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  • Martha Ann HoneywellArt, Performance, and Disability in the Early Republic
Abstract

Martha Ann Honeywell (1786-1856) was a visual artist and performer who traveled across North America and Europe to exhibit her embroidery, waxwork, miniature writing, and paper cutting as well as her atypically-figured body, which lacked arms and hands and had just one foot with three toes. Drawing on over two hundred newspaper advertisements that she published, over one hundred samples of her visual artwork, nearly thirty visitor responses, and one surviving letter, this essay examines Honeywell’s story and the strategies that she used to appeal to consumers and cultivate her business. It argues that she capitalized on new cultural and commercial opportunities in the early republic as well as long-held conceptions of disability in productive ways. Honeywell was a relentless traveler, seeking new markets internationally and in the American West. She also catered to her patrons’ desires for miniatures and silhouettes, which held popular appeal, and utilized advancements in print culture to generate publicity. At the same time, Honeywell’s techniques for attracting clientele were informed by ideas about disability, and congenital physical anomalies in particular, with deep roots in western culture. To accommodate her spectators’ curiosities about her body, she juxtaposed her artistic capacities and physical incapacities in ways that elicited shock and amazement. In addition, to ease visitors’ fears about disability and anxieties about viewing her impairments, she presented familiar and socially acceptable traits that aligned with their expectations of the body, gender, and class. In the end, Honeywell’s mastery of these dual strategies of the spectacular and the conventional—along with the possibilities that the early national marketplace presented—produced what may seem like an unexpected outcome. Rather than condemning, fearing, or deriding her uniqueness, customers proclaimed her to be uniquely American, an exemplary woman and citizen.

Keywords

Art, Artist, Body, Capacity, Curiosity, Disability, Entrepreneur, Exhibition, Femininity, Itinerancy, Museum, Performance, Respectability, Silhouette, Travel

On November 3, 1828, the celebrated artist Martha Ann Honeywell arrived at Rembrandt and Rubens Peale's museum in Baltimore. For the past week, Rubens had intensively advertised her artistic achievements and atypical appearance in the Baltimore Patriot, and local citizens hotly anticipated her arrival. As Rubens explained, Honeywell was known as "a great curiosity" throughout North America and Europe as much for her embroidery, waxwork, miniature writing, and paper cutting as for her singular body, which lacked arms and hands and had just one foot with three toes. Along with the citizens of Baltimore, the Peales were clearly delighted with the opportunity to add Honeywell to the museum's selection of artistic and scientific exhibitions.1

During the first week of Honeywell's show, over six hundred visitors [End Page 225] came to purchase her artwork and watch her perform. Some patrons, like Harriet Thomson of the Copeley Plantation in Virginia, saved Honeywell's needlework and cuttings in their scrapbooks. Others, like Lucyanna Greene of Baltimore, sat for a silhouette, which Honeywell cut by holding scissors in her mouth (see Figure 1). A gentleman even dedicated a poem to her: "Dame Nature with ambition glowed / Her various works t' excel, / Great mental powers and charms bestow'd / On Martha Honeywell." Due to popular demand, Honeywell exhibited at the museum for over three months.2

Figure 1. Silhouette of Lucyanna Z. Green by Martha Ann Honeywell in 1829. The inscription reads "Cut by M. Honeywell with the Mouth." <br/><br/>Courtesy of Peggy McClard Americana &amp; Folk Art.
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Figure 1.

Silhouette of Lucyanna Z. Green by Martha Ann Honeywell in 1829. The inscription reads "Cut by M. Honeywell with the Mouth."

Courtesy of Peggy McClard Americana & Folk Art.

[End Page 226]

Baltimore was but one stop on Honeywell's national and international tour. In her nearly sixty years as a visual artist and performer (1798–1856), she traveled to five countries and at least thirty-two American cities. Honeywell developed and sustained her career by meticulously honing her artistic and entrepreneurial skills. She continually enhanced the quality and variety of her visual artwork, acquiring new techniques and experimenting with different media. She also adeptly managed the commercial side of her business—securing exhibition spaces in museums, taverns, boardinghouses, and rented rooms; publishing broadsides and newspaper notices for her self-designed shows; and balancing her income from ticket and artwork sales with the expenses of her transportation, accommodation, and artistic materials. What is perhaps most intriguing about Honeywell's story is that she oversaw these various concerns herself. Although she was accompanied and assisted by her mother until 1810, for the majority of her life she traveled independently and maintained exclusive control over the exigencies of her career.3 [End Page 227]

As an early-nineteenth-century itinerant disabled woman artist and entrepreneur, Honeywell may seem remarkable or at least unfamiliar today. But she would not have been so to individuals in the early republic. During this period, dozens of atypically figured visual artists and performers, both women and men, traversed the ever-expanding networks of road, boat, ship, and rail to exhibit their unusual physiques and sell their artwork to patrons. These artists journeyed and conducted shows as far south as Cuba, Curaçao, and Chile, as far north as Montreal and Quebec City, and extensively throughout Europe and the United States. Like Honeywell, many also retained autonomous control over their travel routes, productions, and earnings, collaborating with one another and hiring assistants when necessary. In fact, the sheer number of artists and performers with extraordinary bodies during this period suggests that cultural, commercial, and infrastructural factors may have aligned in ways that were particularly advantageous for their careers. Developments in transportation and a growing appetite for visual art and science, especially among the new American middle class, secured these artists' markets. At the same time, showmen, such as P. T. Barnum who later employed many uniquely figured artists and performers in so-called freak shows, had not yet established authority over the entertainment industry and its proceeds. Thus, Honeywell was not exceptional in her career choice, but was rather a particularly successful member of a much larger community of disabled artists and entrepreneurs.4 [End Page 228]

This article examines Honeywell's story and the strategies that she used to appeal to consumers and cultivate her business. It argues that she capitalized on new cultural and commercial opportunities in the early republic as well as long-held conceptions of disability in productive ways. Honeywell was a relentless traveler, seeking new markets internationally and in the American West. She also catered to her patrons' desires for miniatures and silhouettes, which held popular appeal, and utilized advancements in print culture to generate publicity. At the same time, Honeywell's techniques for attracting clientele were integrally informed by ideas about disability, and congenital physical anomalies in particular, with deep roots in western culture. To accommodate her spectators' curiosities about her body, she juxtaposed her artistic capacities and physical incapacities in ways that elicited shock and amazement. In addition, to ease visitors' fears about disability and anxieties about viewing her impairments, she presented familiar and socially acceptable traits that aligned with their expectations of the body, gender, and class. In the end, Honeywell's mastery of these dual strategies of the spectacular and the conventional—along with the possibilities that the early national marketplace presented—produced what may seem like an unexpected outcome. Rather than condemning, fearing, or deriding her [End Page 229] uniqueness, customers proclaimed her to be uniquely American, an exemplary woman and citizen.5

