Colonial Revival 1: Before 1876: The Rise of Nativism


Directory to "Notes" on the Colonial Revival Movement, a Series of Six Narratives Detailing How Colonial Furniture Design Became So Popular in Amateur Woodworking

Colonial Revival 1: Before 1876: The Rise of Nativism

Colonial Revival 2: 1876: The Cententennial Exhibtion in Philadelphia

Colonial Revival 3: After 1876: Antique Hunters

Colonial Revival 4: After 1876: Books on Colonial Antiques

Colonial Revival 5: The Rise of of the Material Culture Museums

Colonial Revival 6: Colonial Revival in the Industrial Arts Movement and Amateur Woodworking

Colonial Revival 7: The Colonial Revival Today


Colonial Revival 1: Before 1876: The Rise of Nativism

Overview

Most of us know generally what the phrase "Colonial Revival" (Colonial Revival) means: these words evoke images of Puritan or Queen Anne or Chippendale furniture, and Saltbox or Georgian or Greek Revival houses.

But the phrase Colonial Revival is greater than a simple manifestation of traditions in architectural or decorative styles. At bottom, it has both physical and psychological manifestations that -- as symbols -- link America's culture between its past and its present.

Torn as we are between our nostalgia for our past and the mystery of how our future will materialize, as a national culture, America engages in what the social historian, Michael Kammen, calls "the never-ending dialectic between tradition and progress."

Source: Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), page 700.

In the 1985 Winterthur Conference on the Colonial Revival, the conference chair, Kenneth L Ames, offered this characterization of what Colonial Revival implies:
(1) we can visualize Colonial Revival in "a conventional and relatively narrow sense as a disColonial Revivalete phase of American architectural and furnishings history", beginning around the time of Philadelphia's 1876 Centennial Exhibit, and declining -- but definitely not dying out -- with the emergence of the modern movement in the early twentieth century.

or

(2) Colonial Revival can have broader meanings, meanings that encompass virtually all artifacts and/or images of America's colonial era.


Defined in this broader sense, Ames concludes, the Colonial Revival then can be visualized

"less as a time-bound episode in American cultural history and more as a persisting and pervasive component of American culture with antecedents reaching surprisingly far back into the American past".


Source: Kenneth L Ames, "Introduction", in Alan Axlerod, The Colonial Revival in America Winterthur, DE: New York: Norton, 1985, page 3.

Other Sources: Dale Allen Gyure, The Colonial Revival: A Review of the Literature; Harvey Green, "Popular Science and Political Thought Converge: Colonial Survival Becomes Colonial Revival," Journal of American Culture, 6, No. 4 Winter 1983, pages 3-24; Michael Kammen, American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century New York: Basic Books, 2000, page 67:-- "Consumerism, Americanism, and the Phasing of Popular Culture"; Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1991); Eileen Boris, "The Colonial Revival in America" Journal of American History, 1986 pages ?;

Sanitary Fairs 1861-1865

During the Civil War, union supporters in New York, Philadelphia, and other northern cities organized charity bazaars they called Sanitary Fairs. Among the most popular exhibits were reColonial Revivaleations of colonial New England kitchens. Both museum displays and living-history demonstration, these kitchens contained fireplaces -- equipped with antique cooking utensils and other period artifacts, such as Windsor chairs, tall clocks, and spinning wheels -- icons of colonial times. "Costumed men and women served 'olde tyme meals' to paying guests, while fiddlers played and 'spinsters' demonstrated their Colonial Revivalaft."

Beginning in Chicago in the autumn of 1863, then extending to Boston and many other cities, Sanitary Fairs achieved their greatest impact in the Metropolitan Fair of New York City, and the Great Central Fair of Philadelphia. Such patriotic display engrossed public attention to the extent that each "Fairs" yielded for the Sanitary Commission over a million dollars.


    sanitary_fair_ny_kitchen

    Ladies of high social position took hold of these enterprises in the conduct of which they presented a variety of entertainment, drawing a Colonial Revivalowd willing to pay for being amused; and by many ingenious devices they coined the love of novelty, the contention about favourite generals and the desire to witness what was deemed a magnificent display. Mingled with these was of course the element of patriotism. It is inconsistent that men and women will spend more money at a patriotic or charitable fair for a passing spectacle or for useless articles than they will give outright for the cause but it is nevertheless true and the promoters of the fairs operated on this trait with luColonial Revivalative results. " Our fair is a great success," wrote Phillips Brooks from Philadelphia. " It is incessantly Colonial Revivalowded and is making an immense amount of money. The whole city is alive with it and I think it is going to do good in more ways than one. It keeps people's loyalty alive and their sympathies active."

