The Legacy of Zsuzsanna Kossuth

"...I have nothing to ask for from the Emigration but oblivion. ..." This excerpt comes from a letter by Madame Meszlenyi, originally published in the Independent after her death, according to the anonymous writer of her Memorial booklet, where it was republished.1 We'll come back to this letter and booklet later on.

Zsuzsanna Kossuth2, born in 1817 in Sátoraljaújhely (Hungary), died in New York (United States of America) as Mad. Susanne Kossuth Meszlenyi when she was only 37 years old. Who was this lady with such a well-known name? How did she end up in New York? And why should we remember her even two hundred years after her birth?

In 2017 the Hungarian Nursing Association devoted a whole memorial year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Zsuzsanna Kossuth, chief nurse of camp hospitals during the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848/49, youngest sister of Governor Lajos Kossuth. They had similarities not only in their physical appearances - according to their contemporaries -, but they were "twin souls" as Lajos would call his sister 15 years his junior: he supervised her education, polished her letter writing skills and style, and involved her in the journal editing later on in Pest as a correspondent and secretary. She was the fifth - and late - child in the Kossuth family, and just as bright and full of energy as her beloved and idolized lawyer-journalist-politician-statesman-refugee brother. They shared the look, the temper, the national enthusiasm, the passion for their motherland, and also the fate of refugees.

What sources3 are available for us to learn about her life, thoughts, actions and struggles? No diary was left for posterity, although she was an ardent correspondent, as it was customary in the mid-nineteenth century. Her letters to Antal Vörös, a close family friend and Lajos Kossuth's "personal secretary and archivist" after 1848, were archived by Vörös and are available for researchers. Biographical novels4 were based partly on these letters, and they were even published together with other family letters in 2005. There is, however, another short biography published in English only two years after Zsuzsanna Kossuth Meszlényi's death in Boston by N. C. Peabody, anonymously. We can only guess how many copies might have been available in Hungary at the time, if any at all, since there are two copies only of the original edition in the National Széchényi Library, and one copy of a reprinted 2010 edition belonging to the Papers of Lajos Koncz in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, listed in the Hungarian Shared Online Catalog. It still makes me wonder, though, that an article published in the Hungarian weekly Vasárnapi Ujság [Sunday Paper] as early as 18805, cited the Memorial as one of its sources for describing her achievements.

Before we take a closer look at this 64-page booklet - and its mysterious "anonymous" author - let me mention that Zsuzsanna Kossuth's single portrait known and used to this date appeared in that article along with several other family members, and also in 18946 following Lajos Kossuth's death.

Although there is no Hungarian translation of the Memorial booklet that we know of, it must have been known and used by the authors of biographies and articles about Zsuzsanna Kossuth, including mistakes such as her year of birth 1820, and details like she "called into existence, arranged, and superintended seventy-two hospitals". The author definitely knew Zsuzsanna in person: "We wish to give our readers some notices of what we have incidentally learned from herself and friends of this remarkable passage in her life; together with a few circumstances that have fallen under our own observation, here in this country, illustrating her general characteristics."7 The author might have been anonymous and unknown to some of the biographers such as Földes, Szabó and Kertész, but the journalist in 1880 and Ida Bobula (1900-1981) in 19608 reveals her identity: Miss Elizabeth Palmer Peabody.