Although documentation of an early-nineteenth-century disabled woman artist would seem to be scarce, sources by and about Honeywell are numerous, revealing a detailed portrait of her art, life, and career. She authored more than two hundred newspaper advertisements announcing her exhibitions in the United States, England, and Ireland. These notices not only describe her artwork and methods for attracting patrons but also provide a means for tracking her crisscrossing journeys. Honeywell's paper trail is augmented with over one hundred extant samples of her visual art. Located in archives and private collections from North Carolina to Maine and Missouri, these works are a testament to both her artistic and geographic range. Immigration and transportation records further document Honeywell's travels. She often appears in disembarkation lists and ship logs, such as when she was chronicled sailing alone from La Havre, France, to New York City in 1827. Audience members' descriptions of their visits to Honeywell make up yet another body of sources, and nearly thirty survive in diaries, letters, scrapbooks, newspapers, medical journals, and magazines. Finally, as an avid promoter of her own work, Honeywell gifted her artistic productions to many prominent individuals, such as John Quincy Adams, and these pieces and one surviving letter remain in their collections. In short, there is a considerable array of sources that enable us to examine Honeywell's story and strategies for artistic and commercial success.6 [End Page 230]

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Martha Ann Honeywell was born in 1786 to Gilbert and Martha Honeywell of Westchester, New York. Martha Ann was in good health but had a distinctive physique. Her arms were short stumps extending partway between her shoulders and would-be elbows and she lacked fingers and hands. Her legs were also stumps, of which only the right had a small foot with three toes. Gilbert and Martha cared for their new daughter as they did their other five children. With a 250-acre farm, fruit orchard, and cider mill, however, this proved to be no easy task. In 1787, Gilbert attempted to further his financial prospects by selling his Westchester property, moving the family to the Lower East Side in New York City, and opening a fruit store on Harman Street. After the Honeywells' move, news of Martha Ann's singular body began to circulate among neighbors and customers. As one source recalled, "hundreds, particularly of young people, went [to the store] under the pretense of purchasing fruit but in reality for the purpose of seeing this marvellous [sic] child." Although Martha Ann's parents initially refused to allow her to publicly exhibit her body for profit, their experience at the fruit store combined with their fear that she would lack the means to provide for herself after they passed away persuaded them to arrange her first show at Gardiner Baker's American Museum at the young age of twelve.7

Honeywell's earliest performances at the museum highlighted her capacity to complete ordinary activities with her extraordinary body. On [End Page 231] the first day of every month, amidst wax figures and exotic artifacts, she demonstrated to visitors how she could "thread a needle with ease and facility," "work several kinds of fine needlework," and help "herself to all kinds of food [and] drink." Some customers recalled that she "took up a book and turned over its leaves . . . easily and accurately." Others noted that she "wrote a good letter with her toes." Honeywell's mother accompanied her to these exhibitions to answer questions from audience members and to collect charitable donations. Newspapers and attendees raved about the show, calling Honeywell "a curious young lady" and "a rare and remarkable phenomenon." Beginning in 1806, at the age of twenty, Honeywell used her popularity in New York to promote her performances in other cities. Over the next four years, she journeyed with her mother as well as an artist named Sarah Rogers, who lacked the use of her arms and legs and painted with her mouth, to twelve American states from Maine to Georgia to sell her artwork and earn her livelihood.8

Beginning in 1810, Honeywell traveled without her mother's attendance and support, first to Europe. There, the tenor of Honeywell's exhibitions changed. No longer did she present herself as an uncommon performer of commonplace tasks but rather as an accomplished visual artist. Like other American artists who traveled to Europe for training and experience during the period, Honeywell spent her years in England, Ireland, and France conducting shows, entertaining patrons, and developing her artistic techniques. Just after her arrival, in 1811, she performed at the Bartholomew Fair in London alongside Sarah Biffin, an English miniature portraitist also born without arms and hands. In 1822, a young man from Guernsey praised Honeywell's achievements in an acrostic poem, which circulated widely in newspapers across Europe and America. And, in 1817, Honeywell completed her most elaborate artistic composition to date—an intricate paper cutting that displayed the words [End Page 232] and letters of the Lord's Prayer encased in ornamental cutwork and embroidery—and presented it to Queen Charlotte of England, Prince William, and Princess Elizabeth in Bath (see Figure 2).9

In 1827, Honeywell returned to the United States as a distinguished visual artist. Advertisements now described her "unrivalled" productions and illustrious clientele, and noted that she had traveled "through Europe, where she was much admired and caressed." When the Peales commissioned Honeywell to work at their Baltimore museum in 1828, she sustained a long run, spending over three months there and another three months at Rubens Peale's establishment in New York City. To earn her weekly salary of thirty dollars, she cut visitors' silhouettes and sold samples of her artwork. While in Baltimore, Honeywell sent a paper cutting of the Lord's Prayer surrounded by birds and flowers to President John Quincy Adams. Her accompanying letter described the piece as "an acknowledgement of [his] preeminence in talent and virtue" and "a specimen of what necessity and perseverance can effect." This donation was also a savvy commercial move as the presence of her artwork in the president's collection only heightened her popularity among future customers.10

In 1830, Honeywell began yet another national and international tour. In the early 1830s, she journeyed to Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, and South Carolina. Between 1836 and 1845, documentation of her travels and shows [End Page 233]

Figure 2. This undated composition may be the one that Honeywell presented to Queen Charlotte, Prince William, and Princess Elizabeth. The work, which is about eight inches in diameter, displays scripted words and letters of the Lord's Prayer cut from cream-colored paper at its center. The Prayer is adorned with vines and blooming potted plants, pasted on to black paper for display, and decorated with eight green cuttings resembling trees. The arrangement is then positioned in a second four-pointed star made from cream-colored, pin-pricked paper. This second star is embellished with multi-colored floral silk embroidery, slashed and embroidered at its edges, and encircled by twelve turquoise and green paper cuttings of blooming potted plants and tree-like sprigs. <br/><br/>Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
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Figure 2.

This undated composition may be the one that Honeywell presented to Queen Charlotte, Prince William, and Princess Elizabeth. The work, which is about eight inches in diameter, displays scripted words and letters of the Lord's Prayer cut from cream-colored paper at its center. The Prayer is adorned with vines and blooming potted plants, pasted on to black paper for display, and decorated with eight green cuttings resembling trees. The arrangement is then positioned in a second four-pointed star made from cream-colored, pin-pricked paper. This second star is embellished with multi-colored floral silk embroidery, slashed and embroidered at its edges, and encircled by twelve turquoise and green paper cuttings of blooming potted plants and tree-like sprigs.

Courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

becomes scarce, but by 1846 she was back on the road, performing in Poughkeepsie, Saratoga Springs, and Rochester, New York, on her way to Canada. Now in her sixties, she exhibited in South Crosby, Ontario, among other Canadian cities. Although museums existed in many locations on her tours, Honeywell primarily set up her own "Splendid Galler[ies] of Cuttings and Needlework" to display and sell her artwork. These galleries were generally located in rented rooms or boardinghouses and composed of two rooms. In the first, Honeywell presented her visual art for audience members' perusal and purchase; in the second, she demonstrated her artistic techniques and cut [End Page 234] visitors' silhouettes. Almost unanimously, her shows received enthusiastic reviews, and her artwork sold widely.11

In 1856, at the age of seventy, Honeywell passed away in Philadelphia, thus concluding a nearly sixty-year career. Throughout her lifetime, she had perfected her visual art, performed for patrons across North America and Europe, and supported herself with the profits. These accomplishments are perhaps all the more noteworthy because Honeywell had developed and managed her career herself, maintaining control over her artwork, exhibitions, travels, and finances for the majority of her life.12

________

Honeywell's technique of silhouette-making illustrates the deliberateness and conscientiousness with which she constructed her career. During shows she allowed visitors to stare at her body and marvel at it as a specimen of natural curiosity. However, by pursuing the medium of silhouettes, Honeywell established a period when the gaze of her spectators was redirected and she had the chance to look at them. As they turned [End Page 235] to have their profiles done, she became the one who stared at their bodies and who controlled the visual dynamics of their interaction. Honeywell's practice of silhouette-making further allowed her to artistically reshape her patrons' figures in ways that more closely resembled her own. Following artistic conventions that confined the likenesses to bust size, she literally excised her sitters' limbs, leaving only opaque representations of their heads, necks, and shoulders in her final compositions. These methods of staring back and artistically dismembering her clientele—perhaps momentarily visually and graphically disabling them—suggest how Honeywell managed the production of her artwork, exhibitions, and career. Although she let audiences ogle her during shows, she returned their gazes, manipulating their desires for her own success.13

A consummate businesswoman, Honeywell used infrastructural and commercial developments in the early republic to her advantage. Like many contemporary artists, she was a constant traveler, employing improvements in the ease, speed, and scope of transportation to access emerging markets and relocate when patronage was slow. Itinerancy was a common and commonsensical choice for artists at all professional levels during the period. Despite a growing market for visual art, especially among the American middle class, few cities and towns could generate enough business to support an artist for very long. As a result, most portraitists and silhouette-makers, like Honeywell, moved from place to place, ever in search of new customers and commissions. Their lifestyle of itinerancy was possible because of the advancements in transportation during the period as well as the improvements in print advertising, which enabled them to attract audiences in their various locales with flashy fonts and imagery.14 [End Page 236]

Honeywell also used the market for culture in the early republic to facilitate her career. She catered her artwork to the sensibilities of her middle-class clients—crafting silhouettes, which were popular emblems of respectability; floral paper-cuttings, which could be framed and displayed on parlor walls; and watch-papers, which adorned the cases of the increasingly common pocket watches. In addition, Honeywell capitalized on her patrons' growing interest in medicine and science. Physicians and gentlemanly scholars of science often visited her shows to examine her body for the insights it might provide into the disciplines of anatomy, physiology, and monstrosity, a growing subfield dedicated to the study of congenital anomalies. Recognizing her potential for profit from these attendees, Honeywell accommodated them at her exhibitions, presenting her abilities and disabilities for their investigation. Honeywell's career was possible because of the particular infrastructural, commercial, and cultural environment of the early republic, and she made the most of these opportunities.15

At the same time, many of Honeywell's strategies for attracting audience members were informed not by developments particular to the early republic but rather by conceptions of disability that were deeply rooted in western culture. Customers were fascinated by Honeywell's corporeal differences, and she gratified their curiosities by highlighting the apparent juxtaposition between her artistic abilities and physical disabilities. Calling attention to the seeming discrepancy between her body and skills, she satiated her patrons' desires for shock and wonder and secured their support. Honeywell especially used the contrast between her capacities and incapacities to catch readers' eyes in her newspaper advertisements. Her [End Page 237] notices nearly always began by declaring that she was "born without hands or arms." They then focused on her artistic skills. In some advertisements, Honeywell detailed her artistic feats, proclaiming, for instance, that she "writes the Lord's Prayer in a space that can be covered with a Five cent piece." In other notices, she described her diverse artistic media. While performing in Washington, DC, for example, she stated that she "writes, draws, does all kinds of Needle-Work" and was "able to cut out of paper the most curious and difficult pieces of Cutting."16

Once spectators arrived at Honeywell's shows, she continued to cater to their fascination by juxtaposing her abilities and disabilities in her visual artwork. Miniature art was a popular form, especially for women artists, during the period, but Honeywell's tiny paper cuts and intricate patterns also served as a deliberate nod to her seemingly incapable physical appearance. A piece titled The Endless Knot particularly reveals her facility for artistic detail and complexity. The work depicts an embroidered endless knot—an ancient symbol signifying spiritual devotion—inscribed with a poem about the ties between sin and death and Jesus Christ's promise of everlasting life. "If thou a true believer," Honeywell penned, "be the knot of death is broke for thee and Christ but freeth thee from strife." Thousands of pinpricks add decoration and texture to the space around the words. Honeywell pasted the knot first onto yellow paper adorned with a feathered border and then onto cream-colored paper for display. The Endless Knot showcases Honeywell's skillfulness in composition and design, expertise with diverse media, and proficiency as a visual artist. At the same time, its minute details and elaborate construction provided a striking contrast to her anomalous body, a contrast that she used to fuel her attendance and sales (see Figure 3).17 [End Page 238]

Figure 3. The Endless Knot by Martha Ann Honeywell. The inscription reads: "In Jesus Christ the Gospel Faith hath broke the cords of sin and death. If thou a true believer be the knot of death is broke for thee and Christ but freeth thee from strife shall give thee everlasting life which life if thou consider well avoid the path that leads to Hell—man behold and then shall see how manifold thy evils be thy flesh without heart within is wrapt about useless sin &amp; sin hath made an endless knot with death and shall faileth not and justice ceaseth not to say the soul sinneth it shall die &amp; now man lament thy fate nor let repentance come too late." <br/><br/>Courtesy of Historic Deerfield.
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Figure 3.

The Endless Knot by Martha Ann Honeywell. The inscription reads: "In Jesus Christ the Gospel Faith hath broke the cords of sin and death. If thou a true believer be the knot of death is broke for thee and Christ but freeth thee from strife shall give thee everlasting life which life if thou consider well avoid the path that leads to Hell—man behold and then shall see how manifold thy evils be thy flesh without heart within is wrapt about useless sin & sin hath made an endless knot with death and shall faileth not and justice ceaseth not to say the soul sinneth it shall die & now man lament thy fate nor let repentance come too late."

Courtesy of Historic Deerfield.

Honeywell played with similar contradictions between ability and disability when she engaged customers during shows. She was unafraid of revealing her physical differences and performed by sitting on a table, as one viewer described, "with her lower limbs curled under her à la Turque" or as if sitting astride a horse. She wore a dress, a lace covering over her foot, and, in her later years, a gold and pearl ring on her big toe. According to one newspaper account following Honeywell's visit to Dublin, this ring was given to her by a man who proposed to her by placing the ring on her toe. Honeywell contrasted this conspicuous corporeal display with the theatrical demonstration of her artistic capabilities. One patron recalled that she highlighted her mastery of technique by "several times [drawing] the thread out of her needle to show us that she could rethread it without difficulty." Reverend William Bentley, a [End Page 239] Congregational minister who visited her exhibition in Salem, Massachusetts, similarly remembered that she performed her methods of "entering the needle with her toes & receiving it by the mouth, & putting the thread into her needle by her mouth & toes."18

