Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The French Cable Station


On November 24, 1959, the French Cable Station in Orleans, Massachusetts closed after sending the following message: "Have a happy Thanksgiving. Station closed."

The cable from France to North Eastham, via Newfoundland, had been laid in 1879, and the station then moved to Orleans in 1891. In 1898, a 3,200 mile direct cable ("Le Direct") from France to Orleans was installed. So by 1905, when the photo shown in the above postcard was taken, the French Cable Station was already a fixture on the Cape Cod scene. It later transmitted the news that Lindbergh had landed in Paris in 1927, and that the Germans had taken Paris in 1940. Today it serves as The French Cable Station Museum.

An 1892 Boston Globe article describes the operation of the station:

A good cable operator can keep up a steady pace of 25 words a minute, although of course on occasion and by spurts this rate is often exceeded; yet an operator who can do his 25 a minute is a skilled hand.

The French cable, after plunging into the Atlantic from the Cape Cod shore, makes straight off to sea for the island of St. Pierre, where there is another station, where the messages are repeated to Brest, on the French coast. The fact of the repetition, however, causes no delay worth consideration. . . .

Supposing operators at both ends are sending messages at the rate of 25 words per minute, that is to say, 50 words a minute both ways, each cable would have an hourly capacity of 3000 words, or 30,000 words per hour for the entire 10 - 72,000 for the entire 24 [hours] of each.

When it is understood that all these cables are kept pretty busy night and day, it will be possible to appreciate in a measure what the telegraphic communication between the United States and Europe has grown to be.


Illustration Credits and References

This article from Cape Cod Today describes the history of the station.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wash Day

Just found this photo on Shorpy: History in HD. According to "Shorpy", it's a Currier Photo taken in a laundry circa 1905, possibly in Boston.


The Shorpy site contains an interesting discussion about what's on the ceiling in the photo. I also notice that the woman to the right is standing on a raised wooden platform--probably because the wringing device she's operating (or the process of getting wet laundry out of the sink into the wringing area) generates spilled water on the floor--this might keep her from standing in water, or slipping. Or maybe it just makes her taller?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Martin Lomasney

Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.
--Martin Lomasney

In 1905, the powerful boss of Boston's West End, Ward 8, was a man named Martin Lomasney.  A native Bostonian, born in 1859 of Irish parents, Lomasney was known in the city as "The Mahatma".

Boston, North Station, 1890s
In her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes him through the eyes of John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy's grandfather:

Fitzgerald described this first meeting in vivid detail, recalling the powerful presence Lomasney projected as he sat in his chair surrounded by a half-dozen loyal aides.  A thickset, well-muscled man whose most outstanding feature was a hard rocklike jaw that made him a cartoonist's friend, Lomasney was a bachelor whose entire life was given to the building of his political machine, the Hendricks Club.  He lived a simple, low-key life, renting a small apartment and wearing the same old battered straw hat year round, but to the people of the West End he was a god.  Arriving early each morning at his headquarters, Lomasney worked 365 days a year, caring for "his" people in all phases of their lives.

Lomasney had supported Fitzgerald in his successful campaigns for Massachusetts state senate in 1892 and Congress in 1894.  But when Fitzgerald sought the position of Mayor of Boston in 1905, Lomasney supported another Democrat, Ned Donovan, in the primary.  Fitzgerald beat Donovan for the Democratic nomination, and all the ward bosses, except Lomasney, threw their support behind him in the election.  Lomasney announced that he wouldn't support Fitzgerald, and "his" people voted for Frothingham, the Republican candidate.  (It was the first time in years that Ward 8 had voted for a Republican candidate.)

In spite of the loss of Lomasney's support, Fitzgerald was indeed elected Mayor, a position he would assume on January 1, 1906.

But the story I most love about Lomasney, and the rollicking world of Boston Irish Democratic politics, happened a few years earlier, in 1898.

As told by James J. Connolly in The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900-1925, Lomasney was battling with the Board of Strategy over a seat in the State Senate that represented the West End, along with the North End and part of East Boston.  Lomasney backed Daniel Rourke, one of his Ward 8 supporters, for the seat, while his opponents promoted the candidacy of William J. Donovan of East Boston.  Donovan had received more votes in the caucuses, but Lomasney controlled the nominating convention (which made the formal choice), and hatched a scheme to try and deliver the nomination for his candidate.

With nominations due at the Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston at 5 P.M. on October 20, Lomasney scheduled the convention for 4:30 of the same afternoon and announced that it would be held across Boston Harbor, in an East Boston hotel.  SInce ordinary means of transportation from East Boston to downtown required forty minutes, it was widely suspected that Lomasney planned to use a ferry or another boat to deliver the nomination papers to the State House before the deadline.  Donovan's supporters . . . secretly booked all the available rooms in the hotel and arranged to have men loyal to the Quincy administration manning the ferries running to downtown so they could prevent a Lomasney messenger from reaching the State House.

