THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

03 April 2017

PhD Opportunities in the Americas Collections

As a research library, we regularly create opportunities for students to work more closely with our collections.  There are currently two collaborative AHRC funded PhD places being advertised in the Americas: the first working with Caribbean collections, and the second with political ephemeral materials from the USA.

Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 is a collaborative PhD with the Institute of the Americas at University College London.  This project explores the articulation of ‘reconstructed pasts and anticipated futures’ (Scott, 2004) by the British Caribbean community in post-World War II/post-Windrush Britain. Engaging with recent scholarship on the Black Atlantic, urban cultures, and ‘Black globality’, the project will analyse the cultural forms that evolved within the British Caribbean community in the last half of the twentieth century.

WP_20170329_019
BL shelfmark x.709/10382

The project offers a unique opportunity to draw on significant but underused resources in the British Library collections. These resources include, for example, newspapers, periodicals and journals such as The Voice, South London Press, Race Today, Pan-Africa, Caribbean News, West Indian World, and West Indian Gazette; the publications of Bogle L’Ouverture Publishing, Hansib Publications and New Beacon Press; the papers of significant artists and writers (such as Andrew Salkey); and the Sound Archive, which includes interviews with migrants, carnival music and performances, and recordings and interviews from Black underground radio stations from the 1980s and 1990s.  The project also offers the potential to work with new materials such as the interviews and poetry from the ongoing Black British Poetry CDP project.  

The succesful applicant would be co-supervised by Dr Kate Quinn at UCL and Dr Elizabeth Cooper, Curator for the Library's Latin American and Caribbean collections.  The closing date for applications is 5.00pm on Friday 14 April 2017.  To find out more visit the Institute of the Americas webpage.

American Political Pamphlets 1920-1945 is offered in collaboration with the University of Sussex.  Together with access to the British Library's extensive holdings of American political pamphlets, the researcher will also benefit from access to the extensive collection of US political pamphlets at the Marx Memorial Library, a partner of the project.  The project aims to study and contextualise the writing, printing, distribution and dissemination of political pamphlets produced in the years preceding and during the Second World War.

 

WP_20170330_025
BL shelfmarks LD.31a.671 and YD.2007a.1642

The Library's collection of American pamphlets from the interwar period contains publications by different anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and pacifist societies. These include the Socialist Party of America, the Young People's Socialist League, the American League Against War and Fascism, the Jewish People's Committee, the War Resisters League, the World Peace Foundation, as well as anti-imperialist societies such as the United Aid for Peoples of African Descent, among many others.

The succesful applicant will be co-supervised by Dr Sue Currell at the University of Sussex, and Dr Mercedes Aguirre, Lead Curator Americas at the British Library.  The closing date for applications is 1 June 2017.  To find out more visit the University of Sussex webpage.

Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 – with Dr Kate Quinn, University College London. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/news/2017/march/ahrc-phd-studentships?ns_campaign=higher_ed&ns_mchannel=social_media&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=phd_opportunity&ns_fee=0#sthash.Mas2HkkH.dpuf
Future Pasts: British-Caribbean Popular Culture and the Politics of History, 1948-1998 – with Dr Kate Quinn, University College London. - See more at: https://www.bl.uk/news/2017/march/ahrc-phd-studentships?ns_campaign=higher_ed&ns_mchannel=social_media&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=phd_opportunity&ns_fee=0#sthash.Mas2HkkH.dp

29 March 2017

Did you know about the Museum of French Art in New York?

The “Museum of French Art” in New York, founded as a society in 1911, was a subsection of the French Institute in the United States dedicated to arts. It was housed with the French Institute in the United States on 599 Fifth Avenue, New York City, had a Gallery with permanent French art collections, a library and a reading room. It held temporary exhibitions of French art loaned by private collectors. The Museum of French Art was most active until the 1930s, at a time when the opening of museums and art galleries was booming in New York.

French Museum plan

Plans for the building of the French Art Museum in the United States, 1919 from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français. ([New York], 1919) British Library RB.31.C.836.

