Monday, May 6, 2019

Our Big Fat Greek Easter

Easter is always the biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox calendar, but this year we celebrated the best Greek Easter ever, because it brought together grandchildren from both coasts for a week of fun and adventures and getting to know each other.

Here's the crew--left to right: Stone Suire age 3 1/2 and his sister Eleni, 1, Nicolas Baltodano, 4, baby Gage Antonia Hineline--four months old and meeting her cousins for the first time-- and Amalia Baltodano, age 7.  Stone and Baby Eleni belong to Frosso, the daughter of "Big Eleni" Nikolaides,  who has lived with us for 40-plus years. Nico and Amalia belong to our daughter Eleni, and Baby Gage is the firstborn of daughter Marina, so they'll all grow up together, we hope,  as loving cousins.

Even though they were too little to join the egg hunt in the front yard, these two stole the show.

Eleni and her kids got to Grafton, MA, Friday night, (Emilio flew in later) and on Saturday they ventured to the Hebert Candy Mansion to see the Easter Bunny.  Amalia's expression is meant to signal that she is highly suspicious of the identity of the Easter Bunny, but I warned her not to say anything that would make the Bunny feel bad, as well as the crowd of little kids waiting in line, and she complied.  After the bunny, we got sundaes at the make-your-own sundaes bar.

On April 21, Eleni and Papou Nick went to church for Greek Palm Sunday and then we had carrot cake with one candle for Baby Eleni and four candles for Nico (he's lower left, behind Amalia), both of whom had recent birthdays.

That day was when Amalia began making Easter eggs with the "Egg-Mazing Egg Decorator" to use as place cards for all 23 people who would join us the next Sunday for Greek Easter.  (This year it fell a week after Catholic Easter.  The two Easters are sometimes on the same day, or as much as a month apart.) Amalia worked all week, customizing the eggs by asking everyone's favorite colors.

On Wednesday we all went to church for Holy Unction, which involves the priest putting holy oil on your eyes, mouth and hands, so that you will see, say and do beautiful things instead of bad ones.  "Does this mean I can't say 'Poop' any more?" worried Nico, referring to his favorite dirty word.

On Thursday we went to nearby Green Hill Farm,  a (free) petting zoo, and everyone met peacocks, llamas, goats, exotic fowl, miniature donkeys and horses and very fluffy sheep.

On Good Friday, daughter Eleni and "Big Eleni" Nikolaides prepared the traditional red eggs, making patterns on them with flowers and leaves held in place by pieces of panty hose wrapped around and tied with dental floss before the eggs are put in the dye.  After they're taken out and cooled, the eggs are rubbed with oil to make them shine.  The photo at right combines the red eggs with Amalia's striped ones.

On Holy Saturday everyone hurries to church for the "First Resurrection" after having fasted throughout Holy Week (or, for the very devout, for the seven weeks of Lent.  The priests at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester dramatize the joy of the moment by tossing bay leaves everywhere (which Nico tried to pick up) and giving out hand bells to ring (when the priest said so.). Then we all gathered at an IHOP to order  the kind of breakfasts we've been forbidden until now--but no meat until after midnight.

Despite all the Easter preparation, these three moms, Frosso, Eleni and Marina, managed to complete this puzzle of Great Americans in time to photograph it, then clear it up to set the kids' table for tomorrow.  Eleni and her father went to the midnight resurrection service, then came home to crack red eggs, saying "Christ is Risen!" "Indeed He is Risen!" and eat the traditional Mayeritsa soup.  While everyone slept, the Easter bunny hid more than 150 eggs in the front yard and filled the five  large Easter baskets with goodies (as well as five smaller baskets for the kids coming tomorrow.)

Finally it was Easter Sunday!  Amalia found the golden egg on top of a pot of pansies.  Then Tia Marina helped everyone open the eggs to discover what was inside.

Next everyone checked out their Easter baskets.  Yiayia Eleni pointed granddaughter Eleni to hers.   Nico admired his new disco cup (it flashes) and Amalia tried her new stick-on nails, while Marina and Baby Gage watched from the sidelines.

It was time to go to church for the Agape service followed by another egg hunt, this one in the church auditorium.  St. Spyridon's was so crowded that we were sent upstairs to the choir loft, where we got a beautiful view of the congregation below, with everyone trying to keep their candles lit to take home.  The patriarch of the family uses his flame to mark another cross on the top of the house's door.  Amalia kept hers lit too, a tradition that always makes me nervous, waiting for the odor of singed hair.  (Children get fancy decorated candles, called "Lambadas" at Easter, from their godparents.)

Back home the table for adults was set in the dining room.  Amalia was thrilled to hear that she was going to be the boss of the kids' table in the living room (because she was three years older than anybody else.) She even wrote down a speech which began, "Hello, I'm Amalia and I'm the boss of the kids' table.  If you have a problem, come to me.  If you get bored, there is a paper with instructions and a coloring sheet..."

