16 December 2017

Annie Oakley - marksman, actress, feminist

For those of you who remember 1956 clearly, Australian television expos­ed Annie Oakley (1860-1926) for the first time in a fictional American Western series. Featuring act­ress Gail Davis, each weekly programme lasted half an hour. My parents didn’t have a tv in the 1950s, but our elderly neighbours let the local children watch between 7-7.30 PM.

Thank you Wild West Magazine for the historical data.

Early Family life
Phoebe Ann Moses was born to Jacob and Susan, Quakers who had migrat­ed from Pennsylvania to a farm in rural Darke County Ohio. Annie was the sixth of their seven children. In 1866 her father died, leaving her mother and the seven young children in poverty, so mother sent Annie to the live at the Darke County Infirmary/poor house.

At 10 Annie become a servant for another local farming family. She stayed with them in dismal conditions for two years before running away, then she returned home to her mother, again in poverty.

Annie did not live in the West but she first fired a gun at an early age. She ended up supporting her own family by hunting and trapping pheasants and quail, then selling the game to locals in Green­ville Ohio and to hotels.

Annie Oakley as a teenager

Marriage and career
Annie met Frank Butler while he performed his travelling marks­man show in Cincinnati. Part of Frank’s act was accept­ing chall­enges from local marks-men, with bets being placed. Frank knew he was a beaten man, the moment the 15-year-old girl appeared to challenged him.They began a courtship and married in Windsor Canada in 1882. The Butlers began performing together, but Frank imm­ediately recognised that his wife, now called Annie Oak­ley, was the bigger draw. 

In the early days of her stage career, Annie played with Frank at small theatres, skating rinks and circuses. While working for the Sells Brothers Circus in New Orleans in 1884, Annie and Frank met William Buffalo Bill Cody and performed with them for 16 seasons. Cody had her perform early in the show to help aud­iences get used to the sound of gunfire. She could shoot a cork out of a bottle at a distance!

In 1884, Sioux spiritual leader and medicine man Sitting Bull, victor at the Battle of Little Bighorn, saw Annie in a theatre in St Paul Minnesota. Sitting Bull and Annie were happily reunited the next year as employees of Cody’s Wild West. 
In 1887, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show travelled to London, as part of the USA delegation to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The show stayed in London until Oct, giv­ing 300+ performances that helped Annie perfect her show­manship. The British newspapers went wild.

When Annie and Frank left the Wild West Show in Dec 1888, she worked as an actress in a Western melodrama called Dead­wood Dick. The play was not a success, and by Feb 1889 the theatre company had folded.

In mid-1889, they re-joined the Wild West Show for a tour of Eur­ope, beginning with Paris’ Exposition Universelle. Having no children, they toured Eur­ope whenever they wanted, including two more European tours in 1891-1892.

Annie was a celebrity, earning more than other employees in Buff­alo Bill’s Wild West Show. They bought a house in Nutley N.J in which they lived be­tween their country-wide tours.

In 1894, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley and the Indians perf­orm­ed in front of Thomas Edison’s moving-picture machine at the invent­or’s labor­at­ory in New Jersey. The public could go to kinetoscope parlours and cheaply view the early Edison films in peep-show machines. Anne was the first cowgirl in motion pictures, surrounded by faked gun smoke.

Annie and Frank toured with vaudeville impresario Tony Pastor’s show in the spring of 1888. Then they re-joined Buffalo Bill for a spring run in Paris. At first the French thought Buffalo Bill’s whole spect­acle was faked, but when they saw Annie Oakley perform, they believed she was the real thing.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West played in 130+ towns in 1895-6. And in 1897 the Wild West played in Canada for the first time for decad­es. 

Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, post marriage (1882)

Retirement, 1901-26

In Oct 1901 in NC, while the Company was headed to Danville Virginia to end the season, their train ran into an on­coming train. Annie Oak­ley was found pinned beneath the rubble and it took sev­eral hours be­fore she could be rescued. After touring continuously for 20 years, she retired from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Annie Oakley tried acting again, appearing as the lead in a play called The Western Girl, which opened in New Jersey in Nov 1902. She also taught shooting at exclusive gun clubs. Meanwhile her husband worked for the Union Metallic Cartridge Company, promoting its products to shooters.

