PEOPLE: Holly Cowan Shulman

Visiting the Ann Frank Museum: a reflection by Holly Shulman.


Ann Frank
Ann Frank

This is a guest post by my historian sister,  Holly Shulman, who recently presented a paper at a conference in Amsterdam. While she was there she visited the Ann Frank Museum, hosted by one of the curators, Dienke Hondius, who later asked Holly what her thoughts were about the museum. This is Holly's response. 


Dear Dienke,

Here is an attempt to answer your question as to why I found the Anne Frank House Museum personally disorienting.

The nub of the question is what are we doing when we remember (and commemorate) Anne Frank: something about the Jewish experience, or something about the human experience?

When I was a child the holocaust was talked about in our house, but it was not the subject of general conversation – in society, in politics, in literature – that it later became.  That, of course, is the subject of Hasia Diner’s book, We Remember with Reverence and Love.  Perhaps 1945-1968 (with the publication of Arthur Morse’s When Six Million Died) was a kind of limnal or marginal period of remembrance.  In my house we talked about my parents’ German backgrounds, especially my mother’s.  She remembered my grandmother trying to find who might still be living among her German relations, but could locate no one.  Her family on both sides had arrived around 1850 as part of that general wave of German emigration to the US, and like so many Jews had steadily moved West until they reached Chicago.  One of their relations sent home letters during the American Civil War that remained extant and are published as A Jewish Colonel in the Civil War.  And like so many immigrants, my mother’s family kept many German ways, especially their food, but also the practice of Christmas, which was, after all, a German holiday by way of England.  Many German Jewish families had Christmas meals and presents, and as the German practice was to buy a tree on Christmas Eve, so it was the custom of my grandparents and my parents.

By the late 1930s, after my mother’s family could discover no living relatives in Germany, my mother and my grandmother joined an organization to sponsor Jews trying to flee Hitler.  My mother even received a letter (in German) from Albert Einstein after they tried to save two mathematicians and their son (unsuccessfully).

So I knew about the holocaust. It related to the history of my family, and I felt both gratitude and guilt that I had been born in the United States – a sentiment I think shared by virtually every American Jewish child of my age.

But reading about it as a child was not simple.  There were no books, as there were by the time my daughter Rebecca was a child.  By then there were a ton of memoirs and stories from survivors and children of survivors.  But in the 1950s we simply and only had Anne Frank.  There were no movies that I remember, or radio shows, to which we still listened.  We were, as many have written, very concerned with being American, even as American a family as mine, and swept up in the universalism of the era.

The story of Anne Frank had a huge impact on me as a member of a German-Jewish upper middle class family who wanted for nothing and who were on the one hand politically and socially Jewish but on the other totally alienated from Judaism as a religion.  (My father’s side was a bit more complex in its background – but that is another story for another time.) This mixture of no religion and complete Jewish identity – at least with their German Jewish past – is central I believe to any understanding of the meaning of Judaism in the post enlightenment world.  Being Jewish is more than a religious belief.  It is being part of a people and a history.  What in Hebrew is called Am Israel, the Jewish people. As a child the holocaust was there, always there, but always distant.  It was The Diary of Anne Frank that made it all real.  Not the camps, of course, but the fears and the hiding and the drumbeat of threat.  I remember reading the book so clearly.  I must have been 10 or 11.  I took it to bed with me to read at night, and after I shut off the light the fears and shadows of the book were like a fog wrapped around me, they crept inside of me and stayed somewhere in of my body.  With Anne Frank I knew, I KNEW, I was Jewish and that I would remain Jewish, and that Hitler would not win.  Anne Frank cemented my identity as a Jew.  Reading her Diary was an act of affirmation.

As an adult I thought about her and her book less and less.  I read more Jewish history.  I sent my children to a Jewish nursery school and we joined a synagogue.  Being Jewish became part of the daily pattern of my life, even while struggling with the notion of a God and becoming an atheist.  The most recent books about Europe and fascism and the destruction of the Jews that have meant a lot to me are more like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands and Jeffrey Veidlinger’s In the Shadow of the Shtetl.

It is against that background that I saw that Anne Frank House – at your gracious invitation and marvelous hospitality.  What I saw was an Anne Frank who is no longer a symbol of the destruction of the Jews, and of the always recycling hatred of the Jews, but a generalized emblem of victimization, of the problems of power and authoritarianism, of the results that can occur when ordinary people are too afraid to speak up.

In that light, I suppose I felt that Anne Frank now belongs to the world, but in a sense not to me.  You may think this a very odd comparison, but let me contrast Anne Frank for a moment to Queen Esther.  Every year Jews remember Queen Esther for saving the Jewish People, and Purim became a very important holiday in Europe because all the cycles of destruction and attempted destruction became folded into that one story.  But Purim was and remains Jewish.  There is no holiday celebrating Anne Frank, but all those visitors are commemorating Anne.  Esther is particular, ethnic, and globally irrelevant.  Anne is for everyone.

After visiting with you I felt a bit dizzy.  Part of me celebrates that Anne Frank can become such a potent figure of dignity and the fight against oppression.  But part of me experienced a loss – of a childhood figure who had once crept into my body as I lay in warm sheets falling asleep and told me stories that changed my life.


 Dr. Dorothy I Height, Polly Cowan, Dorothy I Height dies April 20, 2010, Wednesdays In Mississippi, women in civil rights, civil rights as women's work

Dr. Dorothy I Height and Polly Cowan, Co- Founders of Wednesdays In Mississippi

Dr. Dorothy Irene Height died early this morning at age 98. One of the great leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement, her activism, passion, brilliance and determination changed the lives of millions. She was also my my mother's great friend and colleague. Our family loved Dr. Height, and will miss her deeply.

I direct you to my sister, Holly Shulman's, excellent website documenting the Civil Rights Organization, Wednesdays In Mississippi, founded by Dr. Height and our mother, Polly Spiegel Cowan 


 Dr. Dorothy I Height, Polly Cowan, Wednesdays In Mississippi, women in the civil rights movement, Hope Resolve Empathy Understanding

From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Website. Click image to link.

Wednesdays In Mississippi mostly worked in secret in order to protect the women who participated, whose lives could be in danger from the mission.

 Dorothy Height, Wednesdays In Mississippi, Polly Cowan, Secret Project in Mississippi, interracial meetings of women 1964, NY Herald Tribune 1964
"Secret Project in Mississippi- Interracial meeting of Women" NY York Herald Tribune, 1964. From The Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College. Click image to link.


New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 30, 1964  By Dick Schaap, City Editor:

They met secretly, these few white women and Negro women of Jackson Miss., in a business office on a border  street separating Negro and white residential sections, because the white women were afraid to bring Negros into their home and afraid, too, to go to Negro Homes. Their fear, of course, was of retaliation from the white community. Their interracial meetings were inspired by a project called Wednesdays in Mississippi, a secret project revealed only yesterday, that over the past two months quietly brought into Mississippi 48 Northern women, white and Negro, many of them socially prominent. The mood of these meetings, encouraged by the Northern visitors to help 'build a bridge' between Jackson Negro and white women, was expressed best, perhaps, in the frank remarks of one local white woman who attended. " My husband would kill me if he knew I were here." she said. "But he's a wonderful guy."" These (white) women are living through a frightening, schizophrenic experience," Dr. Hanna A. Levin, of Maplewood, NY, an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, said yesterday.

Mrs Levin was the leader of Team Seven, the last of the Northern teams- drawing women from New York, New Jersey, Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis and St. Paul - to make an excursion to Mississippi. Six of the teams had seven members; one team had six members: every team had at least two Negros on it.

The Northern visitors included Mrs. Robert B. Meyner, wife of the former governor of New Jersey; Mrs. Jerome B. Weisner, wife of the Dean Of Science at Massachusetts Instititute Of Technology; Mrs. August Hecksher, wife of the director of the Twentieth Century Fund, Inc., Mrs. Robert S. Benjamin, wife of the chairman of the board of United Artists Corp.; Mrs. Dorothy I. Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women; Mrs. Edward L. Ryerson jr., daughter -in- law of the former chairmn of the board of Inland Steel Co, and the overall project coordinator, Mrs. Louis G. Cowan, wife of the director of the Communications Research Center at Brandeis University.


Each team flew into Mississippi on a Tuesday - the last group landed on Aug. 18- spent Tuesday night in Jackson, spend Wednesday visiting Freedom Schools and other facilities set up by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) in such towns as Meridan, Hattiesburg, Ruleville, Canton and Vicksburg, went back to Jackson Wednesday night and returned home on Thursday.

The Negro members of the teams always stayed in private Negro homes. The white members of the fist five teams stayed in motels. Then, as the group slowly acquired contacts in the white community, the white members of the last two teams found lodging in private white homes. Wednesdays In Mississippi employed a paid staff of three women - two white and one Negro - who spent the entire two months in Mississippi.

Many of the visitors paid their own way to Mississippi but a majority were subsidized, at least in part, by such organizations as The National Council Of Negro Women, The YWCA, The National Council Of Jewish Women, The National Council of Catholic Women, The League Of Women Voters and several church groups.

Each woman was briefed by Mrs. Cowan before she left, given background reading material - including the speech by Mississippi Prof. James Silvester (Silver) which lead to his book, "Mississippi: The Closed Society" and a pamphlet called "Behind The Cotton Curtain" - then was debriefed by Mrs. Cowan when she returned. The debriefings were tape recorded.

From the Wednesdays In Mississippi Film Project:

"However, it was on Thursdays that the quiet revolution took root. This was when the “Wednesdays Women” put on their white gloves and pearls and secretly met with Black and White Mississippi women. In living rooms over tea and cookies the Southern women openly discussed their fears and suspicions about the civil rights movement.  Many, for the first time, voiced their support for change. At that time in Mississippi, mixing with outsiders had dire consequences.  Yet the women came,  they listened  and their hearts and minds began to open.  Their clandestine meetings became the catalyst for great change."

 Dr. Dorothy Height, fashion icon
Dr. Dorothy I. Height was also a fashion icon. She could really wear a hat!  Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA Today, 2008

  President Obama, Dorothy I.Height, photo Pete Souza,
January 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)  President Obama and Dr, Dorothy I Height

  President Obama crying at Dorothy Height funeral, April 29, 2010
At Dr. Dorothy I Height's funeral, April 29, 2010, President Obama cries. I love this photo and the fact that Obama was so moved by such a great woman.

For a comprehensive look at WIMS please go to: Wednesdays In Missisippi website

and The WIMS Film Project

And this, From Laura Flanders, GritTV

More GRITtv


It seems clear that President-Elect Barack Obama has inspired more and better art than any previous America political candidate or victor, but political imagery and ephemera is not a new category for  collectors. I started collecting campaign buttons in the early sixties - most of which I regret that I no longer have. But fliers, posters, celluloid buttons and other propaganda is a fertile ground for art collectors and cultural/political historians.

Campaign buttons have long been a popular way to market candidates. George Washington and many of his supporters wore brass clothing buttons reading "G.W. - Long Live The President" at his inauguration in 1789.

1789-2 George Washington (GW enclosed by inscription Long Live The President) (brass inaugural button)
George Washington Inaugural Button, 1879. Courtesy of

In a  marketing strategy that continues to this day, William Harrison sold himself as a man the common people, with his "log cabin" image. The truth that he came from a wealthy, prominent family was no more relevant than the fact that "cowboy" George Bush did.

1840 William Henry Harrision (black sulphide). Scarce
William Harry Harrison, 1840. Sulphide badge. Courtesy of

Not all presidential imagery is used to sell the canditate running for office. Sometimes the images are used to sell unrelated products. My sister, Holly Cowan Shulman, one of the world's leading experts on Dolley Madison relies on, and loves, the pop cultural images of the "first" first lady, hostess of Washington. Madison's name and image was used widely, after her death, to market products from ice cream to tobacco to cake.