Then the feasting began: lamb, of course, spinach pie, chicken and rice pita, giant beans, Marina's special salad and so much more, ending with a dome-shaped Princess Torte from Crown Bakery. The party went on until Eleni and family had to leave for New York.  Marina and Baby Gage flew out to San Francisco the next day, leaving two grandparents grateful for this best Easter ever, and hoping that we will all come together again as the little ones grow, to make more Easter memories.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Seven-Year-Old "Poster Child" of Slavery

On March 12, W. W.  Norton published "Girl in Black and White", subtitled "The Story of Mary Mildred Williams and the Abolition Movement",  by Jessie Morgan-Owens, a professional photographer, scholar, Phd. and the dean of studies at Bard Early College in New Orleans. In the book, Jessie mentions how she and I met in Worcester in 2013, while she was in residence at the American Antiquarian Society researching Mary's life, so that she could see my daguerreotype of the little girl who became the face of the Abolition movement.  In 1855, Mary was displayed on stage, taken to newspaper offices and her photograph was circulated to politicians and VIPs by Senator Charles Sumner--after Sumner and her escaped father and abolitionists in Massachusetts, including Longfellow and Thoreau, raised enough money to buy freedom for Mary and the rest of her family.

 The reason Sumner was eager to display the girl was because she appeared to be white, but was born into slavery.  Jessie, in her book, decided to call the girl "Mary Mildred Williams" because "Williams" was the alias the girl's father chose when he escaped from Virginia and his daughter adopted it when she grew up.  I call her "Mary Botts"--her slave name--in the essay below, because that's the name I first discovered ten years ago, while researching the identity of the girl in my dag.  Many abolitionists and reporters called her "Little Ida May"--the name of a fictitious child in a hugely best-selling novel, published in 1854, about a white girl who is kidnapped, beaten and sold into slavery, suffering much until her father  saves her.

When I began collecting antique photographs about thirty years ago, I started out buying everything I could find. Then I began to specialize, gravitating toward early images of children, twins (which I wrote about in a April 29, 2010 blog post: “Diane Arbus and Spooky Twins”) and photographs reflecting attitudes toward race and slavery.  (For example, I wrote about the image of “The Scarred Back of a Slave Named Gordon” in a post dated Oct. 2, 2009.  My information about that image was also printed in the New York Times book review of Oct. 4, 2009).  This image was also widely circulated by abolitionists.  My copy of it, below, is a hand-colored glass negative of the original black and white photo, probably meant to be projected in a "magic lantern.")

 While collecting slave photographs, I became fascinated with the “white slave children of Louisiana” as I call the series of CDV (carte-de-visite) photos of freed children from New Orleans who appear to be completely white. These small, cardboard-mounted photos were sold in great quantities by abolitionists during the Civil War.  On the back of each photo was printed: “The nett [sic] proceeds from the sale of these Photographs will be devoted to the education of colored people in the Department of the Gulf, now under the command of Maj. Gen. Banks.”

I had so many questions about these CDVs.  First, why did the abolitionists go down to the schools of freed slaves in New Orleans and pull out only those who appeared to be white, then send the children up to New York and Philadelphia to be dressed in fine clothes and posed in sentimental scenes for photos to sell?  Why did black-appearing children not get chosen for this? And how did these former slave children feel about being taken away from their mothers, paraded up north for the media like zoo animals and then sent back down South?  (They even got kicked out of their hotel in Philadelphia when the owner discovered they weren’t “really” white.)

Through research, I’ve learned the answers to some of these questions about the Louisiana CDVs, but today I’m only focusing on one photograph that was made, in 1855, about nine years before the Civil War CDVs.  It’s a ninth-plate daguerreotype that I bought on E-Bay in 2000 of a little girl in a plaid dress . 

The seller, from Tennessee, included with this cased image information on where it was found. “This…photograph was purchased at Headley’s Auction in Winchester VA, July 1997.  It came…out of the “Ashgrove” estate in Vienna, VA. The house originated as a hunting lodge in 1740 …and was  sold to James Sherman in 1850, who would never  own or hire a slave.  He died in 1865 and passed it to his son, Capt. Franklin Sherman, Tenth Mich. Cavalry.  Capt Sherman’s wife Caroline (Alvord, a native of Mass.) came to the country in 1865 to teach the children of the newly freed slaves.”

The most intriguing thing about this daguerreotype, of course, was the faded inch-square piece of paper glued to the back of the case upon which someone has printed  “Mulatto raised by Charles Sumner”.  I put this image aside in 2000 along with the papers the buyer had sent me about the Ashford plantation, and forgot all about them.

Then, in November 2010, I had a visit from Greg Fried, a professor at  Suffolk University in Boston who wanted to scan some of my photographs for a new web site he was preparing called  “Mirror of Race” ( I showed him the Louisiana CDVs and the daguerreotype of the “Sumner-raised” child. After he left, I went on Google and typed in the words  “Charles Sumner” and “slave”.  I discovered a short article from the New York Times dated March 9, 1855, which read:

