Storms off Martha’s Vineyard can get fierce with 35- to 40-knot winds and 20- to 25-foot seas. Read on for contemporary and historical accounts of sea rescues. Continue reading
Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday, perhaps because I lull myself to sleep nightly with a gratitude list. The Civil War was taking a toll when Abraham Lincoln in 1861 decreed that the entire nation should “count its blessings” on the last Thursday of November. Here is an excerpt of Lincoln’s gratitude list as enumerated by his proclamation: Continue reading
My new book on Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel will soon hit the shelves. I’m anticipating publication this summer or fall. If you love history and enjoy a good romance, watch for news of it on this blog. Continue reading
Recently I had the pleasure of presenting Susan B. Anthony in costume at the World of Inquiry School in the Rochester City School District. Approximately 100 seventh-graders, in groups of 20, cycled through several costumed speakers who introduced students to a variety of 19th century issues, including temperance, antislavery, physical abuse, unequal access to education, child labor, and women’s rights.
We like to think ourselves well-advanced beyond Americans of the 1900s, but are we, really? We still have problems with alcoholism, racism, abuse, and women’s rights. And today, children as young as eight years being trafficked in the sex trade, a form of child labor that is even more appalling than the factory work of 19th century youngsters .
Some of the World of Inquiry classes were all girls, others all boys. Presenting Miss Anthony’s impassioned plea for women’s rights to seventh-grade boys presented a unique opportunity. Why should young males, at the beginning of their adult years, voluntarily rescind some of their natural rights to girls? “Miss Anthony” drew upon her Quaker upbringing to challenge those teenagers to respect themselves and accord the same respect to the females in their lives. She asked them to consider what happens to women who are dependent on men when the men must leave their women, in situations such as military service or death. Would a respectful man want to put a woman he loves at risk for a life of poor education and poor wages just so he can act superior to her when he is present?
We costumed presenters kicked off a curriculum unit entitled “Fighting for Change.” Following our appearances, the teachers have helped students work through some of the nuances of these social problems and take them from the common teenage refrain of “It’s not fair” to “What am I going to do about it?” Sounds to me like a worthy goal.
In the above photo from that event are pictured David Anderson as Frederick Douglass, Victoria Schmidt as an Erie Canal cook, Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony, Christine Ridarski (historian, City of Rochester), and Jeffrey Ludwig as an early temperance advocate.
As Martha’s Vineyard, along with the rest of the northeast, braces itself for another mass of cold and ice this week, I can’t help but think how much easier we have it now than in the 1860s when Anna Osborn lived on that island. We who dash to our cars and crank up the heater can hardly imagine traveling in an uninsulated carriage warmed only by lap robes.
Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s narrow side streets were more suited to foot traffic than carriage, anyway. Living only a couple blocks away from Edgartown’s shopping district, Anna must have frequently bundled herself up to walk a couple blocks to meet a friend for tea, post a letter, or buy piano music for the latest tune. The current photo above pictures North Water Street, just a few blocks away from where Anna lived, during a storm similar to the one we’re experiencing now.*
Bundling up in the 1860s was a much different affair for women than it is today. Tucking my pant legs into my boots this afternoon, I have a fighting chance of traveling sure-footed. Not so for a 19th-century woman encumbered by sweeping skirts and petticoats. Everywhere she went, the long-skirted woman had to keep a hand free to manage yards of cloth swirling around her ankles. The early 1860s fashions also featured the mixed blessing of hooped skirts. Although they swayed gracefully when a woman walked, they also totally obscured her feet from her own view.
I frequently get calls to portray Susan B. Anthony in costume during her birth month (February) and women’s history month (March). These excursions give me ample opportunity to appreciate how much needed were the dress reforms of the 1850s, when Miss Anthony and her friend Mrs. Stanton experimented with shorter skirts over trousers. This bloomer costume, as it was called, kept one’s skirts out of the kind of slush that’s predicted during this winter storm. Being able to actually see her own feet gave a woman much less chance of falling on the ice that covered the rutted, unpaved streets of yesteryear.
Unless Anna Osborn had Susan Anthony’s thick skin in the face of ridicule, she would not have worn the bloomer costume on the streets of Edgartown. The bloomer’s practicality and safety were no match for the jeers that accompanied women who dared to sport that revolutionary fashion. But as Anna gazed at snowy scenes similar to the one above, she may have secretly longed for some of the freedoms and comforts that we take for granted today.
*Photo used with permission by Point B Realty, Martha’s Vineyard.
D.R. and Anna had five children, but three daughters died. Hard as it is to imagine today,such losses were common in the 1800s. Their surviving children were Maude Anthony, who married a soldier like her father had been, and Daniel Read Anthony II.
D.R. II’s career has been well-documented. Though much more mild-mannered than his father, he carried on the family business as publisher of the Leavenworth Times.
Maude seems to have led an interesting life of travel with her husband; she eventually moved to California with her widowed mother Anna. However, up till now I have been unable to find any photos or many written accounts of her. That leaves me to wonder whether the family deliberately shielded her from public view since she was female.
My recent visit to the Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva, New York gave me a taste of furnishings that were common in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when D.R. and Anna built their first home in Leavenworth. This photo from that residence portray a boy’s bedroom such as D.R. II might have had. Anna would have enjoyed a wide selection of household furnishings, since Leavenworth was the place where emigrants to the far West could buy things before continuing their journeys. Travelers reached Leavenworth conveniently, first by steamships working the Missouri River and later by railroad. D.R. loved the commercial aspect of his city and worked hard to bring the railroad there during his tenure as mayor.
Next post: Losing a Daughter
One of the most popular and stirring songs of the Union troops in the Civil War was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Did you ever wonder why it has almost the same tune as “John Brown’s Body?”
Two nights ago I attended the “Turning of the Year” Ball for the English Country Dancers. It took place in downtown Rochester at the Jonathan Child House, a pillared mansion with polished wood floors, glowing chandeliers, high ceilings, ornate moldings, and a delicately turned staircase. Continue reading