How a 19th Century Blog Led to a Museum

In 1881 James Edmund Scripps, founder of the Detroit Evening News (later the Detroit News) and father of Ellen Scripps Booth took a five-month trip to Europe with his wife Harriet Messenger Scripps and daughter Grace. As they traveled, Scripps wrote about his experiences and sent the blog-like entries back to his newspaper to publish. Detroit readers loved it.

James Edmund Scripps, ca 1870. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Because the response to his entries was so positive, Scripps compiled them into a book, Five Months Abroad: Or, The Observations and Experiences of an Editor in Europe, published in 1882. Scripps visited Italy, France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands exploring museums and churches. He wrote about art and culture and also sketched the details of many churches and cathedrals.

James Edmund Scripps bookplate from Five Months Abroad, ca 1882. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

William H. Brearley, the advertising manager for the Detroit Evening News, was so impressed with the response from Detroit residents about Scripps’ travel entries, that he decided to organize an art exhibit. Brearley gathered paintings, sculptures, etchings, and engravings (in all, 4,100 items) from collectors in Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland, and even a painting, “The Betrothal of St. Catherine,” from Pope Leo XIII.

 

 

Brearley’s “Art Loan Exhibition of 1883” was held in a temporary hall on Larned Street. The exhibition ran for 10 weeks and attracted more than 134,000 visitors at 25 cents each, covering the costs of the promoters and making a profit. With this success and a generous offer from Senator Thomas Palmer, Brearley and his associates undertook the task of raising money for a permanent museum of art.  A group of 40 Detroit citizens each gave $1,000, Sen. Palmer provided $12,000, and soon the group had raised $100,000.

In 1884, Brearley announced a $50,000 gift from James Edmund Scripps, and on April 16, 1885, the Detroit Museum of Art (later the Detroit Institute of Arts) was incorporated. The museum opened in 1888, and in 1889 Scripps bought and donated 70 European paintings. At a cost of $75,000 (roughly $2.1 million dollars today), this gift was among the first major accessions of European Old Master paintings for any American museum.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Additional Sources:

Burton, Clarence, William Stocking and Gordon K. Miller. The City of Detroit, Michigan 1701-1922. S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922.

Detroit Museum of Art Hand Book of Paintings, Compiled by James E. Scripps. John F. Eby and Co.,1895.

 

Kitchen Sink Back to School Edition: Cranbrook’s Own Elizabeth Bennett

Although the legacy of Kingswood School English teacher, Elizabeth Bennett* (1904-1983) does not involve Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, it is certainly the story of a woman who inspired and captivated multiple generations of students. Bennett started teaching at Kingswood in 1936 after completing her A.B. from Oberlin College and her A.M. from Radcliffe College. Prior to accepting the position at Kingswood, Bennett taught at the Hartridge School for Girls (Plainfield, NJ) and traveled in Europe and South Africa.

Portrait of Elizabeth Bennett, 1959. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Bennett was born in New York City to William and Mary Umstead Bennett. Her father was a lawyer and a member of the New York state senate and her mother was a professor emeritus who taught pianoforte at Oberlin College. As a student at Oberlin, Bennett was an officer of the Women’s League – described in the campus yearbook as an organization for women to govern themselves and administer their affairs. She was later a member of the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

During her more than thirty years at Kingswood, Bennett taught English, History, Bible, and Creative Writing. Although she was a tough critic, she was known to be fair, and gained great admiration from both students and fellow teachers. In an anthology of memories, Elizabeth Bennett: A Word Portrait (1983), one former student states: “who could ever forget Elizabeth Bennett, who never raised her voice or lowered her standards for our work; who like Michelangelo, helped us chip out the readers and writers buried within us; who gave us all the charge of language? The light in her room did not all come through the windows or from the ceiling” (Carolyn Faulkner Peck, ’52).

Bennett with students, ca 1963.

Bennett or “Benny” as she was known by friends, was beloved not only by her students, but by her fellow teachers at Kingswood. During her summers off she regularly corresponded with Kingswood headmistress, Margaret Augur, and later Marion Goodale. Fellow faculty member, Gertrude M. White said of Benny, “Elizabeth Bennett: an unfashionable woman, a private woman, with unfathomable riches of mind and character and personality. Kingswood was lucky in her. We who knew her were lucky. Simply by being what she was, she enriched her world and ours.”

Summer correspondence from Bennett to Augur, 1948. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Inspired by Bennett and her passion for writing, several former students established the Bennett Fund in 1984 to honor a faculty member who is distinguished as a nurturer of writing and writers. In the Fall, the award recipient reads from recent works at the annual “Elizabeth Bennett Reading.” This year, the event takes place on Tuesday, September 19th at 6:30 PM in the Cranbrook School Library Reading Room.

With a new school year right around the corner, I enjoyed learning about this beloved teacher whose legacy lives on here at Cranbrook.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

*Editor’s Note: It should be noted that the spelling of Elizabeth Bennett’s name varies from the fictional character in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice.

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