A WHITE SLAVE FROM VIRGINIA. We received a visit yesterday from an interesting little girl, — who, less than a month since, was a slave belonging to Judge NEAL, of Alexandria, Va. Our readers will remember that we lately published a letter, addressed by Hon. CHARLES SUMNER, to some friends in Boston, accompanying a daguerreotype which that gentleman had forwarded to his friends in this city, and which he described as the portrait of a real "Ida May," — a young female slave, so white as to defy the acutest judge to detect in her features, complexion, hair, or general appearance, the slightest trace of Negro blood. It was this child that visited our office, accompanied by CHARLES H. BRAINARD, in whose care she was placed by Mr. SUMNER, for transmission to Boston. Her history is briefly as follows: Her name is MARY MILDRED BOTTS; her father escaped from the estate of Judge NEAL, Alexandria, six years ago and took refuge in Boston. Two years since he purchased his freedom for $600, his wife and three children being still in bondage. The good feeling of his Boston friends induced them to subscribe for the purchase of his family, and three weeks since, through the agency of Hon. CHARLES SUMNER, the purchase was effected, $800 being paid for the family. They created quite a sensation in Washington, and were provided with a passage in the first class cars in their journey to this city, whence they took their way last evening by the Fall River route to Boston. The child was exhibited yesterday to many prominent individuals in the City, and the general sentiment, in which we fully concur, was one of astonishment that she should ever have been held a slave. She was one of the fairest and most indisputable white children that we have ever seen.

This discovery got my adrenaline going. I googled “Mary Mildred Botts” and learned that the white-appearing slave child who was  admired by The New York Times was discussed in a 2008 book called  “Raising Freedom’s Child—Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery,” written by a University of New Orleans professor, Mary Niall Mitchell, who (small world!) was someone I had communicated with six years before while trying to research the Louisiana CDV’s.  I immediately ordered the book from Amazon.

When it arrived, I was stunned to find on page 73 a photo of Mary Botts that was the mirror image of MY dag. (The one in the book--also on the cover of Jessie's book) is from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.)  Prof. Mitchell gave more explanation about why this young girl was photographed and brought north by Charles Sumner.

By the eve of the Civil War, abolitionists recognized the potential of white-looking children for stirring up antislavery sentiment…Although it was the image of a raggedy, motherless Topsy that viewers might have expected to see in a photograph of a slave girl, it was the “innocent”, “pure,” and “well-loved” white child who appeared, a child who needed the protection of the northern white public.

The sponsors of seven-year-old Mary Mildred Botts, a freed child from Virginia, may have been the first to capitalize on these ideas, as early as 1855.  Her story also marks the beginning of efforts to use photography (in Mary Botts’s case, the daguerreotype, as the carte-de-visite format was not yet available) in the service of raising sentiment and support for the abolitionist cause.  (bold-facing mine.)

“…In his own characterization of Mary Botts,” Mitchell continues, “Sumner set a pattern that other abolitionists would follow.  In a letter printed in both the Boston Telegraph and the New York Daily Times, he compared Mary Botts to a fictional white girl who had been kidnapped and enslaved, the protagonist in Mary Hayden Pike’s antislavery novel Ida May:  ‘She is bright and intelligent—another Ida May,’ [Sumner wrote] ‘I think her presence among us (in Boston) will be more effective than any speech I can make.’”

This comparison of Mary Botts to the fictional kidnapped white girl worked well for Sumner and the Abolitionists and made the little freed slave quite a local celebrity.  Prof. Mitchell quotes the diary of a Quaker woman named Hannah Marsh Inman who saw Mary Botts at  a meeting house in Worcester, MA (which happens to be where I live now).  On March 1, 1855, Hannah wrote:  “Evening all went to the soiree at the Hall.  Little Ida May, the white slave was there from Boston.”

Sumner realized that he was on to a good thing and circulated  daguerreotypes of the child to prove her whiteness to those who might doubt.  (Keep in mind—the daguerreotype process was the first one ever made available—by Daguerre in 1839-- and the images “written by the sun” on the silvered copper plate were considered undeniable scientific proof of the sitter’s appearance.)  

Sumner passed a daguerreotype of Mary Botts around the Massachusetts State Legislature “as an illustration of slavery” and sent one to John. A. Andrews, the governor of Massachusetts.(And Jessie, in her book, on page 133, traces the journey of MY dag from the home of an Abolitionist Massachusetts state senator to his daughter, who moved to Virginia to teach newly emancipated slaves.  My dag stayed in the Ash Grove estate for 132 years until a woman from Tennessee bought it at auction, then offered it for sale in  2000, and it came to me in North Grafton, MA, coming full circle back to where it started.)

Only a year after parading Mary Botts through New York, Boston and Worcester and dubbing her “The real Ida May”,  Charles Sumner’s devout abolitionist views led him to a crippling disaster, when, in 1856, he was so badly beaten on the floor of the Senate by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks,  who broke a cane over his head, that it would take years of therapy before Sumner could return to the Senate.

As soon as I realized in 2010 that my dag of Mary Botts was one of the images used by Sumner himself to advance the abolitionist cause, I got into an excited e-mail correspondence with Professor Mitchell, and  Prof. Greg Fried, who pointed out something I’d forgotten: an advertising card on the back of my image showed that it was “Taken with the Double Camera For 25 Cents by Taber &; Co., successors to Tyler &; Co. Cor. Winter &; Washington Sts. Boston”, while the mirror image belonging to the  Massachusetts Historical Society was taken by Julian Vannerson, probably in Richmond,  Virginia, and seems sharper than mine, so mine must be a copy dag. (The only way to copy a daguerreotype is to take a new daguerreotype of it.  Each daguerreotype is one of a kind.  Taber’s price of 25 cents sounds affordable, but at the time, the average working man made only about a dollar a day.)

