I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.
“Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and they will love us.”—Megan Mayhew Bergman
I wish all mothers a happy day of love and peace. For all you have done and will do, you are saluted.
The posing of mother and child may also deliberately highlight the loss of her long and well-cared for hair.
This stunning tintype, circa 1875, of an American mother and infant, is owned by collector and Your Dying Charlotte contributor Beverly Wilgus, who notes, “This little tintype is not as much a ‘hidden mother’ as a mother who chose to put the emphasis on the baby. I do wonder about her very short hair. One explanation could be that she has been very ill, maybe after a difficult birth, and her hair was cut short for comfort.”
It is possible that the woman pictured suffered from puerperal sepsis (called childbed fever) in the aftermath of delivery, which had been combatted, in part, by hair cropping. If true, this mother surely thought the tintype image celebratory—even triumphant: She had survived; her magnificent reward was the healthy infant draped over her shoulder, offered visually to posterity.
The sitter was lucky—a scarce survivor of a bitter scourge. “Childbed fever killed at the cruelest moments. It was described as a ‘desecration,’ an aspect of the natural world that felt almost deliberately evil. What caused it? Some thought ‘a failure of uterine discharge;’ others, a little later, called it ‘milk metastasis,’ noting that the internal organs of the women who died seemed covered in milk. Eventually it was accepted that the fluid was not milk at all. It was pus,” wrote Druin Burch in a Live Science article, “When Childbirth Was Natural, and Deadly.” When obstetricians and midwives talked of “delivering women,” he explained, they meant delivering them from the deadly perils of childbirth.
Puerperal sepsis from Streptococcus pyogenes is transmitted via unsanitary conditions during delivery. In an age before antibiotics, the takeover of its host was medicinally unstoppable. Between 1847 to 1876, an estimated five deaths resulted after each 1,000 live births, with puerperal sepsis causing up to half of those losses. “There was no cure available: doctors merely prescribed opium, champagne, and brandy-and-soda, trying to ease the passing, rather than making a vain attempt to cure a mortal illness,” wrote Judith Flanders in her 2003 book Inside the Victorian Home.
Yet against the odds, this mother survived.
In the Little House series, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life.
That hair should be cut during a high fever steamed from a long-held notion that it could drain the energy of the seriously ill; cutting it also allowed heat to escape the body thus lowering the patient’s temperature. In the popular Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, Mary Ingall’s lovely blonde hair was cropped during the throes of scarlet fever in a bid to save her life. (As an aside, JSTOR Daily points out, “Pediatric historian Beth A. Tarini believes the term was inaccurately used to describe viral meningoencephalitis in Mary Ingalls, whose disease rendered her completely blind.” The article is a fascinating read.)
Whenever a woman’s hair was cut for medical reasons, it was mourned by her family and friends as a brutal loss. Long and well-cared for tresses were considered a Victorian woman’s chiefest treasure. Writers of the age reflected the obsession in their literary works. “No other writers have lavished such attention on the physical properties of women’s hair: its length, texture, color, style, curliness. There is scarcely a female character in Victorian fiction whose hair is not described at least perfunctorily, and often the woman’s hair is described in incredible detail. The brown, neatly combed heads of virtuous governesses and industrious wives; the tangled, disorderly hair of the sexually and emotionally volatile women like Hetty Sorrel and Catherine Earnshaw; the artfully arranged curls of the girl-women like Dora Spenlow Copperfield and Isabella Linton are all familiar, even conventional elements in Victorian character description.” wrote Elizabeth G. Gitters in “The Power of Women’s Hair in the Victorian Imagination.” (PMLA Journal, October 1984).
In a culture that all-but worshiped long female hair, caring for it was a rigorous process. It was an an era before shampoo and available cleansing options often contained caustic or drying elements. Women instead brushed their hair to redistribute the natural oil whilst often adding in tonics or perfumes. The brushing regimen was done daily by some women, such as the singer Aline Vallandri, for upwards of a half hour. Mrs. Walker, who published a 400-page tome in 1840 titled Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, recommended the use of a soft brush for at least ten minutes, twice a day, after the hair had been combed and brushed with a hard brush to remove dandruff and dust, such as soot from coal burning fires.
Other cleansing tricks written about in the 19th Century include the use of baking soda and vinegar, rum, and black tea, as well as egg yolks and rosemary as conditioning agents. Ladies could powder their hair and then brush it after the excess oil was absorbed—as descendants of these women do today with dry shampoo. Ω
“It was the purpose of the author to describe a number of novel and curious effects that can be obtained by the aid of the camera, together with some instructive and interesting photographic experiments.”—F. R. Fraprie, 1922
By Beverly Wilgus
In 1893, H. P. Ranger was granted Patent No. 505,127 for a “Mirror For Use In Photography.” This was a device comprised of two adjustable mirrors set at an angle. When a subject was placed in front of it, his or her image was reflected in each mirror and that reflection was again reflected, resulting in five or more figures—the number of figures determined by the angle of the mirrors.
The above schema is from an article published in Scientific American in the 1890s that was included in the 1896 book Photographic Amusements by Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury. My husband and I own a copy of the 1931 edition that still contains the original illustrations.
Also from the book is the illustration above: “Diagram Showing The Method Of Production Of Five Views of One Subject By Multiphotography.”
This drawing from Photographic Amusements shows a photographer’s gallery arranged for multiphotography.
This image from the book illustrates the multiphotographing of a full-length figure. In the 1970s, when we started to build our photographic collection, we found a number of photo-multigraph real photo postcards from the early 20th century, but we knew that the style dated from the late 19th Century, so set out to find earlier examples. Within the last year, we have obtained six cabinet-card photo-multigraphs and one tintype. We are now hunting for an example of a standing model, as is shown in the illustration above. We also hope to find an example where the subject is facing the camera rather than the mirrors.
We now own a photo-multigraph tintype that is especially interesting because it shows some the studio wherein the image was taken, including a raised platform and large mirrors that would certainly be capable of showing a standing subject. This gives us hope of finding a full-length photo-multigraph in the future.
The majority of photo-multigraphs we have collected or seen are real photo postcards dating from the first three decades of the 20th Century. Identified galleries were most often in Atlantic City and New York City, although there are other cities represented and a number of images with no gallery identified.
All images from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.
“Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning tears of love,
None so devotional as that of ‘Mother,’
Therefore, by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me.” — Edgar Allan Poe
A quick note: I will be having surgery on Tuesday, 4 April, and will be taking at least a four- or five-day hiatus to recover. I will return as soon as possible. Promise.
“I’ve felt for the first time in my life the joyful consciousness that I am truly loved by a truly good man, one that with all my heart I can love and honor… one who loves me for myself alone, and with an unselfish, patient, gentle affection such as I never thought to waken in a human heart… a man in whom I can trust without fear, in whose principles I have perfect faith, in whose large, warm, loving heart my own restless soul can find repose.”—Anna Alcott Pratt, 1859
“[M]y love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break… ”—Sullivan Ballou, letter to wife Sarah, 14 July, 1861.
“To lovers, I devise their imaginary world, with whatever they may need, as the stars of the sky, the red, red roses by the wall, the snow of the hawthorn, the sweet strains of music, and aught else they may desire to figure to each other the lastingness and beauty of their love.”—Williston Fish, A Last Will, 1898
I am delighted to announce that I have joined the staff writing team at Historical Diaries. Material from Your Dying Charlotte will appear there regularly.
I am also delighted to note that I will be able to bring you material from James Morley, who maintains his vast and wonderful collection on flickr, here, and is the founder of the blog What’s That Picture? His twitter handle is @PhotosOfThePast.
Even the fake kind, or the missing altogether….
Oh my. After this debacle, let’s hope there was snow outside to sled on.