The result was a competition between the two factions to claim the nomination that involved parliamentary maneuvering as well as races on foot, bicycle, and boat.  Rourke's delegates, led by Lomasney, arrived at the hotel late on the afternoon of October 20, where they assembled in a room Lomasney had surreptitiously booked several weeks earlier.  After tricking Donovan backers into leaving the room, they quickly called the convention to order and nominated Rourke.  Not to be outdone, Donovan's delegates held a separate convention across the hall and selected their own man.  A race to deliver the nominations ensued.  Lomasney dispatched a decoy messenger on a city-run ferry, which was soon stranded in the middle of Boston Harbor, purportedly with engine trouble.  He then sent a sprinter--a Boston College football star--to a private boat that sped across the harbor.  From there, a well-known local bicycle racer pedaled the nomination to the State House, arriving at 4:49 P.M.  In the meantime, Donovan's papers were rushed downtown on a second ferry and handed off to another bicyclist.  But his bicycle chain broke, and he arrived three minutes after Lomasney's messenger. . . . Lomasney's forces claimed victory.

Unfortunately for Lomasney and Rourke, the Ballot Law Commission eventually ruled Donovan the nominee.

Lomasney would go on to be a powerful force in Boston politics until his death in 1933.   And if you come down Causeway Street (where Lomasney's headquarters were), pass North Station, and bear right, you'll find yourself on Lomasney Way for a block or so.  Tip your hat to Martin as you go by--they don't make 'em like that any more!

Illustration Credits and References

The photo at the top of this post is of North Station on Causeway Street in Boston, taken in the 1890s.   It is from the Library of Congress collection.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Eleonora Randolph Sears

By night (and on selected afternoons), Eleonora Sears was a beautiful and popular young society woman in Boston (and New York), frequently mentioned in the "Table Gossip" column in the 1905 Boston Sunday Globe.

But by day she was a talented, energetic, and daring athlete, playing golf, swimming, riding horses, walking great distances, and winning tennis singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Her first appearance in "Table Gossip" in 1905, on January 1, noted her presence at a dinner dance in New York over the Christmas holidays, celebrating the debut of President Roosevelt's niece, Corinne Douglas Robinson. She sat at a table presided over by Miss Eleanor Roosevelt (who would go on to marry Franklin later that year), and, according to the Globe, Miss Sears was "one of the most attractive girls" there.

Eleanora Randolph Sears by Alexander John WhiteEleo had been born in 1881 into a well-to-do Boston family: Thomas Jefferson was her great-great-grandfather and her father was a shipping and real estate tycoon. The Sears lived in a townhouse at 122 Beacon Street, and they were a tennis family. According to the website of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, her father, Frederick Sears, was one of the first to play tennis in the U.S. in 1874, and her uncle, Richard Dudley Sears, was the original U.S. champion (winning the first US open in 1881 and every year thereafter through 1887).

Later in 1905, on a rainy Monday in early June, Eleonora wore white dotted French muslin over white silk and a white hat with pale blue plumes, and carried daisies as a member of the wedding party at the union of Grace Dabney and Robert Wrenn at Nahant.

On August 13, 1905, the Globe reported that she was deferring her visit to Newport as she is “having a very good time in riding, driving, swimming, and tennis with her own friends on the North Shore.” But by August 15, she was playing both singles and doubles at a lawn tennis tournament on the Casino Courts in Newport arranged by Mrs. John Jacob Astor and others. (Mrs. Astor would be divorced from her husband within five years, and therefore would not accompany him on his fatal Titanic journey in 1912.)

By the end of 1905 she was planning a visit to her friend Alice Roosevelt at the White House, and then expected to be off to Europe in early 1906 to visit friends in London.

1914 Rolls Royce Eleanora Sears ownedThe fact that Eleo was on full duty in society, attending the weddings, balls, debuts, and other events that were considered de rigeur for a woman of her day, seemed to give her the license to do what she wanted the rest of the time. She was one of the first women in Boston to learn to drive a car, and was frequently seen driving fast and skillfully around the city. (A 1908 Boston Evening Record tidbit notes that Eleonora Sears and Marie Lee had both "been seen driving through the congested parts of the city with the coolness of experts." Apparently there was some heated discussion among their friends about which of the two was the better driver, and "the champions of Miss Lee wanted to arrange a competition. . . . [T]here may be some wild driving through the city by two very good-looking lovers of the motor shortly.")

Sometime in 1905 or 1906, Eleonora started "being seen with" the young Harold Vanderbilt, heir to the Vanderbilt fortune, who shared many of Eleo's sporting proclivities. (He would go on to take the America's Cup three times in the 1930s.) They denied their engagement for some years (though Eleo's mother announced a "trial engagement" in 1911), and eventually drifted apart.

Eleanora Sears, TennisEleo would go on to an incredible career as a sportswoman--the first great multi-sport woman of the 20th century. In 1910, when most of her accomplishments were still to come, she was proclaimed in a magazine article as "the best all-around athlete in American society." She would win 240 trophies in a variety of sports during her career.

Eleo continued to play tennis, winning the US women's doubles title with Hazel Hotckhiss Wightman in 1911 and 1915, and again with Molla Bjurstedt in 1916 and 1917. She was a finalist for the women's singles title in 1912, won mixed doubles with Willis Davis in 1916, and would be inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1968, shortly after her death.

