Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Elizabeth Stuart: A Lost Girl

Elizabeth Stuart (born 28 December 1635)

The daughter of the ill-fated Charles I, king of England, and his queen, Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Stuart didn't have much of a life. 

Van Dyck's 1637 painting of Elizabeth Stuart
and her younger sister, Anne,
who died in 1640, at the age of three
It might all have turned out quite differently for her--in 1636, while the Stuart princess was still an infant, her grandmother, the French regent Marie de' Medici was interested in arranging a match between the baby and William, the prince of Orange (the future William II of Orange). 

Although King Charles was not impressed with the prospects of such an alliance and rejected it for Elizabeth, he later accepted it for his eldest, Mary Henrietta, in 1641, after other marriage negotiations fell through and his economic situation grew dire.

After the outbreak of the English Civil Wars in 1642, Elizabeth Stuart and her younger brother, Henry, duke of Gloucester, were taken into the "care" of Parliament, placed into the hands of a series of "guardians" assigned to the task. 

In 1643, she was moved to Chelsea, where she was tutored by a woman we have met before, the scholar Bathsua Makin; with Makin, the princess  studied classical and modern languages and mathematics. In 1644, when Elizabeth was nine years old, Makin wrote about the princess's accomplishments, and although it is not absolutely clear, she may have remained as the girl's tutor until Elizabeth's death. 

Meanwhile, in 1647, Elizabeth and her brother were allowed to spend two days with their father, who had been captured and was being held by parliamentary forces. They had more occasion for visits when the king was moved to Hampton Court palace, but after his escape, there would be no more time spent with him.

In 1648, parliament acted to reduce Elizabeth's household, a decision she protested in a letter: "My Lords," she wrote, "I account myself very miserable that I must have my servants taken from me and strangers put to me. You promised me that you would have a care for me; and I hope you will show it in preventing so great a grief as this would be to me. I pray my lords consider of it, and give me cause to thank you, and to rest. Your loving friend, Elizabeth." 

An engraving of Elizabeth Stuart,
after 1645
The princess was moved to St. James's, where she was held in close captivity. After her father's trial and condemnation, she again wrote parliament, asking for permission to join her sister on the continent, in the Netherlands. Denied even that, the thirteen-year-old Elizabeth and her younger brother, were allowed to visit their father before his execution.

According to her account of this visit, she wrote that her father attempted to console his sobbing daughter. Further, 
He bid us tell my mother that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that his love would be the same to the last. Withal, he commanded me and my brother to be obedient to her; and bid me send his blessing to the rest of my brothers and sisters, with communications to all his friends. Then, taking my brother Gloucester on his knee, he said, "Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father's head." And Gloucester looking very intently upon him, he said again, "Heed, my child, what I say: they will cut off my head and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say. Thou must not be a king as long as thy brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers' heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at the last, and therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them." At which my brother sighed deeply, and made answer: "I will be torn in pieces first!" And these words, coming so unexpectedly from so young a child, rejoiced my father exceedingly. And his majesty spoke to him of the welfare of his soul, and to keep his religion, commanding him to fear God, and He would provide for him. Further, he commanded us all to forgive those people, but never to trust them; for they had been most false to him and those that gave them power, and he feared also to their own souls. And he desired me not to grieve for him, for he should die a martyr, and that he doubted not the Lord would settle his throne upon his son, and that we all should be happier than we could have expected to have been if he had lived; with many other things which at present I cannot remember.
The two children were regarded as even more of a burden after their father's execution--parliament refused the repeated offer of sanctuary in the Netherlands, and a succession of men appointed to act as their guardians rejected the duties the job entailed. 

Elizabeth found some respite under the care of Robert Sidney and his wife Dorothy Percy, who extended kindness to the girl. But even this didn't last--in 1650, when her elder brother, who would one day become Charles II, entered Scotland, the frightened English parliamentarians moved Elizabeth to the Isle of Wight, despite her pleas of ill health. 

She developed pneumonia and died on 8 September 1650, shortly after the move to Wight. She was fourteen years old.

When she was eleven years old, am ambassador from France had called her a "budding young beauty" who had "grace, dignity, intelligence and sensibility." But when her remains were examined in the nineteenth-century, it could be seen that she had suffered from rickets, resulting in shoulder and back deformities that would have made it difficult for her to walk--the result, surely, of the deprivations she suffered.

(Henry, duke of Gloucester, managed to survive his trials and tribulations, eventually reuniting with his older brothers, Charles and James, on the continent. He was with his brothers when Charles was restored to the throne, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox. As he lay dying, his mother, Henrietta Maria, refused to see him because he had withstood her efforts to convert him to Catholicism. Family values. Sheesh.)

You may be interested in this BBC History Extra podcast, in which historian Linda Porter discusses the unhappy fate of Charles I's "left behind" children--click here.

For a post on Elizabeth Stuart's sister, Mary Henrietta, click here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christine of France, Regent of Savoy

Marie-Christine of Bourbon, duchess of Savoy (died 27 December 1663)

Marie-Christine of Bourbon, known more simply as Christine of France, was the daughter of Henry IV of France and his second queen, the much-maligned Marie de' Medici. She was born on 10 February 1606, the third of their six children.

A 1633 portrait of Marie-Christine,
duchess of Savoy
Christine's elder sister, Elisabeth, and her younger, Henrietta Maria, both became queens--Elisabeth became the queen of Spain, Henrietta Maria, the queen of England. 

Elisabeth would give birth to eleven children, only two of whom lived past childhood, however; she was regent of Spain for her husband, Philip IV, but she died young, only forty-one years old.

Henrietta Maria married Charles I of England, but she was forced to flee after the beginning of the English Civil Wars, and she would remain an exile in France from 1643 until her son's restoration in 1660. She returned briefly to England, but died in Paris in 1669 at the age of fifty-nine. (Christine's brother became the king of France as Louis XIII.)

While Marie-Christine did not become a queen, she married Louis Amadeus, the duke of Savoy, in 1619. Although she brought as much culture and splendor to the court of Savoy as she could--and although she maintained a close and intimate correspondence with her younger sister, the queen of England--the ambitious Marie-Christine encouraged her husband to claim the title of king of Cyprus and Jerusalem even after he succeeded as duke of Savoy in 1630. 

After her husband's death in 1637, Christine claimed the title of regent of Savoy. Her eldest son died the next year, but Christine retained her role, acting from 1638 as regent for her second son, Charles Emmanuel (b. 1634). Although she resisted French influence, her husband's younger brothers, not content with their positions after Louis Amadeus's death, began a civil war with Spanish support.

