Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pageants and Greased Pigs: The Glorious, Complicated Fourth of July

John Lewis Krimmel, Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia (1819)
John Adams, writing to his wife Abigail in the summer of 1776, was certain that he had witnessed a day destined to be celebrated “as the great anniversary Festival.” “It ought to be commemorated,” he wrote, “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” Adams, of course, was talking about the 2nd of July, the day on which the Second Continental Congress had voted to approve a resolution of independence. Ultimately, Americans would come to celebrate on July 4th, the date shown on the copy of the Declaration of Independence that was made public. But Adams was right that Americans would commemorate their independence with “pomp and parade.” For much of the United States’ history, the Fourth of July has been one of the most significant holidays of the year.

Advertisement for Fourth of July
picnic in Cincinnati, 1877
(Library of Congress)
When William Miner was a boy, July Fourth celebrations, especially those in big cities, tended to separate along class and ethnic lines. Fraternal, labor, and ethnic organizations hosted their own festivities for their members, which included picnics, athletic competitions, and other boisterous amusements. Members of elite groups, such as the Society of the Cincinnati, attended official public ceremonies and private banquets. These more genteel citizens often criticized working-class celebrations as “reckless tomfoolery,” “lawless saturnalia,” and “desecrated by rowdyism.” By the end of the 19th century, municipal governments had begun to try to control holiday celebrations by enacting regulations on parades and the detonation of fireworks, and by increasing police patrols on the Fourth. They also began to sponsor their own Fourth of July celebrations, which helped maintain public order while also boosting the popularity of city officials. City governments organized “carnival processions, fireworks, balloon ascensions, picnics, dances, bicycle races, and athletic contests.”

Immigrant children in colonial pageant, Portland,
ca. 1926 (Maine Historical Society)

In the early 20th century, “growing fears about fires and vandalism, immigrant mobs, and injuries and accidents” coalesced with the emerging Progressive movement to create the “Safe and Sane July Fourth” campaign. Launched by the Playground Association of America, the Safe and Sane movement campaigned to ban the private sale of fireworks. However, leaders also recognized that they would have to provide alternative forms of entertainment. Their goal was to find activities that would appeal to a mass audience but still had some redeeming social value. Folk dancing, athletic drills, pageants, and crafts—especially those associated with the American past—were popular choices. Activities that incorporated lessons from history were seen as particularly valuable to the groups that playground and settlement workers aimed to reach: children and immigrants. 

These workers had much in common with proponents of the Colonial Revival movement, who also believed that the past had important lessons to teach the present. Here at the Alice, it sometimes feels like every day is the Fourth of July, surrounded as we are by images of George Washington and other reminders of early American history. But as we’ve seen, Independence Day has always been a lot more contested than these straightforward expressions of patriotism might suggest. Who celebrates the Fourth of July, and what form those celebrations take, can get pretty complicated.


Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration...” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

David Glassberg, American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina Press, 1990)

Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920 (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Leah Weinryb Grohsgal, “Bonfires, Greased Pig Races, Pickle Contests, and More: Historic Fourth of July Celebrations from Chronicling America,” NEH Division of Preservation and Access.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Visible Astronomy: Colonel Clapp Takes on Newton

William H. Miner’s maternal grandfather, Ephraim Wheeler Clapp, was born in 1796 in Salem, New York. He was one of the six children of Stephen Clapp, a Revolutionary War veteran who operated a mill, and Catherine Wheeler. Ephraim served in the War of 1812, and was thereafter known as “Colonel Clapp.” He married Sarah Rice in 1814 and they established a farm at East Salem and had nine children. Martha, their second daughter, was William Miner’s mother.
Title page of Ephraim Clapp’s manuscript

Sarah Small, a cousin of William’s, recalled that Grandfather Clapp was “a great student. Could tell you all about the different planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and which one would be the ruling planet for the year, and tell of the big and little dippers and where they were placed, and each year would write it all down. He had complied quite a book on different subjects. He was always pleased when some of the friends came in to visit them, and would be interested in his writings on these subjects.”

A portion of this manuscript, written between 1846 and 1850 and titled “Visible Astronomy,” is in the collection of the Alice T. Miner Museum. Colonel Clapp began his text with a bold claim: “In the following work I propose to introduce a new System of Astronomy, and if in so doing the Newtonian system, should be assailed as incorrect, or if it should merely be annihilated, my only apology is that I have not at any time of my life fully believed in that system.” 