She also continued to walk! She frequently walked from Boston to Providence, with her best time coming in 1926, when she walked the 47-mile trip in 9 hours and 53 minutes. (My father, who was born in 1920, recalls seeing motion picture images of this walk of Eleonora's on a primitive movie player he had as a child.) During a visit to France she walked 42.5 miles from Fontainebleu to the Ritz Bar in Paris in eight and half hours. She once walked the 73 miles from Newport to Boston in 17 hours.

She continued to swim--a 1908 Globe article reported that she would be “glad to accept the swimming race challenge” of Miss Vera Gilbert, the belle of New York’s 400. She was the first (not just first woman) to swim the four and half miles from Bailey's Beach to First Beach in Newport.

She bred and trained show horses for most of her adult life--and rode horses until she died in 1968. She took up polo (a favorite sport of her male society contemporaries), shockingly riding her horse astride. She was the first woman known to have worn trousers for sporting purposes when in 1909 she appeared on the polo ground of the Burlingame (CA) Country Club in breeches and a cutaway coat and asked to be allowed to participate in a match. She was promptly ordered to leave the field. In 1912, when she was seen frequently around Burlingame in her riding breeches (only on "occasions when I had just returned from riding" she claimed), the "Burlingame Mothers' Club" passed a resolution against her behavior. (While this resolution was posted all around town, Eleonora later found out there was no such organization.) Staying the course, she became the first woman to ride astride at the National Horse Show, in 1915.

She started playing squash in 1918, and in 1928 helped to found the US Women's Squash Racquets Association. She was its first singles champion that same year (at the age of 46), later served as its president, and was captain of the US national team.

She also would participate in baseball, field hockey, and auto racing. She would pilot planes, skipper yachts, and race power boats.

And she would continue to play her role in society. In 1924, when he spent a packed day in Boston hunting by day at Myopia, and dancing by night with the debutantes, Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales (although 13 years her junior) was said to be so charmed by her that he spent much of the evening as her dancing partner. (Edward would of course go on to marry Wallis Simpson, and abdicate the British throne.)

Another male admirer wrote a letter to Time magazine, published on February 22, 1963, which sums up Eleo's dual life:

Sir: I am amazed by the amount of publicity given to the announcement that Attorney General Robert Kennedy and some others managed to walk 50 miles. In December 1925, Miss Eleonora Sears walked from Providence to Boston, a distance of 47.8 miles, in 10 hrs. 20 min.

I know because I walked with her. Miss Sears entertained me for dinner that evening, and I took her to the theater. Miss Sears knows her age better than I do, but she was then in her 40s at least, and could probably outwalk the New Frontiersmen today.

ALBERT P. HINCKLEY, Orlean, Va.


Nothing like a brisk 10 hour walk to get you warmed up for an evening of dining and theatre. Way to go, girl!

Illustration Credits and References

The painting of the young Eleonora (entitled Young Girl in Rose (or Portrait of Eleonora Randoph Sears)) was painted by John White Alexander in 1895 when Eleonora was 13; the image appears on the Art Renewal Center website.

The auto is a current photograph of a 1914 Rolls Royce that was owned and driven by Eleonora (presumably when it was new!)

The photograph of Eleonora with her racquet appears on the Tennis Hall of Fame website.

The information about Eleonora was culled from numerous sources including the Boston Daily Globe, several other regional US newspapers, the Tennis Hall of Fame website, the Hickok Sports website, and many other websites devoted to women and sports.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Longfellow Bridge


Today's post was prompted by an article in yesterday's Boston Globe about the repairs needed on the 100 plus-year-old Longfellow Bridge.

The bridge (known as the West Boston Bridge until 1927) was designed by the architect Edmund M. Wheelwright, a Boston native and Harvard graduate. Wheelwright had been part of the design team for the Boston Public Library when he worked for McKim, Mead, and White in NYC. He had started his own firm in Boston in 1897 and appears to have begun working on the bridge design quite soon after that, since construction started in 1900.

With excellent forethought, the new bridge was designed and built to support automobile and train traffic, even though the subway system didn’t extend that far at the time it was built, and cars were still exceptions on the roads.

The steel superstructure of the bridge was completed in 1904, and the road across the bridge was paved in 1905, although the grand opening of the bridge was not held until July 31, 1907.

I became interested in the bridge historically because, on the evening before the November 16, 1905 primary for the election of a new Boston mayor, John Francis Fitzgerald (JFK's grandfather), conducted a whirlwind speaking tour of all the wards in the city of Boston (zooming about the city in the rain with his advisors and supporters in a parade of six automobiles). At the first stop of the evening in West Boston (Ward 8), a little after 7 p.m., he spoke with 300 supporters at the intersection of Cambridge and Charles Streets, "at the entrance to the new bridge," reported the Boston Daily Globe on November 16.

Wheelwright's designs would create structures that have become some of the most visible landmarks in modern-day Boston and Cambridge. In addition to the BPL and the Longfellow Bridge, he also designed Horticultural Hall (completed in 1901), Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory (completed in 1903), and the Harvard Lampoon Building (completed in 1909). (Wheelwright had been a Lampoon member at Harvard.) He was also a consulting architect for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (completed in 1909).

