Tag Archives: Women’s History

A Victorian View of Salem Witchcraft

I had not thought about the prolific and pioneering author Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) for years: until I encountered a portrait of her by the Salem artist Charles Osgood in the Catalog of Portraits at the Essex Institute (1936). I was looking for some lost portraits of Salem women—portraits which are still presumably in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum but which we have no access to either digitally or in person, and for which no accessible catalog entry exists except in the Smithsonian’s Catalog of American Portraits. I found many such portraits in this catalog, but I did not expect to find Harriet, a popular British author whose many works contributed to the emerging fields of sociology, economics, and political science. Martineau was cast into the breadwinner role for her impoverished family while in her 20s, and so she picked up a pen and produced an astonishing array of texts illustrating the contemporary social and economic structures of the British Empire: taxation, the poor laws, industry and trade. While these might seem like dry topics then and now, Martineau had an extraordinary ability to interpret, translate, and distill abstract and complex theory into clear and engaging prose: both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria were fans!  Travels to the United States and the Middle East expanded Martineau’s range of topics as well as her abilities to report and observe, and she moved beyond illustration and theory into methodology, thus contributing to social-science practice. Martineau accepted no limitations: of genre (she wrote both fiction and non-fiction) or gender, and neither her encroaching deafness or her many illnesses stopped her from writing. When diagnosed with fatal heart disease in 1855, she wrote her own obituary, noting that: Her original power was nothing more than was due to earnestness and intellectual clearness within a certain range. With small imaginative and suggestive powers, and therefore nothing approaching to genius, she could see clearly what she did see, and give a clear expression to what she had to say. In short, she could popularize while she could neither discover nor invent. She lived, and wrote, for another twenty years.

Harriet Martineau by Charles Osgood Catalogue of Portraits in Essex Institute (2)

Harriet Martineau Richard Evans 1834 NPG (2)Harriet Martineau by Salem artist Charles Osgood, c. 1835, Catalog of Portraits in the Essex Institute (1936); and by Richard Evans, c. 1833-34, National Portrait Gallery.

In 1834, the same year that her Evans portrait was exhibited in London, Harriet traveled to the United States on a research trip: she wanted to observe and analyze the dynamic economy of the new nation, as well as its “peculiar institution” of slavery. Her time in America refined her observation skills but also made her more of an activist: encountering both slavery in the south and the fervent abolitionist community in New England intensified her own anti-slavery sentiments. She published her American observations in Society in America (1837) which contains a forceful critique of the Southern economy’s exclusive reliance on slave labor and a much more favorable view of New England based on principles of the “moral economy”. In the Slave South, “one of the absolutely inevitable results of slaver is a disregard of human rights; an inability even to comprehend them”, while in the egalitarian North “every man is answerable for his own fortunes; and there is therefore stimulus to the exercise of every power.” Martineau goes on to extol the economic (and social) virtues of Salem, where she was in residence for several weeks at the Chestnut Street home of  Congressman (and future mayor) Stephen C. Phillips. She loves everything about Salem: its beautiful historic homes, its bustling tanneries, its “famous” museum, but especially its social mobility: “what a state of society it is when a dozen artisans of one town—Salem—are seen rearing each a comfortable one-story (or, as the Americans would say, two-story) house, in the place with which they have grown up! when a man who began with laying bricks criticizes, and sometimes corrects, his lawyer’s composition; when a poor errand-boy becomes the proprietor of a flourishing store, before he is thirty; pays off the capital advanced by his friends at the rate of 2,000 dollars per month; and bids fair to be one of the most substantial citizens of the place!”

brm0399-bachelder-salem-1856-1024x794 (2)Salem in the mid-nineteenth century from John Bachelder’s Album of New England Scenery.

Harriet Martineau was far more interested in the present than the past, and she predicts that the “remarkable” Salem, “this city of peace”, “will be better known hereafter for its commerce than for its witch-tragedy.” [if only!!!] Nevertheless, it happens that both one of her earliest and one of her last American publications was focused on Salem witchcraft: reviews of Charles Wentworth Upham’s Lectures on Witchcraft comprising a history of the delusion in Salem, in 1692 (1831) and Salem Witchcraft with an account of Salem Village and a history of opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects (1867). Her review of the latter in the Edinburgh Review displays her interpretive abilities perfectly, managing to both summarize Upham’s work and supplement it with a Victorian sensibility as well as the perspective of a social scientist. Like many of her contemporaries, Martineau was interested in psychological experimentation: the practice of mesmerism, in particular, was interesting to her for its curative powers as she experienced challenging medical conditions from the 1840s. Her interest in the powers of suggestion influenced her reaction to Upham’s study of the Salem trials, but so too did her sociological studies of organized religion and community interactions. She manages to display both historical empathy and the presentism which characterizes so many interpretations of the Salem Witch Trials at the same time as she emphasized “the seriousness and the instructiveness of this story to the present generation [this could have been written today]. Ours is the generation which has seen the spread of Spiritualism in Europe and America, a phenomenon which deprives us of all right to treat the Salem Tragedy as a jest, or to adopt a tone of superiority in compassion for the agents in that dismal drama.” [this could not].

