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Strong American Women Part III - Protestant women in the KKK

The Ku Klux Klan Revival did not occur till 1915 when William Sim­m­ons created a vision of a noble, antebellum South without blacks. Just then the USA was struggling to manage huge waves of immig­rants, many Cath­olic or Jewish, and few of them native English speakers. App­ealing to the middle class and claiming to be a purely benevolent club, the Klan attracted women members immediately.

By 1921, the Klan numbered c100,000 members! At its peak in 1924, 40,000 uniformed Klansmen paraded through the streets of Wash­ing­ton DC during the Democratic National Convent­ion. The group was so in­fluential many pol­iticians felt com­pelled to publicly support it or even to join, particularly in the Mid­west­ern states.

The 1920s marked the best years of the Women of the KKK/WKKK, right at the time when wo­m­en had been enfranchised in 1920 and were op­tim­istic about participating in civic life. Important and educated women were invited to a lecture where the topics ranged from the importance of the Bible and of education, to upholding the American Way. The female lect­ur­er asked the women if they would like to join a secret society dedicated to protecting these values. The women were then given white robes and white hoods, and a huge cross engulfed in flames. 

Ku Klux Klan Ladies' Auxiliary float 
Celebrating Ohio’s Centennial, 1925 
Signs proclaim Protestantism, Womanhood and Public Schools. 
Credit: Ohio Memory Collection 

As Kathleen Blee noted in Women of the Klan, many believed that moral women (in every country) were either neutral about racism or were inspired by equality and just­ice; that women would NEVER approve of slavery or lynchings. As a result, many people greatly under­estimated wom­en’s con­tribution to KKK revival. Centred in Little Rock Arkansas and spread across the nation, half a million women joined the KKK during this era!!

WKKK members were not peripheral; they were major actors in the Klan. They were successful largely because a] the women were better at public relations than the men, and b] women were better at hiding their white supremacist mission behind a facade of Social Welfare.

Pamphlets from the WKKK asked women: “Are you interested in the Welfare of our Nat­ion? As an Enfranchised woman are you interested in better gov­er­n­ment? Should we not interest ourselves in better education for our children?” The women organised parades and food drives, with the benefits sent to Klan families or orphanages.

Clearly the WKKK normalised the extremist actions of the men’s KKK, and also advanced a version of the white Protestant agenda that was all their own. As Catholic and Jewish immigrants arrived by ship, the WKKK’s preference for American-born citizens merged with early femin­ism.

Back in the C19th, the KKK publicly stated, White Ladies had been ravished by Negro Men. And because Black Men were still a threat to pure, Protestant women in the 1920s, the KKK used the symbol of the white damsel in distress to gal­vanise racist fury. This theme was most starkly captured in DW Griffith’s 1915 pro-KKK film, Birth of a Nation, where a white woman heroically leapt off a cliff to avoid being tainted by a black man (actually a white actor in blackface).

Now the women wanted to stand alongside their men and help with pro­tecting the fair sex. The WKKK recruited female citiz­ens above 18 who were not Catholic, socialist or Jewish. The recruits needed to be a resident in a Klan jurisdiction for 6 months and endorsed by Klanswomen. Women in the WKKK were not socially marginal people who turned their misery against rac­ial or religious minorities. Rather they were from stable, middle-class communities.

WKKK members appealed to Klan values and believed could promote women’s purity. KKK women had to sal­vage the moral values that had been corrupted by modern society and by foreigners. Women lobbied for national quotas for immig­ration, racial seg­reg­at­ion and anti-miscegenation i.e inter­breeding laws. And they vigorously promoted white supremacy, and opposed to the rising tide of colour.

Pennsylvania women Ku Klux Klan members in Washington D.C. 
for a march in 1926. 
Photo credit: Timeline 

Additionally Klan women wanted to use their power to improve life at home, within the church and in society. The happiness of the home and the welfare of the state were important; the Bible was the one sure foundation of true Americanism. Progressives similarly assoc­iated motherhood with the home and expanded the image of the home to represent domestic America. The essence of motherhood that Klan­s­men had used to underscore male supremacy became, in the Prog­ress­ive era, a tool that women could employ for their own objectives.

Conflict arose regarding gender equity, because the Klan adhered to rules of moral conservatism i.e male authority should exist in politics as well as in the home. So conflict was inevitable in the 1920s. Allowing women to have a voice in politics would bring them outside the home, where the men believed women belonged.

Another WKKK goal was to educ­ate women in the science of government and American history. Some chapters wanted to assist all Protestant women in the study of practical politics i.e to impartially scrutinise the platforms of political parties and the declared principles of all civic organisations. Although the WKKK was openly racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, its goals of improving society and educating women were relatively progressive. I don’t like the KKK's values, but I do truly admire the women's guts.

Once the racism and violence of both the KKK and WKKK became harder to conceal by the end of the decade, the organisation began to dis­perse. If the women wanted to maintain their KKK ideologies, they had to move into other forms of civic bodies eg national politics.

Read Kathleen Blee, Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s 1992. And Jackie Hill,  Progressive Values in the Women's Ku Klux Klan 2008


Strong American Women Part II - Catholic women fighting for the vote

Many women's suffragists emerged from the abolitionist movement. They saw suffrage as a matter of divine justice as well as human rights. Other women viewed the right to vote as not only a political and social issue, but a moral one as well. The movement to win votes saw clergymen on both sides of the debate; many churches, including Methodists, Pres­byterians & Catholics, were divided over suffrage.

Views about women began to change in the early C20th as they struggled for the right to vote, to ob­tain ed­uc­ation and to work outside of the home. Yet the Cath­olic Church rem­ained awkward. So the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society was formed in the UK in 1911 and The Irish Catholic Women's Suff­rage Assoc­iation was established in Catholic Ireland in Nov 1915. But I could not find an equivalent society in the USA.

