Our Watering Places—The Empty Sleeve at Newport

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Our Watering Places—The Empty Sleeve at Newport
Winslow Homer
published by Harper's Weekly August 26, 1865
Wood engraving on buff wove paper
9 1/4 x 13 7/8 in. (image); 11 5/16 x 16 1/16 in. (sheet)
The Art Institute of Chicago
Gift of Arthur and Hilda Wenig

What do you notice about this couple? What is “the new feminine accomplishment” of the Civil War era that is depicted here? This illustration of a man and a woman out for a carriage ride by the shore accompanied a fictitious story in Harper’s Weekly. The story tells of Captain Harry Ash, who returned from war to resume a courtship with Ms. Edna Ackland and finds that, in his absence, she had learned to drive a carriage. The print shows her confidently controlling the reins, while he sits as a passenger with his empty left sleeve folded towards his chest. In the story, Henry is initially troubled by Edna’s new skills, seeing it as “unwomanly”, yet he learns that she has begun driving in order to show her love for him. Homer knowingly created images like this to accompany stories targeted to the female readers of periodicals such as Harper’s.  

On one hand, Homer’s print suggests that things were returning to normal following the end of the Civil War. Men came home to resume the lives they had left behind, including courtship and leisure. On the other hand, veterans returned to a changed society, and often with changed bodies and abilities. Women had become more independent out of necessity. This new freedom encouraged some women to lobby for greater equality, including the right to vote. Homer’s composition suggests these changes in the relationship between men and women. Wood engravings such as this were made from sketches drawn directly on wood blocks, then carved away as the engraver’s sharp tool cut into the wood following the drawn lines.

1. How do you think readers would have responded to the idea of a woman driving a man? What does this say about society then? Have things changed these days?

2. After the Civil War, Newport became a popular seaside resort. How does Homer indicate this in the picture and in the title?

3. Compare this image with Love’s Melancholy. How do these two images illustrate the experience of the war for women at home?

4. Read the story from Harper’s Weekly. What line or lines from the story best match this image and why?

Further reading:
Newberry Library. "The Empty Sleeve." Home Front: Daily Life in the Civil War North. http://publications.newberry.org/digitalexhibitions/exhibits/show/homefront/end/warsleeve.

Portland Museum of Art. “Winslow Homer Illustrations.” Accessed February 29, 2012. http://portlandmuseum.org/exhibitions-collections/illustrations.shtml.
(For the full text of the story, “The Empty Sleeve at Newport, or Why Edna Ackland Learned to Drive,” click on “See 10 Illustrations with Magazine Pages.”)

Simpson, Marc. Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Bedford Arts, 1988.

Tatham, David. Winslow Homer and the Pictorial Press. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003.

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