Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Runaway Wives of Salem

I don’t think I’ve posted enough about women’s history for this women’s history month so I have put some extra effort into this last March post! Two caveats to the preceding statement: 1) If I do say so myself, my deep dive into local women’s history in the 2020 commemorative year should have earned me “surplus merit” and; 2) extra effort was not a hardship because the subject of this particular post is so interesting but yet elusive: “runaway wives” notices from the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Every historian, or every social historian I should say, wants to get into the house (or even into the bedroom) of people who lived in the past so these notices of women who left the “bed and board” of their husbands are interesting entryways, but in most cases the door slams shut before you can learn too much!

What’s going on behind closed doors? Illustration from The Life of George Cruikshank in Two Epochs by George Cruikshank and Jerrod Blanchard, 1882. Courtesy of Forum Auctions UK.

The notices are certainly numerous: in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, nearly every issue of the Salem Gazette and the Salem Register contains one or more. They are legal and financial notifications first and foremost, in which husbands announce that they will take no responsibility for the expenses of their runaway wives going forward, but depending on the nature of the separation, they are also an airing of dirty laundry or downright slander. The wives respond occasionally but not consistently, so we are left with only one side of the story for the most part. Sometimes the notice is on the very first page, above the fold (like this first example below) and sometimes it is buried deep inside the paper. Some notices are pro formawhile others contain considerable detail.

Front and Center, 1806, and for some reason 1804 was a banner year for runaway wives.

Let’s look at my sampling in chronological order to see if we can spot any trends. This IS a sampling: there are a lot more of these notices, and reoccurring ones as well. For example, George Felt disavowed his wife Sally in 1807 (below) and then again in 1818. So your eyes don’t blur and headaches occur, I’m breaking up the notices with a few images from chapbooks of the period from the collection at the National Library of Scotland. In general American chapbooks seem more concerned with instruction than relationships, and these British ones are a bit more bawdy, often highlighting the exploits of marital strife in a humorous, lyrical manner.

A Collection of New Songs, etc. Edinburgh 1802. National Library of Scotland Chapbook Collection.

In this first batch we have a combination of the straightforward (Daland and Young) and the slander. Note the phrases and adjectives utilized among the latter: “unbecoming the character of an honest woman,” and “intemperate, quarrelsome and troublesome,” even evil: clearly the men want to justify their abandonment of legal responsibility for their wives. The last notice, just above, is the most detailed and therefore the most interesting: Mrs. Teague has absented herself “frequently” and run up “extravagant” debts, and Mr. Teague provides several aliases for her so people in the “many” towns she visits can be on guard. This cautionary, “I’m doing you a favor” tone is very consistent in runaway wife notices.

The Farmer’s Son; or The Unfortunate Lovers, Glasgow, 1805. National Library of Scotland Chapbook Collection

The batch of notices above contains pretty standard examples, save for the removal of furniture from the family homes by Molly Ives and Mary Vincent. By the 1830s, these notices were clearly old hat, and even a decade before the editors of the Salem Gazette conveyed that sentiment by running an opinion piece which called them “excessively tiresome” as well as one which conveyed the other side of the story in a rather amusing way (notice that the word elope was generally used to refer to getting out of a marriage rather than into one in the early nineteenth century). I wish we had more responses from Salem women, but there are only a few, generally referencing fear of bodily harm (I researched all the women referenced above and found nothing). Going back to the very beginning of our period, Hannah Peele posted publicly in the Gazette that the reason she left her husband Roger’s house for one of their daughter’s as “because I have conceived my life to be imminently in danger while I lived with him: the reasons for which suspicion are too well known to many.”

Just as separations were public, so too were divorces in Colonial and Federal-era Massachusetts. From my perspective as an English historian, it’s pretty clear that divorces were much easier to obtain in New England than Old England. The Puritans of Massachusetts considered marriage a civil contract rather than a religious sacrament and so divorce could be, and was, granted by the authorities  on grounds of bigamy, adultery, abuse and abandonment (although there were also a few successful cases of claims of their husbands’ “insufficiency” on the part of female petitioners): maintaining the social order was the primary consideration. Massachusetts Bay granted the first divorce in British America in 1639 and between 1692 and 1785 the Massachusetts General Court heard 229 petitions for divorce and granted 143. Divorce was not common or easy, but it was an option for Massachusetts men and women. And as is the case with any conflict or schism, we can learn a lot about the parties involved than in cases of peaceful continuity.

