New-York Historical Society

Spring Fashion, circa 1890′s

“Fashion is unfolding, just like nature,” reads the caption for a recent On the Street column by famed New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham (whose work is currently on exhibit at N-YHS).  Now that spring has finally arrived, we decided to take a look at seasonal fashion in New York over a hundred years ago.

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Stern Brothers Catalogue, Spring and Summer 1890. Landauer TT555.S84 1890.

Back then, spring fashion apparently involved more enfolding than unfolding. Store catalogs feature an assortment of stifling outfits that look more suitable for Siberia than summer. Imagine, for example, strolling along Far Rockaway beach in this “Seaside Costume” from B. Altman & Co’s 1896 Spring and Summer Catalog.

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896.  Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896. Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

 

If — when! — you started to perspire under all that blue Mohair, embroidered Grass Linen and shaded silk fabric, you could don your Navy Blue Flannel Bathing Suit, complete with bathing tights with feet, for a refreshing dip in the ocean.

 

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896.  Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896. Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

 

Even pre-global warming, cycling home from the beach in your Roycelle Bicycle Suit For Ladies (patented 1895) must have been an awfully sweaty business. And think how big of a backpack you would need to cart around all your other outfits!

 

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896.  Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896. Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

 

Since everyone was too hot to think about what to wear, there were specific outfits for every occasion and activity, such as this trio of dresses for street strolling, visiting and going to receptions, respectively.

 

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896.  Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

B. Altman & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer, 1896. Landauer TT555.B35 1896.

 

Men had special summer outfits too, like the Bicycle Suit and Livery Suit pictured below.  In a surprising display of equality, their clothing looks every bit as uncomfortable as the women’s.

Rogers, Peet & Co., Hints on Dress. Spring and Summer of 1888. AC901, Box R.

Rogers, Peet & Co., Hints on Dress. Spring and Summer of 1888. AC901, Box R.

 

Men’s clothing catalogs also included useful fashion advice, such as “DON’T wear checks if you’re short and stout,” DON’T wear stripes if you’re long and lean,” and “DON’T allow more than a yard and a half of handkerchief silk to protrude from your breast pocket.”

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Rogers, Peet & Co., Hints on Dress. Spring and Summer of 1888. AC901, Box R.

For more period fashion, come and visit our stylish exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, before it closes on June 15, 2014.

 

George Frederick Seward and the Chinese Exclusion Act

This post was written by Heather Mulliner, spring semester intern in the Department of Manuscripts.

George Frederick Seward Papers

George Frederick Seward Papers

A career in politics seemed all but inevitable for George Frederick Seward, the nephew of Lincoln’s famed Secretary of State (and one-time Presidential rival) William Henry Seward. But like his better-known uncle – whose vocal opposition to slavery cost him the Presidential nomination – George Frederick Seward’s political ambitions were thwarted by his stand on a controversial issue.

G.F. Seward’s career as a diplomat began in 1861, when he was only 21, with an appointment as US Consul to Shanghai. He served as a diplomat to China for the next twenty years, eventually rising to the position of Minister to China in 1875.  A few years later, though, the United States shifted its policy toward China and began a series of negotiations that would abruptly end Seward’s political career, and eventually result in passage of the most restrictive immigration law ever adopted by Congress: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Throughout the 1870s, anti-Chinese sentiment began to infiltrate American political discourse. Led primarily by legislators in California, Congress began to seek laws to restrict Chinese immigration. But before the United States could pass any such laws, it needed to renegotiate a set of treaties with the Chinese government to avoid violating international law. In 1879 Congress passed a bill severely restricting Chinese immigration, which allowed only fifteen Chinese passengers on any ship coming to the United States. President Hayes vetoed the bill, despite the fact that he favored restricting Chinese immigration, on the grounds that it violated international treaties. He instead decided that the United States needed to renegotiate its treaties with China to allow for greater immigration restrictions. As Minister to China, it was Seward’s responsibility to lead the negotiations.

Seward opposed the restriction of Chinese immigration, but he nonetheless accepted the role as key negotiator of the new treaty. He simply structured the terms of negotiation to fit his own beliefs about immigration. Rather than seeking a treaty that completely limited Chinese immigration, Seward instead negotiated one that only restricted the immigration of “disfavored classes” such as paupers, the sick, and prostitutes. The Chinese government accepted Seward’s treaty, but there was one problem: the State Department never approved his plan.

George Frederick Seward Papers, MS 557.

George Frederick Seward Papers, MS 557.