In 1912, Frank and Annie had begun building a retirement house in Cambridge Maryland where hunting and shooting remained a big part of their lives. The roof of the house was designed so that Annie could step out onto it and shoot game off the Choptank River.

In 1922 Annie performed in a show on Long Island and was rumoured to be making a comeback, but in Nov, at 62, she was in a car accident in Florida and broke bones. Fortunately the steel leg brace she wore did not immobilise her.

As a star with the stature and ability of Buff­alo Bill himself, Annie Oakley valued her platform to promote egal­itarian views about women. She believed that women needed to learn to be proficient with fire­arms, to defend themselves. Annie taught 15,000 women to shoot, and promoted guns as a symbol of female empowerment. [I love her feminist politics, but access to guns by any private citizen is now an abomination here in Australia.]

Over the next four years, her health began to decline, and the couple returned to Ohio. In Nov 1926, she died of pern­icious anaemia at 66. Frank mourned so deeply, he died within 18 days.

Read Shirl Kasper's 1992 biography Annie Oakley, pub­lished by University of Oklahoma Press. And visit Buffalo Bill Historical Centre which is a complex of five museums and a research library featuring art and artefacts of the American West, located in Cody Wyoming. 

12 December 2017

V & A Museum restaurants - high Victorian art in London

When a new home for the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert) was needed, they used the estate rec­ently bought by the Commissioners for the Great Exhib­ition of 1851. The Museum was established in 1852 and funded by the financial surpluses from the Great Exhibition - to educate working people with works of art, and to insp­ire British designers and manufacturers. Sir Henry Cole (1808–82) be­came first dir­ec­tor of the V & A, with the approval of Prince Albert.

The South Kensington site architect was Cap­tain Francis Fowke (1823-65), Inspector of Science and Art. Ignoring the contemp­orary fashion for Gothic architect­ure, Fowke chose a North Italian Renaissance style, two storeys high, with a grand Lecture Theatre complex forming the centrepiece.

In 1861 designer Godfrey Sykes (1824-66) was invited by Henry Cole to as­sist Fran­cis Fowke on the buildings connected with the gardens and the arcades. Many of the decorative schemes in the North and South Courts were Sykes’ work, as was the choice of terracotta as the museum’s distinctive decorative material.

Gamble Room

The first decoration in the Lecture Theatre building, the showpiece southern exterior, was completed by Fowke and Sykes. The main feature of the red-brick, terr­acotta and mosaic-faced façade was its three large recessed ar­ches, supp­ort­ed by terracotta columns bearing figures. Portraits of key members of the Museum team and from the fields of art and science appeared in the mosaic panels and lunettes.

The Gamble, Poynter and Morris Rooms were the three interlinked rooms that made up the lavishly decorated Museum restaurants.

The walls and columns of the original Refreshment Room/now The Gamble Room, influenced by the Prince Consort's completed dairy at Frog­more, were faced with majolica created by Minton. Much of the dec­oration was planned by Sykes, just before he died (1866). The room was opened in 1867, when the décor­at­ion was still incomp­l­ete.

John Everett Millais (1829-96) selected the original colours. But in 1874–5 the Gamble Room’s plaster ceiling was replaced by the Enam­elled Iron Co; they used sheet-iron enamelled in colours suggested by the metal advert­ise­­ments on rail­way stations. Thus the ventil­at­ion grilles were sur­r­ounded by very heavy, ornate enamelled iron plates.

The windows and frieze were full of Victorian mottoes about the joys of eating and drinking. With ceramic tiled walls and columns, they were clean and easily washed for dining. As a precaution against fire, food for this main refreshment room was prepared in kitchens outside the walls.

Henry Cole was also responsible for other innovations: the V&A was the first public museum in the world to be artificially lit so that workers could come in the evenings. This was to “furnish a powerful antidote to the Gin Palace”, to give working families culture instead of booze. Cole's concept of a museum restaurant was comp­let­ely new; as a way of getting people to enjoy culture, it was a world first for South Kensington. Even the Victorians, used to dazzle, would have been struck by the dec­or­ation.