When the Museum of French Art was created, Fifth Avenue was already home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which opened in 1872, and for the Henry Clay Frick House, built in 1912-1914, whose collections were opened to the public in 1935. The Museum of Modern Art also opened on Fifth Avenue on 7 November, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. The Museum of French Art was inspired not only by fine arts museums but also by institutions like the “South Kensington Museum” (founded after the 1851 Great Exhibition, now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the more recent Musée des arts décoratifs de Paris created in 1905. It was never built as a distinct monument, though its trustees tried to raise funds for this purpose: in 1919, plans for such a construction were published at the end of the catalogue of its first official exhibition.

French Museum Jusserand

French Ambassador Jules Jusserand with Mme Jusserand, 1918 (Image from the Library of Congress)

The idea for the creation of a French Institute in the United States emerged at a council of the Alliance Française of New York. The institute had three subsections: the “Museum of French Art”, whose aim was to promote French Fine Arts and to be a window for French arts and crafts, past and present; the “Entente France-America”, focused on commerce, industry and science; and the “French Union”, a society dedicated to Belles Lettres: Literature, History and philosophy. The French Institute and its art section offered French language courses, technical courses on French arts and crafts, it awarded French language prizes to high school students and organised concerts and lectures for the public and for its members. The British Library holds the programme of a Gala Concert held in 1913 by the Museum of French Art in honour of the French Ambassador in Washington and his American wife, Mr et Mme Jusserand.

French Museum Concert Programme

Programme for a Gala Concert offered by the Museum of French Art to the French Ambassador at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, December 14th, 1913. (New York, [1913]) d.488.l.(10.)

 

The suna

Advertisement for an exhibition of the Museum of French Art, The Sun, 25 January 1920.  NEWS12364

The first official exhibitions held at the Museum of French Art in 1918, 1919 and 1920, were organised chronologically (“From the Gothic Period to the Regence”, “Periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI”, “The Directoire and Empire Periods”). In 1920, the chairman of the Exhibitions department of the French Art Museum, Mrs Henry Mottet, donated to the British Museum (along with 20 major European and American museums and libraries) a copy of the catalogues for the first two exhibitions, which were published in large format limited editions of 100 copies.

French Museum interior 1

French Museum interior 2

Images from The First Official Loan Exhibition of the Museum of French Art, held in 1918, from Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français.

 

Later exhibitions focused on specific French artists: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1922), Odilon Redon (1922), Picasso, Braque, Léger (1931), Degas (1931), Renoir (1931), Derain and Vlaminck (1932) and historical characters: “Napoléon and l'Aiglon” (1927), the Marquis de Lafayette (1930). Other exhibitions had a particular thematical, historical or geographical focus: “Fans and handiwork of court and home life, XVIth to XIXth centuries” (1926-1927), “The art and customs of the Basque country of southwestern France” (1927), “Silken textiles of France: Louis XIII to Louis Philippe” (1928), “Ecclesiastical arts of France” (1928), “French prints from the XVth century to the XXth century” (1932).

The Director of the Museum of French Art was Emile McDougall Hawkes, founder and first president of the Institut Français in the United States, a lawyer and engineer from New York who had studied in France and Germany, was active in several Franco-American cultural associations based in New York, including the Alliance Française, focusing on French language teaching outside of France, and he received the French distinction of Commandeur de la Légion d’honneur. He was a trustee of the Foundation of another Francophile and patrons of the arts, John Sanford Saltus.

86295_0
 McDougall Hawkes, by John Bow?, 1910

 

A portrait of McDougall Hawkes, dated from 1910, and signed l.l., possibly John Bow, was sold in 2015 by Cowan’s Auctions. It bears a plaque inscribed “McDougall Hawkes, First Chairman of the Board of Trustees, 1911-1929, Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States”.

McDougall Hawkes was also involved in other trade and science organisations, including the French-American Chamber Commerce, “Entente France-America”, a society which aimed “to develop commercial, industrial, economic and scientific relations between the American and French peoples” (New York Times, 11 Aug 1916), and the French-American Medical, Chemical and Physics Society.

Biscuit de Sèvres tp

Title-page, with McDougall Hawkes’ inscription, from Le Biscuit de Sèvres. Recueil des modèles de la manufacture de Sèvres au XVIIIe siècle ([Paris, 1921]) 7808.s.7.

When McDougall Hawkes visited the British Museum in 1922, he donated to the library a signed copy of Le Biscuit de Sèvres by Émile Bourgeois and Georges Lechevallier-Chevignard, illustrated by many plates.

Biscuit de Sèvres ill

Plate from Le Biscuit de Sèvres.

 

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance languages

References:

Museum of French Art, French Institute in the United States. Répertoire de l'art français aux Etats-Unis dans des collections particulières et au Musée d'art français. Tome I: l’Art gothique. First annual official loan exhibition of French art, January 29th to February 12th, 1918.  Catalogue: Gothic period to the Régence. Tome II, Le dix-huitième siècle. Catalogue of the second annual official loan exhibition of French art: periods of Louis XV & XVI, held at the gallery of the Museum in the city of New York, January 14 to January 29, 1919. ([New York?]: Privately printed, 1919). RB.31.C.836 and RB.31.C.837.

 “The French Institute and Museum of French Art in the United States”, The Lotus Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 9 (Jun., 1912), pp. 267-280. [JSTOR]

“To Develop French Trade: Prominent New Yorkers Incorporate Entente France-America”, New York Times, 11 Aug 1916, p. 11.  MFM.MA3

 

22 March 2017

In various light: a farewell to Derek Walcott

 

 

As a teenager I had the following stanzas from Derek Walcott’s poem In a Green Light on my bedroom door:

The orange tree, in various light,

Proclaims perfected fables now

That her last season’s summer height

Bends from each overburdened bough.

 

She has her winters and her spring,

Her moult of leaves, which in their fall

Reveal, as with each living thing,

Zones truer than the tropical.

 

And it is a strange feeling now to be writing this blog as Curator of Latin America and the Caribbean at the British Library in the sad wake of Walcott’s death on March 17th. Born in 1930 on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Walcott attended University in Jamaica and then moved to Trinidad where he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1950. Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. Walcott’s poetry, prose, and plays reckon with the colonial and post-colonial socio-historical forces of the Caribbean.  In his Nobel lecture The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, Derek Walcott stated:

“Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. […] It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose restoration shows its white scars. […]Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.”

The British Library has a significant collection of Walcott’s works including a first edition of his very first play: Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes (1950) (BL Shelfmark 11785.ee.23), that focuses on politics and power in post-Revolutionary Haiti. The play was first produced in London in 1952.  

  Walcott blog

Walcott's epic poem Omeros (BL Shelfmark YC.1991.a.590), published in in 1990 , is a ground breaking work that weaves across time and space touching upon (among other things) classical Greece, the trans-atlantic slave trade, colonialism, cultural syncretism, love and death. The sound archive here at the British Library holds recordings of Walcott reading Omeros, as well as other works. And you will also find uncorrected proofs of Derek Walcott’s poetry such as In a Green Night (Add MS 88984/5/37/4) and many of Walcott’s plays such as The Odyssey (MPS 5344) in our manuscripts collections. A master at conveying the power of history and memory, Derek Walcott’s voice lives on shedding light on our human condition.

10 March 2017

Pocahontas and After in the Library's Catalogues

Next Saturday 18 March 2017, the British Library will be hosting a full day of events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Pocahontas.  The cultural day will be a reflection on the historical and cultural legacies of this notable Powhatan/Pamunkey Indian woman, and forms part of the wider activities of the ‘Pocahontas and After: historical culture and transatlantic encounters’ academic conference co-hosted by the Institute of Historical Research and the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

Of course, Pocahontas has been extensively written about and studied over the course of the four centuries since her death and burial in Gravesend, Kent.  She also has a very strong visual presence in the archives, starting with the infamous 1616 Simon Van De Passe engraving made during her visit to England which was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London.  Her association with Virginia and Jamestown is a theme that reappears and was particularly prominent in 1907, the tri-centennial of the English settlement which was commemorated at the Jamestown Exposition. 

