..Mary Fenollosa was much more public, writing popular novels under the pseudonym Sidney McCall, poems under her own name, and serving as an advocate for her husband’s work after his death. Truth Dexter, her first and most popular novel, tells the story of a southern wife (the title character) whose marriage is endangered by a brazen Boston socialite! That was too much for Lizzie, who told the New York Times that her intellectual ex-husband must have collaborated on the book as it contained too many little-known details of their lives together. I think that book, plus the fact that she’s a Salem girl, puts me on Team Lizzie, but both women certainly lived colorful lives that took them far from their places of origin.

Fenollosa House Buffum Street

Fenollosa House Japan Harvard Houghton

From Salem to Tokyo: Elizabeth Fenollosa’s childhood home on Buffum Street in Salem, and the Tokyo home she shared with Ernest, Fenollosa Papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Wayward Wisteria

I walk to work along a street named Wisteria, where there is no wisteria to be found, and planted wisteria in my backyard 12 years ago, but it has yet to bloom; nevertheless, it is wisteria-blooming time nearly everywhere else in Salem. Maybe even just past-time, so I took a walk and tried to capture some good shots of the exuberant purple and white blooms, which was not too difficult. The great thing about wisteria it that it needs support, so you get architecture and flowers at the same time. Even when the wisteria was not in bloom–as in my backyard, or on my next-door neighbors’ beautiful fence, or the arbor at the Ropes Mansion, it was still quite abundant in its more restrained way. Given the east Asian source of wisteria, I can imagine Salem’s merchants and adventurers bringing it back from China and Japan in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, carefully packed in their ships’ holds, to adorn their houses, fences and outbuildings–and so it does.

Wisteria at my next-door neighbors’ (side and back) and across Chestnut Street:

Wisteria 005

Wisteria 083

Wisteria 080

On a Tudor “automobile house” on Botts Court:

Wisteria 025

Wisteria 019

The Ropes Garden and Federal Court:

Wisteria 040

Wisteria 034

Wisteria 029

And the surreal wisteria tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji Gardens in Kitakyushu, Japan, via Slate.com.

Wisteria Tunnel

Salem’s “Japanese House”

Ample evidence exists to demonstrate the varied connections between Salem and Japan, both in the past and the present.  Just last week, my next-door neighbor was hosting a group of Japanese filmmakers, here in town to shoot the childhood home and environment of Salem native and Japanese cultural minister Ernest Fenollosa (1858-1907).  The Peabody Essex Museum has wonderful Japanese collections and a beautiful Japanese garden, no doubt due, in large part, to the advocacy of its long-term director, Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925).  Morse was also responsible, in a way, for another tangible symbol of the Salem-Japan connection:  the so-called “Japanese House”  on Laurel Street.

This house was designed by the prominent and prolific Boston architectural firm Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul for a young man named Bunkio Matsuki (1867-1940), who arrived in Salem as a teenager, accompanied by a friend and armed with his acquaintance with Morse, whom he had met during one of the latter’s earlier trips to Japan.  Matsuki knocked on the front door of Morse’s house (which is located right next door to the Japanese house; I’ll write about it in a future post once I figure out a bit more about its equally distinctive architectural style) and began a new life in Salem:  graduating from Salem High School, setting up an import business, marrying his landlord’s daughter, and ultimately building his distinct house in 1893.  Below is a photograph from the 1903 publication Prominent Americans interested in Japan and Prominent Japanese in America, and an advertisement for Matsuki’s shop in Boston from the same year.

I imagine that the architects at Andrews, Jacques and Rantoul must have relied on Morse’s 1888 book Japanese Homes and their Surroundings for their design of the Matsuki house, as it is full of plans and detailed drawings.  I know that a Japanese carpenter was employed for its construction; even though he trained to be a Buddhist monk back in Japan, Matsuki was apparently from a family of craftsmen, whose contacts would serve him well over his long career.  His roles as a cross-cultural ambassador, entrepreneur and preservationist of sorts is highlighted in this 1903 auction notice from the New York Times, describing objects which belong to Mr. Bunkio Matsuki, a descendant of the Tategawa family of artist-artisans and builders of temples, who has had the advantage of being a Japanese and a lover of curios.  He has been able to collect objects from dismantled temples and those which were reorganized when an attempt was made from governmental sources to change the religion of Japan.  The Boxer troubles in China have also thrown things his way, and the result is a very curious and interesting lot of things.

The house yesterday, during our first serious snow.

The Beginning of Branding

About two-thirds of the way through my summer graduate course on the Expansion of Europe in the early modern era we have already identified three examples of early branding, at least a century before this modern form of advertising is supposed to have been invented.  First, we have the logo of the Dutch East India Company, very visible on all Company ships from the early seventeenth century, then we have the brand of piracy, the immediately-recognizable skull-and-crossbones, and last but not least, Josiah Wedgwood’s abolitionist medallion, first appearing in the later eighteenth century in Britain and then crossing the Atlantic to appear in American anti-slavery materials.

One of the world’s first multinational corporations, organized for long-distance trade to the Indian Ocean and beyond, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) became the chief importer of Asian goods and wares into Europe in the seventeenth century, opening the doors that Salem ships would sail through two centuries later.  The Dutch were the only Europeans that the Japanese would trade with, and their close commercial connection is evidenced by these two items:  an eighteenth-century hand-colored woodblock print (with the VOC logo clearly visible on the pale flag in the center) and a late seventeenth-century Arita charger made for the European market (from Christies):

Everyone is familiar with the pirate flag, and I wrote an earlier post on its early history.  The flag below, dating from the later eighteenth century, is from the Museum of London’s ongoing exhibition Piratesthe Captain Kidd Story.  This logo’s evolution from piracy to poison is another story altogether.

