Monday, March 28, 2016

Eliza B. Duffey: Author, Painter and Victorian Feminist

Eliza B. Duffey: Still Life with Fruit, oil on canvas, 14 x 20 in 1867

Woodbury's past is chock full of amazing and notable residents. Among them is Eliza Bisbee Duffey (1838-1898).

She was a true renaissance woman and her many accomplishments include still-life and landscape painter, prolific author, poet, newspaper editor and printer, magazine columnist, spiritualist, psychic medium, and an early outspoken supporter of women's rights in Victorian-era America. She was born in Ohio in 1838 and raised in Geauga County. As a girl, she worked as a printer for the Jeffersonian Democrat and in 1856 she edited a publication called The Alliance in Columbus where it is likely she met her future husband, John B. Duffey (a fellow painter, printer, and poet). After marrying they moved to Philadelphia. It is not clear when or where she began to paint but in 1861 after she had left Ohio, five of her works were put up for auction in Cincinnati by Graff and Company: titled Autumn. Spring, and three fruit studies.

Eliza B. Duffey: Still Life with Fruit and Ewer, oil on canvas, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 in 1867

She was still a resident of Philadelphia in 1865, when she began to exhibit her fruit and flower pieces at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. By 1867 the Duffeys had moved to Woodbury, New Jersey and in that year, five of her paintings were shown at the Academy. During the late 1860s her Cattle and Landscape painting was exhibited three years running at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy in New York. Duffey exhibited paintings in the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for the years 1865, 1867, and 1868. She was made an Associate Member of the Pennsylvania Academy in 1869.

Eliza B. Duffey: Landscape with Chickens and Ducks, oil on canvas, 8 1/2 x 10 1/4 in

She held various editorial posts in Philadelphia and along with her husband, became editor and publisher of the Vineland Times which they established as an evening paper in 1877. The Duffey's moved to Vineland in 1872 settling on a farm on Oak Rd and later moved downtown. Before the establishing of a public library in Vineland the Duffey's were the go to source of books, having amassed a large collection. Even after the establishment of the Vineland Public Library, Eliza swept in and ran the library after it failed to be self-supporting. The library and the newspaper's offices shared the same building on Sylvester's Block. The Duffey's later moved to Troy, New York to manage a newspaper there. She may have also lived in Brooklyn, NYC. Eliza eventually found her way to Bartow, Florida and according to a 1953 history of Geauga County she died "in the South."

During their lifetimes, the Duffeys penned many poems and articles for Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine, Godey's Ladies Book, and more. They wrote on various and diverse topics such as local and distant lands and customs, garden and home decorating, etiquette, philosophy, and women's rights. She was a strong advocate for the sharing of domestic chores by men and women and of the importance of women having interests outside the home and published several books in defense of women's rights. Some of her books, include:

What Women Should Know (Philadelphia: J. M. Stoddart, 1873).

The Relations of the Sexes (New York: Wood and Holbrook, 1876)

The Ladies' and Gentlemen's Etiquette (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1877).

Heaven Revised: A Narrative of Personal Experiences After the Change Called Death (Chicago: Religio-Philosophical Publishing House. 1889).

Her outspoken feminism entangled her in a controversy with physician Edward Clarke. Clarke believed women should be educated separately from men at universities, claiming common education would be dangerous for the "mental and physical health of women." Duffey's book, No Sex in Education; Or, An Equal Chance for Both Boys and Girls (1874) argued for the equal and co-education of both genders. In the 1870s, she wrote of marital rape, which the law at the time did not recognize as rape, and she argued that brutality should be sufficient grounds for divorce. In one of her articles, she wrote that women were "no more bound to yield to her body to her husband after the marriage between them, than she was before, until she feels that she can do with the full tide of willingness and affection." Like many feminists of the time she was opposed to abortion. Some of her popular recurring articles on women's rights appearing in Arthur's Home Magazine include, "Woman's Work and Woman's Wages," "The Women of all Nations," and "Woman's Work in the World." An archive of some of  Eliza and John Duffey's work in Arthur's Illustrated Home Magazine can be found HEREHERE, HERE, and HERE.

It appears that later in life, Eliza Duffey became interested in spiritualism. White Crow Books, a re-publisher of her 1889 book, Heaven Revised writes, "It appears Eliza Duffey was a gifted medium with the ability to connect with spirit and automatic writing, although she claimed that she had scant knowledge of spiritualism and no prior mediumistic ability when she began to write down the words in this book... The narrator, a woman, writing through Duffey, observes her lifeless body and realizes for the first time she is dead in the physical sense... the spheres she finds herself in are in stark contrast to the orthodox heaven and hell that was generally accepted by Christians at the end of the 19th century.

Along with its present (and we believe future), Woodbury's past has been no stranger to free-thinking and multi-faceted artists. We should be proud of Woodbury's artistic heritage and celebrate our ties to such extraordinary people.

Eliza B. Duffey: Still Life with Flowers and Sevres Vase, oil on canvas, 24 x 20 in 1865

Eliza B. Duffey: Lilies, oil on canvas, 1866
B&W reproduction from Painting and Sculpture in New Jersey




Gregory Anthony Cicci said...

I own a beautiful still life signed Mrs E. B. Duffey and dated 1867 depicting a can resting on the ground with raspberries. It was rare for women to assert themselves in America in the 19th century especially in the art world and I love that it is signed with the prefix Mrs.. I would love to insert a picture on here to show your readers but I am not sure how to do so. If you send me an email address to send the picture to I will gladly share the picture of the painting I own.

William Gerdts said...

I have just read your account of Eliza Duffey which is extremely commendable. My wife and I are the owners of the still-life painting you illustrate in black-and-white at the termination of your account of Mrs. Duffey. I wondered if you could point me to any information at all about her husband, John Duffey, by whom we also own a still-life painting--in this case, it would seem, the only work by John Duffey that has so far turned up. Your help would be most appreciated.


William H. Gerdts
1120 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10128

212 8601181

Village Green said...

Gregory Anthony Cicci not sure you will see this but I would love to see the painting you have! Please email me at Thank you.