Tag Archives: chickens


Good Bye My Honey I'm Gone

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Good Bye My Honey I’m Gone”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  C.H. Baker

Publisher:  W.A. Evans

Year & Place:  1885, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-490

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0490

Basic Description

This lithograph depicts a well-dressed African American woman, valise and African American boy in tow, boldly walking away from two men: one white, in a policeman’s uniform and holding a billy club to his mouth, and the other black, leaning on the officer and pointing in the woman’s direction.  To the immediate right of the woman three chickens fly away and, in the distance, a sailing ship exits right.  Behind the men are the traceries of two, cottage-like buildings. Gigantic shaving razors are noticeable in the dress and pants’ pockets of the woman and boy, respectively.

Personal Description

Despite the peripheral chaos (i.e., the scattering chickens and expressions of alarm or puzzlement on the men’s and boy’s faces) and the embedded threats of violence (i.e., the razors), there’s a strange calm pervading this image that’s largely located in the fleeing woman.  Is it her pleasant smile, her shapely figure and full bosom, or her Herculean arms and corporeal confidence that assuage what is clearly a scene of domestic dissolution? Her floral corsages, lightning-like ribbons and ruffles, and leather lace-ups sartorially empower her, so one wonders why the artist felt the additional need to fall back on the razor-toting Negro stereotype?

Reality Check


Mary Eliza Mahoney (1845-1926)

Mary Eliza Mahoney, America’s first black graduate nurse, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 7, 1845.  The eldest of three siblings, Mahoney attended the Phillips Street School in Boston.

At the age of twenty, Mary Mahoney began working as a nurse.  Supplementing her low income as an untrained, practical nurse, Mahoney took on janitorial duties at the New England Hospital for Women and Children: a state-of-the-art medical facility run solely by female physicians.

In 1878, Mary Mahoney was accepted into the New England Hospital’s graduate nursing program.  During her training, Mahoney participated in mandatory sixteen-hour-per-day ward duty, where she oversaw the well-being of six patients at a time.  Days not requiring ward duty involved attending day-long lectures while simultaneously devoting time to her studies.  Completing the rigorous sixteen-month program, Mahoney was among the three graduates out of the forty students who began the program and the only African American awarded a diploma.

Mary Mahoney worked as a nurse for the next four decades.  During her forty-year career she attracted a number of private clients who were among to most prominent Boston families.   A deeply religious person, the diminutive five-foot tall, ninety-pound Mahoney devoted herself to private nursing due to the rampant discrimination against black women in public nursing at the time.

Mary Mahoney was widely recognized within her field as a pioneer who opened the door of opportunity for many black women interested in the nursing profession.  When the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) was organized in New York in 1908, Mahoney was asked to give the welcoming address.  Following her speech at the 1909 NACGN Convention at Boston, Mahoney was made a lifetime member, exempted from dues, and elected chaplain.  Admitted to New England Hospital for care on December 7, 1925, Mahoney succumbed to breast cancer on January 4, 1926 at the age of eighty-one.


I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky

I'll send you down a letter from de sky

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “I’ll send you down a Letter from de Sky”

Composer:  M.H. Rosenfeld

Lithographer:  Endicott

Publisher:  Hitchcock’s Music Store

Year & Place:  1884, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-620

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0620

Basic Description

A razor-wielding man is, ostensibly, being thrust upward into the sky by a high-kicking mule in this lithograph.  Residual disarray from the “ass-kicking” is reflected in several chickens, helplessly fluttering in the clouds.  The sheet music’s highly decorative title is further embellished (in the word “I’ll”) by a diminutive, banjo-playing mule, dressed in an Elizabethan blouse and plumed head gear.

Personal Description

The operative sensibility is chaos, exemplified in the unbridled and out-of-control mule, the wild-eyed, razor-toting black man, and the fluttering chickens.  Still, the man’s uplifted razor is treated almost like a military standard or banner, as if signifying what the entire scene is really all about: base weaponry and sleazy trauma.

Reality Check


Frank Hart (aka “Black Dan”) (1858-1908)

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, endurance foot-racing gripped the United States and Great Britain.  The participants in these events were called pedestrians, and they were free to run or walk around an indoor track for as long as they could stay on their feet.  The top pedestrians survived on less than four hours of sleep a day and slept on cots inside the track’s oval.  Fans avidly followed these six-day contests and, frequently, placed bets on prospective winners.

In the early 1880s, an African American pedestrian stood atop this international craze.  His given name was Fred Hichborn but he changed it to Frank Hart when he turned professional.  Hart was born in Haiti in 1858, immigrated to the United States in the 1870s, and soon thereafter began working in a grocery store in Boston Massachusetts.  As the pedestrian craze swept the nation, he began competing in local events.  Hart competed in the international Astley Belt competitions, and set an American record when he won the Rose Belt in New York’s Madison Square Garden in December 1879.

Hart won the prestigious O’Leary Belt competition on April 10, 1880, smashing the world record after covering 565 miles in six days of racing.  He earned about $17,000 in prize money for that competition.  As the race ended, he waved an American flag to thousands of cheering fans who packed Madison Square Garden.   Another African American, William Pegram of Boston finished second with 540 miles.

