Posts Tagged ‘history’

May 19: The Great Dark Day of 1780

May 19, 2009

On this date in 1780, the skies suddenly darkened all over New England–from Maine down as far as New Jersey, the darkness was thick enough to require candles in daytime, dark enough that owls came out hours before their nocturnal habits usually allowed.  Today it’s pretty clear that the cause was forest fires combined with unusual meteorological conditions; at the time, they didn’t know that, of course (no 24-hour-news channels or satellite photos).  Many were in fear, hurrying to churches to hear impromptu sermons citing Bible verses about the plagues of Egypt, prophecies, and the end of days.

In Connecticut, legislator Abraham Davenport was more pragmatic:

“The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment: if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”

He and his committee continued working, drafting regulations of the shad and alewife harvest.  Almost a century later, John Greenleaf Whittier celebrated Davenport’s response with a poem, titled “Abraham Davenport,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1866.

April 27: 250th Birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

April 27, 2009
Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

It’s my birthday too, but not a milestone like the 250th.

“How many women thus waste life away, the prey of discontent, who might have practised as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.”

Mary WollstonecraftA Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

The artist and his, ah, friend

November 15, 2008

J.M. Flagg (LOC), originally uploaded by The Library of Congress.

You just never know what’s going to show up in the weekly batch of flickr uploads from the Library of Congress. The photo above is from this Friday’s bundle of 1910s images–it’s one of three photos depicting noted illustrator James Montgomery Flagg and his life-sized doll. She doesn’t wear clothes, except a big plumed hat.  In one picture, they’re posed holding cigarettes.  Huh.

Flagg (1877-1960) is best known for creating the image on the original “I Want You” Uncle Sam poster.

At last…

November 4, 2008

Because I’ve still got suffrage on the brain, and because “at last” is a phrase likely to be uttered a lot tomorrow, I share this image of Justice and American Womanhood (both personified as women) embracing, captioned “At Last,” from a 1919 women’s suffrage magazine…



October 30, 2008

I love that sound around 11am, when little boxes get delivered by the postal carrier to my doorstep.  Today’s little box held three copies of a new book I’ve got a chapter in.  Very nice-looking paperbacks, all shiny, good size and shape, nifty cover illustration (see at left)–yup, I’m in there, chapter 15.  Cool.

My segment is about disability history archives and museums online (adapted from an article I wrote a few years back for a special issue of Public Historian), but the other chapters are really diverse, with fun titles like “Collecting Eyewear on eBay,” “Tales from the Thrift,” and “I Want my MP3s.”   I’m really looking forward to checking some of them out.


September 17, 2008

I’ve been scanning some old family photo albums that recently came into my care.  These are two of my great-great-grandmothers, Marion Glencross Bryden and Emma L. Boyer Marsh:

Marion Glencross Bryden of PA

Marion Glencross Bryden of PA

Emma Louise Boyer Marsh, of NJ

Emma Louise Boyer Marsh, of NJ

Like a lot of nineteenth-century kids, neither woman grew up knowing her own mother.  Marion’s mother Helen Brown died at age 25, just three years after she arrived in America from Scotland.  And Emma’s mother, Elizabeth White Boyer, died in England, in childbirth (her tenth, at least).  Emma and her siblings crossed the Atlantic together, from teenagers down to three little girls and a baby (Emma was one of the little girls–she stayed close to the others, Lida and Alice, though they were raised in different homes upon arrival).

The picture of Emma is probably from the 1880s, from the context of other photos in the same album; the picture of Marion is taken very late in life, in the 1910s, by Emma’s son, E. Roy Marsh.

Hannah Boyer as a young mum

July 3, 2008

I recently inherited a 19c. photo album from my grandmother’s house–it belonged to her grandparents, Emma L. Boyer and Andrew J. Marsh. Emma was the eighth of ten English children who immigrated to the US in 1864, after their mother died–but their father had died at sea on an earlier ship, and the Boyer children arrived in New York as orphans (except the youngest, a baby, who also died at sea). The older kids were young adults; the eldest, Hannah, married within the year and moved to Ontario. The younger kids were scattered to foster homes, but seem to have kept in touch into adulthood, because several of their photos are in the album, and one of their obituaries is included as a newspaper clipping, telling the whole story.

I had occasion to scan the photos of Hannah Boyer, the oldest of the Boyer children, today, to send along to her great-grandson (a lawyer, historian and writer, and a former member of the Canadian parliament, as it turns out); so I might as well post it here while I’m at it. Hannah was called “Nancy,” and the child on her lap in at least one of these is her son Freddie. Both taken in the same studio in Orillia, Ontario.

Hannah \
Hannah Boyer ( 1842-1928 )

These would have been taken in the 1870s, which coincidentally is the setting of the novel I’m reading just now (Sarah Canary, set in 1873).

Learning to sew and doing women’s history

May 31, 2008

Sheet-swap tiered skirt, originally uploaded by pennylrichardsca.

I’ve been trying to learn to sew clothes lately–nothing complicated–the skirt above is my first attempt at a tiered skirt, for example. It’s not great work, but it’s wearable. In doing this, I’m realizing that maybe it’s a good idea for someone who does women’s history to know a little about the work of constructing clothes, among other basic knowledge we could bring to our studies, but don’t always.

Most of my projects have involved women who created things, not as artists, but as an expected part of their domestic lives. The antebellum North Carolina women in my dissertation often mentioned spending the week cutting out the next season’s clothes, and sent each other patterns and sketches. Mary Austin was proud of her cooking skills, enough that she gladly gave her enchiladas recipe to a women’s magazine in the 1920s, and her cookbook (among her papers at the Huntington) is still powerfully scented with vanilla. Opening that box is like walking into a bakery–the whole reading room turned to see who brought a fresh cake into the room. (When she was pregnant, she paid her rent by baking pies for the boardinghouse.) Celia Thaxter was famous for her garden, which somehow thrived even on the rocky island where she lived. Marion Brown in my current work was a prodigious knitter (according to her letters), and a dressmaker (or so they told the census).

So, by learning to do needlework or sew or cook or garden, maybe we can better grasp what rhythms and pains and talents their work involved, as physical, sensory, intellectual acts? Yeah, I think so. Maybe even pick up on some subtle references and metaphors in their writing. Learning to sew to understand a past seamstress a little better is like learning a language or an industrial process or a set of laws or other elements of her everyday life–except that learning a language is something you can put on your CV, and learning to sew, well…. not so much.

What’s a Pennamite?

May 7, 2008

Oh–yeah, you might be wondering. It’s an 18c. word for a person from Pennsylvania. It’s usually found in the phrase “Pennamite-Yankee Wars,” about a series of battles between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over the Wyoming Valley, running from before the American Revolution to the 1790s. I wrote my 1990 master’s thesis (starting, uh, twenty years ago this spring) about the role of maps in recording and shaping the changing situation of Pennsylvania’s northern frontier during that era.