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." In the two-year period from August 1903 to September 1905, 37 individuals 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 individuals arrested between 1903 and 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. In the five subsequent years, only seven 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.

UPDATE: In January 2018, journalist Crystal Ponti interviewed me and Clara Silverstein, the Community Engagement Manager for Historic Newton, about the "Kissing in Canoes" phenomenon for her Historium Unearthia podcast. You can read more and listen here. Crystal talks about the phenomenon for the first 15 minutes, which is followed by the two interviews (up to about 28:00).

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.

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.