Tuesday, January 12, 2016

History: It's Where You Find It

Happy New Year, Nineteen Teen readers! I hope 2016 will be all that you hope for!

There’s one thing Regina and I are hoping for this year here at NineteenTeen —to hear from you! If you have a topic or question about an aspect of history, then please, let us know! We’ve been doing this for over eight years, which says something—that history is a beautiful, rich subject to be explored! But even crazy blogging history geeks like us can use a little help now and then when it comes to topics to discuss, so talk to us!

Inspiration for this blog can truly come from unexpected places. Last fall I was at a concert given by the Handel and Haydn Society, and as always read through the program because it often includes terrific historical background items in with the composer biographies and musical commentary. In a regular feature of interesting bits of history from the Society archives, I found something very interesting indeed: for ten years, the organist of the Society was a young woman who, when she started, could not have legally bought a beer in present-day Boston.

Sophia Hewitt, born in New York in 1799, came of a musical family—her father was a conductor and composer, and all her siblings were either composers, teachers, or performers—and was a very talented pianist and organist. The family moved to Boston some time during her childhood, and so talented was young Sophia that the newly formed Handel and Haydn Society invited her to become its organist in 1818, when she was just 18. She declined the offer, but the Society was persistent and renewed the offer two years later, and this time she accepted.

The post of organist was an important one—it was her job to lead rehearsals and serve as de facto conductor. The orchestra was very happy with Miss Hewitt (or, as she became upon her marriage a few years later to the first violinist, Mrs. Ostinelli) and she served for ten years, through the birth of her only child Eliza (who went on to become one of the great operatic voices of 19th century America). In 1830, when the president of the Society wished to replace her with a new (male) organist, all thirty-eight male members of the Society--the females were not allowed to vote--petitioned to keep Sophia in her position. They were overruled.

Sophia continued to have a busy musical career across New England, teaching and performing, until her early death in 1845. But I just think it’s pretty awesome that in 1820, such a young woman was regarded with such professional respect.

Run across any interesting bits of history lately that you'd like to share?


Regina Scott said...

Love it! History is all around us, and sometimes we just need to open our eyes to treasure.

Looking forward to hearing comments from others. So appreciate it when you all join in!

QNPoohBear said...

Sophia sounds like a fascinating woman! I'm always coming across fascinating bits of history. I haven't been to any archives lately though.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

What a great story! I love these stories we come upon accidentally. I would also like to see more stories about the Northwest--I bet Regina has some from her research.

Regina Scott said...

I do, Lynn! And I'll definitely be sharing as we go along. Glad to know you are interested. :-)