The Spring Gala of the Wisconsin Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America was held on April 28 at the Wisconsin Club, historic home of Alexander Mitchell (1817-1887), a Scottish-born business leader in Milwaukee. More about the Mitchell Family below.

The program began with Sheryl Craig, a JASNA traveling scholar and editor of JASNA News. Dr. Craig presented her AGM talk on the economic background of Sense and Sensibility: “Wealth Has Much to Do With It..”  Jane Austen was a keen observer of economic and social conditions in the year 1795 when she was writing the first draft of the novel, then known as Elinor and Marianne.

Dr. Craig illustrated her points by summarizing the character and attitude of the three “Johns” in Sense and Sensibility, who represented three common if differing positions among the English gentry of the period.  The miserly Mr. John Dashwood leaves his step-mother and half-sisters nearly destitute as he tends to his so-called improvements of Norland Park, including the enclosure of common lands, thus depriving the poor and working class of their former rights.  John Willoughby is a selfish, money-grubbing rake who ruins Eliza and breaks Marianne’s heart while he seeks a wealthy wife.

Gillray Cartoon showing P. M. Pitt offering a cut of beef to a man unable to afford a loaf of bread
Sir John Middleton represents the honest landowners who care for their property, tenants and neighborhoods, generous and accommodating to friends, acquaintances and family alike.  Dr. Craig’s discussion of the parliamentary debates on reform of the Poor Laws in that period prompted many in the audience to draw parallels between the times of Prime Minister Pitt and today’s news from London and Washington.
Presenters Victoria Hinshaw, Dr. Sheryl Craig, and JASNA-WI Regional Coordinator Elizabeth Cooper

“The Sensible Regency Wedding” was the topic of Victoria Hinshaw.  She spoke about the modest and quiet nature of most regency weddings, including those of Jane Austen’s niece as recounted by Caroline Austen and the quiet nuptials of Lord Byron and Annabella Millbanke as reported by John Cam Hobhouse.

Lady Byron’s Wedding Pelisse, Museum of Costume, Bath

Hinshaw also discussed courtship, the legalities of marriage, wedding customs, elopements, separation and divorce. She commented on Jane Austen’s attitude toward love and marriage as expressed in her life, her letters and her novels.

Wedding Gown, Ackermann’s Repository, June 1816

JASNA-WI members and guests enjoyed socializing before and after the presentations.  There is never enough time to talk about Jane Austen.

Trish Vanderhoef, Joanne Fuller, Jane Glaser, Carolyn Hippert

Kathy O’Brien, Diana Burns, Judy Beine

Marion Stuenkel, Jean Long
Jennifer Carlson, Carolyn Hippert
Pat Latkin brought us many temptations.

Spring Flowers in the foyer.
scene in The Wisconsin Club

Alexander Mitchell (1817-1887) was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and came to the U.S. in 1839. He settled in Milwaukee where he became a business leader in banking, insurance and railroads.  He served in the U.S. Congress and was a local philanthropist.  His wife, Martha Reid, was a leader in civic activities and artistic circles; she was one of the founders of The Woman’s Club of Wisconsin in 1876.  Their grandson, WWI flying ace General Billy Mitchell, is known as the Father of the U.S. Airforce.
Thanks to Judy Beine for her photographs.

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