Harriet Upham 1831 (2)

mdp.39015026502115-seq_593-2The first Upham work to be reviewed by Harriet, and a sketch of Miss Martineau at work in Fraser’s Magazine, November, 1833.


Delights for Ladies

This was one of those weeks that the book took precedence, so it was difficult for me to find the time to research a proper #SalemSuffrageSaturday post: it really has been time-consuming to find all those lost reformers, gentle ladies, and entrepreneurs—though the authors and artists are much easier. I have a few more I want to highlight before this commemorative year is over, but this week all I have is book for ladies, written by an Elizabethan author whom I am sure could not have conceived of universal suffrage in his wildest imagination even though he was a relatively progressive fellow for his time. Hugh Plat (1552?-1608) is featured in several of my chapters: his work was very wide-ranging. He wrote about agriculture and gardening, alchemy, engineering, medicine, and all sorts of little inventions meant to improve daily life: an everlasting “tube-like” victual called macaroni for seamen on long voyages, a prototype raincoat, cheaper candles and lanterns for the homes of “the poorer sort”, and even dentures! He was an absolute believer in the art of alchemy, not as some secret enterprise, but as a way to extract the inherent spirits and virtues out of natural substances, and make them more efficacious. He wanted to make English land more fertile, English homes lighter, and English bodies healthier. Plat can certainly be criticized for selling ineffective plague pills during the pandemic of 1593, and I’m still wrestling with that. There are two great books on Plat: Deborah Harkness’s The Jewel House. Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution and Malcolm Thick’s Sir Hugh Plat: the Search for Useful Information in Early Modern London. I’m grateful for both, as they are based on manuscript evidence which I can’t access as well as Plat’s many publications, but I need to find my own Hugh Plat.

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Plat’s major work, still being published nearly 50 years after his death.

The Jewel House of Art and Nature was popular, but a book aimed at the relatively new feminine audience was even more so: first published in 1602, Delights for Ladies, to adorn their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories was published in 13 editions up until the middle of the seventeenth century, sometimes bound with a companion text, A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, or the Art of preserving, conserving, and candying. The original is available here, and two editions were published in the twentieth century: one by the Trovillion Press in 1939 and another edited by historian G.E. Russell after World War II. I have a badly-beat-up Trovillion edition, which still manages to be a beautiful little book, and some day I am going to have a pristine one!

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Delights is a book of “still-room secrets” with which women could whip up precious potions and waters to take care of their daily needs and concerns. It is also a rather specialized cookbook, and general housekeeping book: you really understand that word—housekeeping—when you read it, as Plat’s concern here, also evident in his other books, is to preserve foodstuffs and keep them fresh for as long as possible. He detested spoilage and waste. So there are preserves that we would recognize today, including “marmelades” and “gellys” made from fruit, but also instructions on how to keep fish and meat for “many days”. The house also has to be kept clean and well-provisioned with both food, drink, and medicines for maladies minor and major. There is a lot of expensive sugar in this book, which obviously catered to early modern English tastes, but also indicates that this was certainly not a book for the “poorer sort”: Plat’s huswife, a term that came into use during his lifetime, was a “courteous gentlewoman” who could read. And what might be her personal concerns, besides provisioning her house? Something to keep her face fresh, clean, and spot-free, a lovely hand lotion, tooth paste, and a dye to return the chestnut or golden luster to her hair (or her husband’s beard). Something to help the “ytch” and take out stains from her garments and bedclothes. A pomander for the plague-time, and headache powders, and sweet-smelling perfumes for any time. The more things change………….

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Plat Dye

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Bells were Ringing

We’ve come to THE week of this year-long suffrage celebration, which has unfortunately been overshadowed by other events! But I think we should all stop and recognize the anniversary, coming up on the 18th, of the constitutional ratification of the 19th amendment 100 years ago. Since the 1970s, Womens Equality Day has been commemorated on August 26, the day that the ratification was certified, but a century ago, everyone realized that the Tennessee vote on the 18th was the big moment: the suffragists themselves, the newspapers, and even the anti-suffragists! The photograph of Alice Paul extending the flag of 36 stars from a balcony, symbolizing the realization of the two-thirds majority, while her colleagues jump with joy (well I like to think they were jumping) below, captures this moment perfectly.

