New-York Historical Society

Celebrating Women’s History: Rebecca Lepkoff

To celebrate Women’s History Month, here are some images by pioneering street photographer Rebecca Lepkoff.

Mrs. Taylor, circa 1947-1948. PR 285, Rebecaa Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Mrs. Taylor, circa 1947-1948. PR 285, Rebecaa Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

 

Lower East Side, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lower East Side, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

A quintessential New Yorker, Lepkoff gained international acclaim for her iconic images of the Lower East Side. She was born on August 4, 1916, in a Hester Street tenement. Like the majority of families living in the neighborhood at that time, her parents were Jewish immigrants, struggling to improve their circumstances. Lepkoff dreamed of becoming a dancer, and after graduating from City College she was hired to dance at the 1939 World’s Fair. With the money she earned, she bought her first camera, and began to shift her artistic vision to photography.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lepkoff took advantage of free photography classes offered by the New Deal’s National Youth Administration, and later joined the Photo League. Founded in 1936 by photographers Sid Grossman and Sol Libsohn, the Photo League encouraged its members to document everyday life, a mission that Lepkoff gloriously fulfilled. Her photographs capture and make palpable a world that no longer exists. She focuses on the daily incidents of life that spilled out of too-small dwellings onto sidewalks and streets: mothers watching their babies, boys making fists, people shopping or sitting on stoops, neighbors chatting. Although indelibly stamped with the imprint of a vanished era, we recognize our own lives in Lepkoff’s images.  They have an authentic quality that makes you realize the past really happened.

Hester Street, 1940's. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Hester Street, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

 

Lower East Side, 1940's.  PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lower East Side, 1940s. PR 295, Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection.

Lepkoff was one of many women in the Photo League, which was “gender neutral at a time when women were not particularly visible outside the home,” says Catherine Evans, co-curator of a recent traveling exhibition about the League. About a third of the League’s members were women,  including many famous names such as Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, and Ruth Orkin. Their work shares a commitment to documentary photography, but can hardly be characterized as “feminine.” As Evans noted, “if we were to cover up the wall labels in [the Photo League] exhibition, you’d be hard pressed to say ‘that was by a woman, that was by a man.'”

The vibrancy of Lepkoff ‘s photographs reflects her own vitality: she lived to be 98, continuing to photograph almost up until the day she died (August 17, 2014). Luckily, her legacy is preserved at N-YHS and other institutions and will continue to inspire women for many years to come.

“The unadulterated Irish language”: Irish Speakers in Nineteenth Century New York

Unidentified map of Ireland, circa late 1700s. (Donegal on this map is spelled "Donnagall")

Unidentified map of Ireland, circa late 1700s. (Donegal on this map is spelled “Donnagall”)

The June 13, 1857, issue of Harper’s Weekly ran this short anecdote under “Things and Otherwise”:

A woman a short time since appeared at the lower police court in New York city, and, going up to the judge, addressed him, as nearly as our reporter could understand, as follows:“R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r!” The judge at once called the interpreter of the court. “Here, F—, this woman speaks a foreign language.” The interpreter said: “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.”“Parlez vous Francais?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” “Habla Espanol?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” “Parlate Italiano?” “R-r-r-r-r-r.” The lingual accomplishments of the interpreter were now exhausted, and he turned away in despair, when an Irishman present suddenly exclaimed, “Och, yer honor! it’s mesilf can spake with the leddy, sure.” Pat tried his hand, and succeeded to admiration. She spoke the unadulterated Irish language.

Language is rarely counted among the many challenges facing the Irish who arrived here in the 19th century but as this story reveals, for some Irish immigrants, English was a foreign tongue. While the Irish language made a precipitous decline in Ireland by the end of the century (the exact causes of which remain the subject of historical debate ) it was very much alive in the early 1800s. It follows that many such immigrants would have spoken Irish as their primary language. In fact, historians estimate that a quarter to a third of Famine immigrants were Gaeilgeoirí, or Irish speakers, and undoubtedly counted monoglots in their numbers. With English so ubiquitous in Ireland, this may be a bit hard to fathom today but at the time there would have been an appreciable number of Irish immigrants for whom English was as much a foreign language as Italian, French or German.

Bill of exchange to Bridget Sweeney of Ardara, Co. Donegal, July 28, 1851. MS 54, Abraham Bell & Son Records

Bill of exchange to Bridget Sweeney of Ardara, Co. Donegal, July 28, 1851. MS 54, Abraham Bell & Son Records

Unfortunately, traces of this are fleeting given that this was a largely illiterate population. Though there were some exceptions even those who were literate bore anglicized names such as Seán Ó Dreada, a noted stone carver, who was known by John Draddy. Still, geographic connections can provide some insight into identifying an Irish speaker. A good example occurs in this document recording money being sent via the Irish-American merchant firm of Abraham Bell & Son to Bridget Sweeney, of Ardara, County Donegal in 1851. The greatest concentration of Gaeilgeoirí has typically been in areas furthest from the epicenter of English influence around Dublin. This map of Irish-speaking districts suggests that 81-90 percent of those living in that area of Donegal would have spoken Irish, so we can reasonably conjecture that this was a transaction between speakers.

