The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

A Brief Look at 19th-Century Children’s Stories at the MHS

I initially came across The Carrier Pigeon and Other Tales: Illustrating the Rewards of Virtue and the Punishment of Vice, selected by Mrs. Pamela Chandler Colman (Worcester, 1849), in an effort to find materials relating to pigeons at the MHS. However, I ended up utilizing this collection of children’s stories as a jumping point into a look at children’s literature and children in the 19th-century United States. Through my reading, I began to gain some insight into the roles of children and themes represented in literature during this period.

The titular story of this book is set in the German countryside, seemingly in the medieval or early-modern period. A girl named Agnes comes into contact with a dove, which she decides to take in. Through the advisement of her mother, Othilia, Agnes turns the actions of the dove into lessons for her behavior, becoming a more obedient, hygienic, and organized girl in the process.

One day, a woman named Rosalind and her daughter, Emma, show up at the castle of Sir Theobald (Agnes’s father) looking for help; using her care for the dove as an example, Agnes encourages Theobald to take in the visitors. Later, once Rosalind and Emma have returned to their castle, two men show up at their house; unbeknownst to them, but later discovered by a servant named Leonardo, the men are robbers looking to steal from and murder Theobald and his family. Emma comes up with the idea of flying the dove with a note attached to it to warn Theobald and the family of the motivations of the robbers. Ultimately, it is successful, and the plan is thwarted.

The second story, “Ingratitude,” is about a young girl named Helen and Mrs. Everhold, a woman who takes care of Helen. When Helen’s mother dies, Mrs. Everhold is given responsibility for raising Helen. Everhold tries to teach her skills and a strong work ethic, but Helen decides to act out, eventually turning to working for a baroness and not being there for Everhold when she becomes ill and unable to work. Helen eventually marries a violent and abusive man, and when he dies in an accident, she goes to Mrs. Everhold for help. Helen apologizes for her past actions; going forward, she is good to Mrs. Everhold, who ends up living a long life.

The final story is “The Good Son,” attributed to Rev. E. Mangin. After the death of her husband, a woman and son go to live with another family. The son, after displaying artistic ability, begins to train with a nearby mason. Ultimately, he receives awards for his work, providing new financial stability for himself and his mother. After becoming successful and notable as a sculptor, he continues to be good to his mother, the man who discovered him, and the family with whom he had lived.

All three of these stories have similarities that live up to the subtitle of the book. In “The Carrier Pigeon,” the dove serves as a symbol of virtue, imbued with overt religious connotations; to be like the dove is to be pure and respectful of God. The dove even serves as the means by which Rosalind and Emma are able to save lives. In “Ingratitude,” while Helen is disrespectful for much of the book, she ultimately turns to “proper” behavior toward a woman who took care of her, with suggested positive results for Everhold’s longevity. In “The Good Son,” the boy demonstrates hard work, creativity, and respect for the people who fostered his success. All of the children serve as lessons, indeed, on “the rewards of virtue and the punishment of vice.”

However, the stories do have some notable differences that raise questions regarding the audience of the book and the roles of class, gender, and race in 19th-century children’s literature. For example, the families in “The Carrier Pigeon” seem to be quite wealthy and of the nobility; however, the subjects of the other stories struggle with financial insecurity. There also seems to be an implication that girls are especially in need of lessons regarding proper morality. While the girls in “The Carrier Pigeon” learn lessons through the dove, and Helen in “Ingratitude” only learns good behavior after misfortune hits her, the boy in “The Good Son” seems to be good and respectful all along. It is men (the robbers) who exhibit most of the immorality in “The Carrier Pigeon,” and Helen’s abusive husband in “Ingratitude” is not a model of good behavior, but the process of learning lessons and correcting behavior seems to be more apparent in the women and girls in this book than in the men and boys. Racialized language seems to be a factor in “The Carrier Pigeon,” with the whiteness of both Agnes’s dresses and the dove deployed to represent good morality and cleanliness. This analysis is brief and tentative, but it hopefully notes the potential significance of this resource to scholars of race, class, and gender in 19th-century United States children’s literature. 

I consulted our copy of Karen Sánchez-Eppler’s Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2005) in the hopes of learning a bit more about children’s literature in the 19th-century. Sánchez-Eppler offers some conclusions about children and literature of the period. The author notes the role “of teaching morals and forming character” in primers of the period, and notes the “variation on the basis of class, region, gender, and race” in conceptions of childhood in the 19th century, including the connection between leisure and a middle-class living. Sánchez-Eppler also notes the desirability of “submissiveness” for girls in 19th-century temperance literature of the period; the literature suggested – often using references to incest – that these qualities in girls would help their fathers overcome alcoholism and become better people. This literature has class connotations, as well, with children representing middle-class norms in some temperance works. Later, the author draws connections between race and the proper, domesticated behavior of children in 19th-century Sunday School works; these themes served as components of imperialist and colonialist projects. There is much more to Dependent States than what I’ve included here, and Sánchez-Eppler’s scope of analysis is broader than strictly children’s literature, but these ideas offer some insight into the complex roles constructed for children in literature of the period.

The MHS library is open for anyone who would like to view any of our available print materials. In addition, an 1851 copy of this book is available electronically through Internet Archive.

 

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Monday, 7 November, 2016, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a little bit quieter at the Society this week but we still have three public programs on offer. Here is what is happening:

- Monday, 7 November, 12:00PM : "The Church Militant: The American Loyalist Clergy and the Making of the British Counterrevolution, 1701-92" is a Brown Bag talk presented by Peter Walker of Columbia University. This project is a study of the loyalist Church of England clergy in the American Revolution, focusing on the New England and Mid-Atlantic colonies. Walker attempts to shine light on the relationship between church and empire, the role of religious pluralism and toleration in the American Revolution, and the dynamics of loyalist politics. This program is open to the public free of charge. Pack up a lunch and come on in!

- Thursday, 10 November, 5:30PM : Join us for a Conversation with Fredrik Logevall, part of our Biography Seminar series. Caroly Bundy will moderate the discussion in which Logevall, Harvard University, talks about his current book project, a biography of John F. Kennedy. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Saturday, 12 November, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.

N.B.: The MHS is CLOSED on Friday, 11 November, in observance of Veteran's Day.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 6 November, 2016, 12:00 AM

Bringing Willa Home: A Child Displaced by Civil War

I’ve written a few times here at the Beehive about manuscripts from the Fay-Mixter family papers, and I’d like to dive into that collection again this week. I was intrigued by four letters from December 1861, so I dug a little deeper and uncovered the story of a family separated by war and a Southern child taken in by Northern friends.

The four letters were written by Edwin Parsons to Joseph Story Fay. Fay, originally from Cambridge, Mass., moved to Savannah, Ga. in 1838 and became a prosperous cotton merchant. He was a slave-owner, but opposed secession, and before the Civil War broke out he returned to his home state of Massachusetts. When these letters were written he lived in Boston with his wife, their three children, and a child unrelated to them, the young daughter of a Mr. Sims.

 

This passage in Parsons’ first letter to Fay, dated 10 December 1861, was the first thing that caught my eye: “I will advise you in time so that you can send Mr Sims little daughter on.” Parsons continued:

It seems to me however to be a heartless piece of business on Sims part to send for her in such times. With her mother dead & father in Fort Pulaski where he may soon reap the folly of his disloyalty, it will be a sad day for the little girl to exchange the kind care of Mrs Fay, for such a home as awaits her in Georgia.

Fort Pulaski was the vital clue. Among the soldiers stationed at this Savannah garrison in December 1861 was one Capt. (later Col.) Frederick William Sims of the 1st Georgia Infantry. Other details of his biography lined up: his wife Catherine (Sullivan) Sims had died in 1858, followed by one of their two children in 1859, leaving Sims and his nine-year-old daughter Willa. Willa must have been taken in by the Fays in Boston while her father fought for the Confederacy—the disloyalty Parsons alluded to.

Sims wanted his daughter brought back to the South, presumably to live with extended family while he finished out his military service. But Parsons, who apparently acted as a kind of agent for Sims, thought it was a terrible idea. Savannah was like a ghost town after the Battle of Port Royal, and many felt the war would continue for some time. And the possibility of “some hard fighting” in Kentucky after its admission to the Confederacy would make travel difficult, if not impossible. However, on 26 December 1861, when Parsons wrote his fourth and last letter on the subject, the matter was still unresolved.