Seward claimed that he received approval from the Secretary of State prior to the negotiations, but once he entered into talks with the Chinese government, the State Department failed to respond to his reports. The State Department contended however that Seward never informed them of his negotiations and by the summer of 1880, they sent someone else to China to replace him. Whether or not Seward actually received approval for his treaty is unclear, but he never forgot the sting of his dismissal. Although he moved on to a highly successful career in the insurance industry (serving as the president of the Fidelity and Casualty Company), Seward continued to be an outspoken critic of the United States’ treatment of Chinese citizens until his death.

History has vindicated Seward’s position: the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943, and in 2012 Congress issued a formal apology to Chinese-American people, expressing regret for the discriminatory law.  To explore the fascinating history of trade and immigration between China and the United States, please visit our upcoming exhibition Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion, opening September 26, 2014.

“To blossom as a rose”: the Society and the New York Wilderness

Portrait of John Pintard by Waldo & Jewett, 1832. 1928.1

Portrait of John Pintard by Waldo & Jewett, 1832. 1928.1

While the rain falls outside and spring continues to give us only tantalizing glimpses, it seems like a good time to visit a curious little story about the conflicted relationship we Americans have long maintained with nature. In fact, it actually involves the New-York Historical Society itself.

By September 1809, just shy of five years old, the Society had moved into its second home: the northwest room of the Government House’s second floor at Bowling Green. While the move presented ample opportunity for the Society to solicit and collect new material, one thing it didn’t provide was funding to promote the organization’s growth. Fortunately, its members were men of influence who sought to remedy this through a bill to be presented at the New York Assembly.

John Pintard to Stephen Van Rensselaer, March 20, 1810. MS 490, John Pintard Papers

John Pintard to Stephen Van Rensselaer, March 20, 1810. MS 490, John Pintard Papers

The bill that the Society backed was meant to provide funding to the organization through the Union College lottery, a venture authorized in 1805 to build the college’s endowment. All this seems within expectations but this is where things get interesting. The other part of the bill provided money “to be applied to the extirpation of Wolves & Panthers,” as founder John Pintard wrote to Assembly member Stephen Van Rensselaer on March 20, 1810. Yes as incongruous as it sounds, the bill meant to funnel money into the elimination of both wolves and panthers from the wilds of New York. It may sound like a pretty inane combination and to our sensibilities it is. But as with just about any historical event, a little context goes a long way toward understanding why there’s a thin, but discernible, line of reasoning that links both endeavors.

The most salient point is that, even at the close of the first decade of the nineteenth century, any sustained appreciation and/or defense of nature and wilderness within America was still a long way off. Instead, flush with Jefferson’s vision of an agrarian republic, the new nation was busy turning what most citizens regarded as a savage wilderness into a new Eden. Pintard’s letter captures the prevailing sentiment to perfection:

Fortunate shall we deem ourselves, and honourable will it be for the character of the State should the exterpation of Wolves and Panthers lead to the cultivation of Science as well as the fruits of the earth. This will indeed be enabling the Wilderness to blossom as a rose.

Detail from John Pintar'd letter to Stephen Van Rensselaer, March 20, 1810. MS 490, John Pintard Papers

Detail from John Pintard letter to Stephen Van Rensselaer. MS 490, John Pintard Papers

Particularly telling is the imagery of his last sentence. The subjugation of the American wilderness was hardly a novel concept and A Design to represent the beginning and completion of an American Settlement or Farm (1764) derived from sketches by Thomas Pownall (who served as governor of Massachusetts and acting governor of New Jersey) offers evidence of a legacy that stretched back even to the earliest European settlements.

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“A Design to represent the beginning and completion of an American Settlement or Farm”, 1764. PR 58, Printmaker File

Pintard’s words also reveal traces of the Enlightenment mind, embracing the supremacy of reason while striving to describe, categorize and pursue intellectual dominion over the natural world. In concert, as a learned institution the Society strove to establish an intellectual structure for the new nation with a core mission being the construction of an historical record for America. Where the Society fulfilled an intellectual mission, the hunting of wolves and panthers would ensure progress in the physical world and the establishment of control and order on a savage landscape, a venture that required the pacification of wilderness.

According to subsequent correspondence, the bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate but fell short in the Federalist dominated Assembly. This misfortune elicited the displeasure of physician, scientist, legislator, and Society member Samuel L. Mitchill who on April 3rd scribbled furiously that Federalist Assemblyman Richard Van Horne “ought to be conveyed to his native town in a car drawn by wolves, panthers, and wild-cats.”

Quoth the Raven Poetry Circle

This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian

Ravens peddling poetry on Washington Square South and Thompson Street, 1930s. Mcrudden is second from the right. Bodenhiem is to the far right. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR108.

Ravens peddling poetry on Washington Square South and Thompson Street, 1930s. Mcrudden is second from the right. Bodenhiem is to the far right. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR108.

