Such is frequently the fate, and such the stern development, of the feminine character and person, when the woman has encountered, and lived through, an experience of peculiar severity. If she be all tenderness, she will die. If she survive, the tenderness will either be crushed out of her, or—and the outward semblance is the same—crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more.”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
Here’s a happy story for a change: During the Civil War Emily went to visit her brother then commanding the 5th Army Corps at his headquarters and fell madly in love with Washington Roebling, the son of John A. Roebling who designed the as yet to be built Brooklyn Bridge. Washington obviously felt the same way when writing to his sister about Emily he said, “Some people’s beauty lies not in the features, but in the varied expression that the countenance will assume under the various emotions. She is…a most entertaining talker, which is a mighty good thing you know, I myself being so stupid.” (ASCE)
They got married after a whirlwind romance, traveled to Europe to study bridges, had a baby and came home only to find that John A. had died of tetanus leaving Washington to complete the construction of the bridge!
Luckily Emily had studied right along side of her husband because soon enough he developed a horrible case of the bends (caisson disease) and became bedridden. Now Washington didn’t want to lose his position so the task of carrying out Washington’s duties as chief engineer fell upon Emily. She saw to it that the bridge got done, gaining a first-rate, hands-on education in the process and some even wondered if she’d been secretly responsible for the bridge’s design (all of this being rather scandalous).
“At the opening ceremony, Emily was honored in a speech by Abram Stevens Hewitt who said that the bridge was
…an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.” (Wiki)
After taking in rich boarders (who often didn’t pay) and selling truckloads of vegetables Evelyn Jephson Cameron of England found a living taking pictures in Montana. After marrying her husband Ewen who her parents disapproved of they took their honeymoon in the West, 1889 and fell in love with the rough, majestic beauty of Montana and right then and there decided to relocate.
They bought a ranch with a simple three room cabin sitting on it and named it Eve Ranch. Ewen suffered doubts and wanted to go home to England when ranching turned out to be more expensive than they thought, but Evelyn was having none of it. She sent away for a camera. “She decided to wrestle with the intricacies of the dry plate glass negative, unwieldy, 5×7 Graflex camera. She later purchased a No. 5 Kodet that was designed for 5 X 7 plates or film, as she liked the tonal quality of the plates.”
How many other 19th century women took photographs? How many other women bolstered their husbands’ confidence convincing them that they could make it? Why do modern day women scrapbook?
Evelyn is my new hero of the moment. I love her photos and admire her pluckiness. She was a Brit and she had a relaxed, friendly smile. She relished the idea that she was the first woman in Montana to ride astride a horse instead of side-saddle (I wonder though if little girls on the open plains and under the shadow of watchful big mountains didn’t sneak in rides astride all along).
Coming from the Cabot family of Boston had its perks for young Lilla–how would you like to hang out with Emerson and the Alcotts? But Lilla was pretty perky on her own–and talented. I don’t know how people find the energy to push art movements along, but she did. I’m sure now that I’m sending off one of my characters to an artists’ colony and I’m happy to be meeting a bunch of fascinating women along the way. Another visual feast: (or why women are beautiful)
“From her organization of the first American exhibition of Impressionist landscapes by John Breck to her visions of late nineteenth and early twentieth century femininity, Lilla Cabot Perry’s legacy is dynamic. During her lifetime she lived in three continents and was exposed to dozens of artists and stylistic modes. Her blending of eastern and western aesthetics and her sensitive visions of the feminine and natural worlds offered significant stylistic contributions to both the American and French Impressionist schools.
No matter what Perry was exposed to, she always returned to her home and family for inspiration – not because that was all that was available to her, but because it was the part of her life that mattered to her most. Her translation of such dynamic styles into her intimate, everyday world created an oeuvre of art that provides intensely personal reflections on this Boston native’s life.
Her vocal advocacy for the Impressionist movement helped to make it possible for other American Impressionists like Mary Cassatt to gain the exposure and acceptance they needed in the states. She furthered the American careers of her close friends Claude Monet and John Breck by lecturing stateside on their talents and showcasing their works. She also worked closely with Camille Pissarro to assist him in his dire financial situation by selling his work to friends and family in America.
Throughout her life, Perry demonstrated again and again that she was dedicated and devoted not only to her own artistic evolution and career, but also to the careers of those around her. Thanks to her efforts, the Guild of Boston Artists was founded, Impressionism took hold as a respected artistic style in the United States, and a new generation of women artists were able to stake their claim in the art world thanks to the path that Lilla Cabot Perry blazed for them.
More than an artist, Perry was an advocate for the things that mattered to her most.” Wikipedia
I bought this little book for research. What rules were ladies expected to follow in the 19th century? Admittedly, I fully expected to find it quaint and amusing. What I didn’t expect was how some of the chapters would lead me to question some of our accepted though crass behaviors of today. I didn’t expect to be challenged by the author’s polite though pointed suggestions about the power and importance of civility. The expected knowledge of German literature (in the original) took me by surprise, as well.
In short, the women who aspired to be ladies had very high standards. What are our standards today? Are standards undemocratic? What do you think? Do you have a truck driver’s mouth and a sailor’s brain?