The suffragist Aimee Hutchinson spoke to a crowd. 
This New York Catholic-school teacher was dismissed from her job for attending the 1912 suffrage parade.

In fact what I DID find in the USA was The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage that was org­an­ised in 1911. Its members included wealthy, influential women and Catholic cler­gy­men, including Cardinal James Gibbons who addressed their conven­t­ion in Wash­ington DC in 1916. "In order to be functional, prosperous and pleasant", Gibbons said,  "American society required men and women to operate in separate spheres of influence: public life for men, and domestic life for women". These realms aligned with what were seen as the inherent natural strengths of each sex. Women were nurtur­ers, moral guardians and peacekeepers, presiding over family and the home. [Note that Gibbons was only the second car­d­inal in Amer­ican history, and therefore a very significant figure].

So although the Catholic Church in the USA did not take an official position on suffrage, very few of its leaders openly supported it. Would a woman in such a parish risk her good standing in the Cath­ol­ic Church and pursue her belief in woman’s equality? Might she be refused Holy Communion? Could her husband be humiliated in church circles? They must have been very brave.

In 1903 the American Federation of Labour’s national convention in Boston created Women’s Trade Union League. WTUL elect­ed as president Bostonian Mary Kenney O’Sullivan, an Irish Catholic labour organiser. O’Sullivan’s leadership was influential in per­suad­ing working-class men to support the suff­r­age cause. Committed to im­proving pay and working cond­itions for women work­ers, the WTUL was the coordinating body for other women’s trade unions. The WTUL established a suffrage depart­ment in 1908 and urged work­ing women and their husbands to attend suffrage rallies. But did O’Sull­iv­an try to appeal to Catholic women?

In the early C20th, progress towards univ­ersal suf­f­rage in the USA seemed very slow. Having failed to secure a fed­eral amendment for equal suff­r­age, women now campaigned state by state.

Before Woodrow Wilson became President in 1912, he was gov­ernor of New Jersey. He wrote a letter to a Vermont news­paper editor about women voting: "I must say very frank­ly that my personal judgment is strongly against it. I believe that the social changes it would involve would not justify the gains that would be accomplished by it." He may have championed women’s equality later, but the women 100+ years ago had no idea that they were on the verge of victory. They only knew that they were not yet free.

In Jan 1917, Alice Paul and the other women of the National Women's Party met at their head-quarters in Washington DC, to initiate fresh protests at the Federal lev­el. Party members signed up for shifts to hold the banners outside the White House during Woodrow Wilson's presidency, even though the winter was freezing. Their banners said "Mr President what will you do for woman suffrage and liberty?"

Retaliation against the protesters intensified, reaching The Night of Terror in Nov 1917 when auth­or­it­ies sent the arrested women to a local workhouse cum prison. The workhouse superint­endent ordered his 40 guards to at­tack the arrested wom­en. The guards beat women, chained their hands to the cell bars all night, threw women into a dark cell and smashed their heads against an iron bed. Dorothy Day was slammed repeat­edly over the back of an iron bench. I mention Day, not only because she was Catholic, but bec­ause she was so radicalised by the guards’ action that she later co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement.

Suffragists picketing the White House in mid-winter 1917.
Source: Library of Congress

As news spread about their suffering, public sentiment began to sway back in favour of the women. Concurrently, the National Amer­ic­an Woman Suffrage Association had continued lobbying for the fed­er­al suffrage amendment, saying it would be a measure of goodwill to the women who were aiding the war effort. After the USA finally joined the Allies in WW1, public sentiment swept against the suffragists as traitors for protesting the president in wartime. By summer, the women began to be arrested, released and often arrested again.

And in the new year President Wilson, who previously had opposed universal suffrage, now made a public statement of support for a women's amendment. By Aug 1920, the right for women to vote finally became law.

The Church remained hostile to women’s dreams because, the bishops argued, women’s place was in the home. Their female nature would be debased by such rough masculine activities as voting. In 1930 Pope Pius XI condemned women’s emancipation as undermining the divinely founded obedience of the wife to her husband and a false deflection from her true and sole role as mother and home­maker. American Cath­olic bishops moved quickly to organise Catholic women in new issues. I wonder what the goals of National Council of Catholic Women Against Liberalism, Socialism and Feminism were. 

Public speech after the Night of Terror, Washington DC
Nov 1915

The suffrage story reminded women that change happened slowly, even more slowly in Catholic countries apparently. The Church was re­luctant to support, or was antagonistic towards wom­en's suffrage. In fact in 1930, ten years after women won the right to vote in the USA, Pope Pius XI (1922-39) condemned wo­m­en’s liberation, arguing it would produce a false redirect­ion from their true identity as mothers and homemakers. Not until 1945 did Cath­olic Italy, home of the Vatican, grant­ wom­en the right to vote. And in other majority-Catholic countries women did not get the vote for ages: in France the vote was granted in 1944 and Belgium in 1948.


Strong American women Part I - Jewish women in NY meat riots

As Rachel Serkin showed, from 1881 until the USA changed its immigration laws, 2.5 million Jews em­igrated to the USA from Eastern Europe. Over a third of them set­tled in New York's Lower East Side, seeking religious freedom & econ­omic opportunity. Political activism was familiar. Garment workers were striking for better wages and safer working condit­ions. The neighbourhood's progressive socialist newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, was the nation’s leading foreign language newspaper.

