Sunday, February 20, 2011

a cheerful tenement

{Caption: New York City, interior of tenement house, Detroit Publishing Co., made sometime between 1900 and 1910; source: Library of Congress}

This is a far cry from the slum tenements that I've previously shown (for example here and here). As you can see from its caption the photo came from the Detroit Publishing Co., a business that produced some excellent large format images of New York in the 1890s and 1910s. This is my 30th blog post showing their work. You can find the others by clicking the Detroit Publishing Co. link in the list of blogger "labels" at right.

This photo's unlike the others. For the most part the firm showed exteriors — buildings, parks, blocks, riverside, and skylines. The photographic technology of the time did not favor interior shots. To get a good one you had to have a good subject, lots of natural light, and enough room for the bulky 8x10 view camera with its tripod.

On this occasion the photographer was favored with all three. The rooms and their contents are fascinating, there's abundant light, and the camera fit into a dark corner or perhaps the doorway to an adjoining room. The light is particularly interesting. The sun comes strongly from our left. Presumably it's early in the morning and it hasn't yet risen far. Its light is a bit diffused as it comes in a window that's off frame to our left but shines full force through window of the back room. There's a strong secondary light source as it reflects off the wall in that room, right back toward the lens. You can see its cross currents in the shadows cast by the table legs.

LC has scanned this image at very high resolution, so great that it would take a computer screen five feet wide and nearly four high to view the entire uncompressed image all at once. (In the photo at top you are seeing a smaller version that's been compressed with jpeg technology.)

The HR imaging yields marvelous detail. We're viewing portions of two rooms of a city apartment. The back one seems too small to be a bedroom but it probably was. From the presence of a cook stove and of two tables (one which we see clearly and another only partly visible) we can tell the front room is used as both kitchen and dining room.

We know from the caption that the building is a tenement, meaning what we today call an apartment building, but probably also meaning a structure built to house low-income tenants. (Apartment buildings for middle-class New Yorkers tended to be called "flats" at that time.)

It's clear the inhabitants of this apartment made the most of the little space they occupied. If it's typical of tenements of its time it has only one other room, a second bedroom.

You can't tell whether there was a sink in this room; I think not. There almost certainly was no private bathroom but rather a shared facility down the hall.

Carpets were expensive and usually a luxury beyond the reach of tenement dwellers, as seems to be the case here.

Here are some detail views. As usual, you can click to see them full size.

1. The stove is compact. It runs on gas, but there was a coal stove when the place was constructed. You can tell that by the inverted pie-plate high up the wall. It covers a hole into the chimney where the stove flue used to go.

2. Here's a close up view of the pie plate flue cover.

3. On the wall just to the left of the cooker is a match holder. There were no pilot lights for the five top burners or three oven jets.

4. Just in front, hard to make out, is a pet cat. The camera was on a tripod, of course, and the exposure time was set to maybe a quarter of a second and in that time the cat moved a bit, causing the ghost image. Because of the motion it almost looks like a small dog.

5. There's so much else to see. Working from the left, I notice a battlefield picture of Napoleon on the wall. There are so many feminine touches in the photo that it comes as a surprise to see this.

6. In the corner is another somewhat masculine picture, a bucolic one showing a bovine family in a dramatic highland setting. The pipe rising in the corner to its left presumably carries gas to the floor above (gas having been put in after the building was constructed).

7. A bit more to the right we see a hull design for a sailboat. These were collected as decorations (as here), but were made to be guides for boat builders to use. Near it are a sentimental picture of children washing something (a pet?), some scissors, ribbons or laces, and a pocket watch.

8. Further right, I notice some scrapbooks in the corner of the next room. The fact that they lie on the floor indicates to me that the apartment wasn't rearranged to make the photo more interesting but was used by its occupants just as we see it.

9. Then we see a chest of drawers with its mirror. I'd guess that after the stove, these are the most precious pieces of furniture that the tenants own. There is a lot to see on the chest and mirror; and in the mirror as well. At least one person living here has a flair for design.

10. While I'm observing these details, I've noticed the overhead gas lights. They have no mantles to capture the flames and no glass globes or shades to diffuse and redirect their light. Nighttime lighting wouldn't be very pleasant in these rooms. It wouldn't have been easy to turn on the gas and light the lamps. Presumably that task took two people, both standing on chairs — one to turn on the tap and the other to ignite the gas. I suspect the occupants simply didn't use gas light; perhaps it was too expensive. Notice in this detail that there's a pie plate flue cover in the back room. Presumably the flue pipe from the kitchen stove crossed through the next room to get to the nearest chimney entrance. That pipe would have helped heat the little room; it's now probably quite cold in there during the winter months. Notice also that the wall merges into the ceiling not in a sharp corner but in a smooth curve.

11. Here is a handsome chair and better look at the dresser.

12. By the doorway are a whisk broom and small purse.

13. The purse seems to be worth closer inspection.

14. The shelf is handsomely draped with a scarf and its contents are interesting. The occupants of this apartment seem to have at least one child, whose photo we see at left; or maybe it's two, as shown on the right. The woven-wood fan is probably the little boy's making. It seems the husband or a male relative is serving in the military, or was serving during the recently-completed Spanish-American War. There's pen and ink here by the candlestick and a Hummel-like image of children. The key that hung by the photo at right may unlock the top drawers of the dresser; it's certainly hung high to keep it out of little hands.

15. The table is nicely draped and on it we see a newspaper and something (an art project?) that's hard to identify.

There's more to see, but I leave that to you.

When this photo was featured on the Shorpy blog it drew some informative comments. Here are extracts from them:

Anne S. says "Notice the hat pins, scent bottles and other such items on the dressing table. This tenement dweller did not leave home unadorned!" Mr Mel says "The photo doesn't let us know where in NYC it is. 1910 tenements usually conjure an image of the Lower East Side, a neighborhood of immigrants. In this picture, which could be in Midtown, Yorkville or the Upper West Side or even Harlem, we have reasonable living quarters for 1910." Scribe says "It is faint in the photo, but it appears there is a flatiron leaning against the baseboard behind the corner of the stove." Scribe seems to be right:

Cranch says the flue covers "had spring clips on the back that snapped into the circular opening." Anonymous Tipster notices that the newspaper is Hearst's Evening Journal and says it was begun in 1895, became the Journal-American in 1936, and ended life in a complex merge into the World-Telegram and Sun and the Herald-Tribune. This person also says "The thing reflected in the mirror appears to be a yarn swift, or winder. The bag would be used to store it."


The floor plan of a typical "dumbbell" tenement also called an Old Law Tenement was different from the floor plan of our tenement. Dumbbell buildings were constructed throughout New York between 1879 and 1901 in an effort to make apartment buildings healthier, safer, and generally better than they had been before.

Here's a typical dumbbell floor plan.


Here, I have modified the plan to show a plan that's closer to our tenement's (in oval at top left). In both plans, the small bedroom is quite tiny.

This is an 8x10 view camera of the type that the photographer might have used. It was loaded at back, one plate at a time, and could only be used on a tripod.



See also:

New York City, Tenement Life

Detroit Publishing Company Collection overview from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920, a set of links from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Detroit Publishing Company Photographs selected bibliography from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Detroit Photographic Company; about the collection

32163 results containing "Detroit Publishing Co." from the Prints and Photographs Division online catalog

Friday, February 18, 2011

a free circulating library for New York

I've had a mild sort of passion for libraries from the day I first set foot in the small room of books below our first grade classroom in the basement of my elementary school. My love diminished only a little when, years later, I found that libraries contained necessary tools of research and were thereby inseparably connected with hated and much procrastinated term papers. In college I learned to study in them, or rather "study" since I also learned that the body fooled the mind into believing that study was being done when its actual state was one of trance-like stupor. And, still later, I learned that self-directed independent exploration within libraries could yield serendipitous discoveries and learned, too, that the pleasure of these finds was mitigated by the lurching shifts of research direction they produced. And later yet I actually earned money (very little but still hard cash) doing free-lance tasks for publishers in the magnificent research libraries of New York City. Still, it took me two more decades of alternate employment before I entered the field as one of those whose work behind the scenes (in "processing" or "tech services") enables libraries to provide their admirable services.