Suffrage-Celebration-ALice-Paul-2Library of Congress

I wanted to ascertain, and feel the local reaction to the ratification, so I checked out as many local papers as I could. We’re handicapped with 20th century history when it comes to newspaper coverage as the Salem Evening News is available only on microfilm and our public library has been closed since the pandemic, so I have relied primarily on Boston papers which covered the region. I’m sure I’m missing a lot of little anecdotal reactions, but here’s the slightly-bigger picture: rapid registrations, bells chiming out, a big celebratory evening at Faneuil Hall, and a Boston parade, of course. After celebration came deliberation: as the pundits tried to assess the impact of all these new voters on the upcoming election.

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Suffrage Bells Aug 28

Suffrage Victory Parade

Suffrage Straw Poll

Griswold VotesThe aftermath of August 18, 1920: headlines and editorials in the Boston Post and Boston Daily Globe, August 19 (I didn’t realize the Ponzi Scheme was in the news at this time!), primaries were coming up, so there was an immediate focus on registration, big victory celebration at Faneuil Hall on the 23rd; supposedly there was a national bell-ringing event on the 28th (?), the last Woman Suffrage Association parade in September; a straw poll in October and Mrs. Almira C. Griswold’s registration made NATIONAL headlines on September 11-13, 1920.


We Girls and One Boy

I have forgotten what I was searching for on the Internet Archive last week, but somehow I ended up looking at yearbooks of the turn-of-the-century graduating classes of the Salem Normal School, the founding institution of the university where I now teach, Salem State University.  The cover of the 1904 yearbook, entitled The New Mosaic, first caught my attention, then the fanciful illustrations inside, and lastly, the writing. I moved on to the 1905 and 1906 yearbooks, titled The New Mosaic and The Mosaic respectively, which were equally charming, and all the way up to 1914, when the yearbook was published with the rather odd title of Normalities (I get it–Normal School/Normalities, but still). It seems that for a brief time, generally the first decade of the twentieth century, the Salem Normal School seniors published really interesting accounts of their educational experiences—focused on what they learned and what was going on in their world rather than simply who they were. After 1915 or so, the yearbooks became Year Books, with the standard “facebook” format still used today: registries of students rather than their own reflections.

Mosaic 1904 Final Collage

Mosaic 1905

Mosaic 1906 collage

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These yearbooks are fascinating and rather poignant—they made me miss my own students! The seniors pay tribute to their teachers, to each other, and to the class behind them. We read all about their activities and clubs and how long it took them to walk down Lafayette Street from the train station. There are lots of whimsical drawings—which will be replaced by more straightforward photographs later. I’m including this post under my #salemsuffragesaturday banner as nearly all the students at the Salem Normal School were women in these days, and the editorial staff of these successive yearbooks were exclusively women. Men were admitted to the school from 1898, but their numbers were extremely low during this first decade of the twentieth century: this makes for some rather amusing class pictures, as we can see from the photograph of the 1906 graduating class below. The same ratio for the 1904 class, as the New Mosaic of that year registers excitement for the upcoming graduation of “We girls and one boy”.

Mosaic 1906 one boy (3)The 1906 graduating class of the Salem Normal School

I kept reading because I wanted to see what the students were saying about all the events of the later teens: war, pandemic, suffrage. The yearbooks became less creative, but they started to include editorials: a popular Geography professor who served in World War I died of pneumonia (brought on by influenza?) right after the Armistice and now there were more male students, so the war was very much on the minds of successive editors. Nothing is said about suffrage, which really surprised me: instead there is an overwhelming focus on reforms, developments, and opportunities in the teaching profession. But everything is much more serious than a decade or more before: when the girls, and one or two boys, lived and learned in a much smaller, less-threatening Salem world.

Mosaic 1904 Collage 2

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Salem Normal School yearbooks before and after World War I: so many Salem witches in the yearbooks from 1904-8; things get much more serious a decade later: the Liberty Club was dedicated to selling liberty bonds in 1918. The Boston Public Library has a vast collection of yearbooks from nearly every Massachusetts town, most of which have been digitized.


