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“War Spirit at Home,” painted by Lilly Martin Spencer, 1866

“War Spirit at Home,” painted by Lilly Martin Spencer,1866.
Courtesy, Newark Museum,1866;

Image acquired Jan. 2003


“War Spirit at Home,” one of the most popular paintings of the mid-19th century, painted by Newark resident Lilly Martin Spencer. Spencer emigrated from France to Ohio as an eight year old. Her talent as a painter was recognized early and supported by a patron. In 1844, she married Benjamin Spencer. The couple eventually settled in Newark, where they raised thirteen children. Spencer was one of the most prominent artists of the mid-to-late 19th century and supported her family through her career. Her husband managed the household and served as her business manager. Her mother belonged to the Utopian group known as the Fourierists, which supported communal living as a way to provide child care so women could have free time.  Spencer documented the family and domestic life of her era through portraits and genre paintings. In this painting, she shows the impact of the Civil War on family life.


Jones, Catherine A. “Children and the Meanings of Suffering in the Civil War Era.” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 4, no. 1 (2016): 189-198.

Katz, Wendy J. “Lilly Martin Spencer and the Art of Refinement.” American Studies 42, no. 1 (2001): 5-37.

Katz, Wendy J. “Fancy Painting, Street Children, and the Fast Men of the Pavé.” Nineteenth Century Studies 21 (2007): 85-126.

Napolitano, Laura G. “’Equally Clever and Humorous’: Lilly Martin Spencer’s Reassuring 

Lithographs of Children.” Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print 

Collectors Society 34, no.2 (2009): 18-33


Masten, April F. “’Shake Hands?’ Lilly Martin Spencer and the Politics of Art.” American 

Quarterly 56, no. 2 (2004): 348-394.

Wierich, Jochen. “War Spirit at Home: Lilly Martin Spencer, Domestic Painting, and Artistic Hierarchy.” Winterthur Portfolio 37, no. 1 (2002): 23-42.

Questions to Explore

What made Spencer’s career different from other women at the time?

How did Spencer’s connection with the Fourierist’s impact her view on life and family roles?

Additional Resources

Lurie Sara and Sotheby’s Institute of Art. “Grinning Housemaids and Perplexed Young Wives : Gendered Political Language in the Paintings of Lilly Martin Spencer.” 2009. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1101158356