Showing posts with label 19th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 19th century. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Morris Dance

Morris Dance is a type of English folk dance of mysterious origins. It was (and is) most frequently practiced through the midlands and in the counties along the Welsh border, but it has connections to folk dances throughout Western Europe. Morris dance is characterized by energetic stepping and skipping, as well as the use of bells, handkerchiefs, sticks, swords, and the occasional beast.

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Morris dancer and musician.
The first reference to Morris style dance comes from the wedding of Raymond Berengar, Duke of Barcelona, and Petronilla of Aragon in 1149. There are further references to continental Morris dances being adopted into church ceremonies and being performed at court events throughout the Middle Ages. It is very likely that these dances were being performed in England at the same time as well, as Morris dance was considered ancient by the Elizabethans.

The earliest mention of Morris dance in England dates from 1448, when a tapestry depicting Morris dancers was recorded in an inventory of Caister Castle. That same year, a troupe of Morris dancers were paid seven shillings by the Goldsmiths Guild for a St. Dunstan Day performance.  There are several other records of Morris dancers appearing on objects, and being paid for performances throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.¹

The name "Morris" is generally seen to be as a corruption of the Spanish word "Morisco," referring to the Arabs who occupied Southern Europe throughout much of the Middle Ages. This has led many historians to assume that Morris dancing has its roots in the traditional dance of the Moriscos. However, as Morris dance bears minimal resemblance to Moorish traditional dance this theory has been discarded by modern historians.

Additionally, the name "Moorish" was a fashionable appendage to any art considered even a little bit foreign. New music, dances, and clothing styles were labeled as "Moorish," relationship to Middle Eastern culture or not. It seems most likely to this historian that the name "Morris" was given to the dance at a later date, perhaps as a way to further distance the dance from its pagan origins.

This brings us to the probably pagan origins of Morris dance. It is likely that Morris dance existed long before the Arabs made it to Europe, and instead evolved from pagan traditions. Many dances tell the stories of a battle against nature, and dances were performed on days that were culturally significant to pagans, such as the beginning of summer and the middle of winter. In addition, the appearances of hobbyhorses and the occasional dragon or unicorn also hint at a pagan past, as these animals could be seen as a focus of worship. Outside of England in Brittany some small churches had a festival specially dedicated to the hobbyhorse, where the horse was adorned with flowers and paraded around the town. Though this was a supposedly Christian festival, it certainly seems more pagan to outside observers.
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Hobby Horses at the 2018 Banbury Folk and Hobby Horse
Festival
The Morris dance of the Middle Ages can be split into two styles--Court Morris and Folk Morris. Morris dancing was very popular in the Tudor courts, with records of it having been performed in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Court Morris was an elaborate affair with expensive costumes and elaborate sets. The line between Morris and mumming is a thin one at best, but it was especially thin in these court dances with their elaborate costuming and pageantry.² Court Morris flourished until Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans took power in 1649.

Opposed to dancing, drinking, and anything resembling a good time, Cromwell suppressed Morris dance into near extinction. However, the tradition survived. Morris dance resurfaced in the countryside after the restoration of the English monarchy. Morris dancing had fallen out of favor with the nobility, but it was adopted by the commoners. The common people couldn't afford the same elaborate costuming as the nobility, but they used ribbons, bells, flowers and colorful rags to add to their appearance. The modern Morris costume evolved from their imitations.

However, as Britain industrialized the dance began to fall out of style. Many young men moved to the factory towns, and were disinclined to continue Morris dancing. Early twentieth-century Morris dancers lamented that the younger generation was too proud to continue the  tradition, because it was too much like begging. These young men might have changed their minds as time wore on, but unfortunately, many of those young men lost their lives in World War I.

Morris dance may have been lost to time had it not been carefully documented by the ethnochoreologist and ethnomusicologist Cecil Sharp. Sharp traveled England collecting folk dances and published several works on the subject. Sharp's books revived interest in Morris dance, and Morris began to be taught (and tested) in some English schools.

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A group of Morris dancers is called a side. Historically, Morris sides were exclusively male, but that is no longer the case. While a side can, hypothetically, consist of an infinite number of dancers, most have less than twenty, including the band. Most dances have only six to eight dancers on the floor at a time.

Traditional sides are led by a Squire who arranges performances and is generally the man in charge. Under him is the Foreman or Captain who teaches the dances. Last on the leadership hierarchy is the Bagman, who serves as a secretary. Under them are the dancers, and the occasional Fool or Beast.

Beasts are Morris characters that add to the story of the dance. Common beasts are hobbyhorses, dragons, and unicorns. It can be difficult for Beasts to dance with the same nimbleness as the other dancers due to their cumbersome costume, but that doesn't stop many from trying. Hobbyhorses are the most common type of Beasts in modern practice.

There are six main styles of Morris dance still practiced in England today: Cotswold, Molly, Border, Northwest Clog, Longsword, and Rapper. While all are related, each style has a unique flavor and tradition.

Border 

Quite possibly the oldest Morris tradition, Border Morris originated in the counties near the Welsh border, and, while simpler than Cotswold style, it is much more lively. It must be noted that, while it is sometimes called "Welsh Border Morris," Border Morris is an English dance and has little to do with Welsh folk dance traditions. Many border style dances have "fight sequences" choreographed into them. Historically these might have been done with actual swords, but they have been done with sticks or wooden swords since at least the 1800s.