Four Excellent New Songs, including Over the Moor to Maggie, Edinburgh, 1780. National Library of Scotland Chapbook Collection.

In contrast to Salem’s most famous divorce, the well-publicized and  scandalous split of elites Elizabeth Derby West and Nathaniel West in 1806, I think that Mrs. Anderson’s 1815 suit (above) is probably more representative. The wife of a mariner during Salem’s most prosperous age, she had not seen or heard from her husband in five years and had no “maintenance” for herself and her child. He was the “runaway” rather than her, and I wonder how many other contemporary Salem women found themselves in such situations. The lives of mariner’s wives: yet more uncharted territory in the history of a city which is overwhelmingly focused on that well-trodden.


Books for Women’s History Month 2022

Next week is Spring Break and I haven’t decided if I’m going to get away or get reading a large stack of bedside books. A lot of said books are about later medieval/early modern trade and agriculture in preparation for my new project on saffron, but many are about women’s history over a succession of periods so I thought I’d share some titles for this Women’s History Month. As you will see, there is no rhyme or reason or unifying theme around these titles other than women: all sorts of women in a succession of chronological contexts. I’m always interested in English women of the medieval and early modern eras, lately I’ve become quite interested in the entrepreneurial Salem women of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, I find rich and/or powerful women of all eras endlessly fascinating. It was not always this way: I almost didn’t get the position I currently hold now because I protested the name of a course which my interviewers wanted me to take on: “Herstory in History.” I proclaimed, with all the confidence of a twenty-something, that that was a ridiculous title for a course as women were PEOPLE and all history is about PEOPLE. But the past decades have taught me that a feminine focus in enlightening: it’s another gaze, another perspective, another open window on the past. I still don’t teach a course exclusively on women’s history but I certainly have incorporated a lot of women’s stories into my courses, because of books like these.

So I’ve read all of the books above and am recommending them to you for the following reasons. Judith Herrin is a wonderful historian whose Formation of Christendom got me through the first few years of teaching medieval history. While I teach mostly western medieval history, knowledge of the Byzantine Empire is pretty essential to understanding everything in this era, and Herrin’s book is really substantive and ambitious (and also very academic). Helen Castor’s She-Wolves: the Women who Ruled England before Elizabeth is a more accessible book which presents contextual biographies of four powerful medieval queens: I’m showcasing the Folio edition published in 2017 but there are more affordable options. Judith Bennett’s Ale, Beer and Brewsters is a classic examination of women’s work in late medieval England which I consult regularly, and Monuments and Maidens and The Pocket. A Hidden History of Women’s Lives are two very creative books which examine longer eras from cultural and economic perspectives.

Vast uncharted territory above, but all these books have been recommended to me by colleagues and friends, beginning with Malcolm Gaskill’s The Ruin of Witches, a very welcome microhistory of a non-Salem American witch trial. Salem has become so boring: let’s look west to Springfield, Massachusetts! While not strictly women’s history, I don’t really think any history is strictly women’s history. I’m interested in Material Lives, To Her Credit, The Ties that Buy because I keep encountering entrepreneurial Salem women in that later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for whom I want to create more context and They Were Her Property appears to be an absolutely groundbreaking work. Jumping up about a century to the late nineteenth century and beyond, The Man Who Hated Women examines anti-vice activist Anthony Comstock’s campaigns against pretty much every everything and The Season and Double Lives looks at a broad spectrum of British women’s experiences in the twentieth century. And so we have progressed (chronologically) from empresses to socialites and “superwomen”!


The Fair’s the Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies Fair Boston Post April 12 1833

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

 


The 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.

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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.


