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Archive for November 4th, 2010

The “Greenwich Village” walking tour New York: 15 Walking Tours: an architectural guide to the metropolis was extremely interesting to me. I found it especially interesting considering I follow much of this route while walking to classes. I have walked by most of the stops on this tour about a hundred times and never knew the significance of what I was looking at. Also there were some hidden gems of information that I did not know about. Next time I am walking to class I intend to stop at some  of the sites from this reading. My only real complaint is about the route itself. At some points the tour doubles back on itself. This does not seem to be very efficient. The tour goes back to Washington Square three different times. I am not sure if anyone would actually want to do this when navigating Greenwich Village. I found this reading especially useful considering that our class will be creating a map of noteworthy sites in Greenwich Village. Some of the stops in this tour would be perfect for the project. I highly suggest anyone to do this tour themselves. However, you may want to wear comfy shoes and modify it a bit to be more time efficient.

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I stumbled across something interesting during my exhibit research at  NYPL this week.  I am working with the Eugenia Hughes collection, which has material relating to Greenwich Village in (roughly) the 1930s-1950s.  In sifting through diaries, yearbooks and scrapbooks from Hughes and her family members I came to a few tiny books-A Christmas Carol, Fifty Best Poems of England- and then one, small and reddish, titled The Sidewalks of New York City. This little book (it really is little-its only about 3 x 4!) had chapters on all parts of the city, giving a brief history of the area, a basic map and a little commentary it was essentially a guidebook.

The book, published in 1923 and written by Bernardine Kielty, had a section -of course- on Greenwich Village.  Kielty calls the village “probably the section of the city most anticipated.  It has come to connote Bohemia, New York’s Latin Quarter, with cellars full of wild eating places; attics full of artists; Batik shops and radical book store; long haired men and determined-eyed women.”  Surprisingly, for such a small book, it has a good amount more to say about the Village; calling it both the most sought after residential area and the symbol of New York’s art scene.

As fascinating as this little book was for its 1923 commentary on New York City’s neighborhoods, it was equally as interesting as an object.  The title page and back cover revealed that this book was made for and given “compliments of Bowman Hotels”, published by the Little Leather Library Corporation. Further digging showed that there was a series of “Little Leather Library” books, many of which were popular stories or plays; and that at least two universities had collections of them in their archives/special collections: Bowling Green State University’s Browne Popular Culture Library and California Polytechnic State University’s Robert F. Kennedy Library.

This little book really inspired a lot of fascination and following its story led me to the Bowman Hotels, the history of the Little Leather Books Corporation among other things.  The ‘story’ of the book is really fascinating but what is really of interest is to get this view–through a promotional guidebook of 1920s Greenwich Village.

Image from unearthlybooks.com

Kielty, Bernardine.  The Sidewalks of New York. New York: The Little Leather Library Corporation, 1923.

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A Woman’s Occupation

Documenting the history of American photography – or the history of photography in general – illuminates the role Greenwich Village played the the advent of a new artistic/scientific practice.  NYU professors John W. Draper and Samuel F. B. Morse pioneered the American photography movement, conducting the earliest photographic experiments in NYU’s Old Main Building that stood at Washington Square East, between Washington Place and Waverly Place.  Atop the building’s roof, Draper captured the first image of a human face, the famous March 1840 sunlit portrait of his bonneted sister, Dorothy Draper.  In his 1853 Address to alumni of NYU, John Draper recounted the central role the University’s laboratory in the Old Main Building played in his and Morse’s daguerreotype work.  Within the address, Draper expounded upon the proliferation of photographers in “any town of note,” and interestingly asserted the opportunities the new art-form afforded women:

It is by no means the least gratifying part of this result, that it [the photography profession] has furnished a suitable employment for many females.  In the existing state of our social system, there are few things more worthy of the attention of good men than that interesting class of the other sex, who are thrown upon their own exertions for support…Are there not thousands whom nature has gifted with the acutest sensibilities, who are constrained by the tyranny of Society, to choose between a servile dependence or inadequately compensated labor…1

Though nursing and school teaching typify traditional 19th century women’s occupation, photography also represented an acceptable profession for Victorian era women, though men normally ran portrait studios before 1890.    In 1850, the 71 daguerreotype studios in New York included 127 operators, as well as 11 women among the ranks.  A November edition of Humphrey’s Journal estimated that men in the profession earned $10 per week, while women earned $5.   Catherine Weed Barnes, an amateur photographer working in New York in the later 19th century and a pioneer of women in the profession, wrote articles including “Why Ladies Should be Admitted to Membership in Photographic Societies” (1889) and delivered the well received lectures, “Photography as a Profession for Women” and “Women as Photographers.”  Furthermore, after 1870, career guides for women specifically mentioned photography as an employment opportunity.2

Before my research at the NYU Archives brought me to Draper’s address, I assumed the profession only constituted men, though I understood both sexes sat before the camera.  History must, therefore, acknowledge women’s significant contributions to photography, not only after the Progressive Era altered women’s role in society, but at a time when passivity and domestic responsibility characterized feminine pursuits – at a time of photography’s nascence.

 


1. An Address to the Alumni of the University of the City of New York by J. W. Draper, June 28, 1853
2. Peter E. Palmquist, Preface of The Women in Photography International Archive,

 

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