The last piece of the puzzle was a letter I’d originally passed over, not recognizing the signature. On 14 November 1861, Frederick W. Sims scrawled this short note to Joseph Story Fay on fragile onion-skin paper:


 

The bearer of this note Mr Briggs will bring Willa home with him. Will you add one more to the many favors already vouchsafed me by fitting her out for the journey. Mr B. has funds[?] to bring her out.

As this may be the last communication which will pass for some time between us I beg you to accept my heartfelt thanks for the Kindness of yourself and Mrs Fay and believe me when I wish you a long life and prosperity.

Fort Pulaski was captured by Union forces in April 1862, and Sims became a POW, later paroled. After the war, he worked as a merchant and insurance executive in Savannah and served as one of the city’s alderman from 1867-1869. He had at least six more children with his second wife, Sarah (Munroe) Sims, but most of them died young. According to newspapers, in 1875, suffering under severe financial difficulties, Sims committed suicide with a morphine overdose. The coroner’s report lists the belongings he left behind: $20.90 in coin, a gold watch and chain, clothing, and a revolver.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out what happened to Willa after 1861. No other papers in the Fay-Mixter collection refer to her. The obituary of Sarah (Munroe) Sims, who died in 1904, identifies only two surviving children, Emily and Elizabeth.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 2 November, 2016, 12:00 AM

Happy Halloween, 1874: Sketches Here and There

I love Halloween, so when I saw these lovely India ink sketches in our Graphics collection I was thrilled! Sketches Here and There by Franklin B. Gardner portray the fun and frolic of Halloween almost 150 years ago.  Amazingly, this is exactly what I had hoped and envisioned Halloween would have been like in the past; almost a ‘Dicken’s-like’ visual representation of what could be ‘A Halloween story’. Young people frolicking and enjoying a lovely morning in a cornfield followed by festive evening party, where guests clad in costumes have gathered to celebrate.

Although Halloween was celebrated elsewhere in various ways, modern Halloween is a distinctly American capstone holiday, whose traditions and celebration have permeated throughout the rest of the world. These images portray the holiday as a joyous occasion, celebrating autumn, the most beautiful season in New England. And what could be more idyllic than Halloween in the corn fields of New England in 1874?

In the Cornfield, on the Morning of Halloween

 

In the Cornfield, on the Morning of Halloween, detail.

 

As the Halloween season is upon us, these visions of Halloween past are a delight to examine. The food being laid out on the dining table during the gathering signifies that perhaps the celebration of Halloween involved a gathering or a feast among friends and family. The holiday has evolved over the years in such a way that we no longer enjoy the gathering and dinning that were once a part of Halloween celebrations. Modern Halloween celebrations puts much emphasis on ‘trick-o-treating’ and candy, so perhaps it is time to bring back the tradition of a gathering with friends and family. Let’s celebrate the season and enjoy the beauty of autumn days, and then feast on Halloween night! [Homemade costumes optional.]

Hallowe'en


Hallowe'en, detail.

 

These beautiful sketches were done by amateur artist Franklin B. Gardner and given to the MHS in 1969 by Hermann Warner Williams, Jr. The collection consists of 16 pen and ink sketches and an illustrated title page. The subjects of the sketches are various social scenes, customs and activities and pastimes from the Boston area. We hope to be able to share each of these fabulous sketches with you in forthcoming blog posts.

 

Halloween in America

To quote Lisa Morton’s Trick or Treat: A History (Reaktion Books, 2012), how did Halloween go from being “An Autumnal party for adults” to “a costumed begging ritual for children”? The now heavily commercialized holiday has been exported from America to every part of the globe. Halloween has a very long and complex history, drawing on the traditions and customs of many cultures, a true amalgamation, which continues to evolve to this day.

Halloween is associated with death, although our relationship with and perception of death has changed along with the traditions of the holiday; thanks to advances in modern medicine, death is marginalized, which creates a fear of the unknown. Halloween has become a day when society indulges in fear.  Halloween was a holiday for mischief, especially for young boys, who enjoyed playing pranks through the night. Costumes were also a part of Halloween as exemplified by the ‘Hallowe’en’ sketch. But the biggest change in Halloween is the disappearance of the gathering and dinning, especially among adults. It was once a celebration of the season, when both the food and the theme of the party revolved around the bountiful fall harvest, with an emphasis on pumpkins and apples. It was not until after WWII that candy and Trick-or-Treating became a part of Halloween, indeed prior to that even candy manufacturers did not associate candy with Halloween. It was not long before Trick-or-Treating and the distribution of candy on Halloween night became mandatory customs.

