What’s in a name? Would Madam Nora retain her glassmaking renown if she was not called Madam?1 Did Professor Owen really have a degree in glass? And who or what was Frank Remic the master of?
Itinerant glassworkers often used titles like “madam” or “madame,” “master,” and “professor” in their advertisements. Let’s look at why they may have used those titles and what they actually meant.
Nora Allen may have been the most notable woman glassworker to call herself Madam, but others, including Madam J. Reith, Madam Louise, and Madam Anderson also used the title.2 So what does “madam” mean and is there a difference between it and “madame”?
“Madam” is a polite form of address, often applied to a woman of higher position.3 So the madams of the glass world may have used the title in part to connote respectability (something traveling women performers were suspected of lacking). “Madame,” used interchangeably with “madam” by women glassworkers, is a French word that was originally used by married women and those of higher rank. It was also adopted by school teachers, dressmakers, fortune tellers, and others to “imply skill and sophistication, or foreign origin.” 4 Like the men glassworkers who used “professor,” “madame” implied a woman glassworker with skill (and one whose show was appropriate for respectable, middle-class customers).
Master Frank Remic was known as the “The Juvenile Wonder of the Age” – was he a master itinerant glassworker? In this case, “master” was not an indication of Remic’s skill, but rather his age. “Master” was a title given to a boy or young man, often under the age of 18.5 So those glassworkers referred to as “master,” like Remic, Master Gus Newton, and Master Eddie were merely young members of their troupes. Often during the 19th century adult male itinerant glassworkers were billed as “Mr.” or “professor” on their advertisements, so it follows suit that their younger counterparts would also have a title.
Forget “madams” and “masters,” “professor” was one of the most popular titles for itinerant glassworkers in the 19th century. Professors Owen, Jukes, Mathieu, Carling, Grenier, Edwards, George Woodroffe, and Charles Woodroffe were only a few of the men advertising themselves as such. So what does “professor” mean and why was it such a frequently-used title?
For many, the image that comes to mind with the word “professor” is an academic, perhaps a college instructor, maybe someone wearing tweed. In any case: an expert, someone knowledgable and often a respected member of society. And those are the qualities that itinerant glassworkers wanted to suggest when using the title. People had a hunger for knowledge in the 19th century, especially for information about science and technology, and itinerant glassworkers leveraged that interest in their shows. Professor Owen, for example, emphasized the scientific elements in his glassworking exhibition, including a lecture on natural philosophy (a precursor to modern science) and experiments with equipment made of glass like water hammers, pulse glasses, and cryophoruses.
So many performers and potentially-dubious experts used the title, in fact, that contemporaries complained of its degradation. In 1864, J. H. Burton wrote in The Scot Abroad, “The word Professor [is] now so desecrated in its use that we are most familiar with it in connection with dancing-schools, jugglers’ booths, and veterinary surgeries.” The American Dialect Society agreed, stating, in a 1927 issue of American Speech, “Most of those who insist on being given the title ‘professor’ are quacks or fakers of some kind.”6
Madam J. Reith’s troupe had them all – a madam, a master, and a professor!
While Owen may not have been a credentialed professor and Allen not a woman of high rank, they and others used these titles to effectively advertise their glassmaking exhibitions. Itinerant glassworkers had a flair for description that P. T. Barnum would have approved of, exaggerated titles included.