Sadly, Wheelwright's work was cut short when he suffered a mental breakdown in 1910, which, according to the August 15 New York Times "developed in connection with his work as designer of the Hartford Bridge over the Connecticut River". He died in 1912 at a sanitarium in Connecticut, apparently by his own hand.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kissing in Canoes

Canoeing on the Charles RiverUrban canoeing had become a popular activity in many US cities in the late 19th century. Boston's Charles River became a well-known destination for leisurely trips on the water, since the boathouses in Newton were accessible by train and trolley from all over the city.

One of the most popular of these sites was Norumbega Park which had been built in 1897, a year after the trolley running down Commonwealth Avenue in Newton had been completed. (The Marriott Hotel now stands at this location.) The park offered canoeing, a zoo, a merry-go-round, picnic spots, a restaurant, and a vaudeville theatre, and admission could be had for a nickel (fifteen cents if you bought a package deal including trolley fare). Its boathouses and Pavilion can be seen on the left side of the double postcard image below.

Canoeing at Norumbega 1905
A large recreation area was also built at Riverside (on the Weston side of the river) the same year. The Riverside Recreation Grounds included the obligatory boathouse, the largest swimming pool in New England, a football field, a baseball diamond, a track facility and outdoor gymnasium, tennis courts, bowling alleys, a restaurant, a bandstand, and dormitories.

Both venues fast became popular destinations for huge crowds of families and young adults from all over the area.

In 1903, the Metropolitan Parks Commission, which controlled six miles of the Charles River, from Newton to Waltham, issued new rules of conduct for for the crowd of boaters in that area, forbidding activities such as drinking, gambling, and "any obscene or indecent act." From 1903 to 1905, 37 couples were arrested under these guidelines for kissing or lying down in canoes on this stretch of the river.

The young people fought back almost immediately. Canoeists who went out on the river refused to sit up straight, and young women taunted the police on the riverbanks to take action. Late in the summer of 1903, protesters massed below the superintendent's office which overlooked the river.

They "sprawled out" in disregard of MPC rules and set up phonographs outside the superintendent's office playing, as the Post put in, "jesting songs into his ear." Up and down the river, canoeing couples baited the police, playing love songs, throwing kisses at the officers, and disobeying the sit-up rule. [1]

Local newspapers charged that the problems on the river were all caused by troublemakers from Boston. The former mayor of Waltham surmised that Boston men brought their dates to the river to get them drunk. Yet data shows that of the 37 couples arrested in the two-year period from 1903-1905, only a third were from Boston--the rest were from the suburbs near the river.

In 1904, the MPC police equipped their station with darkroom equipment (the better to do some fast photo development of miscreants) and started monitoring behavior with binoculars. (You can see the MPC boathouse at Norumbega on the right side of the postcard above.) Boathouse owners in the MPC-controlled area cited a 50% loss of business, as many thwarted lovers rode the trains and trolleys to Dedham, which was not yet under the jurisdiction of the Commission.

In 1905, a new summer canoe house and ballroom was built on the banks of the river in Dedham, probably to take advantage of the boom in Dedham canoeing. Called Moseley's on the Charles, its ballroom is still a popular destination for weddings and banquets.

In her diary for June 5, 1905, Cynthia writes:

Helped wash in the morning. In p.m., went up to Dedham canoeing--Pauline, C. Rason, C.H., & I. "Cherries" on way home; Charlie got them for me.

And again on June 15:

Went canoeing this afternoon; it was just lovely on river. Pauline, Charlie, Lizzie, C.H., & I--took lunch.

1905 turns out to have been the pivotal year of change on this issue of behavior on the river. In September of that year, the MPC suffered its first court defeat on one of these indecent behavior charges, and the number of arrests dropped rapidly after that. Between 1906-1910, only four couples were arrested.

According to historian Thomas A. McMullin, whose wonderful article in The New England Quarterly was the source of much of the information in this post:

Scholars have traditionally argued that the shift in American romantic mores occurred in the 1920s, but more recent studies have suggested that the changes began earlier, particularly for the working class.

McMullin attributes these changes to the expansion of white-collar work at the turn of the century, the change in perception of what was acceptable behavior among young women (who had started bicycling and pursuing other outdoor activities, in addition to beginning to date rather than being "called upon"), movies--which showed "abundant images of romantic encounters", and the construction of the trolley network.

Illustration Credits and References

[1] The quotes above, and much of the other background information in this post, were taken from an article by Thomas A. McMullin in the September, 2000 issue of The New England Quarterly. The article is entitled: "Revolt at Riverside: Victorian Virtue and the Charles River Canoeing Controversy, 1903-1905." McMullin (at least at the time) was an Associate Professor of History at U.Mass. Boston.

The colored postcard at the top of this post is entitled "Canoeing on the Charles River," and it shows a photograph taken in 1905, and probably colorized a few years later. The sepia photo further down is a 1905 double postcard entitled "The Charles River from Weston Bridge, Auburndale, Mass." These postcards are part of a terrific collection of early 20th century postcards of the river that belong to the Newton History Museum. More postcards, as well as additional information on the Charles River in Newton, Norumbega, and the canoeing craze can be found at the Newton History Museum Website.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Caroline Bishop Stanley

Caroline Bishop Stanley was born in 1879 to a Nahant, Massachusetts family that had lived near Boston for generations. Her family was related to many of the well-known Massachusetts families of the period, including the Cabots, Choates, and Perkinses. While the Stanleys weren't wealthy, they were comfortable, and Caroline seemed destined for a prosperous and circumspect Victorian lady's life. She had the leisure to pursue higher education and graduated from Boston's New England Conservatory of Music in 1905.


