Episode 248: Mary Cassatt

Mary circa 1914, Smithsonian

Mary Cassatt may be best known for her paintings of women and children, but she lived a long life full of much more: bold moves, societal-norm evasion, adventure, a big family, and a bigger personality.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born on May 22, 1844, in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania the fourth of five children of Robert Simpson Cassett and Katherine Johnston Cassett. Her parents were quite wealthy and had a sort of wanderlust approach to residences, moving the family quite a bit, even to Europe for an extended time. Mary grew up multi-lingual, very curious, and very, very interested in becoming an artist.

She was able to begin working toward that goal at 16 when she entered the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadephia and continued when she (with her mama as a chaperone) moved to Paris in 1865 when she was 21 years old. She built her skills by copying masters’ paintings in the Louvre, studying with artists in Paris, and upped her game when she began to be selected to show at the prestigious Le Salon des Beaux Arts in Paris. She continued her education by traveling throughout Europe with friends to study the art of the area, practice, and in one case, complete a commission that made her the Belle of Parma for a season. She never stopped that education.

Mary’s first Salon acceptance, The Mandolin Player, 1868

Mary joined a small group of artists in Paris who were thinking the same thing that she was: there is another way to paint than the one, traditional way approved by the Salon judges. These folks even had a name for their merry band of artists: The Impressionists, and Mary joined them when she was 33 in 1874. Big names now like Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Renoir… while Mary wasn’t the only woman, she was the only American. With the Impressionists, she painted scenes of everyday life (in places where she, as a woman of a certain class, was allowed to go) and, eventually, began the work she is most famous for: women and children.

Mary’s mother, Katherine, reading the newspaper, Reading Le Figaro, 1878

Look at the background of this, and the creeper staring at our heroine. In The Loge, 1878
This painting caused quite a stir, one of the women’s faces is covered by a cup! Mercy! The Tea, 1880

For her entire life, Mary was always learning, always practicing, and always adapting her art as her mind, her life, and her body began to change. She made the decision to never marry, and (no shock) she had a full life of family and friends. In addition to becoming a world-renowned painter and printmaker, she assisted many people in the role of art consultant, helping them amass their art collections of various styles and artists, and made herself available to advise and support young artists.

Not only did Mary achieve her dream of an art career, she helped others achieve theirs.

One of both of our favorites, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878

Mary was always experimenting with her art, this is part of her print-making era. Woman Bathing, 1891
This is the painting that Beckett was talking about that shows a very common Mom emotion. Breakfast in Bed 1897

Mary Cassatt died at her home, Chateau de Beaufresne in Le Mesnil-Theribus, France on June 14, 1926. She was 82 years old. She left behind an enormous body of work, much of which was in private collections and has since been donated to museums around the world.

The biggie we used (literally and figuratively) by Nancy Mowll Mathews
by Griselda Pollock
Little but thorough, by Georgette Gouveia
And then we have some coffee table books…this one for The Art Institute of Chicago
Coffee table book by Judith A. Barter and Sue Roe
By William Cane and Anna Gabrielle

The Library of Congress has a listing of places where you can (virtually) see Mary’s work. We heart the Library of Congress.

There is a lot of information and a collection of (most) of her work at MaryCassatt.org.

Why did we keep saying that Impressionist painting was so radical? Here’s an article about that in The Week.

Very cool resource: Pieces Mary applied to be shown at the Salon in Paris, by acceptance and rejection. Impressionism.nl (and lots of other artists’ work, too!)

If you happen to be in Philadelphia at tea time, here’s the Mary Cassatt Tea Room!

A couple of podcasts we liked; The Lonely Palette, E21, and The Art History Babes, Impressionism

And we await a biopic (you know how to pronounce that, right?) let’s get on this film people, Mary had a big personality and lots of life material for a movie!

Episode 246: Althea Gibson, Part Two

When we left Althea in part one, she was 24 and after years of training, practice, competition, and a village of supporters working with her and behind the scenes, she was finally invited to the American Lawn Tennis Association Championship at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York in 1950! Getting to this national tournament wasn’t easy, but few things in Althea’s life are.

