This Galentine's Day blog post is for you. You poetic, noble land-mermaid.
On February 13, women everywhere (we hope!) will be gathering together to celebrate Galentine's Day. First introduced in 2010 by character Leslie Knope on the TV show Parks and Recreation, Galentine's Day is about "ladies celebrating ladies," be they friends, co-workers, family members, or personal heroes. What began as a fictional holiday for women to honor other women has merged into real life as more women learn about and celebrate this happy day. In honor of Galentine's Day we have chosen some of our favorite gal pals in our collections. Below are some of the women and girls who could have had their own Galentine's Day celebration.
The Monterey Gals
Before telephones were common forms of communication, real photo postcards were the rapid messaging tool of the day. The postmark indicates that Elsie sent this card from Monterey, Virginia, at 9:00 a.m. on 23 May, 1907, to a Miss Jay (maybe a nickname?) Yager in Bartow, West Virginia, some 30 miles away. With mail services often delivering twice a day, you could send a quick note in the morning to invite a friend for a late-night horseback ride as Elsie did in May 1907, "am going horse back riding to night [sic], come and go along 'Moon-light' you know." Enticing!
If Elsie or Jay are depicted among the group of young women photographed in an unidentified photographer's studio, we don't know. It sounds like perhaps Elsie was a store clerk at Dunlevie Drug Store in Dunlevie (now Thornwood), West Virginia. "Do you ever go to Dunlevie, anymore(?)/ Would love you to. Come in and see me." Maybe then Jay could have gotten the scoop from her gal pal, "Rec'd card it was a rich one." When this postcard was written, senders were not allowed to write on the back of the postcard; it was to be the address only. Our rebellious sender, Elsie, continued her message there anyway. With their spunk, contemporary hair and clothes, and tight friendship, we would like being friends with these gals!
The Seven Sutherland Sisters
Women of late-19th-century America flaunted hair as their "crowning glory," the ultimate marker of feminine beauty, luxurious vitality, and even moral health. For the seven Sutherland sisters of Cambria, New York, luscious locks were never in short supply. Together, their womanly manes measured 37 feet, a fact that helped them become national celebrities and entrepreneurs.
Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary toured the country first as a musical act and later with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Eventually, they took their show to the drug store, offering demonstrations and consultations to admirers and selling their father Reverend Fletcher Sutherland's Seven Sutherland Sisters hair and beauty products. Their success allowed them to retire from the road and build a mansion where they lived together back in New York. By the 1920s, however, the fashion for bobbed hair cut their sales short.
The Navy Nurses of Base Hospital No. 5
In May 1917, just a month after the United States officially entered World War I, four women set sail from New York Harbor amidst a flurry of noisily cheering crowds. Beulah Armor, Faye Fulton, Halberta Grosh, and Bertha Hamer were nurses with the Navy Nurse Corps and, along with hundreds of soldiers and sailors, they were heading to France well before the troops of the American Expeditionary Force could be fully mobilized to follow them. As young nurses in Philadelphia at the time of the war, the women joined a group of fellow medical professionals from Philadelphia to establish Navy Base Hospital No. 5 in Brest, France.
The hospital began operations in December 1917 and was quickly inundated with patients including new soldiers arriving from the United States, wounded soldiers returning from the war front, civilians injured in German submarine attacks, and victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. There's nothing like a war zone to forge lasting relationships, and no doubt the nurses of Base Hospital No. 5 relied on each other to get them through the long, grueling war.
With the end of the war in November 1918, and the closing of the Base Hospital in March 1919, the four women returned to Philadelphia. Fulton, Grosh, and Hamer continued working as professional nurses, while Armor married a fellow member of Base Hospital No. 5: a cook named Elwood Basler, who was also briefly a patient. Clearly the relationships formed among the nurses in Brest remained strong over the years, as the women got together in 1970 to donate objects from their time in the war. These objects serve as a lasting reminder of brave women facing difficult situations with the support of their friends and colleagues.
Takayo Tsubouchi Fischer and Jayce Tsenami
Screen, stage, and voice actress Takayo Fischer, was one of 120,000 citizens or residents of Japanese ancestry who were forcibly removed from their homes in Western states and incarcerated in camps during World War II. The youngest of five girls, she grew up with a rich tradition of valuing female friends. The communal nature of the camps—where inmates ate common meals in central mess halls and used bathrooms and showers without individual stalls—broke down the traditional Japanese family structure. As families lost the opportunity to create private family meals or carve out family time, friends, like Jayce Tsenami, took on an even greater importance. Both Takayo and Jayce were inmates at the Jerome camp in Arkansas, where the wooded swampland of the Mississippi delta brought with it mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, malaria, and dysentery. The friendship they forged in camp helped to sustain them through the long and difficult incarceration.
Mary Hill and the Ladies of Maltaville
In 1847, the women of the Presbyterian Church of Maltaville, New York, honored their friend Mary Hill by making her an album quilt. Album quilts, also called friendship quilts, are made up of appliquéd and embroidered blocks which are joined together to form a quilt. The blocks often contain inked inscriptions with special meaning to the maker, including names, dates, places, or poems.
For Mary Hill's quilt, the women of the church made, joined, lined, and quilted 61 blocks. Each block is signed in ink and features motifs such as birds, flowers, hearts, and stars. At the center of the quilt is a large block with a wreath of flowering vines surrounding the inscription, "Presented to Mrs. Mary B. Hill as an expression of esteem by the Ladies of Maltaville." The quilt was clearly treasured by Mary Hill and her family, as it remained with them for almost 100 years until it was donated to the museum by her granddaughter in 1930.
Gertrud Friedemann and Eva Morgenroth Lande
In the 1930s Gertrud Bejach Friedemann and her husband, the bacteriologist Ulrich Friedemann, took refuge in Great Britain and then the United States to avoid the terrors of Nazi Germany. They brought with them Gertrud's two children by her first marriage, Eva and Anton Morgenroth. Among their belongings was a small paper puzzle, called Zauberspiel (Magic Game), which Gertrud had played with as a child in Berlin.
Gertrud passed the game on to her children and it remained a favorite of theirs in their new home in America. In 1988 Eva gave her Zauberspiel to the Smithsonian. The game suggests not only the enduring fascination of mathematical recreations and the rich culture of early 20th century Berlin, but also the power of a small object to tie a mother and daughter who took refuge in the United States to the past they left behind.
Care to try Zauberspiel? Visit our collections record to learn more. But be warned: according to Eva, when family friend Albert Einstein tried his hand at the game he spent days puzzling over it to no avail.
Patri O'Gan is a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. Shannon Perich is a curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts. Mallory Warner is a curatorial assistant and Rachel Anderson is a research and project assistant in the Division of Medicine and Science. Lucy Harvey is a program assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. Madelyn Shaw is a curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. Peggy Kidwell is a curator in the Division of Medicine and Science.