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A very rare example of a handwritten poem and sketch, like those displayed for sale at Annual Exhibitions, circa 1940s. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, MS 2921.

In honor of National Poetry Month, I felt inspired to celebrate one of the more obscure literary contributions of the early twentieth century, true pioneers of the D.I.Y. movement. Formed in 1932 by retired New York Telephone Company employee, Francis Lambert McCrudden, the Raven Poetry Circle was unveiled at an outdoor event near Washington Square Park in May of 1933. Members of this unique collection of writers were known as “Ravens” and included bohemians, published poets, students, city employees, various characters from the neighborhood and even a feline mascot named Phyllis. Mcrudden held monthly poetry readings in his storefront apartment and devised a plan to sell poetry in an open market atmosphere. The New York Times referred to it as “the world’s first sidewalk poetry mart”.

The Ravens, whose namesake and symbol stem from the classic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, held annual exhibitions in which participants tacked original copies of their poetry to a tall green wall on Thompson Street, next to a tennis court. Attendees were encouraged to purchase the poetry that hung like artwork on display for all to enjoy. Prices ranged from a nickel for the work of a lesser-known writer up to several dollars for a piece penned by one of the more popular Ravens. At a time when New York City streets were crawling with pushcarts filled with apples and knishes, the Ravens were pure peddlers of poetry. Initially published monthly, then quarterly, The Raven Anthology journal was produced from December 1933 to October 1940.

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Francis Lambert McCrudden, founder and father of Raven Poetry Circle, early 1940s. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR108.

Everyone, including writers, felt the financial and emotional effects of the Great Depression. By 1935, royalty rates had dropped by 50%, newspaper closings had climbed to 48% and best sellers were few and far between. The Ravens were operating in a devastated economy and living in a fractured city. Charter member of the group, Anca Vrbovska, said McCrudden “kept the flag of poetry flying in our community”. He was a quiet, hard-working, scholarly man who valued a writer’s sincere expression of sentiments. Mcrudden could not tolerate “mere rhymers, wise- cracking doggereleers and other nuts” and such individuals were not welcome into the Ravens.

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Max Bodenheim, “Bogie”, strikes a contemplative pose at Ravens’ Annual Exhibition, 1930s. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR108.

 

Thought by many to personify the Avant Garde, the most prominent figure among the Ravens was Max Bodenheim. A Mississippi native who’d previously been involved in the Chicago Literary Renaissance, Bodenheim moved to New York City in the early 1920s. Life magazine described Bodenheim as “young and slim with sandy red hair and pale, baleful eyes” and noted that “women jammed tiny candle-lit rooms in The Village when he gave readings of his poetry”. Although he was a prolific writer in his earlier years, publishing 13 novels and 10 books of verse, as Bodenheim grew older and fell deeper into alcoholism, his writing suffered and his rambunctious behavior took a turn for the worst. He was known to panhandle for money and exchange poems for drinks at local bars, such as the Minetta Tavern, frequented by many Ravens. Victims in a twisted crime of passion, Bodenheim and his third wife were brutally murdered by Harold “Charlie” Weinberg, an unstable dishwasher they’d befriended and were staying with in February 1954.

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Official list of poets featured at 10th Annual Open Air Exhibition, Summer of 1942. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, MS 2921.

Anton Romatka, the self-proclaimed “Poetry Mender”, was another regular in the Ravens’ scene. He hosted Saturday night poetry sessions in which writers came together to read their work aloud. He charged several cents for critiques and editing services and wrote “verses to order” for 10 to 15 cents per line. Ironically, Romatka was born in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, and became a Bohemian in Greenwich Village.

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Joe Gould peers into the camera at Raven Poetry Circle Annual Exhibition, 1930s. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR108.

Joe Gould, also known as Professor Seagull, was perhaps the most controversial writer associated with the Ravens. A Harvard graduate and struggling historian, Gould came to the city in 1917 and worked as a reporter for the New York Evening Mail. He was a rather eccentric, often homeless man who lived largely on hand-outs he received from local establishments, like the Waldorf Cafeteria, on 8th Street. He attended poetry readings and recited outrageous, absurd poems intended to mock the more serious poets. Gould felt alienated from other writers and wanted to document the history of the “shirt-sleeved multitude”. He was known to wander The Village with a sign that read, “Joseph Ferdinand Gould, Hot Shot poet from Poetville, a Refugee from the Ravens. Poets of the World, Ignite. You have Nothing to Lose But Your Brains”. He boasted about an in-depth Oral History he’d written that purportedly included transcriptions of 20,000 conversations he’d overheard. In Joseph Mitchell’s 1965 book, Joe Gould’s Secret, the author reveals the secret is that the manuscript never really existed.

