Louisiana Woman – Caroline Merrick Summary

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“There is a word sweeter than mother, home, or heaven, and that word is liberty.”  These are the words of a Southern Lady and Louisiana Woman, Caroline E. Merrick.

The nineteenth century changed the lives of a nation, a century which experienced industrialization, slavery, the Civil War and women’s suffrage.  It is through the eyes of Caroline Merrick that we may bring to life this period of history. Caroline Elizabeth Thomas Merrick was born Caroline Elizabeth Thomas November 24, 1825.

During the 1830’s, industrialization had been changing the role of women.  However, the experiences of women in the South differed from their northern counterparts.  According to Samantha LaDart in her article, “Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana,” the Southern woman was expected to be a model of virtue and a guardian of youth.  The ideal, LaDart writes, was not connected to any gain of female power in the home, nor was it dependent on industrialization.  Another author, Drew G. Faust in her book, Mothers of Invention, explains further what it meant to be a Southern woman.  She writes that the Antebellum South had defined and therefore understood themselves in relation to categories:  race, gender, and class. These differences became hidden in society to provide distinction of wealth, power and education in order to lay claim to honor and gentility.

Conversely, many women in the North were not so fortunate during the 1830s.  Many young women left their small farm towns for rural settings to work in cotton mills to earn wages to help support their family and build a dowry.  The irony is the North was opposed to slavery but the cotton grown and harvested by slaves in the South was shipped to the North to feed cotton to the mills where the Northern woman would earn her living.  Marriage was the hope for many Northern women so as to escape the labor of the cotton mills through the support of the higher wages her husband could earn.

As discussed earlier in the blog, chores such as doing laundry would be one such way to earn a living.  The arduousness of it is hard to imagine today.  But for Southern women, such as Caroline, many had slaves to do their daily menial chores; however, the burden of overseeing the slaves often fell on the mistress of the plantation.

When Caroline was married at age fifteen to Edwin Thomas Merrick, Esq., they moved to Bouligny, Jefferson City. At what is present day Washington Avenue and Prytania Street in the Garden District of New Orleans, Caroline and Edwin had four children, Laura, Clara, David and Edwin, Jr.  In order to enjoy all the finer amenities of a nineteenth century home, the couple came to set up house in a large, spacious square with an old-fashioned, double cottage at 1404 Napoleon Avenue.

Slavery has been the stigma of mankind from the beginning.  As far back as the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt man has been enslaved.  The New America was no different.  Slavery is a terrible scourge on history.  Nevertheless, it was embedded in the fabric of society.

As opposition to slavery began to surface, rumors of war started.  Caroline in her memoirs does not justify or condemn the Civil War, but her recollections of her life would not be complete. Caroline stated that, “personal records are the side-lights of history and in their measure the truest pictures of the time.”

It was a time of great anxiety and Caroline said no woman wavered in her allegiance to the Southern cause.  Her son David, at age seventeen enlisted in the war, and though he ultimately survived, suffered grievous injuries including the loss of the sight of one eye, his hearing and the paralysis of his face due to a damaged nerve. As may be the case with most memoirs, we can see only through the prism given to us by the author as in Caroline’s case.  I do believe her character and strength is as strong as presented but, for instance, during the war it became very complex especially as the women left behind were transformed as a result of the multitude of complexities caused by the Civil War.

In Faust’s book, Mothers of Invention, she writes about how the Civil War changed the traits of the Southern Woman slowly at first and completely by the end of the War, some of which were mentioned in earlier blogs.

When the war was over, the Merrick family moved back to their home in New Orleans and Caroline devoted herself to her family and domestic affairs.  As mentioned previously, she would lose her daughter Laura to Yellow Fever.  Yellow Fever assaulted New Orleans for sixty-seven summers.  Before the cure was discovered thousands of people would succumb to this dreaded disease.