The Fabric of Friendship

Back to my Salem singlewomen shopkeepers and businesswomen: they continue to be my favorite subjects among these #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. Socialites, authors and artists: too easy! I came across one of the most stunning nineteenth-century photographs I have ever seen: of Miss Eliza P. Punchard, dressed formally in black bombazine, in front of Ann. R. Bray’s dry goods store at 76 Federal Street circa 1875. The picture was taken by the very accomplished Salem photographer Edwin Peabody, and it is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, although you will never find it on the PEM’s impenetrable and unhelpful website: I make most of my PEM discoveries through old publications of either of its founding institutions, the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. In this case, the photograph was published in Museum Collections of the Essex Institute, published in 1978. It may seem like an old-fashioned way to access a museum’s collections in 2020, but believe me, such publications are your best bet for now.

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This photograph is so compelling, so sharp, so curious! Miss Punchard is not posing formally, yet she looks very formal! Her cheekbones! A literal window into a shop full of fabrics! I want to see more of the sign! So what’s the story?

Miss Eliza P. Punchard and Miss Ann R. Bray worked together in the dry goods business but they were not business partners: the former was always listed as clerk in the census and directory records while the latter was clearly the shopowner. They were, however, friends and perhaps life partners: after leaving bequests to a score of nieces and nephews in her native Gloucester, Miss Bray left the bulk of her estate, and her shop, to Miss Punchard in her 1875 will: I can only assume that this photograph marks Miss Punchard’s succession to the well-established Bray business: and is she wearing mourning? Miss Bray’s will implies that they were very close but I can’t presume anything more than that—although again, they lived together and alone (except for a succession of servant girls, several from Maine and several from Ireland) for more than three decades: every time they needed a new servant Miss Bray advertised for help in “a household of two”. Following Miss Bray’s death in 1875, Miss Punchard ran the shop until her retirement in 1886; she died three years later. And that was the end of a seemingly-successful woman-owned business in Salem, one of many: I am sure I am just scratching the surface with these posts. The Bray business had a long run, from around 1821 at least, when Miss Bray began advertising her services as a tailoress in Salem: not a seamstress mind you, but a tailoress. The “trimmings”took over and she moved into dry goods dealing from a variety of Federal Street locales: ending up at #76.

Bray Salem Gazette 1821 (2) Best

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Bray black and whiteAdvertisements in the Salem Gazette and Register, 1821-1853: Cambric and Bombazine dresses from MoMu: Fashion Museum Antwerp and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Miss Bray was an enthusiastic advertiser in the Salem Gazette, Register and Observer and even the Wizard of South Danvers (now Peabody) and her stock got larger and more exotic as her business expanded: she offered gingham from the beginning to the end (and you can see it in the photograph of Miss Punchard) but added many other fabrics and frills from the 1840s on. I’m familiar with lots of things (merino, tartan, worsted, muslin and linen), but clueless about others: what in the world are “Russian Diapers” and “Circassian Bombazettes”? From some fashion historian crowdsourcing, I did learn that “Quaker Skirts” were a lightweight hoop, and Miss Bray offered other hoops as well, including the “Watch Spring” and “Bon Ton” varieties, and all manner of petticoats, including the popular Balmoral Skirt inspired by Queen Victoria. BUT there is definitely a patriotic shift during the Civil War: towards simpler fabrics, manufactured domestically. Mourning wear, unfortunately, was always in demand.After the war Miss Bray returned to her vast array of fabrics and accessories, and even included pianofortes in her stock! Just brief glimpses into two women’s lives in Salem: their public roles are somewhat revealed while their private world remains just so.

Bray Collage

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Bray EndSalem Register, January & July 1862; South Peabody Wizard, January 1869; Newburyport Daily Herald, November 1886.


The Grande Dame

We know her instantly when we see her: from her famous John Singer Sargent portrait painted 20 years later: she is Ellen Peabody Endicott, the Grande Dame of Salem, Boston, and Washington society, standing right behind the bride at the first presidential White House wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom on June 2, 1886. As the wife of Cleveland’s Secretary of War, William Crowninshield Endicott, she was invited to the intimate “stand-up” wedding, along with all the other cabinet ministers and their wives and so appeared in national newspaper stories over the next few weeks: her face is strong and clear-cut. One would say it was the typical Boston face. Mrs. Endicott looks like the high-bred New England woman of long descent. She wore a red pompom in her handsome gray hair at the president’s wedding. Mrs. Endicott is her husband’s first cousin. Both are descendants of the Putnam family.

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Screenshot_20200721-193543_ChromeThe President’s wedding from Harper’s Weekly, June 12, 1886 via the Library of Congress. Mrs. Endicott is on the extreme left above.

