Tidewater Review - September 2007

On Land and On Sea

Anne Stinson

   On Land and On Sea, by Margaret L. Andersen Rosenfeld. Published by Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT. 1176 pages. $50.
    Lovers of fine photography may be familiar with the maritime scenes of Morris Rosenfeld and his sons David, Stanley and William, whose photographs of the America’s Cup Races and other yachting affairs made them famous. Their work recorded the sea and the boats that sailed on it from 1881 to the present.
    In addition to the exciting yacht races, the Rosenfelds also did commercial camera work, focusing their lenses on images for advertising, as well as any scene that captured their attention.
    The entire body of the Rosenfeld collection numbers more than a million photographs housed at Mystic Seaport. In this book by Margaret Andersen Rosenfeld, the granddaughter-in-law of Morris, she combed through the huge repository to compile a series of pictures that resonate on many levels of interest.
    Her choices focus on women, from girls discovering the pleasures of small boats, to professional models who glamorized ads for runabouts and cruising boats, to socialites aboard yachts or christening them.
    That emphasis only contains the “On Sea” half of the title. The author belies the impression that women were not athletes in sports dominated by men. The “On Land” part of the title reveals that females were, indeed, fit, lithe and competent in many fields.
    The extraordinary scope of this beautiful, scholarly work appeals on many levels. For fashion mavens, it’s a treasury of costumes, hats and hairstyles that illuminate each era of more than 100 years of women’s photographs. Part of the pleasure of leafing through the pages is in seeing how our mothers, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers attired themselves for work and play.
    Aside from garb worn by the rich and famous, the Rosenfelds captured typical scenes of working women. There are striking views of factory women in 1915 making wire attachments for telephones. They’re seated in rows, all prim and proper in their black stockings, dark skirts to the floor and white shirtwaist blouses, a dress code required by their employer to project an image of decorum.
    In 1918, the same dress code prevailed as telephone operators at a wall of switchboards plugged their callers to connecting customers of the New York Telephone Company. Their costumes and un-bobbed hair in huge knots would disappear with the invention of dial phones few years later.
    By 1921, the Rosenfelds were snapping pictures of women in their basements, lifting wet clothes from big double sinks into the newest invention, electric washers fitted with convenient wringers to reduce laundry chores from all-day to half-a-day events. They captured another common scene on a New York street in 1915. Fully dressed men and women are asleep on the sidewalk on blankets and pillows on a sultry summer night before air conditioning was available.
    Few African American women are subjects in the photographs, but one exception is a view of the interior of the National Laundry Company in 1929. The workers are all black women supervised by a white woman, all dressed in white dresses and hair coverings like nurses’ caps.
    Another touching photograph at the bottom of the economic scale portrays immigrant women surrounded by families at Ellis Island. They stretch in a long line of patient hopefuls waiting for railroad tickets to unfamiliar destinations.
    Traditionally, jobs outside the home were fairly limited to unmarried young women who were helping support their families only until they married, Andersen Rosenfeld writes. Their wages were smaller than their male counterparts, then as now.
    Higher on the social and economic scale are two ladies, one on horseback, waiting for a parade to begin in 1916. They were suffragettes calling attention to their demand for voting rights. Their splendid hats and banners were no distraction from what had to be equally splendid corsets supporting ramrod posture.
    Another chapter illuminates “Women and the Work of Caring.” The author makes a telling case for the truism: Rich women in the first quarter of the new century did volunteer work. Many of them, like young Eleanor Roosevelt, worked to help the less fortunate as settlement houses sprang up to help poor immigrants living in crowded tenements learn where to find scarce social services like health care for themselves and their children.
    Churchwomen, like those of St. John’s Guild (Episcopal Church), Manhattan, were an active force in the movement. As early as 1864 the Guild chartered a barge to take poor children out on the water for sunshine, good food and relief from their squalid living conditions. In 1875 the Guild commissioned a hospital ship to accommodate 2,500 poor, sick children and their mothers to the Seaside Day Nursery or the Seaside Hospital on Staten Island. The Guild replaced the ship with a more modern one in 1902 and continued its charity work until it disbanded in 1980.
    The YWCA, the Red Cross, Women’s Clubs and charitable organizations funded by philanthropists joined the caring. With women in the forefront, Morris Rosenfeld was keen to record their efforts on film and the book has many photographs of compassion in action. He was so impressed by their work he named his last child, a daughter, Eleanor Roosevelt Rosenfeld.
   “Sport and Spectators” showcases the vibrant women who defied their images as frail young things who would risk their reproductive health if they exerted themselves, as was commonly still believed in the post-Victorian era. In this section, the bathing suits of the 1920s are an absolute hoot. Ladies arriving at a polo match in 1919, on the other hand, have hats to die for, one topped with enough flowers for a funeral bouquet and another with enough plumes to denude an egret.
    As engaging as the clothes and hairdos are, it’s the keen history of women’s changing status as they shed the constraints of previous generations in Mrs. Andersen Rosenfeld’s text, as entertaining and readable as it is informative.
    The author is the Edward and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenfeld Professor of Sociology at the University of Delaware, where she holds faculty appointments in Women’s Studies and Black American Studies. She has written numerous academic books and articles and has won prestigious awards in her field.
    On Land and On Sea is a beautiful book and a great tribute to the talented work of an amazing family.

