Louise R. Jewett papers
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Louise R. Jewett Papers, Mount Holyoke College, Archives and Special Collections, South Hadley, Massachusetts
History of the Collection
Summary of Correspondence
Louise Rogers Jewett was a Professor of Art at Mount Holyoke from 1901-1914. The letters in the collection were written while she was abroad on two trips, one during the years 1886-1888, and the other 1891-1893. There are 105 letters written between August 13, 1886 and July 10, 1888 and 54 letters written between November 6, 1891 and September 17, 1893.
Louise's parents had died when she was quite young and the four children in the family moved to Buffalo where a guardian was appointed. All the letters are addressed to her immediate family: Sophie, called Siffie, who during Louise's second trip was teaching English at Wellesley; Gertrude, called Biddy, and Charles, "Duffer", who was at Yale in 1886-87 and during her second trip was studying in Germany and Austria prior to setting up medical practice in Buffalo in 1893. Most of the letters are signed Louise R. Jewett; she explains that seems wise in view of the long distance they will travel. The letters comprise a journal of her life and experiences abroad as an artist and a student of art history.
Louise was 27 when she sailed for Europe on August 8, 1886 to pursue her study of painting, accompanied by her friend Mamie. After graduating from Buffalo Seminary, she had studied at the Yale School of Fine Arts and had been teaching in Buffalo. After a month in London the two young women proceeded to Paris where Louise sought an atelier where she could continue her training as an artist. Julian's Atelier appeared to be best suited to her needs, although she was troubled by reports of the "bad air and poor working conditions" (10-7-1886) but by late October after an interview with M. Julian she had enrolled in a studio class of women held on the top floor of the studio building where the air was better. She was the only American in the group although a few European students knew some English. At first she worked in black and white, worrying about her ability and progress. Language problems exacerbated her lack of confidence and she felt little empathy with the "silly French girls" in the studio who were considerably younger than she and more advanced in their art studies. She believed her training was not comparable to that of others in the class, since "I never worked with professional artists before and the Paris standard is so different from that of Buffalo" (11-14-1886) and she dreaded the criticism from the teacher "who stalks from one easel to another like an Oriental executioner and not one victim escapes..." (11-7-1886). Advised to go see a 15th Century painting in the Louvre and "stand and look at it for two hours"' (11-22-1886), she had her "first lesson from the old Masters."
Mamie departed for the States in early March and Louise was left alone, although by then she was gaining confidence. "I feel quite encouraged over my work" she writes, and the teacher's frequent comment pas mal "always makes me light hearted." (2-13-1887) By the middle of March she was permitted to move on to painting and she set about to purchase supplies and to make her apron. "I bought some grey linen and made a long sleeved apron which was all finished but the button holes by bed time. The sewing reminded me of the missionary society, but was that not pretty quick work. I hardly touched a needle before since leaving home except to darn my stockings. As I shall hereafter be enveloped in that apron from morning till night it does not matter if my clothes are a little shabby." (3-13-1887)
Louise's original intention had been to return home within the year but already by late fall she began to consider a longer stay. A job taking private pupils at Buffalo Seminary seemed possible for the following year, but she was not truly interested. "I do not care to be a professional teacher if it can be avoided.... I would rather work for myself" she writes on March 20 (1887). After great indecision, she finally committed herself to another year, despite her desperate loneliness at times. This meant that she must miss Gertrude's wedding in the fall of 1887. Trying to explain her decision, she writes to her family: "Just imagine if I were a boy, a brother, instead of sister, would not everyone think me lazy, luxurious, and lacking in ambition if at this time I should leave my work?" She was not yet at a point where she could go on alone and her family should "pretend I am your brother and that it is impossible for me to leave my business .... I expect to study all my life as every artist does." (7-5-1887)
After a traveling holiday with relatives in August and September, Louise was back at the studio in October. "I feel as if I must cram while I am here and I don't think any American school can help me much....American theories are so different, so entirely contrary." (11-21-1887) News of a new art school in Buffalo and the "fancy prices" paid to models upset her; "it is one of the greatest hindrances to a young artist and it seems absurd in Buffalo where there is not yet one professional model." (11-17-1887) Her first signed painting was completed in December and presented to her landlady, Madame Cezaire - a portrait of her beloved cat. December also brought encouragement: of 34 entries out of 75 receiving mention in the Concours, she was placed #29. M. Julian was "very approving" of some of her sketches and she decided to do a portrait of Madame Cezaire. She was pleased with the result. She writes that she managed to make her a tiny bit younger and prettier than my model" but Madame was not "averse to that kind of flattery." (3-13-1888) The dream of every art student was realized when Louise received word that the portrait had been selected for the Salon. One of the first things she did on hearing the good news was to go out and buy Madame a bunch of purple lilacs, her favorite flower. When her card of admission to the Salon came, she "turned it over and read and reread it, like a child with a new toy." (4-29-1888) By June Louise was headed for home.
