Friday, August 26, 2016

The Fan Ladies

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on August 26, 2016.

There is not a theater program out there that has not been used as a hand fan. A small folding fan used to be a necessary accessory that every woman carried. Before we had air conditioning fans were necessary to provide a cooling breeze for women who wore long layered corseted dresses. And as often happens with accessories, they became useful in other ways. As a means of communication, a fan could be used to convey a wide variety of information and emotions. “Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them,” commented Joseph Addison in a 1711 edition of The Spectator. His humorous essay sought to create a militia of ladies trained in the proper use of the fan. “There is an infinite variety of Motions to be made use of in the Flutter of a Fan. There is an Angry Flutter, the modest Flutter, the timorous Flutter, the confused Flutter, the merry Flutter, and the amorous Flutter. Not to be tedious, there is scarce any Emotion in the Mind which does not produce a suitable Agitation in the Fan; insomuch, that if I only see the Fan of a disciplined Lady, I know very well whether she laughs, frowns, or blushes.” His essay, and others written afterward, are frequently used as proof that there was a ‘language of the fan’ that was understood by all, but this is most likely apocryphal.

One of the more unique aspects of the hand fan was that it was one of the few accessories that a woman could not produce herself. She couldn’t sew or knit or weave herself a fan. It was an article that had to be purchased. The cheapest fans were made of palm leaves. These were utilitarian fans to keep around the house. They didn’t fold and were probably useless for flirting. Montgomery Ward sold palm leaf fans at eighteen cents a dozen. The Exeter Historical Society has several palm leaf fans in the collections and they are deemed so dull we rarely put them on display. So too are the advertising fans handed out by local merchant that are merely pieces of cardboard with a printed picture glued on a stick.

The truly beautiful fans in our collections are those in the Perry Dudley Collection donated between 2000 and 2003. Twenty-three elegant fans were entered into the archives with basic descriptions such as, “red fan with black supports.” Really, was any more information needed? Occasionally, the fans have been displayed at the public library or RiverWoods, but quite frankly, we knew very little about them. A few other fans in the collection, from the Tuck Family, rounded out our holdings, but of these we also had very little information.

Enter the heroes of our story: Exeter Historical Society members Viki and Katherine Lukas. Who, along with fellow members of the Fan Association of North America, visited on a chilly day this past March day to turn their expert attention to our collection. Most of our fans date between 1870 and 1900. They were produced in a multitude of countries - Japan, China, France, Italy and Germany -, reflecting the upper-class status of the family. Some were likely purchased as souvenirs while others were imported. In Exeter, fans were purchased at the jewelers shop. In 1877, William Currier, dealer in watches, clocks and jewelry on Water Street, advertised “the finest FANS made” for sale at his shop. Maybe Frances Perry Dudley purchased her white goose feather fan from him. Or perhaps she brought her white silk fan with bone sticks and guards back from a grand tour of Europe. Julia Tuck, the wife of banker Edward Tuck, purchased her exquisite mother-of-pearl and lace fan in Paris, where she lived most of her adult life.

The small group of fan experts became delighted each time another fan was carefully unwrapped. Among the most exciting finds was a late-1800s Mandarin style fan made for European export. The fan is decorated with five large style figures with ivory faces and applied fabric costumes. This type of fan is commonly known as a “hundred face” fan, as some of the more elaborate examples have dozens of characters on them. It’s a real treasure to have one within our walls.

The collection is currently on display in the museum room of the Exeter Historical Society, along with a few more contemporary fans. Mrs. C.A. White, when writing of fans in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1854 mused that fans were terribly ordinary, but nonetheless worthy of note. “Trifles make up the pith and marrow of all that is useful and interesting in the world’s history,” she wrote. And that is something I’d like stitched into a needlepoint pillow.


Members of the Fan Association of North America, L-R: Vicki Lukas, Linda Rousseau, Katherine Lukas and Shelly Goncalves, explore the collections of the Exeter Historical Society.

Mandarin export fan, and example of a “hundred faces” fan. The figures are created with fabric costumes and painted ivory faces.

The Exeter Historical Society at 47 Front Street, Exeter, is open on Tues and Thurs from 2:00 – 4:30 and Saturday morning from 9:30 – Noon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Dashed Hopes of the 1916 Olympics

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on August 12, 2016.

