Anne ( 1841-1928) and Matilda Lucas (1849-1943) were the daughters of Samuel Lucas, a brewer with land and influence in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The Lucas family were Quakers. Their mother had died when they were young and after their father’s death in 1870 the sisters continued to live for a short time with their step-mother. But then, in mid-1871, they left England for Rome, where, for the next 29 years, they were to spend much of the year. Ten years after her sister’s death, Matilda Lucas published excerpts from the letters sent over the years by the sisters to friends and relations back in England. Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871-1900 (Methuen, 1938) makes very interesting reading.
The few disingenuous sentences I transcribe below would appear to delineate the discomfort that must have been endured by Sarah Parker Remond (1824-94) , or Sarah Remond Pintor as she was by then, as she mixed in society – even expatriate Roman society, which was by no means ruled by convention. An American free-born black woman, Sarah Remond had lived for a time in London, signing the first women’s suffrage petition in 1866, perhaps the only black woman to do so, had then travelled to Italy, where she qualified as a doctor. She had married an Italian, Lazzaro Pintor in Florence in 1877. There is some debate as to how long the marriage lasted. From the Lucas’ evidence, Pintor did not accompany his wife to this social occasion in Rome in March 1878, but Sarah was sufficiently still married to feel able to don her bridal dress.
However am I correct, I wonder, to read the passage as reflecting the curiosity and, perhaps, also slight discomfort felt by the gathering at the presence of a black woman in their midst? If Sarah was their aunt the P___s must surely have been the ‘Putnams’ – the family of Sarah’s sister, Caroline Remond Putnam, who lived with her in Italy on various occasions. If so the fact that Caroline also was ‘black’ makes the passage a little difficult to interpret. Why was Sarah specifically their ‘black aunt’? Did they have any other kind? So perhaps it was only the bridal dress that was the cause for comment. A simple scene, but something of a puzzle.
March 17, 1878. Tell Madgie that the P___s were there with their black aunt. She was a bride, having just married an Italian, and wore her bridal dress of grey silk. It must have been very trying for Mrs P____. People came up to question her. One Italian said, ‘Chi e quell’Africana?’ It appears that she is very clever, and a female doctor. She was taken up a good deal in London by different people who were interested in negroes. I think she lived with the Peter Taylors. She has given lectures. I went to sit on the sofa with her, to the amusement of Franz, who cannot rise above her appearance. Dr Baedtke was much impressed to think that anyone has had the courage to marry her, and said, ‘In that I should have been a coward.’
Click here for Sarah Parker Remond: A Daughter of Salem, Massachusetts – a very interesting website