Female Globetrotters

‘Globetrotter’ by Antonio Tosca, published by A. Cranz (Brussels, 1902).

At the end of the 19th century a new type of leisurely traveller made its appearance: the  globetrotter. Steamship connections, the extension of railways in the colonies and the opening of the Suez canal shortened the travel time a lot. Of course recreational travel was then an exclusive pleasure for wealthy (European) men. Female travellers had to challenge the notions of their time that travel was unsuitable for their sex. But nonetheless it was a woman, Nellie Bly, who first broke the fictional record set by Jules Vernes’ Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nellie Bly in 1890. The original caption reads: “Nellie Bly, The New York WORLD’S correspondent who place a girdle round the earth in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.” (source: New York Public Library – Digital Collections)

Nellie Bly (or Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) who was an acclaimed reporter at New York World magazine boarded a steamer in 1889 and began her journey. Travelling alone she toured to most of the places that Fogg visited during his journey. She even met Jules Verne when passing through France. Nellie arrived in New York just over 72 days after her departure.

Left: ‘Nellie Blye’s Tour Around the World’ by Chas. D. Blake published by Chas. D. Blake & Co. (Boston, 1890). Right: ‘Globe Trotting Nellie Bly’ by Joe Hart published by Willis Woodward & Co. (New York, 1890). Source: Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.

About twenty years later Elisabeth Yates also attempted a record to travel around the world, but this time on foot. Luckily for us her adventure was rather well documented by Clyde Sanger in his story for ‘The Guardian from London’ (December 9, 1959). It goes like this.

Elisabeth or Lizzie was born in Yorkshire UK. After the dead of her mother she sought her luck overseas and emigrated to Canada. There she performed on stage under the name of Elsie Kelsey. She then went to live in America where she met Harry Humphries whom she married. Both keen walkers, they took a ‘short’ honeymoon walk of 4.000 km from New York to Florida and back. It took them two months. It also got Mrs Humphries the attention from the editor of the New York ‘Polo Monthly‘ magazine. It was he who challenged her to walk 48.000 miles around the world in four years. For this she would get a reward of 10.000 dollar. Not worth the candle according to a then journalist. But Mrs Humphries and her husband, who had decided to accompany her, thought otherwise and they started to prepare their journey.

Mr & Mrs Harry Humphries

Harry, an embroiderer and tattooist by profession, designed their khaki costumes. Lizzie wore a blouse and skirt, a soft hat and knee-high waterproof walking boots. A knapsack with a sweater and a few necessities completed her outfit. One of these necessities was a revolver. In July 1911 the Humphries couple —or the Kelsey Kids as they named themselves— left New York for Canada. From there they sailed to in England in late November. The two lived on milk and farinaceous food, eating little meat and never drinking water. One of the terms of the wager was that they could only live on hospitality but should not beg, borrow or steal. To finance their journey they gave lectures. In January the couple arrived in Manchester. There Harry had a ‘nervous breakdown’ and returned to America. The truth is, he ran away abandoning Lizzie and their round-the-world walking tour, taking all of their money with him.

Our Lady Globetrotter though continued her voyage, this time accompanied by a dog as a more loyal companion. She wanted to show that women dare to walk “in all kinds of weather, day and night and in countries whose language they cannot speak.”

Lizzie had planned to walk across Africa, Asia and Australia. She would then sail to South America and travel northwards back to New York. But her plans came to nothing. For two years she kept walking back and forth across Europe. The reason for this is that Lizzie had engaged an agent, and the course of her journey depended on the contracts he could sell. By then she enlivened her lectures with films about her walks.

‘The Globe Trotters March’ by Max Uyma published by Förenade Biograf. Förlag (Stockholm, 1912).

The sheet music The Globe Trotters March was published while Lizzie was walking in Sweden in 1912. The following film from 1913 shows Lizzie in Düsseldorf. The cheerful man with his practical jokes, is believed to be her agent.

When the Great War broke out, Lizzie was still in Düsseldorf and had to leave her trunk full of memories behind and flee from Germany. She had ‘only’ walked 10.000 miles, so she did not fulfil the wager and did not get the $10.000 prize money.

A few months later, in 1914, she walked 5.000 miles from New York to San Francisco. Her aim was to gather funds for the benefit of the Red Cross on the battlefield of Europe. This shows that our Lady Globetrotter had the heart in the right place.

