Friday, August 28, 2015

From Alice’s Scrapbook: The Man Who Sat on His Hat

Among the notable figures from the world of the arts who make appearances in Alice Miner’s scrapbooks, the Pre-Raphaelites are perhaps the most prominent. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, formed in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The official Brotherhood eventually numbered seven members, but many other figures were associated with the group—John Ruskin, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Algernon Swinburne, Christina Rossetti, William Morris—all of whom appear in the scrapbooks.

Painting by D.G. Rossetti, depicting a scene from
the Arthurian legends
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed in reaction to what the members felt was the unimaginative and artificial painting produced and promoted by the Royal Academy of Art. They were inspired by the Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries, the period before the High Renaissance and especially before the time of Raphael, hence their name.

By the 1840s, industrialization had been in full swing in Britain for several generations, and its effect on individuals and the environment was becoming clear. The Pre-Raphaelites looked back to the middle ages as a time when art and handcraft were closely linked, when people lived in small, rural communities, and when work, craft, and religion were still integrated. While this was certainly a romanticized vision of medieval England, it ultimately led some members of the group, notably William Morris, to espouse Socialism as a solution to the ills of industrial capitalist society.

Morris (right) with Burne-Jones, 1874
William Morris is perhaps best known today for his textiles and wallpapers, but he was a master of many crafts (including manuscript illumination, embroidery, dyeing, and bookbinding) as well as being a poet and novelist. Morris was quite unconventional in his dress, lifestyle, and politics, rejecting many of the trappings of Victorian society. “Many years ago,” one author reported, “he sat accidentally upon his silk hat and crushed it; he has never worn one since. His subsequent career may be said to have consisted, metaphorically speaking, in the crushing of silk hats generally, as well as other symbols of our artificial society.”

Morris was born in 1834 to a prosperous family living on the outskirts of London. He attended Exeter College, Oxford, where he met his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones and discovered the writing of John Ruskin. After college, in London, the two friends met Rossetti and were swept into the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites.

One of Morris’s textile designs
In 1861, Morris, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, and three other partners formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. The company, known as the Firm, hoped to reform British craftsmanship and bring interior decoration into the realm of fine arts. An article on Morris from 1891, clipped by Alice Miner, describes his philosophy. Industrialization had destroyed the environment “all for the purpose of producing things neither beautiful nor desirable in themselves, not because they were needed, but in order that profit might be made out of their sale.” Household furnishings should be useful or beautiful—preferably both—and they should be made, so far as was possible, by skilled craftsmen using the techniques of the pre-industrial era. According to Morris, “no artistic work is really worth anything, in which the design is not executed by intelligent workmen who recognize the idea of the designer.”

There are definite similarities between Morris’s ideas—which would produce the Arts and Crafts movement—and the ideas behind the Colonial Revival, and it’s not surprising that Morris was a figure of interest to Alice. Just as the proponents of the Colonial Revival wanted to incorporate elements of early American life into modern homes, Morris hoped to revitalize Victorian Britain with what he saw as the best parts of the past.

As Morris biographer Fiona MacCarthy notes, he was not interested in simply reproducing the past. “Medievalism for its own sake would have bored him. Through his researches into old methods and approaches he hoped to salvage something important for the present.” As Morris said himself of his approach to the past, “Let us study it wisely, be taught by it, kindled by it; all while determining not to imitate or repeat it, to have either no art at all, or an art which we have made our own.”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

From Alice’s Scrapbook: A Diva of the Golden Age of Opera

The first halftone photo to appear
in an American periodical, 
December 2, 1873.
In his history of American magazines, published in 1957, Frank Luther Mott wrote, “In these latter days, when everyone has his picture in the paper now and then, it is hard to understand the passion for portraits that was general in the nineties. But it was possible then, for the first time, for middle-class readers to collect portraits of the great; and thousands of them did.” If that was the case in the 50s, it’s even more so now, when photographs are ubiquitous and inescapable. But when Alice was collecting pictures for her scrapbooks, the technology that allowed magazines and newspapers to reproduce photos was new.

This was the halftone printing process, which broke down an image into a series of dots of varying sizes—it’s the same principle that newspapers still use today, which you can see if you look closely at a printed black-and-white photo. The technique was first developed in the 1870s, and newspapers and magazines very quickly began replacing engravings with photos. Photographs could be transmitted by wire and printed more or less instantly, while engravings had to be produced by hand. A skilled engraver like Timothy Cole of The Century might be paid up to $300 for a page-size woodcut, whereas a halftone could be purchased for less than $20. By the early 1890s, it was clear that halftones would soon replace engravings entirely.

Photo of Max Alvary as Siegfried
from Alice’s scrapbook
Notable figures from the world of art, literature, music, drama, politics, and science were popular subjects for magazine photography. Some magazines even published series of portraits of famous men and women on pages that were printed on only one side so they could be cut out and pasted into scrapbooks without destroying the page. Alice saved many images from Munsey’s Magazine, which ran a regular section called “The Stage” featuring photos of the stars of the theater and opera. Alice was a regular theatergoer and though she may not have had an opportunity to see grand opera in the 1880s and 1890s, it was clearly something she was interested in.

Alice’s scrapbooks contain photographs of some of the great figures of opera in the late 19th century, including Edouard de Reszke, a Polish bass known for the role of Méphistophélès in Gounoud’s Faust, and the great Wagnerians Max Alvary and Rosa Sucher. Also featured is the dramatic soprano Lillian Nordica, who was one of the most celebrated American opera singers of this period.