Quick, where were the 1916 Olympics held? Trick question – the 1916 Olympics were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.

The modern Olympic Games were still new, having only been revived in 1894 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Exeter’s residents had followed the 1912 games in Stockholm, Sweden, with interest. The Exeter News-Letter, which rarely followed international news, gave the games three large entries over the course of the games, although it should be noted that the Olympics shared the front page with articles like, “Traction Engines Used in Plowing” and “Farmers Day at Hampton Beach.” 1912 was the year of Jim Thorpe, who won both the pentathlon and decathlon events. “James Thorpe, of the Carlisle Indian School, proved himself easily the greatest all around athlete in the decathlon, which provided a variety of tests of speed, strength and quickness” the News-Letter crowed. Thorpe wasn’t the only Native American to represent the United States in 1912 – Andrew Sockalexis, of the Penobscott Nation in Maine, ran the marathon, coming in mere seconds behind the third place winner.

The US Team fared well in 1912 – winning more gold medals than any other country, although Sweden was able to nudge us out of first place for total medals. The strength of our team was noted by other countries. Germany, in particular, sent envoys to investigate the American training program, which turned out to be our college athletics programs. Considering this is still our training program for professional sports, the finding isn’t too surprising. Other nations fared better than the US in fields such as equestrian events, which drew participants from military training. The Tug of War competition, an event that was dropped after 1920 but should totally be revived, was comprised of teams from police departments. The Stockholm Police won the tug of war over the City of London Police after two members of the London team dropped from sheer exhaustion. I mean, I’d watch that.

With the Olympics being such a new event – this was only the fifth Olympiad – much of the pomp and ceremony we’re used to today hadn’t been established yet. There was no Olympic flag, no torch relay, no fast-food endorsements and little in the way of established ritual. The Swedes were left to create the award ceremony as they wished. “The presentation of the prizes Monday afternoon was a spectacle nearly as thrilling as the opening ceremony,” the News-Letter remarked, “All the winners of the first, second and third prizes marched into the arena and assembled in three groups before the stands.” Gold medals were presented by the king, Silver medals by the crown prince and lowly Bronze medals were granted by the king’s brother, Charles. Lest we believe that the Olympics today spend too much media time on fashion, the News-Letter was completely besotted with the athlete’s wardrobe. “The procession into the arena was a remarkable sight. Every sort of civil and military costume figured, from full-dress military with plumed and shining helmets and much gold lace to simple khaki, and from frock coat and silk hat to running tights. The women swimmers and tennis players wore pink and white dresses, while the women gymnasts made a very charming appearance in sailor frocks.”

Things were looking good for the 1916 Olympics – there was worldwide support, the events were set and the venue chosen: Berlin, Germany. No problem there, right? An extensive new stadium was completed three years before the games were set to begin; a standard later Olympic venues have never matched. War broke out in the summer of 1914 but the games weren’t cancelled on the assumption that the fighting would be over long before 1916. Even as late as 1915, Germany was convinced the games would go off. There was some talk of moving them to the United States, but the IOC refused to move the games without consent from the host country and Germany wouldn’t budge. And, of course, crossing the Atlantic Ocean had become quite perilous what with all the submarine warfare. In the end, the games of the Sixth Olympiad are still credited to Berlin – even though the games never took place. They’re the ghost games – picture a huge empty stadium silent except for the whistling wind and possibly the sound of distant cannon fire. It could have killed the entire Olympic movement.

The games returned in 1920, but coverage in the Exeter News-Letter did not. The Olympics were not mentioned at all except for a quick ‘history of the ancient Olympics’ fluff piece – and really, who reads that kind of stuff. Baseball had taken over the hearts and minds of Exeter’s citizens. It was also an election year, although in all fairness, Olympic years are always election years. But in 1920, the nation was voting to allow women’s suffrage. On August 18th, at the height of the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, the 19th Amendment was ratified and New Hampshire’s female voters were unleashed on the polls for the primary election a few weeks later. Apparently, no one in Exeter was interested in an international tug of war competition with that type of excitement going on.

Photo: Exeter citizens eagerly followed news of the 1912 Olympics, but after the cancellation of the 1916 Olympics interest flagged. Most residents were far more interested in local baseball teams, such as this Grand Templar team.