Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Requesting the Pleasure of Alexander Hamilton's Company to Dine, 1790

Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Susan reporting,

Before there was Evite, before there were texts, before there was even a telephone, hostesses and hosts invited their guests to dine with a hand-written note. If that hostess or host were sufficiently important, influential, or wealthy (or all of those), a specially engraved invitation like the one shown here might be sent. As elegantly worded and beautifully scribed as this invitation appears, the blanks left for the guest's name and other details made them a boon for those with a busy social life.

The card, left, was sent by President George Washington and his wife Martha Washington to invite Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton to dine at the presidential mansion in January, 1790. Watch out for all the old-fashioned long-form S's that look like F's in the printed part of the invitation. In contrast, the handwritten S at the end of Hamilton's name is quite ordinary. I don't know why Eliza's name wasn't written in as well; perhaps the 18thc version of the modern "plus one" was understood.

At this time, Washington was the country's first president, and still in the first year of his first term; he had taken the oath of office in April, 1789 in New York City, which was then serving as the capital. In early 1790, Washington, his cabinet, and Congress were still creating what would become the federal government, but creating a presidential "style" was important, too. President and Mrs. Washington had to balance their social life between representing the new country in a properly dignified manner, and appearing too elitist or aristocratic, or even monarchical. New rituals like formal dinners and levees were developed, and invitations like this one would have been prized.

The young - they were both in their early thirties - Hamiltons must have been equally prized as guests. As the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was a member of Washington's cabinet, and at this time he was considered among the most brilliant and powerful men in the country. In the same month in which this invitation was sent, Hamilton had proposed the first of his economic plans to Congress, his Report on Public Credit. Powerful or not, Hamilton or his wife must have realized the significance of this presidential invitation, and preserved it for posterity.

On loan from the New-York Historical Society, the invitation is currently on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia as part of their "Year of Hamilton." In addition to a special exhibition and interactive playscape called Hamilton Was Here: Rising Up in Philadelphia, the museum is also hosting special programs and displaying many Hamilton-related pieces - including important letters and documents, portraits, and other artifacts - within their permanent collection over the next year. These will be marked with a special "Hamilton Was Here" label to make Hamilton-hunting easier (and for those of you Hamilfans unable to visit Philadelphia, I'll be sharing more, too.)

Above: Invitation, January, 1790, New-York Historical Society. 
Photograph ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott.
Read more about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Lunatic Asylum Nightmare

Monday, October 22, 2018
Goya, Courtyard with Lunatics
Loretta reports:

The nightmare theme of a sane person being locked up in a lunatic asylum appears in fiction again and again. This is because it touched a chord. For all too many, especially women, this was a grim reality.

My Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum, which I came upon via the Public Domain Review, describes in disturbing detail a man’s experience in the Victorian era. For a woman’s point of view, you might want to look at Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House.

In the fictional world, the theme is prominent in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White.
"I suppose that we most of us...quietly comforted ourselves with the reflection that 'in the nineteenth century' (an expression which is used as a sort of talisman, apparently, like the 'Briton' of Palmerston's day) such things are impossible.  It requires a personal experience of their amenities, such as fell to my lot, seriously to believe that the adventures of a novel may be transferred to the pages of an 'article," and be as strange--and true. Villainous conspiracies, for personal motive, to set the lunacy law in motion, are rare enough, I do not doubt. But the law favours them. What is not rare, I doubt even less, is the imprisonment in these fearful places of people who are perfectly sane, but suffering from some temporary disorder of the brain, the most delicate and intricate part of all the mechanism, and the least understood; and if asylums are a sad necessity for the really mad,—and even that I cannot help doubting; for from what I have seen I believe that they require a much more loving and more direction personal supervision than they can get, poor people,--for the nervous sufferers who are not mad they are terrible."—My experiences in a Lunatic Asylum, by a Sane Patient (1879)
Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum
Experiences in a Lunatic Asylum

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed. And, just so you know, if you order a book through one of my posts, I might get a small share of the sale.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of October 15, 2018