Photo of Lillian Nordica
from Alice’s scrapbook
Lillian Allen Norton was born in 1857 in Farmington, Maine and received her musical education at the New England Conservatory in Boston. After she graduated at the age of 18, she went to Milan for further study, and first performed there in 1879 as Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Now known as Lillian Nordica, she performed in St. Petersburg, London’s Royal Opera House, and at the Bayreuth Festival, where she created the role of Elsa in Lohengrin.

In 1891, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and in 1898 she first appeared in what would become one of her most celebrated roles: Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walkure. As she told a reporter from the New York Herald, this was a “most trying role. Most of it ranges so low that it is best suited to a mezzo soprano; yet the Walkure Shout requires a high soprano. Yes, you must be so note perfect in that role that nothing can disconcert you.”

While Nordica enjoyed great fame and fortune in her professional career, her personal life was troubled. She was married three times, all unhappily (she was about to divorce her first husband when he disappeared in a mysterious hot-air balloon accident), and by the 1910s was in poor health. Nonetheless, she set off in 1913 for an Australian concert tour. Her ship ran aground on a coral reef and was stranded for three days in the Gulf of Papua. Nordica contracted pneumonia, from which she never really recovered, and she died in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1914.
Coca-Cola advertisement, ca. 1906,
featuring Lillian Nordica

Lillian Nordica’s childhood home in Farmington is now open as a museum, and the town celebrates Nordica Day every year on August 17, which commemorates the day in 1911 on which the diva performed for her home town.

Additional photos and information can be found at the Maine Memory Network’s online exhibit, Lillian Nordica: Farmington Diva.

You can listen to a recording of Brünnhilde’s battle cry, captured live at the Metropolitan Opera in 1903.

Friday, August 7, 2015

From Alice’s Scrapbook: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine

Poster advertising the April 1895
issue of The Century
 The late nineteenth century was the great age of American magazines. Along with daily and weekly newspapers, periodicals made up the majority of Americans’ regular reading material. In addition to hundreds of specialized academic, professional, business, and religious magazines, there were dozens of popular general-interest publications aimed at middle-class audiences. These magazines combined fiction (both short stories and serialized novels) with current events, travel writing, history, biography, and literary criticism, and were generally lavishly illustrated.

The model of this type of magazine, and the one from which Alice Miner most frequently saved articles for her scrapbook, was The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. Founded in 1870 by poet and essayist Josiah Gilbert Holland, entrepreneur Roswell Smith, and publisher Charles Scribner, and originally called Scribner’s Monthly, the magazine aimed to cultivate high morals, respect for culture, and faith in American progress as it informed and entertained its readers.

Portrait of Richard Watson Gilder
by Cecilia Beaux
In 1881, the magazine changed its name to The Century and came under the editorship of Richard Watson Gilder, who would head it until his death in 1909. (At this point, the magazine no longer had any connection with Charles Scribner, and confusingly, another publication called Scribner’s Magazine was started in 1887.) The Century grew exponentially in popularity under Gilder, and it was at this time that Alice became a regular reader. 

Richard Watson Gilder took his responsibilities as an editor very seriously, knowing, as he wrote, that the magazine reached “an audience of not much less than a million of people” each month. He was careful never to include anything that might cause offense and even his own contemporaries sometimes found him excessively prudish. But he also had great faith in the power of art to elevate and transform society, and The Century set the standard for other magazines in its attention to culture. 

Alice and other readers of the magazine in the 1880s and 1890s would have had the opportunity to read serialized novels by some of the most important authors of the day: William Dean Howells, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Henry James, George Washington Cable, and Mark Twain, among many others. These fiction pieces were accompanied by Edmund Clarence Stedman’s poetry criticism and in-depth studies of major literary figures such as Dante, Keats, and Tennyson.

Engraving by Cole of a 14th-c.
Italian fresco, saved by Alice
in her scrapbook.
The Century also became famous for the quality of its illustrations, particularly those that accompanied its articles on the fine arts. In 1883 the magazine sent Timothy Cole (who had almost single-handedly revived the dying art of wood engraving) to Europe to create a set of engravings of Italian, Dutch, Flemish, Spanish, and English Old Master paintings. At this time, when only a very few cities even had art museums, most people rarely had opportunities for viewing original works of art. The Century’s skillful engravings thus played a very important role in the art education of its readers.

In a way, The Century was a victim of its own success. By the 1890s it had a number of competitors that modeled themselves on The Century—but cost less. Munsey’s Magazine, founded in 1889, initially cost 25 cents but in 1893 reduced its price to a dime in order to compete with the new McClure’s Magazine. The Century, by comparison, cost 35 cents an issue. With Americans facing an economic crisis as a result of the Panic of 1893, these inexpensive magazines seemed like a good alternative. While still addressing serious topics (McClure’s became famous for publishing Ida Tarbell’s exposé on Standard Oil, for example), the new monthlies were more lighthearted in tone than Gilder’s CenturyMunsey’s advertised itself as “a magazine of the people and for the people, with pictures and art and good cheer and human interest throughout.” 

The dozens of articles that Alice saved from The Century between 1882 and 1895 show that she was making a concerted effort to educate herself about literature, music, travel, history, and art long before she became a collector, and even before she moved to Chicago. Like many women with cultural aspirations living in small towns, she turned to magazines as resources she could trust to tell her what she needed to know. 