And here is another famous eighteenth-century logo,one of the first political brands and a transatlantic one at that:  the pioneering industrialist Josiah Wedgwood’s Am I Not A Man And A Brother medallion, made for the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the 1780s.  It became very fashionable and effective in Britain, and crossed the Atlantic after 1800.  Below is an original Wedgwood slave medallion from the Victoria & Albert Museum, and a woodcut illustration from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1837 abolitionist poem Our Countrymen in Chains (Library of Congress).

These examples certainly predate modern advertising, but I think we can go even further back to see the origins of branding, at least to the emergence of printing and printers’ trademarks, or devices, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Unique devices were fashioned by printers as marketing tools in this competitive new industry, and discerning buyers/readers would look for established marks.  The dolphin and anchor device of the famous Venetian printer-publisher Aldus Manutius certainly helped to establish his “brand”, but my favorite device is the cat and mouse (rat?) mark of his fellow Italian printer Melchoirre Sessa (fl. 1510-35).

Sources of Devices:  “First Impressions” Digital Exhibition at the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester (Manutius–you can also make your own mark there) and the University of Florida’s Printers’ Devices Database (Sessa).

Something about Cherries

When you put Japan and America and Spring together you automatically get cherries, right?  I have these cards in my ephemera file (under “fruit people”, a surprisingly large category) and was never sure what to do with them or how to tie it them to anything I’ve been writing about, but then I realized (from the Library of Congress’s Today in History site) that this weekend marks the anniversary of the first planting of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington in 1912, so there you go.  I love the sentiment on the first card (Cheer Up!  Cherries are Ripe) and it is clear from the last two that cherries make everything better, even cough syrup.


At about the same time that drug and beverage companies were adding cherry flavor to their recipes (the first “organic” additive) thousands of Japanese cherry trees were planted in Washington. I’ve seen the spring cherry blossoms in Washington several times, and they are beautiful.  You would think that a gift of friendship from Japan to the United States would be a simple and somewhat spontaneous gesture but apparently it took some time to germinate.  The woman behind Washington’s cherry trees was Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, one of many Americans who travelled to Japan during the Meiji Restoration, fell in love with its landscape and culture, and wanted to take something back home (I wrote about another here).  It took Miss Scidmore, a writer, photographer, and the first female board member of the National Geographic Society, several decades to bring about the planting of Japanese cherry trees in her native Washington.  The key moment came when she was able to convince First Lady Helen Herron Taft of this necessity, and on March 27, 1912 Mrs. Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador planted two Yoshino cherry trees on the Potomoc River’s Tidal Basin bank, the first of over 3000 donated to the United States by Japan in that year.  In 1965, another 3800 trees were sent over by Japan, further identifying the American capital with cherry blossoms.

The Tidal Basin in the late 1920s, Theodor Horydczak photograph, Library of Congress

Crowning the Queen of the Cherry Blossoms (the daughter of the Japanese Ambassador) in 1937, Library of Congress


Miss Scidmore was not the only westerner entranced by Japanese cherry trees.  More locally, Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, employed intrepid “plant hunter” Ernest Henry Wilson to find just the right Asian cherry tree varieties for the park.  The two men are pictured below in 1915, before a flourishing specimen.  Salem’s famed horticulturist Robert Manning was also an admirer and cultivator of cherry trees, though more of the “English” variety (brought to England from the Continent by Henry VIII in the early sixteenth century) than the Asian ones.

Cherries from Robert Manning's Book of Fruits, 1838

Of course, the other reason why Miss Scidmore wanted cherry trees installed in Washington was their connection to its namesake, the first President.  All forms of popular culture from the period make it clear that Washington the man was inextricably intertwined with the cherry tree he cut down as a boy (thus revealing his truthful nature):  what better way to compensate for this mistake than by planting thousands of replacements in Washington the city?

Washington trade cards and Journal magazine cover from New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Washington cherry jell-o advertisement, Duke University Library Ad* Access Collection.


I’ve been thinking about Japan since the March 11 earthquake, as of course we all are.  I’ve got two friends there, and two Japanese students who have family and friends back home, but everyone is in the South and safe and sound, or relatively so.  I always like to get some historical perspective on big events, whether good or bad, and the twentieth century appears particularly dynamic and destructive for Japan:  since 1891, there have been 8 earthquakes measuring more than 8.0 on the Richter scale and there have been hundreds of earthquakes measuring over 6.0 in the modern era.  Earthquakes must be woven into the very psyche of Japanese culture.

The most destructive earthquake in terms of mortality was the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 which killed between 100,000 and 150,000 people and devastated Tokoyo and its surrounding region.  There are several photograph archives of this disaster (Library of Congress, Brown University Library), but I prefer to showcase the works of  contemporary woodblock print artists. The works below are from the online auction site artelino.

Kancho Oda, 1923

Tekiho Nishizawa, 1924

Shiun Kondo, Tsunami at Suji

The traditional woodblock printers of Japan worked feverishly to document the Great Kanto earthquake, but perhaps even more intensely to capture its longer-term impact, including the rapid rebuilding of the capital city.  It’s this resiliancy that is so impressive about Japan and the Japanese people.  The next great earthquake after Kanto occured ten years later (just after the reconstruction was completed) and was accompanied by a terrible tsunami that swept away thousands of homes.  Just months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan experienced the Nankaido (8.1) earthquake.  In 1995 the Great Hanshin earthquake destroyed the port of Kobe and killed over 6000 people.  And then Sendei, last week and ongoing.

%d bloggers like this: