Back to my Salem singlewomen shopkeepers and businesswomen: they continue to be my favorite subjects among these #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. Socialites, authors and artists: too easy! I came across one of the most stunning nineteenth-century photographs I have ever seen: of Miss Eliza P. Punchard, dressed formally in black bombazine, in front of Ann. R. Bray’s dry goods store at 76 Federal Street circa 1875. The picture was taken by the very accomplished Salem photographer Edwin Peabody, and it is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, although you will never find it on the PEM’s impenetrable and unhelpful website: I make most of my PEM discoveries through old publications of either of its founding institutions, the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. In this case, the photograph was published in Museum Collections of the Essex Institute, published in 1978. It may seem like an old-fashioned way to access a museum’s collections in 2020, but believe me, such publications are your best bet for now.
This photograph is so compelling, so sharp, so curious! Miss Punchard is not posing formally, yet she looks very formal! Her cheekbones! A literal window into a shop full of fabrics! I want to see more of the sign! So what’s the story?
Miss Eliza P. Punchard and Miss Ann R. Bray worked together in the dry goods business but they were not business partners: the former was always listed as clerk in the census and directory records while the latter was clearly the shopowner. They were, however, friends and perhaps life partners: after leaving bequests to a score of nieces and nephews in her native Gloucester, Miss Bray left the bulk of her estate, and her shop, to Miss Punchard in her 1875 will: I can only assume that this photograph marks Miss Punchard’s succession to the well-established Bray business: and is she wearing mourning? Miss Bray’s will implies that they were very close but I can’t presume anything more than that—although again, they lived together and alone (except for a succession of servant girls, several from Maine and several from Ireland) for more than three decades: every time they needed a new servant Miss Bray advertised for help in “a household of two”. Following Miss Bray’s death in 1875, Miss Punchard ran the shop until her retirement in 1886; she died three years later. And that was the end of a seemingly-successful woman-owned business in Salem, one of many: I am sure I am just scratching the surface with these posts. The Bray business had a long run, from around 1821 at least, when Miss Bray began advertising her services as a tailoress in Salem: not a seamstress mind you, but a tailoress. The “trimmings”took over and she moved into dry goods dealing from a variety of Federal Street locales: ending up at #76.
Advertisements in the Salem Gazette and Register, 1821-1853: Cambric and Bombazine dresses from MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Miss Bray was an enthusiastic advertiser in the Salem Gazette, Register and Observerand even the Wizard of South Danvers (now Peabody) and her stock got larger and more exotic as her business expanded: she offered gingham from the beginning to the end (and you can see it in the photograph of Miss Punchard) but added many other fabrics and frills from the 1840s on. I’m familiar with lots of things (merino, tartan, worsted, muslin and linen), but clueless about others: what in the world are “Russian Diapers” and “Circassian Bombazettes”? From some fashion historian crowdsourcing, I did learn that “Quaker Skirts” were a lightweight hoop, and Miss Bray offered other hoops as well, including the “Watch Spring” and “Bon Ton” varieties, and all manner of petticoats, including the popular Balmoral Skirt inspired by Queen Victoria. BUT there is definitely a patriotic shift during the Civil War: towards simpler fabrics, manufactured domestically. Mourning wear, unfortunately, was always in demand.After the war Miss Bray returned to her vast array of fabrics and accessories, and even included pianofortes in her stock! Just brief glimpses into two women’slives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.
Salem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.
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.
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!
We don’t have any portraits of Salem women before the eighteenth century: the (European) women of Salem’s (European) founding century are therefore difficult to picture. We are left with nineteenth- and early twentieth-century romanticized and idealized images of dramatic women: persecuted Quakers, the two Annes, Hutchinson and Bradstreet (who never lived in Salem), and above all, the women who were accused of witchcraft. The latter are always represented by illustrations from long after their deaths, or by images of English or continental witch trials, utilized even on the covers of scholarly books on the 1692 trials. Why am I always seeing the Pendle “witches” from 1612 depicted as the Salem “witches” from 80 years later and across the Atlantic?