Mark J. Noonan, Reading The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine: American Literature and Culture, 1870-1893 (Kent State University Press, 2010).

Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1865-1885 (Harvard University Press, 1938).

Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1885-1905 (Harvard University Press, 1957).

Digitized issues of The Century are available through Google Books.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

“Writing with Scissors”: The Scrapbooks of Alice Miner

A page from one of Alice’s scrapbooks
In the years after the Civil War, the American reading public found itself nearly overwhelmed by a flood of inexpensive printed matter. Daily newspapers, weekly journals, and monthly magazines constantly rolled off the printing presses and could be purchased for as little as a penny each. These publications were cheap and disposable, yet they contained much valuable information. The problem was, how to keep up with all this information and be able to find it again when you needed it? Anyone who’s ever found, then lost, a bit of information on the internet will sympathize with this problem. Just as we use bookmarks, RSS feeds, Pinterest, and Tumblr to organize digital information, nineteenth-century readers came up with their own solution to information overload: the scrapbook.

Just about everyone made scrapbooks—men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor—and Alice Miner was no exception. The museum’s archives hold three handsome cloth and leather-bound scrapbooks full of articles dating from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Alice saved articles and illustrations from Chicago’s daily papers and from monthly magazines like The Century, Scribner’s, The Critic, and Review of Reviews. Most of the items she collected related to the world of fine art, literature, and history, with occasional forays into religion and current events—thus giving us some useful insight into Alice’s interests in the years before she began the Colonial Collection.

A commonplace book kept by the Rev. Thomas
Austen in the 1770s, in the collection of the
Harvard University Library
The post-Civil War scrapbook has its antecedents in two earlier forms: the commonplace book and the friendship album. Commonplace books were used by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century readers to keep a record of their reading by copying out passages of texts; the technique of keeping a commonplace book was part of the curriculum at many colleges into the nineteenth century. Friendship albums, popular in the early nineteenth century, were portfolios of drawings, prints, verses, and signatures that circulated among friends.

As printed matter became more widely available in the second half of the nineteenth century, clipping and saving pieces of text emerged as an alternative to copying them out by hand. Many Americans began making scrapbooks during the Civil War, as a way of keeping a record of the momentous historical event they were living through. In the 1880s, technological changes in printing, paper-making, and transportation vastly increased the number and geographical range of newspapers and magazines. In 1880, there were 850 English-language daily papers; by 1900 there were 1,967. The large city daily papers might easily have half a million readers each.

An Agricultural Report repurposed as a scrapbook
“Many beautiful, interesting, and useful thoughts come to us through the newspapers, that are never seen in books, where they can be referred to when wanted. When they are gone they are lost.” So wrote E.W. Gurley, the author of Scrap-books and How to Make Them, a comprehensive guide to scrapbooking published in 1880. Gurley gave detailed instructions for choosing a book (he recommended repurposing old U.S. Patent Office Reports), finding and sorting articles, making one’s own glues, and finally pasting the clippings into the scrapbook (“Some will think that anyone can paste a slip of paper in a book, but every one can’t do it properly until they have learned how”). Once the scrapbook was completed, it could be used like any other book: “Read and re-read the best of them; study them and memorize their useful and pleasant thoughts, and you will never regret the time occupied in making your SCRAP-BOOKS.”

Page from Alice’s scrapbook with written
notation added
Historian Ellen Gruber Garvey notes that scrapbooks played an important role for “people in positions of relative powerlessness,” who used their books “to make a place for themselves and their communities by finding, sifting, analyzing, and recirculating writing that mattered to them.” For example, “African-Americans wrote histories unavailable in books by making scrapbooks of clippings from both the black and the white press....In massive compilations—dozens or even hundreds of volumes, in some cases—black people asserted ownership of news and culture.”

For people who, for whatever reason, did not express themselves in their own writing, scrapbooks became a way of “writing with scissors.” Though Alice Miner obviously was highly literate and did write letters and diaries, most of them have not survived to the present day. Her scrapbooks, then, are an important piece of “writing” that helps to fill in our knowledge of her early life. The magazines she read, the articles she saved, and the ways she chose to organize them, all tell us something about her inner life, as well as the way she wished to present herself to the world. In future posts, we’ll take a closer look at Alice’s books.


E.W. Gurley, Scrap-books and How to Make Them: Containing Full Instructions for Making a Complete and Systematic Set of Useful Books (Author’s Publishing Company, 1880).

Susan Tucker, Catherine Ott, and Patricia P. Buckler, eds., The Scrapbook in American Life (Temple University Press, 2006).

Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway, eds., A History of the Book in America, vol. 4 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Trainer Family Tragedy

Huron County Court House, Goderich
On April 8, 1870, Bernard Trainer paid a visit to the Huron County Court House. This should have been a happy occasion: he was going to register the births of his new son and daughter, born on March 16. But Bernard was also there to report the death of his wife, Louisa, just a week after the twins’ birth. Louisa was only 41 years old, and in addition to infants Isabella and Arthur, she was leaving behind eight other children between the ages of nineteen and four.

Sadly, the twins did not long outlive their mother. Isabella died in May 1870 and Arthur in July. The 1871 Canadian census, which also recorded the deaths that occurred in the previous year, gave “consumption”—tuberculosis—as the cause of death for both children. The tragic events that the Trainer family faced in 1870 make clear to us today what everyone in the nineteenth century knew: that childbirth was a dangerous time for women, and that the first year of life for infants was perilous.