Border Morris traditionally made an appearance in the winter, where men would dance for extra money when they couldn't farm or fish. This was considered a form of begging and was thus illegal, so dancers darkened their faces to avoid arrest. Dancers wore a rag coat, a tailcoat, women's clothing, or any other bits and bobs lying around. The main purpose of Border costume is to look eccentric. Border sides generally have a bigger band than other styles and are accompanied by a vigorous percussion section.

Cotswold 

The most commonly performed style, Cotswold Morris originated in the South Midlands, particularly the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire. Cotswold style survived the most intact after the Cromwell persecutions because of its location in the heart of royalist territory, and it was documented extensively by Cecil Sharp.

Cotswold dances are usually performed with six or eight dancers, and dancers generally wear white shirts with black or white pants. In addition to the dancers, there may also be a Fool, a Beast, or a cake impaled on a sword. Cotswold is notable for it's use of bells, or ruggles, attached beneath the knee of each dancer. Cotswold dancers may also wave handkerchiefs, bang sticks, or clap hands. Cotswold is traditionally performed around Whitsunday.

Longsword 

Also called "hilt and point," Longsword Morris comes from Yorkshire, and is, as expected, danced with swords.³ Longsword dances are performed with six to eight dancers, with each dancer holding on to their own sword, as well as the end of their neighbor's sword to make a circle. Swords are, thankfully, blunt and around a meter long. During a Longsword dance, dancers weave between the swords, and end the dance by creating a star. Longsword, as well as the closely related Rapper, is most commonly performed during Christmas and New Year's.


Molly 

Molly dance is unique in that it was less choreographed and organized than other types of Morris dance. Molly was traditionally performed as a part of the Plough Monday celebrations. Plough Monday, which takes place on the first Monday of January, was a day when ploughboys would drag a plough to the more affluent homes in the village and demand payment in money or food from the homeowners. If the ploughboys weren't satisfied with their payment, they would cut a long furrow through the homeowner's front lawn or doorstep.

Needless to say, Plough Monday was raucous at the best of times. Dancing accompanied the ceremonial shake-downs, and often random passersby would join in. Some male dancers would don women's clothing for the celebration, which gives the dance style its name ("Molly" being the contemporary pejorative for a man who wore women's clothing and male homosexuals). If not wearing petticoats, dancers wore whatever was closest to hand, and used black face paint to hide their identities--a necessity when committing property damage. Like most Morris dances, the origins of Molly are unclear, and there are no references to Molly dancing until the 1800s. Molly hasn't enjoyed the same revival as Border and Cotswold style, and traditional Plough Monday celebrations definitely aren't allowed anymore, but Molly dancing does accompany the "Straw Bear Festival" of Whittlesea, which occurs the weekend after Plough Monday.

Northwest Clog 

Not to be confused with its Appalachian counterpart, Northwest Clog originated in the industrial towns of Cheshire, Lancashire, and West Yorkshire and came of age during the industrial revolution. As people from rural communities moved to manufacturing centers, they brought their Morris traditions with them, and a new dance tradition that imitated the machinery they worked with was formed.


Northwest Clog dances are danced in multiples of four, and traditionally the dancers wore colorful clothing, along with the heavy clogs they used in their factory work. Modern dancers wear clogs with iron taps on the toe and heel. Dancers also sometimes use sticks or slings and are led by a conductor, who uses a whistle to signal changes in the dance figure. Northwest Clog is traditionally performed during the annual rushbearing, which happens in the summertime.⁴

Rapper

By far the most athletic of the Morris styles, Rapper dance hails from Durham and Northumberland. There are five dancers who are occasionally joined by the characters of Tom and Betty, who lead the dance. Dancers make use of "rappers," which are basically bendy swords with wooden handles on each end. This is the fastest of the Morris dances and, like Longsword, features dancers weaving between rappers and using their swords to create pictures. Rapper style also occasionally features backflips. Dancers wear hard-sole shoes and white shirts with black pants. Rapper dancers are traditionally performed during Christmas and New Year's.


It would be remiss of this historian to write about Morris dance but not talk about the live music that often accompanies the dancers. Morris bands utilize traditional instruments (concertina, fiddle, melodian, accordion, pipes, tabor) and are percussion driven. Bands can range in size from a single musician to tens of people, depending on the style of dance and the preference of the side. Musicians often dress to match the dancers and are an integral part of the performance.

Morris dancing, particularly Border Style and Molly Dance Morris, have met with controversy in recent years due to the fact that many Morris sides include black face paint as a part of their costume. The tradition of dancers blackening their faces has dozens of explanations dating from different eras, but some of the most common are:

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Morris Men dressed in traditional Cotswold
style costume.
  • Morris dancers in the Early Middle Ages blackened their faces because they were performing an ancient rite and needed to be disguised for this.
  • Faces were blackened to imitate Moors during dances, which often told the tale of a Moorish vs. Christian battle.
  • Dancers blackened their faces to hide their identities from the police because it was illegal to dance on public holidays.
  • Morris dancing was often accompanied by a certain amount of criminal mischief, and dancers didn't want to be arrested.
  • Morris dancers were shy. (No, seriously.)
  • During the Industrial Revolution, many factory men had to supplement their income through dancing. They would wear face paint so their bosses didn't know about their side hustle.
  • It's tradition, and face blackening helps the dancer get more into the dancing mood and feel less inhibited.
  • It's a way of remembering the oppressive policies of the 1700s that disenfranchised the working class.
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Morris dance is also occasionally accompanied by a brass
band or wind ensemble, but a traditional band is more
popular.
It seems likely that the reason for using face paint during Morris dances has changed throughout the ages, and there is no definitive reason for it. It must be mentioned, however, that wearing blackface in Morris dance predates the practice of wearing blackface in American minstrel shows. All the same, many Morris sides have abandoned the practice and either leave their faces bare or paint them a different color.

