Jeannette Hope Sayen was an artist. Fashion was her inspiration. Remarkably, as a young woman in the early 1900s she also made it her career. Working from both Paris and Philadelphia, artist Jeannette Hope began covering fashion at an early age–eventually becoming the eyes and ears of fashion for women throughout the United States. While her now-much-more-famous husband’s legacy is widely known, Jeannette’s own talent as an early fashion pioneer should not be forgotten.
Jeannette was born in Belvidere, New Jersey in 1878. She was the daughter of Hiram and Maria Drost Hope and the younger sister of Emma Hope Yates. Her father spent long periods away from home as an express agent for the railroad. The family lived in town–in a house owned by Judge Shipman, a New Jersey state court judge.
That is where Jeannette’s love of art was born. According to family lore, Jeannette began assisting Judge Shipman by writing legal briefs as a young teenager. She also began sitting in at court. There, she sketched her surroundings and, most importantly, the people who caught her eye. Through her drawings she captured the stories and emotions of trial, including for a Belvidere murder case.
Growing up, Jeannette attended public school in Belvidere. But her love of art took her on an bold new path. By 1893, while still a teenager, she moved to Philadelphia and became “one of the youngest students enrolled” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “The Prizes for Art Students,” The Philadelphia Times at p. 7 ( Dec. 22, 1895). She excelled. In 1895, she took second prize in The Philadelphia Times’ drawing contest.
Jeannette continued her studies for many years. And she made quite an impression on the Philadelphia social scene as well. Jeannette was “a graceful girl of medium height, with soft brown hair, a vivacious manner and expressive blue eyes that light up charmingly during conversation.” Id. She caught the eye of fellow art student Henry Lyman Sayen (b. 1875), who was trained as an engineer. Sayen had no previous art instruction before 1899-1900, but like Jeannette, he also excelled at the Academy. “H. Lyman Sayen Takes First Prize at the Academy,” The Philadelphia Times at p. 6 (February 14, 1900).
By May 1901, Jeannette was a bridesmaid in Henry’s sister’s wedding. By November 1901, Jeannette and Henry were engaged. The Philadelphia Times at p. 7 (Nov. 2, 1901). The Times praised the couple: “Miss Hope is a well known illustrator, and Mr. Sayen, who is a member of Battery A, has won high honors in electrical designing.” By 1903, the two were married.
According to family lore, Jeannette began assisting Judge Shipman by writing legal briefs as a young teenager. She also began sitting in at court. There, she sketched her surroundings and, most importantly, the people who caught her eye.
1903 was an important year for the Sayens. Not only were they married, but Henry also received a commission for the design of four lunettes to be hung in the United States Capitol. These lunettes, titled Rule of Tyranny, Rule of Justice, Primitive Agriculture, and Good Government were installed in Room H-143 between 1904 and 1905. Adelyn D. Breeskin, H. Lyman Saÿen, Smithsonian Institution Press (1970).
Soon after Henry finished his work on the lunettes, the couple took a chance on a life-changing opportunity. A Philadelphia newspaper, The North American owned by Thomas Wanamaker, hired Jeannette to report on French fashions. In addition, Wanamakers department stores owned by Rodman Wanamaker hired Henry Sayen to contribute art for store catalogs and posters. So in 1906, the couple packed their belongings and headed to Paris. And Jeannette’s career as a Paris fashion writer was born.
In my next post, I will continue Jeannette’s story and describe how Jeannette helped make fashion accessible to women across America.
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