Okay. Well, at least there is fake snow. And a fake dog.
This is more like it: Real snow outside and the girls are rocking those gifts from Santa.
A happy boy on his sled the back garden of what seems to be a row house. A woman stands at the end of the wooden-plank walkway, probably his mother. I hope Edward’s father took him to a local park where there were many high hills to fly down.
A wistful girl sleds on a snowy day near the family farm. Everything about this image charms me—from the baggy pants, the bottle curls, and mad hat to the upturned, pointed noise of the sled and the low mountain beyond. I wish I knew more about her, but sadly there is no photographer’s impression or inscription. Ω
All images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
It is clear this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.
Written on the reverse of this carte de visite, of which above is a closeup, is “Mrs. Susan F. Sawin, Died April 23rd 1863 aged 29 yrs 10 mos 23 days.” Susan, née Kimball, born 31 May, 1833, was the daughter of farmer Ruben Kimball and Abigail Spaulding. A native of Manchester, New Hampshire, she died of consumption—Tuberculosis (TB)—in Townsend, Massachusetts, only a little more than a year after her marriage.
In the United States, TB was the leading cause of death during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The University of Virginia notes, “It was estimated that at the turn of the [20th] century 450 Americans died of tuberculosis every day, most between ages 15 and 44.” Susan Kimball Sawin was just one of these. Her simple life as a New England housewife was lived long ago and cut off in its prime, but her memory—and the memories of all the White Death’s victims—should be honored.
Susan was the third of four spouses of Elisha Dana Sawin. He was 5 born January, 1824, in Sherborn, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and was the son of Bela Sawin (1789-1858) and his wife Rebecca Barber (1789-1827).
Elisha, who was as a cooper—a maker of casks and barrels—had taken as his first wife Hannah Campbell, daughter of farmer Daniel Campbell (1792-1873) and Susanna Colburn (1787-1859). Hannah was born 6 November, 1821, in Townsend. The couple married 12 November 1846—he a “bachelor” and she a “maid”—but the marriage lasted less than a year. Hannah died 12 August, 1847, in Milbury, Worcester County, Massachusetts, of an inflammation of the bowels.
Sawin’s second wife was Elmira Bartlett, born 21 May, 1826, in Townsend. Elmira was the daughter of Martin Bartlett (1786-1849) and Elmira Graham (1797-1882). The couple had a daughter, Ella F., who arrived in 1851. A second daughter, Anna M., was born in 27 August, 1853, but died of the croup aged 4 months and 9 days. It was a staggering loss, but worse was to come. As the decade waned, it became clear that Elmira had contracted the White Death and that she was waning, too.
“It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.”
When, in 1820, the poet John Keats (who was schooled in medicine) coughed a spot of bright red blood, he told a friend, “It is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived. That drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.” Within a year, aged 25, he did just that.
At the time of Keats, Elmira, and Susan’s deaths, TB was believed to be hereditary or arose spontaneously. By 1868, a french doctor, Jean-Antoine Villemin, ascertained that the disease was spread from one victim to another by a microorganism.
“In 1882, Robert Koch discovered a staining technique that enabled him to see Mycobacterium tuberculosis. What excited the world was not so much the scientific brilliance of Koch’s discovery, but the accompanying certainty that now the fight against humanity’s deadliest enemy could really begin,” states Rutgers Global Tuberculosis Institute at the New Jersey Medical School.
Meanwhile, the variable course of TB only served to make it more baffling and terrifying. Physicians could not easily predict whether a consumptive patient would succumb within months, linger for years, or somehow manage to overcome the disease altogether.
According to the 19th century American physician Dr. William Sweetser, the first stage of consumption was marked by a dry, persistent cough, pains in the chest, and some difficulty breathing, any of which could be symptoms of less dire illnesses. The second stage brought a cough described by Sweetser as “severe, frequent, and harassing” as well as a twice-daily “hectic fever,” an accelerated pulse, and a deceptively healthy ruddy complexion.
