A Lady Book Agent — 2

How did a lady book agent go about her business? To start, Mrs. J. W. Likins (Amy) was given an engraving of “Grant and His Family” and told to go out and get subscriptions. If she could be successful with the one picture, she could work up to other engravings and books. Everything she sold was by subscription, taking orders first and delivering the goods later.

Pictures like “Grant and His Family” were very popular items. Later she would also sell “Lincoln and His Family” and “Washington and His Family”. Mrs. Likins started selling in August 1868, just before Grant was elected to his first term.


Another engraving of “Grant and His Family”

It was now just before Grant’s election, and great excitement concerning it prevailed. The Democrats arguing in favor of their candidate, and the Republicans in favor of theirs. In almost every room, in front of every store or business house, and on every street corner, I would find gentlemen in groups, whispering or conversing in low tones; I suppose plotting and planning for the coming campaign; while others were loud and boisterous in expressing their opinions.

It was a great trial for me to know just how to approach them . . . still I did not pass any of them; with a heavy heart I would step up, unroll the picture, saying, “Gentlemen, I have a fine engraving of General Grant and his family.” After they had looked at it, which they very seldom failed to do, I would present my order-book, take them in rotation, and insist upon one and all to subscribe, and was generally very successful.

It wasn’t easy at first, but she made herself approach strangers and ask for their business.

They would treat me kindly, and were very polite, with the exception of some few ruffians who seemed to have forgotten “their mother was a woman,” would hurt my feelings, in many ways, with regards to Grant’s life and character, on this coast, before the war; as though I was accountable for the way he had acted.

Claiming that Grant had acquired an Indian wife and children when in California (1852-53) was a common slur on Grant from Democrats. It was frequently used against opponents whether or not there was any evidence for the accusation. Approaching a man in an office, she says

I politely showed him the picture. He looked up, with his blinky eyes, and crooked mouth, in which there was an attempt to grin. “I would buy the engraving if it had his squaw wife and Indian babies on it; we cannot trade madam,” and he turned around to his desk.

When once alone in the hall, I sat down on the bottom stair that led to the third story of the building, and had a good cry. Many passed me, looking at me wonderingly, but none addressed me. I dried my tears away, drew down my vail, and passed into the street.

I had canvassed California street on both sides, from Front to Montgomery; on Montgomery, from California to Washington, and now made up my mind to try Front street, as Mr. S. had told me he thought I would be very successful there. I started in at California street, passed down the lower side to Washington. The gentlemen whom I met were all pleasant and jolly.  Democrats joking Republicans by saying,
“Don’t back out now; if the lady had a picture of Seymour we would buy it.”

330px-Horatio_Seymour_-_Brady-HandysmallHoratio Seymour, former governor of New York,  was Grant’s Democratic rival in the race for the presidency. He lost, 47% to Grant’s 53%.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to A Lady Book Agent — 2

  1. suzanne stone says:

    Thank you this amazing story about Amy and her career! As you see in the engraving and most photos, Mrs. Grant is seen profiled, as she was cross-eyed. Biographies of President Grant say she wanted to have the eye corrected, but her husband reminded her that he loved her just the way she was Julia Dent Grant is also and acceptable answer to the vintage joke “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” The Grants had been inspired by European cemetery architecture in planning their own burial in New York City.

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