In mid-century New York, that is mid-19th-century New York, the idea of free public libraries was new and somewhat suspect. There were many comfortably-off, conservative-minded people who were unwilling to support an institution which might stir thoughts of betterment among the poor; or, worse, stir resentment at the impossible gap between themselves and the rich with whom they shared the city. Put another way: fearing the rise of organized labor and radical politics, these cautious power-wielding New Yorkers felt that a populace without books would be more malleable and easy to control than one that had learned to read, discuss, and thoughtfully consider matters.

This pessimistic set of mind is seen in the way the earliest free schools sought to inculcate unthinking obedience and patient endurance along with the three Rs.[1] And it was is seen as well in the refusal of the city's alderman to give public funds so that libraries might be established for free lending of books to all comers. New York's earliest "public" libraries of the time were all privately funded and intended for the use restricted audiences. The best known among them served the needs of bibliophiles and scholars and they did not welcome as patrons men and women whose dress marked them as lower class.[2]

All the same, not all of New York's power elite felt that public schools had to teach a specific Protestant morality or that "public" libraries were not supposed to serve the public. Some felt that New York deserved free circulating public libraries of its own simply because Boston (and other cities) had shown up New York by creating them. To these men the existence of a true public library was a matter of prestige, of civic pride. In this vein an editorial writer in the New York Times complained in this manner: "There is something humiliating in the reflection that our City and State have so long ignored this important subject, and that we are today so far in the rear of other States and countries."[3]

At the same time some New Yorkers argued for the benefits that New York's citizens would receive from access to libraries. The arguments put forward by these progressives worked the conservatives' fears against them. As one of them put it, public libraries would help prevent the envy and grievances of poor working men and women from turning into class hatred. And they would help to prevent an ignorant populace from becoming easy prey for unscrupulous leaders. Libraries, this speaker said, would "thwart the efforts of the specious and designing men who undertake to use the motives and grievances of the people as aids to their own demagogic ambition and objects." He closed by an appeal to social order: "Let the rich men aid in this work of bridging over the chasm between themselves and the less fortunate or wealthy classes, and they would lay broader and deeper the foundation of society with a regulated liberty, in which the rich might not only enjoy the fruits of their toil and labors and intellects, but be safe from violence and crime and from the stupid hate and envy of those who have not succeeded as well as they in the battle of life."[4] A bit later Carl Schurz expanded on the theme by stressing the importance of public libraries in a democracy. Libraries foster knowledge, he said, and it makes no sense to keep citizens ignorant when "our honor and greatness, the safety of our institutions, our whole social order, depend upon the intelligence and virtue with which the people govern themselves."[5]

The progressives and those for whom it was a matter of civic pride seem to have made a significant advance when, in 1872, an editorial in the New York Times stated, quite baldly, "it would appear to be a proposition requiring no argument, that the City of New York greatly needs, and would largely profit by the early establishment of a Free Public Library." [6]

A few years later the first such library came into existence, but, surprisingly, it was "public" in the sense of "open to all" but not "public" in the sense of "publicly funded." The city's first free public lending library had its beginnings not in the construction of a large purpose-built structure for public use, but rather in the small-scale charitable effort of a few enlightened ladies belonging to the parish of the city's largest Episcopal church.

Here's the story: "The New York Free Circulating Library, now a part of the New York Public Library system, had its real beginning in 1879, in a sewing class in connection with the charitable work of Grace Church. The class was a small one, and as the girls showed an inclination to read cheap paper novels, one of the teachers proposed lending to each a book a week. In a short time other women became interested. About 500 books were collected, and a little library started in a room in Thirteenth Street, east of Fourth Avenue. It increased with wonderful strides, so that at the end of the first year about 1,200 books, all gifts, were on the shelves. The conclusion was reached that there was need for establishing a circulating library in various parts of the city, and this resulted in the formation, in 1880, of the New York Free Circulating Library. In March of that year the library was moved to two rooms at 36 Bond Street, where it remained until 1883, when it took possession of the entire building at 49 Bond Street (the present Bond Street Branch). From this time on branches were formed in various parts of the city, until [in 1901] the library was merged into the Public Library system."[7]

This photo shows the building where the library had two rooms at 36 Bond St.

{36 Bond Street, undated image from a lantern slide; caption: First Home of the N.Y.F.C. Library, exterior view showing neighboring buildings. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This shows the library at 49 Bond St. in 1885.

{Bond Street Branch of the N.Y. Public Library, circulating dept. [next to building numbered 28] by Lewis Hine; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

The Free Circulating Library was a great success.[8] Usage was high and demand grew for branch libraries to be opened throughout the city.[9]

This list names the nine branches that existed at the time the NYPL took them over in 1901. They appear in the order in which they were brought into the system.
  • 1880, Bond St., 3rd location, 49 Bond St. May 1883
  • 1884, Ottendorfer, 135 Second Ave.
  • 1888, George Bruce, first location, 226 W. 42nd St.
  • 1888, Jackson Sq, 251 W 13th St.
  • 1892, Harlem, first location, 18 e. 125th St.
  • 1893, Muhlenberg, first location, 220 6th Av.
  • 1896, Bloomingdale, first location, 816 Amsterdam Ave.
  • 1897, Riverside, first location, 261 W. 69th St.
  • 1897, Yorkville, first location, 1523 2nd Ave.
This old photo shows (left-to-right, top row first) the Bond St, Bloomingdale, Yorkville, Ottendorfer, Jackson Square, and George Bruce branches, with their street addresses in 1901 (some had by then moved to larger quarters).

{The distributing stations of the New York Free Circulating Library, Mar. 30, 1901. Printed on border of images: "49 Bond Street; 206 West 100th Street; 261 West 69th Street; 135 Second Avenue; 251 West 13th Street; 226 West 42d Street." Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This brief notice in the New York Times marks the opening of the first branch in 1880.

{THE FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, New York Times, May 4, 1880}

This photo shows school children at 49 Bond St. branch.

{After school hours: interior of the Bond Street Branch of the New York Free Circulating Library, ca. 1899, from The new metropolis: memorable events of three centuries, 1600-1900, from the island of Mana-Hat-Ta to greater New York at close of nineteenth century by Zeisloft, E. Idell (New York, Appleton, c. 1899); source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Here you can see catalog and some of the stacks at 49 Bond St.

{Oldest Branch in Library--Bond Street (below Astor Place, Manhattan) by Lewis Hine, ca. 1886. None of the branches permitted patrons to retrieve their own books until the opening of the Yorkville branch in 1897. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}


This article in the New York Times is a brief status report from early in 1884.

{OUTGROWING ITS FACILITIES.; PROSPEROUS CONDITION OF THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, New York Times, January 13, 1884. First para: "In the fourth annual report of the New York Free Circulating Library, for the year 1883, the Trustees say they have reason to believe that they will soon be called upon to assume charge of a free library which is being erected by a public-spirited citizen on the east side of the city."}


See also:


READING FOR THE PEOPLE - THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY. EX-PRESIDENT CLEVELAND AND OTHER CITIZENS ADDRESS A LARGE MEETING IN CHICKERING HALL, EX-PRESIDENT CLEVELAND AND OTHER CITIZENS ADDRESS A LARGE MEETING IN CHICKERING HALL, New York Times, March 7, 1890. First para: "Every seat in Chickering Hall was filled yesterday afternoon by an audience which assembled to listen to what several distinguished gentlemen had to say concerning the New-York Free Circulating Library, the institution which has conferred so many benefits upon the great number of persons who have claimed the use of its advantages."

LIBRARY WORK; Points in the Annual Report of the Free Circulating Library of New York, New York Times, March 25, 1899

BOOKS FOR THE PEOPLE - THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY. A GREAT DEAL OF WORK DONE WITH A VERY LITTLE MONEY -- FIGURES FOR THE PAST YEAR -- SOME NEEDS OF THE INSTITUTION; A GREAT DEAL OF WORK DONE WITH A VERY LITTLE MONEY -- FIGURES FOR THE PAST YEAR -- SOME NEEDS OF THE INSTITUTION. New York Times, January 15, 1892. First para: "The New-York Free Circulating Library has just issued its twelfth annual report. It sets forth the work done, and indicates what an extension of this work there might be if funds enough were forthcoming. The amount of good work done by this institution is well worth considering."

MANY BOOKS READ. - GROWTH OF THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, New York Times, November 21, 1892. First para: "The annual report of the New-York Free Circulating Library for 1892 shows that the expenses of the institution during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 were $27,708.33. All the departments of the library work show a large increase. The usefulness of the library has been greatly extended, and the whole condition improved."

List of libraries in 19th-century New York City in wikipedia

Statistics of Public, Society and School Libraries by the United States Office of Education (Govt. print. off. 1893).

Appleton's Dictionary of New York and its vicinity, with maps of New York and its environs (Appleton, 1898)

LIBRARIES FOR THE POOR; A MOVEMENT TO SUPPLY A MUCH NEEDED WANT, New York Times, January 21, 1882. First para: "The question of the need and the feasibility of establishing a number of well-organized and well-supplied free circulating libraries in this City was the matter which attracted a large and cultured audience last night to the ball of the Union League Club. The meeting was held under the auspices of the New-York Free Circulating Library, Bond-street."

A WELL-MANAGED INSTITUTION; FIRST ANNUAL REPORT OF THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, New York Times, December 23, 1880. First para: "The first annual report of the New-York Free Circulating Library, which has just been issued, is invested with particular interest from the fact that the institution is the only free circulating library in this City. In this respect New-York was behind other cities, and this enterprise was undertaken without contemplating any burden on the tax-payer."

OUTGROWING ITS FACILITIES.; PROSPEROUS CONDITION OF THE NEW-YORK FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARY, New York Times, January 13, 1884. First para: "In the fourth annual report of the New York Free Circulating Library, for the year 1883, the Trustees say they have reason to believe that they will soon be called upon to assume charge of a free library which is being erected by a public-spirited citizen on the east side of the city."

REV. DR. JOHN HALL DEAD; The Pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church Expires Near Belfast, Ireland. HEART DISEASE THE CAUSE He Was on the Point of Returning to New York -- The Story of His Life of Unusual Activity. New York Times, September 18, 1898

The Free Circulating Library.; TWO NEW BRANCHES ESTABLISHED -- OTHER IMPORTANT CHANGES, New York Times, June 12, 1897

"Free Circulating Libraries," in American annual cyclopaedia and register of important events (D. Appleton and company, 1887)

"New York Free Public Libraries," in The Cosmopolitan, Vol. 3 (Schlicht & Field, 1887)



[1] You can see this attitude in debates, largely raised by Catholics, about the reading of the Protestant Bible to students in publicly-funded schools. As part of this argument the city superintendent of schools defended this reading as a means of procuring among students "order, quietude, neatness, punctuality, fidelity, industry, obedience, honor, truth, uprightness, deference to the wants, the rights, and conveniences of others." Here's more of his defense:
In all our Public Schools and departments, with very few and inconsiderable exceptions, the services of each day are commenced by the reading of selections from the Bible, by the Principal or some one of the School Officers, followed by the solemn and reverent repetition of the Lord's Prayer by all the pupils and teachers in concert, and by the singing of one or more appropriate hymns of Christian thanksgiving and praise. In many of them these devotional exercises are repeated at the close of the school. In all of them, without a solitary exception, at frequent and appropriate intervals during the day, songs, imbued with the purest principles of Christian morality, form a portion of the course of instruction, and are participated in by all the pupils. In all of them, without a solitary exception, lessons and precepts of virtue and Christian conduct are daily inculcated by the teachers, school officers, superintendents, or visitors; the fundamental principles of religion recognized and enforced; and the importance and necessity of strict honesty and integrity, undeviating truthfulness, frankness, sincerity, mutual affection and regard, obedience and respect to parents, and the conscientious and uniform observance of all the requisitions of a pure Christian morality, taught by precept and example. In all of them, the daily routine and discipline of the school are directly and powerfully adapted to the formation and perpetuation of habits of order, quietude, neatness, punctuality, fidelity, industry, obedience, honor, truth, uprightness, deference to the wants, the rights, and conveniences of others, and to the assiduous culture of the highest and noblest principles of action and conduct in all the varied relations of life. This is the character of the teachings of our Public Schools; these are the agencies and instrumentalities in daily operation within their walls; and no influences at variance with these are permitted, under any pretence, to find access or gain a footing among them. Neither the mind nor the heart of the child most religiously and scrupulously trained and disciplined in the domestic circle or the sanctuary of the Church, is exposed to the slightest contamination by the instructions or discipline of the school; while, on the other hand, every lesson of pure Christian morality or ethics, communicated in either of the former, is strengthened and confirmed by the pervading instruction and influence of the latter. -- Report of the City Superintendent of Schools to the Board of Education, New-York, Dec. 30, 1857; in Documents of the Board of Education of the City of New York (New York Board of Education, 1858)
[2] These were the Astor and Lenox libraries. See History of The New York Public Library on the NYPL web site and A Free Public Library and How to Get It, an editorial in the New York Times, January 28, 1872. Extract: "The Astor books were gathered for the single purpose of meeting the wants of the student, the critic, the scholar, and thus of feeding tastes already cultivated to the point of hunger. This purpose they are admirably fitted to serve. As a reference library, therefore, to be consulted on the premises, the Astor is not surpassed in this country." The writer says if the reluctant trustees would agree to expand the Astor to included a free, public, lending library, tens of thousands of New Yorkers "would flock to the newly-opened fountain of literature."

[3] The quote comes from Free Public Libraries, an editorial in the New York Times, January 14, 1872. Extract: "Other cities in our country have taken the lead of us a long way in this matter of a free distribution of books among the people. Notably, Boston has, in her splendid Public Library, met and answered successfully all the questions and obligations to the system as a practical scheme. [There are free libraries elsewhere in Massachusetts, in other states, and in foreign cities.] Even Italy has for several years enjoyed the advantages of popular circulating libraries, and at least thirty towns and cities have established libraries since 1861.... There is something humiliating in the reflection that our City and State have so long ignored this important subject, and that we are today so far in the rear of other States and countries." See also, for example, this from 1866: "Boston has a public library, where every resident of the city, without price or payment, can take home his couple of volumes from an immense and most valuable collection. New-York has a number of excellent libraries and reading rooms, (though not half enough for the wants of the City,) and yet their management and selection of late have not been satisfactory or sufficiently profitable. ... We find all sorts of barriers and formalities thrown up against readers, until many persons would rather do without a book or magazine, or purchase it, than laboriously extract it from the library. ... What we need, then, in New-York, is a greater hospitality and liberality in the existing libraries, as if they existed for the public and not the public for them." -- The Libraries of the City, editorial in the New York Times, June 10, 1866.

[4] The quotes come from a speech by Rev. Dr. John Hall, head of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, and one of New York's foremost religious leaders. The occasion was a meeting held at the Union League Club in support of the New-York Free Circulating Library, Bond Street. Here are some additional extracts of Hall's remarks from an account which appeared in the New York Times:
Idleness, vacant and unoccupied minds, added to temptations, were the conditions which produced and nurtured crime in the community, and to remedy this condition of things was a noble and worthy work. The present purpose was to give opportunity to those who do not now enjoy it of coming into contact with good books. -- not just "poetry, history, biography" but also fiction [even fiction, although many might disagree, the circulating library must provide it]... In the beginning this work he hoped the movers would bear in mind that it was not merely good things, but first-class things that were wanted for the people. In our land there was a large number of untutored, ignorant, stupid, and discontented men who were compelled to earn their living by severe labor, and who made known their grievances and discontent at times by appeals to violent feelings. Call them Communists, or the spirit which animated them Socialism, or whatever else they might, it was dangerous for the land in which it existed. Here was one way in which the higher and more favored classes might do much to thwart the efforts of the specious and designing men who undertake to use the motives and grievances of the people as aids to their own demagogic ambition and objects. Let the rich men aid in this work of bridging over the chasm between themselves and the less fortunate or wealthy classes, and they would lay broader and deeper the foundation of society with a regulated liberty, in which the rich might not only enjoy the fruits of their toil and labors and intellects, but be safe from violence and crime and from the stupid hate and envy of those who have not succeeded as well as they in the battle of life. -- LIBRARIES FOR THE POOR; A MOVEMENT TO SUPPLY A MUCH NEEDED WANT; Books to be Loaned Free of Cost. The question of the need and the feasibility of establishing a number of well-organized and well-supplied free circulating libraries in this City was the matter which attracted a large and cultured audience last night to the ball of the Union League Club. The meeting was held under the auspices of the New-York Free Circulating Library, Bond-street.
[5] New York Public Library: Ottendorfer Branch Dedication, in Speeches of Carl Schurz from Carl Schurz's papers in the Library of Congress; this is a printed proof with scattered hand-written edits by Schurz.

[6] The writer expressed a common view of "the poor" in adding that a lending library for the poor would make common books available to the lower classes and thereby "reach the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, the coal-heaver and the stevedore, the slop-shop seamstress and the household drudge, with the means of beguiling their listless leisure, feeding their hunger of mind where any exists, or tempting such mental appetite where it is latent."Free Reading for the People. New York Times, January 21, 1872

[7] This comes from a paperback pocketbook largely concerned with good works for the betterment of the poor: The better New York, A Practical Hand Book to the Resources and Progress of New York, by William Howe Tolman (The American Institute of Social Service, 1904). The sewing circle ladies were unusual in not requiring that their clients read morally uplifting literature. The other Grace Church good works seem to have had more missionary flavor. As for example the next entry in Tolman's book: "Strong and decided efforts are made day and night for the reformation of fallen women and young girls at the Florence Crittenden Mission, 21 Bleecker Street. Here the homeless may find a home and every incentive toward moral and educational advancement."

[8] The American Annual Cyclopaedia for ... gives usage statistics for the first five branches of the Free Circulating Library. The author reported that the five branches that existed in his day contained not much more than 100,000 volumes, and, "the eagerness with which these few books are sought for by the large number of readers who avail themselves of the privileges afforded, as shown by the statistics given below, is sufficient proof, if any were needed, of the use that would be made of a large free public library accessible to all, and of such a character as would place the city in the same rank in this respect as it maintains in other respects among the cities of the country." -- "Free Circulating Libraries" in American annual cyclopaedia and register of important events Vol. 26 (D. Appleton and company, 1887).

[9] The branch libraries were at first called distribution stations. Here's an account of the decision to create what we now call a library system: "It is the plan of the New York Free Circulating Library to establish 'stations' in different parts of the city for the distribution of books; stations each of which is, in fact, a complete library in itself, but all of which are under one general management — a sort of federation of libraries, as it were. This method, though having grave drawbacks, meets well the needs of a place the size of New York. To be obliged to go ten miles to change one's library book is a necessity always likely to weaken one's attachment to literature. On Bond street was established the first station, and now, though a second station of equal importance is established on Second avenue, it is generally referred to as a branch of the Bond-street Library." -- "NEW YORK FREE PUBLIC LIBRARIES" by Viola Roseboro in The Cosmopolitan Volume 3 (Schlicht & Field, 1887).

Monday, February 14, 2011

four notable German-American women

Here's another look at Louis Windmuller and the Forty-Eighters.[1] I've written a couple of posts about four men who participated in the Revolutions of 1848, emigrated to the United States at mid-century, and later became associates in a quest for political and economic reforms in Gilded Age New York. In my last post on this subject I mentioned that the four men had wives who were unusually accomplished and well respected. They were Mary Jacobi, Anna Ottendorfer, Margarethe Schurz, and Fanny Villard.

Mary Putnam Jacobi

Daughter of G.P. Putnam, the famous publisher, Mary Jacobi was a pioneering physician and, like her husband, a prolific author, medical scientist, teacher, and activist. Though both her parents were American she was born in England and educated there and in Paris as well as in New York. A social reformer and strong supporter of women's rights, she wrote impassioned letters while studying in Paris. The letters report her excitement at being at the heart of a revolution and affirm her commitment to do whatever she could, even to death, in order to help secure the success of the 1870 Paris Commune.[2] In later life Mary Jacobi achieved two significant firsts. She was the first woman to gain admission to l'École de Médecine, Paris, and the first woman to be admitted as fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine. In 1876 she won Harvard Medical School's Boylston Medical Prize for an article which demolished a major tenet of the "weaker sex" theory.[3]

{Portrait of Mary Putnam Jacobi from The Life and Letters of Mary Putnam Jacobi, 1925; source: Widener Library, Harvard University.}

Anna Behr (Uhl) Ottendorfer

Anna Behr (or by some accounts Anna Sartorius) was born to petit bourgeois parents and received a barely rudimentary education before marrying and emigrating to New York. There, she and her husband Jacob Uhl scraped together pennies working in a print shop until able to take over a small and failing job printing business. Both had business acumen as well as the strength to tolerate long hard hours of work. Those traits together with a certain amount of luck soon brought them sufficient resources to take over another small and languishing business: a German-language weekly newspaper called the New Yorker Staats Zeitung. As one biographer explains, "In 1845 they purchased the [paper]. They enlarged it, turned it into a daily, and its circulation increased rapidly. When Mr. Uhl died, in 1852, his widow, who saw a great future in the paper, refused to sell its good-will, though she was offered very favorable terms. She then became sole editor and proprietor, and the brilliant success of the paper more than justified her expectations."
-- OBITUARY — MRS. ANNA OTTENDORFER in The American bookseller, a semi-monthly journal devoted to the interests of the book, stationery, news, and music trades, Volumes 15-16 (The American News Company, 1884)

A few years later she married Oswald Ottendorfer, then a leading journalist, and, while retaining the role of business manager, turned over to him the job of editing the paper. The two made a successful team and she, in particular, shone in the triple role of CEO, wife, and mother. When one of her grown sons proved capable of taking over management, she loosed her control and increasingly focused her attention on helping less fortunate New Yorkers. In a eulogy he gave at her private funeral, Carl Schurz said "her career was a rare example not of good fortune, but of an uncommon intelligence, vigor, and endurance, which she used to achieve an honestly earned and well deserved success." He called her "one of the most important women of our country." Of her dedication to improving the lot of others he said that even while she still struggled to make ends meet and raise her young children she had joined charitable organizations and became in them "a guiding, ruling element." Hers, he said, was not "the selfish pursuit of profit." She did not value wealth for its own sake but more for what good might be accomplished with it. He said she was pragmatic and thoughtful about how best to use her money to achieve best results and that these results were ultimately "the work of a bright mind, warmed by a big heart."[3]

Her philanthropy was aimed at improving the lot of German-speaking immigrants and helping them to become useful Americans. To this end she created a women's pavilion for the German Hospital in New York and a German health clinic in Manhattan's "little Germany," built a home in Astoria for aged German women, and supported a German school in Milwaukee. She also established what is now the Ottendorfer Branch of the New York Public Library, which, when it opened in 1884, was New York City's first free public library.[4] In praising Anna Ottendorfer's achievement in founding this public library, Schurz said, "We never grow tired of repeating that in this Republic — being governed by the people — our honor and greatness, the safety of our institutions, our whole social order, depend upon the intelligence and virtue with which the people govern themselves. We should remember equally well that the free public library is a most important contribution to that popular intelligence and virtue. No wise man will, therefore, fail to recognize the interest he has in an enterprise like this, as he must know the stake he has in the public welfare."[5]

{Anna Behr (Uhl) Ottendorfer; source: wikipedia}

Margarethe Meyer Schurz

Margarethe Meyer Schurz introduced kindergarten schooling to America. As a teenager in Hamburg she had received training in the first-ever early childhood education movement from its founder Friedrich Fröbel. Thereafter she worked with her sister in opening and running kindergartens first in Germany then — when the Revolutions of 1848 forced her stepfather into exile — in London. After marrying Carl Schurz and emigrating to the United States she opened the first American kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin.[6] In 1859 the transcendentalist Elizabeth Peabody visited the Schurz home and, impressed with Agatha's ability and maturity, became a convert to the kindergarten movement. With Peabody's advocacy this movement expanded rapidly and not long later kindergartens became an educational norm. Sadly, Margarethe did not live to see the ultimate success of the movement. Long having suffered from a lung ailment, she died in 1876 at the age of 43 shortly after the birth of a son.

In his reminiscences, Carl Schurz wrote extensively about her early life, their first encounters, and the love they came to share. He admired her courage, energy, and practical efficiency. He admired as well her spirit of independence and wish to make decisions for herself, particularly after she became orphaned, when quite young, and was being ordered about by grown up brothers and sisters.[6] In his diary, Carl Schurz's friend, William Steinway, called Margarethe a noble woman whose death left him "unspeakably sad and downhearted."[7]

{Margarethe Meyer Schurz; source: wikipedia}

Fanny Garrison Villard

Helen Frances “Fanny” Garrison Villard was a social activist from about 1900 until her death at 84 in 1928. Only daughter of abolitionist (and publisher) William Lloyd Garrison, she married industrialist (and publisher) Henry Villard and thereafter led a comfortable life as wife, mother, and upper class socialite. She made a dramatic turnabout following her husband's death in 1900. Her accomplishments after that time are succinctly stated thus: "NYC philanthropist, adviser and fundraiser for interracial and humanitarian causes, joined suffrage movement 1906, chaired New York legislative committees, spoke on street corners at 66, felt fundamental changes needed and that women could redeem politics, uncompromising pacifist, led 1914 Peace Parade down 5th Ave. and helped organize the Woman's Peace Party."[8] In addition, with her son Oswald she co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and helped found the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

{Fanny Garrison Villard; source:}

Unlike these four wives, Louis Windmuller's spouse, Annie, led a quiet life as hausfrau at their home in Woodside, Queens.


This Ngram from Google Book Search shows how frequently you can find the four wives' names in the Ngram English-language corpus between 1870 and 2000. I used the most common forms of their names as search terms. The upward spike for Fanny Garrison Villard corresponds to the centennial of her father's death and is thus composed somewhat of simple mentions of her as his daughter, but that period also saw growth in both feminist and pacifist literature (in both of which her name might frequently occur).

This list of JSTOR hits gives roughly similar values over the entire universe of journals that JSTOR covers.

Mary Putnam Jacobi - 159 all time hits
Anna Ottendorfer - 1 all time hit
Margarethe Schurz - 11 all time hits
Fanny Garrison Villard - 18 all time hits


Some sources:

Mary Putnam Jacobi, Widener Library, Harvard University

Dr. Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi at the NLM web site

Mary Putnam Jacobi and the politics of medicine in nineteenth-century America by Carla Jean Bittel (UNC Press Books, 2009)

Dr. MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, obituary in the New York Times, June 12, 1906. First para: "Dr. MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, who died on Sunday, was in many regards a notable woman. As a student, practitioner, and teacher of medicine she won real distinction and achieved honors quite beyond the ordinary. She was a woman of strong character and intellect, of acute, penetrating, and independent judgment, devoting remarkable mental gifts to high aims and performing substantial service with the utmost fidelity and energy."

DR. M.P. JACOBI'S DEATH ENDS A BRILLIANT CAREER; She Was a Noted Medical Expert, Author, and Suffragist. New York Times, June 12, 1906

Jacobi, Mary Putnam, 1842-1906. Papers, 1851-1974: A Finding Aid at Harvard

Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842–1906) in the Women Working Project at Harvard

PLAN $25,000 MEMORIAL TO DR. MARY P. JACOBI; Women Physicians Pledge $1,000 to a Fund in Her Honor. DR. WILLIAM OSLER'S EULOGY Her Persistence Won Recognition for Women in the Profession, He Says -- Warm Testimonials. New York Times, January 5, 1907. First para: "As a memorial to Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, wife of Dr. Abraham Jacobi, who died in June last, the Women's Medical Association agreed last evening to raise $25,000 for the establishment of a post-graduate course for women physicians."

A few journal articles by and about Mary Putnam Jacobi which can be retrieved via JSTOR:
  • "Feminism, Professionalism, and Germs: The Thought of Mary Putnam Jacobi and Elizabeth Blackwell," Regina Markell Morantz, American Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 5 (Winter, 1982), pp. 459-478
  • "Shall Women Practice Medicine?", Mary Putnam Jacobi, The North American Review, Vol. 134, No. 302 (Jan., 1882), pp. 52-75
  • "Paris in 1870: Letters of Mary Corinna Putnam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Jul., 1917), pp. 836-841
Anna Ottendorfer in wikipedia

OBITUARY — MRS. ANNA OTTENDORFER in The American bookseller, a semi-monthly journal devoted to the interests of the book, stationery, news, and music trades, Volumes 15-16 (The American News Company, 1884)





Anna Ottendorfer, a compilation of brief biographies on

Ottendorfer Library in the NYPL web pages

Margarethe Schurz in wikipedia

Margarethe Meyer Schurz 1833 - 1876 on

Reminiscences of Carl Schurz; Margarethe Meyer Schurz on

MARGARETHE MEYER SCHURZ by Susan Fleming (Jewish Women's Archive)

Fanny Garrison Villard in

Fanny Garrison Villard on

Fanny Garrison Villard in wikipedia



[1] If I've tallied correctly, this blog now has 30 posts on or related to Louis Windmuller. You can find them by clicking the keyword "Louis Windmuller" at right (in the column headed "Labels").

[2] On her experience of Paris in 1870, see "Paris in 1870: Letters of Mary Corinna Putnam," The American Historical Review, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Jul., 1917), pp. 836-841. Here are brief excerpts from two letters:
My interest is immense in the events that are passing, especially since the Republic, and as far as I myself am concerned, I feel really quite ready to die in its defense. -- To her mother, 15 Sep 1870

Everyday we are expecting another affair. The crisis at Paris is being sharpened down to a tolerably fine point, but the national movement has become so general and vigorous, that even if Paris is taken, the war will continue, and I am sure that ultimately we shall succeed. Every day identifies more and more clearly the cause of the French republic with that for which the North fought in the war of Secession. It is no longer a war between two standing armies or two rival princelets, but between two rival principles,-et il y va du succes de l'idee Repntblicaine dans le monde entier. -- To her father 26 Dec 1870
[3] The paper, "Do Women Require Mental and Bodily Rest during Menstruation?", demonstrated that women were no less strong during periods of menstruation than at other times and that inactivity actually increased menstrual pain.

[3] The quotations are translated from a compilation of Schurz's speeches: Zur Erinnerung an Anna Ottendorfer: Rede des Herrn Carl Schurz, Rede des Herrn Carl Schurz, gehalten am Sarge im Trauerhause, am 4. April, 1884.

[4] Actually, although NYPL calls the Ottendorfer branch "New York City's first free public library," other sources say it was the second.

[5] New York Public Library: Ottendorfer Branch Dedication; this is a printed proof with scattered hand-written edits by Schurz. This speech praises libraries and librarians in general, not just the branch which Anna Ottendorfer had the foresight to establish. In it Schurz has some good words for the legislative research performed by the Librarian of Congress in his time in the Senate:
How much in this respect a thoroughly competent librarian may accomplish is shown by the conspicuous example of the librarian of Congress, Mr. Spofford. It is a fact well known in Washington that when a member of Congress becomes aware that there are things which he does not know, but which it would be useful for him to learn — a thing which happens sometimes — his older and more experienced colleagues will tell him “Go and ask Spofford.” And Mr. Spofford is never asked in vain. It seems he not only knows of the existence of every work in that vast and somewhat promiscuous collection of books, called the Congressional Library, and not only can name at his finger's ends every book on any given subject, but that he can also tell with remarkable accuracy with regard to almost very volume, what it contains, and whether it is worth studying or not. Of this, I have myself witnessed some astonishing instances, for when I was in the Senate I found occasion to “ask Spofford” many a time. He has thus become a real benefactor to the American people, for it may be said of many acts of Congress, that they are the offspring of the legislator's ignorance tempered by the knowledge of the Congressional librarian.
[6] In 1854, in that city, she began a kindergarten for her daughter, Agathe, and four neighbour children. Her success at this small beginning quickly became apparent and other parents asked for their children to be included. Susan Fleming writes: "In the fall of 1856, Margarethe Schurz opened a kindergarten in her living room for Agatha and four young cousins, teaching them the songs and games she had learned from Froebel. She soon moved her German-speaking kindergarten to the center of Watertown, so that more children could conveniently attend. Schurz continued as director until 1858, when she and Carl moved to Milwaukee. The Watertown kindergarten remained in operation—although moved to another building — until prejudice against the German language during World War I forced it to close."

