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.

Gertrude von Petzold A 01

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.

Images of Rev John Watson

 

In 1893 B. Guinness Orchard in Liverpool’s Legion of Honour declared the Rev John Watson to be “the successful pastor of the most important and active among our local congregations.” In (by his standards) fairly restrained prose Orchard outlined the minister’s achievements: every sitting in the church was let, the number of communicants had risen from 133 to 949, three new causes had been founded, £70,000 raised for congregational activities. The list of achievements was a long one and, Orchard added rather cryptically, “To his congregation his doctrinal teaching is quite acceptable”.

John Watson had already achieved a position of some eminence in his adopted city. In his twenty five years in the ministry at Sefton Park Presbyterian Church he also became centrally involved and prominent in civic life. But Orchard was writing just on the cusp of a new departure for John Watson; his first novel – Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush – was published in the following year. As Ian Maclaren he became a top selling novelist whose fame stretched around the English-speaking world.

As a clergyman/novelist he reached an extraordinary level of fame. He published theology under his own name which sold exceptionally well resulting in highly popular lecturing tours of the USA and honorary DDs from St Andrews and Yale.

As I have mentioned in a previous post

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/rev-john-watson-ogdens-guinea-gold-cigarettes/

his fame was such that his image was reproduced on a cigarette card. It is a very small card but it is very cleanly printed.

jwogdengc

I recently discovered that a separate series of cigarette cards was also issued in Australia by Ogden’s in about 1905 which also included an image of John Watson. I don’t possess an example of this card although it was less well printed than the British one. It re-used a photograph taken by top London photographers Elliot & Fry. The same image was published as a postcard in the ‘Star Series’:

jwstarseries

There was a great demand for images of John Watson. Popular prints of him were sold but with the sudden impact of the postcard at the turn of the century his image became rather more widely diffused. Market leaders Rotary sold this postcard of John Watson:

jwrotary

Taken probably for a magazine in what is almost certainly the front room of the manse in Sefton Drive he leans against the fireplace in front of a picture of the Last Supper. It is interesting how the different aspects of his character blended into one. He was an effective and highly successful minister with extensive involvement in many aspects of local life and national church life. But he was also a much sought after author of popular novels. Yet although his novels are still in print and although something of a niche area are still read, his theology, which also sold in tens of thousands, is now forgotten.

His fame was tied up with his church. I have many examples of postcards of his church in Sefton Park, it was a popular subject. The one at the top of this post shows the church in the background but suggests the importance of its site on a main arterial route through the suburbs. Tram conductors would call out the name of the nearby stop as Dr Watson’s church and the detail on this postcard shows a tram stopped near the junction, its driver and conductor hanging around to be in the photograph:

spcdetail

Another feature of all photographs of the exterior of the church is that someone (or sometimes two people) always stood in the middle of the road slightly to the right of the main gate. Was this something demanded by the photographers to give some idea of scale? It is strange how that space is always occupied. Sometimes by a young person staring at the camera other times by someone with their back to the camera and sometimes by a couple in animated conversation. But the title always takes the same form, it is ‘Dr Watsons’s Church’ or ‘Ian Maclaren’s Chapel’. The terms are used interchangeably even by local publishers Wrench.

The Walker Art Gallery has two contemporary portraits of John Watson but these are not on show and I suspect have never been on show. They are both striking examples of late nineteenth-century portraiture and can be found online. But his likeness still circulates on postcards and cigarette cards, a continuing reflection of his late Victorian and Edwardian fame.