Tag Archives: Costumes


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.




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

Title of Song:  “Good Enough!”

Composer:  Rollin Howard

Engraver: Clayton’s

Lithographer:  Chicago Lithographing

Publisher:  Lyon & Healy

Year & Place:  1871, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-498

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0498

Basic Description

A dancing, high-kicking couple are shown in an interior space.  Upon closer inspection it appears as if the woman is wearing a nineteenth-century styled slip and petticoats, which is further suggested by the hoop-skirt frame sitting on the table behind her, and in the shelving and racks in the room holding linen, socks, and possibly other forms of apparel.  Both the man and the woman wear big, black brogans and garishly striped stockings.

Personal Description

The abandonment which is expressed in this couple’s dance moves, along with her undressed state, his clown-like outfit, and their shared gnome-like, diabolical features, all conveyed a kind of idiocy and madness surrounding African Americans that, in the post-Reconstruction era, contributed towards the complete dismantling of what few legal rights and social courtesies black still had circa 1871.

Reality Check


John Jones (1816-1879) & Mary Richardson Jones (1819-1910)

John Jones – tailor, writer, and politician – was born in 1816 in Green City, North Carolina to a German father and an African American mother.  Born free, he taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business, and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.

While working as a tailor in Memphis, Tennessee in 1841, John Jones met Mary Jane Richardson, the daughter of a free African American blacksmith.  Although the Richardson family shortly thereafter moved to Alton, Illinois, Jones remained in Memphis for three years to complete the requirements of his apprenticeship.  In 1844 Jones moved to Alton and married Mary Jane Richardson.  Although they were free, both John and Mary obtained certificates of freedom, posted a $1,000 bond in Madison County, and gained the privileges of traveling and living in the state.

After moving to Chicago in 1845, the highly skilled tailor soon had a thriving enterprise, catering to many of Chicago’s elites.  By 1860 Jones’s business was one of the city’s oldest and most financially solvent, having accumulated between $85,000 and $100,000.  The great Chicago fire of 1871 affected his wealth, yet he was left with enough money to be called one of the country’s wealthiest African Americans and Chicago’s undisputed black leader.

Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago.  His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.  He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.  Mary Richardson Jones was also a suffragette, and leaders in the suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony stayed in the Jones’ home when visiting Chicago.

Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois.  Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to overturn Illinois laws that denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court.  His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights.  Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time.  In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.  While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished segregated schools.

Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.  John Jones died on May 31, 1879, and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois.  Mary Richardson Jones died in 1910, and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery.

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

Polly Perkins of Pemberton Green

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

Title of Song:   Polly Perkins of Pemberton

Composer:       Clifton, Harry

Illustrator:      Bufford, J.H.

Publisher:        Tolman, Henry

Year & Place:  Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:                Music B-2061

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  hasm.b2061

Basic Description

This sheet music cover is composed of five small vignettes (cameo) portraits.  Each portrait is framed by lush botanical foliage as vines and leaves seem to grow out of the bottom of the page and wind around in circles.  Within each oval frame is a male.  In each one, the man wears different set of clothing and his body takes on a different position.  In all portraits but one the man appears in blackface make-up.  All five images depict the same person, presumably, R. Bishop Buckley.  In the cameo of the top left hand corner, the man wears sits on a chair in a light-colored, pajama-like garments while holding a instrument requiring a long bow.  The central vignette shows Buckley in a vest and conventional pants.  Here, however, he sits on the ground with his arms open, gesturing toward the viewer in a sinister manner.  In the adjacent portrait man sports a coat and scarf with a unrecognizeable cap on his head.  The last portrait beneath this shows him sitting again in profile with a tambourine as his eyes stare out at the audience.

Personal Description

The most striking aspect of this image is not the depiction of one man in four different minstrel costumes.  It is that he is shown, purposively, both with and without the blackface mask.  Indeed, the whole composition exudes a revelatory tone as the foliage seems to have been lifted or brushed aside like curtains to reveal each character.  And this calls into question what differences existed between Buckley and his blackface incarnations.  With a partially empty nevertheless serious gaze, the performer sits in the lower left hand corner.  Unlike many of his characters, most of his body is invisible to the viewer.  He adopts the quintessential image of respectability with an erect posture and a full-suit consisting of a jacket, vest, white collared shirt and a bowtie.  In contrast, the other vignettes suggest an affinity for music, visually restating the stereotype of an inherent inclination in blacks for music.  This juxtaposition sets up a contrast that attempts to carefully delineate dissimilarities between the man and his masks.