Dolley madison icecream
Dolly Madison Ice Cream. Note that the name is spelled wrong. Courtesy of The Dolley Madison Project.

By the time of the Abraham Lincoln campaing, tintype and ferrotype processes allowed for mass manufacture of images and campaign promotional badges. 

Lincoln star button

Abraham Lincoln star button. Courtesy of

Lincoln Ambrotype Reverse  

Lincoln ambrotype badge/pendant. As much an ad for the manufacturer as for the candidate. Courtesy of

Teddy Rooseveltpillbox 

Teddy Roosevelt button. Courtesy of

Adlai stenenson pin Pictorial Productions tuckshoe NY

Adlai Stevenson celluloid button.

Stevenson shoe pin blog  

Heavy on symbolism - the Adlai Stevenson hole in the shoe pin. A wonderful customer gave this to me.


Adlai Stevenson, hole in his shoe. 1952, photo by William M. Gallagher. This photo, shot at arm's lenght so Stevenson wouldn't realize what was happening, won the Pulizer prize in 1953. The Flint Journal

Any photojournalist or political historian remembers the Stevenson photo and the powerful symbolism of a president who encourages thrift. Which brings us to Barack Obama.

Obama hole in shoe photo by Callie shell 

Photo by Callie Shell/Aurora for Time. Providence RI, 3/1/2008 "Senator Obama was doing press interviews by telephone in a holding room between events. Sometime later as he was getting ready to begin his event, he asked me if I was photographing his shoes. When I said yes, he told me that he had already had them resoled once since he entered the race a year earlier. "

The Obama buttons are famous, as are the Shepard Fairey Obama Hope posters. Right now, all you politcal ephemera collectors can jump on the bandwagon and get this new sticker by Shepard Fairey from But hurry up. The limited edition (5,000)  Shepard Fairey Yes We Did poster sold out in record time yesterday and I blinked and missed it. Really. I was with a customer and when I came back online they were gone. They will be available on the secondary market, but prices will rise dramatically.


Shepard Fairey, Yes We Did sticker available from MoveOn.Org.

You can get one sticker for free, 5 for $3 or 50 for $20.  I've seen these available for sale on an online auction for $5 each, and they haven't even been released from the artist/publisher yet. I find that unscrupulous, since they are still available for free from the source. So get yours while they are still available from MoveOn.Org.  And give them a generous contribution while you're at it.

update Nov 11: the signed We Did It poster sold out. At last look, was still offering unsigned posters for a donation of $15.


The amusements of Atlantic City in the last post made me think of carousels. I have spent periods of my life obsessed with carousels. In my own childhood I rode the Stein & Goldstein horses at the carousel in Central Park in New York City. But more than that, we had our own carousel horse on our lawn in Redding Connecticut in the early 1950's. Nowadays, nobody in their right mind would leave a vintage wooden carousel horse outdoors, exposed to the elements and gaggles of rowdy children, but in those days the discarded horses were not particularly valuable or appreciated as works of folk art.
carousel, charles dare horse, carousel horse on lawn Liza Cowan, circa 1951, Redding, CT.

charles dare, carousel horse, carousel horse in private collection, children on charles dare carousel horse

Photo by Mary Morris Steiner

My sister just sent me this. Sorry about the quality, it's a many times scan, but here is my mother, Polly Spiegel Cowan, with my sister Holly and brother Geoff on the carousel horse.  I don't understand the seeming discrepency in the color of the mane, but I guess that between the time of the picture with my mom and sibs, and the one of me, the horse was painted. Ouch.

The horse  sat on our lawn for years. The mind boggles. I rode this horse until my early teens, when we sold the house. And by "we" I mean my parents. Years outdoors exposed to the elements runied this fine piece of sculpture, and I regret that more than I can begin to express.

Carousel dare carousel NY State Museum
These horses are in the New York State Museum in Albany.  Armitage/Hershell machine probably carved by Charles Dare in the 1890's.

