January 8, 2014
The Photoarchive recently received a gift of three reproductions of portraits of Brooklyn’s Bannard family, including a charming group portrait (illustrated) of the five Bannard children: Henry Clay, Hubbard Francis, Walter Clifton, Estella (or Estilla) Stone, and Otto Tremont. Their father, John (1822-1911), was a New York wholesaler of lace, ribbon, and embroidery (known at the time as “narrow fabrics”) who suffered severe financial losses during the panic of 1857. In the wake of the crisis, the family relocated to Quincy, Illinois, a thriving market town and crucial transportation hub on the Mississippi, to forge a new life in the Midwest.
The move was not a happy one, as the children’s mother, Eliza (1821-1903), seen below in a photograph also featuring her youngest son, Otto, recounted: "Some few months since my own dear home [in Brooklyn], situated so pleasantly, furnished so tastily [sic] and containing many gifts of Knickknacks from kind friends all passed away into the pockets of—creditors—and I with a dispirited husband on one side and half a dozen helpless, innocent, and trusting little ones on the other, with poverty before me and every earthly friend behind me, took a new position in a new place and began life anew: and such a life as I’ve had of it, sickness, loneliness and hard work and calico dresses."
To supplement the family’s income, Eliza sold poems, short stories, and essays written under the pen name “Lizzie” to various newspapers, including the local Quincy Whig and the New-Brunswick Fredonian further afield in New Jersey. Lizzie the journalist was a success. As one editor of the Grange noted, "We have read many of her excellent contributions to the Quincy Whig and have admired her style of writing, its peculiar originality of thought, the freshness and spicyness of her wit and her true womanly affection. 'Lizzie,' do let us hear from you often."
Readers did hear from Lizzie often, and on a range of subjects—including the financial crisis that had sent her family into exile:
Dear [Mr. Editor],
The groanings and lamentations of you eastern editors over the "extravagance of women," "their love of show," their sin and folly in dressing to please their husbands (and nearly all husbands urge them to do so), and affixing to the length and fullness of our skirts "the ruin of the nation" and the bankruptcy of our husbands, is simply ridiculous. You know, Mr. Editor, that would men but listen to the warnings and counsel of their wives, and keep within bounds their speculations and do business according to their capital instead of to their credit, this money panic would never have come upon us, nor should we have heard one word of this tirade from editors. When times are good, "wives know nothing about business"—their duty is (so say their lords) to "look their prettiest" and "to take care of home and children;" but after a man has, by his presumptuous blindness and ambition, turned his comfortable home into the pockets of his creditors, and brought his wife and little ones to the gate of poverty, then comes the revelation that she knew all about the business, and that her feathers and flounces were responsible for the troubles. . . . Instead of railing at the lavish expenditures of women, Mr. Editor, please turn to their noble self-sacrifices, their cheerfulness in retiring to loneliness and hard work, and calico dresses. . . . Magnify their virtues as you do their follies, or let us alone, and devote all your surplus energy and talk to getting out of the plight your absurd speculation and headlong overtrading have plunged you into.
Your true friend,
These articles offer a wealth of information about life on the American "frontier," as well as much insight into the personal affairs of the Bannard family. A selection of Eliza's literary works was compiled by one of her descendants, and a copy of this entertaining resource accompanied the gift to the Photoarchive. The manuscript is now housed in the Archives of the Frick Art Reference Library and is available for consultation by appointment.
Sophia B. Bigelow (active 19th century), Group Portrait of the Bannard Children, ca. 1856. Oil on canvas, approx. 49 x 67 1/2 in. Private collection, Washington, D.C.
Unidentified photographer (active 19th century), Eliza Stone Bannard and Her Son, Otto Tremont Bannard, ca. 1857. Private collection, Washington, D.C.
David A. Greene replied on Permalink