Women’s Heritage

Gertrude Stein in Baltimore

Posted on: March 18th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Gertude Stein, age 23, attending to her medical studies in the basement of the Baltimore home. (Credit: Baltimore Style)

Gertude Stein, age 23, attending to her medical studies in the basement of the Baltimore home. (Credit: Baltimore Style)

I have explored the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore a lot since moving to the city eight months ago.  After nearly 18 years in Chicago -- a city that sprawls for nearly 230 square miles -- this National Landmark Historic District feels compact, yet grand.  Although I grew up in Montgomery County and have never lived in Baltimore, this is a homecoming of sorts.  My great-grandparents settled in Baltimore in the mid-19th century, and my father (now 90) grew up here and lives here today.  Also, my grandfather’s most famous cousin, Gertrude Stein, made her home in Baltimore while attending medical school.

With this history in mind, I recently made a pilgrimage to 215 E. Biddle Street in Mount Vernon, where Gertrude lived with her brother Leo from 1897 to1900 while she attended Johns Hopkins. According to a recent article in Baltimore Style magazine by Deborah Rudacille, Gertrude “set up housekeeping with her brother Leo. . . at 215 E. Biddle St., near where the future Duchess of Windsor would later reside.  A photograph of Stein, age 23, in her study at the house shows a human skull perched atop a tall pile of books glowering at her as she bends over a microscope, absorbed in her work.”

215 E. Biddle Street, Baltimore, MD (Credit: Baltimore Style)

215 E. Biddle Street, Baltimore, MD (Credit: Baltimore Style)

Today the building bears a plaque noting that Gertrude and Leo lived there, and on the quiet afternoon I visited it was easy to imagine her bustling up the marble Victorian steps on a cool spring day to her books inside.  It is interesting to visit a site Gertrude Stein occupied before she became an icon, a quietly historical building known only because of what its famous resident went on to achieve.  Although Gertrude did not finish her medical training, her keen sense of observation, particularly of the lives of women of various classes and races in Baltimore, formed the basis for her first major (published) work, Three Lives.  A collection of three novellas, this book tells the story of two immigrant women and an African American woman living in a mid-sized American port city.  This work seems to tell us that Gertrude Stein certainly carried a bit of Baltimore with her to Paris.

-Phoebe Stein Davis

Phoebe Stein Davis is Executive Director of the Maryland Humanities Council.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Widow of the South: Carrie McGavock

Posted on: March 16th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Carrie McGavork (credit: Carnton Historic Plantation, Franklin TN)

Carrie McGavock (credit: Carnton Historic Plantation, Franklin, TN)

It seems appropriate that Carrie McGavock would be the subject of a blog during Woman’s History Month. For like most women in history she was pretty much left out until recently. One of the reviews of a novel I wrote based on her life, described her as “The most famous Southern woman you never heard of.” He got that right.

When Carrie died in 1905, my favorite of her many eulogies and obituaries worded it best, “Those of us who recall the hours as they became days, the two feet of blood on her skirts and the blood up to her elbows, how she ceased to care for herself as she cared over the dying and how she spent the remainder of her life caring over the dead, we, and all generations after us will rise up and call her Blessed.” Truth is, with the passage of time, we didn’t even rise up and call her “Carrie.” She joined all the women before her and since who have been lost to memory and history.

Carrie Winder McGavock never envisioned her life or deeds to be worthy of remembrance by anyone beyond those she had loved and touched. For if truth be known, she really did nothing more than what women have done throughout the ages, what has always been expected of them. You see men go to war and then women – mothers, wives, daughters and the like – are left to pick up the pieces, to mend, to heal, to bury, to mourn, to remember. Her story, as it unfolded in her home, Carnton, during those five bloodiest hours of the Civil War is not unlike the story of all women, black and white, north and south during those four years of America’s blood bath. Beyond maybe the sheer magnitude of the carnage per hour, there is little that might distinguish her work from all the others before and after her, save for maybe the cemetery – the largest private military cemetery ever created in America – there, in her backyard. And then how she never forgot, spending the rest of her life simply remembering.

That is the power of her story, that she did not forget those who died at Franklin – in her home, on her lawn, in her and her neighbors’ fields.

The Widow of the South

The Widow of the South

Several years ago I had the opportunity to tell her story to Dolly Parton when Dolly was using my cabin for her album photography. Dolly, one of the smartest folks I’ve ever known, got the importance of Carrie’s story when I said that only she, among all of Williamson County, would have more obituaries when she died than Carrie had. She thoughtfully replied, “Yes, but never forget; I had to leave home to get them.”

In the end, that may just be the power of Carrie McGavock’s story and the story of that place, Carnton. She did what was expected and required of her. She did it with little thought or hope of praise or remembrance. She was simply faithful to history and her circumstances. And in so doing, she’s as good a reason as I can give you for Women’s History Month.

--Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks, author of Widow of the South and A Guitar and a Pen will present the Special Lecture on Friday, October 16, at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information about the conference, visit http://www.preservationnation.org/resources/training/npc/.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Mary Jane Colter: Architect of the Southwest

Posted on: March 12th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mary Colter showing Bright Angel Lodge plans to Mrs. Harold Ickes, wife of the Secretary of the Interior, circa 1935.  (Credit: Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection # 16940)

Mary Colter showing Bright Angel Lodge plans to Mrs. Harold Ickes, wife of the Secretary of the Interior, circa 1935. (Credit: Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection # 16940)

The career of Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1869-1958) is the story of a successful woman in a man’s field: architecture.  Colter designed atmospheric structures for travelers—at Grand Canyon National Park and elsewhere in the Southwest.  She spent her entire career working simultaneously for the Fred Harvey Company—the famous purveyor of tourist accommodations—and its partner, the Santa Fe Railway, creating buildings based on the western landscape and Native American and Hispanic culture.