In America, Jewish families wanted to purchase and consume kosher meat of course. And by 1900 the Lower East Side was home to 132 kosher butcher shops, their produce being delivered by rail from Chicago’s meat houses. In 1902, the three largest of these meat packing houses merged to form the National Beef Trust of America, securing control of packing houses in three cities and setting the prices (of kosher and non-kosher meat) at their own discretion.

The Beef Trust was just one of many Gilded Age monopolies operating without regulation. In early May 1902, the Beef Trust raised the price of kosher meat by 50%, from 12 to 18 cents a pound. Small meat shops tried to fight the Trust, but they were forced to pass the price hike on to customers.

Crowd at kosher butcher shop during the Kosher Meat Boycott, 
New York; 1902. 
Jewish Virtual Library 

Immigrant women were most affected by the increase because they had the home and family responsibilities, plus managing household expen­ses. In Eastern Europe, consumption of kosher meat on a weekly bas­is had been rare, whilst in the US women wanted to feed their child­­­ren a richer diet. But buying non-kosher meat was not an option.

Instead of turning to their rabbis, the women turned to politics. That is, they employed protest tactics borr­ow­ed from the radical pol­it­ical movements that had been used locally. In May 1902, the Lower East Side’s Jewish house wives took to the streets in a meat-hurling frenzy. The women launched a door-to-door campaign, urging their neighbours to not eat meat.

Two women called a mass meeting to plan a boy­cott. All over the Lower East Side, women began passing out Yid­dish flyers, urging other women to consider their children’s meat needs. Within days, thousands of East Side women participated in the boycott.

A noisy crowd [mostly women] patrolled the neighbourhood and on May 15th, thousands of them descended upon the neigh­bourhood butcher shops. Newspapers reported that women were smashing butcher shop windows with bricks and wasting meat by throwing it into the street, soak­ing it in kerosene and setting it alight. Anyone caught carrying meat was considered to be a picket-crossing scab! Amid the chaos, the police were called and 70+ women were arrested and gaoled for disorderly conduct. 

Newspaper coverage, 
17th May 1902

The riots contin­ued for days. Orthodox Jews and Socialist Jews, who disagreed on most things, fought side by side. The New York Times reported in horror that women, armed with sticks and sharpened nails attacked the police. “Old shoes, brushes, combs, brooms and every other imagin­able portable article of household use rained down upon the pave­ment. One police­man had an unpleasant, moist piece of liver slapped in his face.”

The protests dominated the streets, but the community would not have expected the women to make their mark on the synagogue. The synagogue was the sphere where men and women had to remain sep­arate. Two women entered the main sanctuary at Eldridge St Synag­og­ue and ascended the bimah, a holy place in a synagogue. One of the women gave a fiery speech about meat prices and asked the congreg­ation to join their cause. The congregation was instantly in uproar! And women streamed out of the balconies during the Torah reading, to bring attention to the cause.

Women in the community went door-to-door, raising bail money. Then male communal leaders decided to get involved, organising a meeting of their own and informing the women that they should now back off. They pub­lished a flyer saying “brave and honest men are now aiding women!!”

The Times called the 1902 strikers “a class of people… who are engaged in this matter have many elements of a dangerous class. They are very ignorant… They do not understand the duties of the rights of Americans. The rioters were animals with “no inbred or acquired respect for law and order as the basis of the life of the society into which they have come. … The instant they take the law into their own hands, the instant they begin the destruction of property and assail peaceable citizens and the police, they should be handled in a way that they can understand and cannot forget.” The police, on the other hand, were seen as “keeping their heads perfectly. They did all they could to prevent serious injuries to those they strove against, and used their sticks more to frighten than to chastise. The police were remarkable.”

Only local papers like Forverts declared “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo, Jewish women! These women had embraced modern tactics as a means of maintaining an Old World tradition”. To many, there was nothing more American than that.

In June, the Beef Trust lowered their prices! Then the butchers dropped theirs down to a more reasonable 14c a pound. The women had won! Later in the year, President Roosevelt enacted laws against the Beef Trust, leading to the eventual dissolution of monopolies and ushering in a new era of regulation.

women ascended the formal bimah, 
Eldridge St Synag­og­ue, Manhattan

The Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902 was not the last time Jewish women took to the streets in search of justice; there was the 1909 shirtwaist strike and a second meat boycott years later, in May 1935. But it was their political activism in 1902 had revealed the complex roles that immigrants & women played in social history. Parts II and III to follow.

You may like to read Paula Hyman’s work “Immigrant Women and Consumer Protest: The New York Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902” (in The American Jewish Experience, Jonathan Sarna ed. 1997)


Samuel Pepys' diary, politics, Navy and sex life

Personal diaries have always been essential, to save historians from being totally dependent on royal chronicles and military reports. But what were the chances of a mid-17th century home-based book surviving fires, wars and bombs, and lasting until today? Slim!

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) wasn’t a member of the aristocracy or gen­try. His father was a London tailor who married a but­ch­er’s daught­er and had 11 children. He was sent to Huntingdon Grammar School in 1642, just as King Charles I started the British Civil Wars. At 15, Pepys watched the execut­ion of the king in 1649. He att­end­ed Mag­dalene College Cambridge and gained a reputation as a boozer.

After university, Pepys got lucky; he linked up with relatives who were gentry, and patrons. Cousin Edward Mountagu was a high-ranking naval officer who hired Pepys as his pers­on­al sec­ret­ary. Pepys had a couple of years to learn every­thing he would need, in order to rise in society: to dance and to buy fash­ion­able men’s clothing.

The very handsome Samuel Pepys
portrait painted by John Hayls in 1666
National Portrait Gallery

Pepys married 14 year old French Huguenot Elizabeth de St Michel in 1655. It was a stormy relat­ionship with a fiery temper on Eliza­b­eth’s side and constant infid­elity on Samuel’s side. In 1658 Pepys underwent a lithotomy, rem­ov­al of a kidney stone via very scary surgery.

Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. When the Rump Parlia­ment was recalled in early May 1659, Lord Protector Rich­ard Crom­well resigned in late May 1659 and the Puritan Commonwealth ended, British life changed.

Pepys’ first diary entry, Jan 1660, had an intimate introd­uction to life in White­hall with his wife. He was moving up in the world, working as a teller for the Excheq­uer. And this was when he used his writing skill and his passion to describe the world around him. Thanks to all the articles in The Diary of Samuel Pepys. From his detailed writing, it was clear he really liked wine, plays, music and the intimate company of many women.

A power vacuum had opened after the Commonwealth ended, leaving Britain terrified as to who would seize power. The return of monar­chy was seen as the safest option, so cousin Edward Montagu quickly allied himself with those wishing to restore the king.

An invitation reached Charles in May 1660, asking him to return to Britain as the next king. Montagu was asked to sail his fleet from Dover and wait at sea, while parliament voted. Now Montague had a new opportunity for Pepys, one that took him into the heart of Eng­lish politics. Pepys accompanied Montagu as his secretary, spending some days in The Hague and writing diary entries.

On board ship, Pepys list­ened in awe while Charles told tales of his difficult escape from Worcester 8 years before. On 25 May 1660, Charles landed in Dover after his exile ended.

Safely in London again, Pepys colourfully recorded King Charles II's coronation in detail, describing the glorious royal robes, dia­monds gold and silver.

Charles II's cavalcade through London, 
by Dirk Stoop
Museum of London

The King’s coronation was the source of much joy after the Puritans’ tyrannical reign. Pep­ys re­corded the founding of the Bank of England and the app­oint­ment of Henry Purcell as organist of Westminster Abbey. He wrote about the contemp­orary court, his household and major polit­ic­al and soc­ial events. And the newly reopened theatre became his passion, as did the coffee houses. Pep­ys recounted having attended 100+ plays and enjoyed the publication of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan and John Milton's Paradise Lost.

When Montagu was made Earl of Sandwich by Charles II, he in turn rewarded Pepys with a role at the Navy Board. This came with an attractive salary and a home at the Navy Office. He was an effective member of the Board, and this allowed him to rise to more prominent positions eg Justice of the Peace; adminis­t­rator in the English colony of Tangier.

Pepys lived in central London during the Great Plague that swept the city in 1665, sending his wife to Woolwich to save her. He was distressed at the number of graves dug and how many poor sick peop­le were in the streets, full of sores.

Worse suffering followed; Pepys described the Great Fire of London in 1666. He recorded a scene of chaos as people struggled to save their children, and goods that they flung into the river. Pepys, who now moved in the inner circles of court, personally informed Charles II of the fire’s progress, rep­orting the destruction of 13,000+ homes and c90 parish churches. He said that unless his Majesty commanded houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire.

Great Fire of London
London Bridge (left) and Tower of London (right)
Photo credit: On This Day

In any case the glamour was fading. Years after Charles was crown­ed, Pepys thought Charles didn’t have the right priorities. He rec­orded that while the Dutch burned the English fleet at Medway, the king was hunting and dining with Lady Castlemaine. It seemed hypocritical that Pepys was quick to condemn the debauchery of the court yet continued his own adult­eries. In 1667, he wrote that the King and Court were never in the world so bad as they are now for gaming, swearing, whoring and drinking, and the most abominable vices that ever were in the world”.
Remarkably Pepys had surv­ived the Great Plague that killed 100,000 Londoners, and in 1666 his home narrowly escaped the fire that razed four-fifths of the city. But he stopped writing his diary in May 1669 due to poor eye­sight! Six months later, Elizabeth died from typhoid fever.

Continuing to climb the political ladder, Pepys was elected as an MP first in Norfolk in 1673 and then MP for Harwich in 1679. In these years he introduced many improvements and expansions to the Navy while Secretary to the Admiralty, and was widely respected.

But he acquired a few powerful political enemies as well. Accused of complic­ity in the Popish Plot, of selling naval secrets to France and of piracy, Pepys was imprisoned in the Tower of London for six weeks in 1679. He was eventual­ly discharged. In 1689, he was gaoled for plotting to restore the exiled King James to the throne and a year later, he was re-arrested on susp­ic­ion of being involved in an insurrection to restore James.

Pepys retired from public life and lived quietly into old age. He died in 1703 at 70.

At Magdalene Cambridge, Pepys' own college, the Pepys Library is a rare example of a C17th private library and one of the most significant collections of books and manuscripts in British history. The diary, written between 1660-69, was found in this college in 1825, when the shorthand and censored version was pub­lished. The uncensored version first appeared in the 1980s by Hyman of London, supplemented with commentary from prominent hist­orians.


Brutalist architecture

Brutal­ism was a style that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, adapting from the modernist architectural movement. Its monolithic concrete buildings composed of blunt rectangular forms, devoid of colour, decoration or symbolism, with cavernous interiors that complement the exterior’s hulking, inhuman scale. It may have been described as oppressive, yet architects, preservationists and his­tor­ians have embarked on numerous campaigns over the past decade to save extant Brutalist buildings from oblivion.

In the 1920s, my French architect Le Corbusier popularised an arch­itecture that celebrated simple cubic forms of raw concrete as the epitome of modernism. Did he start the modernist fondness for raw concrete? The idea of natural finishes meant that the concrete was intentionally left raw.