Portrait of Newton by
Godfrey Kneller, 1702
Sir Isaac Newton published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. In this book, he laid out the laws of motion and of universal gravitation, and showed that these laws—which could be expressed mathematically—explained both celestial and earthly phenomena: the motion of the planets, tides, equinoxes, and so on. Newton’s work was seen by many as definitive proof of the validity of the heliocentric theory, and by the mid-18th century the Newtonian model of the universe was broadly accepted across Europe and North America.

However, this did not mean that Newton was universally accepted, or that people agreed with all aspects of his work. Challengers to Newton ranged from those who saw unexplained problems in his theories (such as the precise nature and source of gravity) that they attempted to resolve, all the way through proponents of fringe theories like Flat- and Hollow-Earthers. Others objected to Newton on scriptural grounds, arguing that his picture of the universe was contrary to the Bible’s description of sun, moon, and stars fixed in a firmament that revolved around the earth. Some people felt that Newton’s mechanistic universe, running on mathematical principles, opened the door to rationalism and free thought.
Clapp’s diagram showing Newton’s supposed error
regarding the size of the sun.

Still, by Ephraim Clapp’s day, anti-Newtonianism was a pretty eccentric position. His objections to Newton seem to have come from his belief that Newton was mistaken about some fundamental facts. Clapp argued that the sun cannot be as large as Newton says it is, because if it were, the earth would never experience days and nights of equal length. Moreover, Clapp claimed, if Newton were correct about the size of the sun and the distance of the earth’s orbit around it, the earth would have to be moving so fast that gravity would cease to function and “every thing moveable would fall from the earth.” (This is just in the first two pages of the manuscript, by the way.)

Page from Principia Mathematica
I am not a scientist, but it seems to me that Clapp’s theories are doubtful, to say the least. But his manuscript does raise some interesting points about how ordinary people understood science and tried to incorporate it into their own lives. It would be very interesting to know where Clapp got his knowledge about the Newtonian system. Principia Mathematica is a dense text, full of mathematical equations and diagrams—and it was in Latin. So relatively few people actually read it in its original form, instead relying on translations and books that simplified Newton’s work for a general audience, such as The System of the World, Demonstrated in an Easy and Popular Manner: Being a Proper Introduction to the Most Sublime Philosophy, published in 1740. Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries also had access to a wide variety of encyclopedic works on natural history aimed at the general public. Astronomy had an important place in these texts. In addition, lecturers traveled around the country, giving talks and performing scientific demonstrations. Ephraim Clapp might very well have read these types of books and attended scientific lectures. But his ideas about the nature of the universe seem to have been entirely his own.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Webbs, Morgans, Delords, and Halls: The Family Story of a Sampler

Lavinia Morgan’s sampler
In my earlier post on samplers, I noted that it was often difficult to uncover much information about the lives of the girls and young women who made these pieces. Most women left little mark on the official historical record. However, if a woman has a connection to a “notable” person or family, that makes it more likely that something about her will be preserved. That turns out to be the case for Lavinia Morgan, whose sampler, stitched in 1806 in Wethersfield, Connecticut, is in the Alice’s collection.

Lavinia Morgan (1798-1874) was the first cousin of Frances Webb Hall, daughter of Henry Livingston Webb and Frances Delord, and the last member of the Delord family to live in the Kent-Delord House in Plattsburgh. Lavinia’s mother, Sarah Webb Morgan, was Henry Webb’s sister. Sarah and Henry were two of the ten children of Joseph Webb, Jr., and Abigail Chester Webb, prominent and well-to-do citizens of Hartford, Connecticut. The Webb home (built in 1752 by Joseph Webb, Sr.) was known as “Hospitality Hall,” and on one memorable occasion hosted George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, who met there to plan the Yorktown campaign in 1781. (The house later became one of the sites in Wallace Nutting’s “Chain of Colonial Picture Houses,” and is now run as a museum by the Colonial Dames of America.)

Bowl from the Elias Morgan dinner service, now in
the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sally Webb (1775-1805) married Elias Morgan (1770-1812) in 1796. This was Morgan’s third attempt at marriage; his previous two wives (who also happened to be sisters) had both died within a year of their weddings. Sally and Elias had five children, of whom three—Lavinia, Mary Ann, and Henry—survived to adulthood. Although we don’t know much about Lavinia’s childhood, it seems safe to assume that she enjoyed the advantages of growing up in a wealthy and well-connected family. Elias Morgan was a merchant, and evidence of his success can be found in the large set of Chinese export porcelain dinnerware featuring the family coat of arms that he had made ca. 1785-90. A 19th-century family history noted that Lavinia and Mary Ann were still using the set; a number of pieces are now in museum collections and occasionally turn up at auctions.