With French support, Christine was victorious, and to ensure the peace, she settled matters with her husband's brother, Maurice. Now here's another example of "traditional marriage" for you: Maurice, who had been a cardinal for thirty years (!!!), gave up his ecclesiastical title, got a dispensation from the pope, and married well. The fact that he was forty-nine and Louise-Christine was thirteen is the least of it . . . Maurice's new bride was his niece, the daughter of Louis Amadeus and Marie-Christine. (The younger of Louis Amadeus's brothers, Thomas Francis, also made peace with Christine, but there was no marriage to a niece for him--he was already married to Marie, another member of the Bourbon family. Once peace was made, he began fighting against the Spanish and for the French.)

Anyway, Christine had successfully settled matters and retained her position as regent of Savoy until 1648, when her son, at age ten, achieved his majority. Although her formal role ended, she continued to govern for him. His delayed marriage--he didn't marry until 1663--is frequently interpreted as a sign of his mother's desire to hold onto power. When he did marry, in April of 1663, Charles Emmanuel married his first cousin, Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, the daughter of his mother's younger brother, a young woman reportedly chosen because of her docility.

A gilded bronze medallion, 1637,
Christine of France,
regent of Savoy
Marie-Christine of Bourbon, regent of Savoy, enjoyed an exuberant personal life--she took lovers and enjoyed life's luxuries and pleasures as well as wielding political power.  

Christine died on 27 December, just months after her son's marriage. She was fifty-seven years old. 

The best account of Christine of Savoy is in Robert Oresko's "Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours (1644-1724): Daughter, Consort, and Regent of Savoy," in Clarissa Campbell Orr's Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort.

By the way, the subject of Oresko's essay, Marie Jeanne Baptiste, had been proposed as a bride for Charles Emmanuel in 1659, and after being "inspected" by her potential husband and his mother, she was rejected by Marie-Christine, perhaps because she did not seem so very malleable. Charles Emmanuel, however, wanted her as his wife, and after the death of his first wife, Françoise Madeleine, just a month after the death of his mother, Charles Emmanuel married Marie Jeanne, now known as Maria Giovanna. After his death in 1675, Maria Giovanna became regent of Savoy.

Maria Giovanna,
duchess and regent of Savoy,
a print from 1677
Update: To respond to the question posed below, in the comments, about the changing of Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name to Maria Giovanna--royal and noble women's names were frequently changed to reflect the language of the country of their marriage. In perhaps the most well known example, Catalina de Aragón became Catherine of Aragon when she arrived in England. Thus Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name was Italianised when she married into the House of Savoy. (Also, I originally wrote "Jeanne" as "Jean," and it's been corrected here.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mary Somerville, the "Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science"

Mary Fairfax Somerville, Writer, Mathematician, and Astronmer (born 26 December 1790)

I have spent a great deal of time in many posts on this blog bitching about the Encyclopedia Britannica and its woeful lack of inclusion when it comes to women. So I do have to begin by saying that the Britannica in its new online form has an extended entry on Mary Somerville. 

Thomas Phillips's 1834 portait
of Mary Somerville
However (you knew there had to be a "however," didn't you?), the entry fails to mention the name of Somerville's mother, Margaret Charters. (To be fair, it also fails to mention her father's name.) 

The daughter of William George Fairfax and Margaret Charters, his second wife, Mary Fairfax failed to receive much in the way of an education during her earliest years. While her brothers were of course given the kind academic preparation deemed necessary for boys, the young Mary was taught to read, by her mother, but not to write. She also learned to say her prayers. As Mary would later write, she was "allowed to grow up a wild creature."

After her father, a vice admiral, returned from sea and decided his daughter was something of a "savage" (which seems fair, given her own description of herself), the ten-year-old Mary was sent to Miss Primrose's Academy for Girls in Musselburgh.

After a year at this expensive school, she returned home, able to read and write, though still not very well, capable of simple arithmetic, and knowing some French. She would describe her experience of leaving the school as feeling "like a wild animal escaped out of a cage."

But, once back home, she began her real education--at first on her own, reading every book she could lay her hands on in her family's library. Her maternal uncle, Thomas Somerville, also began instructing her in Latin, and she was able to learn mathematics, geography, and astronomy second-hand--like so many of the women I've written about, the young Mary Fairfax learned from her brothers and their tutors. (For only two examples of young women educated by their brothers' leftovers, click here and here.)  

Unfortunately her efforts at educating herself were not encouraged--such occupations were not ladylike. To direct her energies more appropriately, she was sent to a school in Burntisland where she she could improve her needlework. 

The family began spending winters in Edinburgh when Mary was thirteen, and she participated fully in the social life of the city; as she described this period of her life, she enjoyed the "parties, visits, balls, theatres, concerts, and innocent flirtations." But she also took instruction in writing and painting. And having encountered some mysterious-looking symbols in a woman's magazine, she began studying algebra--although, as she also noted, her father was afraid that "the strain of abstract thought would injure the tender female frame." 

In 1804, when she was twenty-four, Mary Fairfax married a cousin, Samuel Grieg. She quickly gave birth to two children. Her husband was not a supporter of his wife's less "natural" activities--as she described him, he "possessed in full the prejudice against learned women which was common at that time."

After Grieg's early death in 1807, Mary Fairfax Grieg returned to Scotland. With the financial inheritance she received as Grieg's widow, she was able to dedicate herself to her studies, this time with the support of several significant intellectuals, including John Playfair, a geologist and mathematician at the University of Edinburgh, and William Wallace (Playfair's former pupil), another noted mathematician. In their correspondence, they discussed the mathematical problems set in Thomas Leybourn's philosophical journal, Mathematical Repository. For her solution to one of these problems, she received a silver medal from the editors of the journal. 

During this period and with Wallace's encouragement, she read Isaac Newton's Principia and the Traité de mécanique céleste (Celestial Mechanics) by the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace. In 1812, she married again, to another cousin, William Somerville, who proved to be much more supportive of his wife's intellectual career. 

The couple moved to London in 1816, where Mary Somerville attended lectures at the Royal Institute. There she met Caroline Herschel, Annabella Milbanke, lady Byron, and Lady Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace.

In addition to giving birth to four children, she also began her remarkable scientific career. In 1825, she experimented with magnetism, presenting a paper on her experiments the next year, in 1826, to the Royal Society. Her work, "The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum," was then published in the Society's Philosophical Transactions

In 1827, she was encouraged to produce versions of Newton's Principia and Laplace's Mecanique for the general reading audience. The result, The Mechanism of the Heavens, published in 1831, proved to be very successful--and resulted in a portrait bust of her being commissioned for and displayed by the Royal Society. 

During the years 1832 and 1833, while traveling in Europe, she completed The Connection of the Physical Sciences, published in 1834. The next year, along with Caroline Herschel, she was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society, the first women to receive such an honor. 

She garnered many such recognitions: in 1834, she was elected to honorary membership in the Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève and, in the same year, to the Royal Irish Academy. She was awarded a civil pension of £200 per annum, increased to £300 in 1837. 

