Tag Archives: #SalemSuffrageSaturday

The Battle of the Roses

For this #salemsuffragesaturday, a look at the contest between Massachusetts suffragists and anti-suffragists at the turn of the last century, with particular reference to the Massachusetts suffrage referendum of 1915. Though Massachusetts had (and still has) a well-deserved reputation for progressiveness, it was (and still is) a very traditional state, and has the distinction of producing one of the earliest and strongest anti-suffrage organizations in the later nineteenth century: the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, founded in 1895 (on the foundation of an earlier association, established right after the notable school suffrage victories in 1880). Like their opposition, the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, the Anti-Suffragists had a central office in Boston, and branch committees throughout the state, including Salem. By 1915, their periodical, The Remonstrance against Woman Suffrage, claimed to represent the views of anti-suffragists around the country as well as the over 33, 000 Massachusetts members in 423 municipalities and 130 branch committees. They rallied all of their resources and members to defeat suffrage in the 1915 referendum, thus winning a significant battle but not, ultimately (and fortunately!) the war.

Remonstrance 1915 (3)

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One has to do some real historical reorientation to understand the anti-suffragist position, as it is contrary to everything we believe now. As professed by both men and even more stridently by women, it centers on the family within the home, the natural domain of women, and where they were empowered to make their most important contributions to society. In order for society to function in an effective way, separate spheres for men and women must be maintained: public affairs for men; domestic life for women—and domestic life was perceived as the “higher” sphere. Suffrage would impose civic responsibilities on women which they did not seek or need: as you can see from The Remonstrance above, the message was that the vote was being imposed on women by a radical minority of their gender. It gets a bit more complicated (and confusing!) when you consider that many Anti-Suffragists were active club and society members, striving for moral, educational, and social reforms outside the home: one would think that their various missions would be aided by suffrage, but somehow this was not the belief. When I look at the list of Salem women who were members of the city’s anti-suffrage committee, I recognize familiar names of active women: Mrs. Edward C. Battis, Miss Sarah E. Hunt, Mrs. S.E. Peabody, Mrs. John Pickering, Miss P.M. Waldo, Mrs. William Rantoul, Miss Anna L. Warren and Miss Ellen Laight. I also realize that these women who lived right next to women who were notable Suffragists, so there must have been some interesting neighborhood discussions! More specifically and alarmingly, the Anti-Suffragists expressed their fears that votes for women would lead to discord in the existing marriage relation, which would tend to the infinite detriment of children, and increase the alarming prevalence of divorce throughout the land, and made associations between suffrage and socialism, Mormonism, and pro-German sentiments during World War I.

AS Pro German (2)

AS Madonna (2)

The Anti-Suffragists wrote and distributed flyers and pledge cards, published their newspaper, and held rallies and other public events, just like the Suffragists, although their meetings were clearly less numerous and less open: the committee’s records, among the digital collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, reveal an apparent desire to control the interplay and messaging of public events. They adopted the red rose as their symbol from the beginning—a contrast with the suffragists’ yellow sunflowers and roses—but utilized it with increasing intensity from 1914 on, in their initiatives aimed at the defeat of the 1915 referendum. As Election Day of 1915 approached—and particularly the big Suffrage Parade planned for October 16— the efforts of the Anti-Suffragists became more focused and more public, with a big showdown on Parade Day, when over 100,000 red roses draped individuals and structures lining the street as the Suffragist marchers, wearing yellow banners and/or roses, walked by.

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Red Roses

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And a few weeks later, a terrible defeat at the polls for Massachusetts Suffragists: with nearly 65% of Massachusetts men voting against universal suffrage. Salem’s return mirrored that of the Commonwealth. Both the Suffragists and the Anti-Suffragists continued their efforts, with the former focusing on the national campaign and a constitutional amendment. Massachusetts became the eighth state to ratify the 19th amendment in June of 1919, and it became law in August of 1920 when Tennessee’s legislature ratified it by one surprising vote: that of first-term representative Harry T. Burn, wearing a red rose on his lapel, who voted “aye” upon the very personal plea of his mother.