Photo of the Elias Morgan house, ca. 1900
Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society
A photograph of a building identified as the “Elias Morgan House” in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society is another hint at the family’s wealth. Although it isn’t clear whether Elias Morgan actually lived in this house or just built it, the large, fashionable home suggests prosperity and refinement.

Lavinia lost both of her parents when she was quite young—her mother died when she was about 8 years old, right around the time when she was making her sampler, and her father seven years later. It is likely that her Webb aunts and uncles then became her guardians. Elizabeth, Frances, and Amelia Webb never married, and they would have been the obvious choices to look out for their teenaged niece. Lavinia, too, would remain unmarried, and when young Frances Delord Webb came to live with her aunts after Henry’s death, Lavinia was living with them as well. Although Lavinia and Frances were first cousins, Lavinia was so much older that she was probably more like another aunt to Fanny.

Check for $89.50 paid to Lavinia Morgan from
the bequest of Henry L. Webb
A woman who did not marry often found herself in a precarious position in an era when there were few economic opportunities for women. Fortunately for Lavinia, her family’s wealth assured that she would be able to enjoy some financial independence, although she always lived with either her aunts or her married sister. In addition to whatever money she inherited from her parents, her Webb relatives made sure she was provided for. Both Henry Webb and Frances Webb made wills in the 1840s that included bequests providing Lavinia with a regular income. Aunt Frances’s will, made shortly before her death in 1844, left the three Morgan siblings with $1000 each to be invested on their behalf. Henry Webb, making his will in 1845, left $500 to Lavinia, and instructed his executors to make investments that would provide her with an income of $200 per year for the rest of her life. (As a point of comparison, a woman working in one of the Lowell mills at that time made about $1.75 per week.)

Abigail Chester Webb, grandmother of
Lavinia Morgan and Fanny Webb Hall
Both of these wills are part of the Kent-Delord Collection held at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Feinberg Library. The collection also includes letters written from Lavinia Morgan to her Uncle Henry, checks and other financial documents related to the money left to her by Henry Webb, and documents connected with Lavinia’s estate at the time of her death in 1874. Thanks to Lavinia’s connection with the Delord/Webb/Hall family, we have these items to fill out the story behind the sampler. Exactly how the sampler ended up at the Alice T. Miner Museum is not known. We can guess that Lavinia bequeathed the sampler to her cousin Fanny Webb Hall, and that after Fanny’s death in 1913 her personal belongings were scattered. Documents in the museum archives suggest that Fanny’s sister-in-law, Frances Hall Sargent, donated a number of Webb family items to Alice, which may have included the sampler. 

Lavinia’s sampler is currently on loan to the Kent-Delord House, where you can see it along with many other artifacts from the Delord, Webb, and Hall families. The Kent-Delord House will be kicking off its season with Museum Weekend, June 4 and 5, and will be offering guided tours all summer long, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

From Academy to Seminary to College: Women’s Education in the 19th Century

In my last post, I noted that the practice of making samplers in American schools started to die out in the 1830s, in part because of changes in attitudes toward female education. By that time, activists like Catharine Beecher, Zilpah Grant, Emma Willard, and Mary Lyon had established schools in the northeastern US that aimed to give girls an education equivalent to that available to boys. These female seminaries were also intended to train women as teachers during a period when America’s public school system was rapidly expanding. 

A book in the Alice’s collection provides a window into this pivotal moment. William Woodbridge and Emma Willard’s Universal Geography was co-authored by one of the pioneers of women’s education, and this particular copy was owned by a young lady who would later attend a pioneering institution for women’s higher education. 

Emma Hart was born in 1787 in Berlin, Connecticut to a farming family. When she was only twenty years old, she became the principal of Middlebury Female Seminary in Middlebury, Vermont, where she also met her husband John Willard. She gave up teaching after her marriage, but a few years later, with the family in difficult financial circumstances, she opened her own school with a more rigorous curriculum than the one offered at the Seminary.
Emma Hart Willard 

Willard’s experiences at Middlebury led her to become more active in the movement for female education, and in 1819 she published An Address to the Public...Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education. While nominally addressed to the members of the New York State legislature, it was really meant for a wide audience. In it, Willard laid out what she thought were the defects in the current system of female education and made an argument for publicly-supported female seminaries. 

