Tag Archives: Women’s History

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!

Ladies Miscellany2

Ladies Miscellany Collage 1

LM Collage

LM Collage 2

LM collage 3

Corset collage

-SFCS collage


A Scalping in Salem

As today is “Salem Women’s History Day” as proclaimed by our mayor, I thought I should write about a “notable” Salem woman. I’ve certainly featured lots of Salem women here, including accomplished authors, artists, and activists, some prominent socialites, a few domestic heroines, and even an accused murderess, but there are lots more stories to tell. When considering my options, one particular woman kept popping up in my mind, or rather I couldn’t get her out of my mind: Hannah E. Leary of Cross Street, a carding machine operator at the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company in the late nineteenth century. To my knowledge, Hannah did not write anything, or paint anything, or organize anything of note, but she did suffer a tragic, terrible accident in the summer of 1894 which is perhaps representative of the challenges of daily working life for many Salem women at this time. And that makes her notable. On a hot day in late July, Miss Leary’s hair was caught in a carding machine, effectively “scalping” her: the suffering that she experienced on that day and over the next week was chronicled daily in the pages of the Boston Post, giving her a notability that her fellow workers, both male and female but all un-maimed, lacked.

Leary Collage

Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co 1890s Cousins First reports on the scalping of Hannah Leary, Boston Post, July 27, 1894; the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company, popularly known as Pequot Mills, in the 1890s, Frank Cousins.

The reporting is very detailed, and thus hard to forget. Hannah never lost consciousness although many around her fainted. Her bloodied scalp was retrieved from the machinery and she was conveyed to the Salem Hospital on Charter Street (after a considerable time, as the hospital’s one and only ambulance was in Swampscott). There the doctors began the delicate task of re-attaching her scalp to her head with the hopes that it would “knit”. We are informed that Hannah is one of the oldest women workers at the Mill, at age 43, and that her employment began when she was 15. We are also informed that she normally wore her long hair braided and pinned, but that on this particular day she did not. Reaching down to pick up something under the machine, she was caught in its mechanical death grip, an occurrence that has happened many times before, the paper tells us. Every day over the next week the Post checked in on her condition: things look bleak as we read one lurid headline after the next, and then we read that “she may live”, and no more—I guess she ceased being news.

Leary Collage 2 Daily Reports on Hannah’s condition in the Boston Post, August 1-5, 1894.

Some context: these industrial accidents happened all the time. I went through all the regional newspapers trying to determine Hannah’s fate and read about worker after worker falling, losing fingers, being scalded or burned or blown up. The “scalping” reports definitely receive the biggest headlines. Hannah’s doctors are almost blasé about her injury (it happened to a girl last year), and she had suffered another mangling earlier in her career. Everyone knows about the big industrial tragedies, like the Pemberton Mill collapse of 1860 or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 or the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, but the daily toll on individual workers seems relentless. I am also struck by how neglected Salem’s industrial and labor history is: it’s as if we’re caught in a colonial Groundhog Day where we have to repeat the same stories again and again and again. My colleague at SSU, Avi Chomsky, has focused on industrial relations in this era for both a book chapter (in Salem: Myth, Place and Memory by my other colleagues, Dane Morrison and Nancy Lusignan Schultz) and an exhibition  on the Pequot Mills Strike of 1933, and more recently, Jacob Remes has examined workers’ organization in the aftermath of the Great Salem Fire of 1914 in Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era. There is a lot more work to be done, however, to put Hannah’s story in a more comprehensive context: the “mill girls” of Salem stare out at us in the photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine but we don’t know much more about them than their names.

Scalping collage

Factory Women Lawrence More:  reports in the North Adams Transcript and  Fitchburg Sentinel, 1899, 1903 & 1913; Factory women photographed in the Workforce Washington Factory in Lawrence, MA, March 27, 1903, Lawrence History Center.

And what of Hannah? Because of her tragic accident she does emerge from the pack of “typical old-maid workers” in the words of pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnson, but only in bare outline. The newspapers abandoned her as soon as it appeared that she would recover. She returned to her sister’s house on Cross Street, but not to work. She died four months later of a “tumor in the uterus”, still only forty-three years old.


Leaping Ladies on the Loose

On this quadrennial February 29, a follow-up post to one from the last leap year. I don’t have any radical new insights into the public perception of this occasion in the past, but I do see some connections and characterizations of which I was previously unaware. As before, and as usual, it was the Victorians who cemented the idea of women “leaping” outside of their conventional role at this time by proposing to their prospective spouses, beginning with Victoria herself. It was widely known that the young Queen proposed to her beloved Alfred in 1839 (not a leap year but she was Queen), and their marriage did occur in the following bissextile year. Apparently it was fine for Victoria, but such assertiveness among mere mortal women was not quite so tolerated, as Leap Year depictions became more cutting and critical in several ways as the nineteenth century progressed. Postcards were used to depict mismatched marriages: the woman is too rich, too old, too large. The “tall bride” is a consistent trope, and I think the very popular Raphael Tuck & Sons Leap Year postcard of a bride towering over her royal groom is a reference to the sensational marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt and the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. In addition to images of brides buying their grooms, Leap Year postcards from the peak period of 1896-1916 depict women who are pushing against the constraints of their gender: women who “scorch” the streets on a bicycle or ask for the vote, women who sought to “wear the pants” not only on February 29 every four years, but on every day in every year. Ladies are pictured hunting, trapping, and hooking men in Leap Year post and trade cards up until the teens, after which milder messages predominate, most likely because of the twin forces of the First World War and women’s suffrage.

Leap Year Life 1896 Cover

Leap Year Vanderbilt Marlborough Wedding

Leap Year Gauntlet Tuck 1911-12

Leap Year Raphael Tuck

Leap Year Tuck Collage

Leap Year Brill Collage

Leap Year Card Collage

Leap Year 1908 BPL

Leap Year Text 1904p

Life Magazine February Leap Year Cover, 1896, New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Raphael Tuck & Sons Oilette Leap Year Cards, 1904-1912, from a selection here; “Cupid’s Coffin” illustration of the Vanderbilt-Marlborough Wedding by Charles Dana Gibson for Life, sourced here; George Reiter Brill Cards, Playles; Trade card and Postcards from the Boston Public Library and Smithsonian Institution.


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