While original Ravens passed away or became too reclusive to participate in social groups, the Beat Generation was blossoming into a powerful, magical movement of its own. The Raven Poetry Circle dissolved by the early 1950s. Francis Lambert Mcrudden was buried on what would have been his 86th birthday, January 21, 1958. The final lines of his epitaph were taken from a poem he’d written for Bodenheim.

Child of the Lyric Muse, your

song is sung.

Your wanderings ended and your

harp unstrung.

For you, the ills and joys of life

are gone.

The music of your poetry lives

on.

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Francis Lambert McCrudden surrounded by books and artwork in his storefront at 168 Sullivan Street, 1940s. Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, MS 2921.

 

Happy Passover and Easter!

To celebrate the holidays, here are a few lighthearted Easter and Passover images that can hardly help but make you happy, regardless of religion.

Real feathers! Postcard Collection, PR 54.

Real feathers! Postcard Collection, PR 54.

 

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“The First Book of Jewish Holidays,” 1954, Text by Robert Garvey, Pictures by Sam Weiss. BM690.G32.

 

Postcard File, PR 54.

Postcard File, PR 54.

 

"The First Book of Jewish Holidays," 1954, Text by Robert Garvey, Pictures by Sam Weiss.  BM690.G32.

“The First Book of Jewish Holidays,” 1954, Text by Robert Garvey, Pictures by Sam Weiss. BM690.G32.

 

Postcard File, PR 54.

Postcard File, PR 54.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does the ‘S’ in Ulysses S. Grant stand for?

Photo of Ulysses Grant taken at the time of his appointment as Lieutenant General  of all the Armies of the Republic in 1864. PR 52 Portrait File

Photo of Ulysses Grant taken at the time of his appointment as Lieutenant General of all the Armies of the Republic in 1864. PR 52 Portrait File

You might expect to hear this kind of question in a game of Trivial Pursuit, and if you’re inclined to say “Simpson”, you’re right – sort of.

In truth, Simpson was not part of his name at all and that’s on the authority of the man himself. On June 23, 1864, Grant wrote to Congressman E.B. Washburn with an explanation, politely noting, “In answer to your letter of a few days ago asking what ‘S’ stands for in my name I can only state nothing.” Yes, it’s largely inconsequential minutia, and one wonders why a congressman queried the commander-in-chief of the army over it while civil war ravaged the nation  but it’s also a reminder that even the simplest historical questions are often not so simple.

Grant to E.B. Washburn, June 23, 1864. AHMC - Grant, Ulysses

Grant to E.B. Washburn, June 23, 1864. AHMC – Grant, Ulysses

Grant goes on to explain that the misnomer originated from the congressman who assisted his application to West Point. According to Grant, Senator Morris of Ohio had erroneously named him as “Ulysses S. Grant.” Simpson was Grant’s mother’s maiden name and the name of his brother, but had never been in his own. In fact, he was baptized Hiram Ulysses Grant, though known from the very beginning as “Ulysses.”

It seems the last straw was his diploma and commission from the academy, both of which were issued with the erroneous “S.” Apparently, Grant tried to rectify the problem but his efforts to have the S excised from West Point records proved fruitless, so he resigned himself to signing his name that way.

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Grant to Washburn, June 23, 1864. AHMC – Grant, Ulysses

With the benefit of historic hindsight, though, the “S” seems less mistake than prophecy.  After Grant’s spectacular victory at the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson, his initials were said to stand for “Unconditional Surrender,” in honor of his demand for the same from the confederate forces.  The nickname stuck, and Grant continued to live up to it, until finally, on April 9th, 1865 — 149 years ago today — Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the civil war.

‘It’s a Small World’ of Tomorrow: Remembering The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair

This post was written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections

What to Wear at the Fair and What to Do When You Get There.  Newsweek, 1963 F128 T790.14.G8

What to Wear at the Fair and What to Do When You Get There. Newsweek, 1963 F128 T790.14.G8

It was a financial failure and—being unsanctioned—not even a real “world’s fair.”  It stands as little more than yet one more piece of Baby Boomer nostalgia.  But, in fairness, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair that opened 50 years ago this month was itself a bit of Greatest Generation nostalgia:  One of the motivations in the endeavor was to recreate the energy and promise of the 1939-40 “World of Tomorrow,” the great fair that opened on the same site in Flushing Meadows, Queens just 25 eventful years earlier.   Parents of the 1960s literally wanted their children to experience the wonders of the future.  As a Baby Boomer child of a mother who walked to the 1939 Fair from her Flushing home, I’d be one .

