Who was Mrs. E.L. Rose?

While working through the material objects in the ITPS collections, I came across a time capsule previously buried beneath the cornerstone of the Thomas Paine Memorial Hall in Boston. This building stood on Appleton Street until it burned down on January 9, 1940. This time capsule had been saved by John A. Bremner, the president of the Thomas Paine Memorial Corporation, and was donated to the Thomas Paine National Historical association and opened for the first time in April 1983. The box contained a series of photographs and illustrations of people associated with the Boston Investigator, a newspaper dedicated to free thought and located in the Thomas Paine Memorial Hall in the nineteenth century. Among a collection of photographs and prints of men is the image of one woman, Mrs. E.L. Rose.1

Who was she and how did she end up in the time capsule?

Sepia photograph of Mrs. E.L. Rose

Ernestine L. Rose was born in Poland to a Jewish family. After refusing her arranged marriage, she went to Prussia and resided all over Europe before going to England. While in England she became friends with Robert Owen and became an Owenite. While living with the Owenites, she met her husband William Rose. They then immigrated to New York. While in the United States, she went on speaking tours promoting women’s rights and antislavery. She became friends with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She supported and successfully helped the passage of a law in New York that would allow a married woman to keep her own property.2

Her speaking tours brought her to Boston and into the circle of the Boston Investigator, a free-thinking newspaper. She befriended many of the editors and contributors and similarly viewed Thomas Paine as one of her heroes. She likely ended up in the time capsule because of her friendships and her contributions to the newspaper. She famously wrote a response defending Jews and Judaism after Horace Seaver, the editor of the Boston Investigator, wrote an antisemitic article about Jews in the United States.3

Ernestine Rose should be restored to the narrative for her important role in the woman’s movement and other reform movements of the 19th century. While scholars have written about her, especially in the last few years, many have never heard of Ernestine Rose. I surely hadn’t before I came across her image, but now will think of her alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the fight for women’s rights. As we are in the year celebrating the centennial of the 19th amendment, let’s remember Rose’s role in the suffrage movement and place her back into the historical narrative.

‘Tis the Season for Gift Boxes (in the Thomas Paine National Historical Association Collection)

With Thanksgiving safely behind us, the holiday season is now officially in full swing! This is the time of year for sales, gifts, giving, and New York’s famous Fifth Avenue holiday store windows. The Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) collection has an artifact related to this holiday shopping tradition, a vintage Lord and Taylor box.

Lord and Taylor box with hand painted rose design and post it note

You might be asking yourself, what does a vintage Lord and Taylor box have to do with an archive related to Thomas Paine and the TPNHA? Some artifacts in the collection are stored in one of the Lord and Taylor boxes with the red rose on it. The box contains nails that were once part of Paine’s home in New Rochelle, some used candles, some pieces of paper, and several rocks. While the materials related to Paine and the TPNHA are of historical relevance, the floral box has itself gained historical value. Within the last year, Lord and Taylor’s flagship store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue closed, while just a few weeks ago Barney’s New York announced they will be closing their flagship as well. It appears that the fancy and luxurious department stores with their famous names, addresses, and holiday windows are on course to becoming a relic of the glittering past. (Though as an exception Nordstrom just opened their first Manhattan store).

This vintage Lord and Taylor box was likely chosen out of convenience. The TPNHA needed a box to hold materials and this one was available, and since there were so many of them around it didn’t have much value at the time. With changing retail patterns, however, the box has gained value over time—it now has its own interesting history.

Inside Lord and Taylor box, some rocks, nails, and a typed card

The Lord and Taylor rose was first introduced by Dorothy Shaver in 1946. Shaver became Lord and Taylor’s president in 1945, a position she held until her death in 1959—the first woman to hold such a position. The rose on the box is an American Beauty Rose, which became available in the United States for purchase in the 1880s. Shaver introduced this branding as part of her program to promote American fashion, and Lord and Taylor used the rose on all branding until the end of the twentieth century. In 2008, Lord and Taylor reintroduced the rose in its branding, but as a bright orange Sunrise rose. This was then replaced by the Free Spirit rose, a pink, orange, and coral rose in 2016, advertising the nostalgia of the original red rose box.