Three years later she was abroad again, stopping first in Paris at Mme. Cezaire's . This time she was accompanied by the Harris's. Dr. Harris appears to be a retired clergyman, scholar and Dante fan. They were excellent travelers and Mrs. Harris proved to be a wonderful companion for Louise. The three of them went on to Italy and to Florence, where Louise hoped to find a studio to rent. She found the best artists "are the sculptors because of the facilities for choosing beautiful marble and of finding skilled marble-cutters." (12-3-1891) A studio was found and she was "delighted with the prospect of taking up my brushes again." (1-3-1892) But their museum visits were curtailed because of the bitterly cold galleries.
The Harris's planned to travel south to Naples and Sicily (the epitome of European history, Louise called it), and they wanted Louise to go along. She was torn about whether to do so or continue working in Florence, feeling uncertain whether "studio painting or visiting and studying art for a wider knowledge" was better for her. (2-14-1892) Louise decided on the journey and they left Florence in February, spending time in other Italian cities as well, and then proceeding to Vienna and Germany. This permitted her to practice her German and add it to the French and Italian she had acquired. Sophie arrived in London in the summer and the two sisters continued their travels, after the Harris's left for home in September. Before going, Dr. Harris asked Louise asked write a series of twelve papers, to be published weekly in the St. Louis Observer, of which he was editor, on the subject "art in the early church, and Louise submitted the first papers before she returned to the States.
Up until October 1892 Louise had written almost every week but Sophie took over the responsibility of the family letters when she arrived in England and Louise's letters become much less frequent. The last weekly letter was written on October 9, 1892; then there are 7 letters written between February 12 and September 17, 1893, when Louise was making plans to go to Boston hoping to set up a studio where she could do portraits. She planned to live alone for she had been told "women are so free in Boston." (9-17-1893)
Although Louise made some friends while abroad and there seemed to be a good many friends and relatives from home journeying about the Continent, her life nevertheless was not an easy one. Sunday church was a favorite meeting place for Americans in Paris, and Louise enjoyed the music and the sermons, sometimes going in addition to a church service in French in order to strengthen her knowledge of the language. Mme Cezaire's pension where she finally settle after trying other possibilities was a good choice. Madame gave her French lessons and set a "very good table." This was important because restaurants presented problems. Louise did not really approve of "going to a restaurant alone" (2-6-1887) and said she dreaded to do so "though it is considered quite proper." (2-13-1887) The language continued to plague her, though sometimes with amusing results, ordering macaroni, for instance, and getting mackerel. She usually walked to the studio; between the pension and the atelier, she said she climbed 14 flights of stairs a day. (4-3-1887) And walking alone took courage. "I have grown quite accustomed to the little annoyances - the men who in passing hiss in my ear...and I walk on as if made of stone." (7-5-1887) And then there was the Paris weather.