Suffrage Returns

Image sources: Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection; Library of Congress (The Anti-Suffrage Rose); Schlesinger Library, Harvard (Margaret Foley with “the RoseStands for Chivalry sign); Bryn Mawr College Suffrage Ephemera Collection(yellow banner and flower). Newspaper clippings:  Boston Globe, 1914-1915.


Copley Cousins

Two portraits of young Salem women of the mid-eighteenth century, both named Mary and newly-wed, painted by John Singleton Copley wearing the same dress! Whether you’re delving into the reform-minded Salem women of the nineteenth century or the merchant princesses of a century earlier, you quickly form the impression that both groups lived in small worlds. Mary Turner Sargent (1743-1813) and Mary Toppan Pickman (1744-1817) were born and married into money, and their portraits reflect their wealth and status: their shared dress shimmers and glows in Copley fashion, and handcrafted Georgian detail creates a solid background for their portrayals.

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Copley Detail (3)Mrs. Daniel Sargent (Mary Turner), Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and Mrs. Benjamin Pickman (Mary Toppan), Yale University Art Gallery + plus a crop of the serpentine trim on their dress.

I love John Singleton Copley’s American portraits: they seem far more authentic, engaging, and artful than the English paintings from his later career. These women lived in a world he knew well, and into which he would eventually marry. Unlike our two Salem Marys, he was not born into wealth and privilege, but his marriage to Susanna Farnham Clarke, the daughter of the prominent Boston merchant Richard Clarke (who lost a valuable cargo to the Boston Tea Party) as well as his talent and productivity enabled him to rise quite high in pre-revolutionary society. He painted famous patriots and loyalists alike, but he was firmly in the latter camp, and thus he decamped to England in 1774. Mary Turner Sargent married into a family of Gloucester patriots; Mary Toppan Pickman’s husband Benjamin was a Loyalist exile—I’m wondering if he ran into Copley in London, as that was another small world.

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Copley family cropJohn Singleton Copley, The Copley Family, 1776-77, National Gallery + a crop of Susanna’s blue dress.

There are two other Copley portraits of Salem women that I know of: that of Lydia Lynde Walter (1741-98), a contemporary of the two Marys, and Abigail Pickman Eppes Gardiner (1733-1980), Mary Pickman’s sister-in-law! One imagines lots of chatter among these women about their portraits—and comparisons. Were the two Marys jealous of Abigail, who is clad in indulgent drapery in more individualistic fashion? Abigail had to go with a more classical look, perhaps, so not to look too provincial when she departed for England and Loyalist Land. Lydia Lynde Walter lived with her husband William, the rector of Trinity Church, until 1776 and then they fled to Nova Scotia, a Loyalist destination for those who wanted to remain in North America, where they sat out the Revolution and remained until 1791.

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Brooklyn_Museum_-_Mrs._Sylvester_GardCopley iner,_née_Abigail_Pickman,_formerly_Mrs._William_Eppes_-_John_Singleton_Copley_-_overallLydia Lynde Walter,Virginia Museum of History and Culture; Abigail Pickman Eppes Gardiner, Brooklyn Museum.

Of all these women, only Mary Toppan Pickman remained in Salem throughout her life. Mary Turner Sargent was the great-granddaughter of the John Turner who built the house which would eventually become known as the House of the Seven Gables, the granddaughter of the John Turner who would replenish the family fortune, and the daughter of the John Turner who lost it all—so I guess it’s a good thing that she resided in her husband’s native city of Gloucester, somewhat removed from the scene of her family’s failing fortunes. Mary Pickman remained in Salem even as her husband left for London, managing those properties that were not confiscated and raising their four young children (+ taking care of elderly parents). She seems to have done a a more than capable job, as tributes to her capabilities and pleasant nature are numerous. She and her husband exchanged letters during the course of the Revolution, but of course only ONE of hers survives compared with many of his. Fortunately it is revealing. In June of 1783, she wrote:

I am happy my dear Mr. Pickman that I have once more heard the glad tidings of peace, but my happiness will not be complete until till you return. The satisfaction you received from my letter could not be greater than I felt as seeing yours of the 20th February. I am glad you are disposed to return to America and have no doubt that in a short time every obstacle will in a short time be removed—our fortune is not so much depreciated perhaps as you imagine. We have a very good one left enough to answer any purpose. It has not been in my power to purchase any bills lately but will if possible send you sufficient to pay all demands before you leave England….. (George Francis Dow, ed., The diary and letters of Benjamin Pickman (17401819) of Salem, Massachusetts).

He had been gone for TEN years, leaving her with all of their family responsibilities and instead of writing the war is over, come back immediately, I’m exhausted she writes of her incomplete happiness in his absence and promises to send money to settle his debts before his departure. By all accounts the Pickmans had a very happy marriage, strong enough to withstand this separation: they had two more children in the years following his return.

Looking at the portraits of the blue-dressed Marys and Lydia Lynde, painted in 1763-64, it seems impossible to imagine how much their lives will change with the Revolution; Abigail, posing in the 1770s, looks a bit more wary. Copley captured a waning colonial world, and then left it.


What they Wore

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.

Dress Reform CollageUnreformed dress and reformed suit, from Abba Goold Woolson’s  DressreformA Series of Lectures Delivered in Boston, on Dress as it Affects the Health of Women, 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.

WTW Willows Pavillion 1880 (2)

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WTW Willows Hospital Point (2)

WTW Willows (2)

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.

WTW Columbus Day 1892 (2)

WTW CHarter Street Hospital (3)

WTW Pickering School (2)

WTW Bee-Hive (3)

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WTW 207 Essex (3)

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WTW Brooks (2)

WTW St Peter Essex (4)

WTW Gardner Street (2)

WTW Margin Street (2)

pixlrFrank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives at the Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth +ephemera at the Library of Congress.


Suffrage in Salem: a Big Election!

I always tell my students that history is not necessarily linear: movements and ideas move forward and then fall back and “progress”, however you choose to define it, is always a result of struggle. The struggle for women’s suffrage is a case in point, played out on a national stage as well as a local one. I’ve had to piece together the history of the Salem Suffrage movement from a variety of sources, as the records for its main organization have disappeared, but I think I have it down now, and it was definitely characterized by fits and starts. The connection between the abolition and suffrage movements before the Civil War is very clear: while a petition calling for universal suffrage was submitted to the Massachusetts legislature in 1850 by a group of active Salem reformers, both women and men, abolition was the higher priority during the following decade and the suffrage initiative remained on hold during the Civil War and its aftermath. The debate over the 15th Amendment caused a schism in the national suffrage movement, with some leaders (Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) opposing the enfranchisement of black men before women had achieved the vote and others (Julia Ward Howe, Lucy Stone) favoring a more incremental approach to suffrage with the enfranchisement of black men as a first step. This split resulted in the formation of two associations, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) of Anthony and Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), led by Lucy Stone, as well as a cascade of regional, state, and local associations. Supporters of suffrage in Salem, both women and men, were firmly in the Stone camp, and we can follow their efforts through Stone’s weekly newspaper, the Woman’s Journal. Even though the 1870s started with division, there was also an air of optimism in the air: women in Wyoming and Utah won the vote in 1869 and 1870, so why couldn’t reformist Massachusetts be next?

20200114_110638Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library.