Yes, that’s correct: Ellen Peabody Endicott was an Endicott both my birth and by marriage, and a perfect example of how early Salem families, and slightly “newer” merchant families, liked to stick together. She was the granddaughter of Joseph Peabody, one of Salem’s richest golden-age merchants if not the richest, and was born (in 1833) and raised in two beautiful houses: 29 Washington Square on the Common (now the Bertram Home) and the summer house in Danvers, which the Endicotts later referred to simply as “the farm” (now Glen Magna, owned by the Danvers Historical Society). About a decade after her marriage to William Crowninshield Endicott in 1859 they established their primary Salem residence at the venerable Georgian mansion on Essex Street now known as the Cabot-Low-Endicott House: this house became quite notable due to Mr. Endicott’s rather spectacular career (Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Secretary of War in the Cleveland administration) and their daughter’s spectacular marriage to the British politician Joseph Chamberlain. The Endicotts moved into a Boston brownstone mansion on Marlborough Street following his retirement, but still spent all of their summers in Danvers.

pixlrMrs. Endicott’s houses: clockwise, Washington Square and Essex Street, Salem; 163 Marlborough Street, the Farm (Glen Magna).

Mrs. Endicott is a perfect example of yet another theme that has been emerging from these #salemsuffragesaturday posts: the difficulty of piecing together women’s lives when you only get references through an association—usually a husband. In Mrs. Endicott’s case, we hear about her because of her husband’s cabinet position and also because her daughter married the notable British politician Joseph Chamberlain in 1888: the transatlantic marriage was big news on both sides of the ocean and the bride’s parents are always characterized as old Yankees, Boston Brahmins, Puritan and/or Codfish aristocracy in all the stories (you can read all about the “Puritan Princess” here). There was also interest in the new Mrs. Cleveland, and on the several occasions when she traveled to Massachusetts, Mrs. Endicott was sent to meet and accompany her: consequently we get to hear about what both women wore in considerable detail.

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But later in life, after her husband’s death in 1900, we begin to see Ellen Peabody Endicott for herself: in terms of her accomplishments and quite literally.  She oversaw (with the help of her son, William Crowninshield, Jr., and her son-in-law Joseph Chamberlain) considerable improvements to the house and garden at the Danvers estate, including the installation of the beautiful McIntire summer house which was originally built for Elias Haskett Derby’s farm on Andover Street a few miles away in what is now Peabody. And then there are the two amazing portraits by John Singer Sargent: in oil and charcoal. The latter is very appropriately in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, and was included in the Sargent exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum just last year.

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Screenshot_20200721-150804_ChromeWilliam Crowninshield’s death in May of 1901 was a national headline; Ellen Peabody Endicott (Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott), 1901 by John Singer Sargent, National Gallery of Art: Gift of Louise Thoron Endicott in memory of Mr. and Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott; Portrait of Ellen Peabody Endicott, 1905, John Singer Sargent, Peabody Essex Museum: Gift of Mrs. William Hartley Carnegie, 1957.

Appendix: Painting Ellen’s Portrait!  The Sargent oil portrait in situ in Karin Jurick’s painting “Sitting Idly By”: you can see more of her work here.

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The First Crusader

One of the key themes emerging from my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts is the activism and organization of women: there is a paper trail of organized advocacy for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and all sorts of reform and relief. The beginning of that trail might have begun in the 1820s with protests against the Federal government’s policy towards Native Americans: I don’t see a movement but I do see one fierce crusader in Salem. Elizabeth Elkins Sanders (1762-1851) is yet another woman about whom we never hear anything in Salem: she was born into privilege, lived a privileged life, but was aware of said privilege in an age when most of her contemporaries were not, and consequently became a fierce advocate for Native Americans and an equally fierce critic of American cultural imperialism from the 1820s on—expressing views that become much more current a century later. She was not just an armchair observer; she published Conversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828), the First Settlers of New England (1829), and the Tract on Missions (1844) as well as several literary essays and reviews. The intense presidential campaign of 1828, pitting notorious Indian fighter Andrew Jackson against Massachusetts’ native son John Quincy Adams, inspired her to pick up a pen in her sixties: the Tract on Missions was published when she was 82!

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Sanders contextConversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America, published by Elizabeth Elkins Sanders during the presidential campaign of 1828; Catherine Beecher’s Circular Addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States (from the Phillips Library, incorrectly attributed to Sanders), a call to action against the pending Indian Removal Act, 1829. Alisse Portnoy’s Their Right to Speak connects the anti-removal movement with the emerging abolitionist movement in the antebellum era.

Elizabeth Sanders (or Saunders) was a Salem representative of a larger movement against Indian removal which included the first national women’s petition campaign, organized by Connecticut educators Catherine Beecher (elder sister of Harriet) and Lydia Sigourney: in response to the Circular addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States nearly 1500 petitions were sent to Washington in 1830. I’m assuming Elizabeth sent hers, and wondering what other causes and organizations were the focus of her “expansive benevolence and strong mature intellect”.

