In 1830, a gangling, tall man named William T. Porter came to New York City from the peaceful countryside of rural Vermont. His towering height (six feet, four inches) gave him the nickname “Tall Son of York,” and Porter (1809-1858) was a man with a dream. He had a vision of launching his own newspaper dedicated to sports of all kinds, modeled after the fashionable London newspapers that chronicled the day-by-day activities of popular horse races, prominent fox hunts, and gave advice on raising dogs, fly fishing, shotgunning trips, and even billiards matches.

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Wm. T. Porter, editor of the Spirit of the Times / Pierce. From the collection of Thomas Addis Emmet, 1828–1919, NYPL Digital Gallery. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

By 1831, Porter made his dream a reality with the launch of Spirit of the Times. Porter was the owner and editor, and his four brothers were his business partners in the venture. Spirit of the Times grew a large audience in the American southwest, focusing on the active racing scene in the antebellum South. Porter encouraged humorous and satirical entries, and the Spirit played a significant role in popularizing the American tall tale and by 1839, Spirit of the Times was the most popular sporting periodical in the United States. Porter longed to establish a formal stud book for the United States, in similar vein to the General Stud Book in Britain. The goal would not be achieved in his lifetime.

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George Wilkes, Esq., Editor of Wilke’s New York Spirit of the Times. — Photographed by Brady. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1860. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The history of Spirit of the Times is fractured and difficult to trace in its earliest roots, but things became complicated in the 1850s. In 1856, Porter sold his ownership of Spirit of the Times to George Wilkes (1817-1885), staying on as editor until his death in 1858. Abraham Dayton, a former employee at Spirit, launched his own rival publication in 1859, called Porter’s Spirit of the Times, creating a confusing rivalry of weekly sporting newspapers with very similar names. After a court case regarding the use of Porter’s name, the original Spirit was re-christened Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times.

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Masthead of Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, January 9, 1864. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The Civil War tore apart American society, including the sporting and publishing world. Porter’s Spirit of the Times struggled through the war, andwas eventually reunified as Spirit of the Times under Wilkes, who served as editor and publisher until his death in 1885. However, as the war raged, another luminary of sporting newspaper history was rising to military prominence.

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Masthead of Turf, Field and Farm, February 18, 1876. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Sanders D. Bruce (1825-1902), originally from Lexington, Kentucky, had joined his state’s militia as a captain in 1859, following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. When the Civil War began, Bruce chose to fight for the Union, taking a promotion to Colonel in the 4th Division of the Army of the Ohio. The highlight of Col. Sanders Bruce’s military career was leading his brigade in the Battle of Shiloh, but he was obliged to resign his commission in 1864 due to heart trouble.

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The Battle of Shiloh, Thure de Thulstrup, 1888. Restoration by Adam Cuerden. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons. The Battle of Shiloh was the highlight of Col. Sanders Bruce’s military career.

Following the war, Bruce relocated to New York and launched his own sporting newspaper called Turf, Field and Farm. The new paper received an instant boost by purchasing much of its infrastructure and equipment from Spirit of the Times, which was struggling through reduced wartime readership. The two papers vied with each other for decades, and within a few years of the war, Turf, Field and Farm and Spirit of the Times made up two of New York’s three most popular newspapers.

Bruce would go on to write extensively on horse breeding, finally fulfilling William Porter’s dream with his production of the American Stud Book in 1873.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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Working as a professional portrait and animal artist in the 1800s was not an unusual occurrence, unless you were a woman. Mrs. Susan C. Waters (1823-1900) was among the first female painters in the United States to be successful supporting both herself and her husband during her lifetime.

When her female contemporaries were masking their gender by purposely signing their works with initials instead of first names, Waters preferred to sign her paintings “Mrs. Susan C. Waters” or “Mrs. S.C. Waters” in a legible, cursive hand. Her early portraits were signed on the reverse, inscribed with the names of the sitters, and the date. When she reemerged as an animal, landscape, and still life painter, the artist signed her paintings on the front for the rest of her career, a trailblazer making her mark during the birth of the women’s suffrage movement.