During its long history, Morris dance has transitioned from being an important pagan ritual, to being a way of making money, into a lighthearted celebration of English culture. Morris has evolved over the years, and undoubtedly will continue to do so, proving that culture and tradition are mutable.


¹One of the more colorful stories about Morris Dance from this era is that of the actor Will Kemp, who bet a friend that he could Morris dance from London to Norwich before the end of Lent. In a feat that would come to be known as his "Nine Day Wonder," Kemp danced the more than 100 miles between the two cities. While the entire journey took more than nine days, he did win his bet. While not the inspiration for, it is definitely reminiscent of Tony Hawks who, in the 1990s hitchhiked around the circumference of Ireland with a mini-fridge, also on a bet.
² The line was even thinner outside of England in Spain, where Morris dances often portrayed a battle between Christians and Muslims with the Christians emerging triumphant.
³Longsword Morris dance shouldn't be confused with Scottish Longsword dance, where the swords are placed on the ground.
⁴Unlike other Morris dances, Northwest Clog has always been a co-ed affair. Traditionally only men were allowed to Morris dance, but by the time Northwest Clog developed, this was no longer the case. While many Morris sides are mixed today, Northwest is the only style of Morris in which men and women dancing together has always been the norm.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources

"Morris and Morisca" by Violet Alford
"Some Other Hobby Horses" by Violet Alford
"Early Record of the Morris in England" by Lucile Armstrong and Barbara Lowe
"The Origins of the Morris Dance" by Rodney Gallop
"The Abram Morris Dance" by Maud Karpeles
"Some Notes on the Morris Dance" by Cecil J. Sharp
"The Earliest Reference to the Morris Dance?" by Michael Heaney

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Damn, Girl-Jennie Jerome Churchill

Jennie Jerome, also known as Lady Randolph Churchill, or Jeanette Jerome Churchill, is most famous for being the mother of Winston Churchill. However, she was a trailblazing Dollar Princess with a dazzling life in her own right. Writer, socialite, philanthropist, and political pundit, Jennie campaigned to put her husband in power, fundraised, served on a hospital ship, and wrote a bestselling memoir.

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Jeanette "Jennie" Jerome Churchill
Born January 9, 1854, Jennie was the daughter of Leonard Jerome and his wife, Clarissa (Clara) Jerome, nee Hall. Leonard was a financial speculator and prolific rakehell. Clarissa was a fashionable social climber, shuttered from society because of her rumored Haudenosaunee ancestry, and her husband's loose morals. They had four daughters together--Clara (called Clarita), Jennie, Camille (who died at age seven), and Leonie. The three surviving daughters were referred to in society as "the Good, the Beautiful, and the Witty".

Leonard was new money and had fingers in many pies. Most of his money had been made on Wall Street, but he had also been a part owner of the New York Times and had started a political journal called The Native American with one of his brothers. However, he dropped all journalistic ambitions after the Civil War and instead turned to horse racing and women. He popularized horse racing among the elite of New York society and was infamous for his love of opera singers, so infamous that it is rumored that Jennie was named after the famous soprano, Jenny Lind. He frequently combined his love of women and horse racing, packing a coach full of beautiful women and racing at a breakneck pace around New York. He took up with opera singers, and had more than one illegitimate child, some of whom even lived with the family.

Unsurprisingly, Leonard's antics were humiliating to Clara, and put the reputations of their daughters in jeopardy. New York society at the time was headed by the formidable and unforgiving Mrs. Astor and her henchman, Ward McAllister, neither of whom would even think of receiving Clara and her daughters anywhere.¹ At the end of her rope, Clara separated from Leonard in 1867, moving herself and the girls to an apartment on Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris. Leonard was informed that he could visit whenever he liked, and that he was to pay the bills.

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Jennie and her sisters. They were close all their lives

Left to right: Jennie, Clarita, Leonie
If the Jerome's were coolly received in New York drawing rooms, they were welcomed with open arms in Paris. Empress Eugenie, the beautiful wife of Napoleon III, had an American grandfather and loved American women, specifically young, pretty American women with a great deal of cash. Jennie hadn't yet made her debut into society at this time, but her older sister Clarita was smashingly popular. Clarita made an impression on Napoleon III and his wife and was sought by many members of the French nobility. Clarita was so popular that when the Prussian army came knocking in 1870, Clara put off leaving Paris. The Jeromes stayed in Paris until the Prussians literally came marching down the streets. Clara, who had a sprained ankle at the time, had to be pushed out of the city in a wheelbarrow, and the Jerome's carried their possessions wrapped in sheets. They managed to beg their way onto a boat bound for Brighton, and were met there by Leonard, who saw them installed comfortably in London.

Once settled in London, the Jerome's took up the threads of their old lives. Many of the people they'd rubbed elbows with in Paris had resettled in London (including the emperor and empress), and English high society was just as welcoming of the nouveau riche Americans as the French. The Prince of Wales was notoriously fond of pretty American ladies, and wherever the Prince of Wales was welcome, they were welcome too. Given that the Prince of Wales was the leader of society at the time, Dollar Princesses like the Jeromes would be welcome everywhere.

The Prince of Wales took a particular shine to Jennie; they were lifelong friends and sometimes lovers. It was at one of his boating parties that Jennie was to meet her first, and most illustrious husband, Randolph Churchill.