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20200717_180254Salem Observer, February 22, 1851; 39 Chestnut Street, the home of Captain Thomas and Elizabeth E. Sanders.

 


The Coal Queen of Salem

There is no question that the women I’ve come to admire the most as I’ve been compiling my #SalemSuffrageSaturday stories are the entrepreneurs: the artists and writers and activists are both interesting and impressive of course, but women entrepreneurs leave less of a mark, and were much more daring in their day. It was fine for women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to “dabble” in painting and writing, but business was another thing altogether: no dabbling there. And no one is interested in them, so their stories remain untold. We have to hear about (very worthy, but still!) House of the Seven Gables founder and philanthropist Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton Caroline Emmerton again and again and again and again and again, but I’m telling you now: her contemporary Charlotte Fairfield was far more interesting.

So who was Charlotte Fairfield (1864-1924)? Well, I have labeled her “Salem’s Coal Queen” and the Boston papers refer to her as both a “Model Business Woman” and “Salem’s Smartest Business Woman”, among other glowing terms. She was the daughter of James Fairfield of Salem, a dealer in coal and other commodities, but she did not simply inherit the family business: she pursued her own bookkeeping career in Boston, principally with the dry goods firm Babcock & Sargent, until the combined forces of her own illness and her brother’s death compelled her to come back to Salem and work with her father. In 1903, when she was denied a vote in the Salem Coal Club, she and her father decided to go “independent” and undercut their competition, lowering the price of coal in Salem and exposing what was essentially a cartel in the process to great acclaim and notoriety: the newspapers simply could not write enough about Miss Fairfield in the winter of 1903: she became the “Fighting Coal Dealer”.

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“Lottie” Fairfield transcended her gender with that particular headline in the Boston Sunday Globe, but the story beneath it, and most stories about her in 1903 and later, are overwhelmingly focused on it: Thoroughly independent, with a mind, a will, and a brain all her own and a masculine adaptability for business, Miss Fairchild is decidedly feminine, not at all what you would call a strong-minded ‘new’ woman, but an up-to-date, stylish, well-gowned, attractive, bright, lovable little body, who, with the proverbial inconsistency of her sex, with coal by the wagonloads on her wharves, has burned coke for a couple of years in her furnace reads the February 15 illustrated story in the Globe. Wow! That is quite a characterization. The Boston Post caricatured her “arrogant” competitors in the Salem Coal Club, most prominently Major George W. Pickering, while headlining her as a heroine.

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Coal Boston Post 13 Feb 1903 2PMBoston Post 13 February 1903

And so she was: because the result of Miss Fairfield’s war with the Salem Coal Club was the lowering of the price of coal from $12.00 to $9 a ton in Salem: imagine the impact that had in an era when coal was a major household expense! Charlotte Fairfield appears in the Boston papers again and again over the next twenty years, always portrayed as plucky, business-savvy, and well-dressed. After years of pleading with the city of Salem to dredge the Harbor so that coal-laden ships could reach her docks, she took matters into her own hands and then submitted the dredging bill to the City, which refused to reimburse her. One of her docks was damaged because of the inaccessibility of the Harbor. She filed suit against the City for both reimbursement and damages, and eventually won both, though the legal process stretched out for years, earning her more headlines in the local papers. She was a fierce advocate for Salem Harbor, and not just for commercial reasons: at this time the City was dumping raw sewage into it and she and others protested regularly to state and federal authorities. She was very involved in the relief efforts following the Great Salem Fire in 1914 (which did not burn down her waterfront storehouse, as it was built of “modern” materials) and she gave a job to every Salem soldier returning home from World War I.

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Coal Harbor

I became so enamored of Charlotte Fairfield that I actually gasped when I found accounts of her death in the papers: a tragic end to a very full and active life, from injuries sustained when her clothing caught fire while she was standing too close to a gas heater in her home at 13 Pleasant Street (there is actually quite a list of Salem women who died when their clothes caught on fire!!!) She was able to call for help, and was in stable condition for the first few days in Salem Hospital, but she died on January 30, 1924, leaving only a niece, and a substantial estate, of course.