Although the legislature rejected her proposal, the Willards moved to New York, first to Waterford and then to Troy, where the Troy Female Seminary opened in 1821. Although she was very careful not to refer to her school as a college, Willard clearly modeled it on those elite male institutions. At Troy, girls could learn mathematics, philosophy, and science, in addition to the subjects that were traditionally thought appropriate for women (reading, writing, arithmetic, perhaps a little history and French). Willard felt that the “ornamental” branches of drawing, music, and dancing could be part of a seminary curriculum, but needlework, other than the purely useful sort, she regarded as “a waste of time.”

It's literally a Temple.
John Willard died in 1825, and thereafter Emma Willard depended upon the income from the school and her writing to support herself and her son, John Hart Willard. She was the author of a number of textbooks which were widely used in American schools, and she introduced some truly novel ways of graphically representing knowledge, such as the “Temple of Time” to depict history. The Universal Geography was really two texts packaged together—William Woodbridge’s A System of Universal Geography (which covered the modern world) and Willard’s Ancient Geography. First published in 1824, it went through at least ten editions and was still being used into the 1850s.

The copy of Universal Geography in the Alice’s collection belonged to Margaret Tufts of New Haven, Connecticut. Margaret was born in 1815, the daughter of Matthias and Matilda Tufts. Matthias Tufts was a ship carpenter and a member of the New Haven School Society (essentially the board for the city’s public schools), which suggests that he had an interest in the subject of education. We don’t know where Margaret was a student in 1833, when she acquired this textbook—she could have attended one of the half a dozen young ladies’ academies in New Haven, or been a boarding pupil at a school like Troy Female Seminary. But wherever it was, her education did not end there. In 1837, she became one of the first students at a new institution that was just opening in Massachusetts, the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

Mary Lyon
Mount Holyoke’s founder, Mary Lyon (1797-1849), came from a similar background to Emma Willard. Also from a New England farming family, she became a teacher as a young woman and then helped to run two female academies started by Zilpah Grant. When it came time to open her own school, she was determined to offer the best education available to women at the time. Entrance requirements were rigorous and aimed to admit “young ladies of an adult age, and mature character.” Mount Holyoke’s curriculum was modeled upon—and indeed was nearly identical to—that of nearby Amherst College. At both institutions, students were required to take courses in ancient history, astronomy, botany, chemistry, geography, geology, logic, philosophy (mental, moral, and natural), political economy, and rhetoric. Lyon also encouraged students to take Latin, classical languages and literature being the key subject that had always distinguished male education from female learning.

Despite the similarities between Amherst and Mount Holyoke, one was a college while the other was a seminary. There was simply too much resistance to the idea of admitting women to the power and prestige associated with a college education. As one historian has written, “The college world was a fraternity all its own, a time-hallowed preserve of masculine identity, masculine knowledge, masculine privilege, and masculine society, where the elite white men who regarded leadership and public power as their birthright were trained. To either admit women to that fraternity or countenance their acquiring too many of its trappings was more than undesirable; it was inconceivable.”

Over the next few decades, some of that resistance would be chipped away, and true colleges for women, offering bachelor’s degrees, would be founded. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary would become a college in 1888. However, neither Mary Lyon nor Margaret Tufts lived to see that happen. Margaret became a teacher in New Haven after graduating from Mount Holyoke in 1840. In 1842, she married Sherman Booth, a noted abolitionist, and in 1848 they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so he could establish the abolitionist newspaper that came to be known as the Wisconsin Free Democrat. The Booths had three children who died in infancy, and Margaret herself died in 1849 shortly before her 34th birthday.

Many thanks to my grad school colleague and dear friend Caroline Hasenyager, for patiently answering my questions about early-19th century women’s education, and allowing me to quote from her dissertation, “Peopling the Cloister: Women’s Colleges and the Worlds We’ve Made of Them.”

If you are interested in learning more about the history of women’s education, here are a few good books:

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (1976)

Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth Century Beginnings to the 1930s (2nd ed., 1993)

Mary Kelley, Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic (2006)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Concerning Samplers

Sampler made by Margaret Platt,
1736. Margaret was a cousin of the
Platt brothers who founded Plattsburgh
and the great-grandmother of Lucretia
Maria and Margaret Davidson.
As we prepare to reopen the museum in May, I have been working on some new labels for the samplers in the Weaving Room. I’ve tried to find biographical information about the girls who made the samplers and other needlework pieces in the collection—a difficult task. Like most women who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, they left little mark on the official historical record. However, their samplers were treasured and handed down in their families until they were “discovered” by collectors in the early 20th century. In the age of the suffragette and the flapper, samplers became powerful symbols of the industry, piety, and domesticity of early American women.

