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Archive for the ‘Women’s History’ Category

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has recently announced that it has acquired a previously unknown picture of Edmonia Lewis, a sculptor who was Harriet Hosmer’s contemporary in Rome. The museum’s Deputy Director of Audience Engagement Jacqueline Copeland came across the image in a box of photographs in an antique shop and recognized the artist. Copeland will discuss finding the image at a brown bag lunch on Feb. 7.

The photograph is not the most astounding Lewis discovery–her sculpture Cleopatra was found in the storage room of a mall! And Marilyn Richardson only discovered her date and place of death two years ago.

On a less happy not, in Ken Burn’s Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson there is a reference to African-American artists that is illustrated by a picture that I think is clearly meant to be Lewis.  But is a picture of Vinnie Ream, a white woman who was another sculptor who passed through Rome. And Lewis’s birthplace is still unknown.  (At least I think, unless there has been another Lewis discovery).

Thanks to Sandra Payne for alerting me to the discovery of the photo.

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I spent last weekend at the Society for the Study of Women Writers (SSAWW) conference, which is held every three years.  This was probably one of the best–maybe the best?–conference I have attended.  It is a literature conference, but with a focus on historical context.  Almost every panel I went to was interesting and intellectually stimulating.  And the other attendees, including very well known academics, were friendly and helpful.  Just wonderful.

Closer to home, I am a member of the  Women Writing Women Lives Seminar (WWWL), which is made up of an inspiring group of feminist biographers who meet one a month during the academic year.  Twice a year, the group also sponsors a works-in-progress lecture at the CUNY Graduate Center. This October 29, Diane Jacobs will speak about her The Lives of Abigail Adams and Her Sisters: Threefold Cord.  I’ve always wanted to know more about Adams, who often seems to get reduced to her “Remember the Ladies” comment.  (Not that the quote isn’t great.) 4-6 PM, 365 5th Avenue, Room 9204.

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I have been from this blog for too long.  Hopefully, this post will be the start of more regular updates.
I was excited to read about Jim Down’s forthcoming book Sick from Freedom in the New York Times this week.  The book addresses the health crises which freed people faced after the Civil War.  As press material for the volume explains, “With emancipation, African Americans seized the chance to move, migrating as never before. But in their journey to freedom, they also encountered yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, dysentery, malnutrition, and exposure.”  This book forms an important part of our ever-evolving understanding of Reconstruction.  I may show my students this article in the fall to help them understand historiography. (Another good book which complicates our understanding of this time is Ronald E. Butchart’s Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861-1876, which I reviewed for the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society last year.)

Downs’ interest in this project was inspired in part by his work on the Harriet Jacobs Papers. I joined the HJ team after he had left, so we never crossed paths, except when I used his research reports to write annotation. I do wish the Times had mentioned that the papers had been published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008, and that the volumes include important annotation about disease in the post-emancipation South.  (Instead, the article links to the kind-of-clunky website I helped put together in 2002, which has my name in the web address.  It looked ok for the time!) But it was still good to see Harriet Jacobs mentioned.

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I will be speaking about Harriet Hosmer at Cedar Crest College on Friday March 23 at 1 PM.  I’m very excited, especially as it was arranged by one of my Harriet Jacobs Family Papers colleagues, who in addition to being an excellent researcher also blogs about beer.  (A great combo of credentials, I think.) Introducing students at an all women college to Harriet Hosmer seems like an appropriate way to celebrate women’s history month.

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Marie J. Kuda has written a nice review of Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography on Lambda Literary.  I especially appreciate the fact that Kuda puts the book in the context of the larger historical project of uncovering  “the female enclaves buried under patriarchal scholarship.” And, to be immodest, of course I like this: “Culkin has added a highly readable, well annotated study to the increasing pantheon of creative lesbians supported by networks of friends and lovers.”

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I’ve really been enjoying the Valentine’s Day posts coming my way through Facebook and Google Reader today from museums and archives.  Here are few highlights:

The Morgan Library has an illustration of St. Valentine from The Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

The New Yorker celebrates the day with a post about the exhibit The Loving Story at the International Center of Photography (through May 6).  It is made up of photographs, taken originally for Life Magazine, of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving.  Their interracial marriage lead to the Supreme Court case Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states.

The NYPL Digital Collection has dozens of great Valentine’s Day cards.

And my favorite: Wellesley has posted its collection of the love letters of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, written between January 1845 to September 1846.

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Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. This year, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother, Florence Kiley Culkin, who was a dragon and loved Chinese New Year. She went to a Chinese New Year party every year and would distribute the party favors to her descendants born in the year being celebrated. (I was very upset when I broke the little porcelain rooster she sent me). The first piece of writing I ever published was about her.  It first appeared in the anthology Ladies, Start Your Engines: Women Writers and Cars and the Road (between pieces by Emily Post and Patti Smith!).   Middlebury Magazine later ran it in a slightly altered form.  (It used to be online, but apparently Middlebury took down some older issues–hopefully it will be back eventually). The essay is about, among other things, her red convertible, my El Camino, and the fact that, given our similar personalities, it was better to be born in 1969 than 1916.

My grandmother was perhaps a frustrated dragon, who might have liked to do something else other than live in upstate New York as a mother and housewife. But as you can see in the pictures below she was always stylish and was a lot of fun.  The pictures don’t show how smart she was, but she was that too.  She graduated from the Normal School in Oswego when she was 18, then taught during the school year and earned her B.A. during summers at Syracuse.  Here is some advice she gave me: “Smart girls don’t have to get married.  Always make your own money.  Spend your birthday money on something fun, not anything practical.” Wise words, all.

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