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Comparison of Susan C. Waters signatures: Left – b/w image of verso of portrait of Helen Kingman, 1845, #17 in 1980 exhibition catalogue for “Susan C. Waters, 19th-Century Itinerant Painter;” Right – signature on recto of Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Chickens and Raspberries, c.1880, NSLM Collection, Gift of The Phelan Collection, 2012.

Waters was born Susan Catherine Moore in Binghamton, New York, in 1823 and lived in the Quaker community of Friendsville, Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen she attended the local female seminary school there. Notably, Susan showed early artistic talent earning tuition for both herself and her sister by painting copies for the Natural History Department. Little is known about her formal artistic training, although according to her obituary, printed in  the Bordentown Register on July 27, 1900, “she was considered a prodigy by her teachers” at the seminary.

In 1841 Susan married William Church Waters, also from the Friendsville Quaker community, and they remained together for 52 years until his death in 1893. Her husband encouraged Susan to become an itinerant portrait painter. She produced numerous folk art portraits between 1843 and 1846, traveling throughout northern Pennsylvania and Southern New York with her husband. Several of her portraits show an early facility for portraying animals.

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Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823 – 1900), Brothers, c. 1845 (and detail on right), oil on canvas, 44 x 34 15/16 inches, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
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Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823 – 1900), Henry L. Wells, 1845 (and detail on right), oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 28 3/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch

The last known portrait during this early phase of Water’s career is dated 1846. Her husband William’s failing health began to impede their travels. With the rise of photography people were also beginning to turn away from commissioning portraits and towards sitting for photographs. Mr. and Mrs. Waters capitalized on this by becoming ambrotype and daguerreotype photographers for the next decade.

Susan also taught painting and drawing, but her focus returned to her own work. A revealing letter she wrote from Friendsville in 1851, to the Honorary Secretary of the American Art-Union in New York requesting a reference, provides a glimpse into the couple’s circumstances and her goals for her career. She noted:

Owing to my husband’s ill health I am prevented from following my usual occupation. (i.e. teaching painting) therefore I am obliged to seek some other way of turning my time to profit, in order to keep up with our expenses…by the sale of oil paintings.

Susan made no mention of her time as an itinerant painter but instead referred to two landscapes she had “sketched from nature” to submit to the Art-Union. There is no record of her works having been accepted, but landscapes that Waters painted and sold during this time set the stage for her artistic transition.

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Susan Caroline Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Landscape with Cows and Stream, oil on canvas, 29 3/4 x 41 1/2 inches (sight size), signed Mrs. Susan C. Waters, lr [image source: Cowan’s Auctions on-line catalog, Fine and Decorative Art: Live Salesroom Auction, 3/10/18, lot 10]
The Waters required additional income to complete a home they were building in the early 1850s in the Quaker community of Bordentown, New Jersey, although they did not settle there until over a decade later in 1866. It is here where Waters became known for her paintings of sheep, other domesticated and wild animals, and still lifes with the constant encouragement and support of her ailing husband. She kept her studio in Bordentown for the next thirty years. It is also here that she became active with the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association, of which she was elected recording secretary in 1871.

In 1876 Waters continued to blaze new trails as an exhibitor at the prestigious International Exhibition held in Philadelphia that year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Her oil painting, Still Life – Mallard Ducks, is listed as no. 1075 in the catalogue with an asterisk next to the title indicating the painting was for sale.

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Official Catalogue of US International Exhibition 1876 published by John R. Nagle and Company. Left: Cover; Right Top: Dept. IV. – Art – United States. p. 47 and detail; Right Bottom: “Art Gallery, Or Memorial Hall” illustration, frontispiece for “Part II. Art Gallery, Annexes, and Outdoor Works of Art.” [ source: https://archive.org/details/officialcatalogu00cent ]
The National Sporting Library & Museum’s oil painting, Chickens and Raspberries,  c. 1880 shows how refined Waters’ technique had become.

Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Chickens and Raspberries, c.1880
oil on canvas, 24 x 16 1/2 inches, NSLM Collection, Gift of The Phelan Collection, 2012

Mrs. Susan B. Waters – artist, wife, and suffragette – died in 1900 at the age of 77 after a long and storied career. She continued to paint until a few months prior to her passing. “Her character was as beautiful as her paintings… her talent she could not bequeath,” noted her  July 27, 1900 obituary.  Waters left behind a body of work, a reputation, and a legacy that made her an icon ahead of her time as well as a noteworthy figure in women’s history and art history.