Carousel Charles Dare
Attributed to Charles Dare. Photo from James D. Julia Auction, Maine.  This is the horse we had. The breastplate and saddle on ours was simpler, but otherwise they match up. My heart is breaking.

Moving on from my heartbreak...

When my daughters were little, we were lucky to have a house in Greenport Long Island, where there is a beautifully restored Hershell Carousel right on the water's edge. I got a call one evening at dusk that the horses were about to be moved to their newly built pavillion, so I raced over and got this shot of some of them stacked up and ready to go. The light was fading too fast, so I only got a couple of good images.


Carousel horse, carousel greenport ny, allen herschell carousel horses, hershell horse,

Liza Cowan Photo 1999, Hershell Horses, Greenport NY Carousel

 hershell carousel horse, greenport LI

This Hershell beauty was up and rolling when I took the picture. The Greenport Carousel actually has a brass ring, which makes it even more exciting and historic.




Liza Cowan Hershell carousel horse painting on photo copy of cowan photo

Mixed Media by Liza Cowan.


This is a painting I did on top of a photocopy of a photo I took of a Hershell horse at the Greenport, Long Island Carousel. If you've never tried painting on top of a photocopy you should. It's really fun and easy. Best if you put down a coat of clear medium first.


charles carmel, carmel carousel horse, carousel prospect park, child on carousel horse, restored carousel, carmel jumper

Photo by Liza Cowan. WG riding a Charles Carmel jumper, Prospect Park Carousel


The carousel in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY has beautifully renovated horses carved in Coney Island sometime between 1910 and 1915 by Charles Carmel. We spent many an afternoon there. The American Folk Art Museum in New York recently had and exhibit, which I missed, called Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses, The Synagogue To The Carousel, which traced the art of Jewish immigrant carvers "inspired by their memories of the  symbols and forms they left behind. Some of the same Jewish artisans who arrived in America at the turn of the twentieth century and carved for their local synagogues also found work carving horses and other animals for the flourishing carousel industry."

"Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses" Exhibition Catalog, American Folk Museum with Brandeis University Press. 2008
Listed on my Powell's Bookshelf (under MY WEBSITES on upper right of sidebar.)


carousel paris france, carousel france, carousel luxembourg, child on small carousel horse, child on paris carousel
Photo by Liza Cowan

This turn of the century carousel is in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. The children can take sticks and try to spear the wooden hoops. This must hark back to when carousels were used to teach jousting to knights. It's as much fun for the children as grabbing for the brass ring. Notice how petite these horses are.

mechanical horse, child on mechanical horse, child on amusement park horse
Photo by Liza Cowan.

And then, sometimes, a mechanical horsie -ride -for- a- quarter is just as much fun. Although GW is wearing the same dress as in the Paris photo, it is not the same day, or even the same country. She just adored the dress.

Carousel at Shelburn Museum  
Carousel at Shelburne Museum, Shelburne VT

Now we live only a few miles from the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne Vt. They also have a working Hershell Carousel. They also have an amazing collection of historical carved carousel animals. It's worth the trip.

Mary Morris and Polly Cowan

I got these photos in the mail today. They were photocopies, not original prints, but who cares. I'd never seen them before and they are of my mother, father and their best friends at my mom's 40th Birthday in 1953.
Max Lerner, Lou Cowan, Polly Cowan, Mary Morris Steiner, Ralph Steiner
From left to right, Max Lerner, my dad (Lou Cowan,) my mom, (Polly Cowan.)  Above Polly is Mary Morris Steiner and biting Mom's shoulder is Ralph Steiner. On a personal note, isn't my mother gorgeous?? Too thin, perhaps, but wowza. Photograph probably by Edna Lerner, set up by Mary Morris Steiner.