More ‘spooky’ Halloween treats from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

- The Salem Witch Bureau: A beautiful piece of American joinery that was part of the Salem witchcraft trials, General William H. Sumner described this chest of drawers as "the Witch Bureau, from the middle drawer of which one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem."

Diary entry of Salem Witchcraft Trial judge Samuel Sewall,19 September 1692.

Examination of Geo. Burroughs 1692 May 9-11.  By Samuel Parris: Proceedings of the examination of Geo[rge] Burroughs and the testimony of bewitched girls, 9-11 May 1692, during the Salem witchcraft trials. Burroughs was found guilty and executed for witchcraft.

- A True Narration of the Strange and Grevous Vexation by the Devil of Seven Persons in Lancashire, and William Somers of Nottingham, by John Darrel: This is the only item in our catalog with the subject "Demoniac possession."

 

 

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 31 October, 2016, 10:13 AM

Anti-suffrage Records Available Online

A few years from now, in 2020, the United States will recognize the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women's voting rights across the country. Although some states and territories had granted women the right to vote in the last half of the nineteenth century (including many in the western part of the country), full suffrage for U.S. women took a long time. Many organizations pushed forward referenda at the state and national level.  An amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in Congress in 1878 but stalled.   The 19th Amendment stating that no U.S. citizen shall be denied the right to vote "on account of sex" was similar to the 15th Amendment that granted African American men the right to vote.  The 19th Amendment passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918, and by the U.S. Senate in 1919, was ratified by enough states by 20 August 1920 to be adopted.  

During the time when so many were working hard to gain voting rights for women, there were also those working against this movement. One such organization was based in Massachusetts (and has one of the longest names of any institution whose records are held within the Massachusetts Historical Society): the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.

The records of this organization are now fully digitized and available on the web, thanks to a grant provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

All pages of this manuscript collection have been digitized and they are presented as sequences of pages linked to the folders listed on the collection guide.  Website users may explore any or all administrative records, committee meeting minutes, typescripts of lectures and reports, and various printed items including by-laws,  and printed lists of standing committee members from all over the state.

The records date from 1894 to1920.  The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was formally founded in 1895, but stemmed from a committee formed in 1882.  The Association actively recruited members, opposed legislation that would have granted voting rights to women in Massachusetts, and also held events and lectures promoting their cause. 

Women working so actively against voting rights for women seems curious and perhaps even incongruous.  Some of the reasoning and context for their motivation is found within the organization's own records. Within the Loose papers, Legislative history section, there is a typescript document of a speech given at a hearing before committee on constitutional amendments in Feb. 1905 which states four reasons for opposing woman suffrage:  many women in Massachusetts don't petition for it, Massachusetts wouldn't benefit from it; it is a "most inopportune" time to change the Constitution, and suffrage hasn't proven to be beneficial elsewhere.

Additional resources (beyond the organizational records) also provide perspectives on the context for anti-suffrage work:

The historian Francis Parkman (1823-1893) summarized the perspective of some within a pamphlet, Some of the Reasons Against Woman Suffrage [Boston?:  s.n., 1883?] by stating it would be too burdensome for women because women are delicate and not as robust as men. Parkman also advocates the position that women voting could potentially be disruptive to "civil harmony" if women were too sentimental or if women from different classes turned against each other and ended up being more "vehement" than men on opposite sides of an issue (page 13).  This pamphlet is available online from Harvard Library.

The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women published a newsletter, The Remonstrance.  One sample issue, from January 1908, is available as a digital presentation. An article on the first two pages covers various reasons against woman suffrage including the argument that not all women want the right to vote as evidenced by the fact that very few women who are eligible to vote in school committee elections actually do so.  Opponents also disputed the argument that voting rights would result in improving the condition of women because women already had an indirect influence on public affairs from their position of "moral influence."  Page 4 of the newsletter offers a synopsis of "Recent Defeats of Woman Suffrage" in various states.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 31 October, 2016, 12:00 AM

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