Because “public-facing” history, presented in digital formats and disseminated through social media, needs pictures: texts just won’t do! And book covers need to draw the reader in. I’m as guilty as the next blogger of using the later nineteenth-century images (of which there are so many!) to illustrate some of my posts, although I never substitute depictions of one event for another. I’d love to have some contemporary illustrations of Salem women in the seventeenth century doing all the things I know they did: parent, cook, sew, garden, make all sorts of stuff, keep taverns, worship, wonder. But there aren’t any. I’d love to have a portrait of Lady Deborah Moody, who settled briefly in Salem before she moved on to New York and was labeled a “dangerous woman” by John Winthrop for her heretical Anabaptist views (and I think her independence), but there aren’t any—I’ve checked through all the English sources as well. I’d love to have an image of the adversaries Martha Rowlandson, who divorced her husband for impotence in 1651, and Eleanor Hollingsworth (mother of Mary English, who I’d also like to see), who operated her own tavern, brewed her own beer, and cleared her husband’s considerable debts. But nothing. There are several portraits of seventeenth-century Massachusetts women, so I guess they need to stand in for their Salem sisters: anything to avoid disseminating those simplistic “Puritan” images!
Real 17th Century Massachusetts Women and a “Puritan Woman, 17th Century” from Cassel’s Historical Scrap Book, c. 1880.
As an English historian, I have a wide range of texts and images available to me with which to explore seventeenth-century women: many portraits of wealthy ladies, prescriptive writing, prints and broadsides, recipe books and diaries, theatrical performances as social comment and criticism (with women as the focus quite a bit in the earlier seventeenth century). So English women seem more diverse, more interesting, more active, more layered, while their sisters across the Atlantic seem a bit…..one-dimensional in comparison. I guess that’s why the authors of books on the Salem Witch Trials pinch English images so often. Of course if we move away from the reliance on the visual we can learn a lot more, but I worry that the exclusive reliance on “picture history” in the public sphere erases those who do not leave an image behind.
I think I can illustrate my concern a bit better by examining some women from the nineteenth century, certainly a much more visual age, but not universally so. There’s been a lot of interest in Salem’s African-American history over the past few years, which is of course great. Two women in particular, have claimed the spotlight: Charlotte Forten Grimké (1837– 1914) and Sarah Parker Remond (1824-1894). Both were incredible women: Charlotte came north from Philadelphia to live among the always-hospitable Remond family to attend Salem’s desegregated schools in the 1850s, and went on to graduate from Salem Normal School (now Salem State University, where I teach) and become Salem’s first African-American teacher in the public schools, while Sarah grew up in Salem in the midst of a very activist Abolitionist family and became a much- heralded advocate herself, before emigrating to first England and then Italy for her undergraduate and medical degrees. Charlotte remained in her teaching position for only a couple of years before returning to her native Philadelphia and then launching an amazing career of advocacy herself, in the forms of teaching, writing, and public speaking. Both women were illustrious, and completely deserving of the two Salem parks which now bear their name. But I can’t help thinking about another African-American woman, Clarissa Lawrence, who spent her entire life in Salem, running her own school for girls, founding the country’s first anti-slavery society for African-American women as well as a benevolent society, with only a brief trip to Philadelphia for a national Abolitionist convention in which she gave the riveting “We Meet the Monster Prejudice” speech. Where is Clarissa’s park or statue in Salem? Why is Charlotte, whose family is from Philadelphia, the feature of Destination Salem’s Ancestry Days, which seeks to serve as “a gathering point for descendants of Salem’s families as well as a research opportunity for people who want to learn more about their family history”? Her family history is not here! (well actually, none of Salem’s history is here). I suspect the answer to these questions is in good part based on the fact that we have no picture of Clarissa Lawrence, so it’s almost as if she didn’t exist.
Charlotte Forten between the two Salem Nathaniels, Hawthorne and Bowditch on the Ancestry Days poster. This sounds like a great genealogy event, but none of Charlotte’s family records are held by the participating institutions: why not feature Sarah Parker Remond, whose are? We even have several photographs of Sarah!
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.
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.
Photographs 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.
Photographs 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.
The Laing daughters, Iris (younger) and Janet (older) in their mother’s photographs, 1908-14. More on autochromes here.
I imagine Salem must be like your town or city at this time: quiet and closed. As it is a compact and walkable city full of architectural treasures (still), the quiet more than compensates for the closure, but you are all too aware of the hardship that both are causing. It’s not a singular holiday that is allowing you to walk or bike freely with few cars in your path but rather a prolonged period of anxiety through stoppage for the freelancers and entrepreneurs among us, many in a city like Salem. I’m grateful for my security: there’s no stoppage for me, either of work or of income. I find that remote teaching takes more time than classes which actually meet in person: and while the latter invigorates you (or me) the former drains, so out in the streets of Salem I go to try to get some energy back. But again, I’m grateful for my security and have no complaints.
