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

Louisiana Woman – Portrait of Caroline Merrick

Illustration

Published by The Grafton Press, New York, Copyright by Caroline Merrick, 1901

Please note above the debut picture of my subject, Caroline Merrick.
While reading through her memoirs, Ms. Merrick’s life spanned through the Civil War. There are chapters in her book which express her experiences and feelings with slavery, living through the Civil War and the oppression of women as well as slaves. It seems women did not have much more freedom then some of the slaves.

One of her chapters named War Memories: The Story of Patsy’s Garden was quite sad. She tells the story of her neighbor, Mr. Thornton and his daughter Patsy. Patsy’s one love was growing a garden of flowers which she was very good at gardening. However, during the war such trivial things as a garden did not seem important to her father. But Patsy was given fifty bulbs of lilies and other flowers and prepared the soil herself and planted the flowers. Her father would not allow one of the slaves, named Tom, to help her as he felt it was more important that he work in the cotton field.

This garden, which Patsy prepared on her own, flourished and brought forth beautiful flowers and she took pride in setting them around the house. One day her father noticed a young man watching her in the garden and thought it dangerous to her well-being, and that perhaps she would become involved with this young man. So that night her father pulled up all her flowers and destroyed the garden. Needless to say, she was devastated. Not but a few days later, her father said a certain Doctor in town wanted her hand in marriage and it was his request that she accept his proposal. However, Patsy was in love with another whom he did not approve of. Well, Patsy eloped with him in the middle of the night. Her father later was sorry. But this is a prime example of the control the Patriarch of the family had over the women.