In honor of all those women who struggled for decades to become enfranchised, here in Salem and across the United States, I am dedicating Saturdays in 2020 to stories of Salem women as my own personal commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. I am going to follow the example of the Salem Woman’s Suffrage Club, which met both monthly and annually in the second half of the nineteenth century: the monthly meetings were reserved for newsworthy speakers and expedient strategy, but the annual meetings were all about highlighting women’s contributions to many realms, over time: culture and even “daily life”, not just politics. So on Saturdays I will be featuring some prominent suffragists, but also artists, authors, businesswomen, educators, housewives, and socialites and women who defy simple characterization. I’ve already written about quite a few women on the blog over the past nine years (just click on the “Women’s History ” category in the lower right-hand corner) but there are many more whose stories remain untold. I don’t think I’ll have any problem filling my Saturday posts (although please forward suggestions!) and today’s post is a preview of what (or who) is coming.
2020 Suffragists in the Rose Bowl Parade, Getty Images.
Artists & Artist-Entrepreneurs: I’ve posted about quite a few women artists, including the famous Fidelia Bridges, but there are more to be discovered. I am on the trail of a Salem silhouette artist, a Salem miniaturist, and an early Salem photographer, and I already have all I need to write about a succession of early twentieth-century artist-entrepreneurs, including furniture restorer and stencilist Helen Hagar, the very successful Sarah Symonds, and Jenny Brooks, who taught embroidery and sold “ye olde” cross stitch patterns at the turn of the century. Like Mary Harrod Northend, these women were selling Salem craftsmanship and artistry, in sharp contrast to their near-contemporary Daniel Low, who was peddling witch wares.
Helen Hagar in 1915, courtesy the Local History Resource Center at the Peabody Institute Library. After her graduation from Peabody High School that year, Miss Hagar moved to Salem and lived there until her death in 1984, working for the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities and then the National Park Service to live in and conduct tours of the Derby House. She became an expert on traditional stenciling, and lectured and taught on its history, as well as producing some of her own stenciling work on tole and wooden objects and partnering with various antique dealers like Ethelwyn Shepard (flyer courtesy Historic New England). A cross stitch pattern by the Jenny Brooks Company, located at One Cambridge Street, Hagley Museum & Library.
I’ve written about several Salem female novelists (notably Katherine Butler Hathaway and Maria Cummins) but no authors of nonfiction I believe, or diarists. Right now I am fascinated by the formidable Elizabeth Elkins Sanders, who was surely the most vocal critic of Andrew Jackson and defender of Native Americans in 1820s Salem. She was at the forefront of an emerging progressive tradition in Salem, and more than that, she was an early feminist: her Conversations Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828) is written in the form of a dialogue between mother and daughter.
So many Salem businesswomen! In the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century, the nineteenth century, and the twentieth (and now, of course). It will be hard to showcase them all; I’ll just have to follow my sources. Many dressmakers and milliners, laundresses, bakers, and shopkeepers. I’ve just scratched the surface of the entrepreneurship of the amazing Remond family: while the famous abolitionist Sarah (who gets all the attention, understandably, but still) was in England and Italy her hardworking sisters (and her mother) were back here, baking, catering, hairdressing, completely dominating the wig industry in Massachusetts, all while serving on abolitionist and suffrage committees. So they need more attention, for sure—and I really hope to illuminate Caroline Remond Putnam’s particular role in the suffrage movement. There are a succession of female tavern-keepers I’m trailing, and also the various enterprises of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s unmarried cousins, one of whom died in possession of an estate valued at $40,000 by the Reverend William Bentley. Famed female shopkeepers appear in memoirs from the later nineteenth century—Mrs. Bachelder’s, Mrs. Harris’s, Miss Plummer’s (the social center of Salem in the 1890s according to James Duncan Phillips) and in the early twentieth century, there seems to have been a significant subset of women antique dealers. And of course we must not forget Salem’s first woman printer, Mary Crouch, short-lived as her time in Salem might have been.
Goldthwaite & Shapley, Dressmakers, 269 Essex Street, Salem. Andrew Dickson White Architectural Collection, Cornell University Library.
Educators: another huge category, incorporating teachers in private dame schools, public schools, and of course the “Normal School” for teacher education established in 1854, now Salem State University. I’ve posted on the first African-American educator in Salem, Clarissa Lawrence, and on Lydia Very, but I still don’t have a full grasp of all the private schools for women that existed in Salem in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, overseen by a succession of widows and spinsters: Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Higginson, Mrs. Dean, Miss Savage, Miss Oliver, Miss Draper. There were the very “select” schools of Sarah Fiske Stivours on Essex Street and the “Misses Phillips” on Chestnut Street. Charlotte Forten, a graduate of Salem Normal school and the first African-American teacher of white children in the Salem public schools, has a whole committee and park devoted to her so I don’t think there is much I could add: a nice summary of her life and accomplishments is here. A traditional career for women, teaching could also open up other opportunities: after a very successful career teaching in the Salem Public Schools, Martha L. Roberts went on to earn both law and Ph.D. degrees, and became one of the first women to be admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1897. She also lived very openly with her partner Martha O. Howes, who worked in the City Clerk’s office in Salem. Together, they built one of my favorite houses in South Salem: Six Forest Avenue.
Needlework Sampler by Naby Dane (b. 1777), Sarah Fiske Stivours School, Salem, Massachusetts, Dated 1789, Sotheby’s; 6 Forest Avenue, Salem.
As is always the case with me, things lead me to ask questions and seek stories: a sampler, a house, a dress. There are two wedding dresses in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that will yield some interesting stories for sure: an actual dress made of Spitalfields silk worn by Mary Waters of Salem for her wedding to Anthony Sigourney in 1740 and then remodeled for their daughter, also named Mary, to wear to her wedding to James Butler in 1763. Like so many things in the mid-18th century, this robe à l’anglaise seems so trans-Atlantic to me: the Spitalfields silk industry in London was established by French Huguenot émigres in the later seventeenth century—and perhaps members of the Sigourney family were among them. The photograph (daguerreotype really) shows Martha Pickman Rogers of Salem in her more conventional (to our eyes) wedding dress worn for her marriage to John Amory Codman of Boston in the 1850s. She was the great-granddaughter of Elias Hasket Derby, and the mother of Martha Codman Karolik, the collector and philanthropist.
Waters-Sigourney Dress and Southworth Hawes Daguerreotype, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Then there are stories about the suffrage movement itself, so intertwined with the struggle for abolition and other reform movements in Salem as elsewhere. Three very different Salem women went to the first meeting of the National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester in October of 1850: Eliza Kenney, a very passionate reformer who later became an equally passionate spiritualist, and housewives Delight (yes, that was her name!) Hewitt and Sarah Wilkins. Their stories are easy to access, but a lot of women’s history falls into a “black box” which can never be opened unfortunately: there just isn’t any evidence. For example: I’d love to find out about two very different Salem women, who lived at two very different times, but all I have are brief mentions in newspapers, centuries apart. The first story relates the tragic death of an African woman who wanted to return to her country in 1733, and in a desperate attempt took her own life. The second refers to an anonymous German sympathizer during World War I whose name I have not been able to uncover. Just two anonymous Salem women, each part of Salem’s long history.