Colter didn’t copy this milieu but fashioned environments from its essence, relying on her artistic talents—the result of training in the Arts and Crafts in her hometown of St. Paul, Minn., and studying architecture in California—her practical bent, and her fertile imagination to work historical feeling into modern buildings. She was famous for her thorough research, traveling long distances to remote locations in search of Native American ruins and artifacts to study.  Her Watchtower at the Grand Canyon (1933) is the most amazing result of this method, but she is also famous for Lookout Studio, Hopi House, Hermits’ Rest, Bright Angel Lodge, Phantom Ranch, and additional structures at the park.

Colter’s other remarkable creations include El Navajo hotel and train station in Gallup, N.M., the restaurant and lounge at Los Angeles Union Station, shops and restaurants in the union stations of Chicago and Kansas City, and the expansion of La Fonda, the legendary hotel in Santa Fe, N.M. Her most famous work is La Posada in Winslow, Ariz., the last of the great Harvey House hotels, which opened to great acclaim in 1930.  Typically, Colter designed La Posada to look like an old structure, as if it were the abandoned and restored hacienda of a Spanish colonial rancher.  The hotel flourished for years as a layover for travelers headed to California, who often would stay for days there to explore the region.  Later the place sank into neglect, but was restored and reopened in the late 1990s, helping to rejuvenate the town, and is now famous for its romantic accommodations, elegant grounds, and sophisticated dining.

After she died, Colter’s name sank into obscurity.  But her reputation has been revived to great acclaim.  At the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, her contributions are recognized, interpreted, and celebrated to an ever wider public.  Books, videos, and articles about this remarkable artist have helped spread her fame, assuring Colter a permanent place in American history.

–Arnold Berke

Arnold Berke is the senior editor of Preservation magazine at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Teaching Preservation (& Diversity)

Posted on: March 12th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Something

Notes from the Teacher's Desk

As an educator, you can’t make important classroom decisions in a vacuum.

In Research History, I always try to interject a healthy dose of diversity into my curriculum, but not just because of the rich and invaluable context it adds to my lesson plans. You see, the State of Ohio has the following stats to report when it comes to the demographic make-up of my rural school district:

.7% Hispanic, 1% Asian/Pacific Islander, 2.8% Black/Non-Hispanic, 3.6% Multi-Racial and 91.9% Caucasian/Non-Hispanic.

Because diversity doesn’t necessarily jump out at us from the window of our classroom, I feel like integrating it into our projects is something that I simply must do whenever possible.

That’s why I make the choices that I do. It’s also why I think now – as we leave Black History Month, enter Women’s History Month, and prepare for the many others in line on the calendar – is the perfect time to reflect on the “how” factor.

Something

A field photo from one of my previous classes.

Since I started my class in 1998, my students and I have work on several hands-on projects (you know that’s my thing) that not only teach important history lessons, but carry equally important messages about people and the human experience. For example, I invite you all to explore the lesson plans that I developed for my most recent partnership with the History Channel and their Take a Vet to School Day program. While the idea is to tell the stories of our country’s African-American soldiers, the lesson can and should be used as a model to tell the stories of women service members and their peers from different ethnic backgrounds.

Over the years, former Research History students have also developed an Emancipation Day website (my students researched and asked the State of Ohio to designate September 22 as our official Emancipation Day), conducted an archeological project at the Gist Settlement, created an online catalogue of the burials of African-American soldiers throughout our state, and learned (and then conveyed in their own words) inspiring stories about the Freedom Fighters.

All of these projects have given my students the opportunity to preserve cultural diversity in our community, even if it’s not always apparent to the naked eye. In the same way, I encourage all teachers to get inspired and to look beyond their classroom windows when penning their own lesson plans.

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate “hands-on” classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned this semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, keep an eye out for future “Notes from the Teacher’s Desk” columns from Paul himself.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

"Ladies, the home of Washington is in your charge."

Posted on: March 11th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

The story goes like this: Louisa Cunningham was traveling down the Potomac on her way back to South Carolina after a trip to Philadelphia. At one point along the river she looked out the window and saw a once stately manor staring down at her, clearly having seen better days. Its columns were crumbling, the landscape untended, and the roof propped up by the masts of ships.

The year was 1853 and the manor was Mount Vernon the home of George Washington.

At the time John Augustine Washington III, the great grand-nephew of President Washington owned Mount Vernon. Lack of funds and the wear and tear of thousands of visitors left him fielding offers to sell, despite his wish that the house be placed in government hands.

Shocked, astounded, and maybe a little disgusted, Louisa writes a scathing letter to her daughter, Ann Pamela, asking why it was not possible for women to fight for the estate when it was clear that the men would not. Ann Pamela agreed with her mother and wrote an anonymous letter to the Charleston Mercury asking for action. By April 6, 1858 the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union signed a contract with John Washington III for $200,000, eventually taking charge of the mansion on February 22, 1860, on the 128th Anniversary of George Washington's birth.

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

Mount Vernon (Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey)

It seems easy, right? A group of women, from the upper class of American society, gathering together from across the nation to raise the money to save the home of the father of our country. How could anyone oppose this cause? Unfortunately, in 1853 the United States was on the brink of civil war, and tensions were high. Despite Ann Pamela’s initial plan to raise money and buy the house for the Commonwealth of Virginia it soon became clear that the state would not support them. In 1858, she approached Washington directly and was rebuffed. Not to be deterred she waited a night and approached Washington’s wife, who was able to convince her husband to sign the contract on April 6. Since that day the Mount Vernon Ladies Association has worked to preserve and protect the home of George Washington.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.