We cannot but think that when her scoundrel of a husband Harry deserted her, she might have found solace from Nancy’s vengeful words…


How Absurd

'Pepper Pot' sheet music cover illustration,
Pepper Pot‘, a novelty dance by Harold Ivers. Published by Witmark, M. & Sons (New York, 1913) and illustrated by André De TaKacs.

Rather absurd,  I mumbled while surfing the net recently. I was left perplexed by how our blog Images Musicales Stories leaves ludicrous traces on the global network. I want to tell you about it. But first, a pair of absurd music illustrations, as a warm-up.

'Five O'Clock' sheet music by Maurice Ravel
Five O’Clock‘, Maurice Ravel’s fox trot, published by A. Durand & Fils (Paris, 1925) and illustrated by R. Vallet.
Five O’Clock‘, Maurice Ravel’s fox trot, also published by A. Durand & Fils (Paris). Copyright is 1925 but the illustration from Maurice Le Palud is dated 1931.

A few years ago we fabricated a pastiche to illustrate a post on the sheet music covers created by René Magritte. Yes, excessively photoshopped from an original Magritte cover.

A pictorial farce accompanying our previous article (2016) on the illustrative work by René Magritte.

The image was a tongue-in-cheek remark on the surrealistic potentials of Magritte’s cover for Prière à mon Ange. You will understand our surprise that this little joke was copied to an Italian website as if it was the work of René Magritte himself!
How surreal.

Screenshot (April 11th, 2020) of an Italian website discussing and showing Magritte’s publicitary designs.

Next is an even more absurd story. In 2014 we published an article on the life and work of Wolfgang Ortmann. The post was documented with more than a dozen high-resolution scans of our sheet music collection. Alas, at the time we didn’t feel the need to digitally stamp these images. A ‘rascal’ based in New Zealand copied our images, photoshopped the most ‘offensive’ tears and wrinkles, and felt the commercial urge to bundle them in a calendar. A CALENDAR!

We couldn’t resist ordering such a calendar from New Zealand. Only 3 available items left! For $12,99 plus shipping costs it was ours.And now we have our beautiful Ortmann covers —which we patiently collected over many years, documented and cared for, and which travelled electronically to the other side of the world— printed on ordinary A4 paper and bundled in a cheap plastic ring on our desk. Look what they’ve done to my song Ma?

Catherinettes: The Young Old Maids

‘Oh! Oh! Oh! Ah! Ah! Ah!’ by José Padilla, lyrics by Albert Willemetz; Saint-Granier & Jean Le Seyeux, published by Salabert (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

By showing this young lady with two enormous hatboxes swinging on her arms, de Valerio marks her as a milliner or une modiste (a hat maker or seller). She seems in a festive mood and is singing the careless refrain of the Chanson des Catherinettes.

I had never heard of Catherinettes before, prompting me to dig into its meaning and history.

According to legend Catherine of Alexandria was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Maxentius because she was a Catholic. We are in the early 4th century. After having unsuccessfully tried to break her faith, he strangely proposed her to marry. But Catherine had consecrated her virginity to Jesus Christ and rejected his offer. Maxentius, smitten by the beautiful but devout young lady, did not take no for an answer: he tortured Catherine on a spiked breaking wheel. She was miraculously saved from that ordeal: instead of her bones, the wheel itself broke. Sadly, her besotted persecutor showed grace nor mercy, and gave the order to behead her. That is how Catherine became venerated as a virgin martyr and was nominated patron saint for maidens and spinsters.

Saint Catherine by Caravaggio. She is surrounded by the attributes of her martyrdom: the spiked breaking wheel and the sword with which she was beheaded.

From the 12th century on the French started to honour Saint Catherine on each 25th of November. That day, Sainte-Catherine, was seen as a coming of age feast for unmarried women who had reached the age of 25. With flowers and ribbons unmarried girls used to create a beautiful headdress to coiffe (or cap) Saint Catherine’s statue in the church. When the maidens were 25 years old they stuck one needle in the headdress. This was meant as a warning: don’t wait any longer to find a husband. A second needle was pinned when they were 30 (time is running out!), and a third one at 35. Then one had definitely become a spinster with all hope lost…

Postcard of a young woman coiffing the statue of Saint Catherine.

The expression ‘coiffer Sainte Catherine‘ became synonymous with still being a single woman at (or after) 25. On the day of Sainte-Catherine these single women prayed for a future husband to their patron saint. But to assist the saint in helping these young women to find a suitor, a ball was arranged on Saint Catherine’s day all over France.