 On March 7, Maurice Berger, who writes the Lens column for The New York Times, discussed "Girl in Black And White", calling it "groundbreaking."  He quoted Jessie Morgan Owens as saying, "Mary's daguerreotype was one of the first images of photographic propaganda and one of the first portraits made solely to prove a political point."

Personally, I'm very grateful to Jessie Morgan-Owens for her decades of work and research, which put flesh and blood into my daguerreotype. I'm thrilled to know that this image, taken in 1855, that is part of my collection, may represent one of the first efforts EVER to use the  discovery of photography to touch people’s emotions and change their minds.  This small image of a seven-year-old girl may be an example of the first time photography was used for propaganda, but it was certainly not the last.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Shocking Story Behind Harvard's Slave Photos and White Slave Photographs

Antique photographs of American slaves have been much in the news lately.  Three days ago, on March 21, the front page of The New York Times featured an article and a large image of a black slave named Renty, naked from the waist up--one of seven slaves who in 1850 were forced by Harvard scientist Louis Agassiz to be stripped and photographed as documentation for his theory that blacks and whites were descended from different origins and that black people were inferior.  The Times ran the article because a woman who believes she is descended from Renty has filed suit against Harvard, demanding that two of the 15 large daguerreotypes are rightfully hers.    Today, March 23, The Times ran a follow-up article debating the question: who owns the rights to a photograph and to artifacts of African American history?

 Earlier, on March 7, New York Times reporter  Maurice Berger reviewed the book "Girl in Black and White" by Jessie Morgan-Owens, about a seven-year-old slave girl named Mary who appeared to be so white that Abolitionists in Massachusetts, led by Charles Sumner, bought her freedom, brought her up north and had her photographed in 1855, so that Sumner could circulate to important politicians and newspapers her image, intended to shock them that such a white-appearing child could be a slave.

From its very beginnings in 1839, photography has proved to be a potent propaganda weapon, used by both abolitionists and white supremacists to touch peoples' emotions and win support for their cause. I've been collecting vintage, historic photographs for some 40 years and writing about them on this blog since 2009, often discussing images that have to do with race.   Today I'm re-posting an essay from March 7, 2012, in which I discuss the background of the Harvard dags.  In my next post I will talk about my daguerreotype of  the  little white-appearing slave girl who was photographed by Sumner and became the "poster girl" of the abolitionist cause.

In my previous post, I discussed the recently-in-the-news photos of the “White Slave Children of New Orleans” which portrayed only white-appearing slave children, not black ones.  I explained how this apparently wrong-minded and politically incorrect practice of the Abolitionists had originated nearly a decade earlier with a daguerreotype of a white-skinned little girl named Mary Botts.  She was purchased and brought north by her father (an escaped slave) with the help of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts who paraded her (and circulated her photographic image) around New England making her a celebrity described in The New York Times and other media.

In 1855, Sumner may have been the first to focus on white-appearing slaves to raise indignation against the practice of slavery.  It worked so well that, after Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, Northerners and Abolitionists who wanted to support schools for former slaves went to New Orleans looking for white slave children to bring up north and  photograph.  According to Celia Caust-Ellenbogen of Swarthmore College, “Keeping these schools up and running would require ongoing financial support. Toward this end, the National Freedman’s Association, in collaboration with the American Missionary Association and interested officers of the Union Army launched a new propaganda campaign.  Five children and three adults, all former slaves from New Orleans, were sent to the North on a publicity tour.

A full page of Harper’s Weekly’s Jan. 30, 1864 issue was devoted to this engraving, which was based on a large-format photograph taken of the group.   Explaining the picture was a letter written by  C.C. Leigh introducing the stars of the new propaganda campaign.  Pay attention to how he keeps emphasizing the intelligence of the children.

“To the Editor of Harper’s Weekly:
The group of emancipated slaves whose portraits I send you were brought by Colonel Hanks and Mr. Philip Bacon from New Orleans, where they were set free by General Butler…REBECCA HUGER is eleven years old, and was a slave in her father’s house, the special attendant of a girl a little older than herself.  To all appearance she is perfectly white.  Her complexion, hair and features show not the slightest trace of Negro blood.  In the few months during which she has been at school she has learned to read well, and writes as neatly as most children of her age.  Her mother and grandmother live in New Orleans, where they support themselves comfortably by their own labor…ROSINA DOWNS is not quite seven years old.  She is a fair child, with blonde complexion and silky hair.  Her father is in the rebel army.  She has one sister as white as herself and three brothers who are darker.  Her mother, a bright mulatto, lives in New Orleans in a poor hut, and has hard work to support her family.  CHARLES TAYLOR is eight years old.  His complexion is very fair, his hair light and silky.  Three out of five boys in any school in New York are darker than he.  Yet this white boy, with his mother, as he declares, has been twice sold as a slave.  First by his father and “owner”,  Alexander Wethers, of Lewis County, Virginia, to a slave trader named Harrison, who sold them to Mr.Thornhill of New Orleans.  This man fled at the approach of our army and his slaves were liberated by General Butler. The boy is decidedly intelligent, and though he has been at school less than a year, he reads and writes very well. …”

The letter goes on to describe the adults in the group—two of them chosen, evidently, because they had physical scars from their masters’ mistreatment.  Wilson Chinn, on the left, was branded on his forehead by Volsey B Marmillion, who branded all his 210 slaves, and Mary Johnson carried the scars of 50 cuts on her arms and back –given by her master because one morning she was “half an hour behind time in bringing up his five o’clock cup of coffee”.