An educator, a writer, a publisher, a bookstore owner and librarian from Boston, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804-1894) as an educated reformer herself in multiple fields, "was a great friend of the early Hungarian exiles, published some of dr. Charles Kraitsir's books, whom she greatly admired."9 Károly Krajtsir (1804-1860), known as Charles Kraitsir in the U.S., was a Hungarian physician who fought in the Polish Uprising in 1831 and fled with Polish refugees first to Paris, and then in 1833 to America. Krajtsir changed not only a homeland but a career as well: he became a philologist, and lived in Boston around 1849 and moved to Morrisania (a historical name for the South Bronx in New York City) where he died in 1860. Miss Peabody, who owned a bookstore and foreign library between 1840 and 1852 in Boston, "belonged to the world of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Horace Mann, of Emerson and Bronson Alcott, of Margaret Fuller, Samuel Gridley Howe and Charles Sumner", or maybe the other way round: they belonged to her circle, especially after "[t]he bookshop she opened in 1840 at 13 West Street, Boston, became a gathering ground for intellectuals and reformers. Here Transcendentalism was nourished, The Dial was printed, and Margaret Fuller gave readings."10 Her sisters were also artists: Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne was a painter, sculptor and illustrator, who married writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, herself an author and teacher - she tutored students in Italian for a while -, married Horace Mann, an educational reformer, who as a Massachusetts Representative in the U.S. Congress, "became a close friend and firm supporter of Lajos Kossuth and the Hungarian War of Independence. He and his wife Mary Peabody Mann, a sister-in-law of Nathaniel Hawthorne, befriended Emília [Kossuth] and her sons through the intervention of Mary's sister, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, a leading transcendentalist and publisher of many famous American poets and writers." - researcher Tom Angi found documents in the Vasváry Collection to support these connections.11

The initials of the bookdealer, or publisher N. C. stand for Nathaniel "Nat" Cranch Peabody, one of Elizabeth's brothers, who ran the "family business": he and their father sold homeopathic remedies in the store, while the sisters ran a private school upstairs. The building was designated as a Boston Landmark in 2011. Why she wanted to remain anonymous requires further research.

By the time Zsuzsanna Kossuth arrived in New York, her personal life had been full of ups and downs: lost her husband and son within a year of each other; spent months in prison twice; and became sick - first she had coughs, then pneumonia and finally "pulmonary affections".12 When she got arrested and imprisoned the second time because of her suspected involvement in the conspiracy led by József Makk, or Mack (1810?-1868), she was transported from the Újépület (a prison in Pest) to the Criminalgebäude (state prison in Wien) in December 1851, and Charles J. McCurdy, who was commissioned by then Secretary of State Daniel Webster to serve as U. S. Chargé to the Austrian Empire between 1850 and 1852, succeeded to secure an emigration visa for her and the rest of the Kossuth family, including 14 family members.13 What it meant was to leave not only her beloved homeland, but Europe for once and for all. The large family ended up in Brussels where they had to stop: both Zsuzsanna and her elderly mother, Mrs. László Kossuth was so weak and sick, that they could not risk a long voyage overseas. A group of exiles already stayed in Brussels, including writers Miklós Jósika and his wife Júlia Podmaniczky, who helped the Kossuth family to settle down temporarily. This is where Zsuzsanna learned how to make soap, lace and do business to earn a living for her ailing mother and two young daughters.

Zsuzsanna had to experience - in addition to her physical illness and homesickness - the accusations and disagreements within the exile community, her brother and her family being as the target. Still in Brussels, she explains her feelings and thoughts in a letter, which became known as the mysterious Independent letter. Part of the mystery, namely who was the letter addressed to, was solved by Magda Rabati14: journalist and long-time Kossuth family friend Lajos Csernátony (1823-1901), who had been former personal secretary to Kossuth with the National Defense Commission, and was in correspondence with the Kossuth sisters according to sources.15

He lived in exile in Paris, London and New York between 1849 and 1867, and was a controversial figure to say the least. He went "[t]o Amer[ica] from England in 1853, following the call of Kossuth's sisters, was working for the N.Y. Times for 7 months. This paper sent him to England as correspondent. Worked for the "Independent" also."16- at least this is what Ödön Vasváry knows about him, based on József Szinnyei's literary encyclopedia.17 The original letter from Zsuzsanna Kossuth to Csernátony, dated May or early June, 1852, is hidden somewhere or was lost, it was published after Zsuzsanna's death in English, republished in the Memorial booklet, and translated back to Hungarian. Both the English and Hungarian translators are unknown to this date. Some mysteries still remain...

In the meantime Lajos Kossuth went on a fundraising tour in England and the U.S. Towards the end of his visit - documented by Károly László in his diary - a group of ladies invited him to give a lecture on June 21, 1852 in the Broadway Tabernacle Hall in New York, which was originally a Presbyterian church located at 340-344 Broadway, between Worth and Catherine Lane. The title of the lecture was The Future of Nations, and the donations ($2600) were used to support her mother and other family members expected soon to arrive. He rented a house for them at East 16th Street no. 52 to open a school for girls.