After WW2, architects and engineers looked to con­crete as the material that would help with mass hous­ing and urban renewal. Unrefined concrete was an honest expres­sion of their eth­ical goals, while plain forms and exposed structures were just as ethical. With the arrival of metal reinforcing, concrete came into its own with greater expanses and stronger structures. From Soviet housing complexes to Western European community projects, Brutalism became a modern, efficient and cheap solution for mass services. Brutalism had an era of popularity with professionals until the mid 1970s, but probably not with the general public.

So Brutalism was not just a style; it aimed to respond to a mass-production society. Up to now Brutalism has been discussed stylistically, whereas its essence was ethical.

It was functional, economical and progressive. It was essential to consider Brutalism’s ethics and politics. Firstly, Brutalism evokes an era of optimism and belief in the permanence of public instit­ut­ions – government as well as public housing, educational and health facilities. Furthermore who wants more private developments destroying and replacing community-owned facilities?

High Court Building, Canberra
Opened by Her Majesty the Queen, 1980.

Inevitably Brutalism became popular for public institutions, esp government buildings, cultural complexes, schools, universities and hospitals eg Canberra’s High Court Building and National Gallery of Australia, and Sydney’s University of Technology’s Tower.

Fans of concrete noted that it was a very beautiful and sculptural material when it was well looked after. But then all buildings re­qu­ired regular maintenance because all materials deteriorated, including concrete. This became very obvious in the 1960s when Brutalism went global.

Aesthetics provided a cover for this move, especially in inner cities where Brutalist institutions sat on valuable land. But restoration and renovation, rather than demolition and rebuilding, were often more sustainable solutions.

The idea of drama was central to Brutalism. The buildings were designed to celebrate the community wanting to make public space central! So these buildings were built with the idea of public good in mind.

I am examining two examples of Melbourne’s Brutalist architecture. One such example was the very grey Harold Holt Swimming Centre in Malvern. Designed by Daryl Jackson and Kevin Borland in 1967, the complex was one of Melbourne’s first to be built in the Brutalist style and was probab­ly one of the state’s most important instances.

Harold Holt Swimming Centre, Malvern

The swimming complex originally consisted of two indoor pools and an outdoor Olympic-sized pool, diving pool with dive tower, wading pool and changing rooms. The indoor centre was a glass and concrete structure distinguished by its unpainted concrete block and off-form concrete construction in which the patterns created by the timber form-work were clearly seen. The principal components of the building's functional and structural system were emphasised as pos­itive elements, in particular the circulat­ion elements including concrete pedestrian ramps and semi-circular stair. There was a transparency through the entire site and natural light was maximised by glass walls on the indoor pool complex, enab­l­ing a clear sight line from the diving pool on the northern boundary through the pool complex to High St to the south.

The City of Ston­nington has been trying to refurbish the building for some time, however the Heritage Council intervened and planned to give it heritage protection.

Harold Holt Swimming Centre does not represent the city’s first attempt to protect a Brutalist structure. In 1997, there was much controversy surrounding the alterations to the National Gallery of Victoria and in 1999, a section of the Waverly Park Stadium was heritage listed when the venue was closed down.

By 1863 the Free St Kilda Public Library and Mechanics’ Institute was operating in the old Town Hall (now gone). But before WW1 the library was in decline and after transferring to the present Town Hall, closed down.

Sweeping lines of wide overhanging eaves and sloping wall surfaces that appear to float over the ground. St Kilda Library fits happily into its environment, 1973.
Photo Credit enricotaglietti 

In Dec 1971 a tender was accepted to construct Enrico Taglietti’s design and the new St Kilda library was opened by the Victorian Governor in May 1973. Its building referenced St Kilda’s waterfront setting: a sleek grey ocean-going cruiser its 10 metre high smoke-stack towers over saloon windows and portholes piercing its battleship grey flanks. The library was a deceptively large building, it covered c50 metres square from Carlisle to Duke Sts. This Brutalist design, with its stained rough timbers and exposed raw concrete, was a clear nod to Le Corbusier.

In 1994, Ashton Raggatt McDougall’s design for a major addition to the library was under construction, along with their major addition and reconstruction of the Town Hall complex opposite.

Note that Perth Brutal: Dreaming in Concrete will be at the Art Gallery in Perth from Sept 2019–Feb 2020, celebrating the gallery’s 40th anniversary.


Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir: the Rouen years

In the past Rouen was a city known for its medieval half-timbered houses. But things changed once the train arrived. The first railway station in Rouen was put into service in 1843 on the left bank of the Seine, connecting Rouen to Paris. In 1900, re-con­st­ruction of the station was declared of public imp­or­t­ance but bank­ruptcy of the Western Railway Co in 1909, and WW1 in 1914, delayed its progress.

Traditional timber architecture in Rouen

The Late Art Nouv­eau era lasted 12 years (1912-24) which explained Rouen Station’s fusion style archit­ecture, halfway between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The concrete vaults of the ceiling of the room and in the rear part of the station were architectural el­em­ents that were meant to stand out. But the facade of the station was soberly decorated with an Art Nouveau decor. The new station was finally inaugur­ated in July 1928 by President of the Republic, Gaston Doumergue and was called Gare Rouen Rive-Droite.

Eventually the city commissioned many buildings and monuments with Art Deco architecture. Timing was everything. Art Deco was an art­istic movement that began just as WW1 was warming up and was more prominently launched with the Universal Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925. The movement was characterised by the right angles, modern materials, cut edges, ironwork, floral and geometric motifs and porthole windows: this return to geometric shapes insp­ired many interiors and exteriors. This return to geometric shapes under the influence of cubism may have further inspired many inter­iors and exteriors!