The little girl on the left next to Charley was described  as AUGUSTA BROUJEY, nine years old. “Her mother, who is almost white, was owned by her half-brother, named Solamon, who still retains two of her children. ISAAC WHITE is a black boy of eight years; but none the less intelligent than his whiter companions. He has been in school about seven months, and I venture to say that not one boy in fifty would have made as much improvement in that space of time.”

The man on the far right is  “the Reverend Mr. Whitehead” who managed to earn enough as a house and ship painter to buy his freedom and is described thus: “The reverend gentleman can read and write well and is a very stirring speaker.  Just now he belongs to the church militant, having enlisted in the United States Army.”

The letter in Harper’s ends by telling where the small CDVs of the individuals can be bought for 25 cents each or the large photo of the whole group for one dollar.  This would have been a very good investment, for today the individual CDV’s can cost several hundred dollars or more, and the only copy of the large group photo that I have ever seen was in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.
Three photographers took photos of the white slave children: Charles Paxson and M. H. Kimball  in New York, and J.E. McClees in Philadelphia (where they were kicked out of their hotel when the manager learned they were not “really” white.) The children were dressed in elegant clothing and posed with props—the American flag, an ornate mirror, books which they were studying—to appeal to the sentimentality of Victorian audiences.  (See my previous post.)  Kimball produced the most “shocking” photo (to Victorian eyes) of dark-skinned Isaac and white-skinned Rosa arm in arm .  (Augusta was in only 2 of the 22 photos on record and Isaac in three, but Rosa and Rebecca are pictured in most of them.) 

The most photographed and most popular of the “white slave children” was Rebecca, 11 years old, posed in ever more stylish outfits.  Prof. Mary Niall Mitchell suggests in an essay “Rosebloom and Pure White” in American Quarterly, Sept. 2002, that Rebecca fascinated the Victorians because she was closest to becoming an adult woman and the thought of her  sexual vulnerability —a white slave girl who could be bought and sold and raped—fascinated and horrified the Northerners.  Clearly the white children were the result of masters raping the slave women who were their property. Professor  Mitchell repeats the famous quip of southern diarist Mary Chestnut: “Every lady tells you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household, but those in her own she seems to think drop from the clouds, or pretends so to think.”

Professor Mitchell writes in the same essay: “In the images of Rosa and Rebecca, a notion about white little girls as pure and precious things may have been employed to redeem those viewers who had yet to rally around the antislavery cause and encourage them to act on the girls’ behalf.”

Finally, the Abolitionists photographing the “white slave children” were using the new and undeniably “scientific”  medium of photography to battle the beliefs of the leading scientist of the day—Louis Agassiz—famous Harvard natural scientist.  He claimed and tried very hard to prove “scientifically” that the Black race was an inferior and separate biological species.  According to Kathleen Collins in “Portraits of Slave Children” in “History of Photography”, July- September 1985,   “The anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould recently reconstructed Agassiz’ life and thought from his unexpurgated letters in the Harvard University Collection.  Gould concluded that behind Agassiz’ separate creation theories was an initial, visceral reaction to contact with blacks, which left him with an intense revulsion against the notion of miscegenation.”

Agassiz himself tried to use the science of photography to promote his theories that blacks were a different species from whites.  Long before the civil war, he toured Southern plantations and had the owners bring forth the most “African” looking slaves.  In 1850 Agassiz arranged for J. T. Zealy, a daguerrotypist in Columbia, South Carolina, to take photographs of African-born slaves from plantations Agassiz had visited.  

The slaves were stripped and photographed and these haunting daguerreotypes were sent to Agassiz at Harvard.  In 1976 they were found in a storage cabinet at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. (To see these dags and read a brilliant discussion of Agassiz’s racism and his use of the camera to debase his subjects, go to ) Here are two of the captions:

The Zealy pictures reveal the social convention which ranks blacks as inferior beings, which violates civilized decorum, which strips men and women of the right to cover their genitalia. And yet the pictures shatter that mold by allowing the eyes of Delia and the others to speak directly to ours, in an appeal to a shared humanity.

Agassiz commissioned these images to use as scientific visual evidence to prove the physical difference between white Europeans and black Africans. The primary goal was to prove the racial superiority of the white race. The photographs were also meant to serve as evidence for his theory of “separate creation,” which contends that each race originated as a separate species.

