Images of Gertrude von Petzold

In this issue [of Faith and Freedom: Volume 73, Part 1, Number 190] we are pleased to include Mária Pap’s review of the Lindsey Press’s new book Unitarian Women. A Legacy of Dissent. One of the subjects rightly featured in the book, and also included within the book’s cover illustration, is Gertrude von Petzold. Although her career as a Unitarian minister was relatively short it was also quite effective and was remarkable because it was such a trailblazing achievement, the first woman minister of any organised denomination in Britain. Her achievement is perhaps all the more impressive because she was not born in Britain, English was not her first language, and she achieved all that she did in the teeth not only of prejudice because of her sex but also because of her nationality. In every sense she was an outsider in her chosen field and yet she established herself in her profession as a leader of considerable authority who inspired tremendous affection and loyalty from her congregations.

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Postcard of Gertrude von Petzold, taken by Burton & Sons published by Rotary

She was also an undoubted celebrity in her own right. The image of her reproduced in the book and on the cover of this issue travelled far and wide and has retained a place in the public imagination, at least for those interested in this aspect of Unitarian or women’s history. In the last couple of years an enlargement of this same image has been framed and hung on the walls of Harris Manchester College, a fitting tribute from her old college, but a compliment too to the photographer.

When the picture was first taken in 1904 it was ubiquitous. It must have sold, as a postcard, in the thousands. Not only that, three weeks after being inducted as pastor of Narborough Road Free Church in Leicester the same image graced the cover of the Tatler magazine.

The picture was taken by Burton & Sons, a long-established photographer local to Leicester but with studios across the Midlands. They also had the task of creating something new – no one had ever photographed a woman minister before. How should such a subject be depicted? With what clothes, posture, style? How do you present someone doing an entirely new thing, the first of her kind? There is no precedent for this kind of illustration. So where do they go for inspiration? The answer is simple, it is a celebrity photograph. The model used by the photographer, and by market leader Rotary who subsequently produced and sold her image as a postcard, is that of the top celebrities and postcard favourites of their day – the stars of the stage. Although she is wearing her academic hood and holds a book as indicators of her academic status, Gertrude von Petzold is dressed very elegantly, she gazes off into the middle distance her head resting on her left hand. This is a classic pose of an actress or musical hall star in 1904, she was being packaged as a celebrity in the terms of her era.

MIss Phillida Terson

Postcard of Miss Phillida Terson/Miss Phyllis Terry published by J. Beagles & Co. 1912. As can be seen the pose is almost identical to that in Rotary photograph of Gertude von Petzold. (Described as ‘an actress of distinction’ in the ODNB she combined stage appearances with film roles in later life).

You have to acknowledge too that she also must have projected something of a star quality herself. You can find other examples of pictures of women graduates from this era and they lack that extra element that undoubtedly helped to make this postcard sell.

Unnamed Graduate Wickens Studios Bangor N.W.

Unnamed Pre-1914 female graduate. Wickens Studios, Bangor, North Wales

To many of us this [image of Gertrude von Petzold] is a familiar picture. But it was not an inevitable depiction of the first woman minister. How else might an Edwardian photographer think that a woman minister might be shown? Well the answer comes with the postcard that is reproduced alongside this article. This is a far rarer postcard than the one produced by Rotary and, it has to be said, is not as well produced although it was published by J. Beagles a long-established London photographic publisher. Like Rotary they specialised in royalty, musical hall artistes and actors and actresses but unlike them they had a different model in mind for the picture of the first female minister. What inspired them was the image of a woman as a nurse.

Gertrude von Petzold B 01

Postcard of Gertrude von Petzold by J. Beagles & Co. London 1904.

This was already a well established outlet for women’s work – a caring profession characterised by service, so it was not a surprising model to be chosen by the photographer. Although again there are academic accoutrements, this picture, with plainer clothes, a high collar, long sleeves and even the hands pushed into the pockets of the skirt or pinafore, is exactly reminiscent of contemporary photographs of nurses. With a fuller face, if not exactly gazing directly at the camera, this is one of the ways that members of the nursing profession were presented on postcards in the Edwardian era and right through the First World War. J. Beagles were not alone in this; Elliot and Fry, another firm of London photographers, also produced similar images of Gertrude von Petzold.

Edwardian Nurse Postcard

Postcard of an Edwardian nurse (‘With very best wishes for the future from Eunice to Molly’, no photographer or  publisher named). She doesn’t have her hands in her pockets as many similar photographs did but the similarities of pose and dress can be seen with J. Beagles’ photograph of Gertude.