Jamestown Exposition Stamps

The Library holds several items related to the Exposition that are of interest, and reveal how Pocahontas’ image, and that of Native Americans more widely, was appropriated at a time of resurgent nationalism that followed in the wake of the Spanish-American War.  While the Exposition was privately financed, it received support from the Federal Government, and included a very large naval and military display for which President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the opening address.  He also intervened directly with the Post Office Department, requesting that they produce the above specially commissioned stamps which you can see in the Library's Philatelic Collections.  The 2¢ stamp depicts the landing of the Virginia Company’s three ships, and is flanked by a tobacco plant and a stalk of corn (the former becoming a major commodity for the colony).  Both the 1¢ which shows Captain John Smith with smaller portraits of Pocahontas and her father Chief Powhatan on either side, and the 5¢ stamp of Pocahontas were based on Van De Passe engravings.  The latter was intended for visitors sending postcards internationally from the exposition, and shows how Pocahontas was continuing to be used as a global ambassador for the United States.

Glory of Jamestown
h.4120.i.(12.)

The cover of the score for Glory of Jamestown, the Exposition’s official march, depicts a generic Native American chief and woman, presumably a loose reference to Powhatan and Pocahontas, alongside an aerial view of the Exposition.  It is typical of images from the event, in that Native Americans are literally used as a framing device for the main image.[1]  It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to identify the echoes of English colonial naval power  in the prominent display of imperial American power. 

This collection also includes the scores for ‘Sing Me A Song of Dixie Land’, ‘Virginia, the Pride of My Heart’, and ‘Sing Me A Song of the South’, which point to another theme of the exposition: the South’s role in the national story.  Indeed, this opportunity to prominently parade the South's economic and business prowess on an international platform was one of the main drivers behind the Exposition as can be seen in The Old South and the New: a complete illustrated history of the Southern states from the earliest times to the Jamestown Exposition.  A richly illustrated book, it balances nostalgic reminicences of the 'Old South' with forward-looking anecdotes of the 'New South'.

The Old South and the New
9615.df.18.

Last but by no means least, The London Company of Virginia: a brief account of its transactions in colonizing Virginia is a limited commemorative book published by the London Company for the Exposition.  It consists of a brief history and numerous portraits of individuals who were important in the founding of Jamestown.  These portraits were displayed at the Exposition and were reproduced here in photogravure.  Again, the importance of Van De Passe’s engraving in the imagining of Pocahontas is evident.  Her features are somewhat softened in this rendition, and she is given the contentious titular ‘Princess’.  The text accompanying the image clearly outlines the benefits the company reaped from Pocahontas, and the narrative that was created around her: “The sensation which was created by the visit of Pocahontas to London was not without its effect upon the Virginia colony.  New interest was awakened in this land beyond the seas which seemed to be personified in the graceful simplicity of the Indian maiden Pocahontas.” 

London Company

K.T.C.26.b.25.

Perhaps the most poignant image in the book is that of Pocahontas’ burial site at St George’s Church, alongside the note that “Some Americans proposed that a memorial be erected at Gravesend, but, for some cause or other, the plan was never carried through.  Of late years, however, a rector of the church placed a marble there to the ‘Virginia lady born’ with a brief account of her services in saving the first Virginia colony.”  The 400th anniversary of her death thus provides a fitting moment to reflect on the multiple historic and continuing contemporary cultural appropriations of Pocahontas, her meaning for Native Americans today, but most of all to celebrate this notable woman.

Tickets for the cultural day are available on the British Library What's On page.

Registration for the academic conference is through the Institute of Historical Research website.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig with thanks to Richard Morel

 

[1] Frederich W. Gleach, “Pocahontas at the Fair: Crafting Identities at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition”, Ethnohistory, Vol.50, N. 3, Summer 2003, p.430.

08 March 2017

Marking International Women’s Day: The Lowell Offering

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’re showcasing The Lowell Offering (1840-45), an extraordinary periodical that students from Royal Holloway asked to see when they attended a research training session here last week: and with good reason! In its short life this monthly periodical provided female textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts – where women comprised 75% of the workforce – with a unique opportunity to see their poetry, ballads, songs, historical and religious essays or works of fiction in print.