In fact, Albert and Isabella were not the first children that the Trainer family had lost. Two years earlier, Louisa had given birth to another set of twins. Evelyna Euphemia and Herbert Patton were born on January 24, 1868. They, along with Alice and her younger brother William, were baptized at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Goderich on March 22. The Huron Signal reported that Evelyna died on July 25, 1868, but we don’t know exactly how long Herbert lived. Municipalities in Canada were not required to record births and deaths until 1869, and the microfilmed issues of the Huron Signal that I examined at the Library and Archives Canada were missing pages and sometimes very hard to read.

Justus von Leibig patented the first
commercial infant formula in 1865. By 1883,
there were 27 brands on the market.
It seems likely that Herbert also died in the summer of 1868. Summer was a particularly dangerous time for infants. Hot and dry weather meant that clean drinking water was in short supply and it was difficult to maintain sanitary conditions, especially in cities. If Louisa was unable to breastfeed the children or had to supplement with formula—a likely scenario with twins—the babies would have been vulnerable to a collection of diseases that historians identify as “weanling diarrhea.” 

Tainted milk, contaminated water, and unclean bottles all contributed to diseases of the intestines, malnutrition, and dehydration. Moreover, even those infants who survived bouts of diarrhea were nutritionally compromised and thus at increased risk of contracting, and dying from, other infectious diseases. Isabella and Arthur, too, may have been affected by weanling diarrhea, since they did not have a mother to nurse them. If they also suffered from tuberculosis, the effect of malnutrition would have been significantly multiplied.

Before she was seven years old, Alice had experienced the death of her mother and four siblings. We have no record today of what her feelings were, but it seems safe to say that it was something that affected her for the rest of her life.  Her particular concern for women’s and children’s health (memorialized today by the Alice T. Miner Center for Women and Children at CVPH) undoubtedly has its roots in that childhood experience, as well as the loss of her own child. 

We have no pictures of Louisa
Saunders Trainer. This photo of
her sister Ann may give us an idea
of what she looked like.
These events also clearly had a long-term impact on the other Trainer siblings, particularly Matilda, Bertha, and Louisa. Matilda, of course, was suddenly responsible for the care of nine younger siblings. When Bernard Trainer died in 1876, she effectively became the only parent. Fourteen-year-old Bertha must also have had to take on a new role, since Matilda continued to work as a teacher. One wonders if this early experience of the burdens of raising a family played into the sisters’ decision to remain unmarried. 

In 1930, Louisa Trainer endowed the Alexandra and Marine General Hospital in Goderich with $10,000 “to be used in giving hospital care and attention to the poor and needy of the Town of Goderich and vicinity.” This fund was to be known as the Matilda Trainer Endowment Fund. The hospital had come too late to help Mrs. Trainer, but perhaps other families would be spared thanks to Louisa’s generosity. And in naming the fund for Matilda, she honored the sister who became both mother and father.

Information about this chapter in the Trainer family’s history is drawn from the 1871 Canadian census, Huron County death and birth records, the Wesleyan Methodist baptismal registers of Huron County, and issues of the Huron Signal published between 1868 and 1870. Data about the causes of infant mortality in 19th-century Canada came from Larry A. Sawchuk and Stacie D.A. Burke, “Mortality in an Early Ontario Community, 1876-1885," Urban History Review 29, no. 1 (2000), 33-47.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Visit to the Archives: Census Records

Headquarters of Library and Archives Canada
photo by Padraic Ryan
I recently had the opportunity to visit Ottawa, and while I was there, I spent some time at Library and Archives Canada, looking for information about Alice’s early life in Goderich. As anyone who’s done genealogical research knows, censuses, birth and baptismal records, city directories, and newspapers are all good ways to find information about people, but they all have their downsides. Just finding the document you need can be tricky, though digitization is making things easier. And any data collected by human beings—especially on a large scale like a national census—is bound to contain some errors. 

Alice’s brother James Saunders Trainer
In doing my research, I began by examining the records of the 1861 census of Canada West (what’s now Ontario), the 1871 and 1881 Canadian national censuses, the United States censuses of 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 (unfortunately, almost all the records of the 1890 census were destroyed in a fire), and the 1925 New York State census. I found some curious discrepancies among these records which raise some questions. 

One of the things I wanted to find out is when the various members of the Trainer family emigrated from Canada to the United States. We can say with some certainty that the three oldest brothers (Ephraim, James, and Bernard) had left by 1881, because they don't appear in that year’s Canadian census. One of the questions on the U.S. census is the year that non-native-born residents arrived in the United States. In 1900, James Trainer’s year of arrival is listed as 1880; in 1910 it’s 1879; and in 1920, 1885! So what caused this discrepancy? Did James forget or misstate the year? Did the census enumerator write down the wrong number? Was there some miscommunication at work or just simple human error? It’s impossible to say at this distance.

Bernard “Barney” Trainer and his wife,
Grace Scoresby Trainer
Another curious thing came up regarding Alice’s brother Bernard. The Canadian censuses as well as the 1910 U.S. census indicate that he, like the rest of the siblings, was born in Ontario. However, on the 1925 New York State census form, “Canada” has been crossed out and corrected to read “U.S.” as his place of birth. Then in the 1930 census, he gives his place of birth as Michigan. Did Bernard deliberately mislead the census enumerator, and if so, why? Bernard was born in 1859 but Canada did not require municipalities to record births until 1869, so until we can find some other record (perhaps a baptismal register) to confirm his place of birth, that will remain a mystery.