Honeywell's surprising presentations of ability and disability appealed to the men, women, and children of the new American middle class. She entertained, for example, Lydia Ann and Jackson Hughes (a merchant–tailor in West Chester, Pennsylvania); the children of Catherine and Dandridge Spotswood (a druggist in Petersburg, Virginia); and Elizabeth Thompson Heard and her grandfather, Daniel James Brooks (a Brooklyn, New York-based cabinetmaker). Respectable religious figures visited Honeywell. In addition to Bentley, she was called upon by the Virginian Bishop Richard Channing Moore. Doctors and scientists were also regular patrons. During a single trip to Virginia, Honeywell performed for Henry Latham, a member of the Medical Society of Virginia; William Dornin, a future St. Louis delegate to the American Pharmaceutical Association; and John Galt, the superintendent of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum. Most of Honeywell's customers were white, but upwardly mobile African Americans and Native Americans also expressed interest in her productions. In 1828, the Freedom's Journal, the first African American-owned and -operated newspaper, advertised her exhibition in New York City and, in 1831, the Cherokee Phoenix reprinted an article about her show in Philadelphia. By highlighting the contrast between her body and skills, Honeywell cultivated her consumer base.19 [End Page 240]

Reviewers often commented on the unusual but integral relationship between Honeywell's capacities and incapacities and explained it using contemporary theories about disability and the body. Some clients predictably found the disparity to be astonishing. As the editors of the Ohio Columbus Sentinel declared, "the idea of a female in her situation, cutting the most difficult pieces . . . is certainly a stretch beyond our imagination. But all this and much more is done by Miss Honeywell." In other cases, audience members responded with delight, noting, as patrons from Baltimore did, their "wonder" at how "without hands, she executes some of the most delicate pieces of embroidery and paper cutting, we ever saw." Still other spectators rationalized Honeywell's body and skills using the popular concept of compensation. As these viewers argued, Honeywell's abilities were counterbalancing forces that effectively negated her physical disabilities or cancelled them out. "The misfortune she has been doomed to share," one reviewer wrote, "and the consequent privations she has had to encounter, have been in a measure compensated by the gift of an extraordinary genius and a remarkable aptness in this her favorite employment."20

Religious and scientific clientele especially used compensatory notions of disability to explain Honeywell. Those who evaluated her in religious terms often claimed that God had orchestrated the recompense of her abilities and disabilities, and thus that she was a perfect example of His goodwill and righteousness. A poem by "a young lady of Providence" reveals these sentiments. It begins by explaining that "the hand Divine" had given Honeywell her artistic "skill" in return for "so hard a fate." The poem concludes by describing Honeywell's place "amid the heavenly train" and the author's own strengthened belief in the Divine. Witnessing Honeywell, the "young lady" writes, taught her, and should [End Page 241] teach others, "to adore our God." Scientists and doctors also frequently employed the theory of compensation, but they usually located the components in Honeywell's physical body. Rubens Peale, for example, instructed museum-goers that "she uses her foot and mouth with the same facility that we do our hands." Robley Dunglison, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia, also reasoned that Honeywell's other body parts had taken the place of her hands, observing that she was "still possessed of feeling—of a sense of resistance" despite her absence of the "usual organ of touch."21

The interplay between ability and disability was at the heart of Honeywell's art, business strategies, and reputation among customers. Nevertheless, the contrasts that grounded her work made some patrons uncomfortable, anxious about viewing her unconventional body and talents. The "young lady of Providence," for example, recalled, "When first thy name assail'd my ear / My heart was fill'd with fear and dread." Josephus, another poetic reviewer, similarly wrote, "With her surprising art / To admiration, turns our pain / To sympathy, our heart." To ease these consumers' concerns about her physical differences and to ensure that they still attended her shows, Honeywell pursued a second method of performance, in conjunction with the first, in which she presented familiar and socially acceptable traits that aligned with her viewers' assumptions about the body, gender, and class. By highlighting the aspects of her body that conformed to standards of corporeality, femininity, and middle-class respectability, Honeywell hoped to alleviate her spectators' trepidations and ensure that they enjoyed her shows. Her portrayal of these qualities also served to demonstrate her own expression of American values and ideals.22

Honeywell underscored the similarities between her body and the conventions of able-bodiedness in her advertisements to convince fearful readers to attend her exhibitions. One announcement, for example, [End Page 242] declared that she was in "every way well proportioned, except her limbs." Another described her "countenance as animated, and extremely pleasing." Still another suggested that her good-natured personality would resolve attendees' fears once they arrived. For example, for years Honeywell appended a review by a "young lady" to her advertisements which asserted that "her cheerful and sportively engaging aspect at once dispel those painful sensations which the deprivation of her limbs excites in the sympathizing breasts of her visitors." Honeywell underscored the ways that her body conformed to her customers' corporeal expectations in order to assuage their anxieties and secure their support. At the same time, these gestures accentuated her commonalities with her comparatively able-bodied clientele, and thus her place in mainstream American society.23

Honeywell accommodated audience members' assumptions about gender with her visual art. Although her creative processes shocked and astonished spectators, her productions nevertheless aligned with gender conventions of the period. Honeywell did not pursue artistic media—such as print-making or sign painting—which were typically practiced by men, and instead focused on the small decorative arts, which were the purview of women. In addition, her subject matter—which included birds, flowers, and silhouettes—accorded with expectations for women's artwork. Honeywell also avoided transgressing gender norms when she described her visual art in her advertisements. The young lady's review that she often included, for example, contended that she was "cheerful[ly]" resigned to "her peculiar lot" and was content to be "a happiness to herself and a very instructive and consolatory example to the world generally and to her own sex particularly." Using such gender-appropriate artistic media and phrases, Honeywell sought to reassure her visitors and prevent them from objecting to her unusual body and career. These gendered choices further asserted her femininity. Although her [End Page 243] physical anomalies were inconsistent with standards of feminine beauty, she used her artwork to claim her position as an American woman.24

Honeywell further obliged the sensibilities of her middle-class customers by cultivating a refined atmosphere during exhibitions. She titled her shows "Splendid Galler[ies]" and exhibited in a "beautiful traveling pavilion" at parades and fairs. Honeywell also dispelled polite viewers' concerns about her corporeal differences by hanging her own silhouette at her entrance door. Many attendees noted that Honeywell was sociable and respectable. Rubens Peale, for example, promised museum-goers that "she is very polite and engaging in her manners and conversation." Another audience member recalled that she was "modest and unassuming" and occasionally "combed her hair; and adjusted her dress," thus performing the polite practices of bodily sanitation and presentation normally conducted at home. Although contemporary conventions of gender and class dissuade women from publicly exhibiting their bodies, Honeywell's gestures to femininity and gentility helped to mediate these contradictions and put visitors at ease. Her accordance with middle-class standards also claimed this status for herself. Despite being born to impoverished parents on the outskirts of New York City, she used her shows to display her respectability and rights to its social benefits.25

Honeywell's successful accommodation of her spectators' fascinations [End Page 244] and fears about disability, along with her exploitation of the new cultural and commercial opportunities in the early republic, ultimately led the majority of reviewers to declare that she was an exemplary American woman and citizen. Thus, rather than disparaging her distinctiveness, they argued that she was distinctly American, a perfect specimen of femininity and citizenship. Commentators often commended Honeywell's feminine virtues. Some praised her beauty, remarking that she "present[ed] a face and bust of which most of our dashing belles would be proud." Reverend Bentley and Doctor Dunglison lauded her "great intelligence," and still others extolled her modesty, piety, delicacy, and amiability. Despite the ways that Honeywell's body and career challenged notions of feminine beauty and behavior, then, her strategic presentation of her art and physique convinced many patrons that she uniquely embodied gendered ideals. As such, they encouraged women to attend her shows and follow her example. As one visitor wrote after complimenting Honeywell's "female excellence," "I have allowed myself thus publicly to recommend Miss Honeywell to the merited encouragement of her own sex in particular, and to all who can appreciate virtuous industry, and female ingenuity and skill." For many, Honeywell was not only a remarkable artist but also a model American woman.26