    The treasury of the Sanitary Commission received in money apart from the contributions of the Pacific coast $3,500,000 of which $2,736,000 came from the Sanitary Fairs. Nor was this the whole of their benefactions. The proceeds of some of the fairs, notably the $78,000 of Chicago went into the branch treasuries. When after careful thought Lincoln spoke, he spoke better than any one else during the war, as back of his words was a feeling intense and unique.

    At the close of a Sanitary Fair, Lincoln Said ,

      "This extraordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country's cause. The highest merit then is due to the soldier. In this extraordinary war, extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and amongst these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say, that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the Colonial Revivaleation of the world in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America."

    Abraham Lincoln, Complete Works, volume 2, page 500; Alexander V G Allen, Life of Phillips Brooks, New York: Dutton, 1907, volume 1, page 512.



    During its existence the central treasury of the Sanitary Commission received nearly five millions in cash; of this amount almost a million and a half came from the Pacific coast, and, as has been stated, $2,736,000 from the Sanitary Fairs. Supplies to the estimated value of fifteen millions were received and distributed.

    The moral effect on the soldiers of this benevolent outpouring must have been significant as they were aware of " men who stay at home to make money whilst they continue to expose their lives to the vicissitudes of war."

    This is from historian James Ford Rhodes, whose authorities include Dr. Bellows's article, " Sanitary Commission," Johnson's Cyclopaedia; U. S. Sanitary Commission, Memoirs Statistical, Gould; Dr. S. A. Green in U. S. Sanitary Commison, Memoirs Medical; Sanitary Commission Documents, 68, 71, 80, volume 2; Robert Ferguson,America During and After the War, London, 1866, pages 82-85; J. M. Forbes, Letters and Recollections, volume 1 pages 263 and following.

    Sources: James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 New York: Harper & brothers, 1904, volume 5, pages 258-259; Rodris Roth, "The colonial revival and 'centennial furniture'." The Art Quarterly 27 1964, pages 57-81; Terrence H. Witkowski, "The Early American Style: A History of Marketing and Consumer Values", Psychology and Marketing 15, No 2 March 1998, page 126. The kitchen mage above --assocated with a Sanitary Fair in New York -- comes from a collage of jpg images on the Internet. Using a "google images" search, with the term "sanitary fair", yields a many more views of this patriotic movement.





Colonial Revival Before 1876: The Push Toward 'Americanization'

Between 1820 and 1870, five million English, Irish, and German immigrants entered America, while between 1870 and 1900, many millions more Europeans poured in.

cr_americanization2

Demographically, between 1880 and 1930, the foreign-born population of the United States more than doubled from 6.7 to 14.2 million.

These immigrants brought their native language, their culture, their politics.

Native Americans -- whose ancestors had arrived generations earlier -- were often fearful that their traditions would be swept away by the flood of foreign ideas and practices.

From the 1890s, until strict limitations were imposed on further immigration in 1924, many native-born Americans reacted to the threatened destruction of the American way of life by actively engaging in Americanization. Americanization the instilling of traditional WASPish "American" values in the minds of the foreign-born.

Sources: United States Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 Part 1 Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975, page 117; Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant New York: Columbia University Press, 1948; John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969, pages 234-263.



In most cases, Americanization was making immigrants literate in English and instruction in American government and history.


If we cannot fully understand the acts of other people, until we know what they think they know, then in order to do justice we have to appraise not only the information, which has been at their disposal, but also the minds through which they have filtered it. For the accepted types, the current patterns, the standard versions, intercept information on its way to consciousness. Americanization, for example, is superficially at least the substitution of American for European stereotypes. Thus the peasant who might see his landlord as if he were the lord of the manor, his employer as he saw the local magnate, is taught by Americanization to see the landlord and employer according to American standards. This constitutes a change of mind, which is, in effect, when the inoculation succeeds, a change of vision. His eye sees differently.

One kindly gentlewoman has confessed that the stereotypes are of such overweening importance, that when hers are not indulged, she at least is unable to accept the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God:

"We are strangely affected by the clothes we wear. Garments create a mental and social atmosphere. What can be hoped for the Americanism of a man who insists on employing a London tailor? One's very food affects his Americanism. What kind of American consciousness can grow in the atmosphere of sauerkraut and Limburger cheese? Or what can you expect of the Americanism of the man whose breath always reeks of garlic?"

Sources: Edward Hale Bierstadt, New Republic, June 1, 1921, page 21; Walter Lippmann Public Opinion 1922, page 57.