So the Abolitionists who photographed the white (mulatto) children of New Orleans, arm in arm with a black slave child, and who emphasized at every turn the intelligence and good behavior of these children, were fighting fire with fire—using the new science of photography to refute visually the beliefs of the country’s most famous scientist and other racists who insisted that the two races should not and could not be mixed.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Remembering Sixties Fashions--I Was There!

My previous blog post was inspired by a sticker book I bought for granddaughter Amalia--a very scholarly review of "1960's Fashions"  published by Usborne in their "Historical Sticker Dolly Dressing" series.  I re-posted an essay from years ago about "Horrible Hairdos of My Youth" and  got a big reaction from my contemporaries who also remember those days of beehives and hair spray.  So I thought I'd re-post another essay from the past, illustrating how I was a  total fashion victim throughout the Swinging Sixties.  (Hard to believe that in September I'll be going to my Edina High School class's 60th reunion, where we crones can trade stories about how short our minis were!  This blog post below was originally inspired by my love for the "Mad Men" TV series.)
As the reaction to Mad Men’s season premiere last Sunday proves, today’s younger (than I am) generations are fascinated with the lifestyle, the fashions and especially the presumed decadence of life in Manhattan in the 1960’s.

For those of us who lived through it, the show brings nostalgia, bittersweet memories of youthful foolishness, and frequent hilarity at anachronisms that slip by, despite the dozens of people on the program who are working to make every ash tray, cocktail shaker and plaid blazer authentic to the period.

I was 19 and in college when the 1960’s began.   In the summer of 1963 I graduated from the University of California,  Berkeley (English Lit.), and entered Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in the fall for a year-long Master of Science program.   My first job after graduating was in public relations at Lever Brothers—in the iconic Lever House on Park Avenue.  After six months there, I moved a few blocks uptown to  work at the Ladies’ Home Journal, at 54th and Lexington (right across from what would be Studio 54 where Andy Warhol and Truman Capote played.)

Yes, I did smoke at the time--in fact when I went to college there was a “smoking room” on my floor in the freshman dormitory where obsessive students like myself could sit up all night smoking, studying and living on Mars Bars out of the vending machine.  I smoked from the age of 18 until at 29 I married a Greek-American New York Times reporter who insisted I quit. (And I’m still married to him 42 years later.)

The thing you have to understand about the Sixties—and this is starting to be portrayed on Mad Men—is that at some point in the decade there was a watershed moment when everything changed 180 degrees:  everything from fashion, music and lifestyle to views on race, women’s rights, health—you name it. 

When people talk about the “Swinging Sixties” they’re talking about the last years of the decade, from about 1966 on.  The first part of the sixties was a lot like the 1950’s—conservative, uptight, well-mannered (although archaic in beliefs about sex, race, whatever.)  Clothing was  conservative and preppy, fitted to the body.  Just look at the pleated skirts and man-tailored blouses that Peggy, the secretary-turned-copywriter on Mad Men is still wearing in the season premiere, which takes place in 1966.

 Here is a photograph of me in the spring of 1965 when I was headed for the airport in Los Angeles to fly back to New York after a visit with my parents.  Can you believe the hat, shoes and gloves?  I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have the photo as proof.

And here are two photos of me on the job in 1964 and 65.  You can see that we are rocking the  sculpted beehive hairdo’s that were so lacquered with spray that they were un-squashable, inspiring jokes about rodents nesting within.

So we women all looked and dressed pretty much like the earlier seasons of Mad Men.  Then something happened. I’ve often pondered what it was that revolutionized the Sixties.  When I left Berkeley in 1963 the Free Speech movement was just a-bornin’ and it slowly moved across the country bringing sit-ins and riots on campuses, not to mention the surging of the Civil Rights movement. The Beatles came to New York in 1964  which was a cause of great excitement at the magazine. And there was the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967.

And suddenly hems rose to incredible heights while dresses, once structured  and controlled, became loose on the body, like tunics.  On the Mad Men premiere last Sunday, when Megan, the new Mrs.  Don Draper sang her French song and did her sexy dance, which shocked and alarmed her colleagues and her new husband, she was wearing  a black, flowing mini dress that illustrated perfectly the new fashions and attitudes.  Everything that had been up tight until 1966 soon became flowing and loose and very, very short.
 In this photo from Feb. 1967, when I was  discussing a magazine article with Ruth Jacobs on the “Jewish Home Show”, you can see that my beehive has been replaced by a pseudo-Vidal Sassoon, asymmetrical bob.  Though you can’t see it, my A-line dress with a yellow stripe down the side is very short.

On April 1, 1968, I left New York and the Ladies’ Home Journal to travel and work in Europe.  I was leaving partly to get away from the Greek-American reporter who, I was sure, would break my heart.

As soon as I left New York, Martin Luther King was assassinated, then Bobby Kennedy, then, a year later, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick and the Charles Manson murders terrorized Los Angeles.  From my vantage point overseas, it seemed that my  country was literally coming apart.

I had scored an editing job in London, when Swinging London was peaking.    I met the Beatles, bought clothes from Biba Boutique and shared a flat with three young women who were waiting to turn 21 so they could get their hands on their trust funds. Meanwhile they got up at four every afternoon and circulated from one club to another all night.  I, meanwhile, went to a nine-to-five job and occasionally handed over my rent in advance when the girl who owned the place got in a jam and had to be bailed out.