There were four members of the Kossuth family on board the mail steamer Baltic, arriving in June 1853 to her final stop of exile: Susan Merzeleyn (35), Gezele Merzeleyn (11), Helen Merzeleyn (10), and Ladislas Zsulavszky (16) - names and ages given according to the ship manifest and the Passenger Search in the Ellis Island database. The spelling can hardly be recognized, which might or might not be intentional.

And almost a year to date later, Mad. Susanne Kossuth Meszlenyi dies on June 29, 1854 and her obituary is printed in local newspapers, and also a detailed account of the funeral is given in the diary of Károly László: the funeral procession started from the apartment of Mrs. Ruttkay [Lujza Kossuth] at 130 Ninth Street, where the corpse was lying in a rosewood coffin within a lead casket...went up Fifth Avenue to the church of Rev. Phillips between 11th and 12th Streets...Mr. Douglas offered his family vault to serve as a temporary resting place until her ashes could be returned to a free motherland.18 (Translated by the author)

The cemetery, or the site of her grave changed and was forgotten over the decades, by the time of the 100th anniversary of her death even Ödön Vasváry thought that there was no tomb any more to visit.19 Lower Manhattan, even if it kept some of its original street layout and buildings, has changed considerably. "The houses were numbered differently then because the street was not numbered east and west from Fifth Avenue."20 The apartment house might be long gone, but the church is still there, and Professor László Csorba identified it through his research, as indicated in the introduction to In the footsteps of Exiles – volume 2 of the Memorials of the 1848/1849 Revolution and War of Independence, based on the TV-series by Tamás Katona and Mihály Ráday (p. 10). The city's first Presbyterian congregation - says the plaque on the wall -, organized in 1716, built the First Presbyterian Church in 1845 from plans by Joseph C. Wells after worshipping for over 120 years at Wall and Nassau Streets. The main edifice is modeled after the church of St. Saviour in Bath, England. The tower resembles that of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Since the Kossuth family, including Zsuzsanna, was Lutheran, it's possible that she belonged to this congregation. "The funeral was on Saturday, July 1st at six in the evening. The service was in German and English. The funeral procession formed on the sidewalk in Ninth Street and marched to our church. There were deputations from French, Polish, and Italian republican societies... Our pastor, the Reverend William Wirt Phillips, read the Scriptures and pronounced the benediction in English... The eulogy was in German."21 There is a plaque next to the entrance in memory of Reverend Phillips (1796-1865) who served the church as pastor for nearly forty years.

Unfortunately the burial records seemed to be lost when compatriots were looking for them on the occasion of a memorial service in 1954, but the Record of Burial Vaults was recently located in the archives of the church.22 We have to go back to 1975 when an official request was made to investigate whether the remains had been returned to Hungary before. The correspondence regarding this request by Professor August J. Molnar to open and examine the vault is located in the Archives of the American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick, NJ. The report on "An examination of the George Douglas Vault [on] June 3, 1976" was prepared by Donald G. Quick, Sexton of the church: seven of the eight coffins found in the vault were conclusively ruled out, and there was only circumstancial evidence to indicate that the last one might be of "Suzanne Meszelyni-Kossuth" - again the name is painfully mispelled - based on the description and position of the coffin. No plate was found, and the size of the coffin liner raised the only serious doubt: it was given as 53" long, or fifty-three inches. This indicates an adult of small stature. The vault was sealed and covered.23 Church authorities did not give permission to either a new disinterment or removal of the remains to Hungary, when asked by the Consulate General of Hungary in New York. Instead, a memorial plaque with a relief by Hungarian sculptor Tamás Varga was unveiled near the church entrance, with a bilingual insciption: Here rests Zsuzsanna Kossuth (1817-1854) Chief Nurse of Camp Hospitals in the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848/49, Youngest Sister of Governor Lajos (Louis) Kossuth.