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Mrs. Susan C. Waters, c. 1880, Bordentown Historical Society, Bordentown, NJ. [ image source: https://www.mullenbooks.com/pictures/6756_3.jpg?v=1487612703 ]

pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

Earlier this year I wrote about a few of our many Presidential horsemen.  As a group, the Presidents have nearly all been involved in some sort of sporting activity.  Holders of our highest office have been swimmers, golfers, runners, bicyclists, hunters, card players, sailors, and basketball players.  As young men, quite a few played football or baseball; and along with tens of millions of their fellow Americans, many Presidents have enjoyed angling.

George Washington’s diaries have numerous entries describing days spent fishing.  During the Constitutional Convention in 1787 he went fishing between sessions no less than three times.

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George Washington.  From Wikimeida Commons.

Before becoming President, Chester A. Arthur once held the record for an Atlantic Salmon of fifty-one pounds on the Cascapedia River in Quebec.

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Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886) Twenty-first President (1881-1885), in his late twenties.  By Rufus Anson (Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery) via Wikimedia Commons.

President Carter and his wife frequently fished together.

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President and Mrs. Carter.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999). The Gift of George Chapman.

Grover Cleveland was an avid fisherman and spent so much time on the water that the press complained about it.  He even wrote a book about fishing,  Fishing and Shooting Sketches, which is available in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

While there are numerous Presidential fisherman, the Library holds interesting objects in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room specific to two of them, Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower.

Hoover was a life long angler and continued fishing into his late eighties.  Prior to becoming President of the United States he had been president of the Izaak Walton League.  While in that post he supported legislation and agreements to regulate fishing and control pollution of the nation’s waterways.

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President Hoover fishing.  White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares (1964)

He enjoyed the solitude of fishing, and used it  as a way to relieve the stress of the Presidency.  He’s quoted as saying fishing gave him, “the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water.  It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a  rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week.  And it is discipline in the equality of men — for all men are equal before fish” (White House Sportsmen, p. 70-71).

To facilitate this need to get away, the President had a fishing camp built in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  The site he eventually selected was on the Rapidan River in what is now the Shenandoah National Park.  The book, The President’s Camp on the Rapidan by Thomas Lomax Hunter, housed in the Rare Book Room, describes the camp and the surrounding area.  It features drawings of scenes from the camp and a wonderful map.

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Map of the camp.  The President’s Camp on the Rapidan, the gift of John H. Daniels.

Hoover bought the 164 acre site and leased surrounding land with his own money.  His wife took charge of construction and transformed the camp from a group of tents to a collection of rustic cabins and community buildings.  Visitors to the camp found it remarkable that such an extreme wilderness existed so close to Washington.  The difficulty of getting to the site guaranteed the President the tranquility he was seeking.  Writing in his book Fishing for Fun, Hoover said, “Presidents have only two moments of personal seclusion.  One is prayer; the other is fishing — and they cannot pray all the time.”  The camp on the Rapidan gave him just the secluded venue he desired.

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President and Mrs. Hoover at the Rapidan Camp.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999)  Gift of George Chapman.

Unlike Hoover, Eisenhower enjoyed the fellowship of fishing with companions.  His vacations tended to be trips with friends and family, focused on golfing, fishing, hunting, and cards.  Although he differed from Hoover in this, he had similar reasons for enjoying fishing…

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Eisenhower fishing with friends.  From http://www.myusualgame.com/tag/dwight-eisenhower/

“There are three [sports] that I like all for the same reason — golf, fishing, and shooting– because they take you into the fields… They induce you to take at any one time two or three hours, when you are thinking of the bird or the ball or the wily trout.  Now, to my mind, it is a very healthful, beneficial kind of thing, and I do it whenever I get a chance. (Fishing with the Presidents, p. 82)

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Eisenhower casting.  The Sports of Our Presidents by John Durant (1964)

In June, 1955, President Eisenhower visited The Parmachenee Club at Parmachenee Lake in Maine.  The Library holds a commemorative scrap book of the fishing trip which features a history of the Club and includes 17 photographs of the President relaxing with friends and fishing in the stream.

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The President relaxing on the porch.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

In addition to preferring to fish with friends, rather than alone, Eisenhower also differed from Hoover in his choice of attire.  He had a much more relaxed fishing costume than Hoover, who always fished in a coat and tie.  Regardless of their different approaches to the sport, angling clearly helped both men deal with the stress of the Presidency, and they both enjoyed its challenges and rewards.

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Eisenhower and a fishing guide.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

The Library holds several titles describing the sporting activities, fishing and otherwise, of the Presidents.  Most of them are available anytime in the Main Reading Room.  For starters I suggest, The Sports of our Presidents by John Durant, White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares, The Games Presidents Play by John Sayle Watterson, and Fishing with the Presidents by Bill Mares.  The book about Hoover’s camp on the Rapidan, and Eisenhower’s fishing trip scrap book are both housed in the Rare Book Room so you’ll need to make an appointment to see them, but I’d be happy to get them out for you to take a look at.


SONY DSCErica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

Last year, the NSLM received a generous bequest from the late Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg, which included a beautiful example of work by the great British sporting painter, John Frederick Herring, Sr. (English, 1795-1865).

John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

Herring was well-known for his racing scenes and portraits of all the top English thoroughbreds of the day. The Start of the Derby, 1845, is a large composition showing the chaotic lineup at the start of the race in the foreground, and great billowing skyscape above.

F. Cooke, Portrait of John Frederick Herring, c. 1860, albumen carte-de-visite, 3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 57 mm) image size, National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Algernon Graves, 1916. NPG Ax14887
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Epsom Derby, often just called “The Derby,” was first run in 1780 and takes its name from one of the event’s founders, the 12th Earl of Derby. The 1 ½ mile flat turf race is for 3 year old colts or fillies. Held every June, it is one of the most prestigious and popular races in England. The region of Epsom (the source of the famous “Epsom Salts,” which were discovered there in the 17th century) has been known for horse racing for over 400 years.

The winner of the 1845 Derby was The Merry Monarch, ridden by Foster Bell, and owned by Mr. William Gratwicke, and is shown at the center foreground of the NSLM painting.

The horse was described  in George Tattersall’s 1850 Pictorial Gallery of English Race Horses, as a “bright bay horse, sixteen hands high, and altogether a remarkably fine looking horse.”  Unfortunately, despite this attractive description, he was just a one-hit-wonder. The 1845 race was The Merry Monarch’s only career win. He became known as a fluke, and was later described (in the June 1869 issue of The Sportsman magazine) as a “a very bad horse. . . who could not possibly have finished where he did had the others only stood up.” (Ouch!)

Portraits of The Merry Monarch were painted by Herring and other contemporary equine artists. John Frederick Herring, Sr., G.W. Gratwicke’s bay colt The Merry Monarch, in a loose box, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.5 cm.) (Image: Christies)

The start of the race featured more excitement than the owners and jockeys would have liked. As they were lining up for the start, one of the best ranked horses of the year, Alarm, kicked another favorite, named The Libel. The two fought, Alarm threw his jockey, and then injured himself before the race could even start. Another top favorite, Pam, fell during the race. Herring’s depiction of the scene shows the crowded chaos.

A hand-drawn key to the painting, by the artist’s son, John “Fred” Frederick Herring, Jr., labels the horse and jockey portraits shown in the foreground. 18 of the 31 entries are identified – though we hardly need the key to tell us which one is the winner, and which are the two who fought at the start!

John Frederick Herring, Jr. (English, 1815-1907), The Start of the Derby (key), c. 1845, pencil on paper, 8 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

1845 wasn’t the first time – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – that The Derby was marked by drama. The previous year, 1844, the winning horse named Running Rein, actually turned out to be a 4-year-old imposter named Maccabeus and was disqualified. One of the most famous and tragic runnings of the Derby was in 1913, when a suffragette named Emily Davison, who was protesting the lack of women’s voting rights, ran onto the track, was struck by a horse, and later died of her injuries.

Even though The Merry Monarch turned out to be a disappointment in future races, the summer race day shown in our new painting was his time to shine.