Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Ten: Portraits of American Women

Every time we add another portrait to the Portraits of American Women file in ImPAC  it’s a cause for celebration. As Curator of Women’s History, I find that adding to the file is my favorite thing. As a whole, it provides glimpses of so many women’s lives: famous women, infamous women, and ordinary women too. For me, the total is more than the sum of the parts.

In 2013, we topped 300 portraits. They depict murder victims and perpetrators, presidents’ and diplomats’ wives, writers, missionaries, actresses, thieves, famous beauties (some of whom were fictitious), girls who were held captive, teachers, adulteresses, and divorcees. There are nice girls who died pious deaths (such as Sarah Fellowes Davis) and mean girls who spread harmful gossip (like Elizabeth Ellet). All of the portraits appeared in books and periodicals before 1861.

I try not to have favorites. Each one can be my favorite-of-the-moment, depending on what I’m doing. When a reader is interested in the history of the classification of children who are developmentally challenged as “imbeciles,” I think of Beckie and Bessie:

When I want to consider the actress Charlotte Cushman, famous for her performances as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, I can juxtapose a caricature of her with a “straight” portrait:

This past summer we acquired the first volume of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, in which the caricature appears. To our immense surprise, the original 1851 issues of Gleason’s include the article associated with that caricature, but the reprint of the volume three years later did not! Had we not gone looking for it to reproduce in the “Cushmania” section of our next exhibition “That’s So Gay: Outing Early America,” we would never have realized that the reprint edition (a copy of which is held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania) did not include the remarkable issue in which the reviewer discusses Cushman’s portrayal of Romeo. Cushman was enormously successful as an actress who performed in male roles, and off-stage she apparently was quite a Romeo as well. When she was living in Rome after retiring from the stage, she typically had a young female protégé as well as a peer relationship with a female partner.

One of my favorite aspects of the Portraits of American Women file is the chance juxtaposition of women, thanks to its alphabetic arrangement: Cynthia Taggart (invalid poet), Sarah Louisa Taylor (exemplary Christian), H. Trusta (novelist who wrote under a nom de plume), Sojourner Truth (itinerant preacher), Tshusick (itinerant con artist), Ruth Tucker (patient at Pennsylvania Hospital), and so forth. They are all wonderful – each in her own way.

Connie King
Curator of Women's History


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Nine: Thanksgiving 1864 – A Spectacle of Giving

Today, November 26, 2013, is the 150th anniversary of what many regard as the first official national celebration of Thanksgiving, as proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, Lincoln proclaimed many days of national thanksgiving during his time as president, as did others before him.  It was not until the country was involved in another great war that Thanksgiving was officially established as the fourth Thursday in November. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed it into law in December 1941, a few weeks after our entry into World War 2. 

It is, I think, worth noting that, during two of the most violent episodes in our nation’s history, our leaders saw fit to focus some of their energy on bringing our citizenry together in appreciation of what we have, and in acknowledgement of the wants of others.  A story from Thanksgiving 1864 most powerfully speaks to me of the meaning of the holiday, as Lincoln intended it, and we hold a pamphlet in our collection that tells that story.  It is one of my “favorite things.”

Report of the Committee on Providing a Thanksgiving Dinner for the Soldiers and Sailors was presented by the Union League Club of New York in December 1864 and published in 1865.  It tells of an almost incomprehensible feat of philanthropy accomplished by that League in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, held that year on November 24th.  In their meeting on November 3, the League decided to raise funds and food to ensure that all Union troops then in battle and lying in hospital would have a feast on Thanksgiving.  Which was in three weeks.  In the middle of a war.  In the middle of the 19th century. 

In those three weeks, the Union League of New York collected over $57,000 in monetary donations (minus $47.50 in counterfeit bills).  They also received hundreds of thousands of pounds of in-kind donations.  Contributions came in from as far away as Michigan.  Furthermore, in what seems to me like an absolute impossibility, they managed to distribute the food to the troops in time for Thanksgiving.  The Report states that the League “received and forwarded at least 225,000 lbs. poultry. This was in addition to 148,586 pounds purchased by the Committee, and was in addition also to an enormous quantity of cakes, doughnuts, gingerbread, pickles, preserved fruits, apples, vegetables, and all the other things which go to make up a Northern Thanksgiving Dinner.”  The Report also makes clear that this was all done despite “the failing of [the Union League of] Philadelphia to co-operate.”

One of many pages listing the in-kind contributions received by the Union League of New York.

The report includes some anecdotes about specific contributions (“The savings of two little children, from their weekly allowance, $2”) and a few letters from grateful recipients.  One of the most charming was written from Petersburg, Virginia, by a member of the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, to a Mrs. C.H.  He wrote, “In the final distribution of the delicacies … a can of tomatos [sic] was sent to my tent as my share.  In looking upon it, I could not but wonder who had been so kind. …  I wish my dear good mother knew you.  She too gave towards the great undertaking; but how she would take you by the hand, and from her heart thank you who, though perchance inadvertently, done this for her son.”