Reality Check

Chester Harding - Self Portrait - 1860

Chester Harding (1792-1866), Self-Portrait, c.1860

Chester Harding was a self-taught portrait painter. He was born in Massachusetts in 1792. Harding spent his early adult years in the state of New York, struggling to earn a living as a cabinet maker. In debt, he fled with his wife and child to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where an acquaintance suggested he open a sign-painter¹s shop.  A traveling portrait painter came through town and painted pictures of Harding and his wife. Harding was fascinated with the idea of portraiture and used his work paints to create a picture of his wife. The portrait turned out surprisingly well. Portrait orders rolled in, and Harding saved enough money to afford classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Design. He traveled and painted portraits the remainder of his life. Harding spent a great deal of time in St. Louis, Washington, DC, London, and Boston.  Charles Harding painted many legendary faces. Other famous pictures include portraits of Chief Justice John Marshall and Civil War Major General William T. Sherman.

(Source: http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/explorers/dboone/harding.html)


"Slave Life," or "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

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

Title of Song:  “Slave Life, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Composer:  Charles Jeffreys

Publisher:  C. Jeffreys

Year & Place:  1853, London, England

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  hasmsm006

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasmsm006

Basic Description

The focus of this lithograph is a black woman with plaited hair holding a small, elegantly-dressed white boy in her arms.  The woman’s strapless and sleeveless dress — pleated and ill-fitting, as if improvised from window curtains or bed linen — reveals her supple arms and upper torso.

Personal Description

No doubt referencing the passages in Uncle Tom’s Cabin where Topsy playfully drapes herself in assorted linens and towels, this image subliminally turns this woman and her dress into a metaphoric bed, in which the slumbering child curls up. Performed in blackface by the white actress “Mrs. Keeley”, this Topsy is maternal rather than impish, and would not have been out of place in a Victorian-era colonial setting such as India, South Africa, or Jamaica.

Reality Check


Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Mary Seacole was born Mary Jane Grant in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was a Scottish soldier, and her Jamaican mother was a practitioner of traditional medicine and had a boarding house where she cared for the sick. Mary learned about medicine from her mother, soon gaining her own reputation as a “skilful nurse and doctress”.

In 1836 Mary married Edwin Horatio Hamilton Seacole, godson of the British naval hero, Lord Nelson, but after only eight years the marriage was cut short by his early death.  Mary travelled widely – there were two trips to Britain and, in 1851, she joined her brother Edward in Panama, where she opened a hotel. Soon she had saved her first cholera patient, and gained extensive knowledge of the pathology of this disease, which she herself had contracted and recovered from. She was widely praised for her work in treating cholera, and returned to Jamaica in 1853.

She then traveled again to London, where she heard about the Crimean war and how the nursing system there had collapsed. She made applications to the War Office, the army medical department, and the secretary of war to be allowed to go to the Crimea and tend to the sick and wounded. She pointed out that she had extensive experience, excellent references and knew many of the soldiers and regiments, having nursed them while they were stationed in Jamaica.  But she was turned away by everybody, including one of Florence Nightingale’s assistants.

Seacole and a relative of hers agreed to launch a general store and hotel near the British camp in the Crimea. So, at the age of 50, Mary went to the battle zone as a sutler: a person who follows the army and sells provisions to the troops. The moment she arrived there were sick and wounded to attend to. Soon the entire British army knew of “Mother Seacole.” The assistant surgeon of the 90th Light Infantry watched with admiration as she would administer to the soldiers, giving them tea and food and words of comfort. She was often on the front line and frequently under fire. Mary Seacole’s reputation after the Crimean War rivaled that of Florence Nightingale’s.

