Wednesday, December 12, 2018

In Which Loretta & Susan Bid Farewell

Wednesday, December 12, 2018
When we began this blog in June, 2009, our main goal was to amuse one another. We didn't really expect to have much company, but boy, were we wrong!

Turns out there were many, many more fellow history-nerds out there than we'd ever realized. Since that long-ago launch, we've written 2,510 blog posts, which have received nearly seven million page views from all of you. We're delighted that you've chosen to spend that much time with us, and helped to build this little history-loving-corner of the internet.

But even Cinderella's ball ended at midnight, and the clock is chiming on The Two Nerdy History Girls, too. Our other projects (you know, books) are demanding more and more of our time, and there are just so many words to go around. This, then, will be our final new post.

Of course, you can continue to follow us on the blogs connected with our individual websites. Loretta's blog is here. Susan's is here. You can also follow us on our Facebook pages (Loretta is here, and Susan is here.) Susan will be continuing the Two Nerdy History Girls Twitter account under her own name here, and you can find her as well on Instagram here. We'll also be leaving the entire archive of posts live here on this page if you wish to go back and browse.

Au revoir, dear readers. It's been historic.

Loretta & Susan

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Few of Susan's Favorite History Books from 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Susan reporting,

Earlier Loretta shared a few of her favorite nerdy-history books, and now it's my turn. Instead of research books, I'm going to recommend a few history-related books that I've read in the last year or so - perfect holiday gifts for all your fellow nerdy-history friends and family - or maybe just yourself.

Unintentional bonus: they're all written by women.

Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era by Kimberly Alexander. Beautiful historical shoes captured in beautiful photographs would be reason enough to make this a must-buy for shoe-lovers. But Treasures Afoot also traces the often-fascinating stories behind shoes that were worn for special occasions like weddings or balls or by special people, and places them in a context of a changing culture of consumers, industrialization, and fashion.

Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World by Zara Anishanslin. Beginning with a portrait of a woman in a silk dress, this book rapidly expands into the story of the portrait's painter, the sitter and her family, the weavers of the silk, and the woman who designed the pattern: complicated and fascinating relationships between consumers and suppliers, art and trade, that are as intricately woven together as the silk itself.

Patterns of Fashion 5: The Content, Cut, Construction & Context of Bodies, Stays, Hoops & Rumps c1595-1795 by Janet Arnold and Jenny Tiramani. All fans of historic dress rejoiced when this was finally released, and it's worth the wait. The fifth volume in Janet Arnold's legendary series of fashion history books, this book features photographs as well as patterns for recreating many of the pieces shown. Buying this book is a bit like getting Hamilton tickets, however. It's only available through the School of Historic Dress website, and because they're a small organization, only a certain number of books are available for order each day. Persevere: it's worth it.

Adélaïde Labille-Guiard: Artist in the Age of Revolution by Laura Auricchio. Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) was one of the few women artists granted membership in the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, and the examples of her exquisite portraits in this book show why. But she was also important because she didn't flee France during the Revolution, but remained to help rebuild and reinvent the county and the role of women artists and art. A fascinating woman!

American Eden: David Hosak, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic by Victoria Johnson. Unjustly overlooked now, Dr. David Hosak (1769-1835) was perhaps the most important physician of the early American republic, pioneering smallpox vaccinations, cancer treatments, and pharmacology. and creating an idyllic educational garden for the medicinal study of plants where Rockefeller Center now stands in New York. He was also excellent company, and friend to many of the most notable people of his time. Interesting fact: Dr. Hosack was the family physician to both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and the attending doctor at their fateful duel.

Never Caught: The Washington's Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Dunbar. Enslaved by the most powerful man in the young United States, Ona Judge (c1773-1848) took the courageous step to run away from the Philadelphia household of George and Martha Washington. Unlike many in her situation, she succeeded in her self-emancipation - but her freedom was tested again and again as the Washingtons continued to pursue her until their deaths. A powerful, disturbing, and yet ultimately inspiring story of a once-forgotten woman.