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Jennie and Randolph, 1874
Randolph Churchill was the second son of the Duke of Marlborough. He was something of an eccentric and not at all good-looking, being described as "slender, pop-eyed, balding with a bushy mustache." His chief love and ambition in life was his hounds. He had performed poorly in school and seemed an unlikely match for Jennie who was, at nineteen, fluent in two languages, a talented pianist, well educated, and a renowned beauty with all the requisite accomplishments of young lady of the era.

The story of how Randolph and Jennie met is very romantic, and various versions of it can be found across history and literature. It was August 12, 1873 when Randolph saw beautiful, brilliant Jennie across the ballroom at the Cowes Regatta Ball and had to be introduced to her. They had one dance together (a quadrille, in their case) and talked the rest of the evening. They spent the ensuing days together, and Randolph proposed three days later.

This, of course, caused an enormous scandal. Randolph was twenty-four, and Jennie was only nineteen. They had known each other only three days, and Randolph hadn't made his intentions known to Jennie's parents before he asked her to marry him.² Both sets of parents objected; Jennie's on the grounds that Jennie had only known Randolph for three days, Randolph's on the grounds that Jennie was American and that her father was a speculator. The fact that Leonard had seen huge financial losses a few months previously didn't help their case. All parental units were firmly against the match, but the approval of the Prince of Wales, and Jennie and Randolph's pleading eventually broke them down. Randolph and Jennie would be allowed to marry, but only if Randolph could get a seat in Parliament.³

This pronouncement was calculated to put the brakes on Randolph and Jennie's relationship, as parliamentary elections were held sporadically at best, and it seemed unlikely that the then prime minister, Gladstone, would hold another election. However, to the shock of all, Gladstone dissolved his government, and 1874 saw the first election in six years. Randolph was able to secure the Woodstock seat by a narrow margin.

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Lord Randolph Churchill

Never especially close to Randolph's parents, the
negotiation of Jennie's dowry would
cause a permanent chill between Jennie
and her in-laws.
The first hurdle overcome, the engagement next stalled over the negotiation of Jennie's dowry. The Duke of Marlborough, like most English noblemen of the time, was deeply indebted. He had a lot of land but not have a lot of money. He and his eldest son saw Jennie as a temporary reprieve from financial difficulties and acted accordingly. The tense transatlantic negotiation ended with Leonard offering a respectable £50,000⁴ (or $250,000⁵) as a dowry and the duke paying Randolph's debts.

However, there was a hitch. Leonard insisted that Jennie get £1,000⁶ pounds a year of her own($139,528⁷), and that simply wasn't done in Britain. It was unthinkable for a married woman to have her own money; upon marriage, all that a woman owned went to her husband. Among the English, a man that allowed his wife to have her own money was seen as weak. In America, however, it was perfectly normal for women to retain their property after marriage. Leonard had been fairly flexible when it came to Jennie's dowry, but he worried about making his daughter wholly dependent on her husband. Leonard and Jennie were very close (Jennie was far closer to her father than she was to her mother, with whom she butted heads constantly), and he worried about his headstrong daughter becoming subordinate to Randolph. Though the Churchill's blustered, Leonard held firm, writing:
"In the settlement as is finally arranged I have ignored American custom, and waived all my American prejudices. I have conceded to your views and your English custom in every point but one. That is simply a somewhat-unusual allowance of pin money to the wife. Possibly the principle may be wrong but you may be very certain that my action upon it in this instance by no means arises from any distrust of Randolph."
Finally, the Duke acquiesced, though there were some bad feelings between the families, and Randolph's family did not attend the wedding. Jennie and Randolph were quietly married in the British Embassy in Paris on April 15, 1874. In attendance were Jennie's family and a few friends. Jennie had wanted a big, church wedding, but Randolph wouldn't have it, saying that he could not stay in Paris any longer. Jennie, also desperate to be married, agreed.

For Jennie, with marriage came a certain amount of freedom. She had informed Randolph early in their engagement that a condition of their marriage was that he allow her to do exactly as she liked, and Randolph agreed. After being married, Jennie was freed from the constraints of needing a chaperone and having her mother breathing down her neck.

Additionally, there was a certain amount of sexual desperation between the pair. Clara was constantly getting after Jennie for being caught alone with Randolph, and more than one ruinous letter was sent back and forth. It is worth noting that their first son, Winston, was born only seven months later.

Jennie seems to have genuinely loved Randolph, and he her. She was devoted to him, and though they tended to argue a lot, they were quick to make up. They had a shared love of politics, and both followed parliamentary affairs voraciously. During their engagement they wrote scores of letters back and forth to each other, full of academic debate, endearments, amours, and not infrequent admonishments. Though their affection undoubtedly cooled after their marriage, Jennie remained loyal to Randolph (if not quite faithful).

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Jennie with her sons.

Left to right: Jack, Jennie, Winston
After the birth of their first child, the Churchills returned to London and settled into a house on the fashionable Curzon Street. Jennie set about ingratiating herself into society, and Randolph worked at his political career. They were close with the Prince of Wales, fashionable, and invited to all the right places. Things were fantastic when, in 1876, disaster struck.

Randolph was, as mentioned, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough. His elder brother, George, was the Marquess of Blandford, an unhappily married peer with a taste for married women. He embroiled the entire family in scandal when he eloped with the married Edith Aylesford.