Until relatively recently, needlework skills were an essential part of female education. All girls learned basic sewing skills, and some pursued more advanced embroidery. The sampler emerged sometime in the 16th century and was originally a pattern record of stitches and techniques (the term sampler comes from the Latin exemplum, or example). Colonists brought this tradition of sampler-making to North America in the 17th century, though very few examples have survived from that period. By the 18th century, distinctive sampler styles were beginning to develop, identified with specific regions and often with particular schools or teachers. However, American samplers shared common elements: alphabets and numbers, religious or moral verses, names and dates (often in the form of a family record), floral motifs, landscape scenes including people, houses, and animals, and geometric patterns.

Scenes from a Seminary for Young Ladies,
ca. 1810-20
Saint Louis Art Museum
In the years after the American Revolution, educational opportunities for girls expanded dramatically. Historians have identified this push for female education as part of an ideology they call republican motherhood. If the new nation was to survive, its citizens must be virtuous, and children’s first lessons in virtue came from their mothers. Therefore, women had to be educated in order to transmit republican values to future generations. Although the emphasis of republican motherhood was on women’s roles in the home, it opened the door for arguments in favor of broadening education for girls. As author Judith Sargent Murray wrote in 1798, “Female academies are everywhere establishing and right pleasant is the appellation to my ear.”

These new academies offered girls the chance to learn the same subjects as boys did: not just reading and writing but mathematics, geography, philosophy, and Latin. However, there was still a great emphasis on fashionable accomplishments or what were called “ornamentals”—embroidery, painting, drawing, and music. Most of the samplers that are in museum collections today were made during this post-Revolutionary period, and almost all of them were produced in schools, under the direction of a teacher.
“Miss Godchild's First Sampler,”
English print, 1793

A girl generally made her first sampler between the ages of five and nine. This would usually be a marking sampler, intended to teach basic sewing and literacy skills through the stitching of letters and numbers. In a time when household linens were extremely valuable, every sheet, napkin, pillowcase, and towel had to be marked with initials to ensure that it was returned safely from being sent out for laundering, and with numbers so that items could be rotated for even wear. If her education continued at a female academy, the young lady might then make a more decorative sampler or needlework picture. This piece might be part of an exhibition at the school, demonstrating her skill to family, friends, and local dignitaries, and would serve as an advertisement for the school. She would then bring the framed needlework home to be displayed as a sort of “diploma,” testifying to her educational and artistic accomplishments.

Colonial Revival sampler, 1917
Samplers began to fall out of the school curriculum in the late 1830s, as educational reformers argued that girls should receive the same education as boys. By the mid-19th century, they were generally found only in Catholic schools and in some frontier areas. In the 20th century, colonial-style needlework enjoyed a revival among middle-class women, who could purchase commercial patterns and kits to make their own “heirlooms.” It was at this time that collectors began to take a second look at the productions of 18th and early 19th century needlewomen. Virginia Robie, writing in House Beautiful in 1902, noted that the sampler had “not yet become a fad”; it was still lumped in with the fancywork of the Victorians and “mildly ridiculed or completely ignored.” But within a decade, the first scholarly works on samplers would appear, and they would be eagerly sought out by collectors like Alice T. Miner.


Early works on samplers include Marcus B. Huish, Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries (1913) and American Samplers, published by the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America in 1921. For recent scholarship, the works of Betty Ring, particularly Girlhood Embroidery and American Needlework Treasures, are invaluable.

Friday, April 8, 2016

San Francisco In Ruins: Photographs of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire

“The historians of modern or ancient times have never recorded such a maelstrom of terrified, horror and panic-stricken human beings as awoke to the realization of the master seismic tremblor, in the City of San Francisco at 5:13 on the morning of April 18th, 1906. The initial quake, being followed by many of less severity, tumbled chimneys, large and small buildings of poor or faulty construction, broke water mains and ruptured electric light and power conductors, causing many conflagrations in a few moments. Then followed a catastrophe unparalleled in modern times, a disaster beside which, for property losses, the Chicago fire the Johnstown flood, the Galveston tidal wave, the Mont Pelee eruption, Vesuvius’ spouting and the Baltimore fire, fade into infinitesimal disturbances on the records of Father Time.”