She was already "old" (by marriageability standards of the time) and still living at home, looking for a job as a music teacher. However, she wouldn't remain in Boston long. During the next few years, she went to Chicago, where she got involved with the social settlement movement. According to author Lesley Poling-Kempes, she:

. . . taught music at the Chicago Kindergarten Institute and began to move in a circle of educated and socially active women. . . . In her late twenties, Stanley joined this league of women who would later be called progressive idealists--educated, motivated women seeking meaningful work that led them out of a boring and useless existence in Victorian America. . . . Music, Stanley's friends believed, was a birthright of all people, and music education a vital part of any person's development and growth.

However, the biggest change in Carol Stanley's life was yet to come. In her mid-30s, she fell in love with a musician in Boston of whom her parents disapproved. She apparently acquiesced to their plans to send her out West to forget him. Most likely, her family thought a year or so away from temptation would be enough, and that she would return to Boston and take up an "appropriate" life.

But Carol never returned to Boston or Chicago (except for some brief visits). She took the train to Santa Fe sometime in 1914,
and with a Chicago friend spent a couple of years riding horses into the remote country in the Four Corners area, camping under the stars, and experiencing a kind of life that was completely foreign to her East Coast upbringing. (It's worth noting that Pancho Villa raided New Mexico in 1916--life was still pretty wild and woolly on the frontier!)

In 1916, Carol was part of a groundbreaking horseback excursion, which, according to Poling-Kempes:

. . . began in mid-September in Santa Fe, and wove across northwestern New Mexico and into the Navajo country of the Colorado Plateau. This particular expedition made headlines because no one had ever attempted to ride horseback to the Indian Country of northern Arizona and southern Utah from Santa Fe.

Near the end of the trip, on October 2, Carol married Richard LeRoy Pfaffle, one of the tour guides (whom she had met for the first time in the spring of 1916). Carol and Roy moved into a guest house at the Ramon Vigil Ranch, a guest ranch about 20 miles from Santa Fe, to act as caretakers. Several years later, they decided to open their own guest ranch, and bought a "crumbling but historically rich and outstandingly beautiful rancho" in Alcalde, NM, near the San Juan Pueblo. They renovated the property, and opened San Gabriel Ranch in 1920.

San Gabriel was a popular destination--the Pfaffles' guests included Rockefellers, Archibald MacLeish, and Willa Cather. Carol taught music at the Pueblo, and in Alcalde, during the winter months. But business was severely hurt by the Depression, and in 1931, after divorcing Roy (who was by this time a seriously ill alcoholic), Carol abandoned San Gabriel to foreclosure, and moved, with her Steinway piano and her Navajo rug collection, to a decrepit homestead outside of Abiquiú, a property that Roy had won in a card game a few years earlier.


Carol called the property Ghost Ranch, and she set about renovating it for another try at the guest ranch business. In the summer of 1934, the woman who was to become most associated with Ghost Ranch, Georgia O'Keeffe, showed up, looking to spend some time in a casita there. Carol had only one room available for one night, and O'Keeffe took it. During the night, another guest became ill, and the family left their casita precipitously. O'Keeffe moved in, "and I never left".

In 1935, Stanley sold the ranch to one of her regular visitors, Arthur Pack, married her foreman, Lloyd Miller, and eventually settled with him in Arboles, Colorado, where Carol worked as the postmistress. She died of a heart attack in 1948, at the age of 67. Poling-Kempes writes:

Although it was a long drive over the high mountains in winter snow, Dorthy Burnham Fredericks remembers that "all the cowboys showed up for her funeral. All of them."

Illustration Credits and References

The photo at the top of this post is of the New England Conservatory in Boston, taken in 1904. It is from the Library of Congress collection.

The Ghost Ranch photo was taken by the author.

Information about Carol Stanley comes from Lesley Poling-Kempes' wonderful book, Ghost Ranch, published by the University of Arizona Press in 2005.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Niagara Movement

Niagara Movement 1905Some say that the 20th century civil rights movement began on July 11, 1905, when 29 black men met on the Canadian side of the Niagara River to form a new national organization called "The Niagara Movement". Led by W. E. B. Du Bois, the men, intellectuals and activists from 14 states, gathered to formally distance themselves from Booker T. Washington's conciliatory approach, and to establish a more action-oriented group. Two key members of the group were Bostonians Clement G. Morgan and William Monroe Trotter.

Du Bois also had a Massachusetts connection. He had been born in Great Barrington, in Western Massachusetts, and he, Morgan, and Trotter were all Harvard College graduates. Du Bois was also the first black to earn a Ph.D. from that institution.

Morgan had graduated from Harvard (along with Du Bois) in 1890, and then from Harvard Law School in 1893. He was the first black man to be senior class orator at Harvard; he and Du Bois had finished first and second in the junior class oratory contest the year before. He had been the first black Cambridge city councilor in 1985-1896, and was a practicing lawyer in the Boston area in 1905.