In an effort to improve William Somerville's health, the family relocated to Italy in 1832, where Mary Somerville completed her two-volume Physical Geography, published in 1848. Its publication produced another round of honors: she was elected to the American Geographical and Statistical Society in 1857, the Italian Geographical Society in 1870, and, in the same year, she received the Victoria Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

After the death of her husband, Somerville remained in Italy, completing two more works, her last scientific book, Molecular and Microscopic Science (1869) and her autobiography, Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age, edited and published after her death by her daughter in 1873.

Mary Somerville died in Naples at the age of ninety two, on 29 November 1872. Noting her death, The London Post proclaimed her the "queen of nineteenth-century science."

One of the most recognizable honors paid to Mary Somerville was in 1879, years after her death. In that year, and in recognition of Mary Somerville's support for women's education, Somerville College in Oxford was named after her. 

Brigade Piron's photograph of
Somerville College,
Today you can access all of Mary Somerville's work through the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg. You might also enjoy Robyn Arianrhod's Seduced by Logic: Émilie Du Châtelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution, which will also introduce you to another important female intellectual, Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-49).

Update, 3 December 2021: You may be interested in listening to the new episode on Mary Somerville that is part of the BBC's podcast series, The Forum--if so, click here and enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Time"

Artemisia Gentileschi Exhibition, Rome (30 November 2016-7 May 2017)

Driving home late this afternoon after a long lunch with my best friend, I heard a story on All Things Considered by my favorite NPR reporter (Sylvia Poggioli) about my favorite artist, Artemisia Gentileschi.

An AP photo of a visitor to the exhibition at
Rome's Palazzo Braschi museum snapping a photo
of one of Gentileschi's most well known works
I've posted about Artemisia Gentileschi and her work before (click here), recounting my experience of wandering around the Uffizi, turning a corner, and suddenly coming face to face with one of her paintings (as opposed to a color plate in an art book) for the first time. 

Years later, a trip back to Italy became, for me and my enthusiastic son, something of an Artemisia pilgrimage (or, more accurately, obsessive stalking), as I tracked down as many of her works as I could in the time I was traveling. 

So I was particularly excited to hear Poggioli's report announcing the opening of an exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi's work in Rome. How wonderful that such a gathering of her work is now on display in one place. And, hey, it isn't even some dutiful recognition of her life--she was born in 1593 and died in 1653, so it isn't a four-hundredth anniversary of her birth or death or anything . . . It's almost like she's an artist worth celebrating because of the power of her painting!

It's still not, strictly speaking, a solo show--a third of the 95 or so works on display are Artemisia's (the rest by contemporary artists she knew and younger painters on whom her work had an influence). In 2002, a father-daughter exhibition, "Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi," was hosted in Rome and in the U.S., at the Getty Museum (Los Angeles) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But, still, this new attention to Artemisia Gentileschi's work is welcome. However, that doesn't mean she's yet received the full recognition she's due. As Poggioli reports, 
A painting by Artemisia was sold at Sotheby's two years ago for more than $1 million.
But in a sign of a substantial gender gap also in the art market, a painting by her father, Orazio, was bought by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in January for more than $30 million. And yet, with her intense colors and heroines at the center of dramatic narratives, the daughter's paintings far outshine those of her father. (Emphasis mine.)
I know, I know . . . I'm never satisfied . . .

A self-portrait of Gentileschi

There are lots of pieces in the Italian press on the exhibit if you can manage in Italian. There is also a great piece by Lucy Gordon in La voce di New York (it's in English; click here).

I should also add that Gentileschi's Susannah and the Elders is included in the UK's National Gallery "Beyond Caravaggio" (12 October 2017 to 15 January 2017). You may be interested in Jonathan Jones's comments on Gentileschi, "More Savage than Caravaggio: The Woman Who Took Revenge in Oil" (The Guardian)--to access the piece, click here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Black British Nurse in the Crimea--and Twenty-First Century Outrage

Mary Grant Seacole, a "Pioneer Nurse" (1805-1881, married 10 November 1836)

On 30 June of this year (2016), after a twelve-year campaign, a statue of Mary Seacole was unveiled at St. Thomas's Hospital, London--though not without a great deal of controversy.

Sculptor Mark Jennings' statue
 of Mary Seacole
(photograph by Owen Blacker)
The story of Seacole and her role as a nurse in the Crimea has been largely overshadowed by that of her much more famous contemporary, Florence Nightingale--and, in fact, much of the opposition to recognition of Seacole has come from various Nightingale supporters and organizations, notably the Florence Nightingale Society. 

It's hard to see why these two women and their contributions have been pitted against one another--except, of course, the belief that there couldn't possibly be two accomplished, notable women working in the same profession at the same time in the the same place. 

The conflict seems to reflect a deeply tinged misogyny--obviously recognizing and appreciating one woman would take away recognition and appreciation of the other. The dispute has devolved to ridiculous levels--including objections to Seacole's sculpture being taller than one of Nightingale near Buckingham palace and outcries over the fact that Seacole's statue has been placed on the ground of a nursing hospital founded by Nightingale. (There is surely more than a little racism involved as well in all of this. One detractor scoffed at Seacole, who in 2004 was named the "greatest Black Briton" by a public vote, saying she was "three-quarters white.")

And, I'll add, as a side note, this conflict seems to be related to the persistent praise of a gifted woman as the "tenth Muse"--something I've railed about on numerous occasions in this blog. Obviously there can only exist one exceptional woman at any one time, imagined as an addition to the panoply of nine classical muses--who could possibly regard an accomplished woman as, simply, you know, normal? (For all my musings--okay, ranting--about all the tenth muses I've noted since beginning this blog, click the label, below.) 

I will let you google for yourself if you're interested in learning more about this "controversy" over Mary Seacole--Patrick Vernon's "Rubbishing Mary Seacole" (The Guardian, 21 June 2016), is a good introduction to the whole sorry mess.    