Coal-28-Jan-1924


Suffrage Stories

I apologize for my disappearance without a heads-up: the combination of computer problems and travel rendered me postless for a week! I am back with the first of what will be a series of reading lists for the summer, but first some big news: I’ve just received a book contract for the project I’ve been working intermittently but steadily on for the last couple of years, so expect The Practical Renaissance: Information Culture in Early Modern England out next year (or early in 2022) from Bloomsbury! This means that posts on early modern medicine, agriculture, mechanics, and navigation are going to turn up here occasionally, but the blog will also serve as a break from my more-scholarly endeavors: Salem history is still a rich minefield and I will still have a life! As these past few weeks have shown, history in general is as problematic, and public, and current as ever, and here I can indulge, and engage, and weigh in. And in matters more material, I still have my kitchen renovation to show you! (we are in a particularly messy and noisy stage right now).

Though the suffrage centennial has been drowned out by the pandemic and protests of this eventful year, it remains a focus for me. I’m sorry that this notable anniversary is getting lost— along with the bicentennial of my home state of Maine and the 400th anniversary of the passage of the Mayflower. As I am neither an American or modern historian, I really had to read up on the long struggle for suffrage–both in America and Europe–to get the context and perspective I wanted for my #SalemSuffrageSaturdays. The literature on the American and British suffrage movements has grown exponentially over the last few years, and I couldn’t read everything, so in typical academic fashion I started with some key primary sources, read a lot of reviews, narrowed down what I thought might be the essentials, and spread out from there. I was looking for a trans-Atlantic approach, which I didn’t really find, and also more personal stories—and the quest for the latter took me into fictional territory, so I do indeed have a few novels on my top ten (actually eleven) list. I wouldn’t consider these texts sources, of course (although they were certainly well-researched) but they fleshed things out for me. And I have some real suffragist stories too.

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Books Suffrage Kitty Marion

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How I learned about the Suffrage movements in the UK and US: 1) Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story (1914), because you’ve got to start with the founders; 2) Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up, Women is my favorite British survey—focusing on personal stories (and from Bloomsbury!) 3) here is our trans-Atlantic activist, Kitty Marion, whose extraordinary life is explored in Fern Riddell’s Death in Ten Minutes; 4) images are so important to this movement—on both sides of the Atlantic—and I’m obsessed with the work of British photographer Christina Broom; 5) and 6) I didn’t really find the writings of the founders of the US movement very accessible or enjoyable, so I went for more recent interpretations: Lisa Tetrault’s Myth of Seneca Falls and Faye Dudden’s Fighting Chance were particularly helpful in explaining some of the divisions in the movement; 7) Allison K. Lange’s brand-new Picturing Political Power explores the very important visual projections of Suffragists in the US; 8) in Massachusetts, it’s all about Lucy Stone, who must have visited Salem 100 times: she is the subject of several works, but I found Sally McMillen’s Lucy Stone: an Unapologetic Life the most helpful; 9) Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics (1898) provides classic context, and 10) and 11) two works of fiction in which Suffragettes and the Suffrage Movement play key roles: Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels and Lucy Ribchester’s The Hourglass Factory.

I couldn’t limit my list to 10 and I had to throw in some fiction: happy reading, everyone, and Happy Fourth!


An Inventory of Salem Women Artists

Today’s #SalemSuffrageSaturday post is really more of a list than a composition, and a working list at that: I want to take a stab at identifying as many female Salem artists as I can, although I know it’s an impossible task. It’s impossible because there were so many, and I’m pretty certain I haven’t tracked them all down, but it’s also a difficult task because of the historical impact of gender. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, women were taught artistic and creative skills as part of their informal and formal education: some excelled and were clearly artists, even though they—or anyone else—did not identify themselves as such. I think this especially applies to women who worked in the textile arts but to other women as well. In the nineteenth century we see the emergence of (a few) women who can make their living through their artistic talent and skill; this is rarely possible before.

Artists Fidelia Bridges by Oliver Ingraham Lay 1872 SmithsonianFidelia Bridges (1834-1923) by Oliver Ingraham Lay, 1872, Smithsonian: Bridges is probably the first and most successful Salem woman artist, though she traveled widely and lived in Connecticut for most of her professional life.

Daughters of old Salem families, Fidelia Bridges, who worked in several mediums and as both an artist and an illustrator, the Williams sisters, Abigail and Mary, who were both artists as well as art dealers, and sculptress Louise Lander, all found themselves in Rome in the mid-19th century for varying periods of time, drawing inspiration and establishing connections. The Misses Williams returned to the family home on Lafayette Street where they created a studio and loaned their works out to several prominent institutions, including the Essex Institute, which featured its very first art exhibition in 1875 featuring many Williams works. Louise Lander (1826-1923) also returned, reluctantly and eventually, to Salem and the family home at 5 Summer Street when she was shunned by the Anglo-American (and quite Salem-dominant) circle in Rome upon charges of some sort of scandalous behavior which she never deigned to answer. She exhibited her “national statue” of Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World, to raise money for war relief and moved to Washington, D.C. upon the death of her last Salem sister in 1893.