This week’s weather is so much better than that of last week, when the sun failed to appear for days. I am determined to: 1) put on real pants, with zippers; 2) observe proper meal times; 3) drink more tea; 4) turn off the computer for one full day; 5) avoid the daily presidential briefings; and 6) try to play board games with my husband (I am a terrible game-player but he loves them). This is not a very challenging list, obviously. In addition to all these tasks and working, I take my daily walks, noting new architectural details but also new orders of business around town: restaurants which are still open for take-out, or have transformed themselves into makeshift grocery stores which deliver, shops whose owners will meet you at the curb with your online purchases. The signs for canceled events are the other conspicuous markers of Corona time, like those for Salem Restaurant Weeks (March 15-26) and the annual Salem Film Fest (March 20-29) in the reflective windows of the Chamber of Commerce.
But there are other signs too: of support for health-care workers and grocery clerks, teddy bears and other animals for children’s scavenger hunts. And signs of Spring, of course.
When your focus is on historical women, as mine has been for these 2020 #salemsuffragesaturday posts, sometimes you find their stories are somewhat segregated from what is going on at a particular time, and sometimes it is clear that their stories are absolutely integral and central to what is going on at the time. Salem’s experience of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 is illustrative of the latter case: nurses were not only on the front lines of this strike; they constituted primary care. And there were simply not enough professional nurses to go around in the context of both war and contagion, particularly in the panic months of September and October. Salem was actually well-positioned to meet the challenges of a contagious epidemic: it had a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital with its own nursing program and several charities which focused on “public health nursing”: the Woman’s Friend Society (still thriving today) operated a “District Nurse” (later Visiting Nurse) program under the direction of Superintendant Miss Pauline Smith, and the Committee on Prevention of Tuberculosis had an “Instructive Nurse”, Miss Teresa Trapeney, on staff. The City had been battling the “Great White Plague” for quite some time, but it had to supplement its forces to deal with the “Spanish Flu”.
The 1910 Associated Charities of Salem Annual Report in 1910 features a rendering of the new Salem Hospital on Highland Avenue, which was opened in 1917; Boston Daily Globe advertisement, October 2, 1918; the Woman’s Friend Society on Hawthorne Boulevard.
Before I delve into that response, a few words about the nature and mortality of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, in general and in Salem. There have been quite a few references to it over the past few weeks, as people naturally want a historical precedent for any crisis, but many of these references have been incorrect, even wildly incorrect. For example, President Trump’s March 24 assertion that: You can’t compare this [COVID-19] to 1918 where close to 100 million people died. That was a flu, which — a little different. But that was a flu where if you got it you had a 50/50 chance, or very close, of dying. Maybe the 100 million estimate can be overlooked as global mortality estimations are all over the place—everywhere from 20 million to 100 million—but that mortality rate assertion is ridiculous: the real number is in the neighborhood of 2.5%. The president’s sloppy statement misrepresents both the nature of the threat and the heroic efforts that were made to combat it: it is dehumanizing. I’ve NEVER understood the vagueness of the general mortality numbers until I delved into the research for this post: it is very clear from the Massachusetts records that there was both epidemic influenza as well as influenza-triggered respiratory diseases, predominately pneumonia, in 1918. Some accounts and estimates only include the primary category; others include both: these figures from 1917-1918 illustrate the connection between the two diseases and their notable increase over the year.
This same source, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ annual reporting of the state’s vital statistics for 1918, lists 151 deaths from influenza and 102 for pneumonia in Salem for 1918, but this is an under-representation of the threat: the daily papers report as many as 1500 cases during some days in late September. Another factor which likely bears on all of the Massachusetts statistics is the fact that the Board of Health did not rule influenza a “reportable disease” until October 2, well into the epidemic. The Annual Report of the Salem Hospital for 1918 notes the 40% increase in patients over the year, and offers the assertions that a larger increase might have been made if during the Influenza epidemic in September and October, it had been possible to secure additional nurses to replace those who were ill. This increase affords conclusive proof of the claim of the hospital authorities that it was not meeting the needs of the community. Salem Hospital could not meet the needs of its community in the fall of 1918 not only because it had insufficient nurses: many of the nurses who were on staff, in addition to physicians, came down with influenza themselves, and so the decision was made to establish a separate, emergency hospital to limit the spread of the contagion. Tent cities sprung up all over eastern Massachusetts in the fall of 1918, but in Salem one gets the impression that that was never a consideration: this was only four years after the Great Salem Fire—which prompted the establishment of several tent cities—after all. I can’t determine whether they were asked or they volunteered, but the Sisters of St. Chretienne, recently established in the former Loring Villa in South Salem, offered up their newly-expanded building as the emergency influenza hospital, and themselves as nurses. Consider their situation: they themselves had been displaced from their Convent-Noviate on Harbor Street by the Fire in 1914, had purchased and overseen the expansion and transformation of the residential Loring Villa into a school, and had just opened that school when the epidemic hit! Only their fellow St. Chretienne sisters across the Atlantic found themselves in a more challenging situation, in the midst of the major war zone of World War I.
