Red Rose from Whittier

William Forster Mitchell, daughter Anne Maria Mitchell, and Charlotte Coffin MitchelIt used to be that in schools children were asked to memorize significant portions of famous speeches, poems, plays, or other well-known written pieces. It seems that this is not as popular as it once was although I think it helped students on many levels – from memorization skills, to recitation, to public speaking, and more. My great-grandmother, even in her later years, remembered many of the pieces she had memorized, reciting them aloud to my mother to help her fall asleep. My mother remembers many of those herself, in part because of hearing them so often, but also because in high school and college, she also memorized many pieces. An English teacher, my mother always has a poem or a quote at her lips to respond to a situation or a word or phrase someone may mention. It is something of which I am envious – most of my teachers never had us memorize anything. One piece my mother learned from her grandmother is “The Barefoot Boy” (1855) by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892) so imagine my surprise – on a multitude of levels – when I came across what you see above.

Red rose from WhittierIn the MMA’s collection, we have John Greenleaf Whittier’s autograph, as well as letters he wrote to Maria Mitchell. What a surprise then to find this single rose inserted into a book of pressed seaweed created by Charlotte Coffin Mitchell (1823 – 1901), the wife of Maria Mitchell’s younger brother, William Forster Mitchell (1825 – 1892)! A treasure! I was so stunned to see a rose inserted in a book of seaweed and more stunned to see that Whittier gave it to Forster (in August 1880 – Forster’s birth month). Forster was named for the famed English Quaker who visited Nantucket around 1824. Like the Mitchells, Whittier was a Quaker and an ardent slaves’ rights supporter. Forster had for many years worked for the Freedman’s Aid Society, as had other Nantucketers including Anna Gardner (1816 – 1901) who went into the South to establish schools and teach the children of newly freed slaves. Forster also was the superintendent of the Quaker college, Haverford, and once the war was over he helped to establish the Industrial Arts program at Howard College, teaching the craft of tinsmithing which he had learned as an apprentice to his Uncle Peleg Mitchell, Junior.

While more research needs to be completed to understand the Whittier-William Forster connection, I think the rose itself illustrates a close connection. There was a great deal of overlap in whom Whittier knew and worked with and whom Forster and the Mitchell family knew and worked with. The Quaker connection is a step but also the anti-slavery connection. Nantucket also serves as a connection since Whittier, a descendant of Nantucket Coffins, wrote at least one poem about the island – “The Exiles” in 1841. Another research project to add to the list!

Found: A Book of Pressed Flowers

As noted in a previous entry, I have been hard at work cleaning and moving the Special Collection books. Prior, I worked on cleaning and moving Maria Mitchell’s own library and the books of her family members that we have. As I was recently working on the Botany Special Collection (SC) books, I came across this very small and unusually bound book. It is bound with a beautiful wood cover and a lovely detailed ribbon is inserted as an inlay and then varnished over to protect not just the ribbon but the wood as well. The title reads Jerusalem and what I believe is likely the word Jerusalem in Hebrew is above the English.

Inside are wonderful combinations of flowers pressed in intricate patterns and wreaths from sites across Israel – each page labeled as to where the flowers supposedly came from. This is obviously a souvenir that was purchased. What makes it of even more interest, and also out of place with regular botany SC books, is the fact that in it is written, “Brought from Israel by William Mitchell Kendall.” He was the nephew of Maria Mitchell, the son of her younger sister Phebe Mitchell Kendall and her husband Joshua Kendall. William Mitchell Kendall was a senior architect with McKim, Mead, and White and travelled fairly extensively – including taking a trip in his late teens with his parents and his aunt Maria to Europe, including Russia in 1873. I think he was likely influenced by his aunt’s love of travel and exploration. Maria Mitchell once said, “The habit of traveling once adopted cannot be easily given up.”

Now, the book will be placed with the family’s collection of Special Collection books where it belongs. What an exciting find!


Flowers from the Holy Land

JerusalemFlowers from Bethlehem

Flowers from Jerusalem