Trotter had grown up in the Boston area--first in South Boston, and later in Hyde Park. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard five years after Du Bois and Morgan, in 1895. He was the first man of color to earn a Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, and in 1901 co-founded the Boston Guardian, and became its editor.

The 1905 formal address of the Niagara Movement to the country, co-authored by Du Bois and Trotter, acknowledged that "the negro American" had made a lot of progress in the prior decade. But, the address continued:

This class of American citizens should protest emphatically and continually against the curtailment of their political rights. . . . We believe also to protest against the curtailment of our civil rights. All American citizens have the right to equal treatment. . . . We especially complain against the denial of equal opportunities to us in economic life; in the rural districts of the south this amounts to peonage and virtual slavery. . . . Common school education should be free to all American children and compulsory. . . . We demand upright judges in courts, juries selected without discrimination on account of color, and the same measure of punishment and the same efforts at reformation for black as for white offenders. . . .

At the same time we want to acknowledge with deep thankfulness the help of our fellow-men from the abolitionist down to those who today still stand for equal opportunity and who have given and still give of their wealth and of their property for our advancement. . . . God forbid that we should ever forget to urge corresponding duties upon our people: The duty to vote. The duty to respect the rights of others. The duty to work. The duty to obey the laws. The duty to be clean and orderly. The duty to send our children to school. The duty to respect ourselves, even as we respect others.


Morgan became state secretary for the Massachusetts state organization, and his wife, Gertrude Wright Morgan, became the national secretary for women in 1906. Trotter did not favor allowing women to become members, and Trotter and Morgan (and their wives) clashed on this and other issues. Du Bois eventually sided with Morgan, and William and Geraldine Trotter left the movement in 1907. This feud in the Massachusetts branch was draining to the organization, and to Du Bois personally, who had been close to Trotter. Combined with financing and leadership problems, and continued conflict with Booker T. Washington, the Niagara Movement had broken up by 1910. But Niagara was instrumental in the formation of the NAACP in 1909, and most Niagarites transferred their allegiance to that organization.

Illustration Credits and References

The photo above was taken from the University of Massachusetts Library Collections. Du Bois is second from the right in the middle row; next to him (last in the row) is Robert Bonner, also of Massachusetts. Clement Morgan is second from the left in the bottom row.

The text of the address was taken from the July 16, 1905 Boston Sunday Globe.

Many original documents and photographs relating to the Niagara Movement can be seen at the University of Massachusetts web site, which has a large W.E.B. Du Bois collection.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Helen Keller the Maid of Honor

Helen Keller, Radcliffe, 1904Helen Keller, the famed deaf-blind social activist, was living with her teacher, Annie Sullivan, on a 7-acre farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1905. She had graduated from Radcliffe College the year before, and she and Sullivan had purchased the farm at about the same time.

Helen had published her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1903, and a young Harvard English instructor, John Macy, had worked with Helen as the book's editor. Macy became a friend of Helen's, and of Annie Sullivan's as well, and on May 3, 1905 Macy and Sullivan were married in the sitting room at the Wrentham farm.

Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, Wrentham farm
An article in the May 3, 1905 Boston Daily Globe indicates that Edward Everett Hale performed the ceremony. (Hale, a minister, activist, and author, was well-known for his story, "The Man Without a Country," and was the great-nephew of patriot Nathan Hale.)

Even then, Annie took second billing to Helen, with the headline for the article reading "Helen Keller the Maid of Honor", and Annie and John (and Dr. Hale) mentioned in the sub-heading.

The bride wore "a dark traveling gown and the groom a gray prince albert with light vest and tie." The ceremony was small, with only a few dozen guests, and was conducted "in a quiet and unostentatious manner."

Among the wedding gifts received was a "handsome clock and candelabras from Prof. Alexander Graham Bell." Interestingly enough, I have found (online--and still looking for corroboration) the text of a letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Helen Keller, dated April 14, 1905, which reads in part as follows:

I wonder whether you could keep a secret from teacher, and from Mr. Macey? I have just received $194 which I never expected to get, and your note of April 7, telling me of teacher's proposed marriage to Mr. Macey has suggested the thought - why not spend this on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan. The trouble is I don't know what to get that would please her and I want someone to help me. Why not you? I enclose a check for $194 payable to your order and would be very much please if you could spend the money for me on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan and not tell her anything about it until you give her the present for me.

Illustration Credits and References

The two photos above both appear on the website of the Annie Mansfield Sullivan Foundation. The photo of Helen Keller is her 1904 Radcliffe graduation portrait. The farm photograph was taken in the 1920s. The site also contains additional information about the history of the farm.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Would a Woman Make a Good President?

A woman today would not make a good President for the identical reason that no man would make a good President who has been deprived, as woman has been and for as long as woman has been, of practically all participation in political life and all political responsibility. . . . She has been deprived of all civic imagination, all civic knowledge and all civic responsibility, so far as man could so deprive her. . . . Will there be women who will make good Presidents? That is another question, and one to which I give the ready answer, Yes. Woman's political capacity may be denied at the present time, but her capability is undoubted. There are many administrative functions in political life which she would perform far better than man; there are none which, as President of the United States, she would not perform as well, given the experience and practice which men enjoy.