This is how author A.M. Allison described the devastating earthquake and fire that struck San Francisco and the surrounding area in the introduction to San Francisco In Ruins: A Pictorial History of Eight Score Photo-Views of the Earthquake Effects, Flames’ Havoc, Ruins Everywhere, Relief Camps. I recently came across this book while reorganizing the Alice’s book collection, and since we are less than two weeks away from the 110th anniversary of the earthquake, it seemed like a good time to take a closer look at it, along with some related items in the museum archives.

“Citizens Rendezvousing on the Vacant Places
When the Fire Was Raging in the 

Mission District,” J. D. Givens
The photographs in San Francisco in Ruins are the work of James D. Givens (1863-1939). Givens moved to San Francisco in 1899 and established his home and studio at the Presidio, a U.S. Army base on the peninsula. He became the post photographer and recorded the personnel and daily activities of the post. He also went to the Philippines in 1900 to document the Philippine-American War and to Mexico with General John J. Pershing during his pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1915. Givens was just one of many photographers, professional and amateur, who produced images during and after the disaster. The San Francisco earthquake is probably the first natural disaster to be thoroughly photographed, as it occurred at a time when inexpensive, portable cameras had become available to a large portion of the population, who used photography to document their experiences, create insurance records, and produce souvenirs for sale.

As we saw in a previous post, William Miner took up photography as a hobby in the late 1880s, and brought his camera along on his frequent business travels. William frequently traveled to California, first as an employee of the Hutchins Refrigerator Car Company and its subsidiary the California Fruit Transportation Company, and later representing his own company. He visited San Francisco in 1906, at a time when the destruction caused by the earthquake and fire was still very much in evidence, and recorded what he saw in a set of photos now in the Alice’s archives. Here are some of his photographs.

In the distance is the Fairmont Hotel, which was still under construction
at the time of the earthquake
Grace Church, California Street
In the background are the Call newspaper building and the Mutual Bank building.
Another view of the same street.

It is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 people died in the earthquake and subsequent fire, and about three-quarters of the city was damaged. Two years later, people were still living in refugee camps. However, political and business leaders downplayed the effects of the earthquake, fearing loss of outside investment which was desperately needed to rebuild. Reconstruction plans were quickly developed, and less than ten years later, the city hosted the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. (This world’s fair is also important because it started a fashion for Spanish colonial architecture, which likely influenced the design of Chazy Central Rural School.) But the thousands of photographs in archives, libraries, and personal collections today remain as documents of the events of April 1906.

You can look at a copy of San Francisco in Ruins at the Internet Archive—or come see Alice’s copy when we reopen next month.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Forgotten World’s Fairs: Detroit, 1889

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or know me in real life, you probably have noticed that I’m a little bit obsessed with world’s fairs. So you can imagine how I felt when, while reading a letter to William Miner from his sister Jottie Mitchell, I encountered a reference to an exposition in Detroit that she was planning to visit. A fair that I’d never even heard of? I was already doing some research on another forgotten fair—the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial of 1926—and now here was another, even more obscure one. The Detroit International Exposition and Fair of 1889 turns out to be a really interesting example of a pre-1893 world’s fair—and an example of how even big events can be almost completely forgotten.

Aerial view of the Fair, from Harper’s Weekly, August 17, 1889

Detroit in 1889 was still a decade away from opening its first automobile factory and boasted a diverse manufacturing economy, producing shoes, soap, paints and varnishes, hoopskirts, patent medicines, railroad cars, and packaged seeds, among many other commodities. Located on the Detroit River, which connects the Great Lakes with the St. Lawrence Seaway, it was a major port as well as a railway hub. But Michigan was also still predominantly an agricultural state, and the organizers of the Exposition and Fair hoped to demonstrate all that the region had to offer in both manufacturing and farming.