The Paris cold, she said, was "more tiresome than Buffalo winters." (3-4-1888) Her room was not heated and she suffered from chilblains. Evenings had to be spent in the salle a manger along with Madame and the other boarders where she tried to do her reading in anatomy and art history and to work on her French. Evenings were also a time for letter-writing, by candlelight if in her own room, and a time for sewing, trying to keep her modest wardrobe in condition, despite the mud of Paris streets. About French styles, she had reservations. "The prettiest clothes one sees in Paris are those of the American girls who have just arrived," she writes. (10-9-1888) A new hat which she bought brought strong criticism at the pension and she writes, "it is fatal in Paris eyes to be even a tiny bit original." (10-16-1888) And about French homes she says "almost every room I have been in has had an ugly brass clock (that would not go) under a glass case." (11-7-1887) On her second trip there is a nice comment on women's fashions. While in Florence with the Harris's, Dr. Harris, a believer in physical exercise, led the group regularly in gymnastics. As a result, Louise writes, she was "going without corsets except when I wear my best gown." (1-24-1892) Although there were some diversions in the form of occasional parties and visits to the opera or theatre, she greatly missed her family. It was a lonesome life, particularly during the first trip.
Traveling with her friends, however, she clearly enjoyed. The records of these journeys sometimes simply list sights she had seen, but often she sprinkles her descriptions with pithy comments. She was an enthusiastic sightseer (though not a good sailor) and she managed to visit just about every available art treasure on her various trips in England, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Holland and Belgium.
One of her first experiences in London was riding the London underground railway. "May I never be forced to try it again" she writes, "such smoke, such heat, such entire lack of air I have hardly known before." (8-31-1886) There is a very amusing description of the Crystal Palace, "one of the most absurd days we have had," she writes. She and Mamie spent the whole day there. "The pleasure could hardly be called aesthetic or improving," she says. They strolled about contemplating examples of ancient and medieval architecture, diversified by stalls for confections, jewelry, wall paper, perfumery, baby carriages, sewing machines and very astonishing gimcracks. There were also such horribly realistic representations of Bushmen and Hottentots as would have frightened any American baby to death, tho the English children seemed to regard them with composure." (9-8-1886)
After a Danube cruise in May, 1892, she was enchanted by Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. She and the Harris's visited a salt mine, suitably dressed in white duck trousers and black blouses, black leather apron behind, lantern stuck in belt in front and round black caps trimmed in blue." They went through a "narrow vaulted passage... up and down stairs to the shore of salt lake lit up by tiny oil lamps." (5-29-1892)
Louise's reactions to the art treasures seen on her travels are of special interest since she sees them with the eyes of an artist. Rubens was not a favorite. On seeing Descent from the Cross, she declares she is a "Philistine on the subject of Rubens and even this did not convert me." (8-27-1887) She saw so many Last Suppers on refectory walls in Italy that she thought she might write an article tracing the development of painting, using these as examples. The Sistine Chapel ceiling she thought "more beautiful than ever, but I can never find anything to admire in the Last Judgment. I believe Michel did it in grim scorn because he must..." (3-13-1893) Most tourists, she writes, do not appreciate what they see. "About half that people see is lost on them because they don't know what to make of any of these old things. I believe that most of them think that Raphael invented painting." (10-9-1893) In Cologne she was exasperated in the museum because of "the way they restore paintings in Germany until there is nothing original left except the design." (7-18-1892) And she was disappointed in England with Holman Hunt's Light of the World. "I like the real pre-Raphaelites so much that I have always expected to like the English pre-Raphaelites but this did not impress me as a picture of any power. It was not at all what I expected." (8-21-1892) But she found a tapestry in the Exeter College chapel by Burne Jones, made under the direction of William Morris, "lovely in design and even more beautiful in color. The color is rich without any of the gaudiness of French tapestry, and my fast declining opinion of British artists has gone up again since seeing that." (8-28-1892)
The letters contain few comments on news events and public affairs, although there are occasional references to the larger world. The only news item from America which brought a response was the trial of Lizzie Borden. "It seems to me that it ought to take an overwhelming amount of evidence to convict a girl of apparently blameless life of a crime so brutal." (10-2-1892) She was not much interested in French politics but she did persuade Mme. Cezaire to tell her of the siege of Paris and she was once trapped in street demonstrations at the time of the "great political excitement" over General Boulanger. (4-23-1888) There is a fine description of the funeral procession of the widow of the head of Bon Marche (12-11-1887), and she had a peek at Queen Victoria in Italy, "a wide felt hat shaped like a mushroom with black ruching around the edge and a fat red cheek showing below." (4-16-1893) In the fall of 1887, Madame Cezaire took her to a two-hour meeting of the Association des Dames Francaises, a "society something like the 'Sanitary Commission of our war.' The society's chief purpose," she writes, "is to be ready for the war which they think will come sooner or later with Germany." She was "wonderfully interested" in the proceedings and describes the speakers as well as the speeches. (11-21-1887)
Louise writes well and the letters provide an excellent source of information about the life of a young American woman in Paris about 100 years ago who struggled in a foreign land, battling loneliness, and doubt about her talent as an artist, but who was determined to do her best and to persist until she could see results. And the letters also provide nice details about the vagaries of travel abroad in the late nineteenth century. Louise's love of beauty, and her sense of humor, along with the sketches which she sometimes includes, lend a pleasing charm to her journal.