Alice’s youngest brother,
 William Edwin Trainer
Census records are a snapshot of a specific moment in time. For example, when we look at the 1881 Canadian census, we see that only five Trainer siblings remain in Goderich. Matilda, Bertha, and Louisa are all working as teachers, William is attending school, and Alice is at home. We know that their parents, Bernard and Louisa Saunders Trainer, have both died, and the three oldest boys have gone off to Chicago, but of course that information isn’t recorded in the census. Other sources are needed to fill in the details, and it would also be helpful to know something about what was happening in Goderich more broadly during that time.

In my next post I’ll tell you what I found out about the Trainer family during a particularly important period in the late 1860s and early 1870s. It’s a very sad story, but one that I think gives us some valuable insight into the later lives of Alice and her siblings.

The Trainer family photos in this post were donated to the museum by Helen Highley Matel, James Trainer’s granddaughter.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Symbol of Community: The Chazy M.E. Parsonage Signature Quilt

Hallie Bond examining the signature quilt
Last month I wrote about the quilt that Anna Moore Hubbell of Chazy made in the early 1800s. Now it’s time to take a look at another quilt in the Alice’s collection, also made in Chazy, but in the last years of the 19th century. This one was made by the members of the Chazy Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895, probably to raise money to support the parsonage. It is made up of 81 squares of linen fabric, each one hand-embroidered in red with four names, and with more names around the border—342 names in total. This striking quilt is a wonderful example of the signature or autograph quilts that were popular among church groups in the late 19th and early 20th century. This quilt was donated to the Alice T. Miner Museum in 2012 by Christine Lozner, who inherited it from her aunt, Sybil Mead Brown (1912-1988). Sybil was the granddaughter of John Lewis Brown (1857-1928) and Ella Case Brown (1857-1939), whose names are among those embroidered on the quilt.

Friendship quilt made in Delaware County, New York,
1846-49. Each central white cross contains a signature.
The signature quilt’s predecessor was the friendship quilt, which became common in the 1840s. Groups of women would come together to make these quilts—sometimes each woman would contribute a square that she pieced herself, and sometimes one woman would collect fabric from the group and then piece the entire quilt. In either case, each square was signed with the name of the woman who made it or donated the fabric. Friendship quilts were often made as gifts to women who were leaving their community. In the 1840s and 1850s, more and more families were setting out for new homes in the west. Most of them would never return to the places they had left, and friendship quilts were mementos that helped women feel connected to the friends they left behind. This type of quilt was also made during the Civil War to raise money to support Union soldiers.

Signature quilt made by the Maple Grove Ladies Aid Society,
York Co., Pennsylvania, 1920
Over the years, the pieced friendship quilt was joined by the embroidered signature quilt. This type of quilt was often made as a charity or church fundraiser, to raise money to build a new church, to support a minister, or perhaps to assist missionary efforts. Supporters would pay to have their name included (it cost extra to have one’s name put in the middle of a square or some other prominent position), and then the finished quilt itself might be raffled off to raise even more money. On some quilts, the names, arranged in decorative patterns, were the only embellishment. Others also included Bible verses, poetry, or embroidered depictions of the church building.

The first Methodist service in Chazy was held in 1801 at the home of Amasa Ladd. In the early days of Methodism (which had only been formally organized in the United States since 1784), communities were served by circuit riders, who traveled long distances to preach. Initially, Chazy was part of the Plattsburgh circuit, which encompassed both sides of Lake Champlain as well as part of Canada. By 1818, the number of Methodists had grown enough for Chazy to become its own circuit. The minister resided at Chazy and also served Beekmantown, West Chazy, Mooers, Champlain, and Rouses Point.

Preaching took place in members’ homes until a church was built in 1816-17. Alexander Scott, a local merchant who owned a quarry, built the stone church at his own expense. This building burned in 1855 and was replaced by a brick church, which in turn burned down in 1881. The third M.E. church (which is now the Chazy town offices) was dedicated in October 1881. The first parsonage was the old home of Solomon Fisk, a log cabin that had been plastered over; in the early 1850s a brick parsonage was built on the other side of Fisk Road.
The second M.E. parsonage

Methodist ministers were paid according to the size of their families—$80 each per year for the preacher and his wife, plus $24 for children over sixteen and $15 for each child under sixteen. This was not very much money, even in the 19th century, so the congregation would come together to provide additional support. For example, in 1829, the Rev. Mr. Brayton hosted a “donation party” at the parsonage, to which church members were encouraged to bring contributions of butter, flour, firewood, and money. Since this quilt specifically references the parsonage, it’s possible that it was made to raise funds to repair or make improvements to the building.

Signature quilts are of interest to historians because of the wealth of information about when, where, and by whom they were made. They provide a snapshot of a specific community at a particular moment. The Chazy M.E. quilt includes the names of three members of William Miner’s family: his grandparents Clement S. and Lydia Miner, and his uncle John D. Miner. All three were deceased at the time the quilt was made, which suggests that signature quilts also were sometimes used as a way for people to memorialize family members who had died.

The Chazy M.E. Parsonage quilt will be on display during Museum Weekend, June 6 and 7. Perhaps you will find the names of your ancestors on it!