Poynter Room

For the decoration of the smaller flanking rooms, in quieter colours, other talents were called in. Edward Poynter (1836-1919), recently successful at the Royal Academy, was invited in Nov 1865 to decorate the easternmost restaurant, the Grill Room/Poynter Room. Students were involved on a practical level because the glazed blue Dutch tiles, designed by Edward Poynter, were painted by a spec­ial tile-painting class for ladies at the Schools of Design. It was rare for women to train professionally, so for them to be engaged in this very public commission was progressive. This radical spirit at South Kensington possibly predicted the Arts and Crafts designs of the 1880-1910 era.

Poynter designed the windows and also the iron and brass steaks grill which The Building News thought showed 'the hands of a first rate Gothic architect rather than those of a painter'. The Poynter Room was opened in 1867, fur­nished with little tables of iron with white marble tops and decorated like the great iron stove.

Visitors could come here for breakfast when the catering contractor offered a long menu, divided according to social standing. The 1st class menu was elaborate and expensive; the 2nd class menu was more limited and cheap­er. The 3rd class menu was only available to workmen at the Museum.

The western­most room, originally called the Green Dining Room and now the Morris Room, was designed by William Morris him­self. The subdued colours of the scheme show that at the time he was still under the influence of the Gothic Re­vival. He dec­or­ated the walls with panelling below the green plaster, and a low relief of olive branches. William Morris had been Pre-Raphaelite friends with Philip Webb, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in 1861, they all became partners in the interior decorating and furnishing business. Thus the stained-glass windows bore female figures painted by Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb.

Towering stain glass windows, lavish dark teal-stained wood and gold painted panelling adorned the Morris Room walls. Crisp linens covered the circular tables with matching green British Burleigh crockery.

The Museum bought some stained glass from Morris, Marshall & Faulkner Co. and, along with the ceiling and panelled dados, the work was finished in 1868–9. Burne Jones' figure-panels in the dado, which were completed soon after, were based on the signs of the zodiac, and his windows designs showed medieval domestic tasks.

Morris Room

The rest of the decoration was by Morris' friend, architect Philip Webb. Webb took his inspiration from medieval and clerical sour­c­es for the frieze, and medieval manuscripts for the ceiling decoration. The four hanging lights were designed much later, based on a drawing by Philip Webb, and were installed in 1926. The only part of the decoration that was influenced by Morris’ pattern-making was in the plaster-work on the walls - leaves, flowers and berries.

"The Building News" in 1870 found the rooms bright and cheerful, like the richly and gaily-adorned cafés of Paris. But after Cole's retirement in 1873, his planned building programme stopped. It was only in 1889 that public opinion demanded that the building of the Museum be com­p­leted .. somehow. The facades of the Victoria and Albert Mus­eum built in 1899-1909 displayed the museum as a treasure house of priceless objects in marble halls.

The lavishly decorated, historic refreshment rooms that stunned and delighted visitors in the Victorian era were way beyond my personal taste. But as works of Victorian art in their own right, they are well worth visiting.

09 December 2017

First women in the world to be enfranchised - New Zealand 1893

As in other European societies, New Zealand women were excluded from any involvement in politics in early colonial times. Most people accepted the idea that women were naturally suited for domestic affairs i.e home and children. Only men were fitted for public life and the hurly-burly of politics. New Zealand History has provided the first half of this post.

Some women began to challenge this narrow view. New opportunities were opening up for women, especially those from upper or middle-class families, in education, medicine, church and charities. Attention soon turned to women’s legal and political rights.

The suffrage campaign in New Zealand began as part of a broad late C19th movement for women’s rights that spread through Britain and its Empire, the USA and northern Europe. This movement was shaped by two main themes: a] equal political rights for women and b] a desire to use them for the moral reform of society eg through prohibition.

New Zealand’s pioneering suffragists were inspired both by equal-rights arguments of philosopher John Stuart Mill and British feminists, and by the American-based missionary efforts of Women’s Christian Temperance Union - WCTU.

Some of New Zealand’s leading male politicians, including John Ballance, supported women’s suffrage. In 1878, 1879 and 1887 bills or amendments extending the vote to female ratepayers only narrowly failed to pass in Parliament.