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Artists Williams Sisters Bulletin of Essex Institue 1875 (2)

Artist Virginia DareMary E. Williams, illustrations from The Hours of Raphael in Outline – Together with the Ceiling of the Hall Where They Were Originally Painted (Little, Brown, 1891); Just some of Mary and Abigail Williams’ works shown in the 1875 Essex Institute Exhibition; Virginia Dare in the Elizabethan Gardens & notice in the Boston Post, January 24, 1865.

To these nineteenth-century artists who seem to be awarded “professional” status I would add Mary Jane Derby (Peabody, 1807-1892) and Mary Mason Brooks (1860-1915) from the generation before and after the “Roman” circle. I’ve written about Derby many times before (see here and here) because I am the fortunate recipient of a journal she composed for her grandchildren, and Brooks more briefly here. Before her marriage, Mary Jane (a cousin of Louisa Lander) was definitely pursuing an artistic career, and she created several lithographs for the Boston firm Pendleton’s Lithography in the 1820s, including a view of her childhood home on Washington Street. Brooks, who worked exclusively in watercolors I believe, was one of the Salem artists who worked out of the famous “studio” at 2 Chestnut Street briefly, and her works were exhibited in Boston and New York. Among Mary Jane’s generation (almost) were two lesser-known artists, Sarah Lockhart Allen (1793-1877), who produced portraits in miniature and pastel, and Hannah Crowninshield( 1789-1834), both of whom were recognized as working artists by their contemporaries. Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809-71) is representative of the score of score of female artists who exhibited and sold their works at charitable fairs and bazaars in mid nineteenth-century Salem: always as “misses”.

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Artists Mary Mason Brooks

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View of the Nahant House by “MJD” (Mary Jane Derby), Boston Rare Maps; Mary Mason Brooks, The Lumber Schooner, Grogan & Company Auctions. Just a few of the “Fine Arts” exhibitors from Reports of the First Exhibition of the Salem Charitable Mechanic Association : at the Mechanic Hall, in the city of Salem, September, 1849

And then there were all those Salem needlewomen! In her definitive work Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (1993), collector and scholar Betty Ring devotes an entire chapter to Salem, focusing on the influential school of Sarah Fiske Stivours (1742-1819) and showcasing the work of Antiss Crowninshield (1726-1768), Love Rawlins Pickman (Frye, 1732-1809), Susannah Saunders (Hopkins, 1754-1838), Betsey Gill (Brooks, 1770-1814), and Mary Richardson (Townsend, 1772-1824) among others. This was a very important Salem art form that was revived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by Jenny Brooks, Mary Saltonstall Parker (1856-1920) and other entrepreneurial artists.

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Brooks Collage

mary-saltonstall-parker-house-beautiful-1916 (1)Betty Ring’s two-volume Girlhood Embroidery; Salem samplers by Susannah Saunders (Sothebys) and Elizabeth Crowinshield (Doyles); Jenny Brooks Co. advertisements from 1913, and Mary Saltonstall Parker’s cover embroidery for House Beautiful, October 1916.

So that brings me to the most entrepreneurial of Salem women artists, or maybe all Salem artists: Sarah Symonds, an artist-craftswoman descended from a long line of Salem craftsmen. I’ve written about Symonds (1870-1965) very recently, so I’m not going to go and on here, but she operated a very successful business selling her cast plaques of historic Salem symbols and structures in the first half of the twentieth century. Following her death in 1965 the Essex Institute, which operated as Salem’s historical society until its amalgamation into the Peabody Essex Museum in 1992, started collecting her works, as they “have enriched our local picture of the past”.

20200121_133721Sarah Symonds in her studio, Phillips MSS 0.202, Papers of Sarah Symonds, 1912-21.

How the past informs the present, and how the present acknowledges, interprets, and builds upon the past are central preoccupations of mine, and artistic perspectives on these processes can be just as illuminating as texts. I’d like to conclude this (again, working) list of women artists from Salem with a contemporary artist whose work is a great example of this illumination: book artist Julie Shaw Lutts. Julie’s a great friend of mine and I’ve featured her work before here, but she has just completed a very timely project which I love, so I wanted to showcase her talents again. The Vote is a mixed media artist’s book which commemorates the achievement of women’s suffrage in ways that are both personal and memorial, material and textual, and touching: all the best ways.

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JS Lutts 2©Julie Shaw Lutts, The Vote.


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