The end of the war left Seacole impoverished and, soon thereafter, she went bankrupt. Lord Rokeby and Lord Paget, both Crimean commanders, organized a benefit at the Royal Surrey Gardens to raise money for Mary. In 1857, Mary published her autobiography, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in many lands. She was awarded a Crimean medal, and a bust was made of her by Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, sculptor and nephew of Queen Victoria. The last 25 years of her life, however, were spent in obscurity.



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

Title of Song:  “Under de Mango Tree”

Composer:  Edward Greey

Illustrator:  C. Lyall

Lithographer:  Hounslow

Publisher:  Wm. A. Pond

Year & Place:  1872, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-280

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0280

Basic Description

A woman and man are shown underneath a fruit-filled tree.  The woman — with her skirt inexplicably hiked above waist and bundled between her and the tree trunk she’s leaning against — demurely lowers her head, while the man — whose head looks like a cross between a Valentine’s Day heart and Mephistopheles from Gounod’s opera Faust — lunges towards her with pleading gestures.

Personal Description

Difficulties in love are a frequent topic for visual satirists and, yet, the visual allusions here to seductive nymphs and lust-filled satyrs (re: the man’s cloven-like feet) are further compounded by the racializing and tropicalizing of Eros in this lithograph.

Reality Check



Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) & Sarah J. Smith Thompkins Garnet (1831-1911)

Born into slavery near New Markey, Maryland, Henry Highland Garnet escaped from bondage via the Underground Railroad with his parents, George and Henrietta Trusty in 1824.  After residing briefly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the family settled in New York City where the family name was changed to Garnet.

Henry attended the African Free School, which was one of several schools established in northeastern cities by white philanthropists.  His classmates included several future black abolitionist leaders such as Alexander Crummell, Samuel Ringgold Ward, and James McCune Smith.  While Henry Garnet was at sea working as a cabin boy and cook, his parents narrowly escaped slave catchers.  After he returned home, Garnet suffered a debilitating leg injury that plagued him for the rest of his life.  He found solace in the church and joined the First Colored Presbyterian Church in New York where he also found a community of abolitionists.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Henry Highland Garnet pursued manifold careers in the ministry, education, and in abolitionist activities.  In 1843 Garnet became nationally prominent when he delivered an address at the National Negro Convention meeting in Buffalo, New York, urging slaves to rebel and claim their own freedom.  In 1864 Garnett became pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  On Sunday, February 12, 1865 Garnet preached a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although he did not address Congress, his presentation was the first by an African American in the Capitol Building.

In 1868 Garnet moved to Pittsburgh where he briefly served as President of Avery College, a school of religious education for African Americans.  Originally an opponent of the colonization movement, by the mid-nineteenth century Garnet shifted his support to the migration of black Americans to Liberia.  In 1881 President James A. Garfield appointed Garnet minister (re: ambassador) to Liberia.  Garnet moved to the West African nation but died two months after his arrival.

Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet was the first African American female principal in the New York public schools.  The eldest of eleven children, she was born Minsarah Smith in Brooklyn in 1831.  Her parents were prosperous farmers, and one of her sisters, Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918), was the first African American female in New York state to graduate with the M.D. degree.

In 1854 Smith Tompkins taught at the African Free School of Williamsburg (Brooklyn).  In 1863 she was appointed principal of Grammar School Number Four (later named Public School Number Eighty-One) and Public School Number Eighty. She remained in that dual position until she retired in 1900, the year New York repealed a law allowing separate schools for African Americans and whites.  In 1879, she married Henry Highland Garnet.  She was widowed again when Henry Highland Garnet died in 1882.

An active supporter of woman suffrage and African American civil rights, Smith Thompkins Garnet was also a businesswoman.  She owned a seamstress shop in Brooklyn from 1883 to 1911.  In the late 1880s, Garnet helped found the Equal Suffrage Club, a Brooklyn-based club for black women.  Sarah Garnet also served as superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the National Association of Colored Women.  Garnet supported the Niagara Movement, a predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.).  In 1911, Garnet accompanied her sister, Susan Smith McKinney Steward, to London, England, for the first Universal Races Congress.  Just weeks after she returned from Europe, Garnet died at home, at the age of 88.

