Maria Howard Weeden

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Maria Howard Weeden
Portrait of Maria Howard Weeden.jpg
Born(1846-07-06)July 6, 1846
DiedApril 12, 1905(1905-04-12) (aged 58)
Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.
Resting place Maple Hill Cemetery
Residence Weeden House
Education Tuskegee Women's College
OccupationPainter, poet
Known forArt and poetry

Maria Howard Weeden (July 6, 1846 – April 12, 1905), who signed her work and published as Howard Weeden, was an American artist and poet based in Huntsville, Alabama. After the American Civil War, she began to sell works she painted, which included portraits of many African-American freedmen and freedwomen. She exhibited her work in Berlin and Paris in 1895, where it was well received. She published four books of her poetry from 1898 to 1904, illustrated with her own art. She was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.

Huntsville, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Huntsville is a city primarily in Madison County in the Appalachian region of northern Alabama. It is the county seat of Madison County. The city extends west into neighboring Limestone County and south into Morgan County.

A freedman or freedwoman is a former slave who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, slaves were freed either by manumission or emancipation. A fugitive slave is one who escaped slavery by fleeing.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with its capital, Potsdam. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.


Early life

Weeden was born July 6, 1846 in Huntsville, Alabama, six months after the death of her father, Dr. William Weeden, who had also been a prosperous planter. Her mother was his second wife, the former widow Jane (nee Urquhart) Watkins. Weeden and her five older siblings were raised by their mother in the Weeden House in Huntsville. [1]

Weeden House Museum

The Weeden House Museum is a historic two-story house in Huntsville, Alabama. It was built in 1819 for Henry C. Bradford, and designed in the Federal architectural style. Until 1845, it was sold and purchased by several home owners, including John McKinley, who served as a Congressman, Senator, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. From 1845 to 1956, it belonged to the Weeden family. During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, the Union Army took over the house while the Weedens moved to Tuskegee; they moved back in after the war. Portraitist and poet Maria Howard Weeden spent most of her life in the house. After it was sold by the Weeden family in 1956, the house was remodelled into residential apartments. In 1973, it was purchased by the city of Huntsville and the Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association restored it before they acquired it from the city. The private residence became a house museum in 1981.

During the Civil War, the Union Army took over their house for use by its officers when it occupied the city in 1862. The family first moved to the slave quarters. [2] When Jane, one of the older Weeden daughters, was attending college in Tuskegee, Alabama, the mother moved the rest of the family there. Maria Weeden also attended the same school, Tuskegee Female College during the war years. [2] [3] (It later became known as Huntingdon College.) She had written poetry and painted since childhood, and at college studied with painter William Frye. [4]

Tuskegee, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Tuskegee is a city in Macon County, Alabama, United States. It was founded and laid out in 1833 by General Thomas Simpson Woodward, a Creek War veteran under Andrew Jackson, and made the county seat that year. It was incorporated in 1843. It is also the largest city in Macon County. At the 2010 census the population was 9,865, down from 11,846 in 2000.

Huntingdon College

Huntingdon College is a private Methodist liberal arts college in Montgomery, Alabama. It was founded in 1854 as a women's college.

William Frye was a German-born American painter. His artwork can be seen at the Huntsville Museum of Art.

After returning to Huntsville, Weeden began to paint cards, booklets, dinner cards, and small gifts to sell to help her family. Some were watercolors of flowers and landscapes. She also taught art classes. [3] [5] [6]


A portrait by Weeden accompanying a poem in Shadows on the Wall (1898) "Beaten Biscuit" illustration - Howard Weeden, Shadows on the Wall.tif
A portrait by Weeden accompanying a poem in Shadows on the Wall (1898)

In 1893 Weeden attended the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she was dismayed by other artists whose works featuring freedmen and freedwomen showed them in the caricature style of minstrel shows. She returned to Huntsville determined to express the full humanity and dignity of freedmen. Her images included pictures of many freed African Americans who worked as servants for her and friends' families. [3] While she painted, she listened to their accounts of their lives and of folktales, and later adapted some of these as poems, which she wrote in the black dialect. [3]

Worlds Columbian Exposition Worlds Fair held in Chicago in 1893

The World's Columbian Exposition was a world's fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. The centerpiece of the Fair, the large water pool, represented the long voyage Columbus took to the New World. Chicago bested New York City, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis for the honor of hosting the fair. The Exposition was an influential social and cultural event and had a profound effect on architecture, sanitation, the arts, Chicago's self-image, and American industrial optimism.

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago) is the most populous city in Illinois, as well as the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,705,994 (2018), it is the most populous city in the Midwest. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, and the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States. The metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States.

In the 1890s, Joseph Edwin Washington and his wife Mary Bolling Kemp Washington, who owned the Wessyngton Plantation in Robertson County, Tennessee, commissioned Weeden to make portraits of several of their African-American servants, who had stayed to work for them as freedmen after emancipation. These works were about 5" x7" in size, and some were completed in pastels. [7] Weeden's near-sightedness was said to have contributed to her making closely detailed portraits having a "miniature like finish." [5] It is also thought that she may have worked from photographs of subjects. [7]

Wessyngton (Cedar Hill, Tennessee)

Wessyngton is a historic mansion on a former tobacco plantation in Cedar Hill, Tennessee, U.S. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Robertson County, Tennessee County in the United States

Robertson County is a county located on the central northern border of Tennessee in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 66,283. Its county seat is Springfield. The county was named for James Robertson, an explorer, founder of Nashville, and a state senator, who was often called the "Father of Middle Tennessee".

Near-sightedness problem with distance vision

Near-sightedness, also known as short-sightedness and myopia, is an eye disorder where light focuses in front of, instead of on, the retina. This causes distant objects to be blurry while close objects appear normal. Other symptoms may include headaches and eye strain. Severe near-sightedness is associated with an increased risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma.

In 1895, Weeden exhibited several portraits of African-American freedmen and freedwomen in Berlin and Paris, where they were well received. [3] Her paintings were praised by writers Joel Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page, [6] and Harris wrote the foreword to her book Bandanna Ballads (1899). [2]

Weeden also wrote poetry, and she combined both poetry and art in her four books published between 1898 and 1904. [5] Some of her poems were written in the black dialect, now known as African-American English, as she was inspired by stories and folktales told to her by her subjects when they were sitting for portraits. [3]

Between 1866 and 1896, Weeden also had contributed numerous essays and short stories to the Presbyterian Christian Observer, under the pseudonym of "Flake White." These were collected and reprinted in 2005. [8] [9]

Personal life and death

Weeden never married. She and her unmarried sister Kate both lived in the Weeden House as adults. [2] Weeden died of tuberculosis at age 59 on April 12, 1905 in Huntsville. [3] [6] [2] In 1998 Weeden was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. [10]


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  1. Timberlake, Stephanie (April 21, 2011). "Maria Howard Weeden". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Associated Press (August 27, 2000). "City renews bond with historic home". Pensacola News Journal. Pensacola, Florida. p. 40. Retrieved June 3, 2019 via
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Timberlake, Stephanie (2019). Knight, Elliot A. (ed.). Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN   9780817320102. OCLC   1049578394.
  4. "Maria Howard Weeden (1846-1905)". Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 "Miss Howard Weeden. Her Funeral Will Take Place This Afternoon. Daughters of the Confederacy Will attend in a body -- Was Well Known in Nashville". The Morning Mercury. Huntsville, Alabama. April 13, 1905. p. 5. Retrieved June 2, 2019 via
  6. 1 2 3 "The Artist and Poet, Miss Howard Weeden". The Florence Herald. Florence, Alabama. May 5, 1905. pp. 2–3. Retrieved June 2, 2019 via
  7. 1 2 Baker, John F. (2010). The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom. New York: Atria Books. p. 327. ISBN   9781416567417. OCLC   424555333.
  8. Howard Weeden, Maria (2005). Huff Fisk, Sarah; Wright Riley, Linda (eds.). Lost Writings of Howard Weeden as "Flake White". Huntsville, Alabama: Big Spring Press. ISBN   9780976583608. OCLC   60669383.
  9. Frear, Sarah S. (April 2007). "Lost Writings of Howard Weeden as "Flake White." (review)". Alabama Review. 60 (2): 146–148. doi:10.1353/ala.2007.0028.
  10. "Alphabetical List of Inductees". Alabama Women's Hall of Fame. 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2019.

Further reading