In 1969 I traveled to Greece, because I had reconciled with the previously mentioned reporter, and he was vacationing there. I arrived with a whole wardrobe of skirts so very short that he refused to introduce me to any of his friends or relatives until I acquired something of a more respectable length. 

 My asymmetrical bob had grown into a French twist and, for some reason, I seem to be wearing a ratty rabbit fur (or something) coat .  I won’t comment on the shoes, but it all seemed very stylish at the time.

I went back to my job in my beloved London, but we eventually agreed to marry (if I quit smoking), so in 1970, I returned to Manhattan. 

On March 18, 1970, at least 100 feminists staged a sit-in at the Ladies Home Journal, protesting the way the magazine’s mostly male staff depicted women’s interests.  They occupied the office for 11 hours.  They held prisoner my highly respected boss, John Mack Carter, and the managing editor Lenore Hershey.  They even smoked JMC’s cigars.

Unfortunately I wasn’t there to see this historic moment, because by then I was writing articles for the company's foreign syndication service and working mostly at home.  But I suspect that pretty soon I may get to see a similar feminist sit-in in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce on Mad Men

Friday, February 15, 2019

Revisiting the 1960's and Hairstyles from my Youth

          I recently bought granddaughter Amalia a sticker book from the Usborne Series about 1960's fashion history, and became fascinated reading it.  I realized that I am a living fossil who experienced every fashion fad of that decade--especially in the two years ('68 and '69) when I was living in London and met Mary Quant. And I own a mini-dress that was worn by Twiggy in a fashion shoot--although I gave it to daughter Eleni, since I am no longer the size of Twiggy.
          The sticker book inspired me to re-post this essay from nine years ago about my peculiar hairstyles of the period.  I just wish I had as much hair now as I did then, and I don't go to the hairdresser twice a week any more--just once.  I may even re-post a related photo essay about my memories of real-life sixties fashions.

Horrible Hairdos from my Youth

Last Thursday in The New York Times Style section, a page of photographs showed the six steps to achieving a retro ‘60’s beehive hairdo. According to a hairstylist at Bumble and Bumble “The key to make this look modern and not too retro is haphazardness.” He had prepared the models at Vera Wang’s fall show with “slightly messy” beehives with tousled locks at the nape of the neck. According to The Times, “Amy Winehouse offsets hers with tattooed arms.”

Ever since “Mad Men” ushered in a widespread nostalgia for the naughty 1960’s I have been bemused as young people who were not born then celebrate that era of sin, pointed bras and three-martini business lunches.

One of the few skill sets I have down pat is how to make a beehive hairdo. The sight of the “retro beehive” whisked me down Memory Lane, recalling the sight of myself and half a dozen freshman girls lined up at the mirrored wall in the dorm bathroom, carefully teasing our long hair until it stood straight up. Lots of hair spray was involved. My daughters think that I was solely responsible for the hole in the ozone layer due to my lavish use of hair spray.

No tousled retro ironic beehives for us. Ours were as smooth and as stiff as a football helmet—hence all the urban legends about girls who never took down their beehives and ultimately learned that mice or something worse had nested within.

After teasing the hair into a state suggesting the Bride of Frankenstein, I would carefully fold it into a high French twist, securing it with a handful of hairpins and then, after using an afro pick to achieve maximum bouffant-ness, spray some more.

In my youth, a hairdo would come into fashion and we all would immediately have to have it, whether it was flattering or not. The first one I remember was the duck tail (also called D.A. for “Duck’s Ass”), the signature of “greasers” and their leather- jacketed girlfriends in the 1950’s. It took a long time for me to talk my parents into letting me have one—I was about 13 at the time—and even longer to convince them to let me add the peroxide streak that was de rigueur to go with it. I’m just sorry I don’t have a photo to show you how truly awful it looked.

Even more unforgiving was the pixie cut which I am told is now enjoying a renaissance on celebrities like Victoria Beckham. Less glamorous people, like me, ended up looking like someone who was just past chemo, or like those French women who fraternized with the Germans and were punished by having their hair cut off. I vaguely remember Jean Seberg as bringing the pixie cut into fashion. The unfortunate photo of me here in my pixie cut dates from 1958 when I was a junior in high school. 

Then I went to college in Wisconsin and mastered the non-ironic beehive. Two years later, in 1961 I transferred to U Cal Berkeley where I first encountered full-out ethnic Afros and white men with Jesus hair and beards. In graduate school in Manhattan, I remember other girls (not me) ironing their long blonde hair on an ironing board to straighten it and also setting it at night on empty orange-juice-concentrate cans.

After getting a Master’s from Columbia in 1964, I got a job in New York women’s magazines and hung around with editorial assistants who were dating those Mad Men types and drank martinis at lunch. I usually ate lunch at my desk.

Soon the Beatles came to the U.S. and Vidal Sassoon cut Twiggie’s hair into an asymmetrical bob and we all had to have some version of it. You can see my would-be Sassoon cut below. I wish I still had that mini-dress and that brooch. The photo is dated Feb. 1967.