Instead, I'll focus here on Seacole's full and varied life. Born in Kingston, Jamaica on an unknown date in 1805, Mary Jane Grant was the daughter of James Grant, a Scottish lieutenant in the British army, her mother a free, mixed-race Jamaican woman who combined nursing skill and running a boarding house, Blundell Hall. About her mother, Seacole would later write:
My mother kept a boardinghouse in Kingston, and was, like very many of the Creole women, an admirable doctress; in high repute with the officers of both services, and their wives, who were from time to time stationed at Kingston. It was very natural that I should inherit her tastes; and so I had from early youth a yearning for medical knowledge and practice which has never deserted me. . . . [From her,] the ambition to become a doctress early took firm root in my mind; and I was very young when I began to make use of the little knowledge I had acquired from watching my mother. . . .*
Seacole was proud of her heritage--she is proud of the "good Scotch blood coursing through her veins," and she is proud of her brown skin. She later wrote about the difficulties she faced when trying to book passage on an American ship as she was trying to travel back to Jamaica from Panama:
my experience of travel had not failed to teach me that Americans (even from the Northern States) are always uncomfortable in the company of coloured people, and very often show this feeling in stronger ways than by sour looks and rude words. I think, if I have a little prejudice against our cousins across the Atlantic–and I do confess to a little–it is not unreasonable. I have a few shades of deeper brown upon my skin which shows me related – and I am proud of the relationship–to those poor mortals whom you once held enslaved, and whose bodies America still owns. And having this bond, and knowing what slavery is; having seen with my eyes and heard with my ears proof positive enough of its horrors – let others affect to doubt them if they will–is it surprising that I should be somewhat impatient of the airs of superiority which many Americans have endeavoured to assume over me?
As a child, young Mary Grant received an education from a woman she referred to as her "kind patroness" and more practical training from her mother, whom she assisted in the running of the boarding house and with her healing practice. In 1821, she traveled to England visit relatives. After a year she went back to Jamaica, then returned to England, taking with her West Indian spices, preserves, and pickles for trade, this time staying until 1825. In her autobiography, she provides few details about her trips to London--nothing about where she stayed or how she supported herself--though she does note that her companion, a woman whose color was darker than her own, was taunted by Londoners with "rude wit." 

She returned to Jamaica again, this time nursing her elderly patron and working with her mother, at times caring for invalid soldiers and their wives. (She mentions working at the British Army hospital in her memoir.) On 10 November 1836 (the occasion for today's post), she married Edwin Horatio Seacole, an English merchant (said also to be the godson of the great British naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson--according to family traditions, Seacole was Nelson's illegitimate son).

Albert Charles Challen's
1869 portrait of Mary Seacole
(National Portrait Gallery)
Within a few years, Mary Grant, now Mary Seacole, suffered a number of personal tragedies: in two short years, 1843 and 1844, Blundell Hall burned down, her husband died, and her mother died.  She allowed herself a short period of grief, then set about rebuilding her mother's business. She made a success not only of the business but of her nursing skills, notably in the cholera epidemic in Jamaica in 1850.

In 1851 she joined her brother in Panama--arriving in time to experience a cholera epidemic that swept through the city of Crucis--her nursing experience, in particular treating cholera, helped. She assisted the rich, who paid for their treatment, and the poor, whom she treated for free. While in Panama, she also opened and ran a hotel. After returning to Jamaica in 1853, she again encountered disease; this time, authorities asked her to help in treating victims of yellow fever. She treated some in her boarding house, others at the British Army camp. 

In 1854 she was on the move again, returning briefly to Panama. In her autobiography she writes of having been compared to the Greek hero (and wanderer) Odysseus, a comparison she does not appreciate--"Some people, indeed, have called me quite a female Ulysses," she writes, adding, "I believe that they intended it as a compliment; but from my experience of the Greeks, I do not consider it a very flattering one." In Panama, she read of the escalation of the war in Crimea and decided to volunteer her services as a nurse.

Seacole left Panama for England, and although she brought with her "ample testimony" of her experiences, the War Office denied her application to be sent to the Crimea. An appeal to the Crimea Fund, a publicly sponsored organization that raised money to support the wounded, was also rejected. 

Seacole decided to fund herself, though she eventually found a partner, a Caribbean businessman named Thomas Day. Seacole's plan was to open the British Hotel, which she described as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers." (It is this description, I suppose, that leads some of her detractors to claim all she did was serve tea and lemonade while she was in the Crimea.) 

She left England in January of 1855--on her long trip, she writes of encountering men she had formerly treated, who greeted her with cries of "Mother Seacole, Mother Seacole!" During a stop in Malta, she receives a letter of introduction to Florence Nightingale to add to the many letters of reference she had received from British officers stationed in Jamaica.

In Constantinople, she was eventually to meet with Nightingale. She describes their meeting in her autobiography: 
[A nurse says to her,] "Miss Nightingale has the entire management of our hospital staff, but I do not think that any vacancy--"
"Excuse me, ma'am," I interrupt her with, "but I am bound for the front in a few days;" and my questioner leaves me, more surprised than ever. The room I waited in was used as a kitchen. Upon the stoves were cans of soup, broth, and arrow-root, while nurses passed in and out with noiseless tread and subdued manner. I thought many of them had that strange expression of the eyes which those who have gazed long on scenes of woe or horror seldom lose.
In half an hour's time I am admitted to Miss Nightingale's presence. A slight figure, in the nurses' dress; with a pale, gentle, and withal firm face, resting lightly in the palm of one white hand, while the other supports the elbow--a position which gives to her countenance a keen inquiring expression, which is rather marked. Standing thus in repose, and yet keenly observant--the greatest sign of impatience at any time, a slight, perhaps unwitting motion of the firmly planted right foot--was Florence Nightingale--that Englishwoman whose name shall never die, but sound like music on the lips of British men until the hour of doom.
She has read Dr. F—'s letter, which lies on the table by her side, and asks, in her gentle but eminently practical and business-like way, "What do you want, Mrs. Seacole--anything that we can do for you? If it lies in my power, I shall be very happy."
With this "blessing," Seacole traveled on to Balaclava, where she built her British Hotel from scrap materials she could scrounge. The hotel opened in March 1855. Seacole provided meals, comfort, support, and care. As a correspondent of The Times reported in September of that year, "Mrs. Seacole . . . doctors and cures all manner of men with extraordinary success. She is always in attendance near the battle-field to aid the wounded, and has earned many a poor fellow’s blessings."

In her memoir of the Crimea, Lady Alicia Blackwood wrote that Mary Seacole "personally spared no pains and no exertion to visit the field of woe, and minister with her own hands such things as could comfort or alleviate the suffering of those around her; freely giving to such as could not pay."

Seacole was the first British woman to enter the city of Sebastopol after it fell on 9 September, taking with her provisions and visiting the city's hospital, where thousands were dead and dying. (A light-skinned girl named Sarah eventually joined Seacole--many, including Nightingale, alleged she was Seacole's illegitimate daughter, but there is no evidence to support such an assertion.) 

Seacole continued her work in Crimea until the war's end; she returned to England, she would later write, "poorer than I left it." She was declared bankrupt in 1856. But when her plight was made known in the British press, a fund was established, raising enough money to discharge her bankruptcy. The fund was supported by the many soldiers and officers she had treated and tended. 

The cover of Seacole's
1857 autobiography
Undaunted, she hoped to travel to India in 1857 after the Indian Rebellion, but fundraising on her behalf was not successful. In the end, she returned to Jamaica after publishing her Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, the first autobiography published by a Black woman in England. 