It wasn’t easy to get to Forest Hills, or through college, or onto a short-lived career as a college physical education teacher…it wasn’t even easy to get her application through to become a WAC, a member of the military Women’s Army Corps, a position that never fully panned out for Althea. She was floundering in her life and ready to give up tennis when she was tapped by the US State Department for a Goodwill Tour to Asia, along with three other tennis players.

This travel led Althea to travel on her own throughout Europe to play in tournaments, improve her game, and play with the best competition in the world! Soon she became that competition for others, winning her first major tournament in France then on to the oldest in the world: Wimbledon. She cracked through racial barriers, gender barriers, and economic barriers to win scores of tournaments including 11 “Grand Slam” tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title.

Althea’s first Wimbledon singles victory, Queen Elizabeth’s first Wimbledon 1957

With Darlene Hard, singles runner-up Wimbledon 1957
After Wimbledon in 1957, the first person of color to win the oldest tennis tournament in the world, NYC welcomed back their own daughter with a ticker tape parade.
Althea made two appearances on the Ed Sullivan show, this is after her historic Wimbledon win

But competitive tennis in the 1950s was for amateurs only, and Althea couldn’t support herself playing the game she loved by competition, so she retired in 1958 and crafted an interesting life recording an album, appearing twice on the Ed Sullivan Show, writing an autobiography, acting, and modeling for ads until she landed a five-year run touring with the Harlem Globetrotters to play exhibition games. When that ended, she began to hit a different type of ball when she toured with the Ladies Pro Golfer Association (LPGA.)

Her second Ed Sullivan appearance and she sings!

Althea gave tennis clinics and talks about being a Black, female athlete for the rest of her life.

The remainder of her life was full of struggles and successes…just like the years that came before. Althea Gibson died on September 28, 2003, she was 76 years old.

If you click on through to YouTube, the whole album will be waiting for you!

Biographies we liked:

By Sally Jacobs
by Ashley Brown
By Frances Clayton Gray and Yanick Rice Lamb
About Althea and Angela Buxton by Bruce Schoenfeld
First autobiography
Second autobiography

Kid books we liked:

By Sue Stauffacher and Greg Couch
By Lesa Cline-Ransome

We have a Pinterest board for every subject, it’s a glorious place to dive into some rabbit Holes! Here is Althea’s!

Alice Marble was an important figure in Althea’s story… but she was also one for Wonder Woman’s (and all women of history!)

Lady Boxing has a long history, here’s a place to start your tumble down this rabbit hole!

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, two lines of which are over the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.

The history of “play streets” like the ones Althea learned paddle tennis on, how to visit Wimbledon

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture online exhibit about Althea, and she’s represented at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island (to access the museum’s Metaverse, go to the VISIT page and scroll down.)

Resilient Grace is an online retailer with a mission of telling the stories of historic, African American women (Susan has a few of her shirts including the Shirley Chisholm one that she wears when she votes!)

This is the kind of sports jersey we can get behind!

There are a couple documentaries out there, Althea is on Peacock, and there is an American Masters, PBS one available on AppleTV+ and Prime (and maybe other services, that’s the two we watched.)

Quick links to our coverage of two previous subjects mentioned in Althea’s story: Babe Didrikson Zaherias and Fannie Lou Hamer

Our 2024 Field Trips to Austria and Paris are both sold out, and there are just a few spaces for our New York trip in September. There, we will also have a Locals’ Meet-up Dinner Cruise that’s open for reservations now. If you’re interested in any of these, please see Like Minds Travel for information and to sign up!

Break Music: Slow Cookin’ by Joe Smith and the Spicy Pickles; End Song: Play the Game by Lilly Wolf used by permission from iLicense Music.

Episode 245: Jessie Tarbox Beals

We recently traveled across our home state of Missouri from Kansas City to St. Louis to visit the Missouri History Museum. While it’s a fine museum, we were there for a specific reason: to do a live show about pioneering photojournalist, Jessie Tarbox Beals. We know that a lot of you would have loved to have been there to learn about this extraordinary woman, so we re-recorded the show in an audio-only format for you.