So when you give thanks this week for all that you have, remember to think also of those who have less.  And after the spectacles of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consider celebrating the second annual Giving Tuesday.  Follow the lead of those Americans who, celebrating the second annual Thanksgiving 149 years ago, created a spectacle of giving and a spectacle of love.

And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Rachel A. D’Agostino
Curator of Printed Books

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Eight: Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection

[Marriott C. Morris] backporch 5442 Germantown Ave.  April 26, 1887.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

One of my Print Department favorites is the Marriott C. Morris collection of photographic prints and negatives. Morris (1863-1948) was an amateur photographer who lived in Philadelphia, and the more than 1,500 photographs in this collection dating from 1881 until about 1911 are intimate portrayals of his life, family, and travels in and around the region. 

Co[u]s[in] Mary P. Lardner’s old house & place at Tacony.  From river--on boat. May 2, 1885.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

My first blog post about the collection documented a researcher’s quest to find a photograph of the Lardner estate, something he happily located in the Morris collection (see above).  As the title Morris gave the photograph indicates, his cousin Mary P. Lardner lived on the estate at the time it was taken. Darren Fava and staff at the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department happened upon my post and were excited to locate a photograph of the no longer standing Lardner estate and surroundings on the site of the current Lardner’s Point Park. They ended up using the image on an interpretive panel for the newly created park.

Rear view of old Cedar Grove house.  October 22, 1887.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Fava and his colleague Christopher Dougherty decided to comb through the Morris collection to see what other treasures they might unearth.  Lo and behold, they came upon images of Cedar Grove, once located in Frankford but moved to Fairmount Park by the Parks and Recreation Department in the late 1920s. Images of the house shed light on exterior as well as interior architectural details that department staff are now using as a reference for their current renovation of the house.  Images of the house also enabled Kristen Suzda, an architect at Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, the firm working on the restoration of Cedar Grove, to identify the use of a rain barrel (at left in above photograph) and blogged about it here: Marriot C. Morris’s cousin Lydia Thompson Morris was the last person to live in the house at the Cedar Grove estate; she donated it to the City of Philadelphia in 1926.

Elephant House, Atlantic City.  Taken by Sam [Samuel Buckley Morris].  April 1884.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

While looking through the Morris collection for another patron, I stumbled upon the above image of Lucy the Elephant, a Jersey Shore landmark I made the subject of a previous post. The barren landscape shows how desolate the area where Lucy stood was before shore-goers spread south from Atlantic City to buy up real estate.  Real estate developers built Lucy as a ploy to draw visitors and, in turn, to sell properties.  We can only assume that the Morris family was also drawn to this attraction as they often vacationed at the Jersey shore.  This photograph was taken by Marriott’s brother Samuel Buckley who passed away at the young age of 17, only two years after this photograph was taken. 

Sarah J. Weatherwax (right), Curator of Prints & Photographs, shows the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection to the grandchildren of Marriott C. Morris (William P. Morris, Eleanor M. Cox and David M. Morris, from left to right), September 2013.

We were recently visited by grandchildren of Marriott C. Morris who came to view the collection and were able to assist me with biographical information on the family.  The image below taken by Morris on a canoeing trip in the New Jersey Pine Barrens had piqued my interest since I grew up in the vicinity of Atsion—an historic industrial village and present-day recreation spot in the Wharton State Forest.  At the time of this photograph, dated May 18, 1906, the Philadelphia industrialist Joseph Wharton owned the grounds of Atsion and I wondered if he might have had a connection with the Morris family, given Morris’s various associations with Philadelphia’s social elites. The Morris relatives were not able to identify a connection, knowing only that their grandfather enjoyed canoeing in South Jersey. When I spoke to Pine Barrens historian and author Barbara Solem-Stull about this coincidence, she mentioned that Joseph Wharton’s daughter Anna married Harrison S. Morris.  I was not able to identify a direct connection, but Solem-Stull made the point that, since this was private property at the time, Morris most likely had permission from Wharton to be there. This photograph is also an invaluable record of the slab-sheathed house—the oldest structure still standing in Atsion—believed to have been built in the early years of Atsion's bog iron industry, which dated from 1766 until 1850.  Look for my upcoming post in which I plan to juxtapose a recent photograph of this structure with the below photograph!

Deserted House at Atsion, N.J.  May 18, 1906.  From the Library Company’s Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.

Overall, the Marriott C. Morris Collection is an extensive treasure trove of material documenting Morris’s travels and family life.  Those looking for domestic images and records of historic structures in and around Philadelphia from the late nineteenth into the early twentieth centuries will do well to search the Morris database (this database is available to researchers on-site and can also be shared digitally on request).  A small selection of Marriott C. Morris photographs can also be found on our website.  More information on the Morris family can be found on the National Park Service’s Morris Family Papers Blog.

Nicole Joniec
Print Department Assistant & Digital Collections Manager