Mrs. Crowninshield goes to Washington

A colorful, albeit a bit light, source for women’s history is the collection of letters written home by Mary Boardman Crowninshield (1778-1840), the wife of Benjamin Crowninshield, a congressman and Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Madison and Monroe. On the surface, Mary’s and Benjamin’s marriage looks like a typical Salem mercantile merger, but not so typical was her decision (or maybe it was their decision) to accompany her husband to Washington in the fall of 1815. The letters describing their trip, by carriage and steamship, and residence in Washington over the next few months were published by Mrs. Crowninshield’s great-grandson, Francis Boardman Crowninshield, in 1905, and they yield some interesting insights into the Washington social scene in the immediate aftermath of the British occupation of the city and burning of the White House in general, and what everyone was wearing (most prominently First Lady Dolley Madison) in particular.

Mary Crowninshield

Mrs. Crowninshield was clearly an observant and detail-oriented woman, but her lengthy descriptions of the dress of the women whom she encountered really stand out in comparison with her briefer assessments of events or her surroundings. Almost as soon as she arrives in Washington, she calls on Mrs. Madison in the Octagon House, where she takes note of the blue damask curtains and finds the First Lady dressed in a white cambric gown, buttoned all the way up in front, a little strip of work along the button-holes, but ruffled around the bottom. A peach-bloom-colored silk scarf with a rich border over her shoulders by her sleeves. She had on a spencer of satin in the same color, and likewise a turban of velour gauze, all of peach bloom. She looked very well indeed. You can’t expect Mrs. Crowninshield to get excited about the architecture: she hailed from Samuel McIntire’s Salem! But one would like to see some mention of the rebuilding of Washington, the slaves who lived in the Octagon House along with the Madisons, maybe a bit of politics: but no, it’s really all about who wore what where and when.

The Octagon Peter Waddell

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20190325_170000Historical artist Peter Waddell’s depiction of the Octagon House in Washington, Mary Boardman’s childhood home on Salem Common, and the Salem house of the Crowninshields, where they entertained President Monroe in 1817, now the Brookhouse Home for Aged Women.

Well, if that’s what she wants to write about let’s go with it; these are her letters after all! She seems to be almost as impressed with the dresses of Mrs. Monroe as Mrs. Madison: the former is “very elegant”, dressed in “very fine muslin lined with pink” on one occasion and  “sky-blue striped velvet” on another, both times with velvet turbans embellished with feathers. Mrs. Crowninshield clearly is intimidated/impressed by all these velvet turbans in Washington: she has insufficient velvet and no feathers at all, and as they are very dear she combs her braided hair as high up as possible and weaves in flowers and ornaments—including a golden butterfly which Mrs. Madison actually admires. There is great concern about trim: Mrs. Crowninshield orders some very nice dresses from a Washington mantua-maker but implores her mother to send some red velvet trim from Salem along with Judge Story—–a Supreme Court Justice—when he makes his way back to Washington! And he does. This seems like the most insightful detail of Mrs. Crowninshield’s letters: imagine a Supreme Court Justice as a clothing courier!

Boardman The-Splendid-Mrs-Madison White House Peter Waddell

7-CaptureOfCityWashington24Aug1814_fullPeter Waddell’s recreation of one of Dolley Madison’s “Wednesday Squeezes” with many turbans and feathers in evidence, White House Historical Association; the capture and burning of Washington in 1814, New York Historical Society. Mrs. Madison continued to be an active hostess in her temporary quarters, which Mrs. Crowninshield tells us all about, but she does not have much to say about the post-war state of Washington.

But back to Dolley Madison, of whom Mrs. Crowninshield has the most to say, as she attended several events over the holidays in December of 1815 and January of 1816 hosted by the First Lady. Mrs. Crowninshield admires everything about Dolley—her demeanor, her apparent kindness, her ability to converse with ease—but above all, her clothes. Either Dolley rescued her famous wardrobe from the burning White House along with George Washington’s portrait or she replenished it with purpose. At a New Year’s Day reception, Mrs. Madison was dressed in a yellow satin embroidered all over with sprigs of butterflies, not two alike in the dress; a narrow border in all colors; made high in the neck; a little cape, long sleeves, and a white bonnet with feathers. That’s quite a close observation. At a Wednesday night levee, Mrs. Madison was adorned in muslin dotted in silver over blue and a beautiful blue turban with feathers. Mrs. Crowninshield noted that I have never seen her look so well and was clearly very pleased that Dolley had remarked that they “thought alike”, as she was dressed in blue as well. The last description of Dolley’s dress refers to a more elaborate dinner party, in which she was dressed in black velvet trimmed with gold [and] a worked lace turban in gold with a lace and gold kind of thing over her shoulders and looked “brilliant” in Mrs. Crowninshield’s worshipful estimation. Not long after this event, Mary Crowninshield returned to Salem, where the Reverend Bentley seems to have visited her immediately, in search of all the Washington gossip as well as her opinions of both the President and the First Lady. In her last letter, to her husband who remained in the capitol, she admits that I think I never shall want to go from home again.