Fleeting glimpses show how the Irish language manifested itself on these shores as well. A researcher using the Children’s Aid Society Records recently pointed out that in writing his “Incidents and Sketches Among the Newsboys,” CAS agent W. Colopy Desmond documented a handful of examples from the Irish boys that he interacted with. In one case, Desmond attempted to capture phonetically the accent of Dennis O’Driscoll, a “tall boy with a rich brogue, and harsh features” of Skibbereen, County Cork.  While he notes O’Driscoll’s exclamations such as “Och” and “Gor”, far more interesting is his comparison of a bump on a forehead to a “mealy praty” the latter deriving straight from the Irish prátai, or potato.

"Outward Bound: The Quay of Dublin", Williams, Stevens & Williams: New York, 1854. PR 10, Caricature and Cartoon File

“Outward Bound: The Quay of Dublin”, Williams, Stevens & Williams: New York, 1854. PR 10, Caricature and Cartoon File

In a slightly more curious line, Desmond relates O’Driscoll’s description of Newsboy antics: “Och! see how them divils are puckin’ each other like buck goats.” The combination of “puckin'” and “buck goats” is fitting since Terence Patrick Dolan’s A Dictionary of Hiberno-English defines a puck or pucán as a male goat. There is yet another link to the Irish pooka,  according to P.W. Joyce’s English As We Speak It “a mischievous and often malignant goblin that generally appears in the form of a horse, but sometimes as a bull, a buck-goat, &c.” Joyce also offers puck as an associated verb which he defines as “a softened equivalent of playing the devil.

Taking into account that Skibbereen (a region decimated by the Famine) remained significantly Irish speaking in this era, it’s logical that O’Driscoll’s English is sprinkled with words of Irish origin while hinting at the much greater discussion concerning Irish words that survive in American English. Although many generations of usage and hybridization usually obscure origins, some, such as “slew,” “galore,” and “smithereens,” are well-documented and remain popular today .

This understanding of Irish speaking in 19th-century New York has real value in honing and intensifying interpretations of historical events. A particularly good example is a popular George Templeton Strong’s diary entry describing the singing of laments, or keening, by Irish women at the death of two laborers. He finishes with this comment:

It was an uncanny sound to hear, quite new to me. Beethoven would have interpreted it into music worse than the allegretto of the Seventh Symphony. Our Celtic fellow citizens are almost as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese.

Cass Gilbert & the Brooklyn Waterfront

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, June 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, June 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

This post is by Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations

The architectural profile of the Brooklyn waterfront, especially in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, has changed radically in the last ten years. Amidst the new, high-rise towers, stands a massive, stately low-rise. Originally known as the Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse and now a luxury apartment building, it is a visual reminder of the waterfront’s commercial and industrial past.

The building was distinctive from the day it opened, if for no other reason than its architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934), known for his innovative designs of the U.S. Customs Building (1907) and the Woolworth Building (1913). It was, and still is, unusual for a renowned architect to design a warehouse. The developers of the site knew that Gilbert’s name would lend cachet to the project, and Gilbert himself remarked, in 1913, that “a building of dignity commensurate with the standing of such a company was a valuable advertising and business asset.”

unnamed-1

Cass Gilbert. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse, longitudinal section, October 16, 1913. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Architectural Record Collection

Gilbert believed a building’s design should flow from its intended use. Working in the Egyptian Revival style, which emphasized scale and proportion, he integrated what were disparate needs—the processing, packing, and shipping of food; the hosting of retail buyers; and a comfortable, well-lit environment for employees—into an elegant and effective design. The warehouse was built with reinforced concrete, a relatively new technique that reduced costs and also the threat of fire, a serious consideration in the years following the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, September 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

Photographer unknown. Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse under construction, September 1914. PR 21, Cass Gilbert Collection

The size and grandeur of the building suited Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc., then the largest wholesale grocery business in the world. The wholesaler was able to consolidate the operations of all nine of its Manhattan locations into one building in Brooklyn. With access to the waterfront and located next to a freight terminal, the new site allowed Austin, Nichols to ship the bulk of its inventory by rail at a time when trucking costs had become exorbitant. Freight cars were loaded on the warehouse’s first floor, transported to the adjacent Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, then floated on barges to Manhattan and New Jersey, where rail lines that stretched across the country originated.

Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. prided itself not just in its highly efficient packaging and distribution operations but also in its on-site production of fresh food, spices, and coffee. Peanut butter, a food introduced just twenty years earlier and not yet popular, was made and jarred at the warehouse. Whole cloves and cinnamon were ground into powder; vanilla beans immersed in pure grain alcohol to make vanilla extract; and, a large part of the fifth floor was devoted to coffee roasting. The company’s attention to high-quality food extended to rooms called restaurants—rather than cafeterias—where employees ate meals subsidized by the company.  And, at least in the time right after the warehouse’s opening in 1915, a French chef oversaw the preparation of all meals.

unnamed-3

Southside of 184 Kent Avenue. New-York Historical Society/Glenn Castellano, 2015

In the decades after Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. vacated the building, it was occupied by a series of commercial and residential tenants.  When a long and contentious attempt to landmark the building failed in 2007, the development of the building for residential use began. The Austin Nichols warehouse re-opened as the apartment building 184 Kent Avenue in 2010.

In celebration of both the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Austin, Nichols & Co., Inc. warehouse and the library’s vast Cass Gilbert holdings, I have curated a small installation, Cass Gilbert & the Brooklyn Waterfront, that will be on view along the Leah and Michael Weisberg Monumental Treasure Wall on the first floor of the New-York Historical Society, through Sunday, May 3, 2015.

“To wake the sluggards effectually”: The Beginnings of Daylight Saving Time

Benjamin Franklin. PR 52 Portrait File

Benjamin Franklin. PR 52 Portrait File

This post is by Samantha Walsh, Reference Assistant in the Department of Prints, Photographs & Architectural Collections

The first mention of Daylight Saving Time was made by Benjamin Franklin, in a 1784 letter to the editor of the Journal de Paris. While many attribute today’s practice of turning the clocks forward and back to Franklin, it is widely accepted that Franklin’s proposal was an example of his infamous satire. In his letter, which he signed “A Subscriber,” Franklin explains that after forgetting to close his shutters one night, “An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows.” Franklin explains his shock at discovering that the sun provides light before noon. He explains, “Your readers…will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises.” Franklin goes on to propose that Parisians rise earlier with the sun in order to conserve lamp oil and utilize daylight. In order to implement this change Franklin proposes a tax on shutters, as well as a limit on the amount of candle wax a household may purchase per week. Finally, Franklin declares that all church bells should ring as the sun rises, and if this does not do the job, “let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.”  Despite its satirical intent, this letter does prove that Franklin did think of Daylight Saving Time first, but it is clear that he in no way meant to be taken literally, and we may assume that it was not read that way.

Invitation to the Daylight Savings Convention and Luncheon. Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers MS

Invitation to the Daylight Savings Convention and Luncheon. MS 58, Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers

Government-mandated Daylight Saving did not begin until over 100 years after Benjamin Franklin’s death, during WWI. On April 30, 1916, Germany began practicing Daylight Saving Time by putting the clock forward one hour until the following October. Most of Europe, including Britain, followed suit in a matter of weeks. A movement to begin DST in the U.S. had already begun, however the enemy’s adoption of DST seems to have given it the fuel needed to convince Americans to wake up earlier. Groups arguing for a law on Daylight Saving Time sprung up all over the country, the most influential being Pittsburgh’s Chamber of Commerce, led by Robert Garland. Garland is remembered as the “father” of Daylight Saving as a result of his efforts. New York had its own New York Daylight Saving Committee, which held the “National Daylight Saving Convention and Luncheon” at the Hotel Astor on January 30 and 31, 1917.

The convention attracted 632 delegates and a wide variety of speakers. Garland spoke, as well as representatives from The National Lawn Tennis Association and a member of England’s House of Commons, who explained “the benefits of the plan as seen in England.” The convention resulted in the formation of the national Daylight Saving Association, which opened offices in D.C. the next day. The Charles Leopold Bernheimer Papers, held in N-YHS’s Manuscript Collections, contain an invitation to the event as well as correspondence regarding Daylight Saving Time efforts in New York. Bernheimer, active in NYC public affairs and a seemingly non-functioning member of the New York Daylight Savings Committee, was serving as president of the Safety First Society of New York. The Society worked closely with the railroads, an industry which has long maintained an interest in anything that affects the clocks.

The argument occurring most frequently in favor of Daylight Saving is that an extra hour of daylight will allow more time for recreational activities, but posters found in N-YHS’s Poster Collection suggest that the war was a major tool in convincing the American public to turn their clocks forward.