The Woman’s Journal reports that yearly conventions were held in Salem, generally at the Lyceum, along with regular meetings of the Salem Woman Suffrage Club, which included woman and men and were clearly as much social occasions as strategy sessions. The editors of the Journal  seem to have favored an approach that was not only incremental but “pleasant”, as the account of the 1874 convention (below) illustrates: much praise for the food and flowers, and an observation that “other clubs may take a lesson from this of Salem, which draws members by pleasant means—clergymen, lawyers, judges, editors and not least in influence, women. What remains to do now is the steady and continuous circulation of tracts as a means of enlightenment, and with the light will come the end”. Yet there were several women in Salem who made it clear that tea parties and the dissemination of pamphlets was not enough, writing letters to the editor that expressed the general opinion that while the Salem club was popular, it wasn’t actually doing anything: such expressions seem to be coming from those women who were also involved in other causes like temperance, settlement, and the “moral education” of “fallen women”. As was the case before the Civil War, suffrage was interwoven with other calls for reform.

Suffrage Collage 1874

But maybe the “pleasant” approach was working. In 1879 the Massachusetts legislature passed a “school suffrage” bill, enabling Massachusetts women the right to vote in school committee elections. This definitely seems like a big step forward, but apparently it was an action that represented the traditional belief that education matters were within the realm of female expertise more than any desire to move towards universal suffrage on the part of Massachusetts legislators. Nevertheless, Salem women offered up four female candidates and really turned out at the polls in December of 1870, with the result that all four women were elected to the Salem School Board, the highest number in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reported that there was “great activity at the polls” with “undertain” results on Election night (December 9), but on the next day the election of the four women was confirmed.

Suffrage Boston Globe December 9, 1879 (2)

Suffrage 1879 Election Library of Congress (2) Boston Globe headline, December 9, 1879; Library of Congress.

And suddenly there was a brand new School Committee in Salem! The four women elected were Mrs. Mary G. Ward of Federal Street, a noted activist for suffrage and temperance in the city, Dr. Sarah E. Sherman, who I believe was Salem’s first female physician, Emma B. Lowd, very active in veterans’ affairs as an officer in the National Woman’s Relief Corps Committee, and Mrs. Lurana N. Almy, the wife (and partner, really) of James. F. Almy, the founder of Salem’s famed Almy’s, Bigelow and Washburn store. Unfortunately Mrs. Almy died before she could take up her seat on the committee, but the other three women served for several years, paving the way for more women members. The ground-breaking year of 1879 was capped off by the submission of a suffrage amendment petition to the U.S. Congress by the Salem Woman Suffrage Committee, signed by the men who could vote in one column and the women who could not in another.

SUffrage School Committee Colored

SUffrage Sarah Sherman 1877 Salem Directory (2)

Suffrage Emma Lowd historyofdepartm01woma_0129 (2)

SUffrage petition CUNYSalem School Committee Annual Report, 1880; Official Souvenir Program of the 24th National Encampment, Boston, MA, 1890……also the Eighth Annual Convention of the Woman’s Relief Corps;“Petition from the Citizens of Massachusetts in Support of Women’s Suffrage,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed February 21, 2020, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1683.

But two (or three or four or five) steps forward were followed by several steps back. In typical contrary Massachusetts fashion, the multi-layered suffrage movement provoked a counter-movement in the form of the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women, established in 1895 and with a Salem branch headed by Miss Anna L. Warner and Miss Ellen B. Laight. Two Massachusetts suffrage referendums were soundly defeated—in 1895 and 1915—before the Commonwealth ratified the 19th Amendment on June 25, 1919.


It Seems as if Hannah is Hiding

These #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts are challenging:  and it’s only February! Especially as I am drawn to the more “hidden” women: whose stories, it seems, you can only get to through men. I’ve been interested in Hannah Crowninshield (1789-1834) for a while: she was part of the large and dynamic Crowninshield family in its most powerful era, she was a “maker” and an artist, she was the protegee of the Reverend William Bentley, she was the wife of a naval commodore who married her younger sister after her untimely death. Fortunately we do have some things that she created that can, in effect, “speak” for her, because otherwise I could only shed light on Hannah through her father, her mentor, her husband, or a cat. My interest in Hannah actually began when I spotted a charming watercolor of a cat named Pompey, who accompanied her father and brother in their voyage across the Atlantic in the famous pleasure yacht Cleopatra’s Barge, built for their wealthy cousin George Crowninshield in 1816. Pompey was lost at sea on the voyage, “a victim to his patriotism.”