Information about the Chazy M.E. Church comes from Nell Jane Barnett Sullivan and David Kendall Martin, A History of the Town of Chazy (Burlington, 1970), and from Bob Cheeseman, Chazy Town Historian.

If you would like to learn more about friendship quilts, “Piecing Together a Community: A Late Nineteenth-Century Friendship Quilt from Peterboro, New York,” by Shirley Morgan, is a good place to start.

Quilt images are from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, another great resource for quilt research.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Dear, Old-Fashioned Garden

When Arthur A. Shurcliff and other landscape architects of the 1920s and 1930s sought information about historic gardening, they frequently turned to the books of Alice Morse Earle and Grace Tabor. Both women were important influences on the development of Colonial Revival gardens. 

I wrote about Earle here, and though I focused on her writing on early American material culture, she was also quite well known as a writer on old gardens. Earle’s two books on gardens, Old-Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth (1901) and Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday (1902), were scholarly works, but they also were tinged with her own sentimental feelings about gardens—the garden of her childhood home in Worcester, Massachusetts, as well as the garden of her home in Brooklyn Heights, where her own children grew up.

The Earle children in their Brooklyn garden, 1880s
For Earle, gardens provided a direct connection with her Puritan ancestors and especially with Puritan women. She imagined that the women who first arrived in Massachusetts brought with them “across seas some little package of seeds and bulbs from her English home garden, and perhaps a tiny slip or plant of some endeared flower; watered each day, I fear, with many tears.” These flowers helped turn the houses they built in the new land into true homes. Now, said Earle, “when I see one of the old English flowers, grown of those days, blooming in my garden, from the unbroken chain of blossom to seed of nearly three centuries, I thank the flower for all that its forebears did to comfort my forebears, and I cherish it with added tenderness.”

Earle was especially fond of those plants she felt were most strongly associated with the colonial era. Like Arthur Shurcliff, she was a great lover of boxwood. While some people thought the aroma of boxwood was unpleasant, Earle found it “redolent of the eternal past; it is almost hypnotic in its effect.” Indeed, she believed the love of boxwood was a genetic trait: “This strange power is not felt by all, nor is it a present sensitory influence; it is an hereditary memory, half-known by many, but fixed in its intensity in those of New England birth and descent, true children of the Puritans.”

Other favorite plants included peonies, lilacs, and hollyhocks. “There is no more emblematic flower to me than the Lilac; it has an association of old homes, of home-making and home interests.” The hollyhock was “the most popular, and most widely known, of all old-fashioned flowers. It is loved for its beauty, its associations, its adaptiveness. It is such a decorative flower, and looks of so much distinction in so many places.” No surprise, then, that Earle chose a design of hollyhocks as the motif for the front cover of Old-Time Gardens. 

Gardeners who wished to create their own old-fashioned gardens could turn to the work of Grace Tabor, one of the first women to work as a professional landscape architect in the United States. Tabor was born in 1873 in Cuba, New York and studied at the Art Students League in Buffalo and New York City, as well as the New York School of Applied Design for Women. Tabor’s articles and garden plans appeared in popular magazines such as The Garden Magazine and Country Life in America. In 1920 she began writing a regular garden column for Woman’s Home Companion which would run until 1941. Tabor reached a wide audience through this magazine, which was one of the most influential women’s publications in the country.

Advertisement for Tabor’s column, 1922
Tabor began her book Old-Fashioned Gardening (1913) by cautioning readers that they would find no romanticism, no “lovely ladies nor courtly cavaliers” here. “Here all is sober reality and no dream; here is the truth about old gardens, not select glimpses of a path.” One of her goals was to pin down just what exactly was meant by “old-fashioned gardens”—a term that she felt most people used far too loosely and casually to refer to anything quaint or charming.

For Tabor, an old-fashioned American garden was one created between around 1635 (when the first gardens appeared in the English colonies) and ca. 1815 (so as to include the gardens of Mount Vernon and Monticello). Of course, there was a good deal of variation over time and in different regions. Tabor traced the history of five different gardening traditions in North America: the Spanish in Florida, English cavaliers in Virginia, the Dutch in New Amsterdam, Puritans in New England, and Quakers in Pennsylvania.
Tabor’s plan for a Spanish-style garden based on
those found in St. Augustine, Florida

Modern-day Americans who wanted “old-fashioned” gardens were advised to choose from among these five styles, according to their personal taste and circumstances. The compact Dutch garden, for example, was well suited to small, urban lots, while those with more space could use the plantations of Virginia as their model. Gardeners could simply draw on these garden traditions for inspiration, or if they were truly committed, they could attempt to reproduce an old-fashioned garden. “There is no reason against reproducing an old design,” Tabor wrote, “providing every phase of it receives proper attention and no anachronism is permitted.” However, she argued strongly that an old-fashioned garden built around a modern style house was “unpleasant.” Those living in colonial, Georgian, or mission-style houses, on the other hand, were advised that only gardens of old design were really suitable. Tabor provided simple plans and a list of plants known to have been used prior to 1815. She also reminded readers that old gardens were above all useful, providing food, beverages, medicines, and dyes, and that all plans should be made with that goal in mind. Otherwise, one risked producing something that was merely “a blank form and lifeless shell.”