Caroline was encouraged by her husband after Laura’s death to pursue her passion for Women’s Rights.  She was further encouraged by Mrs. Elizabeth Saxon, a suffragist, to speak out and help other women to help Caroline work through her grief.  When the World’s Industrial Cotton Exposition came to New Orleans, she would met with other noted women dedicated to Women’s Suffrage.  She spent her sunset days fighting for Women’s Rights.

I am tempted to imagine leaving her now, as she goes back to her own time, disappearing beneath the southern oaks that have become a symbol of the nineteenth-century South.  As Merrick’s life reminds us, though, contrary to romantic visions of this era, hers was a time not of serenity but of tumultuousness–still, she lived it well.

This has been a preview of the journey through the nineteenth century as witnessed through the eyes of one Louisiana Woman – Caroline Merrick who I believed lived up to the love of a word sweeter than ‘mother, home, or heaven,’ and that word is liberty.

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Sources:  Merrick, Caroline E. Old Times in Dixie Land A Southern Matron’s Memories. New York: The Grafton Press, 1901

Faust, Drew G. Mothers of Invention. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

LaDart, Samantha. “Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana.” http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1990-1ladart.htm.

Photo Source:  Maarquette, Bonnie.  “The Greenwood Plantation’s Oak Alley on a Misty Morning.”  L’Amore E Forte Come La Morte.  http://sonocarina.wordpress.com/category/life/.

Louisiana Woman – Cotton Exposition, 1885

               

                The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition was held where Audubon Park is today.  The Fair boasted an area of 51 acres “under cover” in five main buildings, and the most dazzling display of electric lights ever seen anywhere.  It could be reached from Canal Street by six street railroads or by steamers on the river which left the foot of Canal Street every 30 minutes.  In spite of art galleries, industrial displays, restaurants, railroads and rolling chairs, the Fair, built at a cost of $2,700,000, was a financial failure.   In fact, The Rink, located at Washington and Prytania Street was built by Clara Hagan as a mid-way point to the World’s Expo.

File:TheRinkNOLA1885.jpg

It is at this Expo that Francis Willard and Susan B. Anthony brought to the South their fight for national causes.  As the Exposition sought to assert agrarian and industrial issues it did also bring to the front women’s public and political lives in New Orleans.

Caroline did meet and befriend these women in their visits to the Crescent City.  In fact, she had a reception for them at her home.  Caroline writes in her memoirs that Mrs. Anthony wrote her in a private letter, “I remember my visit to the Crescent City with a great deal of pleasure, and cherish the friendships I made there.”

Frances Willard was an American educator, temperance reformer and women’s suffragist.  She was instrumental in the passage of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.  She became the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1879 and was president for 19 years.  She appointed Caroline President of the WCTU in New Orleans.

Susan B. Anthony was an abolitionist, an educational reformer, labor activist, temperance worker, and suffragist.   Caroline recalls meeting her as an event which was an epoch-making period in the nation’s history.

                                                                                 Sources

Garvey, Joan B, and Mary L. Widmer, Beautiful Crescent a History of New Orleans:  Garmer Press, 1982, pp. 166-67.

Living with History in New Orleans’s Neighborhoods. “Tour B, Prytania St., Washington St., and Jackson  Avenue.” http://www.prcno.org/neighborhoods/brochures/GardenDistrict.pdf.

Merrick, Caroline E., Old times in Dixie Land, New York:  The Grafton Press, 1901.

Pfeffer, Miki. “An ‘Enlarging Influence’: women of New Orleans, Julia Ward Howe, and the Woman’s Department at the Cotton Centennial Exposition, 1884–1885.” http://udini.proquest.com/view/an-enlarging-influence-women-of-new-pquid:2408267521/

Susan B. Anthony House :: Her Story. “Biography of Susan B. Anthony.” http://susanbanthonyhouse.org/her-story/biography.php

Photo Source:  Herbert S. Fairall, The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans, 1884-85 (Iowa City, 1885).