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I needed to know who created this charming “memorial,” hanging in the reconstruction of Cleopatra’s Barge cabin at the Peabody Essex Museum, almost as soon as I saw it: Hannah Crowninshield (an attribution found at the Smithsonian, rather than the PEM), daughter of the ship’s captain. There are extant and unattributed portraits of her father Benjamin (known as “Sailor Ben” to distinguish him from other Benjamin Crowninshields) and brother “Philosopher Ben” in the collection of the PEM (though inaccessible in its spare database): did Hannah paint these?

Hannah Collage

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Like many people of her era, we can see Hannah Crowninshield through the Reverend William Bentley’s eyes and diary. Actually we can “see” much more of Hannah than most of her contemporaries, as she and the Reverend were very close. They were next-door neighbors, living in two sides of what is now known as the Crowninshield-Bentley House: Bentley baptized Hannah, and married her to James Armstrong on March 29, 1819. His diary entry for that day indicates just how heartfelt his feelings were for her: this day I passed through the most interesting scene of my life. I came to the family of H. [Crowninshield] in 1791. In 1789 I had baptized Hannah, d. of Benj. and Mary Crowninshield, two years before I came into the family, tho I had before lived in a branch of it. As soon as Hannah was of age for instruction she was put into my care. She has rewarded it with her virtues & accomplishments. This day I delivered her in marriage to an officer of the Navy [Lieut. James Armstrong]. He is from Virginia, but to me unknown. What the prospects are I cannot guess. The event is not from my wishes or at my will. The sympathy was beyond description. The hundred I have united never gave such emotions. I knew nothing contrary to the hopes of the young man & that is the evil, that even this consolation is not borrowed from the ample means to render it happy, being rather my ignorance than my observation. The branches of the family were represented on the occasion & after the ceremonies H. retired to her Father’s in Danvers. The questions were Will she go to Virginia? It is said not, but the property was not then conveyed. Thus after nearly 30 years all our hopes are unknown. Why did not so accomplished a girl find a bosom friend in Salem. They who respected her did not dare to ask without means to support, and they who looked for fortune could not find it. All the domestic relations were not such as ambition could desire. I hope H. will be happy. It will be my happiness. My best wishes attend her. This rather anguished entry speaks to one of the most cherished relationships in the Reverend’s life, I believe.

20200211_125837PEM’s Bentley-Crowninshield House, which used to be located a bit further along (eastward) Essex Street.

But back to Hannah. Or Hannah and the Reverend. He refers to several of her compositions: an illustration for Marblehead mariner Ashley Bowen’s autobiographical journals, depicting his life as a ship’s voyage, a rather scary chalk drawing of 82-year-old Major-General John Stark, whom they visited in New Hampshire in 1810 (so scary that it was quite modified in lithographic and portrait form, but still, there are contemporary comments that it was “lifelike”), a reworked seventeenth-century portrait of Captain George Corwin which Bentley found “defaced,” and a much nicer watercolor portrait of James Tytler. All of these portraits are supposedly in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum according to Catalog of Portraits in the Essex Institute and the Catalog of American Portraits, but I can’t find any reference to them on the PEM’s site. It seems as if Hannah is indeed hiding—somewhere in the Peabody Essex Museum!

Hannah Bowen

Hannah Stark Collage

Hannah C. Corwin 1819

Hannah Crowninshield James TylerThe Catalog of American Portraits, accessed via the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, lists the following portraits by Hannah Crowninshield as part of the PEM’s collection: a self-portrait, a portrait of the Reverend Bentley, and the portrait of James Tytler, in addition to a portrait of Simon Bradstreet in the collection of Historic New England. Hannah’s portrait of Scottish radical publisher/apothecary Tytler, who lived briefly (and died) in Salem, illustrates his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography page.