Audience members' acclamations of Honeywell's femininity may seem surprising considering her abstention from marriage and childbearing, two primary components of nineteenth-century conceptions of virtuous womanhood. In fact, customers' praise of her feminine qualities despite her singlehood and childlessness suggests that disability may have provided some women during the period with a means for circumventing constraining gender norms and engaging in commercial labor and profit. It seems only correct to presume that Honeywell's independence was of her own choosing. Although taboos about disability, sexuality, and marriage were widespread at the time and, as Catherine Kudlick has observed, some disabled people internalized these views and embraced [End Page 245] both singlehood and alternative social relationships, Honeywell received numerous compliments about her beauty and femininity as well as a marriage proposal in Dublin. Capitalizing on stigmas about disability, sexuality, and marriage, then, Honeywell seems to have pursued singlehood as a choice that facilitated and protected her personal and professional autonomy. Her patrons' declarations of her femininity despite these unconventional decisions further suggest that her disabilities may have served to explain and excuse her uncommon behavior and justify her labor and profit in the marketplace.27

Honeywell's accommodation of her visitors' curiosities and concerns [End Page 246] also led them to assert that she embodied the ideals of the American middle class. An editorial by Martha in the Daily National Intelligencer provides an example. Martha argued that Honeywell's ability to transform herself from a "helpless being," "a burden to herself, her friends, and society," into a productive citizen served as a model for other Americans. She urged them to visit Honeywell "where a lesson of usefulness and humility may be learned from seeing her execute those matchless specimens of art and reflecting that by patient and persevering efforts she has overcome difficulties and surmounted obstacles which most people would have pronounced impossible." The editors of the Niles' Weekly Register not only echoed Martha's sentiments, but also positioned Honeywell as a symbol of national pride. After learning that a New York City newspaper had raved about an armless artist from Glasgow, the editors implored their readers to remember the talents of their own country. "A Yankee girl publicly did as queer things in her own country several years ago," they held, "but she is forgotten, for she was of domestic growth and not imported! She has not received celebrity from a London newspaper!" A masterful artist and entrepreneur, Honeywell managed her customers' expectations and desires so that the vast majority did not find her physical differences and artistic career to be threatening or condemnable. Instead, they praised her as a model for the new republic, an exemplar of middle-class values and a symbol of the nation.28

Most audience members responded to Honeywell's exhibitions positively, emphasizing her femininity and citizenship; however, two surviving reviews express derogatory and derisive opinions of her work. Both [End Page 247] published in 1828 while Honeywell was at the Peale's museums, these commentators ridiculed her impairments by italicizing the words of the body parts she lacked. Writing in the Boston Weekly Messenger, for example, one critic stated that "she has, as might be expected, a natural disinclination for manual labor, but prefers to accomplish her work, which she does very featly, and earn her daily bread with the assistance of her toes." In the second article, the author also mocked Honeywell's sexual appeal. Writing in the Lancaster Gazette, he or she playfully supposed that Honeywell will "bestow her foot upon some one of our numerous host of bachelors," but concluded that they "can have no especial dread of her embraces." These reviews provide the essential reminder that Honeywell faced considerable challenges in her efforts to appeal to consumers and that not all approved of her body and art. Nevertheless, their disparaging tone does not represent the majority of spectators' responses. Furthermore, both authors disclose that they had not actually attended Honeywell's shows or viewed her artwork in person. There is the chance, then, that if they had visited her galleries, she would have managed their expectations, mediated their distasteful conceptions of disability, and, like the majority of her patrons, obtained their enthusiastic support.29

________

Honeywell's story only begins to reveal the largely unexplored world of early-nineteenth-century disabled visual artists and performers and their strategies for artistic and commercial success. Along and beyond the routes traversed by itinerant portraitists, preachers, and musicians, artists like Honeywell earned their livelihoods by performing their anomalous bodies and selling their creative productions. For example, Rogers, who traveled with Honeywell before her voyage to Europe, peddled drawings and paintings to clients from Boston to Charleston. Biffin, who exhibited [End Page 248] with Honeywell in London, sold miniature portraits to audiences across Britain. In addition, Saunders Kew Grems Nellis, an armless artist, performer, and comedian who reviewers often compared to Honeywell, entertained spectators at his self-designed shows throughout North and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe before and after working at Barnum's American Museum. Although these artists achieved varying levels of autonomy and accomplishment, many developed and managed their careers independently and attained considerable degrees of profit and prestige. Increased organization and institutionalization of the American entertainment industry over the nineteenth century largely stifled these artists' entrepreneurial opportunities, although some, like Honeywell, sustained their self-directed careers into mid-century. The early nineteenth century, however, seems to have provided an ideal environment for these artists' success, so long as they capitalized on both recent cultural and infrastructural developments and their patrons' longstanding curiosities and anxieties about disability.30

Honeywell's experiences further suggest that some Americans during the period could imagine disabled artists as paragons of national principles and possibilities. Although the stories of these artists are little known today, many of their customers contended that they uniquely exemplified social conventions and the promises of the emerging American middle class. For this reason, if not for many others, these artists demand our attention. Through their productions, exhibitions, and entrepreneurial strategies may be visible some of the ideals and values that Americans believed to be most fundamental to their nation. In one sense, audience members' assertions of disabled artists' Americanness locates the experience, perception, and performance of disability at the heart of American national identity. Although some scholars may dismiss disability as a secondary concern and those who study disability rightly emphasize the growing exclusion and isolation of disabled people during this period, spectators at the shows of disabled artists placed them at the center of their national conceptions. In another sense, however, consumers' commendations of disabled artists expose a nation much less accommodating of disability. For many visitors, it was these artists' very ability to overcome and correct their impairments that made them model citizens, reaffirming the importance of ablebodiedness and condemning those without [End Page 249] similar capabilities and opportunities. Disabled artists and performers, like Honeywell, however, capitalized on both sentiments equally. Exploiting opportunities in the early national marketplace and enduring fascinations and fears about disability, they sustained profitable and successful careers over many decades.31 [End Page 250]

Laurel Daen

Laurel Daen is a National Endowment for the Humanities long-term fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society. She is grateful to Karin Wulf, Jennifer Van Horn, Benjamin Irvin, Catherine Kelly, and the anonymous readers for the JER for their incisive comments on earlier drafts of this essay. Laurel would like to extend a special thank you to Laura Barry and Barbara Luck, curators at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, for introducing her to Honeywell's artwork.

Footnotes

1. By 1828, both Rembrandt and Rubens Peale had left the Baltimore Museum to a salaried manager; however, advertisements indicate that Rubens arranged Honeywell's show. For the Peale museums, see Charles Coleman Sellers, Mr. Peale's Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art (New York, 1980); David R. Brigham, Public Culture in the Early Republic: Peale's Museum and Its Audience (Washington, DC, 1995). "Peale's Museum," Baltimore Patriot, Oct. 25, 1828; "Miss Honeywell," Baltimore Patriot, Nov. 3, 1828; "Miss M. A. Honeywell," Baltimore Patriot, Oct. 28, 1829.