Photo Source:  http://commmons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TheRinkNOLA1885.jpg

Louisiana Woman – Southern Ladies Confront the Civil War

In the book, Mothers of Invention, written by Drew Gilpin Faust, she writes of how females of the southern elite were taught that to be a woman of the elite required the presence of slaves to perform menial labor and white males to provide protection and support.  Lady, a term central to their self-conception, was founded upon race, most especially whiteness.

Caroline Merrick was born into this fabric of southern society with an innate love of liberty as apparent in her remarks as a young girl as well as her fight for suffrage in her sunset days.  She did, however, at the same time, remain compliant to expectations of what it meant to be a Southern woman.  In reading Caroline’s memoirs, we experience these times through her perspective which seemed realistic but she presents a somewhat sterile view.  However, as the men went to war, many women who were left behind  became completely redefined by their experiences of the war and it wasn’t pretty.  These are just some of the issues Faust talks about in her book, Mothers of Invention.

First, it is important to remember white southern women of means were raised to be obedient to the male hierarchy that this was crucial to the whole of slavery.  So they were trained to be ladylike in every way in order to maintain their privileged status and their dignity.  They were well-dressed, cultured, educated (as they had time to learn to read and write with slaves to do the everyday tasks) and they expected to be protected by a husband with no need for real self-development.

The Civil War changed this slowly at first and completely by the end of the battle.  Faust talks first about their feelings of uselessness during these times as they did not know what to do.  Julia LaGrand explained “I am like a pent-up volcano.”  “I wish I had a field for my energies.”  Another young girl said she was a “cipher,” a zero in the great conflict.

Another great change due to the absence of men was in household structures.  Some women moved with their slaves to Texas and hired them out; however, they met with much jealousy from the Texans.  Others moved from camp to camp following their husbands as they felt they could not exist without them.  Some women moved to the city in search of rooms and employment as their resources begin to vanish.  The elite southern woman for the first time interacted with poor whites and shared living quarters with them along with catching lice and bedbugs.  This was a far cry from their plantation lifestyle.  Eventually, they became known as “Refugees” a term which was most detested by the southern elite.

Another aspect they dealt with was feeling unprotected and afraid.  The rumors of slave insurrection mounted.    They were more afraid of the slaves than the northern invader.  Additionally, enslaved people did not want to do the work of slaves anymore and the women had a hard time managing them and looking over the property.  Their feeling of anger and resentment towards the men only escalated.

These are just a few of the complications they would endure through the war.  They also fought within themselves, always feeling they had to be demure and ladylike despite all of these radical shifts in their lives which only added to their question of self-identity.  Ultimately, they would change and the old ways would die as their desire for their rights and liberty would be on the forefront after the war ushering in Women’s Suffrage.

Source:  Faust, Drew Gilpin, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 1996.

Photo Source: “Le Monde Élegant,” color print, 1859.  http://www.costumes.org/classes/fashiondress/IndustrialRevolution.htm

Photo Source:  A nanny and her charge, albumen print of ca. 1870. Collection of Okinawa Soba.  Online at Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/24443965@N08/2723653939

Louisiana Woman – New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic

 

In reading about Caroline’s daughter, Laura, having died of Yellow Fever she would have been one of thousands to have succumbed to this dreaded disease in New Orleans although it affected many other states as well.

The outbreaks occurred off and on starting in 1796.  In the summer of 1853, 29,120 people contracted the disease and 8,647 died from it.  Newspapers and citizens began to call it the “Black Day.”  In the 100-year period between 1800 and 1900, yellow fever assaulted New Orleans for sixty-seven summers.

Before the source of the disease was discovered, people tried many things for a “cure.”  Physicians relied upon bloodletting, blistering, purging, leeching, vomiting, and mercury.  Note the advertising for leeches.

It was also common in the antebellum era to shoot cannons and burn barrels of tar during epidemics hoping the disrupting the dangerous “miasma” in the air, which was believed to be a cause of the disease.