Around 1900, a consensus developed that unrestricted immigration should be halted. Among the sevral parties that figured into the equation, labor resented the competition; native Americans were fearful that "the racial strain" was being debased by so many Slavic and Mediterranean newcomers; the average man thought that the United States had people and problems enough without inviting more."

From the 1890s until strict limitations were imposed on further immigration in 1924, many native-born Americans reacted to the threatened destruction of the American way of life by actively engaging in Americanization, that is, instilling of traditional WASP "American" values in the minds of the foreign-born.

cr_americanization1 In most cases, Americanization was making immigrants literate in English and instruction in American government and history

Sources: Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 Pt. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975), page 117; Edward George Hartmann, The Movement to Americanize the Immigrant (New York Columbia University Press, 1948); John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1969), pp. 234-263.

The Larger Meaning of "Colonial Revival"

Most people have a general idea of what is meant by the phrase "Colonial Revival." The words tend to evoke images of Chippendale furniture and Georgian houses. But the Colonial Revival is much more than an architectural or decorative style; it is a physical and psychological manifestation of an ongoing relationship between past and present. Torn between a nostalgic yearning for the past and the seductive promise of the future, as noted above, "the never-ending dialectic between tradition and progress."

As part of this process, Americans have negotiated a compromise between past and future through the use of colonial imagery. The historical sources I cite -- both primary and secondary -- represent an attempt to review the various ways Americans have seen and used the colonial period over the course of almost two centuries.

Tracing these sentiments about the "pull" of objects that gave people of a particular era a sense of attachment with a notion of noble past that is, for one reason or another threatened by forces outside their control. One such example of a force outside their control is "unbridled" immigration?

Nativistic Reactions to Immigration: Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong

In overlapping eras, Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong -- two of America's greatest chroniclers of the 19th century -- wrote passionately about their sense of loss, looming disorder and chaos as a result of the strangers that immigration injected into an established, virtually homogenous society.

In the 1830s and '40s, Hone -- a resident of New York city -- alone , evening after evening, recorded his memory of the day's events, repeatedly noting that day of witnesssing riots, civil disturbance, political fanaticism, public corruption, horrible disasters, frightening excesses of

"the vulgar and uneducated masses," all of them constituting what he termed in 1839 "the vile disorganizing spirit which overspreads the land like a cloud and daily increases in darkness." ... .

Just decades later, another New Yorker, George Templeton Strong, driven by a similarly restless curiosit, felt compelled to record what he witnessed taking place on New York's streets: "absolutely swarming, alive and crawling with the unwashed Democracy," to record the unhappy developments of his age. He filled pages of his diary with accounts of the disorder that accompanied the financial distress of 1857.

"We have a history, instinctively," writes George Templeton Strong in his diary in 1854,

"and being without the eras that belong to older nationalities ... we dwell on the details of our little all of historic life, and venerate every trivial fact about our first settlers and colonial governors and revolutionary heroes."

As the social historian, Elizabeth Stillinger explains,

"An antique, to Strong and his contemporaries, was not the product of a distinctive American culture, representing an identifiable period and style. Instead, it was regarded as a piece of history - appreciated in direct proportion to its degree of association with past events or persons, especially famous or heroic ones."

Source: George Templeton Strong, The Diary of George Templeton Strong, Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952, Volume II, page 197; as cited by Elizabeth Stillinger, The Antiquers: The Lives and Careers, the Deals Were Responsible for the Changing Taste in American Antiques, 1850-1930 New York: Knopf, 1980, page 4.

Like Hone, a nativist, Strong also said, "... [O]ur antipathy to the Pope and to Paddy is a pretty deep-seated feeling." (page 241) and "Our Celtic fellow citizens are about as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese." (page 348). To Strong and his contemporaries, an "antique" -- memobilia from the past -- was more than the product of a distinctive American culture, representing an identifiable period and style. Instead, it was regarded as a piece of the "true" history of America, not the recent, spoiled by the "troublesome presence" of "strangers in the land".

"The treasures of the past were appreciated in direct proportion to their degree of an association with past events or persons, especially famous or heroic ones".

In February, 1854, he writes of

"An epidemic of crime this winter. 'Garotting' stories abound ... Most of my friends are investing in revolvers and carry them about at night."

On July 5, 1854, New York erupted into bloody gang warfare. "We're in a `state of siege, ... and if half the stories one hears be true, in something like a state of anarchy."