Gare Rouen Rive-Droite
opened 1928
Art Nouv­eau and Deco architecture

The Art Deco Metropole Building was built between 1929-31 as de­s­igned by Parisian architect Émile Bois and built by contractor Chouard de Bihorel. It was com­p­leted for the Reibel family who needed a build­ing with four businesses, perfectly located near the railway station on the right bank. This Metropole building played on the oppos­it­ion of straight vertical lines and a summit magnify­ing the curves. With a concrete frame and stone cladding, it was an excellent example of Art Deco architecture in Rouen. On the ground floor Café Le Métropole had a very appealing Art Deco presentation in the 1930s.

And buildings in Rouen continued until WW2: Grande Pharmacie du Cent­er, Saint-Nicaise Church and the post office on rue Jeanne d'Arc.

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86) ob­tain­ed their philosophy degrees in 1929 at Par­is University. After his military service in March 1931, Jean-Paul Sartre was sent to teach at Le Havre in the current Lycée François. He proposed marr­iage to Simone de Beauvoir, so that she could leave her post in Marseille and join him in his school. She refus­ed but got her tran­s­fer soon after.. to Rouen.

Art Deco Métropole Building

 Art Deco Café Le Métropole

In Rouen Simone de Beauvoir first rented a room at Hotel La Rochefoucauld, facing the Church of Saint-Romain near the station Rue Verte. Then she lived at the Hotel du Petit Mouton. In her auto-biographical book La Force de l'Age, covering the years 1929-1944 she wrote: “during the four years that I taught in Rouen, for me the centre of the city always remained the station. The school was very close. I settled at the hotel La Roch­efoucauld, from where I heard the reassuring whistle of trains. I bought my newspapers in the lobby of the station; on the square, nearby, there was a red coffee shop. The Metropolis, where I had breakfast. I had the imp­ression that I lived in Paris, in a distant suburb. All the same, I was confined to Rouen for long days and often spent Thursdays with Sartre”.

Simone’s hotels were not far from Café Le Mét­ropole. So she popped in regularly to have breakfast and read news­pap­ers, before teaching philosophy at the Jeanne d'Arc High School. It was a satisfying café life, in the early-mid 1930s.

So the good citizens of Rouen knew about the two lovers together only when they came together to share their favour­ite wat­ering hole, with its beloved art deco interior. Le Métropole Café still shows the inter-war spirit with inter­ior dec­oration that was/is very sober. On the ceiling the chandel­iers are in the centre of cupolas; on the ground is a multicoloured mosaic.

Rouen was also the setting for de Beauvoir’s short story Chantal. Appropriately, it described the life of a teacher in a conservative provincial town.

 Sartre and de Beauvoir at breakfast 

In 1933, when she was teaching in Rouen, de Beauvoir had a 17-year-old student named Olga Kosakiewicz, the daughter of Russian ém­ig­rés dispossessed by the Revolution. Olga was attract­ive and fresh; Beauvoir struck up a friendship, and in 1935, de Beauvoir proposed that Olga should put herself under the protection of her and Sart­re. They would be respon­sible for her education, and a few months later Olga moved into the Hôtel du Petit Mout­on with Beauvoir, and began an affair. Sartre also became in­fat­uated with Olga and spent two years attempting to seduce her. He failed. 

Simone left Rouen and moved to Paris in 1938, now turning to lit­er­ature instead of teaching. [As a postscript, note that Simone died in 1986; in 1990, the executrix published Beauvoir’s unedited and shocking Letters to Sartre. The revelation was not the promiscuity! Beauvoir had always flatly denied having sexual relations with women; yet in her letters to Sartre, she regularly described her nights in bed with women].

In 1975 the Railway Station was declared a historical monument, largely with the Late Art Nouveau style building still intact. Its façade is still dominated by a tall clock tower and its many ornaments still characterise the era in which it was built. Note that in the Café Le Métropole, busts of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir still sit on the bench, in memory of the café’s most fam­ous cust­om­ers.

The Municipal Library of Rouen was opened in 2010 and is approp­riately named after Simone-de-Beauvoir. And there is a street in Rouen named in memory of Sartre and de Beauvoir, as there is in Paris i.e Place Jean Paul Sartre et Simone de Beauvoir in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.


The Peterloo massacre in Manchester, 1819

Since the 1815 Napol­eonic wars, town and village labourers strug­gled with life in Britain. Bad harvests and high food prices left them starving, but they were most disgruntled because workingclass men were not rep­res­ented in Parl­iament. The growth of industrial towns continued and there were radical riots in 1816 and 1817. And again in 1819, a year of industrial depres­s­ion and very high food prices. But only 5% of adults were allowed to vote across Britain. Manchester, industrial heart of the cotton trade with 200,000 people, had no member of parliament.

Post-war, in­c­reasing numbers of disenfranchised workers in in­dust­rialising areas became inv­olved in the movement for reform. Under the influence of farmer-campaigner Henry Orator Hunt and journal­ist William Cobbett, they began to campaign for universal male suffrage. They argued that extending the vote to working men would lead to bet­ter use of public money, fairer taxes and an end to trade rest­ric­tions which damaged industry & caused unempl­oyment.

I read Jacquelin Riding’s excellent work on the Manchester Mass­acre of August 1819, but I wasn’t sure what the “British peoples’ time-honoured libert­ies” were and how the story of the Peterloo mass­acre was a "defining moment in the history of British democracy".

In Aug 1819, c75,000 people gathered at St Peter's Fields Manch­est­er, the peak of the peaceful political rallies. The people attend­ed from Manchester itself, from Liverpool or adjoin­ing coun­ties. Despite the cause’s ser­ious­ness, there was a party atmosphere as groups of people dressed in their Sunday best marched towards Manchester. The procession was accompanied by bands play­ing music and dancing. No one was armed and behaviour was peace­ful. They heard speech­es, by the charismatic Hunt etc, prot­est­ing against working conditions and demanding parliam­entary reform.