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

WWI Daylight Saving publicity poster. PR 055-07 Poster File: WWI

 

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, Madison Avenue. PR 20 Geographic File

Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, Madison Avenue. PR 20 Geographic File

The influence of the many committees and associations was enough to get the bill through the House and Senate, and finally passed into law on March 19, 1918. Sunday March 31 marked the beginning of national Daylight Saving Time in the United States. Bernheimer’s papers describe a celebratory reception at 1:30 AM that morning. During the celebration, Marcus M. Marks, Manhattan Borough President and Chairman of the New York Daylight Savings Committee, turned the clock in the Metropolitan Tower ahead one hour.

Less than a year after the war ended the federal law was repealed, however major cities such as New York and Pittsburgh did continue to practice Daylight Saving independently until it was again federally mandated during World War II. As NYC did continue to observe DST, this year marks the 97th anniversary of New Yorkers “Springing forward!”

“Rank Abolitionists”: a New Yorker Responds to Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

UncleTomTitlePg

The titlepage to the cheaper, popular edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among The Lowly, Boston: John F. Jewett and Company, 1852

On September 22, 1852, New York dry goods merchant Edward Neufville Tailer sat down to record his latest diary entry as he did religiously from 1848 until very nearly the day of his death in 1917. On this particular occasion he reflected on his reading of one of the most famous American literary works, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published only that summer.

While not every American has read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, it’s virtually impossible not to have heard of it. Regarded as the second best-selling book of the nineteenth century, it was runner up only to the bible itself, selling a whopping 300,000 copies in its first year in print. Naturally, these numbers speak volumes for its historical import but history certainly isn’t built purely on data. Instead it relies equally on sources that succeed in bringing its subjects to life. In this regard, Tailer’s entry on Uncle Tom’s Cabin brilliantly personalizes the experience of reading a nineteenth century best-seller for a modern observer:

 Amongst the works most sought after at present at the Mercantile Library, is Miss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work entitled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or “Life Among the Lowly.” This book is in my opinion, written expressly to pamper with the ideas and tastes of all rank abolitionists. The heroine of the tale being a mulatto woman who escapes from her master, in order to rescue her child from falling into the hands of  a slave speculator, to whom he had been sold by his present master to enable him to pay off a mortgage. Her trials + the obstacles which she encounters when flying from before her pursuers are all most touchingly described, and enlist the sympathy + feelings of the reader. The story is in fact so beautifully written that I remained at home this evening pouring over its interesting pages, + thinking of but little else.

Tailer-9-22-52

September 22, 1852 entry in the diary of Edward Neufville Tailer. MS 2495, BV Tailer, Edward

Setting aside the moral implications at work in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tailer’s entry allows us to think about Stowe’s novel in the same way we recall our own personal experience surrounding the furor of something like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and in doing peel back the layers that prevent us from truly grasping the book’s impact on antebellum America.

Edward Neufville Tailer, PR 52, Portrait File

Edward Neufville Tailer, PR 52, Portrait File

That is intensified, however, by adding in the moral element and considering Tailer’s own views on the matter of slavery. His initial tone and, in particular, his choice of adjective to describe abolitionists, suggests a great deal about his thoughts. Like many fellow New Yorkers, he was entirely content to see slavery persist, assured that, properly treated, slaves enjoyed better lives than were they left to their own devices. That impression he recorded towards the end of 1852 while in Virginia, where, out of curiosity, he took in, and described, a Richmond slave auction. Despite all this, Tailer, a seemingly unlikely Stowe fan, was compelled to finish the story, revealing the the power of her narrative and its ability to absorb even those indifferent to its broader ethical message.

While he’s forced to compete with the highly regarded, and oft-quoted, New York diaries of both George Templeton Strong and Philip Hone, Tailer’s, comprising 57 volumes, are themselves exceptional as a historical resource. This was recognized early on: when he died, his obituary explicitly referenced this, nearly lifelong, endeavor.

 

“Seven Moments of Love”—from Langston Hughes to Robert Earl Jones

This post was written by Luis Rodriguez, Library Collections Technician.

Front page of "Seven Monents of Love" typescript with inscription. BV Hughes

Front page of “Seven Monents of Love” typescript with inscription. MS 1577, BV Hughes