The Yellow Fever attacks in Louisiana occurred less after the Civil War.  At mosquito.JPGthe time, physicians believed that the disease was bacterial and was transmitted through human waste.  However, in 1881 a Cuban physician, Dr. Charles Finlay, had developed a theory that the disease was transmitted through the common mosquito but his findings were dismissed.  Dr. Walter Reed proved Finlay’s theory in 1900.  The epidemics ended in New Orleans in October 1905.

Source:  Kelley, Laura D. “Yellow Fever.” In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson.  Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010-. Article published January 16, 2011.  http://www.knowla.org/entry/766/.

Photo Source:  Swedish Leeches – Newspaper Advertisement, January 9, 1852, From the Daily Delta. Photo Source:  Mosquito, http://historyofcollierville.wikispaces.com/Yellow+Fever.

Photo Source:  Yellow Fever –  http://www.louisianahistory.org/education/quiz4.html, Courtesy of Harper’s Weekly.

Photo Source:  The female Aegi aegepti mosquito,” The Secret of the Yellow Death, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, New York, 2009, p. 28

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Louisiana Woman – A Daughter’s Death

Source:  Illustrated Guide and Sketch Book to New Orleans (New York, 1884).

Caroline had four children, her oldest daughter was Laura and her next was Clara and she had two sons, David and Edwin. Her children all grew and married and were very close to her.

Laura was married in their home on Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans. She married Louis J. Bright and would have three children. Caroline and her family would spend summers alternately in Myrtle Grove and the North, or the Virginia Springs.

She writes of her insight as a mother very beautifully. She says, “It takes love and wisdom and proper environment to bring both to their best; but sometimes evil hereditary and vicious social institutions prove stronger than all of these combined forces of the home. The nation can never know the power and beauty of the mother until it evolves a true protective tenderness for the child, and encompasses it with safest conditions for its development.”

She goes on to say when her daughters won friends it was gratifying to her. She was proud when her daughter visited her on her reception day: “I should be happy to claim a half-hour of my mother’s society if she were not related to me.” Caroline was very content with her two happily married daughters settled near to her.

Tragedy would come. On September 1, 1878, while in the North for the summer, she received a telegram saying, “Laura died at 12 o’clock.” Caroline had pled with her to leave New Orleans with her for the summer. As Laura and her husband were very devoted to each other, they did not like to be apart. Unfortunately, she fell victim to the yellow fever epidemic which ravished New Orleans.

The last thing Laura wrote her mother was, “Fear not for me, dearest mother,”was on her last postal card. “My trust is in God.” Her husband Louis was frantic. He had the added pain of knowing it might have been different had she not stayed that summer. He said “I shall never grow accustomed to the hard fact that her bright and heavenly presence must be forever wanting in her own home, and shall never again grace mine. She died saying, ‘Jesus is with me!’ ” There was no one too old or too poor, or too uninteresting to receive Laura’s attention.  She was ever active in charities and a useful director of St. Ann’s Asylum (picture above) located at 1823 Prytania Street, New Orleans.  It still stands today.

There could be no greater loss of a mother than to lose a child.   It was after Laura’s death her husband encouraged her to do something for women, to help turn her grief into action.   Early in the year 1897 a State Constitutional Convention assembled in New Orleans.  The Board of Control of St. Ann’s Asylum, an institution for the relief of destitute women and children, was given $1000 by a German inmate on her deathbed.  Mrs. Elizabeth L. Saxon was going to speak as well.   Mrs. Saxon encouraged Caroline to appear and speak of the women’s grievances.  Mrs. Saxon told her, “Instead of grieving yourself to death for your daughter who is gone, rise up out of the ashes and do something for the other women who are left!’

It is through this event she began to spend her future days fighting for Women’s Suffrage.  Ultimately, her crusade continued the rest of her life.  She was president of the New Orleans, and state of Louisiana chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  In 1892, she organized the first women’s suffrage association in Louisiana and helped form a State Woman Suffrage Association with her as president.