With department stores like Lord and Taylor closing, their boxes have accrued cultural and nostalgic value even when holding materials related to Thomas Paine. While this box has come a long way from holding a gift, it now serves two purposes: holding materials related to Thomas Paine and his time, and as a symbol of material culture from a not too distant past of shopping on Fifth Avenue or in one of the suburbs that boomed after World War II.

Thomas Paine’s Missing and Scattered Body, that’s Old News!

My first task this year as the Gardiner Archival Dissertation Fellow has been to work through the material objects in the Thomas Paine Collection. The objects in the collection range from tokens dated from the 1790s to Thomas Paine’s watch and his traveling writing kit, but what I was not expecting to find was a fragment of his brain. That’s right, part of his brain. With Halloween this week, ‘tis the season for spooky stories about the body of an American Revolutionary.

Thomas Paine’s body has been a story discussed and speculated about for a long time and I tell my students about it every time we discuss Thomas Paine in class. For those who don’t know, the story of Thomas Paine’s body goes something like this: Upon his death, Paine desired to be buried in the Quaker cemetery in New Rochelle, but the Quakers were concerned many would make pilgrimages to his grave. Instead, when he died in 1809, he was buried on his farm in New Rochelle. Several years after his death, William Cobbett, an Englishman who believed Paine deserved a proper burial in England, his country of birth, came to New Rochelle and dug up his body. Once Cobbett brought Paine’s body back to England, he was unable to raise the funds to rebury him and so Paine’s bones sat in a box in his home. Ultimately, they were auctioned off and many all over the world today claim to have parts of his skeleton. (There are of course more detailed records of this story in the collection, but as this post is about his brain, I had to skip over some of the details).1

Two pieces of Thomas Paine's hair from the ITPS archives.
Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHAC), Institute for Thomas Paine Studies (ITPS) at Iona College (IC).

Now back to Paine’s brain! While I knew the collection at the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies contained two locks of his hair, I was not expecting, however, for the two locks of hair to look different from one another. The first lock of hair is about 8.5 cm in length and is a light brown color. The second lock of hair, however, is a very dark brown, almost black, color and looks matted. At first I was confused why there would be a difference between the two hair samples. However, as I continued to read through the papers in the collection about the hair samples, I discovered why that was the case. (See photo above for an image of the two locks of hair.) The second sample contained a piece of Paine’s skull. The records also indicate that the collection contains a fragment of his brain and it turns out his brain stem! (See image below of the brain stem.)

As you can imagine, I was quite shocked by my discovery and Ala, the postdoctoral fellow, and I quickly went to inquire if everyone else knew about the skull sample and brain stem. And, they did! Ala and I could not get over our shock for the rest of the day. For the next several days I was telling everyone who would listen about this discovery.

A portion of the brain of Mr. Thomas Paine from the ITPS archives.
Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHAC), Institute for Thomas Paine Studies (ITPS) at Iona College (IC).

The provenance records, or the records of ownership to show authenticity, relating to the brain include a handwritten note by Benjamin Tilly-Cobbett’s secretary, a newspaper printing of that note, as well as a long document articulating the narrative of how the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA) came to acquire the sample of Thomas Paine’s brain. A minister by the name of George Reynolds acquired it from a family in the town he worked. The father of the family had received it from Tilly. Reynolds sold it to Moncure Conway, a biographer of Thomas Paine, for 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds! Conway then sold it to the TPNHA. On the back of a note related to Paine’s brain, William Van der Weyde, a former president of the TPNHA, wrote, “The Fragment of Paine’s brain is not in the house at New Rochelle but was placed under the monument at N.R.- to be more exact it reposes under the bronze bust which surmounts the Paine monument.2 This monument is on North Avenue at the entrance of Paine Avenue in New Rochelle. Maybe this Halloween a visit to this monument is just the place to tell a spooky story about the rogue brain stem buried beneath!