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1864 Poster
In Right Is Might
United States Sanitary Commission Poster: Brooklyn and
Long Island Fair
Text   Enlarged Text
United States Sanitary Commission Poster: Brooklyn and Long Island Fair

The Civil War left many people in need of relief agencies. Thus, one such agency, the U. S. Sanitary Commission, was established in 1861 to help bring healthy and sanitary conditions to the Union Army. Leaders of the group included the Unitarian Reverend Henry W. Bellows and the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. The organization was run and staffed by civilians, many of them women. The duties of the Commission included: care for the injured on the battlefield, transportation of the wounded, aid to disabled veterans, and assistance to families of soldiers. Women played an important role in organizing fundraisers to support the war effort. The Commission held fairs in different cities. The first, held in Chicago in 1863, raised nearly $100,000.

The following year in Brooklyn, New York, women's organizations planned a hugely successful fair and a number of social events, which included dances, parades, museum exhibits, auctions, merchandise sales and cattle shows. Formally known as the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair, it took place in the Brooklyn Academy of Music Building on Montague Street, and had profits exceeding $400,000. Items such as the popular Universal Clothes Wringer, a favorite labor saving device for nineteenth-century American women, were donated for sale, with all proceeds going to the cause.

The lithograph poster from Brooklyn and Long Island's 1864 event, part of the CSHS collection, is filled with neo-classical imagery, so admired in the mid- nineteenth century in America and abroad. The image in grisaille (in the grey), a technique used to mimic sculpture, is enclosed in a massive Roman arch incised with the slogan In Right Is Might with a clasped hand shake rendered in the keystone; crests to the left and right house ancient symbols of military victory and life, a palm and an evergreen; in the left lower portions of the arch a female Athenian type figure stands opposite a figure of George Washington dressed in a typical Roman toga. The central figure, representing winged Victory, stands on a globe with arms raised and sword in hand poised and about to slay a fire-breathing serpent, a representation of evil. In the background, below Victory, are scenes of war and encampment. In the foreground, a mortally wounded soldier, reminiscent of the moral values of duty, honor and patriotism, is attended to by two field nurses. There is a crate to the left of these figures that identifies the scene as Gettysburg.

A shield to the left, embellished with stars and stripes and acknowledging the contribution of Charles E. Beebe as a foremost contributor to the Brooklyn and Long Island event and to the U. S. Sanitary Commission, is signed by Dwight Johnson and Mrs. J.S. Stranahan, president of the Women's Relief Association. The same work, published by Endicott & Company, New York, after the famous artist Seymour Joseph Guy (1824-1910) is in the Wesleyan University Davison Art Collection.


M. Brown et al, American Art, New York, 1979; W. Craven, American Art, History and Culture, Wisconsin, 1994; J. Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, New York, 1979; Civil War Medical Care: Photographs from the United States Sanitary Commission Collection 1861-1872 NYPL Digital Gallery, New York Public Library, 2005, available at http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/explore/dgexplore.cfm?topic=cities&collection=CivilWarMedicalCareP&col_id=203 [ accessed 5 October 2005];Sanitary Commission, The Society of American Historians, The Reader's Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991, available at http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/rcah/html/ah_077000_sanitarycomm.htm [accessed 28 September 2005]; The Sanitary Fair in 1864, Brooklyn in the Civil War, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY, 2005, available at http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/civilwar/cwdoc064.html [accessed 3 October 2005. Wesleyan University, Image from the Davison Art Collection, available at http://www.wesleyan.edu/dac/imag/1994/0013/1994-13-0004-m01.html [accessed 4 December 2005].

A Digital Initiatives Project
Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus