Friday, September 24, 2010

FULLER, MARGARET Women's Rights Advocate (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Margaret Fuller: You were a woman before your time and international acclaim followed with your book, “Women in the Nineteenth Century”(1845), which recognized your enormous knowledge of literature and philosophy and command of language in which the rights of women as independent and rational beings is defended. An American journalist and women rights advocate, you counted among your interests the American transcendentalism movement. Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, (1810-1850) is better known by the name Fuller, because this was her pen name by which Americans knew her. She was fueled with incredible determination to succeed, yet Fuller’s notoriety and her bravado shocked Americans.
Fuller was a brilliant conversationalist, respected for her intellect and learning. In 1839, she began overseeing what she called “conversations” on various topics, primarily for women, discussions meant to emancipate women from their traditional intellectual subservience to men. She was a spellbinding conversationalist and held her women only “conversation classes,” in Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s West Street bookstore in Boston. The famous series of conversations was planned for attendance by twenty five women committed to thirteen weeks of conversation, from noon to two once a week. Fuller derived a steady income from these conversations for five years which enabled her to pursue her other literary interests.
Margaret Fuller’s oeuvre was on the forefront of intellectualism. She was a close friend with intellectuals in Boston and Concord, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson and was one of the few women who could command Emerson’s interest and respect. After visiting Emerson by invitation for three weeks in 1836 she became acquainted with many transcendentalists including Bronson Alcott, who invited her to teach at this innovative Temple School in Boston, which in the end lapsed in financial failure. This event propelled Fuller in another direction.
Although Emerson was at first somewhat put off by Margaret’s plainness, however, with time he came to consider her a most engaging personality, an intellectual and at times extremely entertaining. A mutual alliance of admiration was formed and from 1840 to 1842 she served with Emerson as editor of The Dial, a literary and philosophical journal for which she wrote many articles and reviews on art and literature. Perhaps the most significant journalistic contribution to the Dial was an article in 1843, her essay entitled, “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men, Woman versus Women, in which she called for women’s equality.
Margaret Fuller’s literary achievements attracted Horace Greeley, the celebrated newspaper owner and editor. He was enormously impressed with Fuller’s “Summer on the Lakes in 1843, so much so that he offered her a job that most women would never have dreamed of. In 1844 Fuller relocated to work as literary critic for the New York Tribune becoming the first literary critic in any American newspaper, this at a time when journalism was considered unfitting employment for a woman. In this role she became more aware of social deprivations becoming interested in prison reform prostitution, suffrage rights for women, slavery abolition, and the status of minorities. In 1845, as foreign correspondent for the Tribune, Fuller traveled to Europe and sent back feature articles.
During her European journalism stint this spirited young woman embarked on another major segment of her life and proclaimed herself a citizen of Italy. During the Revolution of 1848 and during the siege of Rome by French forces, Fuller assumed charge of one of the hospitals in the city. She fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Angelo d’Ossoli, a petty nobility and a fellow revolutionary, and they had a child, a son Angelo. In 1850, when the revolution failed, they decided to sail to America. It is said that she was carrying the manuscript of a book on the Italian Revolution and letters from Emerson. Sadly the ship went aground in a storm off of Fire Island, New York and Fuller, Ossoli and Angelo drowned when the ship went down. Although this event cut short Margaret Fuller’s life, her intellectual legacy lives on to challenge and inspire other women.
Book: Read MEN, WOMEN, AND MARGARET FULLER, by Laurie James, Golden Heritage Press, Inc. (1990)

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Dear Lillian Nordica: As celebrated as your life was acclaimed on the international opera stages you never lost sight of your modest Maine roots. Nordica’s fabulous life from her frugal upbringing to her career as an opera star is a significant portrayal of a woman determined to succeed. Demonstrating courage, independence of spirit and compassion, Nordica’s valuable contribution to the world of music is an inspiring story. Even opera aficionados today never cease to marvel at her accomplishment as America’s first international diva.

As American as Apple pie, Nordica was born Lillian “Lillie,” Norton in Farmington, Maine on December 12, 1857 in a small farmhouse built by her grandfather. She was the sixth daughter of Amanda Allen and Edwin Norton. Lillian’s mother was the family’s motivator who was full of ambition for her family. At home the entire family sang but Lillian was not the favored daughter. The family pinned its hopes on Wilhelmina, her older sister, who had studied at the New England Conservatory. However, fate would play its hand in Lillian’s life. When Wilhelmina caught typhoid fever on a visit to cousins in Farmington and died the family’s hopes of fame and fortune were dashed.
Stunned by the death of her daughter, Amanda went into two years of mourning but Lillian’s lilting voice caught her ear and Amanda seemingly revived spontaneously to focus on Lillian as the family’s rising star. Lillian began her vigorous vocal training in Boston at the New England Conservatory, and then she gave recitals throughout the United States and England, while barely in her teens. Accompanied by her devoted mother, Lillian studied further in Milan. Her obsession for patient study of languages and opera scores sets an example for aspiring students today. The Nordica stage name was bestowed by San Giovanni, an Italian maestro, convincing her that a plain sounding name would not appeal to European opera-goers. The adopted name was Giglia Nordica, (Lily of the North) but she soon became known as “Madame Nordica” or simply as “Nordica”.
As Madame Nordica Lillian made her debut at Brescia in 1879 where she sang Violetta in La Traviata and went on to high honors showered with bouquets by adoring fans. Later engagements included ten secondary roles at the Imperial Opera in St. Petersburg, Russia. Nordica’s magnificent voice of liquid purity carried her triumphantly throughout Europe. The year 1882 marked her Paris opera debut as Marguerite in Faust. Nordica became the leading prima donna of the Paris season and couturiers named a new color and a new cloak, “la Nordica.” And at last she was treated like royalty and coming from frugal stock she fully appreciated the elaborate concert gowns fashioned by Worth of Paris, the fine jewelry and accolades. It is suggested that her costumes, stage jewelry and opera scores will be of great value to future singers as models for the many operatic roles for which they were designed and worn.
Nordica’s impressive voice which gave a hint of her dramatic soprano. She was the first American woman asked to sing at the Beyreuth Festival in Germany in 1894 and would create of the role of Elsa for Cosima Wagner’s production of Lohengrin. German opera houses were then open to her and there was a great surprise that an American soprano could sing Wagnerian roles. With her big, agile, soprano voice her repertoire included Brunnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Tristan und Isolde. In New York her Bel Canto style rivaled that of Melba, Patti and Caruso, and her frequent stage partner at the Metropolitan Opera House was the cultured Polish tenor Jean de Reszke. Nordica’s rare dramatic gift combined with an exceptional range and magnificent power and with a charming persona represented everything fine in vocal art.
Nordica’s private life had a hint of the dramatic but with mostly disappointing consequences. Nordica married three times. Her first husband, Frederick Allen Gower, a second cousin, didn’t even like opera and almost jeopardized her career. This disastrous liaison ended when she became a widow under mysterious circumstances. For all her discipline when it came to singing, by her design when it came to romance she was less fortunate. She married for a second time, divorced and married again to a man who wooed her with emeralds.
In 1913, Nordica embarked on a recital tour to Australia. She nearly missed the ship leaving Sydney on her return, and that proved to be fatal mistake. Her untimely death came as a result of a shipwreck in the South Seas. Nordica became seriously ill with pneumonia and her sweet voice was hushed at Batavia, Java on May 10, 1914.
Great details about her operatic life and sad personal life are chronicled in the “Yankee Diva, Lillian Nordica and the Golden Days of Opera” written by Ira Glackens, (1963). Lillian Norton was never forgotten by Farmington, Maine. The townspeople bought the farmhouse where she was born and opened the Nordica Homestead Museum where many artifacts from her extraordinary career are displayed. Location: 116 Nordica Lane, Farmington, Maine 04938-5664. Telephone: 207.778.2042.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

MORGAN, Anne Tracy Morgan's War (c) By Polly Guerin

Dear Anne Tracy Morgan: Your name is synonymous with power and financial advantage but you were destined to become a woman determined to succeed beyond the boundaries of the social upper crust set. Born to privilege in 1873, you were the youngest of four children of John Pierpont Morgan, who had made an immense fortune in banking and whose bank (now JPMorgan Chase & Co.) is still a global financial services firm. Anne grew up in a wealthy household with servants and received a private education with most summers spent traveling abroad. She would discover, however, philanthropic ways to use her wealth that very few privileged women of her time would have considered. She became a dynamic leader in Anne Morgan’s War rallying up American women volunteers for relief work in France during and after World War I.
As a youthful debutante Anne enjoyed the finer things in life but her life took an important departure in her 20s when she came under the influence of women from New York’s intellectual circles. In this arena of enlightenment Anne worked to address women’s social issues and focused attention on plight and needs of working women. She served as a volunteer factory inspector and established a clubroom in the Brooklyn Navy Yard so that workers could receive nutritious meals. In 1903, she became part owner of the Villa Trianon near Versailles, France, along with decorator/socialite Elsie de Wolfe and theatrical/literary agent Elisabeth Marbury. The Villa Trianon, abandoned by the French royal family after the Revolution of 1848 was the ideal setting to separate her from her domineering father and pursue her own interests.
At the start of World War I, Anne was in France and she saw the terrible effects of war and was horrified by the carnage and wartime destruction. With an innate character of philanthropy Anne wanted to help the victims. She returned to the United States to collect food and clothing and relief packages to assist the devastated regions. She financed the work with her inheritance and with contributions from other Americans. Anne even persuaded Henry Ford to donate Model T ambulances. Setting such an example Anne was the leader and inspiration, and hundreds of American women left comfortable lives at home to volunteer in the devastated regions of France.
Anne Morgan rallied potential volunteers and donors on speaking tours across the United States, and employed the power of documentary photography and silent film to foster a humanitarian response to the plight of French refugees. With haunting views of ruined French towns, decimated agricultural fields and livestock, public buildings, railways, bridges, schools and factories, portraits of refugees and pictures of American volunteers at work---these images tell a little known, but important story of American volunteerism during World War I. THE WOMEN’S ENCAMPMENT
Anne financed the Chemin des Dames, an encampment for women in the courtyard of the ruined seventeenth-century Chateau de Blerancourt, which served as the base of operations for the American Committee for Devastated France which she created with her friend, Anne Murray Dike. Anne Morgan with her commanding presence and social prominence took the lead in fund raising, while her colleague Anne Murray Dike, trained as a physician, organized activities in the field. The group established headquarters in Blerancourt, less than forty miles from the front living in barracks and working long hours. The American Committee provided vital services to revitalize life in a region considered by many to be beyond redemption. After the war, Anne donated the property to the town of Blerancourt, and founded a museum documenting the history of French-American cooperation.
When the Second World War again brought devastation to northeastern France, including Anne Morgan’s beloved Blerancourt, she took action again and formed the American Friends of France and the Comite Americain de Secours Civil, its French counterpart. Her generosity and benevolence did not go unnoticed. In 1932, Anne Morgan became the first American woman to become a commander of the French Legion of honor and the first woman to be honored with a marble plaque in the Court of Honor at the Hotel des Invalides, near Napoleon’s tomb in Paris. ANNE MORGAN’S WAR; REBUILDING DEVASTATED FRANCE 1917-1924 is on view at The Morgan Library & Museum 225 Madison Ave. through November 21, 2010.