Imagine a moment in Harlem in 1939. It’s inside the Community Center of the International Workers Order on West 125th Street, where the Harlem Suitcase Theater is putting on bare-bones experimental “proletariat” theatrical productions. The audience has left after a performance of Don’t You Want to be Free?—an epic depiction of African-American history that incorporates poetry, music, and drama—and the members of the theater begin to congregate. There is a sense of melancholy because Langston Hughes, the writer and director of Don’t You Want to be Free?, is leaving the project and moving to California. Hughes, a founding member of the theater, makes his way around the room, chatting, congratulating, and wishing people well, and then he comes to Robert Earl Jones, one of the evening’s featured actors and a member of the theater’s Executive Committee. Hughes takes an eight-page typescript folded into thirds from his pocket and hands it to his friend. Jones unfolds it and glances at the title—Seven Moments of Love—and then at the inscription, “To Earl Jones, These monologues, Sincerely, Langston 1939″. The two men shake hands and exchange a few kind words, and then the evening continues. Hughes, already known internationally as a writer and cultural figure, continues to travel and publish; Robert Earl Jones begins a career in film and later becomes better known as the father of the actor James Earl Jones; and the Harlem Suitcase Theater, never a great financial success, doesn’t make it past the 1939-1940 season. The typescript of Seven Moments of Love, meanwhile, arrives in the collections of the New-York Historical Society in October 1940.

Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1960. PR276 Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection

Portrait of Langston Hughes, 1960. PR276 Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection

Of course we don’t know exactly what the moment looked like when Hughes handed the typescript over to Jones, or if such a moment took place at all, but part of the value of this kind of document is that it can evoke a specific time and place, rich with historic and literary import. During this period in his career, Hughes seemed to be doing everything. After spending time in Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, he was finishing an autobiography, trying to establish a new kind of theater in the United States, and still writing poetry. His influences during this time ranged from Soviet Constructivism to Shakespeare. The title of his 1940 volume of poetry, Shakespeare in Harlem, underlines the presence of the latter, and we can see it as well in “Seven Moments of Love”, the full title of which adds the phrase: “an un-sonnet sequence in blues”. Shakespeare, the most famous of English language sonnet writers, adjusted the traditional form to suit his purposes, and Hughes, likewise, applied his own meter and rhyme to the basic sonnet structure in which a speaker gives voice to a problem that is resolved in the poem’s final lines. But then this is an “un-sonnet sequence” and the structure and content of the poem are faithful only to the contemporary reader. One nice thing about Hughes’ inscription is that it makes explicit the relationship between the writer and his audience, and in this case it leads us to the person reading the poem: Robert Earl Jones. Jones left his young family when he was about 20 years old to work first in Memphis, and then in Chicago where he was a prizefighter, before landing in New York with a WPA job, which is where Hughes found him.  In the poem there are echoes of estrangement and Depression-era wages that would likely resonate with Jones on a personal level. An Elizabethan reader, and probably most readers today, wouldn’t pick up on the references made to KDQ radio and Owl Head handguns, but these bits of culture, like the typescript itself, belong only to that singular time and place that Hughes and Jones shared.

The second section of "Seven Moments of Love". BV Hughes

The second section of “Seven Moments of Love”. Ms 1577, BV Hughes

The final section of "Seven Moments of Love". BV Hughes

The final section of “Seven Moments of Love”. MS 1577, BV Hughes

Special Delivery for Valentine’s Day

This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian.

Early children's Valentines, undated. PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Early children’s Valentines, undated. PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Like it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day is upon us. With all the advertisements for expensive jewelry, bountiful bouquets and fine dining, one might overlook the significance of a good old fashioned Valentine. Yep, a card can hold just as much meaning as a giant teddy bear and in the age of text messaging and emails, a handwritten note certainly adds a personal touch to the occasion. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t all enjoy a good sense of humor when it comes to February 14th, as evidenced by several of the items shown below.

After Christmas, Valentine’s Day is the second most popular holiday for card-sharing. An estimated 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year. Whether the card is delivered in person or travels across an ocean to reach its destination, the sentiment remains. This comical card, received by a soldier during WWII, celebrates the holiday with patriotism and a playful spirit. It also features partial lyrics from the classic military song, “We’re in the Army Now”. (Words by Tell Taylor and Ole Olsen. Music by Isham Jones. 1917.)

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (front). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (front). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWI era (inside). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Valentine to a soldier, WWII era (inside). PR 279 Marilyn Gelfman Karp Collection of Ephemera

Esther Howland was one of the first commercial manufacturers of Valentine’s Day cards in the United States. At the age of 20, she began a long, successful career creating delicate greeting cards made in a Victorian style with high-quality paper and lace imported from England. Credited with a number of innovations in greeting card design, the “Mother of the American Valentine” used bright wafer paper under white lace to show contrast and later created a shadow box effect that somewhat resembled a pop-up book. While these cards do not bear the trademark red “H” of a Howland original, I’m not convinced they were not made by her company. Regardless, they are fine examples of that unique style of Valentine card-making in the second half of the 19th century.

