Tuesday, June 2, 2009

That Doggie in the Window

[Here's the next installment in Eberle's Women's Art is Women's Work series. Hope you enjoy it!]

Like much of the popular music of the 1950s and 1960s the song “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” has its roots in the Victorian era of music hall songs. “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow,” the original inspiration for That Doggie, was performed for the first time on stage by Vesta Victoria in 1892—around the same time that Beatrix Potter was writing the Peter Rabbit stories. Over the course of the nineteenth century a dramatic transformation had been taking place in the relationship between humans and animals. Parents were encouraging children to keep a variety of small creatures. Families wanted their dogs and cats to be included in portraits. The first cat show was held in the 1870s. Pet stores appeared on the scene. Animals had taken on an almost completely new role by the late nineteenth century in England and America: the role of household pets.

Cats and dogs had been connected to household life for a long time—as rat-killers, mouse-catchers, watch-dogs, hunting dogs, and herd dogs—but for most of their history they were seen primarily as working animals. Their official status as members of the family came about fairly recently; animal rights movements marched alongside this development, with the first society for animal protection starting in Britain in 1824. Dogs were quicker than cats to make the move across the parlor boundary, but by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, both had taken up residence in the heart of the home.

Victorian girls and women mourned the loss of their pets as they did the loss of family members and friends, carrying locks of their favorite animals’ hair in rings and lockets. Before the advent of pet cemeteries at the turn of the century, pet-owners had been known to sneak into graveyards and secretly bury the bodies of beloved animals in plots reserved for themselves. The writer and activist Marguerite Durand created the first cemetery for pets in 1899. In addition to starting a feminist daily newspaper run entirely by women, she was known in Paris for walking the boulevards with her pet lion. This lion, along with some other famous animals including RinTinTin, is buried at the exclusive but charming garden-style resting place for pets that Marguerite founded on the Île des Ravageurs near Paris.

"His attachment was without selfishness, his playfulness without malice, his fidelity without deceit." That was the epitaph of Dash, a spaniel, the first girlhood dog
of Queen Victoria. Nineteenth century women writers would echo her words, contrasting the ways of dogs with the ways of men. “Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms,” George Eliot wrote in 1857.

Long before dogs and cats had colonized the boudoir, another animal had successfully made the voyage from the farmyard to the house proper. Newborn lambs that could not be fed by their mothers were reared indoors at the kitchen hearth and often became favorites of the girls and women who tended them. Mary Cronk, writing to her husband who was serving in the New York State volunteer infantry in 1863 gave him an update on her pet: “I must tell you of something I washed to day it was our pet lamb it was just all I could lift in the wash tub and she fills it full when she is in it. She is the handsomest lamb or sheep you ever seen I wish you could see her she is as white as snow when she is clean.”

Domestic animals co
uld mean money to girls and women who otherwise had very few ways of getting it. Until the late nineteenth century in Britain as well as in much of the United States, married women could not legally own property and often had no disposable income of their own at all. “Butter and egg” money was one solution that women found to this problem, earning money of their own by tending domestic animals. Some women basically started small businesses to produce and distribute their wares. Girls, too, would sometimes be allowed to keep money they made from the animals they specially tended. “Mary Had A Little Lamb” was written by Sarah Josepha Buell Hale in 1830 when many girls would have had lambs under their charge.


Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece
was white as snow,
And every where that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go;
He followed her to school one day—
That was against th
e rule,
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at sc
And so the Teacher turned him out,
But still he lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appe
And then he ran to her, and laid
His head upon her arm,
As if he said'I'm not afraid—
You'll keep me from all harm.'

'What makes the lamb love Mary so?'
The eager children cry—
'O, Mary loves the lamb, you know,'

The Teacher did reply; —
'And you each gentle animal
In confidence may bind,
And make them follow at your call,
If you are always kind.'

A new development in nineteenth century family life was the belief that if children lea
rned to be kind to pets they would grow up to be moral individuals. Whether this was true or not, one child who definitely benefited from the trend was Beatrix Potter. She kept a varied household menagerie of mice, rats, dormice, hedgehogs and rabbits—occasionally varied by a lizard or squirrel. Benjamin Bunny, the inspiration for Peter Rabbit, traveled in a basket along with the family on railroad trips.

Animals figured largely in Every Girl's Book of Sport, Occupation and Pastime written by Mrs. Mary Whiteley in 1897. She has this advice about the feeding of cats: “For the cat’s breakfast, nothing can be better than oatmeal porridge and milk.” Commercialized pet food had not yet become a standard part of pet care—neither had cat litter, first marketed in 1945. Mrs. Whitely wrote at length about how girls could raise chickens and silkworms in their spare time. Both these activities were popular with girls in England and America as hobbies for enjoyment as well as with hopes for some serious pocket money. A scene worth pondering is that of the American pioneer woman raising silkworms near her loom and spinning wheel, as Mrs. Silas Palmer did after her 1836 arrival in Ohio. An ounce of silkworm eggs produced 40,000 caterpillars, which would produce eight pounds of raw silk.

Family members, dear companions, household helps, and home industries—pets acted as love tokens too. Eighteenth and nineteenth century novelists describe small animals being presented to women as gifts from prospective suitors— a lap-dog was a common choice. The way that a woman received such a gift could indicate her feelings toward the suitor—and the gift could reveal aspects of the suitor’s character as well. Some women writers of the time, however, turned the point of view around, drawing a connection between these sorts of pets and themselves. Margaret Blennerhassett, for instance, wrote her “Warning to a Lap-Dog” in 1824. She speculates on the probability that her lap-dog Rosa has fallen for the wrong sort, for the rambling kind, and hints that she has had the same difficulty herself.