But here we have two ideas of this pioneering woman minister. Was she a star, a glamorous personality, an elegant figure fit to grace the cover of magazines? Or was she a nurse, someone inspired by practical purpose, a worker, a servant? I wonder how she preferred to be seen herself? In the end, though, there is no doubt which card was the most popular. The ‘nurse’ picture is very rare indeed. The postcard image of this minister as a celebrity and star is very common and is frequently offered for sale on eBay right up to the present day.

This article appears in the SPRING AND SUMMER 2020 Volume 73, Part 1 Number 190 of Faith and Freedom. All the illustrations are from my own collection and may not be reproduced without my express permission.

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The current situation with Covid-19 has delayed production and distribution of this issue but another article in the current issue can also be read online. To read Jim Corrigall’s review of Stephen Lingwood, SEEKING PARADISE: A UNITARIAN MISSION FOR OUR TIMES, Lindsey Press, London 2020, pp 142, ISBN 978-085319-094-3. £10.00 pbk. click here.

Faith and Freedom

HMCO quad

Faith and Freedom gave its annual report to the meeting of the Ministerial Old Students Association and the Annual Meeting of Friends and Honorary Governors held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford on 24th  -26th June, 2019. It was an excellent meeting, one of the highlights being the Principal, Professor Jane Shaw’s illustrated lecture on  The Arts and Empathy. Nigel Clarke, the business manager for the journal gave an impressive powerpoint presentation outlining the last year’s activity. A number of new subscribers signed up to receive the journal.

HMCO Nigel speaks

Nigel delivering the annual report

HMCO Principal lecture

Art and Empathy lecture by the Principal

HMCO worship in the chapel

Worship in the college chapel

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‘Kindle’, a steel and glass artwork by Steve James and Vital Peeters in the college herb garden

F&F Cover 188

The latest issue 

 

Faith and Freedom 184

 

At the annual meeting of the Ministerial Old Students’ Association held at Harris Manchester College, Oxford from 19th to 21st June 2017 there was a large number of contributors to the latest issue of the journal present. Faith and Freedom attracts writers from all over the world and although you would expect to find a sprinkling of them at such a gathering at Harris Manchester College there was an unusually large number present this year of people who had articles or reviews in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue number, 184.

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The Rev Dr Phillip Hewett (left) came to the meetings from Vancouver, Canada. Pictured here with the editor and business manager. (Photo: Sue Steers)

The contents of this issue include:

In Search of Racovia by Phillip Hewett

Francis Hutcheson and the Social Vision of Eighteenth-Century Radical Presbyterians by

Johnston McMaster

Towards a Theology of Unitarian Ministry by Stephen Lingwood

The Art and Theology of Thomas Bewick by Howard Oliver

Bridging the Barriers by Dan C. West

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At Harris Manchester College. Back row: Nigel Clarke (business manager). Stephen Lingwood (Towards a Theology of Unitarian Ministry), Howard Oliver (The Art and Theology of Thomas Bewick), David Steers (editor). Front row: Phillip Hewett (In Search of Racovia), Lena Cockroft (review). (Photo: Sue Steers).

 

Reviews

In this issue:

Scott H. Hendrix, Martin Luther Visionary Reformer. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015. £25 (hardback). ISBN 978-0-300-16669-9. Now only available in paperback (2016) at £14.95. pp. xxiv + 342. ISBN 978-0-300-22637-9. Also available in a kindle edition. Reviewed by Professor Ian Hazlett.

Portrait_of_Martin_Luther_as_an_Augustinian_Monk-700x1024Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Picture: Yale University Press)

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Harvill Secker, London, 2016, pp 440, ISBN 9781910701874. £25.00. Reviewed by Professor David A. Williams.

Philippe Sands, East West Street: on the origins of genocide and crimes against humanity. Weidenfield and Nicolson, London 2016. ISBN 978 1 474 60190 0. £20:00. Reviewed by Professor David A. Williams.

Emmanuel Carrere, The Kingdom translated from the French by John Lambert, Allen Lane , London 2017, pp.384, ISBN 978-0374184308. £20. Reviewed by Rev Frank Walker.

RevFW

Rev Frank Walker

Antony Fernando, Main religions of the Modern World and the Two Forms of any Religion, Inter-cultural Book Promoters, 21 G4, Peramuna Mawatha, Eldeniya, Kadawatha, Sri Lanka $10.00. Reviewed by Rev Dr Marcus Braybrooke.

Dan Hotchkiss,  Governance and Ministry:  Rethinking Board Leadership. An Alban Institute Book pub: Rowman and Littlefield Lanham. Boulder. New York. London.  Second Edition. 2016. ISBN 978-1-56699-738-6. £12.95. Reviewed by Rev Lena Cockroft.

Some of the books recently reviewed in Faith and Freedom

You can order Faith and Freedom online here: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/subs.htm