2. William T. Alderson, Mermaids, Mummies, and Mastodons: The Emergence of the American Museum (Washington, DC, 1992), 64; Harriet D. Thomson, Scrapbook, Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of Lucyanna Z. Green, 1829, Peggy McClard Americana & Folk Art; Josephus, "Miss Honeywell," Weekly Museum (New York), Dec. 23, 1809.

3. Sources mention Honeywell's mother before 1810, but after this date these references disappear. During this later period, some accounts note that Honeywell traveled with other disabled artists; others indicate that she was alone. No documentation suggests that she hired assistants, but I speculate that this was the case. Disabled artists and performers have primarily been studied in the context of mid-to-late-nineteenth-century freak shows where most were managed and many exploited by showmen. Honeywell's personal and professional autonomy reveals an earlier period of greater independence and opportunity for disabled artists. I refer to Honeywell's "career" with knowledge of the debate between Robert Bogdan and David A. Gerber in Rosemarie Garland Thomson, ed., Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body (New York, 1996), 23–54. For more on freak shows, see Thomson, ed., Freakery; Robert Bogdan, Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit (Chicago, 1988). Honeywell's autonomy was also unique among early-nineteenth-century women artists; see Catherine E. Kelly, Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America (Philadelphia, 2016), 55–91; Laura R. Prieto, At Home in the Studio: The Professionalization of Women Artists in America (Cambridge, MA, 2001); Anne Sue Hirshorn, "Anna Claypoole, Margaretta, and Sarah Miriam Peale: Modes of Accomplishment and Fortune," in The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770–1870, ed. Lillian B. Miller (New York, 1996), 220–47; Jean Gordon, "Early American Women Artists and the Social Context in Which They Worked," American Quarterly 30 (Spring 1978), 54–69. There were greater professional opportunities for women artists in the mid-nineteenth century toward the end of Honeywell's career; see April F. Masten, Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York (Philadelphia, 2008).

4. Disabled artists and performers who exhibited their artwork and atypical bodies before or outside the confines of freak shows have been almost entirely overlooked by scholars. Susan Schweik has studied the largely self-constructed career of a nineteenth-century disabled performer in "Marshall P. Wilder and Disability Performance History," Disability Studies Quarterly 30, no. 3/4 (2010), http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1271/1294. Saunders Kew Grems Nellis (1817–1865), an artist and performer born without arms and hands, exhibited in Cuba, Curaçao, and Chile: "S. K. G. Nellis," Havana to New York, May 3, 1841, in New York Passenger and Immigration Lists, 1820–1850 (Provo, UT, 2003); "S. K. G. Nellis," Curaçao to New York, July 27, 1846, in New York Passenger and Immigration Lists; "Acrobatas," El Mercurio (Valparaiso, Chile), Mar. 3, 1864. E. Hervey (1787–1820), an artist and performer who presented her magic tricks and albinism, exhibited in Montreal and Quebec City: "The Beautiful Albiness," Boston Intelligencer (MA), Sept. 20, 1817; "The Beautiful Albiness," The Albany Argus (NY), Oct. 28, 1817. Although many early-nineteenth-century disabled artists autonomously managed their careers, some were employed by showmen for periods of time. Sometimes these relationships seem voluntary: Nellis worked at Barnum's American Museum and Traveling Menagerie, but exhibited before, during, and afterward independently. "American Museum," New-York Herald, Oct. 9, 1842; "Traveling Menagerie and Museum," Cleveland Herald (OH), Apr. 30, 1851. Paulina Snyder (approx. 1810–after 1860), in comparison, initially sold her artwork with the help of a family friend, but was "kidnapped" by showmen who stole her money. "Miss Paulina Snyder," New-Hampshire Patriot (Concord), Nov. 9, 1829; "Scoundrels," Baltimore Patriot, Feb. 19, 1830. For early-nineteenth-century developments in transportation, see George Rogers Taylor, The Transportation Revolution, 1815–1860 (New York, 1951). For early-nineteenth-century consumerism for visual art, see Kelly, Republic of Taste; David Jaffee, ANew Nation of Goods: The Material Culture of Early America (Philadelphia, 2010); and "One of the Primitive Sort: Portrait Makers in the Rural North, 1760–1860," in The Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Transformation, ed. Steven Hahn and Jonathan Prude (Chapel Hill, NC, 1985), 103–38; Lillian B. Miller, Patrons and Patriotism: The Encouragement of the Fine Arts in the United States, 1790–1860 (Chicago, 1966). For early-nineteenth-century consumerism for science, see Aileen Fyfe and Bernard Lightman, Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth Century Sites and Experiences (Chicago, 2007).

5. Perceptions of physical and cognitive disability always vary according to social and historical circumstances; however, fascination and fear about disability and congenital physical differences in particular have been persistent themes. For more on such attitudes predating Honeywell, see Dudley Wilson, Signs and Portents: Monstrous Births from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (London, 1993); Katharine Park and Lorraine Datson, "Unnatural Conceptions: The Study of Monsters in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth-Century France and England," Past & Present 92 (Aug. 1981), 20–54; Kevin Stagg, "Representing Physical Difference: The Materiality of the Monstrous," in Social Histories of Disability and Deformity: Bodies, Images, and Experiences, ed. David M. Turner and Kevin Stagg (London, 2006), 19–39.

6. "Martha Honeywell," Le Havre to New York, Dec. 11, 1827, in New York Passenger and Immigration Lists; Martha Honeywell to John Quincy Adams, Jan. 29, 1829, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

7. There is conflicting information about Honeywell's birth year. Many sources suggest 1786; see "Martha Honeywell, South Crosby, Leeds, Canada West," in 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, Ancestry.com (08/08/2014); "Death Notices," New-York Tribune, Nov. 14, 1856. Other sources indicate years between 1787–1794; see "A Rare and Remarkable Phenomenon," Time Piece (New York), Mar. 9, 1798; William Bentley, Joseph Gilbert Waters, Marguerite Dalrymple, and Alice G. Waters, The Diary of William Bentley (3 vols., Salem, MA, 1911), 3:411; "Miss Martha Honeywell," Freedom's Journal (New York), Aug. 29, 1828. "Gilbert Honeywell," in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (New York), 141; "Advertisement," Daily Advertiser (New York), Feb. 3, 1787; "Public Notice," New-York Packet, Dec. 5, 1789; "Gilbert Honeywell," New York Ward 7, 1800 U.S. Federal Census, Ancestry.com (08/08/2014); James Hardie, Dictionary of the Most Uncommon Wonders of the Works of Art and Nature (New York, 1819), 178; "A Rare and Remarkable Phenomenon," Time Piece (New York), Mar. 9, 1798.

8. Performances of everyday tasks by people with extraordinary bodies were common in mid-to-late-nineteenth-century freak shows; see Bogdan, Freak Show, 108–11, 200–233. "A Rare and Remarkable Phenomenon," Time Piece (New York), Mar. 9, 1798; "Extraordinary Phenomenon!," Vermont Republican (Windsor), Nov. 27, 1820; Bentley, et. al., The Diary of William Bentley, 3: 411; "To the Curious," Connecticut Courant (Hartford), Nov. 19, 1806. For Rogers, see Anne Digan Lanning, "Sally Rogers: The Celebrated Paintress," Historic Deerfield 13 (Summer 2012), 2–7.

