Tag Archives: Rose O’Neill

Westport Suffragists: Neighbors, Crusaders

The Westport Library’s new exhibit — “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” — opened in early March.

A week later, the library shut down.

Along with so much else, COVID-19 has robbed residents of the chance to visit an inspired, inspiring tribute to an astonishing group of women who worked creatively and energetically for years. Finally a century ago, the passage of the 19th Amendment changed history.

Fortunately this is 2020 — not 1920. Thanks to the internet, anyone anywhere can see the Suffragists exhibit.

And everyone everywhere should.

Designed by the library’s Carole Erger-Fass, in partnership with town arts curator Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, the exhibit is broad and deep.

In text and photographs, it shows the women (in Westport and beyond) who pushed suffrage forward; the places in Westport where significant events took place, and the (long) timeline during which it all happened.

Who knew, for example, that the then-brand-new library at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an important meeting place for early suffragists?

The original Westport Public Library

The exhibit notes:

On January 27, 1912, the public library’s handsome oak-paneled hall was transformed into a political theater bedecked with American flags and purple, white and green suffrage banners. The occasion was the Tri-County Crusade for Votes run by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA). From January through March, the campaign held rallies at every town with trolley service—46 in all—across Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties.

Among the artists — the first wave of progressive people to live in Westport — fighting for a woman’s right to vote was Rose O’Neill. Known today as the creator of the Kewpie character, she was also an illustrator dedicated to women’s empowerment. She even used her Kewpies to send a message: “Give Mother the Vote.”

Lillian Wald

Lillian Wald is revered for her work building awareness of, and helping solve, pressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She founded the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York, aiding thousands of immigrants. She also worked tirelessly in support of world peace and women’s full franchise.

In 1917 Wald came to Westport as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to a house on the pond across from Longshore. There she entertained a steady stream of guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sara Buek Crawford

O’Neill and Wald get their due in the library exhibit. But so does Sara Buek Crawford, a Westporter I’d never heard of. She was a leading suffragist — and, 20 years after the 19th Amendment was approved, she became the first woman in Connecticut ever elected to statewide office.

It’s all there — plus much more — in the Westport Library’s suffrage exhibit. Everyone — of every age, and both genders — should click on, and learn from it.

(Click here for the “Westport Suffragists: Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” exhibit. Click here for information about more Westport Library exhibits and galleries.)

Westport’s History, In 100 Objects

The Westport Historical Society has a history of mounting fascinating exhibits.

Subjects have ranged from Saugatuck and famous artists to rock ‘n’ roll and our town 50 years from now.

But while the Sheffer Gallery in the back pulses with life, the front of 223-year-old Wheeler House on Avery Place has been oddly shut.

Now the WHS has opened its Victorian front door to visitors. And — just inside — a long-neglected display case offers an intriguing look into Westport’s past.

“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow (Monday, April 16). Every 2 weeks for the next year, the items will change. They’ll start with the original settlers in 1637, and work up to today.

Kewpie dolls will be on display later this year. In 1909, Westport illustrator Rose O’Neill created the characters.

Artifacts include books, land deeds, farming tools, clothing, toys, a railroad tie — anything that helped make this town what it is.

Each display will include a “mystery object” (though not necessarily from the era depicted). Visitors can guess its identity. One — drawn from all correct answers — will win an item from the gift shop.

A passport/online check-in will help children record their visits. After coming enough times, they’ll get scrip for gift store purchases.

An 1882 shipping book includes the noted Westport name “Wakeman.”

As each case changes, its items will be archived in a digital exhibit on the WHS website.

The Historical Society has plenty of objects. But they’d love more. If you have an item that might work for the exhibit, email 100Objects@westporthistory.org.

(“The History of Westport in 100 Objects” opens tomorrow — Monday, April 16 — with a 4 p.m. reception focused on 5th through 8th graders.)

Another artifact: part of Westport artist Stevan Dohanos’ 1950s watercolor of our Memorial Day parade.

Staples Interns Show Characters

Over 400 Staples High School seniors are beginning their 2nd week of a 4-week internship program.

Some commute to New York City companies. Others work in Fairfield County, at stores, offices, law firms, non-profits, schools — you name it, they do it.

The Westport Historical Society has 3 interns. They came on board just as the annual 3rd grade tour began — and the high schoolers jumped right in to help.

Jumped right into costume, that is.

Shown below are Harry Garber (miller), Marcel Massarani (farmer) and Wellington Baumann (Continental soldier). They posed with WHS education/creative director Elizabeth DeVoll. She runs the tour, and portrays artist Rose O’Neill — the Westport artist who created the Kewpie characters.

Staples HS interns

What Do Evelene Parsell, Swinburne Hale, The Westport Sanatorium And Kewpie Dolls Have In Common?

Read the story below to find out.

The other day, alert “06880” reader/amateur historian/all-around awesome woman Wendy Crowther was researching Alan Parsell’s connection with the Geiger barn.

Alan Parsell

Alan Parsell

(Important digression: Native Westporter Alan Parsell was the stereotypical crusty old New England Yankee. He served Westport in many capacities over many years, and despite throwing pennies around like they were manhole covers, he always had the town’s best interest in mind. For decades, his family owned Parsell’s Garden Mart, where Geiger’s is now.)

On the internet, Wendy found a record of Alan’s wife (Evelene) having mortgage transactions in Westport with a man named Swinburne Hale. Evelene was descended from one of Westport’s oldest families (the Couches). Intrigued, Wendy wanted to learn more about this fellow with the unusual name (Swinburne Hale, not Couch).

Swinburne Hale

Swinburne Hale

She found that he is connected not only to some of America’s most prominent professors, writers and artists — but that his life intersected with Westport a couple of times.

Hale published his only book in 1923: The Demon’s Notebook — Verse and Perverse. The frontispiece is by Rose O’Neill, an artist and writer who is far better known for creating Kewpie dolls. In 1922 she bought a 10-acre estate on the Saugatuck River.

In 1925 Hale was committed to an “insane asylum”: the Westport Sanatorium. He died there 12 years later, age 53.

The sanatorium was the 2nd use for the majestic building on the corner of the Post Road and North Compo. Built in 1853 for Richard and Mary Fitch Winslow, its original name was Compo House.

Today, of course, nothing remains of Compo House or the Sanatorium — except asphalt paths. You can see them as part of the 32-acre property, which today we call Winslow Park.

Compo House, back in the day.

Compo House, back in the day.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea — except that the “06880” tagline (“Where Westport meets the world”) is proven true every day, in sometimes crazy, but always interesting, ways.

(To read more than you ever wanted to know about Swinburne Hale, click here.)