[6] Translated from Schurz's German typescript: "Reminiscences of Carl Schurz" found in the Schurz papers at the Library of Congress. Of their meeting in London he wrote, "When Margarethe and I met... it seemed to go without saying that we belonged to each other. We gravitated to each other. This was also noticed quietly by the rest of the gathering. When I stepped up to Margarethe and began to speak with her, the others regularly drew back from us immediately and left us alone, which we found not in the least embarrassing... When I needed to take Margarethe to the door of her residence one evening, and we walked by the door and strolled entirely alone on a solitary evening walk, we really did not have much new to say to each other. What we felt for each other we already knew even without having said it."

[7] He wrote: "Cold windy day. All Steamers sadly behind time Bought Quartetts Orpheus of Schuberth Yesterday who tells that Bulow would like to try our new Centennial Grands &c. &c. At 12½ A. Goepel, A. Pagenstecher, Tretbar and I try the Quartetts Integer vitae & Über allen Wipfeln ist Ruh bei Kuhlau, at 1 P.M. we proceed to Senator Schurzs house No 40 West 32d street, there Goepel & Ammann, Tretbar, Pagenstecher & Mosenthal and I sing both those songs quite well, Dr. Frothingham making the speech very well. I feel unspeakably sad and downhearted with the conviction that noble women like Mrs. Schurz must die, while atrocious monsters who deliberately bring eternal disgrace and infamy upon their own children will continue to live." -- Diary of William Steinway, N.Y. March 18th 1876 (The William Steinway Diary Project, National Museum of American History.

[8] 75 Suffragists from the University of Maryland Women's Studies Department.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

five New Yorkers

I've become interested in four men who participated in the 1848 Revolutions in Germany and Austria and who later, in New York, became associates of my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller. Windmuller and the four were reformers, philanthropists, and promoters of cultural advancement. Acting in various combinations with each other and with other German-Americans, their efforts were, all in all, more successful than not.

The four were Carl Schurz, Oswald Ottendorfer, Henry Villard, and Abraham Jacobi.[1] They and Windmuller had much in common. Four of them had been born in Germany and one in Austria, all had been involved in the 1848 Revolutions, and all had migrated to the U.S. They had achieved different levels of education, but all were given the best education their parents could afford and none suffered in later life from effects of an inadequate education.

They were articulate in both speech and writing. They had contacts within the publishing community and a couple of them were publishers or editors as well as authors. Though they were all, in varying degrees, rebels before they emigrated, they had faith in American democracy and, as American citizens, did not advocate force as a means to achieve political reform.

None were prigs. They mixed with compatriots in beer halls and singing clubs, they attended banquets, and were members of clubs where they dined and socialized as well as participating in committees formed to pursue civic improvements.

Four of the five were proud to be political independents. They were Mugwumps and refused to align themselves with a single political party. Windmuller was the only merchant among them, but they all were associated with enterprises, such as banks and insurance companies, that aimed to benefit the public as well as return profits. Most of their efforts, whether commercial, philanthropic, or a combination of the two, began as German-American concerns and evolved into organizations which served all comers.

They all supported improvement in the lot of women and all but Windmuller had wives who became well known in their own right, not as their husbands' adjuncts.

Carl Shurz was an Army general in the U.S. Civil War, an accomplished journalist and editor, a popular politician and the first German-born American elected to the United States Senate. Henry Villard was a journalist who covered battles in the Civil War and later owned and published the New York Evening Post newspaper; he was also a financier and an early president of the Northern Pacific Railway. Schurz was a reporter and editor of Villard's Evening Post for a few years in the 1880s. Abraham Jacobi was a scientist and pioneer of pediatrics, opening the first children's clinic in the United States; he became and remains the only foreign born president of the American Medical Association. Oswald Ottendorfer was editor and publisher of a widely-read German-language daily, the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung. I've written frequently about Windmuller. He was a commission-merchant, both founder and officer of banks, insurance companies, and other businesses, and treasurer of non-profits as diverse as the Reform Club and the Legal Aid Society. He spoke out and wrote about issues that concerned him, particularly corruption in government, national policies affecting the economy, and aid to those in need.

Here's a smattering of articles in which some of the five appear together.
  • "With Carl Schurz, Oswald Ottendorfer, Henry Villard and G. H. Schwab [Windmuller] formed, in 1892, the German American Cleveland Union, which proved itself a powerful element in the Presidential Campaign. Mr. Windmuller acted as treasurer, and contributed a pamphlet showing how the prosperity of the country had suffered under the Republican administration. It was published in German and English by the National Democratic Committee, and had a large circulation." -- The University Magazine p. 547.
  • AN APPEAL TO GERMAN CITIZENS; STRONG REASONS WHY THEY SHOULD SUPPORT GROVER CLEVELAND, New York Times, August 22, 1892. First paragraph: "The following important address, signed by some of the most prominent German-Americans in the United States, has been issued through the German-American Cleveland Union, and is being circulated among the German voters or the country. Signed: CARL SCHURZ, OSWALD OTTENDORFER, WILLIAM STEINWAY, HENRY VILLARD, LOUIS WINDMULLER, GUSTAV H. SCHWAB."
  • The Reform Club: The officers for 1892 were — President, E. Ellery Anderson; Vice-Presidents, Oswald Ottendorfer, Charles S. Fairchild, Carl Schurz, Anson Phelps Stokes, Everett P. Wheeler, George Tucker Harrison, George Foster Peabody, Horace E. Deining, Henry B. B. Stapler; Secretary, Henry de Forest Baldwin; Treasurer, Louis Windmuller. -- Club men of New York: their occupations, and business and home addresses: sketches of each of the organizations: college alumni associations (Republic Press, 1893)
  • FOR A GOETHE MONUMENT, article by Louis Windmuller in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 24, 1909: "The time seems opportune for the initiative of a similar movement in New York, where sculptor and poet have numerous friends, who are well known as patrons of art and literature. I refer to men like Jacob H. Schiff, Dr. A. Jacobi, Carl Schurz, Oswald Ottendorfer, and A. P. Fitch. I mention these few on account of their well-known influence and public spirit. The hosts who admire a genius who as poet ranks with Homer, as thinker with Voltaire, as playwright with Shakespeare, are numberless."
  • TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF MARRIED LIFE, New York Times, November 24, 1884: First paragraph: "Mr. and Mrs. Louis Windmuller celebrated their silver wedding last evening at their residence, No. 19 West Forty-sixth-street. Among the guests were Mr. Carl Schurz, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Guidet, Mr. Bernard Roelker, Mr. William A. Hardt, the Misses Hardt..."
Carl Schurz was widely known in his own time and somewhat less today. Windmuller and the other three were not so widely known when living and quite a bit less today. The relative levels of interest in the five can be seen in hits on their names in some specialized search engines. For example, JSTOR, the journal archive and search engine gives 2,870 hits for Carl Schurz from the nineteenth century up to this year, while Henry Villard receives 654, Abraham Jacobi 242, Oswald Ottendorfer 53, and Louis Windmuller 20.[2] That levels of interest have fallen off in recent times can be seen in JSTOR hits for the period from 1990 to date. For those three decades, Carl Schurz receives 236 hits, while Henry Villard receives 90, Abraham Jacobi 37, Oswald Ottendorfer 4, and Louis Windmuller 1.