In Jamaica, Seacole once again experienced financial difficulties. Hearing of her straitened circumstances, London supporters and patrons, including the prince of Wales, the duke of Edinburgh, the duke of Cambridge, and many senior military officers, raised funds for her. 

Although she would return to England in 1870, seemingly to offer her services as a nurse during the Franco-Prussian War, she did not make her way to the front again. She remained in London, dying there on 14 May 1881. 

You can read Seacole's autobiography by clicking here. It is just too bad that if you Google Seacole's name, you'll have to wade through all the crap. Too bad her detractors seem to think that recognizing Seacole somehow damages Nightingale (who herself would attempt to undermine Seacole by insinuating her British Hotel was really nothing but a brothel). 

Too bad more people don't remember the assessment of Sir Howard Russell, the Times war correspondent: "I trust that England will not forget one who nursed the sick, who sought out her wounded to aid and succour them, and who performed the last offices for some of her illustrious dead." His words are now engraved on the sculpture of Seacole.

Why would anyone want to trash a woman like that?

*Update, 15 January 2024: William Dalyrumple and Anita Anand, hosts of The Empire podcast, recently had an episode featuring Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole. Titled “Tale of Two Nurses,” it is available at all podcast platforms, but I’ll link to a YouTube broadcast here.

The guest on this episode of the podcast, Helen Rappaport, author of In Search of Mary Seacole: The Making of a Black Cultural Icon and Humanitarian (2022), identifies the unique role of the "doctoress" in Jamaica. A doctoress was a local African woman who treated sick African slaves in slave "hothouses" (hospitals), often incorporating herbal medicines, "pharmaceutical skills almost," into a "rich and sophisticated range of treatments." 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mary Richardson, Suffragette, "Vandal," and Fascist

Mary Raleigh Richardson (died 7 November 1961)

I've posted many times here about women's long fight to gain the vote and about women who participated in that fight--some of them compelled to acts of violence. Mary Richardson is one of the most complex and complicated figures in the suffrage movement.

A surveillance photograph
of Mary Richardson,
taken in 1913 by Scotland Yard
Born in England in 1882, Richardson was raised in Ontario, Canada, by her Canadian mother and grandfather, returning to Britain when she was sixteen. Her life at the end of the nineteenth century seemed conventional enough--in 1898, for example, she was studying art, and then she traveled to Paris and to Italy. Once she completed her education, she moved to Bloomsbury and began a career as a journalist. 

But after witnessing the violence of the Black Friday Protests of 18 November 1910, Richardson found her life transformed, and she joined the Women's Social and Political Union, the militant suffrage group founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and dedicated to "deeds not words."

In 1912, the WSPU began a campaign of arson, directed by Pankhurst's daughter Christabel--the group attempted to destroy homes of members of parliament, then escalated their campaign to include setting fire to railway stations and other public facilities, cutting telephone lines, and destroying the contents of mailboxes.

Mary Richardson was committed to this increasingly militant--and violent--campaign, which she regarded as "a holy crusade." As biographer Hilda Kean describes the physical sufferings borne by Richardson as a result of her participation in these acts of politically motivated violence:  
She was arrested nine times, serving several sentences in Holloway prison for assaulting the police, breaking windows, and arson. She was frequently attacked while campaigning for the suffrage cause: her shoulder blade was broken and her clothing torn to shreds when she presented a petition to George V in Bristol in 1913. She campaigned with the socialist Sylvia Pankhurst in east London and was arrested and then imprisoned with her after a rally in Bromley by Bow in July 1913. 
Mary Richardson was one of the first two women to be force fed, under the "Cat and Mouse Act" in 1913, having been arrested at the scene of an arson attack. She suffered extensive bruising and poor health as a result, writing about this experience as "torture." When released in 1914 after a long period of forcible feeding, she declared, "The worst fight on record since the movement began is now raging in Holloway."  
However, Mary Richardson's most infamous act of political protest was not on a private home or a public building but on a work of art: on 10 March 1914 she slashed a painting in the National Gallery, Diego Velázquez's nude portrait of Venus, Venus at her Toilet, now known as the Rokeby Venus (so-called because the painting was first brought to England and hung at Rokeby Park, Yorkshire, before being acquired by the National Gallery in 1906). 

The Rokeby Venus after
Richardson's attack,
photo published in The Times, 1914

Richardson was not the first suffragette to attack a work of art as an act of political protest. Five years earlier, in 1909, a suffrage poster demanding "Votes for Women" had been stuck onto a Royal Academy exhibit of a portrait of Herbert Henry Asquith, the Prime Minister (the portrait itself was behind glass, the poster stuck to the glass). 

In 1912, the Royal Academy had decided to close its annual winter exhibition early because of the WSPU campaign--the Academy noted that its decision was made in order to "safeguard the valuable pictures now on loan." The next year, in April of 1913, a group of women had broken the glass protecting a number of paintings at the Manchester Art Gallery, damaging more than a dozen works, including paintings by Edward Burne-Jones, Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 

Two months later, in June 1913, a group of suffragettes attempted to disrupt the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition by holding a meeting in one of the galleries, and the Academy took precautions by instituting security measures, locking cupboards, gates and doors. But they suffered during the next year's exhibition: on 4 May 1914, the suffragette "Mary Wood" (Mary Aldham) broke the glass protecting John Singer Sargent's  portrait of the author Henry James and slashed the painting three times with a meat cleaver while crying "Votes for women!" Further attacks followed: despite precautions, Gertrude Mary Ansell attacked the Royal Academy portrait of the duke of Wellington on 12 May, and Mary Spencer attacked George Clausen's Primavera on 26 May.  

But Mary Richardson's slashing of the nude Venus remains the most notorious of these acts of artistic vandalism. As Richardson described her act and its motivations to The Times,
I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy. ("Miss Richardson's Statement, The Times, 11 March 1914)
While Richardson's attack may be the most infamous, it was not the last act of vandalism against art undertaken by the suffragettes to gain attention to their cause. According to Rowena Clausen, some fourteen incidents were to follow, with suffragettes attacking works they found especially offensive: paintings of nude women and portraits of powerful men.

After this spate of violence against works of art, many museums closed their doors to unaccompanied women. (For Helena Bonett's "‘Deeds not words’: Suffragettes and the Summer Exhibition," posted at the Royal Academy's website, click here.)

The restored Rokeby Venus

Like many suffragettes, including the Pankhursts, Richardson suspended her political activities during the war and returned to writing, publishing a novel, Matilda and Marcus (1915), and two volumes of poetry, Symbol Songs (1916) and Wilderness Love Songs (1917). A third book of poetry, Cornish Headlands, was published after the end of the war, in 1920.