As I was writing this post up on Thursday morning, I did see that there were some materials on Hannah in the Benjamin Crowninshield Family Papers (MH16) at the Phillips Library up in Rowley, and thus a dilemma presented itself: do I have time to run up there before my grad class at 4:30 so I can do justice to Hannah in this post? What if I run up there and there’s not much to see? The answer to the first question was “no”, so I might have to provide an addendum to this post at a later date: and for local history afficionados like myself out there, never take for granted the luxury of a historical society/repository in your own town! For now, I can only discern this much about Hannah Crowninshield Armstrong: she and her husband did not confirm the Reverend Bentley’s worst fears and head to his native Virginia after their 1819 marriage, they did not have any children, and she died in May of 1834 at age 45, after which her husband married her younger sister Elizabeth. The dating of her works in the Catalog of American Portraits indicates that she continued to paint after her marriage—-but that’s about all the light I can shed on that time of her life at this point. The Peabody Essex Museum actually credits and showcases one of her works on its website, although you will never, never find it by searching on the website itself:  only an external search engine will take you to it! It’s a painted work box made for her mother, and apparently the PEM also possesses a portable desk painted for her sister Maria (again–you will not find this at or through PEM but rather in Betsy Krief Salm’s Women’s Painted Furniture, 1780-1830. American Schoolgirl Art). I remain hopeful that some day, one day, the hidden figures  of Salem history, both women and men, will have their day when the Peabody Essex Museum, decides to cast some light on them.

Hannah Crowninshield Work Box (2)Hannah’s painted work box, made for her mother Mary Lambert Crowninshield, Peabody Essex Museum—this seems to exist only on an earlier incarnation of the PEM website here, and not the current one. You can really access much more of the collection–and much more information– if you search externally rather than through the current website.


Sarah Symonds of Salem

When I was a perpetual antiques hunter and picker some time ago, I would run into cast iron doorstops and plaster wall plaques with chipped paint depicting houses and gates and various interior details everywhere: they did not appeal to me and I passed them right by, but I remember seeing them often, in Maine, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. When I moved to Salem I realized they were Sarah Symonds pieces, crafted right here by a very entrepreneurial artist. To be honest, I remained rather immune to their charms, even in my intense Salem collecting phase, and I still don’t really appreciate them, but I see that many other people do as their prices have certainly increased dramatically. I do have deep appreciation for Sarah the businesswomen, though, and the artistic ambassador of “old Salem,” along with her contemporaries Mary Harrod Northend and Caroline Emmerton.

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Screenshot_20200203-095432_ChromeSarah Symonds pieces from the archive of sold lots at Worthpoint; if I was going to purchase one it would definitely be the Gardner Pingree House.

Sarah (1870-1965) was a ninth-generation Salem resident, descended from the John Symonds (c. 1595-1671) who emigrated from East Anglia in the 1640s. He was an experienced joiner who trained his sons James and Samuel in the cabinet-making trade. The Symonds shop excelled and flourished, and its products are among the most valued pieces of early American furniture today: a small valuables cabinet made by James was purchased by the Peabody Essex Museum for nearly two and half million dollars in 2000. Successive generations of the Symonds family turned to other occupations, but they remained in Salem, and a street named after them testifies to their long residence. Sarah seems to have spent her whole life in Salem: she graduated from Emerson College in Boston (to which I assume she took the train) and later vacationed in a summer cottage in Marblehead but other than these forays she seems very bound to Salem, and to her work. I’m not sure exactly when she first started making bas-relief sculptures and plaques—most likely in the 1890s, and perhaps influenced by the careers of the Salem sculptors Louise Lander and John Rogers—but she received several mentions for her Hawthorne pieces in the press coverage of the centennial commemoration of his birth in 1904. And then she was launched, making and selling pieces in the recently-moved John Ward House on the campus of the Essex Institute, at the Snug Harbor Shop adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables, for a gift “shoppe” at the Hawthorne Hotel, and ultimately at the “Colonial Studio” in the Bray House on Brown Street. As you can see below, she also fulfilled orders by mail.