My mother did a good job in not revealing how much the 1964 Fair was a reprise of 1939.  The forbidding Art Deco architecture of the popular 1939 General Motors “Futurama” exhibit was modified, but the pavilion’s feature of moving chairs gazing down on gleaming future cities remained the same in 1964.

Futurama.  General Motors Corp. 1940, F128 T788.A8; Let’s Go to the Fair and Futurama.  [1964] F128 T793.A8

Futurama. General Motors Corp. 1940, F128 T788.A8; Let’s Go to the Fair and Futurama. [1964] F128 T793.A8

Only now, the projected superhighways had become a reality, and the newer exhibit optimistically showcased the use of chemicals, lasers, and nuclear power for “stretching a highway of progress” through the rainforests (“the jungle”).   Westinghouse created a new time capsule for this fair, recognizing that, ”in a quarter of a century, man split the atom,, danced the twist, ran the four-minute mile, scaled Mt. Everest, fought another World War and began to probe space and the seas.”  The 1960s time capsule successfully characterized the modern age by including credit cards, antibiotics and birth control pills, a rechargeable battery and superconducting wire, a Beatles record and transistor radio, contact lenses and a bikini bathing suit, and a computer memory unit.

Criticized by the sophisticated for its kitsch, the 1964-65 World’s Fair nonetheless stands as an optimistic take on the promise of the Space Age, an early taste of the digital world, a culminating celebration of plastics and synthetics, and the beginnings of modern theme-park entertainment.

Welcome…to the IBM Pavilion [1964] F128 T793.T9

Welcome…to the IBM Pavilion,  F128 T793.T9

  Looking backward, its legacy is mixed and quirky: Computers were prominent in a fair that emphasized future technology, but, even at the IBM pavilion, they were presented as nonthreatening machines that thought logically as we did, only faster.   And yet, when fairgoers came to the end of IBM’s pathway “to the fascinating world of computers,” they were brought to the pavilion’s main interactive feature, a “Typewriter Bar” where they could try out the new Selectric typewriter.  RCA dotted the fairgrounds with color television sets while the Bell System outfitted it with touch-tone phone booths.

Touchtone phone from Fun at the Fair [1964 edition] F128 T790.14.G8

Touchtone phone from Fun at the Fair [1964 edition] F128 T790.14.G8

The AT&T pavilion also previewed the Picturephone.  The latter innovation was helpful to those who used American Sign Language, but, overall, the lack of privacy inherent in the novelty was not embraced by fairgoers.  Their older selves would at least find some occasions to Skype.

Before it was more commonly known as the AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons co-sponsored the Dynamic Maturity pavilion that stood between the 7-Up and Coca Cola buildings.

Admit One at Fair Gate Adult, New York Worlds Fair, 1964-1965. F128 T790.14.T6

Admit One at Fair Gate Adult, New York Worlds Fair, 1964-1965. F128 T790.14.T6

Their brochure also included a fact sheet for visitors, noting  that admission was $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children.   A 21st century onlooker cannot help remarking that there was no senior rate.  The Sinclair Oil Company’s large papier mâché dinosaurs and ubiquitous plastic dinosaur souvenirs continued their success in product identification.  Decades after Sinclair gas stations disappeared from the East Coast, the association of dinosaurs and Sinclair remained in the minds of a generation of fairgoers.

The Exciting World of Dinosaurs, Sinclair Dinoland, New York World’s Fair 1964-65. 1964., F128 T793.A6

The Exciting World of Dinosaurs, Sinclair Dinoland, New York World’s Fair 1964-65, F128 T793.A6

One can wager that for most visitors to the 1964-65 World’s Fair, three distinct memories come to mind: Gazing reverently at Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, Pietà, elaborately lit on a moving sidewalk at the Vatican pavilion, gliding along in a boat while being serenaded by dolls singing the relentlessly catchy “It’s a small world (after all),” and splurging one-dollar on a berry and whipped cream-covered waffle at the Belgian Village.

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village [1964] , F128 T792.32

1964-1965 World’s Fair, New York, N.Y. Belgian Village,  F128 T792.32

  The presence of the “Belgian waffle” on diner menus and, most recently, on the city’s waffle carts, is a direct legacy of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.  “It’s a Small World—Pepsi’s Salute to UNICEF and the World’s Children,” one of four popular Walt Disney creations at the Fair, made its way to Disneyland.

Disneyland Fun at the Fair: Pepsi-Cola Presents Walt Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World—A Salute to UNICEF’ at the New York Worlds Fair 1964-1965,  F128 T793.A6

Disneyland Fun at the Fair: Pepsi-Cola Presents Walt Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World—A Salute to UNICEF’ at the New York World’s Fair 1964-1965, F128 T793.A6

Eventually, the various exhibitions’ components and technologies were incorporated at Florida’s Epcot Center, Disney’s attempt—successful or not, for better or worse—at making permanent the magic of our World’s Fair experience.