There are very few images of 18th-c.
women working in gardens. This one
actually shows a French noblewoman
pretending to be rustic at Versailles.
While Tabor’s book was meant to provide practical advice to gardeners, it is clear that she was not immune to the romance of old gardens and that she, like Earle, was very much in sympathy with the Colonial Revival. Both she and Earle quoted the same passage in which Mrs. Anne Grant reminisced about the Dutch gardens of mid-18th century Albany: “I think I see yet what I have often beheld in both town and country, a respectable mistress of a family going out to her garden in an April morning, with her great calash, her little painted basket of seeds, and her robe over her shoulders, to her garden labours...A woman, in very easy circumstances and abundantly gentle in form and manners, would sow and plant and rake incessantly.”

Gardening had traditionally been the domain of women and was essential to the maintenance of the household. While that was no longer true for middle-class households in the early 20th century, Tabor and Earle hoped that women could recapture some of the virtues of their foremothers by creating gardens that were both beautiful and useful, and passing garden lore on to their children.


Alice Morse Earle, Old-Time Gardens (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1901)

Alice Morse Earle, Sun-Dials and Roses of Yesterday (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1902)

Grace Tabor, The Landscape Gardening Book (New York: McBride, Winston & Company, 1911)

Grace Tabor, Old-Fashioned Gardening: A History and a Reconstruction (New York: McBride, Nast & Company, 1913)

Friday, May 8, 2015

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a day that likely would have been tinged with sadness for Alice and William Miner, who both lost their mothers when they were very young. Will was only four when his mother, Martha Clapp Miner, died; Alice was seven when Louisa Saunders Trainer died. They were both fortunate, however, in that they both had older sisters who did their best to step into the places left vacant by the loss of their mothers. We have put together a new exhibit in the Weaving Room to honor Will’s sister, Jottie Mitchell (1854-1910), and Alice’s sisters, Matilda (1851-1916), Bertha (1856-1927), and Louisa Trainer (1861-1932).

Jottie in the early 1860s
Emma Josephine Miner, known as “Jottie,” was Will’s only sibling. She was born on April 23, 1854, in Salem, New York. In 1861, the family moved to Juneau, Wisconsin. Will was born here on October 22, 1862. Martha Miner’s health had always been fragile, and it grew worse after Will’s birth; increasingly, it was Jottie who took responsibility for taking care of her little brother. A visitor to the Miner home during this time recalled, “How brave dear Mrs. Miner was and how solemn it all seemed to me. A few more months and the dear wife and mother was gone and the little boy motherless. The daughter, some eight or ten years older, was the little mother of the family.”

Martha Miner died in March 1867, and William Miner soon married Janet Mitchell, a widow with a son of her own. The family relocated to Maumee, Ohio. In 1872, Jottie married Janet’s son, John B. Mitchell, and moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where he worked for the Wabash Railroad. William Miner, Sr., died in 1873, and Jottie—still only nineteen herself and with a newborn baby to care for—felt that the best course of action was to send young Will to live with his Uncle John and Aunt Huldah in Chazy.

Photo of Jottie taken in Ann Arbor
while studying medicine
Jottie and John maintained a regular correspondence with Will, and it was John who ultimately suggested that Will come out to Lafayette to learn the railroad construction business. Letters from the 1880s show that Will and Jottie sometimes had a difficult relationship, but they were fundamentally devoted to each other. As time passed, their roles seemed to reverse, as Jottie (who was widowed in 1892) drew more and more upon Will for financial and emotional support. 

With two teenage children to care for, Jottie was determined to find a way to support herself. She began taking science courses at Purdue University, with the idea that she might become a nurse or pharmacist. But Jottie found that she had a real aptitude for medicine, and determined to become a physician—a rather unconventional decision for any woman to make in the 1890s. Jottie persisted, and in 1901 she received her medical degree from the University of Michigan. After working for a time in Detroit, London, and Vienna, she returned to practice in Lafayette. Sadly, her medical career was a brief one, as she died of complications of tonsillitis in 1910.

Matilda Trainer, 1880s
Alice was the youngest of the four Trainer sisters. Matilda was the oldest girl and began helping to support the family when she was only fourteen, becoming a teacher at Goderich Central School. When Mrs. Trainer died after giving birth to twins (who also died a few months later), it was Tillie who stepped in as surrogate mother to the younger children. Around 1887, the sisters and their youngest brother, William, moved to Chicago so they could be close to their older brothers.

Bertha Trainer, ca. 1905
Though we don’t know much about the Trainer sisters’ life in Chicago, they seem to have enjoyed the many opportunities for music, art, theater, and shopping that the great city afforded. They all learned to ride bicycles and went “wheeling” at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Leisurely summers were spent at Paw Paw Lake in Michigan, and they were all adventurous travelers, even venturing out on camels to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Louisa and Alice, who were only two years apart, were especially close, and they took at least one long trip to Europe together in 1904.

As Alice and William began spending more time at Heart’s Delight Farm, the sisters decided that they too would live in Chazy. Eventually they moved into Hillbrook, a building William constructed in the village of Chazy in 1910. The bottom floor of Hillbrook held the power plant connected to the hydroelectric dam on the Little Chazy River, and the sisters had an apartment on the top floor. Alice frequently walked from Heart’s Delight to Hillbrook to visit her sisters, play cards, and do needlework, and when William was away on business she liked to stay there overnight. 

