Women’s Suffrage and Lady Gaga
I have posted this twice already but because it is Women’s History Month, I find it a good time to do so again. It’s clever and at the same time helps to tell an important story in women’s history while giving it a bit of a 21st century twist. It comes from the National Women’s History Project.
Women’s History Month
Yes!! It is Women’s History Month for the ENTIRE month of March. I encourage you to learn one fact about an important woman in your community. Here is one for you – did you know that the first American born female to receive a medical degree was born and raised on Nantucket? Her name: Lydia Folger Fowler (1822 - 1879) and she specialized in gynecology and working with women and children. Just four years younger than Maria Mitchell, I am sure they knew one another, possibly went to school with one another, and Lydia may have even attended William Mitchell’s school, but that is just a guess as we have no records from his private school.
For the past eight months or so, I have been writing for “Nantucket Chronicle,” an online magazine – http://www.nantucketchronicle.com/soundings/nantucket-nation-nantucket . My column is called “The Nation of Nantucket” and there you will find several articles on island women called “Daring Daughters.” Take a look.
Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words
Feb. 5, 1882. We have had two heavy snow storms since Feb. came in. We have twice been unable to get out of the Observatory without help. The first time 6 men, two horses and a girl came to our rescue; today four men and two horses and a girl came.
Phebe’s picture, painted by Fanny came; it is far the most pleasing she has done.
In 1882, Maria Mitchell had been teaching at Vassar College for approximately seventeen years. At that point, the Vassar Observatory was fairly remotely located in relation to Main Building where all of the college’s activities took place. One can image how hard it was for Maria to get out of the Observatory, but also how hard it was for her “girls” to get to her.
This entry is one of those gems I come across. Actually, there are many gems. For many, many years before I was curator, there was a portrait stowed away and the inventory was listed as “Unknown Woman.” Finally one day, as I was again looking at it trying to figure out who she was, I realized it was Phebe Mitchell Kendall, one of Maria’s younger sisters! Now, I come across this in Maria’s journals and it really makes me wonder if this oil portrait was painted by Frances (Fanny) Mitchell Macy, the daughter of Anne Mitchell Macy and her husband Alfred Macy. Fanny was an accomplished artist, maybe taking after her accomplished artist aunt, Phebe. I don’t recall any artist’s signature on the painting, but this could be one in the same! I am very excited to investigate further!
More from the Special Collections
Since the Wing has been emptied and all the Special Collection books have been cleaned and moved to a climate-controlled space, I miss meeting “new” books each day. But, as I cleaned the books, I took images of ones that struck me as interesting or had ephemera inserted, or had lovely covers or plates. This was one such book. It actually was not very “exciting” but when I opened it, this is what I found inside. The book is Quaker Ways by A. Ruth Fry, a British Quaker born in the late nineteenth century. She was an active promoter of peace, a writer, and came from a well-known activist Quaker family, her father being instrumental in the negotiations at the Hague Tribunal in 1917. One of Ruth Fry’s books, probably the more well-known one, A Quaker Adventure, concerned her travels through war-torn Europe helping refugees and others affected by the Great War.
I am sure that many of her books were found on the shelves of Quakers and others in the early to mid-nineteenth century. This book in particular appeared to be on the shelf of Ethel Parish Fletcher, the great-granddaughter of Lucretia Coffin Mott! Inside the book an envelope was pasted that revealed a calling card belonging to Mrs. Fletcher with what you see written on the verso. At some point, the book came to us. Pretty interesting and, dare I say, cool!
In Memoriam Elizabeth “Betty” Daniels
Vassar College and the MMA have lost a treasure. For the MMA, it is the loss of another friend. Betty Daniels was the Vassar College historian for at least twenty years. Before that, she had been a professor of English at Vassar, also serving as dean (several times in various capacities) and head of the English Department. Before that, she was a Vassar student. Except for the years she earned her master’s Betty was always at Vassar, commuting to NYC for many years to get her Ph.D. while teaching at Vassar.
I came to know Betty because of her work as the Vassar College historian, a post she took up (she was the college’s first historian) after retiring from the English Department. I am not sure when I first knew of her or spoke with her, but we consulted one another from time- to-time about all things Maria. Maybe eight years ago, I finally had the opportunity to visit Vassar to work in the archives. Betty and I met, had Maria and Vassar discussions, and went out for a lovely dinner. When I found a particular something in the Maria Mitchell papers that were left at Vassar by Maria’s sister and niece, I was very excited and knew of the only other person at Vassar who would share in my excitement, Betty. And she did! When she was on island to visit her son, she usually stopped by the MMA and we would have a brief catch-up.