These lines, written by lawyer Alice Parker Lesser, appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe on October 8, 1905, as part of a feature opinion piece by four Boston women. They had been asked by the Globe to comment on a recent speech by Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer who had addressed "a large audience of young women at one of our prestigious female colleges, to intimate that within the present generation the suffrage might be extended to women in every State, and to excite the enthusiastic applause of his emotional hearers by the hint that before they became gray-haired there might sit in the White House a woman who, like Queen Victoria, will shed lustre upon this country."

Elm Court House Party, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1905
In addition to Mrs. Lesser, the other writers solicited for this piece included, according to the Globe sub-head, "the Following Women of Boston Who Have Engaged in Professions and Business": Elizabeth C. Keller, a physician and surgeon, Katherine E. Conway, editor of the Pilot, and Mae D. Frazar "of the Frazar Touring Co.".

Five years earlier, in a similar opinion piece entitled "Will a Woman Ever Be President of the United States?", Alice Parker Lesser had commented, somewhat sadly and quite presciently: "I have persuaded myself that some time in the future a woman will be president. But hardly in the next century."

Lesser also suggested that women would soon earn the right to vote. She herself was a women's suffrage leader, and would go on to serve as the delegate from Massachusetts to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Convention in Stockholm in 1911.

The last reference I can find to Mrs. Lesser was in a 1914 interview, so I don't know if she was still around in 1920 to exercise her right to vote. I certainly hope so.

Illustration Credits and References

The photo above was taken at a house party at Elm Court, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1905. It was reprinted in the Boston Globe on October 30, 2005. Click here to read the article about this 100-room "cottage" built by William Sloane and Emily Vanderbilt Sloane in 1886.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Boston Marathon

Fred Lorz, 1906, marathon runnerPhoto of Fred Lorz in 1906.

Patriots' Day has been a legal holiday in Massachusetts since 1894. It commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the start of the American Revolution.

Bostonians who are familiar with modern Patriots' Day activities would find a lot to recognize in the holiday celebrations that took place on April 19, 1905. The Lexington fife and drum corps marched over Paul Revere's route; 25,000 spectators were on hand in Concord to view a civic and military parade; and dances, dinners, and athletic events also marked the date.

The 1905 Boston Marathon boasted 78 starters, about half of whom finished the race. (At that time the distance was 25 miles--mostly the same as today's route, finishing at the corner of Boylston and Exeter, near the Boston Public Library, but starting in Ashland instead of neighboring Hopkinton.) The winner was Fred Lorz of New York, in a time of 2:38.25; second place finisher was Louis Marks, also of New York; and third place went to a local man, Robert Fowler, running for the Cambridgeport Gym.

Lorz tripped over his trainer (one of 60 bicyclists accompanying the runners) near the end of the race, but was able to cross the finish line--the next day's Boston Daily Globe catches the felled bicycle and the falling runner in a terrific action photo.

Many behaviors that characterize the Marathon today were already present in 1905. A media car (the Globe's "White Steamer") led the runners; Wellesley women cheered on the "fellows" as they passed the College; and the huge crowd of men, women, and children near the finish line (most of whom who had waited in place for an hour and a half) shouted for every runner and "there was no let-up [in cheering],even after the first few had plodded in".

1905 was also the first year in which George V. Brown fired the starter's pistol at the beginning of the race. (Brown would go on to serve as starter until 1937, and his descendants are still honored with the responsibility.)

There were also a few differences! A Dr. Blake, who was examining the runners at the end of the race, noted that most men were in pretty good shape, but that those who had not drunk whiskey along the route "fared better".

Race winner Fred Lorz had achieved some negative press the year before when he participated in the 1904 Olympic marathon, run in conjunction with the St. Louis World's Fair. After suffering an injury at the nine-mile mark, he rode in a car for 11 miles; when the car broke down, he ran the rest of the way to the finish and was originally hailed as the winner. (See Rosie Ruiz!) After being tossed out of membership in the AAU, he was later reinstated when it was determined that he did not intend to defraud, and had merely thought to play a practical joke. After winning the Boston race in 1905, Lorz, who actually seems to be not much of a joker-type (given the pompousness of the quote which follows and the expression on his face in the photo above) referenced his history: "I guess those people who said I tried to steal the St. Louis race will now do a little thinking. . . I never claimed to have won the Olympic race, and after I finished I told Sec. James E. Sullivan of the AAU that I rode in that automobile."

Third place finisher Fowler would also be involved in another interesting race, when he participated in the running of the Empire City Marathon in Yonkers, NY on January 1, 1909, a bitterly cold day. Fowler won that race, setting a world record that lasted for about six weeks, but the race was declared over after the first seven men crossed the finish line. The New York Times surmised in their story lead that "the incompetency of the Yonkers police" was responsible for the premature finish. The Yonkers police chief, who was responsible for keeping order, rode a horse up and down the track; scorers and officials were interfered with by a boisterous crowd of 10,000; and three mounted police "rode through the group of scorers repeatedly". When an official complained, Chief Wolff "merely smiled and drove his horse at the officials, scattering them left and right."

