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.

Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society Vol. 27 No. 1 April 2019

The new issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society is out now and will be arriving with subscribers shortly. If you aren’t already a subscriber details of how to sign up can be found below.

St Saviourgate Door

Entrance to St Saviourgate Chapel, York. Catharine Cappe’s congregation

In this issue Andrew M. Hill looks at A Pattern of York Feminism: Catharine Cappe as spinster, wife and widow. His article gives a tremendous amount of insight to this woman, born in 1744 who died in 1821, and who Andrew discusses broadly in terms of three categories:

  • as a woman making efforts to escape conventional female roles;
  • as the companion and colleague of her husband and
  • as a social reformer with a burning zeal.

 

The Christian Examiner and Theological Review

A review (from ‘The Christian Examiner’ of 1825) of Richard Wright’s most famous book. The Northiam Library borrowing book at the time records 122 pamphlets being borrowed, mostly written by Richard Wright, Unitarian Missionary 

Valerie Smith examines Late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Unitarian Readership particularly through the surviving library records of a number of chapels, including Newcastle, Northiam, Bridport and Lewes and looks at the reading habits of lay men and women from ‘lower levels of society’ within Rational Dissent.

Captain Philip Hirsch VC
Captain Philip Hirsch VC

Alan Ruston continues his work on Unitarian engagement with the First World War with 1919 – a re-evaluation of the part played by Unitarians in the First World War, looking at casualties, the Belgian Hospital Fund and the work of Rose Allen and some of the publications from the First World War which are only now being rediscovered.

Sue Killoran’s paper given to the annual general meeting of the society on The Library and Archives at Harris Manchester College, Oxford completes the main articles. This is an edited version of her lecture given in 2017 which can also be viewed online here:

 

In the Record Section Alan Ruston introduces some further research into Unitarians and the First World War with Ann McMellan’s and Lesley Dean’s initial findings from The Pearson Papers in Dr Williams’s Library, some First World War examples. They are working on some 25,000 papers connected with Rev J. Arthur Pearson (1870-1947), London District Minister from 1908 to 1944 and popularly known as ‘the Bishop’.

 

Salters' Hall scan crop

Salters’ Hall in the early nineteenth century

In addition we have two notes: The Tercentenary of the Salters’ Hall Debates by David Steers marks the anniversary of this important early eighteenth-century controversy (the text of which can be read online by clicking here) and Rob Whiteman discusses the career of the Rev Helen Phillips, a much overlooked pioneer within the Unitarian ministry who became the second woman to become a minister (following Gertrude von Petzold) in 1916 and who lived until 1961 but has attracted very little notice from historians until now.

St Saviourgate Interior 03

The interior of St Saviourgate Chapel, York which houses the memorial to Catharine Cappe which reads:

Her whole life

was a beautiful, instructive & encouraging example

of Piety and Benevolence:

Piety – ardent, rational and unostentatious,

manifested in uniform obedience

to the law of God,

and in cheerful submission

to all dispensations of his providence:

Benevolence – pure, active and persevering,

directed by a sound judgement

and unlimited by its exercise by any regard

to personal ease or party distinctions.

Annual membership of the UHS costs only £10, each member receiving a copy of the Transactions. Membership can be obtained from the treasurer, Rev Dr Rob Whiteman, 10 Greenside Court, St Andrews, KY16 9UG, to whom cheques (made payable to the Unitarian Historical Society) should be sent.