Influenza tent hospitals in Lawrence (top two–including the “mask room”: they had MASKS then!) and Brookline (more masks on display), September 1918, Lawrence History Center Digital Collections and Brookline Historical Society; The St. Chretienne Academy in South Salem, now part of the South Campus of Salem State University, served as Salem’s emergency influenza hospital in the fall of 1918, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.
Both education and health care were encompassed within the mission of the Sisters of St. Chretienne, and their fellow sisters from Salem’s other Catholic orders, the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception and the Sisters of Notre Dame, also served as nursing aides during that fevered fall of 1918. The situation called for a sacred-secular collaboration, as the Sisters were joined by the Woman’s Friend Society and its District Nurses as well as individual Salem women answering Governor Samuel McCall’s call that able-bodied people with any medical training volunteer their services. After several intense weeks in late September and early October, the influenza “crest” (rather than curve) appeared to be subsiding—or at least that was the story in the press—but by years’ end, it appeared to be on the rise yet again: in Salem, Miss Julia E. Pratt, the matron of The Seamen’s Widow and Orphan Association on Carpenter Street, found that the majority of her charges were infected with the persistent influenza, and across Massachusetts, the call went out once again: to women.
Boston Daily Globe: September 30, October 9, December 20 & 23, 1918.
My previous #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts have been pretty wordy—and pretty serious; I think we all just need to see some Salem women of that gilded, reforming era at the end of the nineteenth century. Ever since that Phillips Library digitized part of their large collection of glass plate negatives created by photographer Frank Cousins I have been pouring over these images at the Digital Commonwealth looking mostly at streets and structures. But Cousins captured people as well—lots of people—even if they were not always his primary (or secondary) consideration. Sometimes he lets them pose; often he captures them unobserved, mostly on busy Essex Street. Now that I know how active Salem women were, for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and other causes, I’m wondering if they also embraced dress reforms, but I’m not enough of a sartorial scholar to tell! The other issue is dating: Cousins’ photos date roughly from 1880 to 1915, but very few are dated precisely, and fashion changed within these decades.
Unreformed dress and reformed suit, from Abba Goold Woolson’s Dress–reform: ASeriesofLecturesDeliveredinBoston, onDressasitAffectstheHealthofWomen, 1874.
Of course the women on the streets of Salem, going about their business, or striding or sitting on a Willows avenue or beach, are not going to represent either the “ideal” corseted and bustled or sturdy-suited model figures above, but something in between, clad for their real lives. I don’t see a lot of “tight lacing” in the photos below, but I definitely discern corsets, and the skirts are only shorter for the girls. I’m a bit wary of extreme photo manipulation (photographs are sources) but I have no problem with extreme zooming!
At Salem Willows: the first images is dated 1880; not sure about the rest—but I believe that draped skirts of the second photograph are from the later 1880s.
Streetwear, 1890s? Again, the first image is dated—it is Columbus Day, 1892—but the rest are not. Young women were always allowed to wear shorter skirts, apparently (like the girls in front of the old Salem Hospital on Charter Street and the Pickering School on North Street). Shop windows (like Cousins’ own Bee-Hive) and signs are also clues for evolving fashion. Lots of parasols on the streets of Salem, in rain or shine. The “leg of mutton” sleeves worn by ladies in the last two photographs clearly date to the later 1890s: sorry she is so blurry, but my very favorite anonymous “bicycle girl” on Essex Street seems like a perfect match for the famous Gibson Girl.
Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives at the Phillips Library via DigitalCommonwealth +ephemera at the Library of Congress.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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).
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.
Salem Common/Washington Square
Landing at the Willows
Courthouses on Federal Street
The City Almshouse
Phillips Wharf: the Philadelphia & Reading Coal and Iron Company.
Corner of Norman, Summer & Chestnut Streets
Corner of Flint and Warren Streets
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.
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 HarrodNorthend, 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 ButlerHathaway 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.