Mount Holyoke and the Art Department
Mary Woolley became President of Mount Holyoke in May 1901 and Louise Jewett was surely one of her first faculty appointments. While at Wellesley, she had heard from Sophie about her sister Louise who was then teaching at Dana Hall, and about her talents as an artist and teacher of art. The arrival of Louise in South Hadley the next fall brought about major changes in the teaching of art at Mount Holyoke.
A course in linear drawing was included as part of the curriculum plan in one of Mary Lyon's early circulars about the Seminary. By the year 1900-01 there was a Department of Drawing and a Department of Painting but these courses were offered as desirable "accomplishments" for young ladies in the nineteenth century and had no connection with art history. Beginning in 1859 lectures on art were frequently given by visitors at the Seminary and by 1872 in a course in General Literature several weeks were devoted to Greek and Gothic Architecture. In 1878 a course in art history was offered for the first time, taught by Miss Blanchard.
The 1900-01 catalogue before Louise's arrival lists art history courses in Egyptian and Classical Archaeology, Medieval Art, Cathedral Architecture, Renaissance Painting and Painting in Northern Europe and Spain, all given by Miss Randolph, the only member of the department. Also included in the catalogue are the Departments of Drawing and of Painting. The next year, however, the 1901-02 catalogue lists the History of Sculpture given by Miss Jewett, a lecture course, and in alternate years, the History of Italian Painting, and the History of Painting in Northern Europe and Spain. Both of these were supplemented by "practice courses" for 6 hours each week, drawing from the antique and from life in sculpture, and drawing and painting from draped model in painting. The Departments of Drawing and Painting had disappeared. Enrollments grew; in 1902-03, according to Miss Woolley's annual report, 80 students were studying art, and the first art history major graduated in 1905. "The 'life class' of 15 members," writes Miss Woolley which "meets once a week, has been an interesting feature of Miss Jewett's courses. No attempt has been made to form an art school but rather to bring all the practice work, both drawing and painting, into closer relation with history studies."
Very soon the sculpture course was divided into Greek Sculpture and Italian sculpture, and by 1903-04, the art of France and England was incorporated into the painting course. An advanced course in painting was added a short time later. All these were taught at one time or another by Miss Jewett. In 1909-10, a new course was offered, Historical Ornament, in which studio practice was an important component, according to the catalogue; this too was taught by Miss Jewett. Miss Randolph retired in 1912 and Miss Jewett became head of the department which now included both Miss Hyde and Miss Foss, and two new arrivals, Miss Galt and Miss Flint who also taught Greek. "The combination of art history and studio work was a method of teaching art history brought to Mount Holyoke by Miss Jewett," wrote Miss Hyde in 1937 in her history of the department.