9. No sources suggest that Honeywell's mother traveled with her after 1810; see note 3. Immigration papers for Honeywell's passage to Europe do not survive. Her first mention in London is "Bartholomew Fair," Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Sept. 7, 1811. For American artists in Europe during the period, see Neil Harris, The Artist in American Society: The Formative Years (Chicago, 1966), 123–68. For Biffin, see Ellen Clayton, English Female Artists (2 vols., London, 1876), 1: 395–97. "An Invitation to the Curious," Bartholomew Fair, 1811, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia; "Acrostic to Miss Martha Honeywell," Baltimore Patriot, Nov. 21, 1828; "Royal Collection," Morning Chronicle (London), May 28, 1819; "Never Exhibited Here Before," Hull Packet (England), Oct. 12, 1819.

10. "Martha Honeywell," Le Havre to New York, Dec. 11, 1827, in New York Passenger and Immigration Lists; "Miss Martha Honeywell," Freedom's Journal (New York), Aug. 29, 1828; "Peale's Museum," Baltimore Patriot, Oct. 25, 1828; Alderson, Mermaids, Mummies, and Mastodons, 64; Martha Honeywell to John Quincy Adams, Jan. 29, 1829, Massachusetts Historical Society.

11. "Miss M. A. Honeywell," Daily Louisville Public Advertiser (KY), Sept. 15, 1830; "Miss Honeywell," Ohio Columbus Sentinel, Mar. 22, 1831; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of Clementine Loisel Papin, approx. 1830, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis; "Miss Honeywell," Atkinson's Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), Nov. 5, 1831; "Miss Honeywell's Splendid Gallery," United States Telegraph (Washington, DC), Mar. 15, 1832; "The Public," Lynchburg Virginian, Aug. 15, 1833; "Baltimore Museum," Baltimore Patriot, Sept. 4, 1834; "A Card," Southern Patriot (Charleston, SC), Jan. 17, 1835. Between 1836 and 1845, five newspaper notices suggest that Honeywell was in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and on Maryland's eastern shore: "Miss M. A. Honeywell," Public Ledger (Philadelphia), Mar. 5, 1844; "List of Letters," The Sun (Baltimore.), Jan. 3, 1843; "Great Attraction," Easton Gazette (MD), May 16, 1840. Martha Ann Honeywell, "Gallery of Cuttings and Needlework," 1846, Poughkeepsie, NY, William Reese Company; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of George T. Daniels, 1847, in Maine Antique Digest (Mar. 1983), 16-A; "Martha Honeywell," in 1851 Census of Canada West; "Miss M. A. Honeywell," Rochester Daily Democrat (NY), May 7, 1852. For the arrangement of Honeywell's shows, see "Miss Honeywell," New-York Commercial Advertiser, Sept. 28, 1809.

12. "Died," New York Herald, Nov. 13, 1856; "Honeywell," New-York Tribune, Nov. 14, 1856.

13. This discussion of customers' stares and Honeywell's strategy of staring back draws on Rosemarie Garland Thomson's scholarship on staring; see Thomson, Staring: How We Look (New York, 2009); and "Staring Back: Self-Representations of Disabled Performance Artists," American Quarterly 52 (June 2000), 334–38; Jennifer Eisenhauer, "Just Looking and Staring Back: Challenging Ableism Through Disability Performance Art," Studies in Art Education 49 (Oct. 2007), 7–22. I thank Benjamin Irvin for his insight about Honeywell's artistic reshaping of her patrons' figures.

14. For transportation, see note 4. For itinerancy, see Jaffee, A New Nation of Goods and " 'One of the Primitive Sort': Portrait-Makers in Rural America, 1760–1860"; Peter and Jane M. Benes, Itinerancy in New England and New York (Boston, 1986). For typefaces, see Stephen O. Saxe, "Loy's 19th-Century Type Designers," in Nineteenth-Century American Designers & Engravers of Type, by William E. Loy, ed. Alastair M. Johnson and Stephen O. Saxe (New Castle, DE, 2009), 21–31.

15. For the popularity of silhouettes, see Anne Verplanck, "Facing Philadelphia: The Social Functions of Silhouettes, Miniatures, and Daguerreotypes, 1760–1860," PhD diss., College of William & Mary, 1996; Robin Jaffee Frank, Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures (New Haven, CT, 2000); Catherine Kelly, "Object Lessons: Miniature Worlds," Common-Place 3 (Jan. 2003). For medical and scientific interest in disabled artists and performers, see Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism (Minneapolis, MN, 2003); Nigel Rothfels, "Aztecs, Aborigines, and Ape-People: Science and Freaks in Germany, 1850–1900," in Freakery, ed. Garland Thomson, 158–72; Bogdan, Freak Show.

16. There is overwhelming evidence that Honeywell composed most of her advertisements. During her early years her mother may have authored some notices, and museum operators generally controlled the publicity for shows at their establishments. The remainder of Honeywell's advertisements, however, are written from her perspective. "Miss Honeywell's Splendid Gallery," 1831, Philadelphia, Winterthur Library, Wilmington, DE; Martha Ann Honeywell, "Gallery of Cuttings and Needlework," 1846, Poughkeepsie, NY, William Reese Company; "Miss Honeywell's," Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), Mar. 15, 1832, italics are original; "Just arrived," italics are original.

17. Prieto, At Home in the Studio, 13; Kelly, "Object Lessons: Miniature Worlds;" Martha Ann Honeywell, The Endless Knot, Historic Deerfield, MA.

18. "Historical Rings," Harper's Bazaar, Jan. 14, 1871, italics are original; "The Wedding Ring," Aberdeen Journal (Scotland), July 27, 1825; "Extraordinary Phenomenon," Vermont Republican (Windsor), Nov. 27, 1820; Bentley, et. al., The Diary of William Bentley, 3: 411.

19. Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouettes of Lydia Ann Battin and Jackson Hughes, 1846–1848, Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium, MA; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of Alexander Eliot Spotswood, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, VA; Silhouette of William Francisco Spotswood, Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouettes of Elizabeth Thompson Heard and Daniel James Brooks, Howell Family Genealogy; Bentley, et. al., The Diary of William Bentley, 3: 411; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of Bishop Richard Channing Moore, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of Henry Latham, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston–Salem, NC; Martha Ann Honeywell, Silhouette of William Dornin, 1833, Lynchburg Museum, VA; Martha Ann Honeywell, Paper Cutting of Flowers, Earl Gregg Swem Library, Williamsburg, VA; "Miss Martha Honeywell," Freedom's Journal, Aug. 29, 1828; "A Young Lady," Cherokee Phoenix (New Echota), Nov. 12, 1831.