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Episode 244: Althea Gibson, Part One

There are quite a few lines on a tennis court; sideline, baseline, service line – all of which have their functions. But beginning in 1950, a powerful and charismatic African American athlete named Althea Gibson began to smash tennis’ color lines, one after another. Althea Gibson broke new ground and changed the world’s perception of what was possible in the world of sports.

All media recommendations will be on the shownotes for Part Two.

Episode 242: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Part Two

Mrs. L in 1953 at nearly 70, via Library of Congress

On paper, Alice Roosevelt’s life reads like a typical young society woman: Debut at 17, travel, friends, parties, marriage to a wealthy and important man, and eventually, motherhood. But Alice’s life was far from typical. For starters, her travel was for official United States goodwill missions, her friends were some of the wealthiest in the world, and the parties were expensive balls where “Be Naughty” seemed to be her rule of the day. She smoked, she bet on horses, she flirted and rode around in cars with men…and America, and soon the world, LOVED her!

Alice circa 1902, Library of Congress

When it came to marriage, Alice chose Representative Nicholas Longworth from Ohio, a wealthy respected, and charming man who loved his drink and women–including ones that were not his wife. They did have a very public, Power Couple life hobbing and nobbing with influential politicians, and Alice- with her quick wit and intelligence became so important to the government- without ever holding an office- that she earned the nickname, Washington’s Other Monument.

The uuuuh happy couple and Papa? Library of Congress

In this episode, we continue with the story not only of the life of Alice, or Mrs. L as she came to be called, but also continue to take a good look at the most influential man in her life, her father, President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s really a two-fer!

Alice and baby Paulina, 1925, Library of Congress

Alice Roosevelt Longsworth died after a very long, very influential, and very unconventional life at her home in Washington, DC on February 20, 1980. She is buried with her daughter, Paulina Sturm, at Rock Creek Cemetary in Washington, D.C.

Deepest dive, by Stacy A. Cordery
Book Beckett read first, by Carol Felsenthal
The newest biography, by Shelley Fraser Mickle
Charming with lots of photos by Michael Teague
For your Eleanor Roosevelt fix by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer
A picture book for kids, we were charmed! By Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham

If you find yourself near Long Island, NY, head on over to the Roosevelt summer estate, Sagamore Hill (the one that should have been named Leeholm until Alice’s mother died.) Tours are limited and by reservation, so plan ahead.

Read all about it! Alice Roosevelt at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair! St. Louis Post-Dispatch

White House History post with a lot of lovely photos from her wedding to Nick Longworth as part of an online exhibit about White House Weddings and also Memoirs from Edith Roosevelt’s social secretary, Isabella Hagner, is also at White House History, and the Reagan Library has a series on White House kids, here’s Alice’s!

Read her “voice” in this interview from the Washington Post in 1974Wondering who the real source of a quote is?

The Quote Investigator may have hunted it down already!

The two podcasts that Susan mentioned were: The conversational show about Philippine history, What’s AP: Araling Panlipunan Rebooted and the scripted comedy, Edith! about Edith Wilson.

The scripted, historical drama, Crowded Hours, is an Amazon Original starring Emma Roberts as Alice! Does HBO Max still have the television series based on Alice’s life in production? We don’t know, but we are hoping really hard that it’s true!

Episode 241: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Part One

Alice Lee Roosevelt, circa 1902, Library of Congress

President Theodore Roosevelt had many challenges during his career… corruption in the New York police force, the creation of the Panama Canal, the Spanish-American war, protecting the Grand Canyon and other national monuments, and groundbreaking anti-trust legislation…but the greatest challenge he faced was a volcano in a blue dress, his eldest daughter – flouter of convention, spicy of demeanor, and perhaps the world’s first media superstar who admirers across the world came to call America’s “Princess Alice.”

The Roosevelt family, circa 1903, Library of Congress. L-R: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore, Jr., Archie, Alice. Kermit, Edith, and Ethel
The kind of deep dive information you come to us for. You’re welcome.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Sources and media recommendations will be on the shownotes for Part Two

Used with permission, iLicenseMusic