“Mr. Fugle, Mother’s Employer”

James Fugle (1836-1910), described in the 1880 Federal census of Baltimore as a “keeper of ladies emporium,” appears in Baltimorean Elizabeth Gaither Summers‘ photo album as “mother’s employer.”

But which mother? Elizabeth worked as a sales lady before her marriage. Her mother-in-law, Anna Louise Ross Summers, who lived with Elizabeth and Charles D. Summers, worked as a seamstress and dressmaker.

James and his brother Frederick Fugle (b. abt. 1845) were English; James emigrated in 1867 and Frederick three years later. James may have been the “James Fuggle,” “draper’s assistant,” born in Sevenoaks, Kent, listed in the 1851 and 1861 censuses of England. They may have been the sons of Sevenoaks tailor Samuel Fuggle (b abt. 1800). The houses where they lived, “Taylor’s Cottages,” on 55 Akehurst Lane, Sevenoaks, are still in existence.

James’ Baltimore concern on North Charles Street (later West Townsend Street) was known as Fugle & Co. Dry Goods or just James Fugle & Co. An 1890 directory of Baltimore lists their merchandise as “cloaks, furs, costumes, etc.”

Advertisements from the 1870s and 1880s call for skilled “cloakmakers”–seamstresses–and cloth-cutters to work in their shop, so they were not only selling but producing ladies’ clothing.

Talking up Baltimore goods to the Baltimore SUN in December 1889, Fugle is decidedly a “go-er,” as they might once have said: a self-confident merchant and manufacturer surveying his sales floor with satisfaction as the holiday shopping season begins:

“When you see a man’s clerks on the jump, as you see them here, and you hear him complain about dull times put him down as a chronic kicker, whose life is a burden to him. . . . Do you know that Baltimore is the cheapest market in the United States for fine goods? Now, in the matter of riding habits, where everything must be of the best, we can sell them just as good in every particular, as Redfarn of New York, and at one-half of his prices.”

The Fugles became wealthy enough to travel to Europe, and to keep a  summer home in the Waverly area of Baltimore County.

James Fugle died at his Arlington, New Jersey home of pneumonia in February 1910, and is buried in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery.

He and his wife, Laura Walsh Fugle, had three children: Hellen (“Nellie;” later Mrs. George D. Thompson); Frederick Walsh Fugle, who settled in Montclair, New Jersey, married Nellie LaSalle Canton, daughter of sculptor John LaSalle, and worked in a paper and twine business; and Edyth, who married Canadian furrier George K. Campbell and settled in Kearny, New Jersey.

James and his brother  Fred C. Fugle apparently parted ways, and Frederick did not share in the prosperity of his elder brother. He remained in Baltimore, employed in a series of sales jobs.

Fugle thought well enough of “mother” to give her a portrait of himself. It’s a classic Bachrach portrait of the early 20th century: a dignified head and shoulders against a tasteful neutral background, on the new larger mount–cut down, no doubt to fit in the album.

Another View of ” ‘Shucking’ Oysters”

One of the most common Baltimore stereoviews I’ve seen, aside from the monuments, is Keystone View Company’s ” ‘Shucking’ Oysters, Oyster House, Baltimore, Md.”

Views like this one were meant both to entertain and inform the armchair tourist. The text on the back of the view offers educational information about the oyster industry in America: how oysters are caught and processed, and the place of the oyster harvest in American fish and seafood production.

This view is a well-known depiction of one kind of working class women’s labor in Baltimore in the early years of the 20th century. While the anonymous writer dismisses shucking as consisting of  “merely of removing the shells,” Paula J. Johnson’s study of work at an oyster house on the Patuxent shows that “of all the tasks involved in the entire oyster house work activity, shucking was the only one requiring  mastery of a complex of technical skills and know-how.”

Yet,  as Johnson documents in “Sloppy Work for Women: Shucking Oysters on the Patuxent,” “historically, shucking oysters was considered a menial, dirty job, typically relegated to the poorest people. In Maryland, this meant immigrants, women, blacks and children” (38).

After 1865, thousands of white women, most of foreign birth, worked as shuckers in Baltimore. As was typical in an oyster house, the women stand in wooden stalls, in a cold, damp building, probably for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for a dollar or two a day, depending on one’s speed and skill.

These women wear rubber aprons, but are using their bare hands to slice open the wet, muddy shells. In order to bring the meat out intact, and thus get the best money, one had to learn how to slice through the muscles of the oyster without cutting the meat.

Once removed, the meats were placed in separate buckets according to size. Empty shells are tossed at their feet for removal. Shuckers brought full buckets to a counter between shucking and packing rooms for rinsing, grading and weighing. Tallies were kept on a chalk board.

Because each oyster is unique, shucking resisted mechanization. No inventor was ever successful in designing a machine that could do what the human shucker could do.

Johnson’s essay can be found in the 1988 volume for which she served as editor: Working the Water: The Commercial Fisheries of Maryland’s Patuxent River (Charlottesville: Calvert Marine Museum and the University Press of Virginia Press).

In addition to several essays, this invaluable book contains photographs of 148 implements and other kinds of equipment used in the Patuxent fisheries, from knives to water craft, as well as numerous images of watermen and others in the industry at work.