Searching the New York Times archive (via ProQuest) gives similar results. In the list that follows the first quantity is the number of hits from the mid-19th century to today and the one following gives hits from 1990 forward.[3]
Schurz, 14,296 all-time hits and 1,028 since 1990
Villard, 955 all-time hits and 13 since 1990
Ottendorfer 640 all-time hits and 1 since 1990
Jacobi, 360 all-time hits and 0 since 1990
Windmuller, 338, all-time hits and 0 since 1990
The following Ngrams from the Google Books database convey the same general results. The top one shows relative instances in which the names appear in the Ngram data set between 1850 and 2000. The bottom one shows the same from 1950 to 2000.[4]


Some sources:

Beiträge von Literaten und Künstlern zum Deutschen Hospital Bazaar

Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz

Tammany Hall vs. the People's Municipal League by Carl Schurz

Banquet to the Honorable Carl Schurz, Speech of Doctor A. Jacobi

History of German immigration in the United States and successful German-Americans and their descendants, Georg von Skal, 1908

Abraham Jacobi in wikipedia

Dr. Abram Jacobi toast by Carl Schurz, 1900

Geschichte des deutschthums von New York von 1848 bis auf die gegenwart By Theodor Lemke

Schurz, Carl 1829 - 1906 in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History

CARL SCHURZ, PILOT by Mark Twain, in Harper's Weekly, May 26, 1906.

Memoirs of Henry Villard (2 vols., Boston, 1904): Vol. 1, Vol. 2

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: Villard, Henry

The New International Encyclopædia: Villard, Henry

The Encyclopedia Americana (1920): Villard, Henry

Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921): Villard, Henry

Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Villard, Henry

Henry Villard Is Dead—Capitalist and promoter expires at his country home, New York Times, November 13, 1900

Valentin Oswald Ottendorfer

The New International Encyclopædia: Ottendorfer, Oswald

The Encyclopedia Americana (1920): Ottendorfer, Oswald

Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography: Ottendorfer, Oswald

Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography: Jacobi, Abraham

FELLOW-PHYSICIANS HONOR DR. JACOBI, Banquet to Mark Seventieth Anniversary of His Birth

Jacobi, Abraham in Men of 1914: An Accurate Biographical Record of Prominent Men in All Walks of Life Who Have Achieved Success in Their Chosen Vocations in the Various Civil, Industrial, and Commercial Lines of Activity (Chicago, American Publishers' Association, 1915)

Great sound money parade in New York edited by Edward A. Drake (Republic Press, 1897)

The German element in the United States by Albert Bernhardt Faust, Vol. 1 (New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1909)

The German element in the United States by Albert Bernhardt Faust, Vol. 2 (New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1909)



[1] My recent blog post, Secondat: forty-eighters tells of their experiences during the 1848 Revolutions and gives some portraits.

[2] JSTOR's coverage is more oriented toward high-brow journals than popular magazines. The articles that turn up via its searches are both about the five men and by them. It's important to remember that a search like "Carl Schurz" will not all be about the man and his works; some, for example, concern the park that bears his name. The names of the five are unique to them, so far as I know, so there is likely no "noise" introduced by false hits on other people having their names. The names were not always spelled the same way however. So, for example, the hits on "Abraham Jacobi" do not include hits on the variant, "Abraham Jacoby."

[3] Note number 2 applies with respect to NYT searches as well as JSTOR ones.

[4] For information on Ngrams, see Books Ngram Viewer. Culturomics says "The browser is designed to enable you to examine the frequency of words (banana) or phrases ('United States of America') in books over time. You'll be searching through over 5.2 million books: ~4% of all books ever published!"

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

a persistent technology

We're accustomed to see new apps replace old ones. Remember the old browsers now long gone — Lynx, Mosaic, and Netscape Navigator? Or the defunct search engines — Gopher, Lycos, Magellan, and Alta Vista? So it's a surprise to find that some old apps remain in place and continue to attract new users even as the tech revolution advances. Sure we have whole new generations of social networking wonders. Nonetheless a few of the neanderthal apps from the dawn of the internet are not only still around but are widely used. Plain old text-based discussion lists are in this category. For example there's a set of message boards on Giaia Online which have over 22 million users who've posted close on 2 billion discussions.[1] These and other discussion groups are directly descended from the Usenet architecture which debuted in 1979, and it's nice to see they are still going strong.[2]

In 1979 there was no internet. To gain access to the lists we dialed our modems onto local BBS networks. Making our own contributions and reading those of others, we quickly found how desperate some people were to see their names online no matter how excruciatingly banal their writings might be. Just as quickly we discovered how easily a tactless comment might cause offense and, by extension, how easily trollers could stir up trouble by artfully rubbing innocents the wrong way. And finally we found that spammers loved the system's lack of blocking tools. These problems mostly got sorted out as the system and its users matured so that these days the various forms of discussion-list systems are more popular than ever.[3] Undoubtedly the most widely used of all newsgroup sites is craigslist. Although it's no longer based on Usenet software, it started as a discussion list and, even now, retains some of its ancient Usenet character.[4]

Personally, I've found newsgroups best at accomplishing very specific tasks like sharing open source software, buying and selling bikes and bike parts, or finding answers to arcane questions such as the diagnosis of carburation problems in the 1979 Triumph Spitfire.[5] I've also found genealogy lists to be extensive and quite helpful.[6] And lately I've noticed that there's both longevity and considerable success in the running of hyper-local discussion lists — those newsgroups, email lists, and forums that have active moderation, require registration, and confine themselves to a relatively small geographic area as well as (usually) a defined subject-area of coverage. This link, for example, takes you to a set of discussion lists in and around a the section of Washington, DC, called Brookland: Links to listservs in Brookland and beyond. There are many such.[7] Neighborhoods have discussion lists, schools have them, and many, many other local affinity groups have them. I've found, for example that the aging in place movement supports a growing list of discussion groups. I sometimes follow the one in my area called the Chevy Chase At Home Urban Village.[8]

It'll be interesting to see whether the growing popularity of hand-held internet devices dents the continuing expansion of discussion list usage. It's tempting to guess that it will because the discussions are all keyboard generated and the pocketable internet appears mainly to be swipe-and-tap. Still, on the other hand, think how much text messaging there's been among cell phone users and how much more common it's becoming to find screen-based keyboards on tablets and other portables. I'm thinking the three decades of discussion list growth haven't brought this technology to the end of the line; we may find that the service begun when Usenet was born hasn't yet completed its cycle of usefulness.


See also:

Internet: Many-to-Many Communication

Bulletin board system

What Is The Usenet? from the Usenet Learning Center

What is Usenet? from

Usenet: the Global Watering Hole (1991)

Usenet newsgroup

List of newsgroups

How the Usenet News Protocols Work

Google Groups

Forum Software Timeline 1994 - 2010

Internet forum

List of Internet forums

DCist: What's Your Neighborhood Listserv? 2005


[1] Data source: Internet forum in wikipedia

[2] As this graphic from altopia (via wikipedia) shows.

An 2009 article in Wired says the Google Usenet Newsgroup archive contains more than 700 million articles. (See also this one.) According to CataList, the official catalog of LISTSERV lists, there are this month 515,217 LISTSERV lists, 2,773 of which have 1,000 users or more and 264 of which have 10,000 users or more

[3] This graph shows traffic on Giganews, a major Usenet platform.

{source: Giganews via}

[4] Regarding craigslist popularity, examine this comparison of Amazon, eBay, and craigslist traffic over the past few years.


These days craigslist has well over 815 million page loads a day according to According to wikipedia, craigslist "serves over twenty billion page views per month, putting it in 33rd place overall among web sites worldwide and 7th place overall among web sites in the United States (per on June 28, 2010), with over 49.4 million unique monthly visitors in the United States alone (per on January 8, 2010)"

[5] In fact one of the more popular posts on my blog is one that shows the Spitfire's front wishbone suspension.

[6] See for example the lists on rootsweb and the Mailing Lists section of Cyndi's List.

[7] Of the 515,217 current discussion lists only 52,617 are "public." The rest are for defined groups whose members register and are approved by a moderator.

[8] Chevy Chase at Home says it's "a group of residents and friends dedicated to supporting the concept of Aging in Place. It consists of persons living in the Chevy Chase, MD communities of Section Three, Section Five, Martin's Addition, Chevy Chase Village and the Town of Chevy Chase who wish to help each other so they can maintain a quality of life they desire, and continue to live independently in their homes and community, enjoying fulfilling lives as they grow older."

Monday, February 07, 2011

cycling newsies

Tom Vanderbilt muses about paper boys in the current issue of Time. I've enjoyed his writings, beginning with Traffic a couple of years ago. You don't have to be a transportation wonk to learn from and enjoy that book. That's true also of his articles in Slate and other press outlets, his tweets, and his blog posts. He writes about Americans' intense, but frequently absurd love affair with the car[1] but just as much about the silliness of traffic engineers and politicians who pander to us car lovers. And he writes about those of us, too, who, whether we're car lovers or not, yearn for more livable urban and sub-urb spaces for walking, jogging, and cycling.

The Time piece is The Rise and Fall of the American Paperboy. In it he says those of us who were carriers tend to have intense memories of that time. I agree. At 14 I was barely old enough for the required work permit and had never shouldered responsibility anywhere near that heavy. I'm pretty sure I signed up because my much-admired-but-never-successfully-emulated older sister had pointed the way. By that time she'd been earning what seemed big sums as a babysitter for a few years. I wrote once before about the paper route and my propensity to earn and save. The post is Secondat: Margaret Atwood and me.

My job was to deliver the Citizen Register weekday afternoons, in good weather and bad. My mom had cause to remember the bad because there were times when the route was either too wet or too icy to be bikable and I begged her to drive me (she did not like this task and I think I tried not to call on her too often). I can't recall how the job opportunity came my way, but I do have a vivid memory of the training session I received from the outgoing carrier, a one-time shadowing which left me on my own to work out a passably efficient means for receiving, counting, bagging my 60 or so papers and getting them into their roadside tubes over the ups and downs of the route's 3.6 miles. I carried Dogbone treats in a vain attempt to stay a couple of aggressive dogs in the first few houses I served. After the dogs my main challenge was a handful of steep climbs. I couldn't handle them in an American one-speed, like my old Columbia (which was less luxurious than this 1955 Schwinn Black Phantom[2]). You couldn't get an affordable 10-speed "racer" at that time[3], but fortunately my big cousin Carl was done with his English three-speed which looked like this.[4] I've a vivid memory of a guy in a truck yelling out "put it in low" one afternoon as I struggled up one of the steepest inclines. (Though struggling, I did have it in third already.)

Toward the end of my career in that work I was photographed and interviewed for the Register's annual carrier-of-the-year fluff piece. Needless to say I'd no prior experience of this kind of thing and I'm sure I failed to give the poor journalist a single interesting quote. It mystified me that the photog wanted a shot of my stringing my laminated, recurved yew-wood bow,[5] but I'm pretty sure a prop was needed to make me look even a little bit relaxed.

Here are some map images that show the route. I began my afternoon's ride at the circle on the right, rode west, then south and west until I reached the last customer. At that point I reversed myself and wheeled back to the beginning and onward to my parents' home nearby. Because examining these maps brings forth some memories, I've indulged in a brief nostalgic reverie somewhat further down the page.

Click these images if you wish to view them full size. The first is a USGS topo map from the later 1930s. If you're good at reading gradients, you'll notice that I start off in a little valley and don't encounter much climbing until the longish south-west straight (which you'll find when you scroll down is called Aspinwall Road). At that point I go up to the route's high point, then down and up again to a very steep but short little "Y" at the end.

{This is a detail from a map published in 1943 from survey data collected in 1936. It's the Ossining, NY Quadrangle, USGS 7.5 Minute Series, Latitude 41.1875 Longitude 286.1875, and I got it from Historic USGS Maps of New England & New York}

This topo map represents how the same area looked in 1964.

{This is a detail from a USGS topo map in the same series. It was published in 1979 from data collected in 1964. NYSGIS Clearinghouse}

This up-to-date contour map shows the ups and downs pretty clearly.

{source: Google}

This hybrid satellite image adds little to the other maps other than indicating how woodsy is this part of the world.

{source: Yahoo}


Here's the nostalgic reverie.

I was born the year before the first map was published. Population density was then quite low. There'd been less than a thousand residents when the village was incorporated in 1910. By 1940 the total has risen to near 1,500. At the time I had the paper route it was somewhere around 3,000 and the 2000 Census found it to be close to 8,000. As a paperboy and in my other local jobs (service station gas jockey, summer clerk in the high school, drug store stock boy, house painter, and doer of odd jobs) I got the sense that I knew maybe half of the 700 households, including their cars and their dogs.[6]

Many of the village's breadwinners spent their workdays 30 miles south in Manhattan, but many others worked locally. Some were wealthy, but others quite middling and less. This admirable diversity did not extend to racial or ethnic composition. We were predominantly white Protestants and Catholics with family roots in continental Europe and the British Isles.

The excellence of the school system was a major draw for many who moved there, including my parents. Following a couple of part-time stints in local nursery schools, I spent my K-12 years in one building. Sometimes on bike, but mostly on foot, I'd work my way the mile and a half to and from school, municipal pool, playing fields, and tennis courts, or (if cold enough) the iced duck pond that adjoined. You walked by the side of the road and cut through friendly back yards to paths that snaked through the woods. If there were no golfers about, you could cut the trip down by crossing the fairways either to the village stores (for candy mostly) or the school. This detail shows the long route in green and the two shorter ones in burgundy and blue.

This little piece of map shows a lot of my young universe, from the village park, school, and pond, to the village stores, golf course, and, on the opposite ridge, steeply wooded hillside leading up to the Lodge (which had become Edgewood Park, a college for upper-class girls when I was growing up and, after some years' vacancy, King's College, an evangelical Christian school). One of my earliest memories is a kindergarten "class trip" to the little-used single-track Putnam Line that shows on the right of the map. We saw the semaphore, the bags of mail, and inhaled the special train smell of the station; then watched a steam engine pull a couple of cars on a south-bound route.

Until I got involved in high school sports and took on some part-time jobs, I'd lots of free time to spend with friends. We did sports together — shot hoops in each others' driveways, found some favorite fields for tag football games, and played ice hockey on the iced over swimming pool. Lots of neighboring kids would get together for glorious softball games on the golf course fairway and a one or two of us would bring a few old clubs so as to play a few holes when we thought we could get away with it. We'd fish in the Lodge Pool and create Huck Finn rafts to navigate it. We'd climb tree vines and run helter-skelter down the wooded slopes. There was a big open field down the street that was a constant attraction for romps.

I'd one friend with whom I'd like to set out on random adventures. We'd climb the golf course hill and pick a distant landmark then try to walk there in a straight line, going into people's yards and over their fences. Mostly we'd find ourselves in woods but never to such an extent that we lost our way. Sometimes we'd end up where there were boulders and tall trees to climb. Once we found ourselves at an old quarry whose face we proceeded to climb as far as we could (it was a bit icy then and I'm happy now to have survived that feat). Once we kept walking until we got to Millwood some two towns distant. We wore sneaks and had no water or snacks and the trek back was, that time, a sore trial.

I didn't know then what a privilege it was to grow up in that place and that time.


Fair use claim: To the best of my knowledge my reproduction of images on this page complies with fair use provisions of US copyright law. I'll remove any for which fair use does not apply on being shown that I've infringed.


Some sources:

Paperboy, in wikipedia

Village of Briarcliff Manor, the village web site

10510 Zip Code Detailed Profile, i.e., Briarcliff Manor, on

Briarcliff Manor in wikipedia




[1] "Car" is used for so many different conveyances that it's use as synonym for automobile always demands some context to be properly understood. As well as motor vehicles, cars are what locomotives pull down the track, what's strung under a hot-air balloon, what carries people up and down skyscrapers within elevator shafts, and what carries tourists and skiers to the top of the mountain (and, some of them, back down again). Formerly, it was a favorite conveyance for poetic beings — as in the fiery carr of Phoebus, the weary Sun's fiery car, or the Carr of Jove's Imperial Queen, or, as might be, a special type of horse-drawn cart or carriage (jaunting car), car as hansom cab, a kind of drag used in making road repairs, or yet even seven stars in Ursa Major (as in "Pleiads, Hyads, and the Northern Car"). -- OED.

Americans distinguish cars from trucks, but a high proportion of these cars are officially (by the government) called light trucks.

[2] Which I found on, as seen here:

[3] I got this image of a Fuji Deray from

[4] My image comes from flickr. So's you don't have to leave the page, here it is.

[5] I still have the bow. It looks like this.


[6] This shows the village's growth in population. The yellow bars show the information we're interested in. The blue and burgundy show numbers of people in each of the two townships in which the village is located.

{source: the village web site,}