She was a remarkable woman. Like Maria, she accomplished a great deal in a time when women were still expected to remain at home. Think about raising four children in the late 1940s and 1950s, teaching at Vassar, and also working for something like seven years towards your Ph.D., this at a time when people were a lot less supportive of such a situation. I think Maria Mitchell and she had a lot in common.
While I knew Betty only a little bit, I feel that a piece of her will always be with me. I learned from her and she serves as an inspiration. Thank you, Betty.
To learn more about this remarkable woman, you can visit the “Vassar College Encyclopedia” at: http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/about/index.html and read this piece about her from 2003 in the “Vassar Quarterly:” http://vq.vassar.edu/issues/2003/04/features/living-history.html .
“The step, however small, which is in advance of the world, shows the greatness of the person, whether that step be taken with brain, with heart, or with hands.” Maria Mitchell
Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words
1857 Jan 22. Hard winters are becoming the order of things. Winter before last was hard, last winter was harder and this surpasses all winters known before. We have been frozen in to our Island now since the 6th. No one said much about it for the first two or three days. The sleighing was good and all the world was out trying their horses on Main St. – the race-course of the world. Day after day passed and the thermometer sank to a lower point and the minds rose to a higher, and sleighing became uncomfortable and even the dullest man longed for the cheer of a newspaper. The Inquirer came out for a while, but at length had nothing to tell and nothing to Inquire about and so kept its peace … .
Inside the houses we amuse ourselves in various ways. Frank’s family and ours form a club, meeting three times a week and writing machine poetry in great quantities. Occasionally something very droll puts us in a roar of laughter. Frank, Ellen and Kate I think are rather the smartest, tho’ Mr. Macy has written rather the best of all.
Some things never change and Maria Mitchell and her family were confronted with a cold and snowy winter, rendering them – and
the island – house-bound due to the bitter weather. Maria writes in her journal of the sitting room at the Pacific Bank − where the family lived on the second floor − not getting above forty degrees in the evening, though she implies this was fairly snug which helps you get a better feeling for what winter home interiors were like in those days. With constant clouds, Maria found that she could not observe but it seems she likely got to know her sister-in-law Ellen much better (Ellen married Francis “Frank” Macy Mitchell – younger brother of Maria in April 1853), as well as Mr. Macy – Alfred Macy – a lawyer and the head of the Coffin School for several years. Alfred would marry Anne Mitchell (younger sister of Maria) in May of 1857 – perhaps the confined quarters help to kindle the romance all the more!
The family’s entry to the Pacific National Bank. 2014.
Answer to Where Is This?
Oftentimes, the focus is rarely made on this part of an object. But, in close-up detail it is quiet beautiful with its curves and undulations. The patina of time, cracks, and crazing is warm, even where the gilt has worn. This is the frame to the Herminia B. Dassel portrait of Maria Mitchell painted about 1851. Unfortunately, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people would “touch-up” gilt frames with gold radiator paint – yes, really. And this suffers from that. A Mitchell descendant likely did this but they did not necessarily realize back then the issues with what they did so you cannot blame them. The portrait was given to the Mitchell House in the early 1990s, coming to us from the estate of Sally Mitchell Barney’s granddaughter, Virginia Barney. Sally was Maria’s oldest sister.
Where Is This?
Do you know where this is and what it is at the Mitchell House?
The Mitchell House in Winter Slumber.
January 4, 2014.
From Chemical Peel to New Make-Up: Mitchell House Gets a New Coat of Paint
Well, shingling was completed this spring and the sashes were painted last year. Now, the trim is getting some sprucing up thanks to the good work of Jim Tyler and his crew. This work is being completed with the funding of a grant for the Mitchell House’s exterior conservation. While ideally all the painting would be completed at once, it is not always easy given grant funding and timing. But, for the trim it was better to wait until Nathan Killeen had completed the shingling because he had to remove some of the corner boards and other trim pieces in order to properly shingle. So, come this summer season, Mitchell House will sparkle even more! A special thanks to Jim and his wonderful crew who you can see here hard at work on the southern façade of Mitchell House.