Outside Parliament the movement gathered momentum from the mid-1880s, especially following the establishment of a New Zealand WCTU in 1885. Led by Kate Sheppard, WCTU campaigners and others organised huge petitions to Parliament: in 1891, in 1892 and finally in 1893 tens of thousands of signatures were obtained, a quarter of New Zealand’s adult European female population.

By the early 1890s opponents of women’s suffrage were mobilising. They warned that any disturbance to the natural gender roles might have terrible consequences. The liquor industry, fearful that women would support growing demands for Prohibition, lobbied sympathetic Members of Parliament and organised counter-petitions.

The suffragists’ arch-enemy was Henry Smith Fish, a boorish Dunedin politician who hired canvassers to circulate anti-suffrage petitions in pubs. But this tactic backfired when some signatures proved to be false or obtained by trickery.

The Liberal government came to office in 1891 and was divided over the issue. Premier John Ballance supported women's suffrage in principle, but he was anxious that women would vote for his Conservative opponents. Many of his Cabinet colleagues, including friends of the liquor trade, strongly opposed women’s suffrage.

In 1891 & 92 the House of Representatives passed electoral bills that would have enfranchised all adult women. But on each occasion opponents sabotaged the legislation in the conservative upper house, the Legislative Council.

In Ap 1893 Ballance died and was succeeded by Richard Seddon. Suffragists groaned, but following the presentation of the massive third petition, another bill easily passed in the House. Once again, all eyes were on the Legislative Council. Liquor interests petitioned the council to reject the bill. Suffragists responded with mass rallies and telegrams to members. They also gave their supporters in Parliament white camellias to wear in their buttonholes.

Voting in Auckland, 1899
photo credit: Ministry for Culture and Heritage

For the women of New Zealand, Sept 1893 was a special time. Seddon and others again tried to torpedo the bill by underhand manoeuvres, but this time their interference backfired. Two opposition councillors, who had previously opposed women's suffrage, changed their votes to embarrass Seddon. The bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

The battle was still not over. New anti-suffrage petitions were circulated, and some members of the Legislative Council petitioned the governor to withhold his consent. In a buttonhole battle, anti-suffragists gave their parliamentary supporters red camellias.

Lord Glasgow finally signed the bill into law in Sept. Women celebrated throughout the country, and congratulations poured in from campaigners in Australia and overseas: New Zealand’s achievement gave new hope to women struggling for emancipation across many countries.

Not everyone in New Zealand rejoiced at the outcome. For some men at least, the prospect of such activists influencing politics was an evil thought. Men opposing female suffrage could only call in the aid of the women who would prefer to leave the game of politics to men.

Suffrage opponents had warned that delicate lady voters would be jostled and harassed in polling booths by ‘boorish and half-drunken men’. But the 1893 election was actually described as the ‘best-conducted and most orderly’ ever held in New Zealand.


Invigorated by the New Zealand suffrage victory in 1893, Mary Lee and Elizabeth Nicholls, like many other WCTU activists, travelled all over the South Australian colony to obtain signatures for a suffrage petition. The WCTU suffragists were critical to the success of the campaign, first in South Australia and, eventually, nationally. So it is not surprising that in Australia, women were first able to vote in the State elections of South Australia in 1894.

Western Australia followed in 1899. But it was only in 1902 that the newly federated nation allowed white women to both vote and stand for Federal elections on a universal and equal basis with white men. This dual right, the complete electoral franchise AND eligibility to sit in parliament, was what political philosopher John Stuart Mill called perfect equality. In New South Wales women gained the vote for State government in 1902, in Tasmania it happened in 1903, in Queensland in 1905 and Victorian women gained the vote for state government in 1908. Indigenous Australians were excluded from Federal elections for decades more.

The Christchurch Memorial, made by sculptor Margriet Windhausen, 
3.3 x 2m bronze bas-relief.  Unveiled 1993.
The camellia and white ribbons were symbols of the suffrage campaign. 

In the same year, 1902, Vida Goldstein was in Washington DC as Australia and New Zealand’s sole delegate to the International Woman Suffrage Conference. She addressed huge American audiences on one of the most pressing global issues of the day: Votes for Women. Alas by 1908 only Finland and Norway had joined New Zealand and Australia in enfranchising women.