After some women women gained the right to vote in 1918 as a result of the Representation of the People Act,* and as a result of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which removed limits on jobs because of sex, Richardson stood for parliament, in 1922 as a candidate, for the Labour party,  in 1924 as an independent socialist, and in 1931, again as a Labour candidate. She was never elected.

In 1934 she joined the British Union of Fascists, becoming the "organizing secretary" for the "women's section." She spoke for the party and wrote for the press on its behalf. But by 1935 she left the party. She would later try to explain her attraction to the fascist party: "I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service, and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffrage movement."

It was this, her year as a fascist supporter and party member--more than her participation in acts of violence and vandalism--that seems to have damaged Richardson's reputation and memory beyond repair. When she eventually published her autobiography, Laugh a Defiance, in 1953, she omitted any account of this part of her political career. 

In her entry on Richardson in the Dictionary of National Biography, Hilda Kean notes that Richardson not only gave numerous accounts and varying interpretations of her career throughout her life, but that she maintained "total silence on her fascist activities." (If you don't have access to the DNB, Kean provides a version of her biographical entry here.)

Here, for example, is Richardson's later rationale for her political act of artistic vandalism: 
Law and its application reflected public opinion. Values were stressed from a financial point of view and not the human. I felt I must make my protest from the financial point of view, therefore, as well as letting it be seen as a symbolic act. I had to draw the parallel between the public’s indifference to Mrs. Pankhurst’s slow destruction and the destruction of some financially valuable object. A painting came to mind. Yes, yes--the Venus Velasquez had painted, hanging in the National Gallery. It was highly prized for its worth in cash. If I could damage it, I reasoned, I could draw my parallel. The fact that I had disliked the painting would make it easier for me to do what was in my mind. 
Richardson's autobiography is long out of print. No used copies are available (at the time of writing) on Amazon, and the book is unavailable through Google Books, Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg. (See update, below). You can get a copy through Inter-Library Loan, however--here's a link to the book on WorldCat.

*The 1918 act eliminated almost all property requirements for men, allowing them to vote at age 21. The act did not eliminate all property requirements for women, nor did it grant them the right to vote until they reached the age of 30. This discrepancy was enacted deliberately to insure that women did not become the majority of the electorate--since so many men had died during the war, fears were that extending the suffrage to women on equal terms would place them in an "unfair" position. For equal enfranchisement, women had to wait another decade, until the passage of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act.

Update, February 2018: In honor of the centenary of some British women at last gaining the right to vote (the 1918 Representation of the People Act, 6 February 1918), the BBC's History Extra podcast has produced two excellent shows: "The Suffragettes" and "The Pankhursts." Enjoy!

Update, 15 January 2024: Laugh a Defiance is now available through the Internet Archive (click here).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Frances Sheridan and Mothers of the Novel

Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan, Novelist and Playwright 

Frances Chamberlaine was born in Dublin some time during the year 1724--the date of her birth is unknown, and, unfortunately, her role as a novelist has been little known. I am posting about her today, 30 October, because it is the birthdate of her famous son, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, born on this day in 1751.

The daughter of the Rev. Dr. Philip Chamberlaine, an Anglican minister, and his wife, Anastasia Whyte, Frances was the youngest of five children. Her mother "dying soon after her birth," Frances had many obstacles to overcome in order to become a writer.

Not least of these obstacles, as her granddaughter noted, were the "disadvantages of education" Frances experienced--disadvantages that would have "crushed" a "less ardent mind."

Although Philip Chamberlaine was "an admired preacher," one who was "strict in the performance of all his duties," he wasn't in favor of educating his two daughters. He was "only with difficulty prevailed on to allow his daughter to read." As for teaching her to write? The good reverend doctor judged writing to be "perfectly superfluous in the education of a daughter."

Teaching a girl to write could only lead to disaster--to love letters and to the "exchange" of "confidential effusions" with other young women. Horrors!

Like many other aspiring women about whom I have posted in this blog (Moderata Fonte comes immediately to mind), Frances's three older brothers helped to educate her. Her oldest brother, Walter, not only taught her to write, he taught her Latin, for example. Her brother Richard taught her botany, which seems to have been of some medicinal use as she was said to have helped to treat the sick in her father's parish. 

By the age of fifteen, Frances had written a two-volume romance, Eugenia and Adelaide, somehow finagling the paper on which to write from the family's housekeeper (or, at least, this is the account that her granddaughter provides). This romance was published only after Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan's death; her daughter, Alice, successfully adapted it as a comic opera for the stage.

Her granddaughter relates that the young Frances also wrote a sermon that was so admired by those who heard or read it that she wrote a second--though her granddaughter says she has not been able to find a copy of them. These sermons "were long in the possession of the family," her granddaughter wrote, "and were reckoned to display considerable ability."

Frances seems to have written nothing else until she produced two pieces in defense of the actor Thomas Sheridan--a fracas had broken out at the Smock Alley Theatre (Dublin), which he managed. Frances defended his behavior in verse, "The Owls: A Fable," and in a pamphlet. The two were married in 1747.

Over the next few years, she gave birth to three children: Charles Francis (b. 1750), an author and politician; Richard Brinsley (b. 1751), the famed playwright; and Alicia (b. 1753), later Alicia LeFanu, also a writer. (Frances Sheridan's daughter, Alicia Sheridan LeFanu, is frequently confused with her daughter, the younger Alicia LeFanu, who authored Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Frances Sheridan, which you can access in full by clicking here.) 

After Francis Sheridan moved to London with her husband in 1754, she became acquainted with many writers, including Samuel Richardson, famed author of Pamela and Clarissa--who read one of her unpublished works and encouraged her to continue to write.

In 1756 she sent him a manuscript of what has become her most well-known work, Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph. (In this novel, Frances pays tribute to her brother and his role in her education; the young Sidney Bidulph is taught by her older brother, Sir George.) The novel, written in the form of a journal, was published anonymously in 1761, dedicated to Richardson. In the mean time, in addition to writing, Frances Sheridan also gave birth to a fourth child, a daughter named Elizabeth, during this period.

She turned to drama, and two of her plays were produced at the Drury Lane Theatre--The Discovery, in 1763 (her husband played a leading role), and The Dupe, produced late in the same year. Both plays were published, the first in 1763, the second in 1764.

The Sheridans moved again, this time to Blois, France, in 1764. There Frances added a second part to her Sidney Bidulph and completed another comedy, A Journey to Bath.  She also completed an "oriental tale," The History of Nourjahad, which was published in 1767, the year after her death. (It was later dramatized by the novelist and playwright Sophia Lee, in 1788)

Frances Sheridan died in Blois on 26 September 1766. She was only forty-two years old. 