Saturday, October 20, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Rediscovering the black muses erased from art history.
• A Victorian guide to Cambridge student life.
• Mark Twain liked cats better than people.
• Star-spangled Pierrot and Pierrette costumes from the 1920s.
• How the Romantic poets idolized 18thc Polish freedom-fighter (and veteran of the American Revolution) Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
Image: Lord Byron's carnival mask.
• The treatment of children in the Garlands Lunatic Asylum, 1862-1914.
• A medieval book that opens six different ways, revealing six different books in one.
• The 19thc British cavalry horse.
Coach clocks, for telling time on long journeys.
• Infusing life: the first human-to-human blood transfusion, 1818
Image: Macabre c1815 silver skull opens up to reveal 17thc watch.
• What happens when humans fall in love with an invasive species.
• Land of the Livingstons: historic houses along the Hudson River.
Maureen Rose, buttonmaker, in a Fitzrovia shop that's in the house where Charles Dickens grew up.
• The royal babies of King George III and Queen Charlotte.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday Video: Victorian Photographs in Color

Friday, October 19, 2018
Loretta reports:

When it comes to 19th and early 20th century fashion, as our readers are aware, it’s not all that easy to get a sense of what clothes looked like on real people. Fashion plates offer a simplistic idea of color but tend to be anatomically inaccurate (if not downright bizarre) and flat. Paintings show us color, texture, accessories, and so on, but they tend to be idealized, a sort of Photoshop version of the real person. Photography, once it gets going in the Victorian era, offers a degree of realism (they did doctor photos), but in black and white. Museums show us the actual clothing, but on mannequins often lacking accessories (and very often, underwear).

This video, featuring colorized Victorian and Edwardian photos, helps us get a real sense of real women in a range of clothing. Some of you will recognize at least a few of the women.

40 Amazing Colorized Photos of Victorian and Edwardian Women
Published by Yesterday Today

Image is a still from the video.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post (which will take you to our blog) or the video title (which will take you to YouTube).

Thursday, October 18, 2018

So Who Wore Round-Ring Pattens in the 18th Century?

Thursday, October 18, 2018
Susan reporting,

I wrote earlier this week here about the wavy-ring 18thc pattens - a kind of overshoe with a wooden sole and a metal ring intended to raise the wearer's shoes above wet or otherwise unpleasant terrain - that were being recreated and worn as part of the Historic Trades program at Colonial Williamsburg.

In the course of my discussion about the pattens with apprentice tinsmith Jenny Linn and journeywoman blacksmith Aislinn Lewis (both of whom were involved in the creation, wearing, and research of the replica pattens), we also spoke of a slightly different kind of 18thc pattens. Although the wooden sole and leather straps and laces are much the same, these pattens feature a round metal ring as a support. While the wavy-ring pattens offer plenty of surface area and almost resemble the treads of modern winter boots, the narrower base of the round-ring style would be much more precarious for both balance and walking.

This, however, may be because they weren't intended for walking. Jenny and Aislinn suggested that this type of pattens served an entirely different purpose. In 18thc prints, the round-ring style is usually shown worn by housemaids indoors, and often with a  a bucket and mop nearby.

Examples include Piety in pattens, or, Timbertoe on tiptoe, upper left, with a tall maidservant made even taller by very high round-ring pattens.  In How are you off for soap, middle right, the ring-bottom pattens are worn by a laundress, whose work would also include splashing soapy water.

The maid of all work in Roberteena Peelena, lower right, not only wears the round-ring style, but has pinned her petticoat up to avoid the wash-water. The maid in the painting A City Shower, lower left, has stepped outside with her bucket, and vigorously twirls her wet mop while poised (rather daintily) on her round-ring pattens. (A side-note: apparently rolling the mop's handle across the forearms instead of with the wrists looks like it was the accepted method of mop-twirling.)

When the round-ring style appears in prints being worn outdoors in the streets, they seem to be a way that the caricaturist is indicating that the wearer is of a lower or serving class, and a woman who is (in the cruel manner of 18thc caricatures) humorously lower class, unstylish, or down on her luck (here and here.)

From these sources, it appears that the the round-ring style was worn primarily indoors rather than out, to raise the wearer above soapy water spilled on a wet floor. They may also have served to protect a clean, wet floor from dirty shoes, rather than protecting the shoes from the water. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any primary source documentation in the form of letters or journals to explain this further. If anyone has come across such research, I hope you'll share it.

Many thanks to Jenny Lynn and Aislinn Lewis for their assistance with this post.

Upper left: Pattens, leather, wood, & iron rings, c1780-1800, Victoria & Albert Museum.
Upper right: Piety in pattens, or Timbertoe on tiptoe, published by M. Darly, 1773. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Middle left: Detail, How are you off for soap, published by William Elmes, 1816. Walpole Library, Yale University.
Lower right: Roberteena Peelena, the maid of all work by William Heath, 1829, British Museum.
Lower left: Detail, A City Shower by Edward Penny, 1764, Museum of London.
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