May Irwin’s BULLY SONG

May Irwin's Bully Song

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

Title of Song:  “May Irwin’s Bully Song”

Composer:  Charles E. Trevathan

Illustrator:  Davenport

Lithographer:  Forbes

Publisher:  The New York Journal

Year & Place:  1896, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #572 no. 8

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  n0572.8

Basic Description

Full color lithograph of a grotesque man, who is outrageously dressed, carries a razor in one hand, and appears as if walking.  His beady eyes, sagging jowls, and red, everted lips are more simian-like than human.  All of his clothes are ill-fitting: his tiny hat seems almost too petite for his ugly, little head; his broad-striped shirt and polka dot tie literally dwarf his bulging torso; his buttoned up, blue plaid jacket is tightly wrapped around his protruding buttocks; and his pin-striped trousers, dirty white spats, and shoes are baggy, loose-fitting, and rundown, respectively.

Personal Description

One can only imagine what black people in 1896 thought when, after purchasing The New York Journal that April 12 (was it Easter Sunday?), they saw this illustrated supplement.   Although probably accustomed to all sorts of social indignities, many would have found this image especially hurtful, in that it suggested that African Americans were not just socially inept in the ways of fashion and decorum, but constituitively and genetically defective.  The nature of caricature is almost always distortion and ridicule but, in this instance, the picture goes way beyond a light-hearted critique and, instead, proposes, through anatomical and sartorial signs, a physically and mentally unfit race of people.

Reality Check


Philip A. Payton Jr. (1876-1917)

Philip A. Payton Jr. was born February 27, 1876, in Westfield, Massachusetts, the eldest of four children of Philip A. Payton, a barber, and Annie Ryans Payton, a hairdresser.  He attended public schools in Westfield but, in a profile in Booker T. Washington’s 1907 The Negro in Business, Payton admitted to dropping out of high school during his senior year (due to a football injury) and, shortly thereafter, working as a barber.

In 1899 Payton moved to New York City where he had a series of jobs and soon found work as a porter in a real estate office.  In less than a year he decided to start his own real estate business with a partner.  The real estate partnership of Brown & Payton struggled and Brown left during the first year but Payton eventually began to get contracts to manage houses.  In 1903 Payton formed the Afro-American Realty Company, taking advantage of the real estate boom that was occurring in the northern Manhattan community of Harlem.  In 1900 construction began on the subway line extending from New York’s City Hall in lower Manhattan north to 145th Street in Harlem.  Real estate developers like Payton responded by building apartment houses in close proximity to the line.

Philip A. Payton Jr. recognized an opportunity for African Americans in these developments and, in a career that spanned less than twenty years, became known for providing African Americans in New York City with an opportunity to live in quality housing.  As a real estate broker, property manager, and owner, Payton gained a national reputation among African American business leaders during the first decade of the twentieth century.  He died in Allenhurst, New Jersey on August 29, 1917.

Kemo, Kimo


Location: American Song Sheets Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song: Kemo, Kimo

Publisher: J.H. Johnson

Year & Place: circa 1854, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Collection/Call Number: American Song Sheets, Broadsides, Box 2, bsvg200815

American Song Sheets Item #: bsvg200815

Basic Description

The engraving at the head of this broadside is of a woman, who wears a tall bonnet decorated with multiple bows, and a dress with puffy sleeves and a tight-fitting, lace-up bodice.  Seated on a low bench, the woman turns her upper body to the right while strumming on a guitar.

Personal Description

The engraver’s rendering is derived from stock illustrations in the antebellum period of an ostentatious African American woman: a characterization which appeared on selected broadsides and sheet music covers in New York and Philadelphia beginning in the 1840s.  A female counterpart to the Zip Coons and other male dandy personas in blackface minstrelsy, this woman’s indiscretions are literally enmeshed within her fancy ribbons, lacework, and bows.

Reality Check


Elizabeth Brown Montier (1820-ca. 1858)

Little is known of Elizabeth Brown Montier, apart from her being married, circa 1841, to Philadelphia bootmaker Hiram Montier, a direct descendant of Philadelphia’s first mayor, Richard Morrey.  The couple lived in the city’s Northern Liberties neighborhood, and Montier’s shop was on NW 7th Street.  This portrait, along with a companion portrait of Hiram Montier, was painted by Philadelphia artist Franklin R. Street, and may have been created on the occasion of the couple’s marriage.