In addition, the Times observed that the "contest in several respects savored of a farce. One contestant smoked a pipe while running around the track, another essayed a theatrical faint in front of the judges."

Police behavior seems to have been much more appropriate at the Boston race in 1905. Approximately 70 city policemen were on duty to control the crowd (estimated at over 75,000 between Coolidge Corner and the finish of the race). The Globe observed that these officers "did their work well, gave no offence, and left the scene with every spectator feeling that the police are humane and capable."

Fowler would go on to savor a win in the Boston Marathon in 1909, only a few months after the Yonkers farce. Frederick Lorz would finish second that year.

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of Fred Lorz above from the Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.

Click here to read more about the bizarre 1904 Olympic marathon. (Lorz's deception is only part of the story!)

Click here to see a short article, accompanied by a WBZ-TV video, about George V. Brown, race starter, whose bronze statue was unveiled at the running of the 2008 marathon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Diary: June 18, 1905

South Station, Boston, 1905South Station in Boston ca. 1905, photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The day before, Cynthia had taken the train from Boston to Harwich (on Cape Cod), the location of her family home. Her Aunt Myra, her suitor, Ben, and others met her at the train. On June 18, she began the task of getting the house ready for the summer.

Cynthia's sea captain father, traveling with her mother, was still at sea and would not arrive until much later in the summer.

Came down to the house, opened the windows, and aired all out. Unpacked my trunk. Ben over in p.m. Stayed at Aunt Myra's.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cy Young on the Fourth of July

Cy Young in Chicago in 1905This photograph of Cy Young was taken in Chicago in 1905.

Cy Young (for whom baseball's Cy Young pitching award was named) was the pitcher on opening day of the 1905 season for the Boston Americans. (The Americans would take on their nickname, Red Sox, as their official team name less than three years later. But they were just the "Americans" when they started out in 1901, to distinguish themselves from the National League team, the Boston Beaneaters.)

Cy Young's birth name was actually Denton True Young; he earned the nickname "Cy" from "Cyclone", for the speed of his fastball. (And the Boston papers had a tendency to refer to him as "Old Cy".)

On the Fourth of July, 1905, the 38-year-old Young was the starting pitcher in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics. He pitched 13 scoreless innings (after the opening six) but went on to lose the game in the 20th inning.

Opposing pitcher Rube Waddell also pitched the full 20 innings for Philadelphia, and both pitchers would eventually find themselves in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cy Young later said of this game: “For my part, I think it was the greatest game of ball I ever took part in.”

Illustration Credits and References

The photo originally appeared in the Chicago Daily News in 1905; I found it at this site.

The Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society has an excellent write-up about this pitching duel.

Lots of baseball information available here: http://www.baseball-reference.com

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Antonio Corsi

Antonio CorsiNOTE: This post was first published in my other blog, choosing-santa-fe.blogspot.com, on February 15, 2008.

This is a story about a man who was very well-known in the first quarter of the 20th century, but whom very few have heard of today. He was an artist's model (and a silent-film actor towards the end of his career) who worked in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, among other cities, and was the most sought-after artist's model of the day.

Although he was Italian-born, his Roman nose and exotic looks made him able to pass as a Turk, a Mexican, an American Indian, and a variety of other ethnicities. He maintained a studio in New York City with hundreds of costumes and could show up as any character an artist could imagine.

If you live(d) in Boston, you will have seen Corsi in many different settings. For example, he was the model for the famous Appeal to the Great Spirit sculpture by Cyrus Dallin, which has stood on Huntington Avenue in front of the Museum of Fine Arts for 99 years.
Appeal to the Great Spirit, Cyrus Dallin, Boston
He also posed for 11 of the 16 figures in John Singer Sargent's Frieze of Prophets, which is one of the murals Sargent painted in the Boston Public Library (all of which I saw for the first time on a trip back to Boston last fall).

I encountered Corsi for the first time in the pages of a family diary from 1905. Cynthia, the young woman writer (who was 22 at the time), was living in Boston and studying at the Eric Pape School of Art. Twice she mentions a model in class by the name of Antonio Corsi. For example, here's her post from March 20, 1905:

Raining today; went in school. Antonio Corsi posed nude this morning, costume of pirate in afternoon.

That brief sentence intrigued me! I had to look him up, and was quite amazed to discover the level of his fame, and the prodigious amount of posing he did. Here's a photo of Corsi posing for an art class at about the same time as the diary. Imagine holding that pose for hours!
Antonio Corsi posing for art class

Pierre-Auguste Cot, The Storm, Antonio CorsiHere's another famous painting for which Corsi posed, The Storm by Pierre-Auguste Cot (owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC). Corsi was 11 or 12 at the time, and posed for both the male and female figures in this painting. (Look at the calves, thighs, and feet of both characters--they are almost identical.)

When I started researching Corsi, I immediately found a website dedicated to his work. Jake Gorst, owner of Jonamac Productions, is working on a documentary on Corsi, along with an exhibition of a treasure-trove of photographs (including those appearing in this post), and a book about Corsi's career. You can learn lots more about Corsi at this site--click the Multimedia tab to see all the photographs!