The Artist Speaks

March is Women’s History Month, after Congress passed a resolution on March 1, 1987. March first is World Book Day. Here are some historical events that occurred on March 1.

Events

"Court Trial of Witches," illustration by unknown artist, published in "Witchcraft Illustrated" by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892

“Court Trial of Witches,” illustration by unknown artist, published in “Witchcraft Illustrated” by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892

On March 1, 1692, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, were brought before magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning the Salem witch trials. Sarah Good was a poor woman, Sarah Osborne, whose sister-in-law had married into the Putnam family, and Tituba was Reverend Samuel Parris’s slave.

Over the next few months, twenty people would be executed – nineteen hanged, one pressed to death – and over one hundred and fifty people would be accused. Thirteen of those executed were women, and around twenty-four other women were convicted.

Birthdays

Theresa Bernstein, American painter and printmaker, ca. 1890-2002.jpg

Photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son in 1930, Archives of American Art     Smithsonian Institution

Theresa Ferber Bernstein-Meyerowitz (March 1, 1890 – February 13, 2002) was a Polish-American, Jewish artist and painter whose career lasted ninety years. She was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art and Design) in 1911. She studied with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. She painted urban scenes such as trolleys, elevated trains, and Coney Island. Her painting style was considered by some to be “masculine,” but Bernstein’s painted women at leisure and the workplace.

Although Jewish subjects were not her specialty, she depicted weddings and synagogue services. Despite growing up in what she called a secular household, Bernstein was an ardent Zionist who attended the first American Zionist meeting in Madison Square Garden in 1923.

Her popularity waned after the 1920s, but the women’s movement led to renewed interest in her work. Her paintings are part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Art Institute, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum.

Theresa Bernstein died on February 12, 2002, two weeks shy of her 112th birthday, though she may have been as old as nearly 116.

File:Mercedes de Acosta.jpg

Mercedes de Acosta (March 1, 1893 – May 9, 1968) was an American poet, playwright, fashion icon, and novelist, known for her many lesbian relationships. She was born in New York and befriended Degas, Tolstoy, Debussy, and others. Her wardrobe was the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Her lovers included Russian actresses Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead, dancer Isadora Duncan. While in a relationship with Duncan, Acosta began writing, producing three volumes of poetry, two novels, four produced plays, and many that wee no performed, and screenplays. Some of her other lovers in the 1930s included Ona Munson, who played Belle Watling, the madam, in Gone With the Wind, and dancer Adele Astaire, Fred Astaire’s sister).

In 1920 Mercedes married painter Abram Poole, though she kept her own name when she married and later joined the Lucy Stone League, which advocated women keeping their surnames upon marriage. Throughout her marriage, she continued having relationships with women, including actress Eva Le Gallienne, for whom she created several plays, including Sandro Botticelli, a fictional account of Botticelli’s model for his famous painting The Birth of Venus.

In 1931, Acosta met Greta Garbo, though the exact nature of their relationship is unclear, as Garbo publicly maintained that the relationship was platonic. Acosta also had relationships with other women, including Marlene Dietrich at the same time.

When her finances became dire, Acosta published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart, in 1960, though she was vague about her various relationships. She also sold her papers to the Rosenbach Museum and Library, including working material for her memoir, personal correspondence, objects and photos. Although some of the correspondence was sealed until the correspondent’s death at her request, all is now available.

Doris Hare.jpg

Doris Hare, MBE (1 March 1905 – 30 May 2000) was a British actress, singer, dancer and comedian. Her career spanned many countries, genres, and mediums. She was born in Bargoed, Monmouthshire, Wales. Her stage debut at three at her parents’ mobile theatre, was at a time without television, films, or microphones. Nearly fifty years later, she made her television debut in 1953 in an episode of Douglas Fairbansk Junior Presents. She performed in New York, London, and Scotland, included Mistress Quickly in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mrs Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera, Katherine in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Mary Hearn in The Farmer’s Wife and Emlyn Williams’s thriller Night Must Fall.

She is best known for being the second actress to portray Mrs Mabel “Mum” Butler in the popular sitcom On the Buses alongside Reg Varney. By the time she starred in On the Buses, she had spent over sixty years on stage, from performing in music halls during her childhood, to revues between the wars, to the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. She was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her wartime service in the Merchant Navy.

Books

Some of my favourite books by and about women include:

  • Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • Deborah Harkness’s The All Souls trilogy

  • Mary Higgins Clark’s Kitchen Privileges: A Memoir

  • Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

  • Celeste Ng’s, Little Fires Everywhere

  • Elizabeth Peters’s The Amelia Peabody series

  • Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series and her other historical fiction

  • Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

  • Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

  • Sarah Nelson’s So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading

  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game

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