At the time of the elopement, Edith's husband had been touring India with the Prince of Wales. The Prince of Wales was less than impressed with Blandford and made that well known. There was talk of Aylesford divorcing Edith, which would have sent Edith and the entire Churchill family to social Siberia. In order to prevent this, Randolph produced some indiscreet correspondence written by the prince to Edith Aylesford. He took it to Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, and informed her that, should Aylesford divorce his wife, the letters would be made public knowledge, which would embroil the prince, who had already been named in one divorce case that year, in scandal.

Queen Victoria was livid, and the Prince of Wales was furious. He declared that he would not appear anywhere that the Churchills were received, and suddenly the Churchill family was shuttered from society. The position of Viceroy of Ireland was extended to the Duke of Marlborough, and despite having turned down the position before, the duke hied himself off to Dublin. Jennie and Randolph went on an extended tour of North America before joining the Duke in Dublin.

The Churchills would spend nearly five years in Ireland. During that time, they developed a sympathy for the Irish and became proponents of Irish Home Rule. They also saw the birth of their second son, Jack Strange Churchill, in 1880. Shortly after Jack's birth, the Churchills returned to London, kowtowed to the Prince of Wales's satisfaction, and in 1884, they were welcomed back into society.

By this time Jennie and Randolph's amours had cooled somewhat. Though they were still a loving and devoted couple, there were infidelities on both sides, and it was heavily rumored that Jack was not Randolph's son but instead the son of Star Falmouth, a handsome military man Jennie was enamored with, or John Strange Jocelyn, an close friend of Jennie's.

This was not unusual for the age and class to which Jennie belonged. Many upper-class marriages were made for convenience, politics, or money, and not for love. A love match like Jennie and Randolph's was rare, and affairs on both sides were acceptable so long that all sides were discreet, and nobody told the papers. Throughout her marriage, Jennie would have many lovers, especially as Randolph's behavior grew more erratic and cruel.

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Winston, a year or two before
being sent to boarding school.
Despite her distance during
his childhood, Jennie and
Winston would be quite
close when Winston became
an adult.
As a mother, Jennie didn't quite measure up to Victorian (or modern) standards. Like many women of her class and era, she left her sons to be raised by their nanny until they were house trained. However, even for the relative coldness of the age, Jennie was an exceptionally cold mother, and Randolph was no better as a father. The pair rarely saw their sons as babies, skipping the customary daily baby inspection. When the boys were sent off to boarding school, Jennie and Randolph almost never visited. In the case of their eldest son, Winston, they each visited exactly once. There were several instances of Jennie or Randolph being across the street from the school their son attended, yet not bothering to drop by.

It wasn't until her sons were older that Jennie started to become a part of their lives. She took a particular shine to Winston and served as his political advisor and mentor for many years. Despite his mother's early distance, Winston adored Jennie. According to him, "she shone for me like the evening star." This was despite the fact that she and Randolph had ignored Winston's pleading letters and left him to rot in an abusive boarding school. Winston later wrote:
"She seemed to me a fairy princess; a radiant being possessed of limitless riches and power."
Winston would retain fond memories of his mother throughout his life and would defend her relentlessly. Due to this, Jennie's inadequacies as a mother are usually glossed over.⁸

One of the main binding factors in the Churchills' marriage was their shared love of politics. Jennie was Randolph's close advisor, observing him in the House of Commons and helping write his speeches. She was instrumental in his campaigns, both for office and for specific pieces of legislation. She was glamorous and vivacious and charmed those she met. This made her an excellent political hostess, and even Randolph's political opponents couldn't help but adore his wife.

Chief among Jennie's political achievements was the founding of the Primrose League. The Primrose League was established in 1883 and was a group that brought a social element to politics. Chiefly conservative, the League was inspired by Benjamin Disraeli's death in 1881 and the worry about Gladstone's liberal policies. The primrose was chosen to represent the League because the primrose was Disraeli's favorite flower, and League members were already conveniently wearing it to commemorate the anniversary of Disraeli's death.

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Members of the Primrose League wore badges
like this.
Primarily a social club, the Primrose League was known for its balls, high teas, dinner parties, picnics, train trips, and cycling clubs. The league helped the conservatives into power between 1885 and 1906 and had a significant influence on Gladstone's policies on Irish Home Rule. Though they fell from power after 1906, the Primrose League remained active until it was dissolved in 2004.

The Primrose League was unique in that it not only allowed women to join its ranks but that it encouraged women to join. Membership was more than 50% female, and the women of the Primrose League helped promote conservative legislature, and influenced the men in their lives to vote along conservative lines.

However, despite Jennie's glittering facade, things at home were tense. Randolph, who had contracted syphilis⁹ during his time at Oxford,¹⁰ was, to put it delicately, cuckoo for cocoa puffs. He grew increasingly cold towards his wife, and would upbraid her in public. Never a team player, Randolph increasingly excluded members of his own party from his political decisions, and publicly fought with his political allies. He began acting erratically in public, until he abruptly resigned from his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1886.

Jennie was just as invested in Randolph's political career as he was, but he had increasingly excluded her from his public life. He purposefully kept her out of the loop concerning his resignation, and Jennie didn't find out about his resignation until she read about in the newspaper the next day. When Jennie confronted Randolph about this, his reaction was unsettling to say the least. Of that occasion, Jennie wrote:
"When I came down to breakfast, the fatal paper in my hand, I found him calm and smiling. 'Quite a surprise for you,' he said. He went into no explanation, and I felt too utterly crushed and miserable to ask for any, or even to remonstrate."
This was the beginning of Randolph's downward spiral. He continued to participate in the House of Commons, but his absences due to ill health grew longer and longer until Jennie had to take him abroad for his health. He died on January 24, 1895. He was only 45.