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There are several folders of Sarah’s business records in the Phillips Library and when I started going through their contents I became very fixated on the copyright registration certificates she filled out for each of her sculptures: in my real job I’m a sixteenth-century historian, so I’ve never used sources like these! They are so detailed, written in her own hand, and it occurred to me that seldom do we see artists describe their work so matter-of-factly. No doubt her applications were prompted by the passage of the 1909 copyright law, which extended protections to “works of art; models or designs for works of art”: her first certificates date from just after the passage of this landmark law (which replaced a law made in 1790!)

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I like to blame Daniel Low for the increasing prominence of the Salem witch, emblazoned on anything and everything, but to be fair, Sarah expanded her witch offerings over the first half of the twentieth century consistently: that category grows and only rivals “Salem’s Colonial Doorways” on her price lists. You can kind of feel some of her Colonial Revival contemporaries (especially Mary Harrod Northend) shirking away from the witch, but Sarah ran with it, producing round witches, tall witches, witches on brooms, witches with cauldrons, witch plaques and freestanding “statuettes,” witch medallions, and ink-well witches. Oh well, a lady has to make a living—and give her customers what they want.

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20200121_133608Sarah Symonds papers at the Phillips Library, Rowley:  MSS 0.202; The library also has some price lists. There’s an article about Sarah’s bas-reliefs by Barbara Morse White in the Antiques Journal (1976), and you can also read a short biography by Salem preservation architect John Goff here


Sisters in Arms

I’ve been searching high and low for Salem suffragists, and I have found some, but it’s been a difficult search as there are no extant papers of the “Woman Suffrage Club” of Salem that I can find: newspaper articles, a few flyers, references in diaries and other texts, that’s about it. There are records of many other women’s organizations—charitable groups, religious groups, fellowship groups—which met over different decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and among them are the minutes and correspondence of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (SFASS), one of the country’s earliest female abolition societies. Looking at all these records, I see familiar names turning up again and again, and as I suspect there were concentric circles of female activism in nineteenth-century Salem, most especially among those women advocating for abolition and suffrage, I am especially grateful that the SFASS archives have been digitized through a partnership of the Congregational and Phillips Libraries. I had a student who worked with these records a year ago for her capstone research and she deemed them “boring”, but I find them fascinating in terms of both content and tone: expressions of a sisterhood of mutual aid and activism pervade even the most administrative of notations.

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Records of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1834-66, Phillips Library MSS 34: available at the Congregational Library. Meeting minutes & Correspondence from William Lloyd Garrison.

Before I get into the activities of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, I need to write about Clarissa Lawrence, again. An African-American schoolteacher who lived on High Street in a house that still stands, Lawrence was committed to what was obviously for her an intertwined mission of aid and abolition: she established the first female Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, which consisted solely of free women of color. This organization was folded into the integrated Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1834, but in the interim year, Lawrence also revived and reformed the dormant Colored Female Religious and Moral Society of Salem. This woman was tireless, and relentless, and on fire. She served in the leadership of the SFASS, and was a delegate to the third Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia in May of 1839. On the last day of the convention, Lawrence rose to make a memorable speech, recorded in its proceedings and frequently referenced and reprinted. Yet despite her renown among her peers and historians, she is largely forgotten in the Witch City.