Victorian-era Valentines, possibly made by Esther Howland. American Historical Manuscripts Collection – Valentines

Victorian-era Valentines, possibly made by Esther Howland. AHMC – Valentines

Mischievous Valentine, late 19th/early 20th century. American Historical Manuscripts Collection – Valentines

Mischievous Valentine, late 19th/early 20th century. AHMC – Valentines

Playing with the slightly cheekier side of Valentine’s Day, this unusual card includes a poem from the perspective of a less-than-subtle suitor attempting to woo a widow into his arms. Be sure to take a closer look at the artwork around the perimeter of the card. Although presumably meant to be humorous, it’s surprisingly dark and disturbing. Think Edward Gorey meets Hallmark.

Whatever your plans are for February 14th, here’s hoping Cupid is kind to you… now I’m going to go fetch some chocolate!

“Little Ethiopians:” 19th Century Photography of African Americans

To kick off Black History Month, here is a cabinet card that has fascinated me ever since I stumbled across it in our Portrait File.

"Little Ethiopians." Cabinet card by Smith Studios, copyrighted 1881.  PR 52, Portrait Fie.

“Little Ethiopians.” Cabinet card by Smith Studios, copyrighted 1881. PR 52, Portrait Fie.

Titled “Little Ethiopians,” it’s a composite of 21 portraits of African-American babies. The cabinet card was issued by Smith’s Studio of Photography in Chicago, Illinois, and bears an 1881 copyright date. I initially thought that the photographer, Joshua Smith, might have been an African-American, but further investigation proved this guess wrong.

In fact, Joshua Smith was a prominent Chicago photographer who apparently achieved his greatest fame as a photographer of white babies. In 1878, Smith submitted a large composite photograph of (white) babies to the Paris Exposition— a “sheet 21 x 16 1/2 inches covered over with portraits of babies and very young children,” according to the British Journal of Photography (Volume 25, 1878). The article goes on to give a glowing review of Smith’s entry:

“There are nearly one hundred of these juveniles’ portraits arranged and vignetted in such a way as to merge one into the other, thus producing a very excellent effect. There are all the most unaccountable positions that babies alone can take, and that we cannot imagine, as well as the hundred-and-one facial expressions so varied and so dear to all doting mothers. This picture is labeled, in quaint American phraseology— ‘We came all the way from Chicago.’ The printing is firm, the whites pure (as in all good American printing) and although evidently the most rapid exposures have been given, the half-tones and modeling are perfect, while the shadows are in due keeping.”

The Exhibition judges were also impressed: Smith won one of three silver medals awarded to United States competitors (the gold medal for American photography went to New Yorker Napolean Saroney).

littleethiopians104

Little Ethiopians” (verso). Cabinet card by Smith Studios, copyrighted 1881. PR 52, Portrait File.

Smith, a savvy businessmen, capitalized on his success by issuing a condensed version of his award-winning baby montage on a pair of cabinet cards. One, titled “Good Morning,” shows a gallery of 36 smiling and happy (white) babies, and the other, titled “Good Night,” features 40 unhappy crying (white) babies. Unfortunately, N-YHS does not hold either of these cards, but images available online show that both are copyrighted 1880, a year before the “Little Ethiopians” cabinet card.  So it seems the latter is simply an African-Americanized version of a formula that had proven highly successful for Smith.  The only variations, aside from ethnicity, are that the “Little Ethiopians” cabinet cards combines both happy and crying babies in a single montage, and also includes one older child playing a horn (especially intriguing considering the card was issued 20 years before Louis Armstrong was born!).

All of this is interesting, but it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  Smith’s composites of white babies were presumably composed of individual portraits, commissioned and purchased by doting middle and upper class parents.  But who were the black babies in the “Little Ethiopians” card? who brought them in to be photographed? and who was the target market for this cabinet card?  Was there a large-enough emerging black middle-class to make studio portraits of and for African Americans a commercially profitable business?  White studios apparently found it commercially profitable to produce images of well-known black personalities (for example, Sojourner Truth) as well as, regretfully, negative and satirical images of African’Americans, and many examples of both can be found in the photograph collections at N-YHS. But N-YHS holds very few studio portraits of African Americans of any age.

Certainly, all three of Smith’s composite images were intended for a mass market.  The back of each card serves as a highly effective advertisement for his studio, displaying an image of the medal won in Paris, the studio’s address, and the slogan “Children’s Photos par excellence.” And to reach the widest possible audience, Smith licensed the production and sale of all three cards to E. and H.T. Anthony, the dominant retailer and manufacturer of photographic images in 19th century America with a huge marketing and distribution network.  But how images of African-Americans fit into this network is a puzzle that still needs to be unlocked.

 

“The Untold Delights of Duluth”: The Speech That Killed the Railroad Bill

This post was written by cataloger Miranda Schwartz.

Congressman J. Proctor Knott. PR052, Portrait File.

Congressman J. Proctor Knott. PR052, Portrait File.