Lowell first 12 

The Lowell Offering, Vol. 1, 1840; shelfmark P.P.6242

Perhaps surprisingly – given the ‘dark satanic mills’ of Victorian Britain – many women in New England initially regarded factory work as a well-paid alternative to teaching. The literacy rate amongst the operatives was high, and the creation of self-improvement societies was widespread; indeed, the Offering sprang from one such group. Writing about its origins, Harriet Farley – the Offering’s second editor – recalled that her group met fortnightly to read and listen to the written contributions of its members. Gradually the membership declined, yet the quality of the contributions kept improving and someone suggested compiling the contributions into ‘a little book’. This idea ‘was talked about in whispers’ but was soon supplanted by something even more audacious: a plan to publish a monthly periodical. Farley recalls:

We shall never forget our throb of pleasure when first we saw The Lowell Offering in a tangible form, with its bright yellow cover; nor our flutterings of delight as we perused its pages. True – we had seen or heard the articles before; but they seemed so much better in print. They appeared, to us, as good as any body’s writings. They sounded as if by people who never worked at all. The din and clatter of the mills had not confused the brains of the writers, and no cotton fuzz had obscured the brightness of their ideas… (The Lowell Offering, November 1842: shelfmark P.P.6242)

The Lowell Offering was funded through subscription and undoubtedly proved more successful than its contributors could ever have anticipated. In time, however, it was criticised both by mill-owners, who resented the way in which the women reflected (both directly and indirectly) upon life in the mills, as well as by reformers who believed it should take a far tougher stand against factory conditions. In 1845 it was discontinued, but two years later, Farley started The New England Offering – ‘Written by Females Who Are or Have Been Factory Operatives’ – which ran until 1850.

New england offering 12

The New England Offering, 1849; shelfmark P.P.6242

For nearly a decade, the Lowell and New England Offerings gave these women a singular creative outlet; for readers today, they provide a unique insight into the women’s inner and professional lives during a period of rapid industrialisation and social change.

References: The Lowell Offering, Lowell. Mass., 1840-45. Shelfmark: P.P.6242; The New England Offering. Lowell, Mass., 1847-1850. Shelfmark: P.P.6242

24 February 2017

First Ladies, Fashion, Funerals

The 89th Academy Awards are almost upon us, and Natalie Portman has received a nomination in the best actress category for her portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in the film Jackie (2016, Pablo Larrain).  An unflinching portrayal of the first lady in the traumatic days following the assassination of her husband, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jackie asks what it means to be a woman in a public position of power.  Given the office’s lack of definition, this is an especially pertinent question for a first lady who has to learn to balance the role’s often unsolicited obligations and public exposure, and to negotiate the distinction between her own personal and political identity and that of her husband.[1]

In Jackie we are shown how Bouvier Kennedy reshaped the role to her interests, taking on responsibility for the preservation and restoration of the White House as a historic building, and introducing cultural activities into the Presidential calendar. 

Designing Camelot

James A. Abbott and Eleaine M. Rice, Designing Camelot: The Kennedy White House Restoration. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1998. [YC.2001.b.760]

While these are now considered to be standard responsibilities of the office, she was on the receiving end of contemporary criticism as some considered these activities to be a misuse of public funds.  However, Bouvier Kennedy was by no means the only first lady to interpret the role in this light.  Indeed, one of the most popular first ladies in American history, Dolley Payne Todd Madison, was appreciated precisely because she infused the role with non-partisan nationalist sentiment at a precarious moment in the young nation’s history – the War of 1812.

As official host for receptions in Jefferson’s White House during her husband’s tenure as Secretary of State, Dolley Madison assumed the position with substantial prior experience and a higher public figure than her predecessors and many of her successors.  Such was her popularity and profile that James Madison’s political opponents complained that they had to “run against both the Madisons.”[2]  Once her husband assumed the Presidential office, together with White House architect Benjamin Latrobe, Dolley took on the project of decorating and furnishing the bare building to a standard designed to impress foreign dignitaries.  Believing her role to be one of public service to her husband’s citizenry, she mastered the ceremonial and social aspects of the position.  She placed substantial weight on fashion, and dressed in a manner that demonstrated a keen understanding that her public presentation would help her to forge an independent identity and, at official occasions, also reflect positively on the nation. 

