Euphemism Challenge

A (growing) list of the best, worst, and – quite frankly – weirdest descriptions of Cushman’s relationships (with friends as well as lovers).

What’s gossip without a fitting code, after all?

  • “Both Nathanial and Sopia Hawthorne, nonetheless, took an instant liking to the young sculptress [Hosmer] on a visit to her studio in 1858, but William Story frowned on these independent females, who struck him as a distasteful crowd of Bohemians.” (Paul Baker, Fortunate Pilgrims. Americans in Italy, 1800-1860, 1964)
  • “Charlotte Cushman allowed her friend Emma Stebbins to edit her memoirs and letters just before her death.” (Nan Mullenneaux, Staging Family: Domestic Deceptions fo Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Actresses, 2018) [I find this one particularly galling, since the author repeatedly quotes from Merrill, and yet … ‘her friend’]
  • Emma Stebbins “formed a warm friendship with Charlotte Cushman, in whose shadow she thereafter contentedly lived.” (Margaret Farrand Thorp, The Literary Sculptors, 1965)
  • harem (scarem) as I call […] the emancipated females who dwell there in heavenly unity; namely, the Cushman, Grace Greenwood, H., S.,and Co.;” (William Wetmore Story to J.R.Lowell, 1953, qtd. in (William Wetmore Story and His Friends, Vol. 1, Henry James, 1903)
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Highlights from the Collection, Part 3: Student Perspective

The time has come for me to say goodbye to the archive. As a student assistant, I worked on the collection over the last six months. After sifting through hundreds of items – letters, articles, diary entries, and so much more – there were many that stuck out to me for different reasons. Charlotte Cushman lived such an interesting, eventful life that it is quite hard to narrow down my favorite items, but I will attempt to do so nonetheless.

Charlotte Cushman’s Gender-Bending Performances

What immediately drew me to Charlotte Cushman were her famous gender-bending performances as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Hamlet. Consequently, I was thrilled to discover that even in her private life, Cushman refused to conform to the gender roles of her time, as mentioned in this article in the Illustrated American News which my fellow student assistant Arunima Kundu discusses in her blog post. In addition to her well-documented intimate relationships with women, Cushman enjoyed wearing men’s clothing while she was out and about – “hat, coat, unmentionables, and all.”

“MISS CUSHMAN IN MALE ATTIRE”, Illustrated American News, Aug 9, 1851, link.
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ArchivalGossip goes Podcast!

Bit of news: I’ve recently been invited to join the always great LadyFiction-Podcast to talk with Dr. Stefanie Schäfer about (transatlantic) gossip in periodicals (e.g. the writing of Anne Hampton Brewster, from whose “American Artists in Rome” my opening quote is taken) – of course, Charlotte Cushman also made an appearance!

In this special Women’s History Month episode, Stefanie Schäfer discusses gossip with American Studies scholar Katrin Horn, head of the research project Following the trajectories of American artists in Rome, and specifically the making of actress Charlotte Cushman’s celebrity persona, they read the functions of gossip in 19th-century US magazines between the intimate and the political, between escapism and nation building, and they also ponder the question of how gossip became gendered.

Session summary by Trans-Atlanticist

You can listen or download here!

How rich was Charlotte Cushman?

Charlotte Cushman was one of the biggest stars of the Anglophone theater in the nineteenth century. We know this because of the sheer number of articles and biographical sketches available about Cushman. We know this because reviews of her performances do not tire of stressing how big a star she was.


We also know this, because evidently Cushman was well paid, very well paid in fact. So much so, that the size of her fortune regularly warranted its own mention in newspapers. (Which is not so say that Cushman’s private letters aren’t also full of discussions of money. In 1847, for example, she explains to her future agent that she intents to “gallop through the country as fast as I can & make as much money as I can.” Judging by the numbers listed below, she did just that.)

Here’s how (at least according to public sources), Cushman’s wealth has developed over time:

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What’s in the Archive: Selina’s Favorites

Today is the day that I finally guide you through my favorite items of our Cushmania and Gossip Columns and Columnists collections. After more than three years of transcribing and annotating archival sources, I selected a mix of items that are not necessarily related, linked, nor do they cover the same topics. Instead, they are the ones that stick with me after I shut down my laptop. They are the anecdotes I tell other people about who are not interested in a specific topic covered by our collections but who inquire more generally about what there is in

Harriet Hosmer in Rome: “Such a Gem”