‘Prière à Ste. Catherine’ by Edmond Lhuillier, published by Cotelle et Cie (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Stop.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the tradition of la Sainte-Catherine was practically lost. But then, rather suddenly, it shifted from a catholic peasant celebration to an exuberant Parisian festivity. There and then it became very popular. In the modern age women had entered the workforce on a large scale. In Paris that was particularly so in the fashion trade. So Saint Catherine’s day became a celebration for working girls, which was at that time more or less synonym with unmarried girls, because once a girl married she was also supposed to stop working. Sainte-Catherine thus became especially popular in fashion houses and among milliners, although also shop-girls and typists participated. It is those unmarried girls, at the age of 25, that were called Catherinettes.
A typical Saint Catherine’s day would follow the next scenario. At breakfast the Catherinette admired her greeting cards, received from friends and colleagues, wishing an abundance of potential suitors and reminding her that the time had come to find that much sought after husband. Celibacy for ‘elderly’ women was still stigmatised, as witnessed by the postcard below.

‘Vive Ste. Catherine’ — 20 years: amuse yourself, 25 years: get married, 30 years: too old!

In the morning at work, her colleagues had made her a special hat. At first these hats were quite simple, resembling a traditional coiffe. The predominant hues of the hats were yellow and green, the customary colours of Saint Catherine. Usually attached to it was a small sprig of orange blossom, the traditional flower of the bridal bouquet.

Postcards of Catherinettes with simple coiffes.

But year after year these hats were more elaborated upon, and became more intricate especially those from the hat-making and dressmaking trades.

Postcards of Catherinettes with more intricate hats.

The themes of the hats sometimes followed contemporary events (1), as one sees on the sheet music cover for ‘Les Petites Catherinettes’. The illustrator got his inspiration from a press photo dated November 25, 1909.

‘Les Petites Catherinettes’ by Claire Mauselin & L. Mauger-Bourdeille, published by M. Labbé (Paris [1910]) and illustrated by A. Soulié. (source: gallica.fr.)
Two Catherinettes, 1909 (source: gallica.fr.)

The Catherinettes would wear their hats like a trophy throughout their festive day. At work the Catherinettes and their colleagues were offered refreshments and food.

Saint Catherine’s Day in a Parisian sewing workshop, 1920 (source: gallica.fr.)

Then they would take to the street, dancing and singing.

Catherinettes dancing around a police officer in Paris, 1922. (source: gallica.fr.)

Later in the day the Catherinettes could attend a hat contest, or try to become elected queen for the day. The jury for these competitions was composed of renowned artists and sports personalities.

In the evening, dressed in their best attire, the Catherinettes accompanied by their friends and colleagues, went to the ball of Sainte-Catherine where they could perhaps meet their future husband…

Saint Catherine’s male counterpart is Saint Nicolas, protector of children and unmarried men by age thirty. So men were given a respite of 5 years over the women. But the hat for their Saint Nicolas day was definitely less exciting, looking more like a dull nightcap. The Saint Nicolas day for bachelors never became a great success. If we may rely on the postcards, it was not intended for the alpha males…

Fashion houses, especially in the haute couture, became particularly attached to Saint Catherine’s tradition. In the ateliers the festival was a big deal and sets and costumes were created on various themes. They held large parades to show off their wares. To this day, the renown houses like Chanel still hold on to the yearly tradition. Though I am happy to see that the festival is no longer ‘Ladies only!‘.

If you have time for a (virtual) stroll in Paris, take a walk to the square Montholon in the rue Lafayette. In the shade of its tall oriental plane trees, you can admire the statue of five exhilarated Catherinettes ready for the ball.

sculpture by Julien Lorieux for (1908) La Sainte Catherine
La Sainte Catherine – À l’ouvrière parisienne” – Square Montholon (Paris, 9e arr.), sculpture by Julien Lorieux, 1908 (© Rémi Jouan, CC-BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License, Wikimedia Commons)

(1) The baffling hat with the biplane was probably a tribute to Louis Blériot who became world-famous for making the first aeroplane flight across the English Channel in July of the year the photo was taken (1907). The hat with the Spanish-looking windmill likely illustrates the expression ‘jeter son bonnet par-dessus les moulins’ or ‘to throw one’s bonnet over the windmill’. It refers to Don Quixote who, while tossing his hat over a windmill, imagines that he is challenging a giant.

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