Birds of course were present in the parlor long before
the four-footed tribe took up residence there—canaries, parrots, and other exotics were the signature of centuries of far-flung shipping trade and provided music in the most intimate recesses of the home. Susanna Blamire lived during the second half of the eighteenth century and, like Margaret, saw a connection between the condition of pets and of women, which she described in her poem “Dear Nancy”:

Dear Nancy, since men have all made their own laws,
Which oppress the poor women, whatever's the cause;
Since by hardness of reason or hardness of fist
All wrong must be right if they choose to persist;
I'd have you with caution in wedlock engage,
For if once you are caught you're a bird in a cage,
That may for dear liberty flutter the wing
As you hop round the perch, but 'tis chance if you sing.

© Eberle Umbach 2007-2009

Pix from top:
Young Lady in a Boat: James Tissot, 1870
Marguerite Durand: 1910 photo
1902 Illustration for Mary's Lamb
Beatrix Potter, age 15, with her dog Spot
From an 1888 publication of the Toronto Humane Society
Madame Rejane:
Giovanni Boldini, 1885
The Caged Bird: John Liston Byam Shaw

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  1. Another knock-your-socks-off post. I cannot conceive how you manage to produce so many of such length and such amazingly high quality. I am full of admiration. May there be many more.

  2. Thanks Dave for your kind words & wishes. Of course, most of Eberle's posts pre-date the blog-- the Women's Art is Women's Work series is a group of essays she & Audrey Bilger are working on, & the ones being posted are actually from an earlier version of a manuscript. The book has changed considerably since then, but I'm so happy Eberle agreed to let me post them.

  3. Excellent post, Eberle (and John, too, of course). I especially enjoyed the extra verses to "Mary's Lamb"!

  4. You MUST install the stumble upon toolbar. You're smart and will figure it out. These are rich posts, like Dave said - high quality. You will find many more readers through Stumble Upon and Reddit. Every artist wants (and needs) to share their art, as does the literary artist/intellectual. I have stumbled your post. It is divine!

    Oh, but I warn you, Stumble Upon can be addictive. It is such a wonderful way to find great content AND reward your favorite bloggers. I've been using it more and more. It is so fun, and for every post that is stumbled, you should see a very sharp rise in your hits. It's hard to develop loyal readership this way - but it will come.

  5. Hi Willow & Jen:

    Willow: Glad you liked it-- who knew there were so many verses.

    Jen: Well, I've added Reddit to go with Digg & Technorati-- thanks for "faving" me on Technorati by the way. & I added the Stumble It toolbar, but I'm completely stumped on trying to add the SU button in the template. Stumble It's directions don't seem to work, & I can't get the directions from the one one page I can find on this topic to work either. Not so hot at editing html....

    But thanks-- I do appreciate your support & your advice a lot!

  6. Jen: Maybe I conquered Stumble Upon! (Guardedly optimistic) yay!

  7. Great post, sad stories. A pet lion, though? I'll bet Ms. Durand and her lion had the boulevards all to themselves.

  8. Hi Sandra:

    I'll bet you're right!


  9. wonderful post!!!!!

    I don't know if it's because my first name is mary or because they're just so darned cute, but I'm long longed to have a little lamb....

  10. Hi,

    We have just added your latest post "Robert Frost's Banjo: That Doggie in the Window" to our Directory of Pets . You can check the inclusion of the post here . We are delighted to invite you to submit all your future posts to the directory and get a huge base of visitors to your website.

    Warm Regards

    Petgarden.info Team


  11. Hi Mouse & Abagale:

    Mouse: Eberle & I have often talked about having a couple of sheep. The seem like such gentle creatures-- & they mow the lawn!

    Abagale: Thanks so much! Glad you found the post interesting.

  12. Please excuse a flight of thought association here! The doggie in the window reminded me of the music hall, the music hall of a question that has been bothering me all week, namely: where did the following commonplace comic musical figure originate?

    C GGG Ab G BC

    (pom tiddly pom pom - pom pom)

    Thought you might know, or enjoy puzzling over it too.

  13. I can't get it on my either. And, I'm really bad about marketing my own posts. I always forget to add the digg button, etc. I really need to get better about it.

    Blogger does not have a cool plugin for this stuff like WordPress. I hate that...maybe they'll get one soon.

    Anyway, when I get a chance, I'll find the code for Stumble upon. The key is for your loyal followers to get the stumble upon toolbar and stumble posts for you.

  14. Hi Jen: Perhaps you could copy the more generic stumble button I have in the left frame into each post, like a Digg button. I haven't tried that. But, yeah, trying to get it into a template is something else!

  15. Hi again Dominic:

    The musical figure--sorry to forget that in my first response--is what we call "shave & a haircut, two bits." There are any number of variations. Some people, e.g., play A instead of Ab (guilty as charged), & then sometimes you do a chromatic run down to the tonic (C in this case)e.g. E Eb D C. I didn't know where it originated-- according to Wikipedia it first occurred in an 1899 Charles Hale song, "At a Darktown Cakewalk." My guess is that it was in "folk" use (or minstrel show use, perhaps) before Mr Hale used it-- it just has that sort of sound.

    Great question!

  16. Thanks! I checked out the wikipedia page. It think that just about settles it.
    Since you have words for the tune (I don't think we do in the UK) it probably makes it easier to google.

  17. Hi Dominic: You're welcome. I use the old shave & a haircut tag from time to time myself; great way to end a song if you jazz it up as a chromatic run.


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