Several haircuts have become all the rage since then—think Farrah Faucett’s feather cut and Jennifer Anniston’s whatever it was. And Kate Gosselin revisiting Sassoon. But I got married and had children and never had time any more to become a haircut fashion victim.

Now my hair has become so thin that I couldn’t possibly tease it into a beehive, ironic or not. Twice a week, first thing in the morning, I go to my hairdresser Roy Hurwitz of London Lass, because I am incapable of doing anything with my own hair. He trained under Vidal Sassoon.

Did you know that Joan Collins always wears a wig because her hair is so thin? I’m told she has 200 wigs. So does Lady Gaga, I think. Maybe wigs will become the next Big Thing.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Valentines in the U.S.--It All Started Here!

Time to re-post my annual Valentine's Day essay. I see that in last year's New York Times there was a long article about Valentines, including two photographs of Esther Howland valentines--but no mention that she was living, and began making, Valentines in Worcester, MA!

(I recently bought these English and German-made valentines at an auction--sadly, they are not from Howland or Taft.)

Worcester, MA, the once-bustling industrial metropolis 45 minutes west of Boston where I live, is enormously proud of its rather peculiar list of “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the birth control pill, the first perfect game in major league baseball, the first liquid-fueled rocket and the ubiquitous yellow Smiley Face icon (starring in a soon-to-be-published tell-all book “The Saga of Smiley”, printed by the Worcester Historical Museum and written by me.)

And every year about this time, you hear about how Worcester produced the first commercial valentines in this country thanks to a foresighted young woman named Esther Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine.

Esther Howland (1828-1904) attended Mount Holyoke at the same time as Emily Dickinson. She was the daughter of a successful Worcester stationer and, in 1847, she received a frilly English valentine that inspired her to ask her father to order materials from England so that she could assemble her own.  She then convinced her brother, a salesman for the company, to show a few of her valentines on his sales rounds.

The initial demand was overwhelming and Esther gathered some of her friends to help her assemble the valentines, seating them around a long table on the third floor of her home.  The company was eventually earning $100,000—a phenomenal success.

Esther is considered significant because, according to historians, she was among the first commercially successful women overseeing a female-run business, and she basically created the assembly-line system, paying the local women “liberally”.

She introduced layers of lace, three-dimensional accordion effects, and insisted that the verses be hidden inside--something you had to hunt for. She had her staff mark the back of each valentine with a red “H”.

In the Victorian era, Valentines were wildly popular, and the elaborate cards were scrutinized for clues—even the position of the stamp on the envelope meant something. Often the valentine was intended as a marriage proposal.

On Feb. 14, 1849, Emily Dickinson wrote to her cousin, “The last week has been a merry one in Amherst, & notes have flown around like snowflakes.  Ancient gentlemen & spinsters, forgetting time & multitude of years, have doffed their wrinkles – in exchange for smiles…”

In 1879—after 30 years in business—Esther Howland merged with Edward Taft, the son of Jotham Taft, a North Grafton valentine maker.  Together they formed the New England Valentine Co. (and their cards were marked “N.E.V.Co.”)

This is where Esther Howland’s title of “Mother of the Valentine” begins to get a little shaky.
It seems, upon much study, that Edward Taft’s father, Jotham Taft of North Grafton, a small village near Worcester, started the commercial valentine business in the U.S. even before Miss Howland did,  but he didn’t like to talk about it, because the Taft family were strict Quakers and Jotham Taft’s mother sternly disapproved of such frivolity as Valentines. (Full disclosure—I live in North Grafton, about a stone’s throw from where Taft worked.)

In 1836, Jotham Taft married Sarah E. Coe of Rhode Island and two years later, they welcomed twin sons.  But in 1840, one of the twins died suddenly, leaving Mrs. Taft prostrate with grief.  Jotham decided to take his wife and surviving son to Europe with him on a buying trip for the stationer who employed him, and while in Germany, he bought many valentines supplies—laces, lithographs, birds and cupids.

When he returned, Taft began making valentines with his wife’s help, and in 1844—3 years before Esther Howland graduated from college—he opened a valentine “factory” in North Grafton (then called New England Village.)  But because of his mother’s disapproval, Taft never put his own name on the valentines—only “Wood” (his middle name) or “N.E.V.” for “New England Village”.  Some believed that Taft trained Elizabeth Howland as one of his workers before she opened her own factory
Taft and Howland merged into the New England Valentine Co. in 1879, and a year later Esther’s father became ill and she left her business to care for him.  After he died, she moved in with one of her brothers and she passed away in 1904.

Unfortunately, despite all the couples who presumably found their true love thanks to Esther’s creations, the “Mother of the Valentine” never married.

In 1881, George C. Whitney bought the combined business of Taft and Howland and it became The Whitney Co,  which dominated valentine production for many years.  Instead of cards laboriously made by hand, Whitney turned to machine- printed valentines and eventually added postcards in the 1890’s.  The Whitney designs, featuring children who resembled the “Campbell Soup “ kids, were wildly popular, although more often exchanged by children than adult lovers, and in 1942 the Whitney factory closed, as a result of wartime paper shortages.