Gowns of 1st Ladies 1

The Editors of American Heritage Magazine and the 1969 Inaugural Book Committee, The Inaugural Story 1789 – 1969. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1969.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Dolley Madison organised the first inauguration ball.  Additionally, she expanded activities in the White House to include a weekly formal banquet, and a regular informal gathering at which political colleagues with opposing views were able to meet and converse socially outside the restrictions of their office.  Much praised for her diplomatic manner, social grace, and non-interference in political matters, by the time of their departure from the position, she was widely referred to as ‘Queen Dolley’.

The esteem in which she was held, and the political influence she had, is perhaps most visible post-mortem.  Under the refrain “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” the notice of her death published in The Daily National Intelligencer reveal quite clearly how traditional feminine values were aligned to the virtues of nationalism: “she continued until within a few weeks to grace society with her presence, and lend it those charms with which she adorned the circles of the highest, the wisest, and best, during the bright career of her illustrious husband.  Wherever she appeared, every one became conscious of the presence of the spirit of benignity and gentleness, united to all the attributes of feminine loveliness.”[3]  Much like for President Kennedy, her funeral was attended by political and Military and Navy officials including the President and the Cabinet, and included a “very large and imposing” funeral procession through Washington to the Congress Cemetery.[4]  Dolley Madison’s funeral remained the only instance of a woman’s funeral being treated as a state occasion until Rosa Parks’ lying in honor ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in 2005.

The parallels with Bouvier Kennedy’s approach to the office are clear and, given the latter's keen sense of history, occasion, and public duty it is conceivable that she drew on Madison’s legacy although perhaps not consciously.  At no point were these underlying tenets more visible than in the four days following the assassination of her husband, and particularly at his state funeral.

In the presence of Lincoln

United Press International, Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1964. [YA.1990.b7099]

A Catholic who had experienced personal loss and with a respect for the healing power of ritual, a journalist by training, a fashion icon, and instilled with a rich appreciation for the arts, Bouvier Kennedy had a heightened awareness of how the performative and visual aspects of the state funeral ceremonies would be received.  Drawing on these strengths, she challenged military protocol, political will and the Kennedy family in order to achieve her vision for her husband’s final rites.  By marshalling the collective manpower of her husband's political allies to carry out her instructions, and with whom she had forged loyal and useful political relationships, she assumed her position as iconic mourner-in-chief for the nation.

Last Salute

Diagram 58: Main funeral procession, St. Matthew's Cathedral to Arlington National Cemetery.  B.C. Mosmman and M.W. Stark, The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, 1921 – 1969. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1991. [A.S.573/59]

Of course, the category of 'widow' has a similarly weighted set of gendered expectations around social decorum, and carries inflections of motherhood.  In this respect, and as cultural critic David M. Lubin has pointed out, Bouvier Kennedy had a 'neoclassical aura' at the funeral. [5]  Larrain captures and explores these connections in the most interesting scene in Jackie: on a mixture of tranquilisers and alcohol the clearly traumatised widow Kennedy wanders through the now desolate rooms of the White House she redesigned, alternating between her many ballgowns to the soundtrack of ‘Camelot.’  It is a powerful anti-montage that deconstructs the foundations upon which the former First Lady built her identity.  In doing so, Jackie examines the constraints of femininity and inter-dependent subjectivity that are imposed on first ladies and more broadly women in public positions of political power, and enquires what this means for our understanding of American nationalism.

Jackie leaving White House

Jacqueline, Caroline, and John Kennedy Jr. leave the White House for the final time. United Press International, Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy. American Heritage Publishing Co., 1964. [YA.1990.b7099]

 

Fran Fuentes

 

[1] Such was the uncertainty over the role of early presidential spouses that there wasn’t an accompanying title.  Early presidential spouses were occasionally referred to as ‘Presidentress’ and the now commonly used ‘First Lady’ did not have wide usage until Charles Nirdlinger’s play The First Lady in the Land popularised it in 1914.