Satirical takedowns and witty bon mots weren’t invented by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Our 19th-century forebears knew a thing or two about the influential effect of a little well-aimed satire, as evidenced by an 1871 broadside that the New-York Historical Society Library has in its collections.

The Library’s broadside is a copy of a famous speech given by J. Proctor Knott, a Democratic congressman from Kentucky who was later governor of Kentucky. His speech on January 27, 1871, instantly brought him national attention and was heralded as the epitome of wit. There are varying stories about Knott’s speech and if it was totally extemporaneous, as some claim, or if it was indeed ghostwritten, as others assert.

An excellent article by Dr. Philip D. Jordan in the Summer 1954 edition of Minnesota History gives a thorough introduction to the events leading up to Knott’s speech. Knott obviously knew of previous land grants to railroads in the Northwest but at this time he wanted to oppose authorizing a land grant from Hudson to Superior (both cities in Wisconsin) to the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad, because of increasing public dissatisfaction with the grant of public lands to the railroad companies. As Dr. Jordan puts it: “For some reason, which never has been satisfactorily explained, Knott was under the impression—or pretended to be under the impression—that the terminus of the road was to be Duluth.”

Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1870s. PR065, Stereograph File.

Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1870s. PR065, Stereograph File.

Out of Knott’s desire to quash the railroad land grant was born a hilarious Congressional speech. (Though there is only space here for excerpts, the speech is definitely worth reading in full.)

BlogSpeech terra incognita

Excerpt from the speech of J. Proctor Knott. SY1871 no. 99.

Knott opens with: “Years ago, when I first heard that there was somewhere in the vast terra incognita, somewhere in the bleak regions of the great Northwest, a stream of water known to the nomadic inhabitants of the neighborhood as the river St. Croix, I became satisfied that the construction of a railroad from that raging torrent to some point in the civilized world was essential to the happiness and prosperity of the American people.” And it only gets better: “…I was utterly at a loss to determine where the terminus of this great and indispensable road should be, until I accidentally overheard some gentleman the other day mention the name of ‘Duluth.’ Duluth! The word fell upon my ear with peculiar and indescribable charm, like the gentle murmur of a low fountain stealing forth in the midst of roses…. ’Twas the name for which my soul had panted for years…”

BlogSpeech rather perish Duluth

“Rather perish Duluth!” Excerpt from the speech of J. Proctor Knott. SY1871 no. 99.

Knott goes on in this vein for hundreds of words, finally summing up by saying “it grieves my very soul to be compelled to say that I cannot vote for the grant of lands provided for in this bill…these lands, which I am asked to give away, alas, are not mine to bestow! My relation to them is simply that of trustee to an express trust.” He works himself up into a final fever pitch: “And shall I ever betray that trust? Never, sir! Rather perish Duluth! Perish the paragon of cities! Rather let the freezing cyclones of the black Northwest bury it forever beneath the eddying sands of the raging St. Croix!”

The Congressional record clearly states that Knott was interrupted numerous times during his speech by “laughter” and “great laughter.” On February 1, 1871, the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad land grant bill was defeated, likely because of Knott’s speech. The Hudson to Superior line was never built.

Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1870s. PR065, Stereograph File.

Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1870s. PR065, Stereograph File.

The residents of Duluth took the speech quite well. At the time of Knott’s mockery Duluth was, per Dr. Jordan, “a struggling and jerry-built community of a little more than three thousand inhabitants.” The city came into its own later in the 19th century and boasted a population of 59,000 by the 1895 U.S. Census. In the spirit of Minnesota good humor, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce even took to publishing the speech. In 1894 a town in Minnesota was even named after the gentleman from Kentucky: Proctorknott (later shortened to Proctor). And J. Proctor Knott himself visited Duluth in 1891—though apparently he didn’t make any speeches.

The cataloging of the N-YHS library’s collection of railroad material was part of a grant-funded initiative.

Woman of Letters: Charlotte Lennox and The Life of Harriot Stuart

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

Among the uncatalogued treasures at the New-York Historical Society are two small, leather bound volumes I recently stumbled upon in the library stacks. Out of pure curiosity, I picked these volumes up and looked at the title page. The title read: The Life of Harriot Stuart, Written by Herself.

lennox1

[Charlotte Lennox], The Life of Harriot Stuart. Written by Herself (London: Printed by J. Payne and J. Bouquet, in Pater-noster Row, 1751). Uncataloged, New-York Historical Society Library.

The first volume’s title page, as you can see, is torn in half, the bottom half containing publication and printing information lost to time. The title page of the second volume, however, is wholly intact and lists the place of publication as London in 1751. As the book was found in the biography section of the book stacks, I immediately was intrigued by this apparent account of an 18th century woman’s life, told from her own perspective. I whisked the books downstairs to my desk for further investigation. What I discovered was more remarkable than I had expected.

lennox5

Title page of Volume 2 of The Life of Harriot Stuart.