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I hope that Mrs. Lawrence felt supported in all of her efforts by her sisters in the newly-formed Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, all 130 of them, including officers, managers and members. I assume that her election as Vice-President means that she was. The women were very serious about their organization, their meetings, and their minutes. Their first task was to draw up and ratify a constitution, after which they held regular meetings at Mechanic Hall, Creamer Hall, the Masonic Hall, and the Howard Street Church: sub-committee meetings were held at members’ homes. There is one reference to the expenditure of ten dollars for the “privilege of holding our meetings for the enduring year (1837) in the Anti-Slavery Room–occupied by the anti-slavery  gentlemen of this city as a reading and debating room”: I have no idea where this might have been, but it conjures up an image of gentlemen reading and debating while the women are doing. Every meeting started with prayers, and decorum was always observed: one young lady who shall remain nameless was asked to resign for her use of “profane” language and she complied. Most of the work of the Society consisted of fundraising in order to support several missions: the purchase of memberships in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society for those that could not afford them, sending representatives such as Clarissa Lawrence to conventions, supporting “refugees from slavery”, and underwriting William Lloyd Garrison and The Liberator. There were occasional requests for support of vulnerable members of Salem’s free black population—which were answered—but you can tell that the ladies’ primary focus was on those who had escaped from the South. Fundraising primarily took the form of holding fairs, in which the other female anti-slavery societies in the area—in Boston, Marblehead, and Danvers—would contribute, with reciprocation from Salem: the bonds of sisterhood definitely crossed municipal boundaries as well as state lines.

Female-FairSalem Register, 1841

Recording Secretary Eliza J. Kenny (sometimes spelled Kenney) was a fascinating woman in several ways, and she will get her own Salem Suffrage Saturday post in the near future: her influence, as well as long-serving President Lucy G. Ives, seems to be behind the lecture series sponsored by the SFASS from 1844-1860, which brought many famous abolitionist advocates to Salem: William Lloyd Garrison seems always ready to speak in Salem, but Wendell Phillips, O.B. Frothingham, William H. Channing and others also came to speak at the Lyceum. The lecture that received the most attention in the press by far was that of “fugitive slave” William Wells Brown, who came to Salem on his first tour as an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, at the beginning of a brilliant career. When asked if he could “represent the real condition of the Slave” Brown replied that he could not: your fastidiousness would not allow me to do it; and if it would, I, for one, should not be willing to do it;—–at least to an audience. Were I to tell you the evils of Slavery, to represent to you the Slave in his lowest degradation, I should wish to take you, one at a time, and whisper it to you. Slavery has never been represented; Slavery never can be represented. What is a Slave? A Slave is one that is in the power of the owner. He is chattel; he is a thing; he is a piece of property. A master can dispose of him, can dispose of his labor, can dispose of his wife, can dispose of his offspring, can dispose of everything that belongs to the Slave, and the Slave shall have no right to speak; he shall have nothing to say. The Slave cannot speak for himself, he cannot speak for his wife, or his children. He is a thing. Brown’s words were by all accounts riveting, so much so that his Salem talk was issued in print, with the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society right there in the title, on the cover, a great example of the Society’s increasing focus on communication in its second and third decades.

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Female Anti-Slavery Society 1847Salem Observer, 1847-48; Henry M. Parkhurst’s “phonographic report” of Mr. Brown’s Lyceum Speech.

Eliza Kenny led me to the intersection of abolitionism and suffrage: she was the first Salem woman to sponsor a petition, “that the right of suffrage may be extended to women” to the Massachusetts legislature in 1850, right after she attended the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester. I saw lots of familiar names among the 25 women who signed the petition: her anti-slavery sisters. Eliza went down a spiritualist route that made her a less effective (and committed) advocate for either abolition or suffrage later, but her decades of activism are commendable, as are those of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery, which disbanded in 1866, their objective realized at long last. But there were still battles to be waged.

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Kenny petition for the Harvard Anti-Slavery Petitions of Massachusetts Dataverse; The Female version of  Am I Not A………., first used in George Bourne’s Slavery Illustrated in Its Effects upon Women (1837).


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