Hart earned the nickname “Black Dan” from his association with Daniel O’Leary, an Irish immigrant and sports promoter who financed Hart during his professional career.  In later years, Hart played professional baseball in a Chicago Negro league. Hart died in Chicago in 1908.


Drat dat Mewel

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Drat dat Mewel!”

Composer:  Carl Walters

Lyricist: George Russell Jackson

Publisher:  White-Smith

Year & Place:  1893, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-321

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0321

Basic Descripton

A caricatured couple, black-skinned and white-lipped, struggle to maintain composure, and to control a harnessed, yet swift-footed and bolting mule.  The diagonal, upper-left-to-lower-right orientation of the scene contributes to its sense of movement, as do the peripheral top hat and watermelon flying through in the air and the two birds attempting to get out of the mule’s path.

Personal Description

Reminiscent of Currier and Ives’ notorious “Darktown” series (for which scenes of hapless blacks riding in out-of-control, horse- and mule-drawn carts were a recurring theme), this lithograph offers very little in the way of an artistically different or original “take” on racially-tinged slapstick. The bold (and also diagonally oriented) title “DRAT DAT MEWEL!” is the one pictorial element which, in tandem with the illustration, achieves a kind of fresh intervention into visual racist discourse, by way of a combination linguistic/pictorial assault.

Reality Check


Nellie Brown Mitchell (1845-1924) & Charles L. Mitchell (1829-1912)

Nellie Brown Mitchell was born in Dover, New Hampshire.  While in Dover she studied with Caroline Bracket, who encouraged her to pursue professional singing.  Her career as a soprano soloist began at the Free-Will Baptist Church, an Anglo-American Church, in 1865.  In 1872, she left Free-Will Baptist to serve as soloist to Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  She remained there until 1876, briefly returned to Dover, and then served as musical director from 1879 to 1886 at the Bloomfield Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  While in Massachusetts, Brown studied voice at the New England Conservatory and the School of Vocal Arts.  She received her diploma in 1879.

In 1874 Brown gave a series of successful recitals in Boston, and made her New York debut at Steinway Hall.  In 1882 she debuted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  From 1882 to 1885 Brown was “prima-donna soprano” with James Bergen’s Star Concerts.  She resigned from her church position in 1886 and devoted her time to a concert career and her newly formed Nellie Brown Mitchell Concert Company.

During the 1880s and into the 1890s Brown reached the peak of her musical accomplishments.  She was considered by many to be one of the greatest African American singers.  She concertized often throughout the East Coast and the Middle West and, for many summers, taught at the Hedding Chautauqua Summer School in East Epping, New Hampshire.  In the early 1880s Brown Mitchell invented and placed into U.S. patent the phoneterion: “an instrument used to reduce muscular tension in the voice.”  In the 1890s she retired from the concert stage and focused on private instruction, advertising the “Guilmette Method” of vocal technique.  She died in Boston in January of 1924.

Her husband, Charles L. Mitchell, was a prominent black New Englander, and a Massachusetts state legislator in the 1860s.  Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Mitchell spent his youth in Boston, apprenticed to a local printer.  In the 1850s he worked in the offices of The Liberator with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and continued in that capacity until the Civil War erupted, when he enlisted with the all African American, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment.

His involvement in the 1864 Battle of Honey Hill (in which 89 members of the Union forces were killed) resulted in him being severely wounded and losing a foot.  At the end of the War, Mitchell returned to Boston and, in 1866, was elected to the State Legislature.  In 1876 Mitchell married Nellie Brown.  During this period he also received a clerkship in the U.S. Customs House in Boston, and maintained that position for forty-three years.  Mitchell died in Boston, Massachusetts in 1912.

Dusky Dinah


Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  Dusky Dinah: Cake-walk and patrol

Composer:  Sullivan, Dan J.

Illustrator:  Fisher, L.S.

Publisher:  Chas. Shackford

Year & Place:  1899, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-308

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.b0308

Basic Description

An African American woman is shown seated on the branch of a tree, strumming a banjo and looking toward a spindly chicken standing beside her.  The round-faced woman wears bows on her shoes, on her neck, and sports a large hat with ostrich feathers.  The background for this scene (executed as a red and yellow lithograph) is a huge full moon and linear striations.

Personal Description

The red and yellow color scheme gives this image a light-hearted, playful air, as do the comical renderings of the woman and chicken.  Clearly, the illustrator is relying on the stereotypic idea of African Americans playing banjos and desiring chickens to the extreme, hence the ogling at the chicken.

Reality Check


Pauline E. Hopkins (1859-1930)

Boston, Massachusetts-based writer Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins is best known for four novels and numerous short stories which she published between 1900 and 1903. Her best-known work, the novel Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South, was published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1900 by the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company. Hopkins followed this first novel with three serialized novels – Hagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice, Winona: A Tale of Negro Life in the South and Southwest, and Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self, which appeared in the Colored American Magazine. Through her editorial work, fiction, and a substantial body of nonfiction that addressed black history, racial discrimination, economic justice, and women’s role in society among other topics, she emerged as one of the era’s preeminent public intellectuals.