Mistakenly placed in the biography section of our library stacks, The Life of Harriet Stuart is in fact a novel written by the English author Charlotte Ramsey Lennox (ca.1729-1804). Although she lived most of her life in England, Lennox was most likely not born there. Her father James Ramsey was a member of the Coldstream Guards, and she spent the early years of her life traveling the world where ever he was stationed, including a posting to colonial New York from 1739-1743. After his death in 1743, Lennox traveled to England, settling in London in 1747, the same year she married “feckless Scotsman” Alexander Lennox.

In London Lennox began to write, producing collections of poems, novels, and plays. In addition, she gained a reputation as a “versatile woman of letters” through her translations of French texts. The N-YHS Library holds copies of two of these translations: Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully (1751) and The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy (1759).

lennox6

Dedication page from the Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully, translated by Charlotte Lennox and printed in 1752. Livingston DC122.9 .S9 A3 1778, New-York Historical Society Library.

lennox7

Title page of The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy, translated by Charlotte Lennox and printed in 1759. Livingston PA3545 .A2 B89 1759, New-York Historical Society Library.

 

 

 

Lennox also published a monthly periodical in 1760 and 1761 called The Lady’s Museum that argued the importance of women’s education, especially in history and philosophy. A contemporary and friend of such luminary men of letters as Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Johnson, Lennox was widely admired during her life time. Indeed Johnson praised her as superior to other female authors of the time, encouraging and supporting her literary pursuits.

lennox3

Lennox described relations between colonists and Native Americans in colonial New York, including peace treaty negotiations detailed on this page from Volume 1 of The Life of Harriot Stuart.

The Life of Harriot Stuart is Lennox’s first novel and details the experiences and adventures of Harriot Stuart, a young woman in the 1740s, as she travels to colonial New York and England. Written as a memoir in the form of letters, the similarities between Lennox and Stuart’s lives have led many to believe that it is a partially autobiographical tale of her own life. Since 1940, claims have been made that Lennox was the first American novelist, as both The Life of Harriot Stuart and her last published work Euphemia (1790) are partially set in colonial New York. Indeed The Life of Harriot Stuart is one of the earliest literary references to colonial New York City, Albany, and Schenectady, including descriptions of colonial life and manners, relations between colonists and Native Americans, and impressions of New York City, described with an unfortunate lack of detail: “At last, after a tedious voyage of nine weeks, we came in sight of N——. That city making a delightful appearance from the water, I stood some moments contemplating it with great pleasure.”

 

lennox4

The back cover of The Life of Harriot Stuart, Volume 1 features inscriptions and ownership markings. Clearly visible is the name “John Cox.” Directly above this name is the faint inscription: “New York November 21, 1770.”

According to the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), the recently re-discovered N-YHS copy of The Life of Harriot Stuart is only the 18th known copy of the first edition, joining its fellows at the British Library, the Bodleian Library, Harvard, Yale, the University of Illinois, Indiana University, the Newberry, Princeton, and New York University. I’m still in the process of piecing together the provenance of the N-YHS copy, but luckily several ownership markings and inscriptions are visible on both volumes. What is known at the moment is that the book belonged to three generations of the Cox family in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in New York. The names of John Cox Jr.(1756-1825), John Palmer Cox (1794-?), and Emilie Aglae Cox (1821-1866) all appear in these inscriptions. It appears that the book passed from father to son, and then from father to daughter. Several other names and markings appear in the book that have yet to be deciphered and researched completely, but hopefully we’ll learn more soon about the extraordinary journey of these two volumes produced in London in 1751 which found their final home in the New-York Historical Society Library in 1925.

Works Cited:

Eve Tavor Bannet. “The Theater of Politeness in Charlotte Lennox’s British-American Novels.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Autumn 1999), pp. 73-92.

Jerry C. Beasley. “Charlotte Lennox.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 39; British Novelists, 1660-1800. The Gale Group, 1985. pp. 306-312.

Judith Dorn. “Reading Women Reading History: The Philosophy of Periodical Form in Carlotte Lennox’s The Lady’s Museum.” Historical Reflections / Reflexions Historiques, Vol. 18, No. 3, The Eighteenth Century and Uses of the Past (Fall 1992), pp. 7-27.

Kimberly Dawn Lutz. “Charlotte Lennox.” American National Biography.

About

This is a blog created by staff members in the library to draw attention to the richness and diversity of our collections.

Share Our Blog!

Subscribe

Support n-yhs

Help us present groundbreaking exhibitions and develop educational programs about our nation's history for more than 200,000 schoolchildren annually.