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Dolley Madison’s yellow silk “butterfly gown (s)” ? at the Smithsonian: the First Ladies Hall and a 1934 Curt Teich postcard.


Salem Women Build

I have a list of topics that I would research if I was ever going to pursue another Masters or Ph.D., which I am not. The list started long ago but these past seven years of blogging have definitely added to it, and consequently it includes a few Salem topics. This particular topic, however, predates the blog. Shortly after I moved to Salem, while I was still in graduate school, I started plaque research for Historic Salem, Inc. in order to learn more about my new city. This type of deed and local history research was very different from my dissertation research and so I thought it would give me a break, which it did, but it also raised some larger questions and problems which I did not have time to answer or even address at the time. One thing I noticed was the central role that women often played in the commission, financing, and disposition of property, particularly in the later half of the nineteenth century. As this is Women’s History Month everywhere and Women’s History Day here in Salem, I thought I would focus on some houses built specifically for women, whether widows or “singlewomen”, “gentlewomen” or freedwomen.

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This is by no means an exhaustive survey; basically it’s just the result of a few walks. But my impression today is the same as it was several decades ago: there were a lot of houses built in Salem for women. A more comprehensive and comparative study would be very revealing, I think. No doubt these plaques represent an underestimate, though I did notice Historic Salem’s more recent policy (certainly not in place when I was doing this research) to represent both husbands and wives on plaques, as well as other domestic arrangements. This raises the question of under-representation in historic preservation, which would make a great session for this year’s Massachusetts Preservation Conference.

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Above: shopowner Annie Sweetser’s house on Forrester Street, Cynthia Lovell’s on Williams, the house built for the Tilton sisters on Pickman, Lydia King’s house on Lemon Street, Mary Lindall’s house on Essex, Mary Derby’s house on Beckford, and Maria Ropes’ house on Chestnut. At least part of  the conjoined houses on Essex and Broad were built for women: Susannah Ingersoll & Hannah Smith. Below: putting woman on the plaque on two Daniels Street houses! (Love these more detailed HSI plaques).

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The economic and social spectrum of women builders is also very interesting. There are several educator builders, and a few independent “property owners”.  The wealthy philanthropist Caroline Emmerton, who restored (created?) the House of the Seven Gables, also commissioned a copy of the Richard Derby House for the last lot on Chestnut Street from architect William Rantoul, and hired Arthur Little to transform her Federal Mansion on Essex Street into a Colonial Revival exemplar. I was reminded just last week by my colleague Beth Bower of one of my very first plaque research projects, years ago: in which I found that a Lemon Street house was built for Mahala Lemons Goodhue, her husband Joseph, a mariner,  and their son Joseph Jr., a laborer. The present owners seem to have made their own sign featuring Mahala, which is fine, as I looked up the original report and I’m embarrassed to admit that I seem to have completely omitted the fact that the Goodhues were African-American! My dissertation must have dominated during that time, or I may have been more preoccupied with the history of the land rather than the people who built the house (which was my tendency)—-will definitely revise the record.

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Caroline Emmerton’s commissions on Chestnut and Essex, and the Lemons-Goodhue house on Lemon.