Britons Strike Home! 
Illustration by George Cruikshank, 1819.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The nervous magistr­ates were al­armed by the size & mood of the crowd, believing the crowd had revolutionary intentions. To them, the organised marching, banners and music were more like those of an army troop drilling its recruits. They ordered the Manchester Yeom­anry, a force of volunteer soldiers, to be ready. Henry Hunt had spoken only a few sentences when he saw the mounted Manchester Yeo­manry galloping into the crowd.

The people panicked as the sold­iers charged and were crushed. As the mood grew angrier, the local magist­rates ordered the reading of the Riot Act. When this failed to calm things down, the yeoman­ry were ordered to charge. The volunteer soldiers used sabres on the crowd, so survivors hid themselves in a Quaker Meet­ing House, alongside the field.

Then the chairman of the magistrates ordered 600 Hussars and the Cheshire Volunteers to clear the fields with 6-pounder guns; in 10 min­utes only the corpses remained. c500 people were injured and c20 killed, including many women. Hunt and the other leaders were arrested, tried and convicted, Hunt being prisoned for two years.

The names of the injured were printed, along with details of their wounds, so that sympathisers could donate charity. But these lists probably underestimated the real numbers; many were afraid to risk further official reprisals. The 1819 Manchester massacre was comp­ared to the 1815 Battle of Wat­­erloo and was named after that earl­ier tragedy. Al­though there was no such city, the name “Peterloo” came to symbolise Tory tyrannical response to reformers.

The Massacre of Peterloo! or a Specimen of English Liberty by JL Marks.
The Guardian

There was great public sympathy for the plight of the protesters. Times Newspaper account caused a wide-spread outrage that unit­ed reformers with the radical supporters of un­iv­ersal suffrage. A HUGE petition with signatures was raised, stating the petitioners’ belief that the Aug meeting had been peaceful, until the arrival of the soldiers.

Mass meetings for parl­iam­entary reform and for the repeal of the Corn Laws were planned in Stock­port and Manchester in 1819. There were meetings all over the N.E counties where 50,000 miners marched into Newcastle from nearby districts. In Oct & Nov, workers across the country stocked wea­pons to defend them­sel­ves, then gathered in Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn.

Yet the Government sanctioned the magistrates’ and yeomanry act­ions, and the quick passing of the repressive 6 Acts in Dec 1819:

1. Training Prevention
2. Seizure of Arms
3. Seditious Meetings
These 3 bills were designed to prevent intimidation and violence.

4. Blasphemous and Seditious Libels
5. Newspaper Stamp Duties
These 2 bills were intended to curb press agitation, a legal but nasty crackdown on the public and press freedom.

6. Misdemeanours Bill re­stricted the right of appeal of those ch­arged with such offen­ces, giving the government powers to deal harshly with even slight expressions of discontent. The gov­ernment did not intend to give in to radical demands for parliamentary reform as was made very clear by the Prince Regent at the opening of Parliament in Nov 1819.

Ironically, the attempt to silence government critics encour­aged journalists to develop inventive new ways of conveying the reform message. Writers and journalists sum­med up the reformers’ grievances with very popular works, ref­lecting both the anger ov­er Peterloo and the cleverness of satire.

What was the impact of the massacre in the short and longer term? Habeas Corpus was revived early in 1818 and the Seditious Meet­ings Act lapsed in July. However economic distress returned in late 1818 and radicalism revived in 1819, reaching its peak in the Pet­er­loo Massacre. Some radicals considered plans for a rising in London in Oct 1817, and in Feb 1818 plotted to assassinate mem­bers of the government. The rest of the radical group mollified their tactics and continued their mission in ass­ociation with Henry Hunt, making significant progress in Lancashire.

The use of violence re Peterloo was officially endors­ed by the au­thorities. So the leading Whigs were unanimous in their den­un­ciat­ion of brut­al­ity, but how closely should they have involved the party in a rad­ical protest movement? At a York­shire county meet­ing in Oct, the county adopted the resolutions that Whig Earl Fitz­wil­liam drafted: the right to public assembly and con­demn­ation of unlawful interference with it. This spurred further Whig meet­ings in 9 other counties but they failed. The dismiss­al of Fitz­wil­­liam as Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire in Oct angered all Whigs and their leader en­couraged attendance for a robust parliam­entary campaign. The Tory government’s reaction DID strengthen Whig belief in essential parliamentary reform.

Peterloo had high­lighted the tenuous nature of authority in indus­t­rialising Britain and led, in the 1820s, to a fundamental review on maintaining law and order. Nonetheless in Apr 1822, a case was brought against members of the Manchester Yeomanry in Lanc­as­ter. Because the court rul­ed that their actions had been jus­t­ified in disp­ers­ing an illegal gath­er­ing, they were all acquitted. 

Peterloo remained a key moment in Britain’s suffrage history. So it was more ob­vious than ever that the government could only counter dissent with repress­ion. This eventually led to the Great Reform Act of 1832, in which 67 new constituencies were created, including two for Manchester. The male vote was modestly extended.

White metal medal 1819, struck after the event.
Front: yeomanry riding into the crowd, one man holding up a cap of liberty on a pole.
Reverse: The wicked have drawn out the sword/They have cut down/The poor and needy/And such as be of/Upright conversation (Psalms)

Looking at History was wonderful. Historians acknowledged that Peterloo was hugely inf­l­uential in ord­inary people winning the right to vote and led to the rise of the Chartist Movement and thence the Trade Unions. To examine Peterloo’s continuing significance is for democracy today, look no further than Syria and Turkmenistan and perhaps, eventually, Hongkong.