Photo by Mary Morris Steiner copyright 1953
L to R. Max Lerner, Holly Cowan (my sister) Lou Cowan, Polly Cowan and Ralph Steiner. At first I thought this was some kind of fashion shoot with a roll of seamless paper, but in fact this was a wall in our New York City apartment. My dad planned this celebration with great ingenuity. He bought forty presents for my mother, not sure what they were but I remember a lot of fake gold wedding rings, had them all wrapped and tied in grocery twine and suspended all around the apartment. Four years old at the time, I wasn't at the party.  But my three siblings were and the affair was family legend.

I got the photos in the mail and the descriptions of the party over the phone from Mary Morris Steiner (now Lawrence.) Mary and Polly had been best friends at Sarah Lawrence college. The third best friend was Edna, who later married their professor Max Lerner. Mary married the photographer Ralph Steiner. And mom, of course married dad, who was radio and later television producer and executive Louis G Cowan. But this unusual group of former college co-ed weren't just housewives.  They married famous men, but they had their own careers as well.

My mother was a radio producer and later a civil rights activist. Edna Lerner was a psychologist.  Mary Morris joined The Associated Press in 1937 as the only woman phototo journalist. Later she worked for PM (Picture Magazine) a leftist daily newspaper in New York City. When I knew Mary and Ralph they were working as advertising photographers .


Photo by Mary Morris Steiner copyright 1953. Clockwise from the far left: Ralph Steiner, Geoff Cowan (my brother) Polly Cowan, Max Lerner, Edna Lerner, Paul Cowan (my bro) Holly Cowan and on the floor, my dad, Louis G. Cowan. The trunk which serves as a coffee table was filled with family photos, all of which were destroyed in the fire.

These photographs are particularly poignant for me because most of my family's earliest photos were burned in the fire that killed my parents in 1976. Each addition to our scant collection is precious. I'm also happy to have images of the party that was the stuff of legend around our dinner table. And then there's Mary.

I looked for Mary Morris Steiner for years, but only knew her as Morrie (her nickname) Steiner. Google searches were in vain. Finally Sherrie, at the Charlotte (VT) Community Library, found a file of clippings on Ralph Steiner, who had moved to Vermont later in his life. Sherrie found me Mary's second married name and some phone numbers.

So now, not only have I found  an important link to my family history, but a new friend as well. And, in my role as gallerist, I have found an amazing photographer. I'm hoping that someday I will be able to exhibit her work at PSAW. So far it's just a hope, because it would be a large task, but keep your fingers crossed.

DOLLEY Madison & HOLLY Shulman

A few years ago, when I first thought about creating a website, my main inspiration was my older sister, Holly C. Shulman, and her outstanding website, The Dolley Madison Project . Holly, Dolley. Be confused not.

Holly C. Shulman is probably the foremost scholar on Dolley Madison. Dolley was the wife of President James Madison and the most famous hostess of Washington DC. Far from being stuffily academic, the website is gorgeous, informative and fun. Produced as a project of the Virginia Center For Digital History - University of Virginia, The Dolley Madison Project has both academic clout and design pizzaz. The graphics are beautiful, including probably all the known likenesses of Dolley. There is a section on Dolley and pop culture and a section on how to read old handwriting.

Image courtesy of Holly Cowan Shulman, The Virginia Center For Digital History, University Of Virginia


Jewelry made from hair of a deceased beloved. From VCDH  website. University of Virginia

Now Holly Shulman has published a piece in the Virginia Center For Digital History Website/blog about Dolley, James and the custom of making jewelry from the hair of a dead beloved to use as a memento mori. According to Shulman, "The fascination with ritualized mourning clothes and accessories has generally been considered an outgrowth of Queen Victoria’s intensely private, but socially influential bereavement of her husband, Prince Albert. But Albert did not die until 1861, and Dolley wrote her cousin in the summer of 1837. We can assume that in her practice and assumptions about memorializing the dead, Dolley was not alone among her friends and family in Virginia. These letters inform us about their practices of mourning. It indicates a shift in how the dead were remembered, and it locates the tradition of creating jewelry with hair enclosed to the 1830s."

Holly also edits another website, an exhibition site about Wednesdays In Mississippi: Civil Rights as Women's Work. Maybe I'll post about it another time.