Jennie went into a short period of mourning, then threw herself back into society. She mingled and partied, and did all that widowed ladies of her class were expected, including charity work. In 1899 Jennie turned her attention to fundraising. The Second Boer War was raging, and both Jack and Winston were serving in South Africa. She rallied the other American ladies of her class to fundraise to buy and outfit a hospital ship. She was successful, convincing American financier Bernard N. Baker to donate a ship and crew. They called the ship The Maine, and Jennie shocked society when she went along with the ship to South Africa. She served as a sort of hospital administrator for the duration of the war, and in 1902 was awarded the Red Cross by King Edward VII (the former Prince of Wales).

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The RFA Maine, 1902
Jennie's motives for accompanying the Maine weren't entirely pure, however. While both of her sons were serving in South Africa, so was her boyfriend, George Cornwallis-West, a young member of the Scots-Guard. Jennie had been a friend of George's mother and had known George for years. They started to seriously court in 1897, despite the objections of George's family. Jennie was twenty years older than George, with George being only sixteen days older than Winston. Nonetheless, they were married in 1900.

Shortly after her marriage, Jennie began helping Winston with his political career. She became his political mentor and helped him in much the same ways that she had previously helped Randolph, serving as his political hostess until Winston married in 1908.

Despite being disgustingly wealthy, Jennie had always had money issues, even during Randolph's lifetime. Money flowed out faster than it came in, and this problem was further exacerbated with her marriage to George Cornwallis-West, who had very little fortune of his own. Leonard had died, and Clara didn't have much money to send. In order to make a little extra cash, Jennie turned to writing.

In 1899 Jennie started the Anglo-Saxon Review, a quarterly magazine dedicated to preserving the ideas of her time. Its circulation included prestigious heads of state and society, and its contributors were equally prestigious. The Review contained articles from Algernon Swinburne, Henry James, Cecil Rhodes, and Lord Rosebery, among others. It was a lavish publication, fronted with leather covers, each individually hand-tooled by master craftsmen. It was an enormously expensive publication and, unsurprisingly, failed in 1901 after only ten issues.

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George Cornwallis-West. Jennie was noted,
more than once, for her love of men with
mustaches.
Undeterred, Jennie set pen to paper in 1908, writing the play "His Borrowed Plumes." It was produced at the Hicks Theatre and starred Mrs. Patrick Campbell,¹¹ a popular, if unscrupulous, actress. The play was a financial failure, as was Jennie's 1913 play "The Bill."

While Jennie wasn't much of a playwright, she was a talented memoirist. Her book The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill came out in 1908 and was a great success. Her 1916 collection of essays, Short Talks on Big Subject,s was also very successful.

To add insult to the "His Borrowed Plumes" injury, George, never faithful, ran off with Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Jennie had quite liked Mrs. Campbell, and the cut was deep. In January of 1913 Jennie filed for divorce, claiming that George had "denied her her conjugal rights." Their divorce was finalized in July of 1914.

Times were changing, and Jennie was beginning to feel a bit lonely. Her friends were dying, and the world was rapidly changing. When World War I started in 1914, Jennie helped translate French documents for the English government and wrote on the war in Ireland for the London Daily Chronicle. The war came and went, and Jennie continued on as before--society, parties, charity.

In 1913, however, Jennie had had a fortuitous meeting with Montague Phippen Porch, a colonial secretary in Nigeria who was three years younger than Winston. They met at a wedding in Rome, and Porch was smitten. They corresponded while Porch served as an intelligence officer in Africa during WWI, and in 1916 he proposed to Jennie.

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Montague Phippen Porch
Jennie was hesitant to marry again, but she accepted on the caveats that she would retain her name, and that she would not move to Africa. The pair were married in Ireland at the Harrow Road registry office on June 1, 1918. Her sons were, surprisingly, fine with Jennie marrying for a third time. Both realized that their mother had been unhappy and gave their blessing. Winston informed Porch that he would never regret marrying Jennie. Porch later agreed.

After tying the knot, Porch left the military, and the pair traveled. Porch was not wealthy and had to return to Africa to make a living. There was quite a bit of tittering around London about the pair, and Porch never felt quite comfortable in English society. Despite the distance, their marriage was very calm. Montague was madly in love with Jennie, and she liked him. Many people remarked that she looked happier with Montague than she ever had with Randolph or George. When people brought up their age difference, Jennie merely remarked "he has a future and I have a past so we should be alright."

Though separated by a continent, Jennie and Montague stayed in close contact, writing frequently. Jennie kept busy, volunteering with the YWCA and the Shakespeare Union. She shocked society by appearing in a movie and boarding an airplane. She was visiting a friend in June of 1921 when she slipped down the stairs in her new high-heeled shoes. She broke her ankle, and a few days later, gangrene set in. The doctor amputated her leg above the knee, but that didn't stop the infection. A few days later, Jennie started bleeding profusely. She slipped into a coma and passed away on the 29th of June. She was only 67. Her sons were with her, but Montague had not been able to make it back from Africa.

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Jennie
Jennie was buried with Randolph in the Churchill family cemetery. She was memorialized by her son and nephew and has been a favored topic of Edwardian Age enthusiasts ever since. Though her fame has been far eclipsed by that of her son, Jennie Jerome Churchill was one of the most colorful women of her time.