Louise's reputation was to broaden to encompass the entire College community. In 1906 she was asked to do a portrait of Mary Lyon using a daguerreotype dating back to 1845 which had just been found. When the portrait was unveiled, Dr. Hitchcock, who knew Mary Lyon when he was a young man, commented "This is the best and most natural picture of Mary Lyon that has ever been made." Laura Hibbard in an article in The Mount Holyoke for March 1914 wrote: "The technical difficulties were many, and to eke out the somewhat meager information of the picture, she sought eagerly for every recorded or remembered detail concerning Miss Lyon's coloring, expression, habits of dress, etc. Miss Jewett's primary purpose was to 'make more real the vivacity and ardor of Miss Lyon's temperament, her strength of will and the charm of her manner."'
In 1912 another event occurred when every student on campus knew of Miss Jewett as the creator of the magnificent historical pageant in which 700 students participated at the time of the 75th anniversary of the College.
For all these years, except for the very first one, Louise lived in Porter Hall. Then on May 14, 1913, she bought for $600.00 from the estate of William McElwain about 2/3 of an acre which is described in the deed as on the south side of a lane leading west from College Street between land of L. Alvord and land of Mount Holyoke College. It was here that she chose to build a house, where her sister, Gertrude Jewett Hunt, who had been widowed, might join her. Sophie had died in 1909. She had been living in her new home for only one month when on a "windy stormy evening" in January 1914 she went to Porter for dinner. Returning home, Miss Woolley writes in her annual report (1913-1916) "the struggle against the violence of the storm was too great an exertion for a weak heart and she lived only a few moments after reaching the little store in sight of her home." This was the Woodbridge drug store, now the parking lot at the head of Bridgman Lane. The entire College community was devastated by her sudden death and all classes were canceled on the day of the funeral. Louise was 54.
In Miss Woolley's tribute to her in her annual report, she writes of her broad sympathies and high standards and yet with "a tender understanding of human weaknesses, with that ability, which is so rare, of putting one's self into another's place - it is not strange that her counsel carried great weight in Faculty deliberations ... She knew her students ... Cheerful, kindly, companionable, self-forgetful, always putting the comfort and interests of others in the foreground, Miss Jewett created an atmosphere that was good to live in."
The Faculty Resolution about Louise Jewett voted after her death described her "joyous devotion to her work and her college, her sympathetic insight, the quiet strength of her courage, and the breadth and beauty of her achievements."
In the catalogue for 1913-14 Louise's address is given as McElwain Lane and this name persists for a good many years. The first house to appear on the Lane was #6, built by Mary Vance Young, who taught Romance Languages. Her address is first given as McElwain Lane in the ' College Directory for 1909/10, although according to information in the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds the date of the sale of the land which she bought from William McElwain was May 10, 1910. In any case the Young house seems to be the first. The records are not clear about which house was the second, although it may have been that of Helen Flint, Professor of Greek (#10). She also bought land from William McElwain, and the deed for that purchase is dated June 9, 1910, although not until the College Directory of 1913/14 is she listed as living on McElwain Lane. It seems possible that the Flint house was completed before Louise's at #2., "The College Directory printed in the early fall of 1913 Porter as Louise's residence and McElwain Lane for Miss Flint, though by the time of the catalogue printing in January 1914 both of them were listed as McElwain Lane. Louise may have moved during Christmas vacation. Miss Flint later built another house, #12.
Gertrude Jewett Hunt continued to live in Louise's home for a good many years and various members of the faculty and staff were residents as well. Among the first was Bertha Gault of the library staff and in the fall of 1916 she was joined by Ellen Deborah Ellis.
The College Directory continued to list McElwain as the name of the street up through 1922-23. The following year, 1923-24, the name of Jewett Lane finally appears. This was just ten years after Louise's death. Concrete evidence has not been found about the reason for the name change but it seems likely that it was associated with the placing of a bronze tablet in Dwight Hall naming the Louise Jewett Gallery of Painting in December 1922. It would be pleasant to conjecture that Louise's neighbors on the Lane at that time, most of whom must have known her, made the suggestion.
Over the years the Lane was extended as members of the faculty purchased property and built homes. The last purchase was made only two years ago, in 1986, almost 80 years after the first house was built.