The “Suff Bird Women” and Woodrow Wilson

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, let’s focus on an attempted publicity stunt from 1916 involving New York suffragists, a biplane, and President Woodrow Wilson. Three fantastic photographs in the library collection tell the beginning of the story as a group of suffragists met at Midland Beach, Staten Island on December 2, 1916.

Members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association join pilot Leda Richberg-Hornsby at Midland Beach, Staten Island prior to her flight.

Members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association gather at Midland Beach, Staten Island prior to their liberty flight. N-YHS Prints and Photographs, PR 68.

The plan was to “bomb” President Woodrow Wilson on his yacht, the Mayflower, as it made its way down the Hudson River en route to the illumination of the Statue of Liberty. This “bomb” consisted of yellow petitions from “woman voters of the West” and leaflets in support of the Susan B. Anthony suffrage amendment. Written by Anthony (1820-1906) with the assistance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), this amendment called for the extension of the right to vote to women. First presented to Congress in 1878, by 1916 it had been rejected by the Senate twice, and had recently been defeated in the House of Representatives in January 1915. Not until 1920 would woman suffragists be victorious with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Leda Richberg-Hornsby (1887-1939), the first female graduate of the Wright School in Dayton and only the eighth woman in the United States to earn a pilot's license. She attempted several times to join the US flying corps as a combat pilot in France during the First World War. Her service was refused.

Leda Richberg-Hornsby (1887-1939), the suffragist pilot, was one of the pioneer female aviators of the 1910s. She attempted several times to join the US flying corps as a combat pilot in France during the First World War. Her service was refused. N-YHS Prints and Photographs, PR 68.

The pilot of this intrepid suffrage plane was Leda Richberg-Hornsby (1887-1939) of Chicago, described by the New York Sun as “petite, plucky, brunette, holding in her hand the all-around aviator’s license she won a month ago which entitles her to fly as a Lieutenant in the Government’s service in case of war.” She was only the eighth woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license, and the first female graduate of the Wright Flying School in Dayton. The original choice for pilot was Ruth Law (1887-1970), who unfortunately was unavailable due to her involvement with the illumination ceremony – circling the Statue of Liberty in an illuminated plane with Liberty written on the bottom. A suffragist herself, Richberg-Hornsby volunteered in Law’s place, stating: “This is war for woman’s rights. I am proud to fly for you.”

Ida Blair (1874-1930) joined Richberg-Hornsby on the flight. A committed suffragist and welfare worker, Blair had previously participated in other suffrage stunts during the 1915 Empire State campaign.

Ida Blair (1874-1930) joined Richberg-Hornsby on the flight. The two were described as “togged out in several layers of everything that birdwomen wear, with trimmings of suffrage yellow.” N-YHS Prints and Photographs, PR 68.

Joining Richberg-Hornsby in the two-seater biplane that day was Ida Blair (1874-1930), a business woman, welfare worker, and suffrage leader, who had previously participated in other suffrage stunts during the 1915 Empire State campaign. The plane was adorned with a large banner reading “Women Want Liberty Too,” which can be partially seen in the first photo. (The message is also written on the photo in the sky above the plane.) Cheered on by their fellow members of the New York branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Richberg-Hornsby and Blair took off around 5:45pm on their bombing mission. Unfortunately, the weather was not on their side.

December 3, 1916 headline from the New York Sun.

December 3, 1916 headline from the New York Sun.

Although airborne for nearly a mile, the high winds that day (described by the New York Sun as “virtually a gale”) forced Richberg-Hornsby to crash land the plane in a Staten Island swamp. Neither woman was seriously injured from the adventure, nursing only a “few mundane bumps,” but were disappointed not to succeed in their attempt to demonstrate the fervor of their convictions. One thing is sure. Regardless of the outcome, they were committed to their cause, as were the hundreds and thousands of other women who fought so long and hard in the late 19th and early 20th century for the right to vote. Cheers to you, ladies.

“Feelin’ Tomorrow Lak Ah Feel Today”: W.C. Handy, the St. Louis Blues, and Marion Harris

Written by Maureen Maryanski, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

St. Louis Blues, copyright 1914, Popular Music, N-YHS Sheet Music Collection

St. Louis Blues, copyright 1914, Popular Music, N-YHS Sheet Music Collection

An often overlooked source of historical and cultural memory is the ephemeral format of sheet music. The New-York Historical Society houses an extensive sheet music collection numbering close to 15,000. Many of these are from the 19th century, but a significant subsection contains popular songs from the early to mid-20th century. One of the most famous and widely recorded early blues songs is W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” The N-YHS holds sheet music for this song in a ukulele arrangement. From this document, and especially the beautiful illustration and publicity information gleaned from the front cover, multiple threads of the story of early blues music, and its publication, performance and recording, can be deciphered.