Frances Sheridan's works are now readily available: Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph and Oriental Tales are each produced in an accessible World's Classics edition. The early Eugenia and Adelaide is available in print through Eighteenth Century Classics Online (I know that says "online"--and it is online if you have access to the database, but you can also purchase a paper copy through Amazon.)

You can read a brief biography from the Dictionary of National Biography by clicking here (this is not the most recent online DNB entry, which requires subscription access, but an earlier, freely available version). Alicia LeFanu's biography is available through the Internet Archive.

One of the things I love about this mother-of-the-novel is the way Frances Sheridan is the "mother" of women writers--her daughter, Alicia Sheridan LeFanu, her granddaughter, Alicia LeFanu, and her great granddaughter, a woman we've met before, Lady Caroline Norton.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

More Really Great News on the Gender Pay Gap--This Time on a Global Scale

The World Economic Forum's 2016 Global Gender Gap Report

The World Economic Forum has just published its eleventh annual Global Gender Gap Report--this report has been published since 2006 and measures women's progress in 144 countries. *

Here's one way to make lemonade out of lemons . . . 

In its analysis, the index focuses on fourteen variables in four areas: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political participation.

The differences between men and women are enormous. Over all, women are worse off than men by 31.7%. 

Here's the good news, according to the report. On average, "the 144 countries covered in the Report have closed 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men, unchanged since last year, and more than 95% of the gap in educational attainment, an improvement of almost one full percentage point since last year and the highest value ever measured by the Index" (7).

But here's the bad news: 
However, the gaps between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remain wide: only 59% of the economic participation gap has been closed—a continued reversal on several years of progress and the lowest value measured by the Index since 2008—and about 23% of the political gap, continuing a trend of slow but steady improvement. Weighted by population, in 2016, the average progress on closing the global gender gap stands at a score of 0.683—meaning an average gap of 31.7% remains to be closed worldwide across the four Index dimensions in order to achieve universal gender parity. (7)
And here's the worse news (because I'm a glass-half-empty kind of person): "Out of the 142 countries covered by the Index both this year and last year, 68 countries have increased their overall gender gap score compared to last year, while 74 have seen it decrease. It therefore has been an ambiguous year for global gender parity, with uneven progress at best."

And now the worst news of all: at the rate things are going, it will take 83 years to close this gender gap. But that's for all four areas--the pay gap won't close for another 170 years! Or so . . . 

And don't assume that the U.S. scores high on this index--the U.S. saw a 17 point drop on last year’s score. And it places only 45th in the global table. 

And when it comes to those pesky kinds of unpaid labor--like household tasks and childcare, for example--women still do much more than men.

* This blog post used to contain links to all the relevant data in and quotations from the 2016 report, but as of January 2021, those links no longer worked ("Error establishing a database connection"). However you can still read and download the entire report at the World Economic Forum by clicking here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"White Slavery," Hysteria, and the Mann Act

Sexuality, Moral Panic, and the White Slave Traffic Act (the "Mann Act")

The White Slave Traffic Act, better known as the "Mann Act," after its Congressional author, Representative James R. Mann, an Illinois Republican, was one of the Progressive era's attempts at moral reform. The act was signed into law by President William Howard Taft on 25 June 1910, but given its association with the Progressive movement, I decided to use the occasion of Theodore Roosevelt's birthday (27 October) for this post.

An image from Ernest A. Bell's
War on the White Slave Trade
The act was aimed at eliminating the scourge of "white slavery"--forced prostitution that, it was believed, trapped innocent young white women into sexual slavery in underground networks controlled by gangs of immigrants.

I can't remember the exact date when I first heard about the "white slave trade," but I do remember that summer--we had recently moved to Lancaster, California, and were living just one tract house away from a Mojave Desert that, at least from my perspective as a nine- or ten-year-old, seemed to stretch endlessly.

It was one of the brief times that my mother wasn't working--she held a string of minimum-wage jobs, many of them when my dad was out of work, but for some reason that I don't know now, she was home (maybe because he was then working).

That summer my mom and a couple of the other neighborhood moms were having a contest to see who could get the darkest sun tan. I know, I know--but it was the summer of 1960 or 1961, and nobody was worrying about skin cancer or sun screen.

Each day, the women pulled their chaise lounge chairs into the driveway of one of their houses and settled in for an afternoon of tanning, enhanced by copious slatherings of Johnson's baby oil and fueled by endless glasses of iced tea. Now, looking back, I wonder if there were some shots of bourbon in those never-empty glasses.

In any case, it was one of those summer afternoons when I overheard the phrase--"white slave trade." I don't recall whether there was anything more that I overheard or whether it was the muted tones of their voices or just my own over-active imagination, but I remember being absolutely terrified, although I never knew about what--and as I think about it now, I am considering that the phrase may have been used while they were just joking around. On most afternoons, they laughed themselves hoarse.

Over the years of my childhood and adolescence, I must have heard the phrase again because I do remember asking about my mom about it (as usual, she was dismissive, deciding not to to provide the kind of answer that would assuage my fears) and then, not having an answer, worrying about it. The white slave trade!!! I can only remember the fear--I can't remember when or how I got a bit more information . . .

The Mann Act was the result of what has been called the "moral panic" that took hold in the United States in the first decade of the twentieth century. Scores of movies, plays, novels, and "white slavery narratives" offered eager consumers a range of salacious tales of young women--"innocent" and white women, it should be said--kidnapped off the streets of their communities, drugged, forced into lives of prostitution, and trafficked around the world.

Several factors seem to have coalesced to produce the hysteria: increased urbanization, immigration, the influx of women, especially single women, into the labor market, and changing social relationships--the emergence of the modern idea of dating, for instance. Social reformers responded to such radical social change--and the resulting "decline" in morality--with outrage and hysteria. 

In a 1907 article published in McClure's Magazine, muckraking journalist George Kibbe Turner sounded the alarm: 
About twenty-five years ago the third great flush of immigration, consisting of Austrian, Russian, and Hungarian Jews, began to come into New York. Among these immigrants were a large number of criminals, who soon found that they could develop an extremely profitable business in the sale of women in New York. . . . 
The supplies of girls for use in the enterprises of the political procurers did not at first come entirely from the families of their constituents. The earlier Jewish immigration contained a great preponderance of men, and comparatively few young girls. The men in the business made trips into the industrial towns of New England and Pennsylvania, where they obtained supplies from the large number of poorly paid young mill girls, one especially ingenious New Yorker being credited with gaining their acquaintance in the garb of a priest. But, gradually, as the population grew and the number of men engaged in the business increased, the girls were taken more and more from the tenement districts of the East Side.
As business grew, according to Turner, the traffickers began exporting their white slaves--to "the Buenos Aires market," to the "mining districts" of South Africa, and then throughout the world:  
Once acquainted with the advantages of the foreign trade, the New York dealer immediately entered into competition with the French and Polish traders across the world. There are no boundaries to this business; its travelers go constantly to and fro upon the earth, peering into the new places, especially into spots where men congregate on the golden frontiers; and the news comes back from them to Paris and Lemberg and New York. After South Africa, the New York dealers went by hundreds into the East--to Shanghai and to Australia; they followed the Russian army through the Russo-Japanese war; they went into Alaska with the gold rush, and into Nevada; and they have camped in scores and hundreds on the banks of the new Panama Canal.
However, and more ominously, "the foreign trade was not large compared with the trade with the cities of the United States, which was to develop later." (For the complete text of Turner's story revealing the horrors of the white slave trade, click here.)