[2] Dorothy Schneider and Carl J. Schneider, First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary 3rd Edition, p.vi. New York: Facts on File, 2010.  p.28.  [YC.2011.a.1553]

[3] Daily National Intelligencer, July 14, 1849. [NEWS12419]  Also, The Dolley Madison Project http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/madison/exhibit/widowhood/img/art1.html

[4] Daily National Intelligencer, July 17, 1849.  [NEWS12419] Also, The Dolley Madison Project http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/madison/exhibit/widowhood/img/art3.html  

[5] David M. Lubin, Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images.  Berkeley, London: University of California Press, 2003.  p.256. [YC.2005.a.5008]

15 February 2017

The Tale of Josefa

Hannah Kohler is one of this year’s Eccles British Library Writer’s Award winners. She is researching her novel, Catspaw, which follows two women during the California Gold Rush. In researching female criminals and vigilante justice in California, she came across the tale of Josefa.

Josefa Segovia—also known as Juanita and Josefa Loaiza—was the first and only woman to be hanged in California. A Mexican woman living in the mining town of Downieville, she was accused of murdering Frederick Cannon, a miner, on 5 July 1841, and was summarily hanged from a bridge over the Yuba River.

Hanging of the Mexican Woman

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Contemporary accounts are conflicting, but suggest Cannon entered Josefa’s house on 4 July, possibly assaulting her.  The following day, Josefa and José Loaiza, with whom she lived, confronted Cannon. Cannon called Josefa a whore; she challenged him to insult her inside her own home; he followed her inside, whereupon Josefa fatally stabbed him. An impromptu judge and jury were assembled, but the man defending Josefa was rolled down the hill in a barrel. Within hours, Josefa was executed.

The story first appeared in the Daily Alta California four days later. Referring to Josefa only as ‘the Spanish woman’, it noted her extreme anger, stating that when Cannon came to her door to ‘apologize,’ she met him with a ‘large bowie knife, which she instantly drove into his heart’. Subsequent accounts called her by the generic Mexican name ‘Juanita’; most dwelled on her beauty; many implied she was a prostitute. Underlying these narratives was an assumption of Josefa’s culpability, implicitly or explicitly linked to her ethnicity and sexuality. In his memoir, Hunting for Gold (San Francisco, 1893; shelfmark X.809/2834), William Downie lamented the incident in a chapter named ‘Lynching a Beauty’, calling it ‘one of those blots that stained the early history of California’.

Lynching a Beauty

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Josefa’s treatment – both her lynching and the way in which her identity and version of events were obscured – reflects the oppression of and violence towards Mexicans in mid-nineteenth-century America. However, in recent years, Chicano scholarship has sought to restore Josefa’s identity and reputation. In 1976, Martha Cotera demonstrated that Josefa’s last name was Segovia. Further scholarship contested the notion that she was a prostitute, and established that she was likely married to Loaiza, who appears to have filed a claim in 1868 against the United States for the murder of his wife (he lost).  The remaining details of Josefa’s experience are likely lost to history. She is consigned to Gold Rush lore, and on websites dedicated to the Old West, she has become a ghost story, her specter drifting along the Yuba River, haunting the old gold country.

Gold Region of California

 C. D. Gibbes, A New Map of the Gold Region of California. Stockton, CA. & New York, 1851. (Shelfmark: Maps 71865 (3)) 

Hannah Kohler

Sources: Irene I. Blea, U.S. Chicanas and Latinas Within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women’s Conference. Westport, Conn; London: Praeger, 1997 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 98/02749); William Downie, Hunting For Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893 (Shelfmark: X.809/2834); Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 1850-1935. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006 (Shelfmark: Document Supply m06/42195); F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1996 (Shelfmark: YA.1997.b.3535); Maythee Rojas, 'Re-Membering Josefa: Reading the Mexican Female Body in California Gold Rush Chronicles', Women’s Studies Quarterly, 35: 1/2  The Sexual Body (Spring/Summer 2007) pp. 126-148 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 9343.705700); Kerry Segrave, Lynchings of Women in the United States, The Recorded Cases, 1851-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010 (Shelfmark: YC.2011.a.9418).

Eccles British Library Writer’s Award: For more information, please see www.bl.uk/ecclescentre

11 February 2017

The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37

Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.

Flint Wikimedia
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration. LC-USF34-040028-D.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.

In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).

In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.

The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.

  Flint wikimedia meal

Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).

Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.

The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.

 Witch hunt CIO

George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501

AFL Communist party

Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322

  UAW local

John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497

1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A672310 

Jean Petrovic