The one person that I mention the most in chit-chat is Harriet Hosmer. Hosmer (“Hatty”/ “Hattie”) was a nineteenth-century US-American sculptor who became widely known as part of the expatriate circle of US-American artists in Rome. Among Hosmer’s long-term female partners were Lady Ashburton and Emma Crow’s sister Cornelia Carr. She was friends with Wayman Crow, and lived with Charlotte Cushman and Emma Stebbins in the Via Gregoriana, Rome, in the 1860s. In that decade, she also had to defend herself against slander when several male artists challenged her ability to create her sculptures on her own as a woman. As a response to that sexism, Hosmer published a witty, four-pages poem, “The Doleful Ditty of the Roman Caffe Greco” (New York Evening Post 1864). Not only Charlotte Cushman (who is the center of attention in our Cushmania collection) or journalist Grace Greenwood (who features prominently in the Gossip Columns and Columnists collection) supported the sculptor, Lydia Maria Child also published the following account to defend Hosmer’s profession and gender performance:

The energy, vivaciousness and directness of this young lady’s character attracted attention even in childhood. Society, as it is called, – that is, the mass of humans, who are never alive in real earnest, but congratulate themselves, and each other, upon being mere stereotyped formulas of gentility or propriety, – looked doubtingly upon her, and said, ‘she is so peculiar!’ ‘She is so eccentric!’ Occassionally, I heard such remarks; and being thankful to God whenever a woman dares to be individual, I also observed her. I was curious to ascertain what was the nature of the pecularities that made women suspect Achilles was among them, betraying his disguise by unskilful use of his skirts; and I soon became convinced that the imputed eccentricity was merely the natural expression of a soul very much alive and earnest in its work. […] I think genuine lovers of the beautiful will henceforth never doubt that Miss Hosmer has a genius for sculpture. I rejoice that such a gem has been added to the arts. Especially do I rejoice that such a poetical conception of the subject came from a woman’s soul, and that such finished workmanship was done by a woman’s hand.

“Miss Harriet Hosmer,” Liberator, Nov 20, 1857
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Highlights from the Collection, Part 2: Student Perspective

[Editor’s note: We have invited our student assistants to share their perspective on working with the material and on the digital project. Thankfully, they said yes! First up: Arunima Kundu, who joined us in September 2020.]

Working on the Archival Gossip Collection: Memories, Moments, and Favourite Items

Hello, my name is Arunima Kundu and I worked as a student assistant in the DFG project “Economics and Epistemology of Gossip in US-American Literature and Culture from the 19th and Early 20th centuries” and was, as a part of it, engaged in editing, uploading and transcribing archival material in the digital collection here on

One of my very first tasks was to upload letters written to and by nineteenth century American actress Charlotte Cushman, the ‘protagonist’ of this digital collection. It was fascinating, working with these letters; I got to read, upload and describe a wide variety of personal, formal and semi-formal letters, varied in tone, content and purpose: ranging from intimate personal letters between family and lovers, artists connecting with artists, broadening their network in a nineteenth-century version of LinkedIn and the occasional fan letter to Charlotte Cushman that is bordering on obsession. I also added a series of newspaper articles that were broadly press coverage on Charlotte Cushman, including reviews of her performances in English theatres, reports on her tours and travels and rumours surrounding her.

Screenshot of article from


“MISS CUSHMAN IN MALE ATTIRE”, Illustrated American News, Aug 9, 1851.



Serendipity in the Archive

Sometimes (or maybe even most of the times?), researchers feel like treasure hunters in the archives. So did I when I looked through folders of the Minnie Bruce Pratt Papers for sources of intersectional critique of white lesbian feminism for my dissertation project. I was spending two months at Duke University with a fellowship of the Bavarian American Academy. One afternoon, I was carefully turning pages in a folder titled “Latinas” when I suddenly found this article on the reverse of a newspaper clipping from the Gay Community News, October 13, 1984:

Actress Charlotte Cushman and sculptor Harriet Hosmer chasing me to the other side of the Atlantic, I couldn’t believe it! What are the chances to find an article unrelated to what I was searching for, unrelated to the topic of the folder but speaking to the circle of women that I am working on for the gossip research project here in Germany. It was not cut into pieces even though Minnie Bruce Pratt was actually interested in the article on the other side of the sheet. Unfortunately, due to these circumstances, the second page was missing. Also, this made me think again about all the things that we as researchers are probably missing in our archival research. All the little traces and connections that we do not find by coincidence.

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Highlights from the Collection, Part 1

Geraldine Jewsbury’s Passionate Rebuke of Charlotte Cushman

As the project is slowly drawing to a close (we’ll wrap up by September, *sad face*), we want to use some of our remaining time to highlight items in our collection that have stood out to us for various reasons – be that they were particularly challenging to read, fun to explore, romantic, sad, eye-opening …. . In a way, this will be a way for Selina and myself to reminisce about what we’ve done these past three years. Hopefully, for others it will be an additional tool to navigate the collection which has grown to almost 1000 items.