The Lynde Ladies of Salem

I’ve always admired these three portraits of women from the Lynde family: the wife and daughters of Benjamin Lynde Jr., chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature and one of the justices who presided over the trial of Captain Thomas Preston following the Boston Massacre. As the portraits were produced by very esteemed and in-demand artists, their existence seems to me to represent the extreme wealth and prestige of the family, and by extension Salem, with which they were all identified. But since I’ve had my “enslavement enlightenment” lightbulb moment, I find I can’t look at them in the same way I used to: a little personal perspective on a challenge faced by many towns, cities, and universities these days. I can’t admire the rich folds of velvet and silk swathing these women without thinking of their other “possessions”.

Lynde Jr Wife Mary Feke Huntington

Robert Feke, Mrs. Benjamin Lynde Jr., c. 1748. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

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Joseph Blackburn, Mary Lynde Oliver, c. 1755. National Gallery of Art.

Lynde Lydia Copley

John Singleton Copley, Lydia Lynde (Walter), c. 1762-64. Lydia Lynde, ca. 1762-64.  New Britain Museum of American Art, Stephen B. Lawrence Fund and through exchange.

Maybe I can look at the silk without guilt: there are references to at least two enslaved men in the various accounts of Justice Lynde’s household, implicating his wife Mary (Bowles) Lynde (1709-91), but I do not know if the Lynde’s two daughters, Mary Lynde Oliver (1733-1807) and Lydia Lynde Walter (1741-1798) are so-tainted. As Mary Jr. was married to a gentleman scientist (Andrew Oliver) and Lydia married the Rector of  Trinity Church in Boston (the Reverend William Walter), I would like to think that they despised the institution and practice of slavery, but that might be anachronistic wishful thinking on my part as science, religion, and slavery seem to be compatible in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Mary’s 1751 diary is among other Oliver collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I bet that would yield some clues. Slavery was abolished in Massachusetts during the lifetimes of all of these women, and it would be interesting to know their reactions to that epic event. While the two Marys led much of their lives in the Lynde family home on the corner of Essex and Liberty Streets (demolished in 1836, and then of course the PEM engulfed that latter so that no longer exists either) in Salem, Lydia lived with her husband in Boston until 1776 when they decamped for Nova Scotia with other Loyalists, to return only in 1791. While The Loyalists of Massachusetts described both of Benjamin Lynde’s sons-in-law as “staunch Loyalists”, I’m just not sure that is the case with Andrew Oliver, Mary’s husband. He was certainly part of a conspicuous Loyalist family as his father was the last royal Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and his uncle its last royal Chief Justice, but he seems to have been more passionate about science than politics and he and Mary remained in Salem during the Revolution.

Lynde Andrew Olliver

Joseph Blackburn, Andrew Oliver, Jr., c. 1755, National Gallery of Art. In the companion portrait to that of Mary above, Andrew Oliver looks even more resplendent, with his waistcoat and dovecote!

Andrew Oliver by Copley MFA

John Singleton Copley, Andrew Oliver, Jr., 1758. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

At least I think they did: they’re pretty quiet, only emerging towards the end of the war as executors (she with her maiden name) of her father’s estate. I’d like to think that Mary and Andrew fulfilled the dictates of Benjamin Lynde Jr.’s will and freed his long-term “man” Primus joyfully, and on the most generous of terms. No advertisements for lost or runaway humans before that, thank goodness, only books. We do get some insights into Mary’s character from the ever-quotable Reverend Bentley, although they are not very complimentary: she was “of real piety but not of that mind which could have rendered her a fit companion for her husband who took a high rank in American Literature. She was feeble limited in her enquiries, & a century too late in her manners.” (Diary II, 335-6).

Lynde Salem Gazette 1781

Lynde Essex Gazette 1769

Addendum: There is a fourth portrait of a Lynde lady: Benjamin Lynde Jr.’s mother, Mary Browne Lynde, in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum: I don’t remember ever seeing it, but it is featured in Lorinda Goodwin’s book An Archaeology of Manners: The Polite World of the Merchant Elite of Colonial Massachusetts (2002) as well as the Smithsonian’s catalog of American portraits, where it is attributed to none other than Sir Godfrey Kneller, the “Principal Painter” of the late Stuart courts. It is quite something to think of a Salem girl being painted by the same artist who portrayed James II, William and Mary, Anne, Locke and Newton! There is no online catalog of its object collections on the PEM website, so I can’t check out their attribution, though Goodwin lists it as unattributed. Mrs. Lynde Sr. appears to have been a very beautiful woman, but not only were her father and husband slave owners, she lived in an age in which slavery became integrated inextricably with the British Atlantic Empire. In 1713 Britain was granted the asiento, the exclusive contract to supply the Spanish American colonies with slaves, in the treaty that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, thus enabling its domination of the Atlantic Slave Trade for the rest of the eighteenth century. 