James McMillan, Exposition
President and founder of the
Michigan Car Company
The idea for a fair in Detroit had been a subject of much discussion for many years. City boosters wanted to hold an annual event that would be bigger and better than the Michigan State Fair, which moved among various cities. Like many Americans, they had been captivated by the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and were certain that a fair was a sure-fire way of drawing attention to their city. The president of the exposition corporation was James McMillan, someone Will Miner undoubtedly was familiar with, as he had made his fortune as a builder of railroad cars and was now representing Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

The corporation purchased 72 acres of vacant land just outside the city line, at the point where the Detroit and Rouge Rivers meet. Workers were brought in to drain marshes, lay railroad tracks, and build docks for excursion boats. Local architect Louis Camper designed a massive 200,000 square-foot exhibit hall with an observation tower, from which (as a writer from Harper’s Weekly put it) “may be seen a panorama worth an hour’s study.” To the left was the city, “tinged over with the smoke of industry,” and to the right, “the green fields of Canada.” On the river, barges, schooners, and steamships continually passed, while “all alongshore the giant elevators and the prosaic warehouses give strong contrast to the dim beauty of Belle Isle and the farther stretches of river and woodland, and the drifting sails of commerce.” The fairground and its surroundings united the natural world and the man-made world in a way that was particularly satisfying to 19th-century Americans.

Cattle and Sheep Exhibit
River Rouge Historical Museum
The Exposition opened on September 17, 1889. Although the day was rainy and many exhibits were still incomplete, the fair promised to be a success. There was so much to see, said the same Harper’s contributor, that only a “professional pedestrian” could hope to do it all in one day. In addition to the mechanical and agricultural exhibits, there were other wonders to behold: a house made entirely of soap, a facsimile of the Statue of Liberty, Professor Woodward’s trained seals, a pig who could play cards. There were games of baseball and lacrosse, horse racing and yachting competitions. The Detroit fair combined educational exhibits of art and technology with sideshow attractions in a way that future fairs would not.

Soap Cottage
River Rouge Historical Museum
By the time the fair closed on September 27, it had produced a tidy profit of $5,000 for its investors. It would run again for three more years. But in 1895, the land was sold to the Solvay Process Company, which tore down the exhibition buildings and began mining for salt. The former site of the fair, according to Detroit historian Richard Bak, is now “a toxic landscape of smokestacks and blown-out houses with the bleakest future of any neighborhood in the city.” This was an outcome that city residents and visitors to the fair probably never could have imagined. In 1889, they had every reason to believe that Detroit—along with the rest of the nation—could look ahead with boundless optimism toward a prosperous future.

So why has the Detroit Exposition and Fair been forgotten? Its original structures are gone, but that’s true of most fairs, which were never meant to be permanent. It was an annual event which ran for only ten days at a time, unlike other fairs which ran for six months, which meant that it ultimately received fewer visitors. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the Exposition Universelle going on at the same time in Paris—the main building’s tower may have provided a spectacular view, but it was no Eiffel Tower. From the perspective of later observers, it was probably also neglected because of the overwhelming success of that other great midwestern fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. But to visitors like Jottie Mitchell, it was a “grand affair,” one which symbolized all the hopes they had for the Middle West.


Richard Bak, “A Fair to Remember,” Hour Detroit, February 2009

Brendan Roney, “All Roads Lead to Delray,” Detroit Historical Society blog, December 2012

“Detroit International Fair and Exposition,” Environmental History in Detroit

Friday, March 4, 2016

From Kentucky to Chazy: Anna Ernberg and the Berea Fireside Industries

Advertisement from the Plattsburgh Sentinel
In August 1926, the Redpath Chautauqua arrived in Plattsburgh, bringing a variety of musicians, lecturers, and other entertainers to the North Country. The Redpath Chautauqua was a descendent of the original Chautauqua Assembly, established in 1874 in Lake Chautauqua, New York to combine recreation with religious instruction and informative lectures (if this sounds familiar, it’s because it was also the inspiration for the Catholic Summer School at Cliff Haven). In 1904, Keith Vawter started the first circuit or tent Chautauqua, in which a group of performers traveled together on a set route from town to town, staying a week in each location.

On the fifth day of Redpath’s stint in Plattsburgh, August 19, Anna Ernberg gave a lecture and demonstration of dyeing, weaving, and handcraft. The advertising in the Plattsburgh Sentinel gave no further information about Ernberg, perhaps assuming that audiences would be familiar with her. As the head of Fireside Industries at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, Anna Ernberg was one of the most visible proponents of the Appalachian weaving revival in the early 20th century.

Coverlet given to Alice Miner by Anna Ernberg
Having completed her lecture but with another day to go before heading to the next stop on the circuit, Ernberg and her son Axel spent the following day in Chazy, visiting Heart’s Delight Farm and taking a tour of the Alice T. Miner Museum conducted by Alice herself. As she later wrote of her visit, “It was more than delightful and we are both very grateful to you for your kindness and hospitality.” As someone who was working for “the revival of the Arts of our grandmothers,” Ernberg was impressed by Alice’s efforts in collecting examples of textile art “and arranging it all so true and beautiful.” To show her appreciation, she sent Alice a “kiver” for her collection—a coverlet in the Blooming Leaf pattern, made using the “Summer and Winter” weave, which differs from the overshot in that it produces a reversible fabric, light on one side (for summer) and dark on the other (for winter). The coverlet is made from three panels and is shaped to accommodate a four-poster bed.

Anna Ernberg weaving on the small counterbalance loom
she designed and introduced to Berea, 1912
Born in Christianstad, Sweden, in 1874, Anna Ernberg emigrated to the United States with her husband when she was in her twenties. She lived in New York and taught weaving at Pratt Institute and Teachers College. In 1911 (now a widow with two young sons) she was invited by Berea College president William Goodell Frost to run the school’s weaving program. In addition to the work she did as an instructor, supervisor, and designer, Ernberg was a tireless fundraiser who traveled to major cities throughout the northeast to sell the products of Fireside Industries. She was a popular speaker with women’s clubs, patriotic organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution, church groups, and art organizations. By 1917, she had raised enough money to fund a new building called the Log House, which held the looms, spaces for finishing work, sales areas, and an apartment for Ernberg and her sons. In 1930, she was chosen by Ida Tarbell as one of the 50 outstanding women in America, a list that also included Helen Keller, Margaret Sanger, Jane Addams, Mary McLeod Bethune, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Amelia Earhart.

Ernberg directed Fireside Industries for 25 years and turned it into a reliable source of income for the college. When William G. Frost became president in 1892, he introduced the free tuition policy that continues today. Students needed to work to contribute to their tuition as well as room and board expenses. He also had learned that coverlets were an excellent promotional tool and were much appreciated as gifts to donors. Selling woven textiles would make money for the school and would become central to the school’s public image.

From the Berea Quarterly, 1912
When Berea College was founded in 1855, it was both coeducational and interracial. However, in 1904 the Kentucky legislature passed a law prohibiting integrated education. Although the college challenged the law and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, the school lost the case and from 1908 until 1950 (when the law was changed), Berea admitted only white students. In the 1910s and 20s, the supposed “pure Anglo-Saxon heritage” of Berea students became a selling point with potential donors. Many people believed that the isolated regions of the Appalachian Mountains were home to Americans who closely resembled the original 17th- and 18th-century English settlers. These mountain folk, it was hoped, would help to counterbalance the influence of African-Americans in the south and immigrants from southern and eastern Europe nationwide.

An example of the way Berea emphasized the links between
“southern highlanders” and early colonists
Because weaving was so closely associated in the popular imagination with the colonial era, Fireside Industries and other Appalachian weaving programs strengthened the perception that mountain residents represented (as Woodrow Wilson put it) “an unspoiled stock...of the original stuff of which America was made.” These images of the noble mountaineers existed side-by-side with stereotypes of Appalachians as feuders and moonshine-makers, which educators like Frost worked hard to dispel. Mountain folk were only “backward” because of their isolation, he argued; education and economic opportunity would “uplift” them and allow them to take their rightful places as useful citizens.

In an article on coverlet weaving in the south that appeared in House Beautiful, author Mabel Tuke Priestman praised the domestic weaving revival for being “a very important step in the labor movement, as it gives employment to those living in rural districts, who have few interests in their monotonous lives, and saves from oblivion a beautiful craft, distinctly American in its conception.” Anna Ernberg and Alice Miner certainly would have agreed with this sentiment (whether weavers themselves had the same ideas about their “monotonous” lives is another question). Woven coverlets represented all that was good about the past—diligent work, self-sufficiency, thrift—in a form that was aesthetically pleasing. By bringing these pieces into the modern home, collectors hoped to transmit some of the values associated with them into the present day.


If you are interested in learning more about the Appalachian weaving revival, Weavers of the Southern Highlands by Philis Alvic is an excellent place to start. For an earlier assessment of the craft revival, try Allen H. Eaton’s Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, originally published in 1937. Appalachia on Our Mind by Henry D. Shapiro is the classic work on the place of the mountain South in American consciousness. In All That Is Native and Fine, David E. Whisnant examines how the “cultural missionaries” who came to Appalachia created their own version of folk culture.