A decade later, in the summer of 1863, Strong witnessed the New York Draft Riots, where what Strong lableled a mob of "pure Celtic ... rabble" attacked first "unoffending niggers" on the streets and then, later, set fire on the Colored Orphan Asylum -- this link has a good account and an image of the the event.

"The beastly ruffians were masters of the situation and of the city," Strong wrote. "I could endure the disgraceful, sickening sight no longer, and what could I do?" ...

Like others with similar sentiments (adapted from Lawrence Levine),

Strong was bewildered by the cultural behavior of the immigrants with whom he was forced to share his city. In 1857 he stumbled across an accident in which two Irish laborers had been killed and observed a group of Irish women raising a wild, unearthly cry, half shriek and half song, wailing as a score of daylight banshees, clapping their hands and gesticulating passionately. Now and then one of them would throw herself down on one of the corpses, or wipe some trace of defilement from the face of the dead man with her apron, slowly and carefully, and then resume her lament. It was an uncanny sound to hear, quite new to me ... Our Celtic fellow citizens are almost as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese. ...

Strong's greatest ire was vented on his temporal rulers.

"The New Yorker belongs to a community worse governed by lower and baser blackguard scum than any city in Western Christendom, or in the world ... we submit to the rod and the sceptre of Maguires and O'Tooles and O'Shanes."


In the last years of his life he warned that corruption was so pervasive, the rule of such "canaille" as the railroad kings Fisk and Vanderbilt and the political leader Boss Tweed so flagrant, that revolutionary action was "in the air."

"If misrule could ever justify assassination of the ruler, ours would justify it."


Source: Lawrence Levine, The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History Boston: Beacon Press, 1996, page 125. -- see also "The Immigration Problem: Then and Now"

Nativistic Nostalgia: Remember "The Age of Greater Tranquiltiy and Simplicity of Life"?


There were no railroads with their tremendous revolutionary forces; no great manufacturing cities; no flood of immigrants; no modern democracy. Old forms of life and old traditions prevailed .... The days before the advent of General Jackson are pleasant to look back upon.


Source : Charles Eliot Norton, "James Russell Lowell," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 86 May 1893, pages 848-849, as cited by Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988, page 176.

Pushes Toward Both Industrialization and Urbanization

Simultaneously, America was undergoing industrialization and urbanization. In this mix, says Levine,

"the sense of anarchic change, of looming chaos, of fragmentation, which seemed to imperil the very basis of the traditional order, was not confined to a handful of aristocrats."

Read Levine's larger observation is in the box below:


    In an industrializing, urbanizing nation absorbing millions of immigrants from alien cultures and experiencing an almost incomprehensible degree of structural change and spatial mobility, with anonymous institutions becoming ever larger and more central and with populations shifting from the countryside and small town to the city, from city to city, and from one urban neighborhood to another,the sense of anarchic change, of looming chaos, of fragmentation, which seemed to imperil the very basis of the traditional order, was not confined to a handful of aristocrats. Indeed, the elites had more allies than they were ever comfortable with, for to many of the new industrialists as well as many members of the new middle classes, following the lead of the arbiters of culture promised both relief from impending disorder and an avenue to cultural legitimacy.





Levine, I think, captures the chaos vividly, including with these phrases:

As long as these strangers had stayed within their own precincts and retained their own peculiar ways, they remained containable and could be dealt with:

Afro-Americans dancing their strange ritual dances to exotic rhythms within their own churches;

Irish women "keening" [wailing] weird melodies over their dead at their own wakes;

Germans entertaining family and friends in their own beer gardens.

But these worlds of strangers did not remain contained;

they spilled over into the public spaces that characterized nineteenth-century America and that included theaters, music halls, opera houses, museums, parks, fairs, and the rich public cultural life that took place daily on the streets of American cities.

This is precisely where the threat lay and the response of the elites was tripartite:

1) to retreat into their own private spaces whenever possible;

2) to transform public spaces by rules, systems of taste, and canons of behavior of their own loosing; and, finally,

3) to convert the strangers so that their lodes of behavior and cultural predilections emulated those of the elites-an urge that I will try to show always remained shrouded in ambivalence.

Sources: Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988:-- Chapter 3, "Order, Hiearchy, and Culture", especially page 177; for other details in issues created by mass immigration, see John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994, and Levine's other book, The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History Boston: Beacon Press, 1996, and William B. Rhoads, "Colonial Revival in American Craft: Nationalism and the Opposition to Multicultural and Regional Traditions", in Janet Kardon, ed., Revivals! Diverse Tradtions, 1920-1945: The History of 20th Century American Craft. New York: Abrams, 1994, pages 41-54.