Mary Browne Lynde

Queen Anne Kneller

Two Kneller portraits? Mary Browne Lynde and Princess Anne before her accession in 1702, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Chirk Castle © National Trust.  After the asiento was granted to Great Britain by the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht, the South Sea Company, in which both Anne and her successor George I were large shareholders, was awarded the contract to supply slaves to Spain’s colonies. 


Salem Women’s Lives in the Phillips Library

As they are now, Salem women were really, really busy in the near and more-distant past, and the records in the Phillips Library are a testament to both the range and intensity of their activities. At this moment, the PEM is highlighting all of the powerful women whose work and lives are featured in their 2018 slate of exhibitions, including Georgia O’Keeffe, artist and facilitator Angela Washco, photographer Sally Mann, and a succession of Qing Dynasty empresses of China. In her post, Lydia Gordon writes about “multiple feminisms” and observes that to operate in feminist modes is not just advocating for women’s issues, but rather to take on the human issues within social, cultural, economic and political arenas of our lives. To be a feminist is to be human. I couldn’t agree more, and while it is wonderful to have all these exhibitions on view here in Salem, once again I am struck by the burying of the local past by an institution which is focused primarily on the more global present. For the collections of the PEM’s Phillips Library are full of women tak[ing]on the human issues within [the] social, cultural, economic, and political arenas of [their] lives, and I’m afraid we’re never going to hear their stories–or see their faces.

Woman Pierce PEMThe lovely Catherine Johnson Pierce, who we do get to see in Salem: anonymous American artist, c. 1828-29, Peabody Essex Museum.

So many activist “Republican Mothers” in nineteenth-century Salem! Here’s just a sampling of women’s association papers in the Phillips Library: the Salem Female Charitable Society Records (1801-2001; MSS 359—still active today!), the Dorcas Society of Salem (1811-1875; MSS 113), The Seamen’s Widow and Orphan Association (1833-1960; Acc. 2011.008); the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Records, 1834-1866; MSS 34—fortunately digitized by the Congregational Library and Archives), the Salem Female Employment Society (1861-1875; MSS 113) and the Salem Thought and Work Club (1891-1974), headed by the famed author and activist Kate Tannatt Woods, who deserves her own archive. In her 1977 article in the Essex Institute Historical Collections, then-curator Anne Farnam outlined the workings of the Salem Female Charitable Society early in the nineteenth century, and also reads between the lines to illustrate what can be gleaned from the more opaque entries, such as the vote of the SFCS on September 2, 1801 from the first published list of subscribers of the society. Mrs. West was in the process of a bitter divorce, and one would like to have heard that discussion. As the century progresses, Salem women’s organizations continue to serve as charity stewards, and widen their social scope to include abolition, temperance, education and immigration.

Women PEM SFCS

WOMEN PEM collage A published sermon for the Salem Female Charitable Society, 1815; and records of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society as digitized by the Congregational Library & Archives.

And then there are so many stories of individual women in the Phillips: far too many to include an exhaustive list here. One could: follow a Salem sea captain’s wife along as she accompanies her husband around the world in 1837-38 (Log 405), reconstruct several long-distance marriages by delving into the correspondence between captain’s wives who stayed in Salem and their roving husbands, perceive how several Salem women, from different stations in life, assessed the world around them and their own lives during short and long stretches of time in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through their diaries; appreciate the contributions of the extraordinary women of the Remond family (MSS 271), assess the interesting lives and careers of the “Misses Williams” of Salem, two spinster sisters who made, taught, collected and sold art in Salem, and traveled to Italy and elsewhere recording their observations and purchasing items for resale back in their Salem studio/gallery (MSS 253); read cookbooks annotated with notes and suggested variations (MSS 483); examine the unsuccessful restoration of the Qing Dynasty in China from the perspective of three missionaries present at the time (MSS 0.650), learn so much more about the lives and work of so many accomplished Salem women, including Sophia and Rose Hawthorne (MSS 69), educator Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (MSS 474), author, illustrator and educator Lydia Very (MSS 83), authors Kate Tannatt Woods and Mary Harrod Northend (Fam. Mss 1119 and MSS 0.016) and artist and entrepreneur Sarah Symonds (MSS 0.016).