In the final, fatal stage, wrote the doctor, “The emaciation is frightful and the most mournful change is witnessed… the cheeks are hollow… rendering the expression harsh and painful. The eyes are commonly sunken in their sockets… and often look morbidly bright and staring.” At this point, throat ulcers made eating difficult and speech was limited to a hoarse whisper. Once the distinctive “graveyard cough” began, the diagnosis was certain and death was inevitable. Rarely, wrote Sweetser, “life, wasted to the most feeble spark, goes out almost insensibly.” More typically, severe stomach cramps, excessive sweating, a choking sensation, and vomiting of blood preceded the victim’s demise.
Elmira Sawin rasped her last breath on 21 August, 1860, when her daughter Ella was only four years old. The widower took almost two years to court the little girl’s new mother.
Pretty Susan Kimball, aged 27, became Ella’s stepmother on 10 June, 1862. Sadly, in short order, Susan began to exhibit the telltale signs of TB. Her fight was brief, and with the greening of Spring 1863 she joined Elisha’s previous spouses at Townsend’s Hillside Cemetery. However, unlike Hannah’s and Elmira’s graves, today Susan’s is unmarked. It is uncertain whether there was a headstone that has now vanished or whether Elisha Sawin chose not to have one made.
Elisha, now aged 40, waited only until Autumn to take as his fourth wife, Mary Jane Gilson. Born 19 May, 1830, in Brookline, she was the daughter of William Gilson (1802-1887) and Eliza Ames (1806-1841). The couple married 26 October, 1863, in Townsend. Elisha, Mary Jane, and Ella appear together on the 1865 Massachusetts State Census and the 1870 Federal Census.
On 4 August, 1875, Ella Sawin married the superintendent of schools in Westerly, Rhode Island, Eliel Shumway Ball (1848-1892), whose obituary (above) details his life. Together they had four children: Rose Julia Ball was born in 1876, but died in 1880 at age four; Arthur Watson Ball was born in 1878 and lived only two years; Laurence Sawin Ball was born in 1882 and Alfred Tenney Ball in 1886. The two youngest sons lived to adulthood.
After her husband’s death from acute Bright’s disease on New Year’s Day 1892, Ella lived on as a widow for another 36 years. She died 3 February, 1918, and is buried at Hillside Cemetery.
The union of Elisha and Mary Jane produced no children of its own but appears to have been a busy and happy one. By the enumeration of the 1880 Census, Elisha Sawin was no longer a cooper, but had become a peddler in Townsend. He was also deacon of the Townsend Congregational Church and his wife was involved with its mission, too. The 17 July, 1890, Fitchburg Sentinel notes that Mary Jane, in the company of other Townsend ladies, was “gone to Framingham to attend the Chautauqua meetings there.”
The couple, however, entered into serious decline in the last months of 1899. On 20 October, the Sentinel reported, “E. D. Sawin, who has been ill several weeks, was able to be out Saturday last, but has since had a relapse and is now again confined to his bed.” His sickness was almost certainly chronic cystitis, a bacterial infection of the bladder by Escherichia coli. The illness plagued him throughout the remainder of his life. On 17 November, Mary Jane Sawin died from pneumonia. Elisha outlived her by not much above a year, dying of chronic cystitis, age 77, on 7 January, 1901.
Susan Sawin’s photograph was probably trimmed for insertion into a mourning brooch.
My CDV of Susan Sawin is likely a copy of an original ambrotype or daguerreotype, as the fashions Susan wears could date to as early as about 1853, when she was about 19, or may be late in the same decade. Without seeing more of her clothing, it is hard to pinpoint, but it is clear that this portrait was taken before Susan slipped into the final downward spiral of Tuberculosis.
Susan’s albumen paper image was cut into a small circle probably meant for insertion into a mourning brooch. Multiple copies may have been made for several mourning pieces, and mine was a spare glued onto a CDV card. Ω