Clover Adams: portrait of an artist

Soon Henry was immersed not only in the Life of Gallatin but in a much larger scheme to record the early history of the United States, embracing both the Jefferson and Madison presidencies, a project that would take five years to complete and would result in the nine volume History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, a work that would offer unprecedented insight into the formative years of the American experiment as a Democracy and revolutionize the way history is approached and presented.

Ordinarily Henry would write through the day then He and Clover would ride horses in the afternoon. It seems incredible now but, though they lived within site of the White House—they lived on H St. facing Lafayette Square—they were able to ride horses all around Washington and even down into Virginia. In the evenings they entertained. ”A wide array of writers and artists, politicians and dignitaries, doctors and academics made their way to the Adamses’ salon for food and talk.” Presidents made their appearances along with statesmen and visiting dignitaries (Jerome Bonaparte, great nephew of Napoleon I and Aristarchi Bey, the Turkish minister), Cabinet members (Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior and John Hay, former secretary to Lincoln and future Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt), ex-Civil War leaders from both sides of the conflict (including General William Tecumseh Sherman, General Philip Sheridan, and James Lowndes, former Confederate Colonel), and, when he was in the country, Clover’s good friend Henry James.

In spite of these diversions, Clover found herself at a loss for what to do. She often assisted Henry in his research especially during a trip to Europe where the couple, taking advantage of their fluency in languages, visited archives in England, France, and Spain (they also both spoke German). But Henry’s increased absorption in his History and the two novels he wrote during this period meant that Daisy was back in the “shadow between eagerness and uneasy boredom.” One escape for her was through photography.

Photography in the United States…was by no means new at the time of the Civil War; the basic process was announced to the world in 1839. An entire generation of Americans had grown to adulthood without the vaguest recollection of a time when the photograph was not a household item.

Photography was more than a hobby for Clover; it became an outlet for her creativity. Photography elevated her from being a mere spectator of the vibrant intellectual and artistic worlds in first Boston and then Washington, into an active participant. . Henry Adams had noted her “intellectual grace.” “She was a superb writer, but her marriage had room for only one author.”

Photography was a wholly different activity, more active and more social. And it drew on Clover’s natural abilities: her keen eye, her acute powers of observation, and her attuned sense of an individual’s personality. Also, something surfaced in her photography that was not readily apparent in her witty, sometimes barbed letters…: a richness and subtlety of feeling.

Most of Clover’s photographs are portraits. She photographed neighbors, friends, family members, even her pets. There are some landscape portraits, too.

Clover’s technical skill increased and at the same time her confidence grew. One photograph taken of the Adamses’ neighbor, the eminent historian George Bancroft was much admired by John Hay, a close friend. Hay recommended the photo to George Gilder, editor of the Century magazine, “urging him to get a copy of it to put on the cover of the magazine.”

Mrs. Adams has made a remarkable photograph of George Bancroft in his study. He is now eighty-three, and one of these days will be gone.

Gilder agreed and sent a letter to Henry Adams asking if he would contribute an essay to accompany the photo. Henry refused and Clover missed an opportunity to have her work put forth before a much wider audience. Henry’s reason for refusing this simple request is uncertain. What is certain is that in refusing he was also sending a message to his wife that her work was not to be taken seriously. Beneath this was a combination of Henry’s strict aversion to publicity and his conventionality. He also had a curious ambivalence to women’s rights which expressed itself in a quasi-Teutonic mythology. His only public lecture presented in 1876 at Boston’s Lowell Institute was on “The Primitive Rights of Women.” These rights were based not so much on equality with men, but “by virtue of their fecundity and motherhood.”

Equality was based not on what was shared but on profound differences, and could be achieved only by affirming a woman’s essential nature and her role within a separate domestic sphere.

Henry and Clover Adams: A Fresh Start

Henry Adams Harvard Graduation Picture

Clover met Henry Adams while he was assisting his father in his duties as an ambassador to England. They were married in 1872, “joining Hooper wealth to Adams political renown. In the close quarters of Boston Brahmin society, where they had both grown up, they were a likely—if not inevitable—match.” Boston in the mid-19th Century was a thriving, forward-looking American city. “The city turned with the energies of abolitionist politics, Unitarian reform, and Transcendentalist individualism. There had been a “flowering”… of creative genius.

Figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Branson Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow won enduring fame to be sure, but numerous other Boston writers and reformers, preachers and scientists, including Elizabeth Palmer, Lydia Maria Child, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke, Dorothea Dix, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Asa Gray, and Lois Aggasiz, were widely influential in their day.

The Sturgis sisters were part of this same intellectual milieu, and were close friends with Margaret Fuller, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Elizabeth Cary Aggasiz. When the Adamses returned from a yearlong honeymoon in Europe and Egypt, Henry took up a professorship at Harvard teaching history and instituting the first doctoral program in history at Harvard. After a few years he was asked to edit he papers of Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and founder of New York University. While in his classes Henry was a severe critic of the politics of his great-grandfather John Adams and of his grandfather John Quincy Adams, he was a great admirer of Gallatin and the presidents he served, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, so Henry was eager to not only edit Gallatin’s papers but determined to write a biography at the same time. Henry and Clover made the decision to move to Washington, D.C. to take advantage of the proximity to the National Archives and for a break from the past.

“What drew Clover and Henry to Washington was its growing cosmopolitanism, a combination of politics and culture unlike any other city in the country. Henry declared Washington “the only place in America where life has variety.” Politicians from every region gathered during the congressional term, and foreign diplomats, writers, scientists, and artists played their part in this diverse and ever-changing crosscurrent of people.”

“As Clover wrote to her father, life in Washington promised “new possibilities for us.”

Henry and Clover Adams: star-crossed or victims of a tragic fate (pt. 1)

In spite of the fact that Marian “Clover” Adams was herself a photographer, few photos of her exist. In those that are available her face is obscured or turned away from the camera.

Henry Adams and Marian “Clover’ Adams both came from families with troubled histories. Ellen Hooper, Clover’s mother, was the daughter of Captain William Sturgis and Elizabeth Davis. Ellen’s oldest brother William died in a tragic boating accident while attending Yale and Mrs. Sturgis withdrew into a bitter life of solitude thrusting Ellen into the role of surrogate mother of the five remaining siblings. Ellen Sturgis married Robert William Hooper, a doctor. The Hoopers had three children, Ellen (Nellie), Edward (Ned), and Marian (Clover). Ellen loved her husband and her three children but she was especially fond of Marian who she nicknamed Clover, “my blessed Clover.” Ellen and her sisters were a part of the burgeoning cultural scene in Boston and Ellen wrote ethereal poetry in the style of the Transcendentalists. She died of consumption when Clover was only five.

Traumatic as this must have been, Clover had a large support group that included her father, brother, and sister along with aunts, uncles and cousins who lived close by in Boston. They also summered together at Beverly Farms on Boston’s North Shore where ‘[h]er summer days matched the description in the opening pages of Henry Miller’s 1878 novel Daisy Miller:

…a flitting hither and thither of ‘stylish’ young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance music in the morning hours.

Still, fresh tragedy awaited. Five years after her mother’s death, Clover’s Aunt Sue, her favorite, took her own life by drinking arsenic. It is possible that Clover was with her when she died. The following year her sister Nellie traveled overseas on her “Grand Tour” of Europe and the next year her Aunt Cary (Caroline) left with her family for an extended tour of Europe. ‘Aunt Cary… offered Clover a vital link to the lively, intellectual Sturgis side of the family, and what must have been a valued proximity to memories of her mother. Her disappearance from Clover’s daily life for five years must have seemed another severed connection.”

After the death of her mother, Clover came especially close to her father, Dr. Hooper. Her father accompanied her on her Grand Tour of Europe in 1866 and they corresponded weekly for as long as Dr. Hooper lived. Since Daisy did not keep a diary, most of what we know of her life came from the letters she wrote her father. Although she kept herself busy with volunteer work, friends and visits with her family, as Clover approached the age of 30 she found herself “caught between eagerness and an uneasy boredom, not knowing what to do next, counting the months, waiting for something to happen.” This was a condition she shared with other well-bred, well-educated women of her time. The irony is that for such women the only chance for a secure and independent life was through marriage.