   Nothing to See Here, by David L. Post. Beckham Publications Group, Inc., Silver Spring, MD. ISBN: 0-931761-29-8. 271 pages. $14.95.
    Nothing to See Here is a book title that warns the reader in advance. I can’t remember ever reading a novel that so disturbed, upset and hung in my brain like a migraine headache. That caveat being registered, I also could not stop reading until the last page.
    David Post , the author, has been a practicing clinical psychologist in the Boston area for more than 30 years, a career that prepared him for this harrowing tale of betrayal, switched roles and tragedy. The opening sentence in chapter one sets up the premise of the tale: “A bad marriage can last forever, but a marriage brushed by insanity will crash and burn in no time at all.”
    Post says the novel was inspired by an actual event nearly a decade earlier, when a respected physician was convicted of killing his wife. While the story is not based on the case, Post says it raised questions in his mind, an effort to understand the impulses that could lead a prominent doctor to commit a grisly murder.
    The leading character in this fictional drama is a psychoanalyst with a busy practice, a beautiful house, an attractive wife and a young son. There’s just one flaw in the picture. Dr. Alan Sarnower’s wife Cassie is increasingly erratic, given to rages, withdrawal and psychotic episodes. One day, after an outburst, she stalks out of the house and disappears. Her car is found at the airport with a note; “Split for the Coast” was all it said.
    As a professional shrink, Alan had recognized her symptoms and tried to get her to agree to seeing a therapist, take medications and/or be hospitalized for a short time to relieve her bizarre behavior. Her mood swings were upsetting their pre-teen son, Mitch, as well. Cassie will have none of it.
    Alan’s personal distress is affecting his ability to help his troubled patients as the weeks go by with no idea where or with whom his absent wife has gone, but he cancels his credit cards when inflated bills arrive.
    When three weeks have passed with no communication from Cassie, his devoted office manager cancels his appointments and urges him to go home and rest for the afternoon. An ugly surprise greets him on arrival. His wife’s car is in the driveway and he discovers her in their bed with a scruffy hippy. Alan, enraged, throws the man’s clothes out the upstairs window and chases him downstairs and onto the lawn stark naked as neighbors gawk and whisper.
    Cassie stalks out in fury, and a few days later Alan is served with divorce papers. He hires an expensive lawyer and prepares to be relieved of a thorn in his side. He considers his provocation so grievous that he’ll soon be free to live a serene life with his adored son.
    Poor deluded Alan. Cassie is demanding that he move out of their house, give it to her and gain custody of Mitch, plus a big alimony settlement. His lawyer, a hard-nosed realist, warns Alan that the courts usually favor the mother in divorce cases.
    As Alan becomes more and more outraged, he begins a decline into irrationality.
    Cassie, coached by an equally hard-nosed attorney, transforms herself into a smartly dressed, soft-spoken lady in court, charging that Alan threw her out of their house, abused her and mistreated their son and made her life hellish. The judge buys her story, particularly when Alan’s outbursts in court make him appear to be the mentally ill party.
    By this time, the role reversals make the reader squirm with sympathy for the beleaguered shrink. Alan is indeed showing signs of being pushed over the edge.
    His desperate attempt to rid himself of the nightmare turns to tragedy as the novel resolves the plot, with disaster the only logical outcome.
The final denouement is as heart-stopping for the reader as it is for the fictional players in this gripping psychological drama.