Anne Hampton Brewster: Nineteenth-Century News from Rome

Think of Anne Hampton Brewster as a precursor to NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli. American, female, news correspondent in Rome,  writing stories followed by many in the US.  The similarities stop there. Brewster, a Philadelphian, left for Italy 150 years ago. She began her foreign correspondence later in life,  in 1868, when she was  well-beyond age 40.  Looking forward to this new chapter in her career,  she had no idea she would send back to America more than 500 “letters,” appearing in papers from North to South and coast to coast.

Regular readers of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and Boston Daily Advertiser knew Brewster’s name and looked forward to her news from Rome. Other writing agreements flooded in, so that her accounts appeared in the New York World, the Chicago Daily News,  the Cincinnati Commerical and numerous other papers. Why, then, is Brewster’s name now unknown?
Anne Hampton Brewster and Rodolfo Lanciani essay published in Questioni di Genere

My essay in Questioni di Genere  (Questions of Gender), provides an answer. It describes Brewster’s sometimes crafty choices and, at other times, self-destructive decisions. These allowed her to make connections with men in Rome like Rodolfo Lanciani, a “social climber” himself. Lanciani became a civic leader, an expert on excavations, and a professor at the prestigious La Sapienza, Rome’s premier university.  He lectured at prominent venues throughout the US, including Harvard and Johns Hopkins. While Brewster’s relationship with Lanciani was, at first, one that might be deemed “mutually beneficial,” it went awry. He achieved fame.  She fell to obscurity. He married another US citizen. She remained the single “Miss Brewster.”

He achieved fame.  She fell to obscurity. He married another US citizen. She remained the single “Miss Brewster.”

I explore just how and why the relationship went wrong, as the essay traces Brewster’s time in Rome, at the Tuscan resort town Bagni di Lucca in 1873, and afterward.  Brewster was never a sleeping beauty, as the cover image of Questioni di Genere may suggest. In fact, Frederic Leighton’s dramatic oil painting Flaming June  appeared after Brewster’s death in Siena in 1892. At that point she was more than 70. Even twenty years earlier, when Brewster posed for another type of portrait, she was far from a blazing beauty.

Elegant or Assertive–How Should a Woman Writer  Be?

Anne Hampton Brewster Carte de Visite Fratelli d'Allessandri Rome ca. 1874

Anne Hampton Brewster, ca. 1874.  Carte de Visite by Fratelli d’Allessandri.  From the Library Company of Philadelphia.

This Carte de Visite photo, taken by the successful Fratelli d’Allessandri at the prime of Brewster’s Roman years, demonstrates her self-assurance and the elegance she wished to present. Known for wearing black velvet and diamonds when she hosted her regular evening receptions, the unmarried “Miss Annie” wanted to be a proper woman-of-leisure as well as a professional writer. The two desires did not mix well.

Anne Hampton Brewster’s  Anglo-American Circles in Italy

Brewster’s active life in social and professional circles–including Italians and Americans, men and women–reveal much of the life of a nineteenth-century career woman abroad.  Her story is a poignant one among many about Anglos in Italy that recently have engaged readers and writers of women’s history: Margaret Fuller, Jessie White Mario, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Harriet Hosmer, Louisa May Alcott . . . the list goes on.

 Margaret Fuller, Jessie White Mario, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Harriet Hosmer, Louisa May Alcott . . . the list goes on.

Yet in spite of the similarities among these brave women of “genius,” as Anne Boyd Rioux, Kate  Culkin,  and Renee L. Bergland  aptly dub them, each one experienced professional life abroad differently. They brought with them diverse desires and haunting pasts, sexual preferences and religious stances.

Brewster, for example, had converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult in Philadelphia. She was wooed by both men and women in the US and abroad. But she died as a single woman in Siena, Tuscany, in 1892. Her story is worth remembering for what she offers all of us about journeys that take people around unexpected turns and across wide waters.

I hope you will follow as I share more about Anne Hampton Brewster and other nineteenth-century women in Italy. And, I would love to read your questions and comments about these fascinating women.

If you are interested in accessing my essay on Anne Hampton Brewster, let me know. In case you’re wondering–it’s written in English.

Food: a Utopian Studies Special Issue

Idealized food practices have changed, I explain in the introduction to a 2015 special issue (26.1) of the journal Utopian Studies. Since Eating in Eden: Food and American Utopias appeared, utopian foodways have turned to production that is better for sustaining the earth.  In addition, food ideals are conveyed now through social media, a possibility that was in its infancy when Eating in Eden went to press. My introduction provides an overview to the collection, with specifics about the thirteen essays and book reviews within it.  Co-edited with Timothy Miller and Lyman Tower Sargent, who are also contributors, the special issue examines utopian food practices that give attention to consumption and clean up as well as social exchange and spirituality.

Savory Bites

“Savory Bites: Books on Eating in Early America,” appeared in Early American Literature 50.2 (2015).  On the hot topic of food and literature, it considers three books on American literature and culture from colonial exploration through Reconstruction:  Ann Chandonnet’s Colonial Food (Shire 2013); Michael A. LaCombe’s Political Gastronomy: Food and Authority in the English Atlantic World (U Pennsylvania P 2012); and Kyla Wazana Tompkins’s Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (New York UP 2012). The essay places these books within the context of American food studies and the teaching of American literature.

As the first two volumes discuss, for Native Americans and European colonial explorers and settlers, food exchanges were not only crucial to survival but also highly symbolic. Hospitality among strangers is key among food practices that identify cultures.  Tompkins’s book takes a more grim approach to cultural differences. Consuming the other appears figuratively and frequently in American literature and culture, from the post-Revolutionary era through the 19th century.  In sum, what we share indicates who we are, just as what we eat determines who we are.

Damanhur: An Italian Earth-Centered Community

“Damanhur: Sustaining Changes in an Intentional Community,” is the first chapter in the book Spiritual and Visionary Communities: Out to Save the World. In it I probe the question of how a community in the mountains of northern Italy coalesced from small, urban gatherings of spiritual seekers in the 1970s to the eco-conscious group it is today. (more…)

Famous American Vegetarians

Vegetarianism is not a recent American trend, influenced by immigrant cultures and travel abroad. Waves of interest in meatless diets have surged and ebbed through the centuries. In fact, even 18th-century American “founding father” Benjamin Franklin abstained from meat as a young adult. According to his Autobiography, Franklin was motivated by desires for professional productivity and frugality rather than moral or spiritual beliefs.  In the 19th century, some American Transcendentalists, such as Bronson Alcott, and the “man of science” Henry David Thoreau, advocated vegetarianism for spiritual reasons. My essay in the Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism discusses these 19th-century advocates of doing without animal flesh.

Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Native Tales

“Science in Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie (1827)” zooms in on a novel about Puritan New England that contributed to Sedgwick’s position as a rival of James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans. The article (co-written with Shelley Block) discusses Native American rights and relationships with Anglo colonists, including sexual, marital and family bonds. The article employs the lens of science, since discussions of Native Americans by Anglo authors during Sedgwick’s day often drew from the ideas of “men of science” as they voiced their opinions about intercultural relations.