¹Though Ward McAllister was a big fan of Leonard's, specifically Leonard's habit of giving guests at his dinners lavish presents.
²Nor, for that matter, had Jennie's mother even been aware of Randolph's suit.
³Because he was the younger son, Randolph was not entitled to a seat in the House of Lords, and had to run in the House of Commons. He ran for the Woodstock seat, which was the location of his family home. That same seat had once been held by his father, who cherished the idea of a career in politics for his younger son.
⁴£5,391,452 in 2019 currency
⁵$6,976,404 in 2019 currency
⁶£107,829 in 2019 currency
⁷$139,528 in 2019 currency
⁸It must be said that Randolph was an equally terrible parent. He appeared to despise his sons, and never spoke to them. Winston recalled once asking his father if he had gone to Harrow or to Eton, and being completely ignored.
⁹The popular historical story is that Randolph's illness was syphilis. However, not all of his symptoms line up with the typical syphilitic, and many historians have speculated that he may have suffered from a brain tumor or bipolar disorder. These theories are further backed by the facts that neither Jennie nor Winston seemed to suffer from syphilis.
¹⁰Randolph and his Oxford cronies explained his contraction of the disease with a lurid tale that began with a glass of champagne, and ended with waking up in a bed with an old prostitute with one tooth. However, Randolph's family claimed that he contracted it from a chambermaid shortly after his marriage to Jennie.
¹¹Mrs. Campbell would later go on to create the role of Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources
American Jennie: the Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Anne Sebba
The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill by Jennie Jerome Churchill
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Society as I Have Found It by Ward McAllister
The Husband Hunters by Anne De Courcy
"The Love of Power and the Power of Love: Churchill's Childhood" by Marvin Rintala
UK Inflation Calculator
Leonard Jerome New York Times Obituary
Clara Hill Jerome New York Times Death Announcement
Camille Jerome Genealogical Records
The Primrose League
Jennie Jerome Churchill-The History Chicks
Jennie Jerome Churchill-Britannica
Churchill, Jennie Jerome
American Jennie-Portrait of Jennie Jerome Churchill

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

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Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

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Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

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A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

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1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

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Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
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Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
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After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

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The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

Friday, March 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary Walker, Civil War Surgeon

Dr. Mary Walker was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and served as an army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. A dedicated reformer, Mary advocated for universal suffrage, abolition, dress reform, and temperance. She organized a relief system for the wives of wounded soldiers, and wrote two books. She remains, to this day, the only woman to have won the Medal of Honor.

Image result for mary walkerMary was born in Oswego New York on November 26, 1832 to the unusual Alvah and Vesta Walker. (Alvah is the father.) Mary was the youngest of seven children--six girls and one boy. Mary's parents were eccentric for the times. They believed in sharing the work equally, and Alvah could often be found doing household chores. They allowed their daughters to dress however they liked, not forcing them into the restraining corsets and long skirts of the time, which both rightfully believed squished a girl's internal organs. To cap off the unusual Walker family, their home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Alvah had an interest in medicine, and a sizeable library of medical texts. Alvah and Vesta encouraged Mary to read as many of the medical books as she liked. Both of the Walkers were big believers in education, with Vesta being a school teacher. All of their children were educated through primary school, and all of the daughters went into teaching at one point in their lives.

Mary worked briefly as a teacher, and in 1855 she entered and graduated Syracuse Medical School. Her course at Syracuse was only 39 weeks--three semesters of thirteen weeks each, which seems an almost irresponsible amount of training to give a doctor today, but was standard for the time. Mary chose Syracuse because it admitted women, and because it was known for its non-quackery. In an era where bloodletting and leeches were still common practices, Syracuse focused on more homeopathic remedies, and modern innovations.

After graduation she married her classmate Albert Miller in an unusual ceremony where the bride wore pants, struck the 'obey' clause from her vows, and refused to take her husband's last name. Mary and Albert set up a practice together, and seemed to have been quite successful, with Mary treating the women and children, and Albert the men. Mary began to write about dress reform, and to present medical evidence in favor of this at important conferences. However, in 1859 this all ground to a halt when Mary discovered that Albert had been cheating on her. Mary tossed Albert out, and travelled to Iowa, where it was easier for women to obtain a divorce. Though it took several years, Mary eventually divorced Albert, and began life anew.

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Mary, wearing her controversial bloomers
costume.
After the First Battle of Bull Run,  Mary decided to join the Union Army Medical Corp. She had nothing tying her down--Albert was long gone, her solo practice was a bust, and she had no children. Mary believed that she had a lot to offer as an army surgeon, so she went to Washington DC to ask for a commision.

Unfortunately, the Union Army wasn't accepting female surgeons, or female anything really. Frustrated, Mary decided not to let a lack of pay stop her from doing what she wanted. She instead started volunteering as a nurse at the Patent Office Hospital, working under Dr. J.N. Green. Sources differ about what happened at this point. Some sources say that Dr. Green desperately need an assistant surgeon, and Mary filled that role. Others say that she did basically everything but surgery--dressing wounds, running errands, and entertaining patients. Whatever she did, Mary impressed Dr. Green so much that he recommend that she be given a commission.

This recommendation was, of course, ignored, and Mary briefly went back to medical school in order to boost her credentials. She graduated from Hygeia Therapeutic College, and started volunteering in hospitals up and down Virginia.

Mary was very outspoken about her opinions on how the war should be run. She published editorials suggesting that, in order to boost flagging enlistment numbers, former criminals could be enlisted, and even offered to serve as their surgeon. This gained the attention of war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, who was definitely not going to create a regiment of former felons, and definitely didn't appreciate a lady having ideas. He gave Mary a posting, if not a commission or salary, to serve as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Regiment in Tennessee.

