Overview & Context
During the Civil War, women in both the North and South remained
at home to manage households and businesses while the men went
to fight. No doubt this role provided an unprecedented taste
of self-sufficiency, albeit under extreme hardship which tested
their strength and endurance. The majority of fighting took place
in Southern territory, and a large proportion of property and
means for livelihood were destroyed, ushering in an period of
Out of the tumult of the Civil War and Reconstruction period
which followed arose an era of industrialization and materialistic
anxiety that brought the United States into the Victorian age.
Wealthy society and the aspiring middle class adopted rigid morality
and romanticised domesticity. At the other end of social scale,
women and children increasingly worked under oppressive factory
conditions. Women across social strata experienced a reversal
of the autonomy they had experienced in the topsy-turvy 1860s
Out of this was born a woman of resistance, who became
a star of the vaudeville stage, performing under the name Annie
Abbott, "Little Georgia Magnet."
She and many of the imitators
she inspired were born into the tumultuous society of Georgia
during or immediately following the Civil War and came into adulthood
as the Victorian era reached its height and the age of industrialization
The original Annie Abbott is believed to have performed
from 1885-1908. Imitators capitalizing on her act performed simultaneously
and into the 1920s.
Fast forward a century, and the name Annie Abbott is largely
unknown. Yet, she was the Celine Dion of her time, and spawned
a slew of imitators, who in the age before television and the
Internet, often took her name as well as her act. So how did
she assert her mysterious power on me?
While I consider myself a relatively metropolitan woman,
having been raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent the past fourteen
years in Manhattan, I had never attended an auction when my boyfriend
(now husband) invited me to the auction of a small portion of
his mentor Milbourne Christopher's
vast collection. He was somewhat aghast at my admission to this
the night before the preview. He insisted on schooling me in
auction etiquette by screening Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece
North by Northwest.
Feeling confident that I had absorbed the general idea,
I met him at Swann's auction gallery for a preview of the sale.
While strollng amidst the colorful treasures of magic's past,
my eye happened upon a poster from the 19th century, made from
the now extinct stone lithography process, of one Annie Abbott,
"Little Georgia Magnet" and "Mistress of Most
Mysterious Power and Powerful Company." As a fellow Georgian
bearing the same first name, I was drawn to the moniker. The
estimate of the auction house seemed well above my means, however.
I had no intention of pursuing the interest.