Handy Bros. Music Company (Home of the Blues). The appearance of this name for Handy's publishing company indicates that this pieces of sheet music was printed after 1920.

Handy Bros. Music Company (Home of the Blues). The appearance of this name for Handy’s publishing company indicates that this pieces of sheet music was printed after 1920.

First, we begin with the composer W.C. Handy (1873-1958). Known as the “Father of the Blues,” Handy was one of the first to publish music in this form, beginning in 1912 with “Memphis Blues.” The song caught the ear of New York bandleader James Reese Europe, who was employed by famous dance couple Irene and Vernon Castle. The Castles proceeded to use the song to accompany their new step, the foxtrot. In 1914, “Memphis Blues” became the first blues song preserved on record. Following the success of the song, Handy started his own publishing company, Pace and Handy Music Company, only the third music publishing company owned by African Americans. In 1918, he moved to New York, and by 1920 he operated the publishing company as a family-owned business, Handy Brothers Music Company, at 1545 Broadway, described on this piece of sheet music as the “Home of the Blues.”

First page of "St. Louis Blues" for ukulele in D Tuning. Notice the lyrics, written in dialect vernacular.

First page of “St. Louis Blues” for ukulele in D Tuning. Notice the lyrics, written in dialect vernacular.

While “Memphis Blues” was among the first, “St. Louis Blues” is considered the best example of early blues music, and the first to be successful as a popular song. Published in 1914, the song is supposedly based on Handy’s experiences being penniless and sleeping on the streets of St. Louis in 1892. As with his other blues compositions, much of his inspiration was drawn from preexisting folk music of the South, evident from the musical structure, as well as the lyrics written in dialect: “I hate to see de ev’nin’ sun go down.”  However, with “St. Louis Blues” Handy combined this black rural blues tradition with a habanera rhythm to create what has been heralded as a masterpiece of blue notes and syncopation. Early versions of “St. Louis Blues” were usually up tempo, reflecting the song’s appearance during the ragtime era and its use as a dance arrangement, this time for the tango. The first recording of the song appeared in 1915, but the first great vocal recording came in 1920 with Marion Harris’ slower rendition, which also began a counter-tradition of singing the song as a lament.

Marion Harris (1896-1944), recording artist, vaudeville star, and blues singer.

Marion Harris (1896-1944), recording artist, vaudeville star, and blues singer.

It is Marion Harris’ recording for the Columbia Phonograph Company, record number 2944, that is advertised with this ukulele sheet music. So, who was Marion Harris? Though her name might not be familiar today, she was one of the most popular singers of her day, praised as the “Queen of Blues” and later “The Little Girl with the Big Voice.” Little is known of her background beyond her birth in 1896, possibly in Kentucky or Indiana. Discovered in a Chicago-area theater by Vernon Castle in the early 1910s, her debut recording was in 1916 for Victor Records. Her move to Columbia in 1920 was partly due to her desire to record the “St. Louis Blues,” as discussed by Handy in his 1941 autobiography Father of the Blues. A top recording artist, vaudeville star, and radio personality through the early 1930s, Harris famously recorded other songs including “After You’ve Been Gone,” “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” and “The Man I Love.” As with nearly all early recorded blues vocalists, Harris was white, yet as Handy wrote in his autobiography, “Miss Harris had used our numbers in vaudeville for a long time, and she sang the blues so well that people hearing her records sometimes through that the singer was colored.” Her recordings and creativity influenced subsequent singers and stars, including Ruth Etting and Bing Crosby.

Columbia Record 2944. This sheet music was advertised by highlighting Marion Harris' 1920 recording.

Columbia Record 2944. This sheet music was advertised by highlighting Marion Harris’ 1920 recording.

The “St. Louis Blues” has an extensive legacy as a fundamental part of jazz repertoire and one of the most widely recorded blues songs, from Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong’s legendary 1925 version to last year’s rendition by Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band. You can even perform your own interpretation, on ukulele, by visiting the New-York Historical Society and looking at the sheet music yourself!