This was on the front lines, and there Mary faced a bit of difficulty. Wandering around a battlefield in skirts and petticoats was a terrible idea, and Mary had never been fond of dressing in typical Antebellum clothing anyways. In fact, she had been arrested several times for dressing like a man, and was frequently harassed for wearing a bloomer costume. On the front lines, Mary abandoned all pretense of dressing like a woman, instead donning a uniform, and making herself a green sash that denoted her as a member of the medical corp.

Mary caused a bit of trouble with the 52nd with her, then, unconventional medical practices. An opponent of amputation, Mary felt that surgeons often rushed the decision to amputate, and that most wounds would be better treated by homeopathic remedies (like bandages and medicines) then amputation. When the male surgeons wouldn't listen to her, she talked directly to the patients, urging them to refuse amputation.

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In her later years, Mary almost
exclusively wore men's clothing.
Unsurprisingly, Mary faced a great deal of misogyny with the Ohio 52nd. Though her commanding officer, George H. Thomas, didn't care that she was female, the male surgeons cared very much. They didn't believe that she was capable of performing her duties as a surgeon, and even arranged a medical 'review' for her skills, which they then failed her on. Despite this, Mary refused to resign, and her commanding officer did not dismiss her. When the other surgeons refused to give her patients, Mary turned to treating civilians.

Deep in Rebel territory, Mary was treating the wives and children of Confederate soldiers, many of whom were in hiding from the Union army. She is reputed to have taken supplies from Union stores in order to treat the unfortunates displaced by the war. It was during this time in 1864 that she was captured by the Confederacy.

Now, there is some debate as to why Mary was captured. Some sources claim that it was because she was wearing men's clothing while being a Union soldiers, but other sources, including US Government Agencies, claim that it was because she was spying for the Union. In 1865 a federal judge put on the record that Mary had been a spy for General Sherman's army. Despite this record, there's some debate over whether or not Mary was up to espionage. However, this historian would like to posit that, while treating Confederate civilians, Mary would have several excellent opportunities for intelligence gathering.

After being captured, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond. Castle Thunder was nicknamed 'the Southern Bastille', and not without reason. While in prison, Mary was treated abysmally. She was given only moldy bread and maggot ridden rice. She contracted bronchitis, lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and had to deal with fleas and bedbugs. Her eyesight was permanently damaged by the gas burning lamps in the prison. She would remain at Castle Thunder for four months.

After being released Mary was celebrated far and wide for her heroics in war, even meeting President Lincoln. Edwin Stanton still denied her request for a commission, but she was given $432.26 in backpay, and was officially put on the US Army payroll. She was dispatched first to a women's military prison, then to an orphanage. When the Civil War ended in 1865 Mary was discharged from the army.

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Mary's habit of wearing a top hat did not endear
her to the rest of the suffragettes.
Even after being discharged, Mary continued to lobby for a commision. President Andrew Johnson was in favor of this promotion, but military officials refused to give Mary a commision, fearing that if they gave one woman a commision, all the women would want commissions. Instead, President Johnson gave Mary the Congressional Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to this day to be awarded the honor.

After being discharged, Mary took up work as an activist and reformer. She had some experience with this, having run a relief society for the mother's of wounded soldiers during her time at the Patent Office Hospital. Unaccompanied women who had come to see their wounded sons or husbands were rarely able to find lodging, and Mary organized a society that arranged places for those women to stay. She also, on several occasions, went over enemy lines to retrieve wounded sons or husbands for distraught women.

Upon realizing that the many nurses who had served during the war had received no pay during the war, or pension after, Mary took up their cause, and by 1872 had browbeat Congress into giving the nurses a pension of $20 a month, despite the fact that she herself would not be successful in getting a pension for another two years.

Mary was also active in the suffrage movement, specifically in the area of dress reform. She was arrested several times before and after the war for wearing men's clothing, and was quite proud of the fact. She gave lectures about the negative health effects of constrictive clothing. Because of this she was quite controversial, and other suffragettes didn't want her associated with the cause.

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Mary's Medal of Honor
Mary also took up her pen, publishing two books, Hit in 1871, and Unmasked: or the Science of Immorality in 1878. Both books argue for equality in a marriage, and for temperance and universal suffrage, but it is in Unmasked where Mary really hits hard. In a book as bitingly relevant today as it was when it was written, Mary puts forth the theory that if women could control their sexual urges, men could too. She argues that marriage should be a contract between social equals, and that just because a couple was married didn't mean they were allowed to rape each other.

In 1874, Mary was finally given a pension of $8.50 a month. However, in 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded in an act of congress that took medals away from 911 individuals. The reasoning behind this was that the Medal of Honor could only be earned if the wearer had served in combat, which Mary hadn't. Continuing to wear the medal was a misdemeanor, but when a soldier came for her medal, Mary told him that he could take it over her dead body. She wore her award every day until her death.

In 1880 Alvah Walker passed, leaving Mary his farm. Mary spent the rest of her life there, traveling between New York and Washington DC, lecturing and agitating for change. In 1919 she had a fall on the steps of the US Capitol, and died shortly after.

After her death, her family crusaded tirelessly to have her Medal of Honor restored. In 1977, they were successful, and Mary's medal was officially restored to her by President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is on display in the Pentagon.


Sources
Amazing Women of the Civil War: Fascinating True Stories of Women Who Made a Difference by Webb Garrison
Women of the Blue and Grey by Marianne Monson
Mary Walker-National Parks Service
Meet Dr. Mary Walker--the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Walker and the Medal of Honor
Mary Walker-Biography
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker: Doctor American Civil War Women