Zsuzsanna Kossuth Meszlényi was both patriotic and liberal, a hero and a victim at the same time. Her name and image has resurfaced, her legacy was remembered from time to time at the anniversaries of her birth or death, both by Hungarian and American-Hungarian historians or journalists. But she never entered into the collective national memory until recently, when the Hungarian Nursing Association launched a mission to commemorate her on the one hand - in the home country -, while her gravesite has been marked with a memorial plaque and relief in 2017 on the other hand - that is in the new world, which was never her home but remains her resting place.

Nóra Deák
Eötvös Loránd University

1 Memorial of Mad. Susanne Kossuth Meszlenyi. Boston: Sold by N. C. Peabody, 1856, p. 64. Henceforth Memorial.

2 I use Hungarian spelling for names and locations, unless the quotation is from a publication in English, or it has significance.

3 I'm thankful to Mária Kórász at the Vasváry Collection (Szeged), Linda Cutler Hauck with the Tottenville Historical Society, and Margaret Papai at the American Hungarian Foundation (New Brunswick, NJ) for their assistance in locating documents for me in the respective archives.

4 Female writers pioneered in Hungary first to write her biography: co-authors Éva Földes and Emma Szabó in 1944, Erzsébet Kertész in 1983. The collection of her letters were edited by Magda Rabati in 2005 (henceforth Rabati).

5 Kossuth Lajos és családja [Louis Kossuth and his family]. Vasárnapi Ujság, vol. 27, no. 18 (1880), p. 283-286.

6 Kossuth Lajos meghalt [Louis Kossuth is dead], Vasárnapi Ujság, vol. 41, no. 12 (1894), p. 188.

7 Memorial, 4.

8 Bobula Ida: Meszlényi Rudolfné, Kossuth Zsuzsanna [1820-1854]. A Fáklya/The Torch, vol. IX (1960), p. 8-13. Copy obtained from the Vasváry Collection, Szeged. Also available at: Magyarságtudományi Intézet.

9 Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford: Women of the Century. [S.l.]: B.B. Russell, 1876. Vasváry Collection P1/d:16

10 Ishaber Ross: Flowers of New England. New York Times Book Review. Vasváry Collection K7:31 K7:30v

11 Tom Angi: Emília Kossuth with Horace and Mary Mann in Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1854. Vasváry Collection Newsletter, 1991/1 (5)

12 Memorial, 33.

13 See relevant correspondence in Rabati, 278-302.

14 Rabati, 309-312.

15 For example: Letter to the Kossuth sisters. Orsz. Levéltár, Kossuth gyűjtemény. II. u. 5-3., cited by Attila Csép: Csernátony Lajos névtelen és álnevű levelezése a Magyar Hírlapban [Anonymous and pseudonymous correspondence of Lajos Csernátony in the Magyar Hírlap]. Az Országos Széchényi Könyvtár Évkönyve. 1958. p. 347.

16 Vasváry Collection +C:31

17 Szinnyei József: Magyar írók élete és munkái [Life and works of Hungarian authors]. Géza Buzinkay, however, warns about the accuracy of these details in "A leleplező publicisztika kezdetei: Csernátony Lajos" [The beginnings of investigative journalism]. Irodalomtörténeti közlemények. vol. 112, no. 2 (2008), p. 193 n25.

18 Ács Tivadar: Magyar úttörők az Újvilágban: László Károly 1850-67. évi naplófeljegyzései a Kossuth-emigráció amerikai életéből, 1942. p. 64-65.

19 Vasváry Ödön: Száz éve halt meg Kossuth Zsuzsa [Susan Kossuth died a hundred years ago]. Magyar Amerika. Szeged: Somogyi-könyvtár, 1988. p. 95-98.

20 Arthur W. Courtney: History - Hungary & Revolution. Church Tower, March 1957, p. 46. (American Hungarian Foundation ARCH.88: Suzanne Kossuth Meszlényi, IV.E.)

21 Ibid.

22 David Pultz, who works in the Church Archives, was most helpful in 2017.

23 AHF ARCH.88: Suzanne Kossuth Meszlényi, IV.E. Examination of vault

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