The Peterloo Bicentenary will be in Manchester in Aug 2019 till Feb 2020.


Explaining vicious anti-Semitism. Visit the Jewish Museum, London

Jews, Money, Myth is a major exhibition exploring the role of money in Jewish life, finance and capitalism over the last 2000 years. At the Jewish Museum London, the show displays include objects that belonged to British Jews — buried medieval coins, tally sticks used as proof of loans, soup-kitchen tokens and representations of Jews in painting, literature and in fascist propaganda. The exhibition draws together art, film, literature and cultural ephemera from board games and cart­oons.. to costumes and figurines.

A lot of the myths that still circulate today imply that Jews ex­erting sinister influences on world events eg Jews financing dis­astrous wars around the world for profit or Jews being naturally drawn to money making. These old tropes and stereotypes still cir­c­ulate on social media and beyond, so the exhibition invites visit­ors to look in a level headed way at the historical realities.

The Jews, Money, Myth Exhibition was the brainchild of the Jewish Museum’s chief executive, Abigail Morris. In 2015, she staged a show on the subject of blood in the Jewish religion and culture, a sensitive theme. But for many, the issue of Jews and money has proved far more unsettling. 

The exhibition recounted the arrival of the first Jews to Eng­land, soon after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Some worked in money lend­ing and finance. One of the displays had a claim to being the world’s earliest anti-Jewish caricature: a doodle atop the 1233 record for taxes paid by Norwich Jews. It depicted the wealthy money lender Isaac of Norwich as a three-headed Antichrist figure.

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1629 
79 x 102 cm, by Rembrandt, a private collection
Photo Credit: National Gallery London

The link between Jews and money was traced back to the biblical Judas figure, the man who betrayed Christ in exchange for silver coins. In the show’s star object, Rembrandt’s painting Judas Returning the 30 Pieces of Silver, Judas was pictured on his knees, begging a group of priests for forgiveness.

By the C19th, Jews were regularly portrayed as poor ped­lars. Most British Jews at that time WERE economic migrants with limited financial means who were forced to scrape together a min­im­um living. At the same time, Jews were also portrayed as greedy bankers. One of the financiers who came in for much negative rep­resentation was Nathan Mayer Roth­schild, who opened his namesake bank and went on to finance British military campaigns. The exhib­it­ion included an 1829 car­ic­ature depicting him as an overweight figure with a sack of money slung over his shoulder, titled The Man Wot Knows How to Drive a Bargain.

Everyone loved board games. Wrapped in a turban and a mink-lined robe, an old man sat in his opulent home, smiling wryly. The pouch in his hand was full and gold coins were scattered across his desk. The elderly figure was called the New and Fashionable Game of the Jew, popular in early C19th Britain, and based on a medieval gamb­ling pastime. See the 1807 original where the winner was the one who rolled the highest numbers and collected the most tokens.

New and Fashionable Game of the Jew, 1807
The Directions for Playing specified when the loser forfeited his money tokens to the Jew
Credit Jewish Museum London 

C20th See a nasty poster produced in 1900 for the Musée des Horreurs in France depicting James de Rothschild. James founded the French branch of the family bank and was a prominent figure in French society at the time. 

The exhibition draws primarily on the museum’s own collection of historical objects from Britain, though there are also many from elsewhere in Europe. It opens with an entry from the 1933 Oxford English Dictionary that lists one of the definitions of the word “jew” as a verb meaning “to cheat.” And the text from a Nazi propa­ganda book for children from c1938 began: “Money is the god of the Jew. He commits the greatest crimes to earn money. He won’t rest until he can sit on a great sack of money.”

James de Rothschild, 1900 
Musée des Horreurs in France poster
Credit USA Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

C21st The show discussed signs of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. In a 12-country survey of Jewish respondents last year by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 89% said anti-Semitism was on the rise. France reported a 74% surge in anti-Semitic acts last year, and was at a post-war peak.

In Britain, there were 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, up 16% from 2017, according to the Community Security Trust, an organisation that monitors British anti-Semitism. The oppos­ition Labour Party in Britain expelled a dozen members as it in­vest­igated 673 complaints of anti-Semitism since 2015. Others were suspended for making anti-Semitic remarks on social media, or for joining hate groups.

As well as historical items, Jews, Money, Myth features two works of contemporary art specially commissioned for the exhibition. Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller con­trib­uted a film: a compilation of excerpts from homemade propaganda videos from the USA and Europe, cartoons, televangelist programs, presidential speeches and political campaign ads, all of which make oblique or overt refer­en­ces to Jews and money. One video showed campaigners in favour of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union who were recently filmed outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Prot­est­ers held a placard that equated the Jewish financier George Sor­os and the Rothschilds with the European Union, saying they ran Britain’s Fake News tv channels

A nasty figurine from Poland was made in 2018, one of many such pieces made in Poland in recent decades. Apparently ugly old Jewish men with huge noses are called Lucky Jew Statues; sometimes they are holding a single coin, and sometimes a whole sack of money. Their role is to protect lucky Catholic Polish homes that had been purified of Jews.

The exhibition closing date has now been extended to 17th October 2019, due to popular demand.

Lucky Jew Figurines, Poland, 2018

Published at the same time as the London event, Deborah Lipstadt's new book Anti-Semitism: Here and Now noted that anti-Semitism was difficult to define. It was impossible to explain something that was essentially irrational and absurd. At its heart anti-Semitism was a conspiracy theory, manifested in the belief that Jews were responsible for the evil in the world. Persisting through millennia, in different cultures and regions, the belief that “Jews were not an enemy but the ultimate enemy” was what made anti-Semitism different from other prejudices.



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