Women Who Didn’t Make Pottery

Women didn’t make pottery.

Or rather, an Interpretive Staff Director of an early American life museum once told me that.  His argument?  Lack of evidence.  No solid documentation shows women making pottery in this country before the “Art Pottery” revival of the 1870’s.  No tax rolls, no signed pots, no probate records, no diaries.

Pottery was rarely classed as a distinct occupation.  Furthermore, some “potters” owned large manufactories, while others were just rural door to door sales people.  Actual pottery makers could alternately be noted as “laborers,” “mechanics” (they worked with machines), or “farmers.”  Hardly anyone wrote about it.  So, women potters?  Where is the evidence?

Some bits and pieces include; Ann Mackdugle, apprenticing to William Kettel in Charleston, MA until 1712; a woman listing herself as an “Earthen Ware Potter Maker” upon disembarking from Ireland in 1716 (Ireland lost it’s only female potter at that time?);  Catharine Bowne, inheriting a shop in Middlesex, NJ and operating it from 1813 into the 1820’s.

More is known of Grace Parker.  She and her husband Isaac made redware from 1713 to 1742 in Charlestown, MA.  By all accounts they did pretty well.  In 1742, they asked for support from the colonial government to attempt stoneware.  They got funding.  While soliciting information from southern stoneware potters, Isaac suddenly died.  Grace carried on.  She was the first potter to make stoneware in New England.  She continued until 1754, when the French Indian War ruined her business and small pox ruined her.   (Some, however, believe Grace was just a manager – because women didn’t make pottery.)

Nobody denies that Maria Crafts Kellog made stoneware in Whately, MA in the 1850’s.  Slip decorated crocks of hers can be seen at the Whately Historical Society.  Crafts Avenue in nearby Northampton was named after the Crafts family.  Thomas Crafts, her uncle and Whatley’s most famous potter, apparently favored Maria.  He, like many potters, farmed out his relations to various locales, establishing new potteries to increase his market.  He sold each of his sons the plot of land of his they settled on.  Only Maria was given a homestead for free.

In indigenous societies, of course, women did make pottery.  It was “part of their domain”.  Even Colono Ware, native pottery for the Anglo market, was made by women.  Still, to this day in many parts of rural Meso America, women potters might rather be called “comalleristas” (cooking dish makers).  It wasn’t until the Spanish introduced the potter’s wheel and all its attendant gadgetry in the 1500’s, that men got involved (or so the evidence suggests).

It is reasonable, even sane, to deny a theory where no evidence exists.  Lots of grief could be avoided by applying this simple rule.  Case in point; our current involvement in Iraq.  But to successfully maintain a pottery culture, it takes a community.

Readings:

Ceramics in America. Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

The Art of the Potter. Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins.   Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

A Guide to Whately Pottery and The Potters.  Henry Baldwin.  Paradise Copies/Northampton MA.  1999.

Pottery of the American Indians. Helen Stiles.  E.P. Dutton & Co./New York. 1939.

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5 Responses to “Women Who Didn’t Make Pottery”

  1. pincupottery Says:

    I just found your history blog and looked at your redware. I want to thank you for your history blog. It is a fun read and I look forward to your musings on pottery history as you read through your collection of history books.

    I teach ceramic history and other pottery classes at a community college in Western North Carolina. I am working on a blog and would like to link to your site. I have already mentioned your blog and site and included your links.

    Thanks!
    Elise

  2. Teapot as Teapot « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Thomas certainly saw it that way.  He trained several brothers, sons, nephews, and at least one niece in the trade.  He probably also trained Stephen Orcutt, head of the Orcutt potting clan.  […]

  3. The Dutch and The Deacon « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] Greenwich, CT shortly thereafter resulted in the first sustained stoneware pottery in New England (Grace Parker was the first stoneware potter in New England, but her shop failed soon after her passing).  […]

  4. Cheesequake « This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] up easily.  Joseph Henry Remmey owned the Morgan pottery for a time in 1820.  In 1822 Catherine Bowne, James Morgan’s granddaughter, obtained the shop and ran it until 1835.  Clay supply success […]

  5. The Old Soft Shoe | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] home, Duché convinced Isaac Parker to hire him.  Isaac and his soon to be widowed wife Grace were attempting New England’s first stoneware production.  Duché went to Cambridge, MA and […]

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