20. "Miss Honeywell," Ohio Columbus Sentinel, May 24, 1831; "Miss Honeywell," Baltimore Patriot, Nov. 15, 1828. Compensatory conceptions of disability have endured from the middle ages to modern day; see Julie Singer, "Playing by Ear: Compensation, Reclamation, and Prosthesis in Fourteenth-Century Song," in Disability in the Middle Ages: Reconsiderations and Reverberations, ed. Joshua R. Eyler (Surrey, England, 2010), 39–52; Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York, 1997), 49–51. For a mid-nineteenth-century perspective on compensation, see Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Essay on Compensation," 1841, in Lewis Nathaniel Chase, Emerson's Essay on Compensation (Sewanee, TN, 1906).

21. "Martha Ann Honeywell," Northern Whig (Hudson, NY), Sept. 5, 1809; "Peale's Museum," Baltimore Patriot, Oct. 25, 1828; Robley Dunglison, "Human Physiology," American Quarterly Review 13 (Mar. 1833), 384.

22. "Martha Ann Honeywell," Northern Whig (Hudson, NY), Sept. 5, 1809; Josephus, "The following effusion of genius . . . ," Weekly Museum (New York), Dec. 23, 1809, italics added.

23. Honeywell made gestures to corporeal normality throughout her career; however, such emphases especially occur in her earlier advertisements, perhaps because customers then were less likely to be familiar with her body and art. "To the Curious," Connecticut Herald (New Haven), Oct. 28, 1806; "An Invitation to the Curious," Bartholomew Fair, 1811, American Philosophical Society, italics are original; "The following lines . . ." Poulson's American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), Apr. 28, 1809; "Miss Honeywell," Salem Gazette (MA), Jan. 27, 1809.

24. "Miss Honeywell," Eastern Argus (Portland, ME), May 25, 1809. For early-nineteenth-century women's artwork, see Prieto, At Home in the Studio; Kelly, Republic of Taste; Hirshorn, "Anna Claypoole, Margaretta, and Sarah Miriam Peale: Modes of Accomplishment and Fortune"; Gordon, "Early American Women Artists and the Social Context in Which They Worked." For women using nineteenth-century ideals of domesticity to justify careers as artists, see Prieto, At Home in the Studio.

25. "Miss Honeywell's Splendid Gallery," Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), Mar. 15, 1832; "Just Arrived," Hampshire Telegraph (Portsmouth, England), July 15, 1816; "Miss Mary Honeywell," American Sentinel (Middletown, CT), Aug. 27, 1828; "Extraordinary Phenomenon," Vermont Republican (Windsor), Nov. 27, 1820. Honeywell's claims to respectability were also part of a trend among early-nineteenth-century artists to demonstrate the professional status of their work by associating themselves with the middle class rather than with artisans and tradespeople; see Neil Harris, An Artist in American Society: The Formative Years, 1790–1850 (New York, 1966; repr., Chicago, 1982). For Honeywell's family's socioeconomic situation, see "A Rare and Remarkable Phenomenon," Time Piece (New York), Mar. 9, 1798.

26. "Extraordinary Phenomenon," Vermont Republican (Windsor), Nov. 27, 1820; Bentley et. al., The Diary of William Bentley, 3: 411; Dunglison, "Human Physiology," 384; "Communicated," Daily Louisville Public Advertiser (KY), Sept. 22, 1830. For other patrons commending Honeywell's femininity, see Josephus, "The following effusion of genius . . . ," Weekly Herald (New York), Dec. 23, 1809; "Martha Ann Honeywell," Northern Whig (Hudson, NY), Sept. 5, 1809; "Acrostic to Miss Martha Honeywell," Baltimore Patriot, Nov. 21, 1828.

27. Honeywell may have married later in life because she is recorded in the 1851 Canadian census as a widow. As no other sources mention a marriage, however, I am skeptical of this listing. Her last surviving review in 1849 and last surviving advertisement in 1852 both describe her as "Miss" Honeywell. "Martha Honeywell," in 1851 Census of Canada West; "Philadelphia Museum," North American (Philadelphia), May 23, 1849; "Miss M. A. Honeywell," Rochester Daily Democrat (NY), May 7, 1852. There are some indications that Honeywell may have desired a more conventional life as a wife and mother. She infused her artwork with symbols of fertility, such as birds and flowers, and wore the engagement ring from her Dublin suitor throughout her life. Nevertheless, as Honeywell certainly knew, the responsibilities associated with marriage and childbearing would have largely prohibited her career, and it was her physical disabilities that helped to unburden her of these obligations. I thank Benjamin Irvin for this insight. Catherine Kudlick, "Modernity's Miss-Fits: Blind Girls and Marriage in France and America, 1820–1920," in Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single, ed. Rudolph M. Bell and Virginia Yans (New Brunswick, NJ, 2007), 201–18. For nineteenth-century ideals of virtuous womanhood, see Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood," American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966), 151–74; Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Women's Sphere" in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, CT, 1977). For singlehood and childlessness during the period, see Lee Virginia Chambers-Schiller, Liberty A Better Husband: Single Women in America: The Generations of 1780–1840 (New Haven, CT, 1984); Zsuzsa Berend, " 'The Best or None!' Spinsterhood in Nineteenth-Century New England," Journal of Social History 33 (Summer 2000), 935–57; Elaine Tyler May, Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness (Cambridge, MA, 1995), 21–60. For gender and disability, especially how disability can free women from some social constraints, see Michelle Fine and Adrienne Asch, eds., Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture, and Politics (Philadelphia, 1988); Rosemarie Garland Thomson, "Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory," NWSA Journal 14 (Autumn 2002), 1–32.

28. "For the National Intelligencer," Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), Apr. 6, 1832; "Extraordinary Phenomenon," Niles' Weekly Register (Baltimore), in Vermont Republican (Windsor), Nov. 11, 1820. Of course, unbeknownst to the Register, in 1820 Honeywell was in Europe receiving much acclaim from London newspapers. For other patrons commending Honeywell's middle-class values, see "We understand . . . " The Independent Chronicle (Boston), Dec. 12, 1808; "Communicated," Daily Louisville Public Advertiser (KY), Sept. 22, 1830. Nellis was also heralded as a symbol of American industry and ingenuity, see H.A.G., "Editorial Letters from the West Indies, No. VI," Christian Reflector 9 (Apr. 9, 1846); "Mr. Nellis," Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion 1 (Dec. 13, 1851), 517. For nineteenth-century middle-class values and ideals, see Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle Class Culture in America, 1830–1870 (New Haven, CT, 1982); John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1990); Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York, 1992).

29. "Miss Honeywell," Boston Weekly Messenger, Nov. 27, 1828, italics are original; "Hands Off!," Lancaster Gazette (PA), in The Pittsfield Sun (MA), July 31, 1828, italics are original. This style of mockery in which reviewers italicized disabled artists' atypical body parts was common. For similar reviews of Rogers and Nellis, see "Anecdote," Salem Gazette (MA), July 15, 1806; "A Wonderful Man Without Arms," Bangor Daily Whig & Courier (ME), Aug. 16, 1859.

30. For more on Rogers, Biffin, and Nellis, see notes 4, 6, and 9.

31. For the exclusion of disabled people during the period, see David J. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic (Boston, 1971); Kay Schriner and Lisa A. Ochs, "Creating the Disabled Citizen: How Massachusetts Disenfranchised People under Guardianship," Ohio State Law Journal 62 (Feb. 2001), 518–27; Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies.

Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0620
Print ISSN
0275-1275
Pages
225-250
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-24
Open Access
No
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