Our only individual portrait
of Louisa Trainer
Though they were newcomers to the town, the Trainer sisters became beloved figures in Chazy. Matilda died in 1916, but Bertha and Louisa had many years to become part of the community. Louisa was known for her dedication to Physicans Hospital, and received a medal for her Red Cross service during World War I. It must have been very difficult for Alice, losing both her husband and her last surviving sister within such a short period of time. While Alice had many friends in Chazy, Chicago, and Goderich, nobody could ever replace her beloved sisters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Boxwood on the Brain: Arthur Shurcliff’s Colonial Revival Gardens

Arthur A. Shurcliff as a young man
Long before he took up the position of landscape architect at Colonial Williamsburg, Arthur A. Shurcliff had already begun his love affair with boxwood. Thirty years before he arrived in Williamsburg, in the summer of 1898, Shurcliff and his friend Bob Bellows took a bicycle tour of the historic town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. At this time, Shurcliff was working as an apprentice in the landscape architecture office of John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., so this was a working vacation as well as a pleasure tour. Shurcliff kept detailed notes of his trip in a notebook entitled “Log of 5 Days in Newburyport, August 1898,” and he wrote in this journal that it was “Dedicated to an old box hedge.” This shrub, of the genus Buxus, was first introduced to North America in the mid-17th century but would reach its peak popularity in the 20th century as the quintessential Colonial Revival planting—thanks, largely, to Arthur Shurcliff.

19th-century botanical illustration
of Buxus sempervirens
 Arthur and Bob visited old houses, made gravestone rubbings, and sought out what they called “antique” gardens. Shurcliff wrote in his journal, “Wednesday morning saw me in the old-fashioned gardens of the heart of the town. These old places although now gone to decay are filled with a kind of golden glory which is lacking in the new gardens. The old lattice trellises and ruined box hedges and even the weedgrown paths seem to have the glamor of the sunshine of the olden days that are only to be lived over again in books or in these old gardens themselves.” In addition to these musings, Shurcliff drew garden plans and made a list of plants he had been informed were “old-fashioned.”

It’s clear that Shurcliff felt that there was something special about boxwood, perhaps because it was one of the few plants that could potentially have survived since the time when these antique gardens were new. A few years after his trip to Newburyport, Shurcliff published an article in House & Garden about two Nantucket gardens that dated from the early 19th century. He also believed that there was “evidence to support the tradition that they were copied from much older gardens then in their prime”—but what this evidence might be, Shurcliff did not say. Nonetheless, here, too, boxwood played an important role. Boxwood hedges marked the main outlines of the garden's plan, and boxwood was used for decorative effects, being planted and trimmed into “ribbons, strings, and knobs.”

Foliage of Buxus sempervirens, or American boxwood
It comes as no surprise, then, that when Arthur Shurcliff became Colonial Williamsburg’s landscape architect in 1928, one of the first things he did was begin a collection of boxwoods. First he gathered them from Williamsburg and the immediate vicinity, but soon had to go further afield, to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, in order to supply the demand created by his plans. In addition to the plants that were grown in Williamsburg, entire mature boxwood hedges were purchased and transplanted to the historic area in order to create instant fullgrown plantings. By March of 1934, the Restoration had purchased and transplanted one and a half miles of boxwood.

Although there was very little hard evidence for the presence of boxwood in Williamsburg’s gardens in the 18th century, Shurcliff felt that his studies of other southern gardens justified their presence. In his first report to Restoration architects Perry, Shaw & Hepburn, he argued, “in replanting the Williamsburg places much use should be made of Box even to the extent of allowing it to dominate the parterres and bed traceries of which it once formed only a part.” Along with Shurcliff’s romantic love of boxwood was a practical reason—“Generous use of box in this manner is also justifiable because the display and upkeep of flowers especially in the dry season would not be necessary.”

St. George Tucker House before restoration
To Williamsburg residents, Shurcliff’s obsession with boxwood was a bit puzzling. Mrs. George Coleman, who lived in the St. George Tucker house, wrote in her diary of an encounter with Shurcliff in January 1931: “Today I was asked to go over the Tucker House yard with Mr. Arthur discuss the laying out of brick walls, boxwood hedges, etc. I found him a very alarming person! Somehow the idea of changing the yard and garden is much more repellent to me than changing the house, and this is such a terribly enthusiastic man!”

Boxwood in the restored Tucker House garden
In May 1931, Shurcliff was back, “[coming] down like a wolf on the fold again today. He rushed in and out several times with charts and plans for all sorts of alarming ‘landscapes’ in our yard. He has boxwood on the brain.” However, like most people, Mrs. Coleman found it impossible to resist the force of Shurcliff’s ideas, and even ultimately came to like his plans for the Tucker house garden. 

Others were much more easily won over by Shurcliff’s garden designs. As soon as Colonial Williamsburg officially opened in 1934, his Colonial Revival style gardens—and boxwood—began appearing all over the United States. However, there is still some debate as to whether boxwood can successfully be grown in this part of the country. If anyone has experience with it, we would love to hear from you!


M. Kent Brinkley and Gordon W. Chappell, The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1996).

Elizabeth Hope Cushing, Arthur A. Shurcliff: Design, Preservation, and the Creation of the Colonial Williamsburg Landscape (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

Charles B. Hosmer, Jr., “The Colonial Revival in the Public Eye: Williamsburg and Early Garden Restoration,” in Alan Axelrod, ed., The Colonial Revival in America (Winterthur: Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1985), 52-70.

American Boxwood Society

F. S. Lincoln, “St. George Tucker House Kitchen,” John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed April 29, 2015,

“St. George Tucker House Before Restoration,” John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accessed April 29, 2015,