So, without further ado: my first highlight among our items is a letter written by Geraldine Jewsbury, presumably from 1846, addressed to Charlotte Cushman, in which she offers a stern rebuke of the actress:

I am not an angel but a deal more of a wild cat & I’ll scratch you if I can’t beat you

Geraldine Jewsbury to Charlotte Cushman, Charlotte Cushman Papers, Library of Congress, 3449–3450, here: 3449
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Ladies’ Home Journal

One Issue, A Whole Lot of Gossip

Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a guest lecture as part of the University of Münster’s Lecture Series In the Mood for Affect. The title of my lecture was “Capitalizing on Intimacy: The Rise of Gossip in US American Periodicals” and in preparing for it I re-discovered one issue of Ladies’ Home Journal that is so wonderfully bananas when it comes to gossip that
a) I decided to dedicate an entire section of the lecture to this one magazine issue (the other two sections were focussed on the careers of Grace Greenwood and Anne Hampton Brewster and how they profitted off of their personal ties within the expatriate community in Italy, and on Town Topics‘ stylistic evocation of intimate familiarity among readers and between readers and “The Saunterer” respectively), and
b) I wanted to share it with you here, too:

Let’s start with a bit of context: Simultaneous with the rise in public gossip for which I argue, the nineteenth century also witnessed another crucial and related trend in publications, namely etiquette manuals. As John Kasson summarizes in Civility & Rudeness, the interest in manners is intricately connected to changes in the social make-up, most centrally, the national focus on social mobility: “Fundamental to the popularity of manuals of etiquette was the conviction that proper manners and social respectability could be purchased and learned” (Kasson 43). Hence, it is unsurprising that the same magazines which might write about public figures and thus profit from the interest in gossip reports about their activities, might nonetheless also feature advice columns that warn against gossip’s potentially disastrous social consequences. So, I know that from a financial and editorial point of view it makes a lot of sense for the two opposing takes on gossip (condemning it / selling it) to exist side by side. Nonethelles, I was still struck by how that plays out in the August-issue of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1889 (full text accessible via HathiTrust).

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Speculative Endeavors

Online conference organized by Katrin Horn, Karin Hoepker, and Selina Foltinek at the University of Bayreuth, Oct 21-23, 2021

Visit the conference’s website here

We may be a bit late with our comment on the project’s conference but not less enthusiastic about its outcome! From October 21-23, 2021, the Speculative Endeavors Conference eventually took place virtually. Last year, we postponed our event in the hope we might meet in person in 2021. Early this year, we made the call that it might be wiser (and safer) to move the conference online. And, sure, the missed conversations over coffe and in the hallways put a little damper on things. In the end, however, we were simply happy to finally meet those people virtually who had sent their fantastic abstracts on a wide range of topics in 2019. The conference planning had certainly come a long way!

Speculative Endeavors examined cultures of knowledge and capital in the US during the long nineteenth century. In particular, presentations focused on illicit, tacit, oral, unofficial, or subjugated knowledges. In the century of the rise of Wall Street, the increasing incorporation of America, and the experience of economic volatility, people sought potential “insider knowledge” about the machinations of markets, and different knowledges competed in times of heightened uncertainty. Practices of speculation, covert informational labor, and related mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion closely regulated access to and speculative value of such knowledge. Heike Paul, the director of the Bavarian American Academy (BAA), kindly offered to start off the conference with a few words on the contemporary context of the the conference topic. As chairs, Sylvia Mayer, Regina Schober, Birte Christ, and Jana Keck guided our speakers and all participants through the panels to align the panelists’ long, pre-circulated papers and short, 7-min Zoom talks. This format allowed us to have extensive, 60min-Q&As which lay the focus on dialogue and exchange, which for us are central to the value of conference. We couldn’t be happier with how all our participants were willing to committed to making this format work! Conference presentations were given by twelve speakers from the US, UK, Austria, and Germany. They covered topics from the areas of rumor & speculation, disenfanchised knowledge (institutions), the trade of private knowledge, and knowledge production in the so-called private sphere.

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Methods and Manuscripts: On Pursuing American Studies in the Archive

GAAS 2021 paper on working with manuscripts (when that’s not what you’ve been trained to do)

With a slight delay, I’d like to add here the talk I gave recently at the 2021 Annual Conference of the German Association for American Studies as part of a panel on “Dispatches from the Method Wars: New Approaches to Cultural Agency and Participation in American Studies” (June 18, 2021). The CfP spurred some reflections on how my current research on gossip in the nineteenth century and my prior project on camp in contemporary culture have similar “issues,” when it comes to some of the methods or scholarly ideals of American Studies. More precisely: the paper was an opportunity for me to think through “being too close” and “too much participation.”

(I hope you’re not coming here looking for anwers, because I mostly had questions).

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