Sources: Caroline Merrick. Old Times in Dixieland, (New York: The Grafton Press, 1901) and Samantha LaDart, Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana.

Louisiana Woman – Laundry Chores

The young housekeeper--Washing day

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00651073/

The young housekeeper–Washing day, c. 1870. F.L. Stuber, photographer. Bethlehem, PA. 1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While reading about Caroline Merrick and researching, I came upon the subject of doing laundry.  This was very much a part of nineteenth century living for women in the North.  I believe many women in the South had slaves that probably did all of the washing as most women lived on plantations.

The task of doing laundry was so laborious and burdensome; I have decided to include it in my final paper.  In considering how we do laundry today and reading about past methods, it seems unfair to complain about it with our modern conveniences.

For instance, women in the nineteenth century who labored as domestic workers (as we’re reading in Martha Hodes’s The Sea Captain’s Wife)  did not simply dust the knick-knacks in middle-class parlors. They also had to clean grime from fireplaces and clean mud tracked inside from the unpaved streets.

Washing clothes was done most frequently and was the most burdensome.  First, the soap had to be made.  This involved melting and boiling cooking grease and lard, ashes and lime.  Then it was cooked over fire until it hardened.  After this the water had to be hauled, a fire built to heat the water, then soaking, stirring and scrubbing the clothes against a washboard.  Finally, rinsed, wrung and hung to dry individually.

With all our modern conveniences today, there is no comparison to what the women of nineteenth century had to endure.

Source: Hodes, Martha. The Sea Captain’s Wife. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Louisiana Woman – Women’s Rights

National Anti-Suffrage Association, 1911 (?). Harris & Ewing, photographers. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97500067/

In looking up more information on Caroline Merrick, I found an article by Samantha LaDart called “Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana” published in Loyola University (N.O) Student History Journal.   As it turns out, Merrick is somewhat famous not as obscure as I hoped.  But, just the same, I believe most people would not be that familiar with her unless they have studied much about women’s rights.

LaDart begins by spelling out how the southern woman was expected to be a model of virtue, a guardian of youth.  Also, she points out that the ideal woman in the South differed from her counterpart in the North.  As we have been reading in class, Northern women in the nineteenth-century experienced a shift of the female power in the home, to make the home a haven from the workplace.  LaDart explains the woman’s weakness in the South is her strength and her only right is to be protected.  With this right to protection she is obligated to obey.  So the southern woman was expected to be nervous, fickle, and delicate so the man will worship and adore her.  (Scarlet O’Hara?)

The article by LaDart,  explains the feminine ideal was an essential part of the psychology of the institution of slavery.   This struck me as I never associated the two, i.e., women’s rights and slavery.  Submission to the master from the household was expected by all family members so as not to threaten the whole and therefore slavery itself.

However, the Civil War challenged the “right to protection” and the “obligation” that went along with it.  During the war and Reconstruction women in Louisiana took on new roles for the first time.   LaDart brings out how these changes in roles began Caroline Merrick on the road to lead women’s rights in Louisiana.

Merrick did many things during the war such as nursing the sick and wounded for both sides.  She would often take dangerous voyages on the river for supplies.  Additionally, she nursed her family and slaves on the plantation during the war years.  Caroline Merrick enjoyed these new duties and she felt she had to use every faculty of her mind.

As an outcome of these new roles, women in Louisiana pushed for more responsibilities after the war; they could not go back to the pre-war days.  Merrick pushed for the rest of her life for women’s rights and they were slow in coming.  But progress she did make.  She fought for women’s representation and the right to vote.  She was the first woman to organize a woman’s suffrage association in Louisiana.  It was called the Portia Club.

I plan to go more into this very important part of her life in the final blog.  Hopefully, this whets the appetite.  Also, please note the picture above how men were opposed to women’s rights!

Source: http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1990-1/documents/CarolineMerrickandWomensRightsinLouisiana.pdf