William Halsey Wood and the Cathedral that Never Was

Post written by Luis Rodriguez, Library Collections Technician

Cathedral

“Jerusalem the Golden”, Wood’s design for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, MS141

The architect William Halsey Wood died in 1897 at the age of 41, less than a decade after losing out on the opportunity to build his masterpiece. He did manage to build a number of other noteworthy churches and homes, but when looking at his relatively brief career, the looming question is more about what might have been rather than what actually was. The 1888 competition to design an Episcopal cathedral in New York resulted in some wildly ambitious designs, and among them was the work of the young William Halsey Wood of Newark, NJ. Of the four finalists in the competition to build the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Wood’s design, named “Jerusalem the Golden”, was probably the most striking. The seemingly endless series of turrets, spires, and arches surrounding an enormous domed tower drew both high praise for originality and criticism for impracticality. The commission ultimately went to George Heins and Christopher Grant La Farge, and then in 1911 it was taken over by Ralph Adams Cram.

Cram, like Wood, was a student and practitioner of Gothic Revivalism as well as a devout Anglo-Catholic. Reflecting on Wood’s cathedral plans in 1937, he wrote that “had ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ actually arisen on Morningside Heights, it might very possibly have considerably modified the course of development in American architecture. In a sense he anticipated Sullivan, Wright, Goodhue and the other path-breakers towards modernism.” Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright in particular are given credit for introducing an indigenous style to American architecture rooted in clean lines and the cultivation of a building’s unique sense of place. A connection between their work and the almost otherworldly grandeur of “Jerusalem the Golden” seems improbable, but there may still be something to Cram’s statement.

Portrait

Portrait of Wood at age 24, MS141, 1879

In the descriptive text that Wood attached to his cathedral design, he espouses a number of principles that share some similarity with what Wright later termed “organic architecture”. To begin with, there is the way that Wood approached the specific physical location of the cathedral. As he writes in his description, “the site is the curved summit of a rock-ledge looking abruptly down into the lap of Harlem plain, while sloping gracefully in other directions. The compelling corollary follows that the Cathedral must be firmly and securely anchored on this rock; and that its solidity and integrity of construction should be, even as an outgrowth of its granite foundation of mother rock; and that its prevailing contour and outlines should involve the idea of pyramidical solidity and permanency.” In allowing the site to suggest the cathedral’s shape and its granite construction, Wood emphasizes the monumentality of both the physical landscape and the building itself. The building should, “continue uninterrupted as a mountain eminence,” he says, continuing the idea that the cathedral would be a natural and graceful extension of the rock beneath it.

Sketch

Original sketch for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine competition, MS 141, 1888

This mindfulness with regard to place, however, is just one element in an overall approach that emphasizes unity and integrity even as it breaks with convention. He further describes the design as an “ensemble”, which is, “not a plagiarism or a transplanted exotic, nor is it the echo or reflection of any foreign creation…It is nothing more or less than a spontaneous and general outgrowth of the writer’s structural conceptions as nurtured at the altar within recognized lines of artistic and aesthetic propriety.” The remarks about not transplanting a foreign design are significant because while Wood was invested in Gothic Revivalism, he was also attempting to make something that would be a unique product of its own time and place.

He described “Jerusalem the Golden” as “American Gothic”, or more specifically, “a demonstration of this practicability and plasticity of Gothic ideals under the demands of American life and thought”. Some of the “demands” he refers to were technological, as advances in building and engineering were making it possible to complete structures that could not have existed in previous eras. Other demands were social, as New York at that time was characterized by a rapidly expanding and increasingly diverse population. Wood notes that the design “should incorporate the ethnic types of civilization,” but more than that, he was interested in bringing the masses together into a unified theological framework that could be expressed in architecture. Quoting from the Psalms, he writes, “‘Jerusalem is built as a city at unity with itself’ and so the shallow, wide transepts and nave of the same proportions, gather up all the faithful with one great mass of worshipers”. Using the Book of Revelation to create a system of numeric symbolism expressed in various architectural features, Wood attempted to generate a sense of continuity and integration between scripture and the forward-looking New York of the late 19th century.

Winmarleigh

“Winmarleigh”, the house Wood built for himself in Newark, NJ, MS141

The William Halsey Wood Papers at the N-YHS Library contain, in addition to personal letters, drawings, and clippings related to his work, an interesting and seemingly unpublished quotation that may or may not be attributable to Frank Lloyd Wright. William Halsey Wood Jr., the son of the late architect, added some additional material to the papers in which he describes a conversation he had with the architectural historian C.L.V. Meeks. In it, the latter recalls an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, who, when asked how he felt about starting modern architecture in the United States responded, “I did my part, but my late partner Louis Sullivan did much more than I did. Furthermore, the man who really started it all was William Halsey Wood.” Whether or not Wright actually said this or saw Wood as the man who started it all, the fact remains that Wood did suggest a different and ultimately more modern architectural style. While this style is most fully in evidence in his drawings for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, bits of it can be seen in the many buildings that he did complete as well.

Sketchbook

Drawings from Wood’s sketchbook made during his apprenticeship, MS141, 1875

 

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