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Photograph of Waters family members, undated, MSS 92 Volume 4

Women PEM Williams Sisters Studio

Women PEM Very

 

Women PEM Woods

Cookbook

Synchronicity Sarah Symonds

Studies of the intersection of maritime and gender histories have been trending for some time–but where do the rich collections of the Phillips Library fit in? Women of the Waters Family–all dressed up and ready to go where? (Phillips MH 12); The Studio of the Misses Williams of Salem (Phillips Library photograph from Jacqueline Marie Musacchio’s “The Misses Williams in Salem and Rome: Women Making and Marketing Art and Antiquities.” In The Art of the Deal: Dealers and the Art Market on Both Sides of the Atlantic, 18601940, ed. Lynn Catterson, 59-8 (2017)An illustration by Lydia Very, who bequeathed her Federal Street house to the Essex Institute (MSS 83); Kate Tannatt Woods, Out and About (1882); What Salem Dames Coked, the cookbook published by the Esther C. Mack (another amazing woman) Industrial School in 1910, 1920, and 1933 and reprinted by Applewood Books; The “Colonial Studio” of Sarah Symonds on Brown Street, in a building now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum.

As I think about these Salem women on this particular day, in the midst of this particular Women’s History Month, I am dismayed and disheartened when I should be inspired. The sources for women’s history in the Phillips Library are so rich that I have no doubt that they will be discovered and dispersed by a succession of scholars, as many have already (and the digitized catalog and finding aids will facilitate that process), but the prospects for public presentation and engagement seem bleak. As the Phillips collections take up residence in an inaccessible factory, with no obvious digitization plan in place or apparent institutional interest in historical interpretation, it is difficult to see how the people of Salem—or visitors to our “historic city”– will be able to face its history in any meaningful way, like the little girl below.

CurryPhotoTwo-year-old Parker Curry facing Michelle Obama’s portrait by Amy Sherald: a photograph taken by museum visitor Ben Hines which went viral last week, Washington Post.


The Ladies’ Miscellany, 1828-31

To end Women’s History Month on a more pleasant note, I leafed through the digital pages of a short-lived Salem newspaper published for women by John Chapman from 1828 to 1831: the LadiesMiscellany.  I started with the question what did women want to read?  but quickly determined that this was a query that I would not be able to answer, as most of the material in each edition seemed to be of a prescriptive nature: what women should read and do rather than what they might like to. There are long romantic/dramatic or edifying stories in every issue, along with poetry (a lot of odes to the seasons), little editorials about “women’s issues” culled from other American and English periodicals, and (the best part): events:  strictly marriages and deaths, with the occasional ordination. No births, for some reason, although you would think this would be a popular topic. Reading the lines very randomly (which suits the nature of this publication: “miscellany” is an apt title), and reading between the lines, these are my main takeaways:

  1. It is possible to be the perfect wife.
  2. Mustard is an antidote for poison!
  3. Success in life (or marriage) generally consists of finding the right regimen–and sticking to it.
  4. Many young Salem men drowned by falling overboard ships in exotic places, or in Salem Harbor.
  5. It is possible to illustrate the concept of division of labor many different ways using domestic items and tasks.
  6. Corset mania was a major concern–but for whom? Certainly not for Mrs. Sally Bott, who was the Miscellany’s most consistent advertiser.
  7.  It’s nice to see this notice of the Salem Female Charitable Society, which was founded in 1801, incorporated in 1804, and is still in existence today!

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Ladies Miscellany Collage 1

LM Collage

LM Collage 2

LM collage 3

Corset collage

-SFCS collage


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