Estimates of the scale of the trade varied. In 1909, the evangelical E. Norine Law, who was also hymnist, claimed in her Shame of a Great Nation that "some 65,000 daughters of American homes and 15,000 alien girls are prey each year of the procurers in this traffic.” New York City police chief Theodore Bingham estimated in The Girl that Disappeared some 2,000 foreign women were brought into the United States and enslaved in brothels. In 1909, the New York Times reported, in "Traffic in 'White Slaves,'" that "scores of thousands of women" had been forced into serving "immoral purposes."

In the mean time, Ernest A. Bell published his enormously influential War on the White Slave Trade in 1910. Bell was a Methodist minister, missionary, and anti-vice activist; according to the biographical note posted by the Chicago Historical Society, in his "struggle" against "vice," Bell "found a field of activity in which he could labor free of institutional constraints, satisfy his desire to preach the Gospel openly in the streets, and involve others in a mission of his own choosing and direction." In 1908 he helped to found the Illinois Vigilance Association; he also met with President Taft, urging passage of the Mann Act.

Included in Bell's War on the White Slave Trade was an essay by Edwin W. Sims, the United States District Attorney in Chicago. Sims claimed to have proof of the slave trade:
The legal evidence thus far collected establishes with complete moral certainty these awful facts: that the white slave traffic is a system operated by a syndicate which has its ramifications from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean, with "clearinghouses" or "distribution centers" in nearly all of the larger cities; that in this ghastly traffic the buying price of a young girl is from $15 up and that the selling price is from $200 to $600. . . . This syndicate is a definite organization sending its hunters regularly to scour France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Canada for victims. The man at the head of this unthinkable enterprise is known among his hunters as "the Big Chief."
Although Sims was unable to produce his evidence, his political friend, James R. Mann, who was chair of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, drafted the bill that would eventually become the White Slave Traffic Act. For Mann, the "white-slave traffic," “while not so extensive, is much more horrible than any black-slave traffic ever was.”

As passed by the Sixty-First Congress on 25 June 1910, the Act read:
That any person who shall knowingly transport or cause to be transported, or aid or assist in obtaining transportation for, or in transporting, in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or in the District of Columbia, any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such woman or girl to become a prostitute or to give herself up to debauchery, or to engage in any other immoral practice; or who shall knowingly procure or obtain, or cause to be procured or obtained, or aid or assist in procuring or obtaining, any ticket or tickets, or any form of transportation or evidence of the right thereto, to be used by any woman or girl in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or the District of Columbia, in going to any place for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent or purpose on the part of such person to induce, entice, or compel her to give herself up to the practice of prostitution, or to give herself up to the practice of debauchery, or any other immoral practice, whereby any such woman or girl shall be transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or the District of Columbia, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment of not more than five years, or by both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.
It was the phrase, "or for any other immoral purpose," that would cause so many later problems. Unable to find any evidence at all of the vast network of the white slave trade, prosecutors begin using the Mann Act to pursue other kinds of "sexual misconduct."*

In 1911, the Supreme Court ruled that the act applied to the case of John Bitty, who had brought his English mistress into the United States, ruling that bringing her into the country "as his concubine" was equivalent to bringing her into the country for the purposes of prostitution. 

Young women need to be careful
in ice cream parlors,
where they will be preyed on
by white slave traders!
Two years later, in 1913, the court ruled again: Drew Caminetti and  Maury Diggs, both married men, traveled by train from Sacramento to Reno accompanied by the adult women with whom they were having consensual sex. Police arrested both men, who were tried and convicted. On appeal, Caminetti's lawyer argued that the intent of Congress was to target only "commercialized vice," and that while his client's behavior may have been immoral, it was "free from commercialism and coercion." Citing Bitty, the court upheld their convictions, criminalizing any and all premarital or extramarital sex that involved interstate travel.  

The dangerous result of the Mann Act was its use as a weapon of persecution and politics. Perhaps the most famous case prosecuted under the Mann Act is that of the African-American boxer, Jack Johnson, who was convicted, ostensibly, for having traveled with a white "prostitute" from Pittsburgh to Chicago--the woman was his girlfriend.

Also notable was the 1944 prosecution of Charlie Chaplin, a prosecution stemming from a case involving a paternity suit, motivated by his politics (and initiated by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, in pursuit of Hollywood "communists").

In 1959, Chuck Berry, an African American singer, was convicted of violating the Mann Act for transporting across state lines an underage Native American girl for "immoral purposes." Berry's defense argued that he had offered the girl, whom he had met in Juarez, a job in his St. Louis nightclub, but he was convicted by a jury (all white) and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Because the judge in his case had used racist language, Berry was able to get his conviction vacated. He was convicted a second time in 1961 and served nearly two years in prison. 

Although the Mann Act has been repeatedly amended, it has never been repealed. In 1978, the act was expanded to add minors of either sex to its definition of sexual exploitation, and in 1986, in an effort to remove its original intent of legislating "morality," the act replaced its language about "debauchery" and "immoral purpose" with language referring to "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense." 

Perhaps the most insightful comment about "white slavery," moral hysteria, and the Mann remains that of Emma Goldman, as relevant today as in 1917 when she wrote: 
Only when human sorrows are turned into a toy with glaring colours will baby people become interested--for a while at least. The people are very fickle babies that must have new toys every day. The “righteous” cry against the white slave traffic is such a toy. It serves to amuse the people for a little while, and it will help to create a few more fat political jobs--parasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth. What is really the cause of the trade in women? Exploitation, of course…
Right now, though, I am still left wondering what spurred my mother and our neighbors to that conversation under the hot desert sun in 1960s California . . .

*For a discussion of the Mann Act, Supreme Court cases and decisions relating to the Mann Act, and amendments to the Mann Act, you can see the West's Encyclopedia of American Law entry by clicking here

Update, 19 April 2021: I just listened to "Traffickers on Trial: The Sensational Case of Lydia Harvey," a recent episode broadcast on the BBC History Extra podcast. Researcher and writer Julia Laite begins her story of Lydia Harvey with an insightful discussion of the "moral panic" of white slavery. To listen, click here.