Upper left: "A lady coming from the circulating library" by John Raphael Smith, c1781, British Museum.

A Few of Loretta's Favorite Nerdy History Books

Globe-Wernicke, ad in American Homes & Gardens c 1905

Loretta reports:

Readers often ask which books we recommend on this, that, or the other subject. For this holiday season, it seemed like a good idea to mention some favorites. They might become gifts for the nerdy history person in your life or for yourself. Many are still in print and easily available. Some are trickier to find. While I could recommend hundreds, I winnowed it down to the following, which I often turn to for information and inspiration.

Adams, Samuel & Sarah. The Complete Servant (1825). You can read this online, or can buy your own copy. Details about not only the servant hierarchy, servants’ duties, but also the economics of maintaining household staff.

Black, A&C (publishers) Titles and Forms of Address: A Guide to Correct Use. This or Debrett’s Correct Form will help readers understand titles and forms of address they encounter in books as well as prevent writers’ committing social atrocities in their stories.

Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail: Women's Dress 1730-1930. A detailed look, inside and out, of the way clothes were constructed. Extremely helpful for dressing and undressing our heroines.

Cunnington, C. Willitt. English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century and Cunnington, C. Willett and Cunnington, Phillis. The History of Underclothes (1992).  The Cunnington books, written in the early part of the 20th century, feature some outdated viewpoints. However, they still offer a wealth of examples as well as amusing and enlightening quotations from primary sources.

Gill, Gillian. We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals. My favorite biography to date, and I’ve read quite a few. It reads like fiction. I originally hesitated to buy it because my sense was that Victoria lost the most fun and interesting part of herself when she wed, and that just depressed the daylights out of me. But this book offers a rather different perspective, bringing two strong personalities into sharp focus, and the compelling story starts well before she was born, with an almost operatic account of the events leading to her becoming Queen.

Grimble, Frances. The Lady's Stratagem: A Repository of 1820s Directions for the Toilet, Mantua-Making, Stay-Making, Millinery & Etiquette. Exactly as described in subtitle, it’s a marvelous compilation of information from various sources.

Inglis, John R. and Sanders, Jill. Panorama of the Thames: A Riverside View of Georgian London. A beautiful book and a labor of love that takes us on a voyage up and down the Thames during the Regency.

Rylance, Ralph. The Epicure’s Almanack. A moment in the Regency captured, as the author takes us on a detailed tour of all London’s eating establishments, and tells us what foods are in season when.
Félix Vallotton, La bibliothèque 1915 

Salisbury, Deb. Elephant’s Breath & London Smoke. A sort of OED of historical color, including dates for color names, and descriptions, it also offers advice on what colors for what complexions and occasions, among other fascinating details.

A Member of the Aristocracy. Manners and Rules of Good Society. A helpful etiquette book, as long as we remember it’s late Victorian to Edwardian (depending on the edition), when rules were more complicated and rigid than in earlier generations.

For more books we've referred to in our work and blogging, please click on the NHG library tag.

Images: Globe-Wernicke, advertisement in American Homes & Gardens c 1905;  Félix Vallotton, 1915  La bibliothèque.

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.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Eighteenth-Century Fashion: A Trio of Petticoats on Display at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Sunday, December 9, 2018
Susan reporting,

I've already written here about the current exhibition, Fashioning the New England Family,  at Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, MA. Among the first pieces greeting visitors in the exhibition are a trio of petticoats, each with a different story to tell. (As always, please click on the images to enlarge them.)

Regardless of their status, all 18thc women in New England wore some form of a petticoat: a straight, full garment that covered the lower body and legs, and gathered and tied at the waist. In its most basic form, a petticoat could be made of rough linen, and worn alone like a modern skirt. At the other luxurious extreme, a petticoat could be made of silk and richly embroidered as the lower half of a costly, stylish gown. Some petticoats were also quilted, a welcome layer of warmth against a cold Massachusetts winter as well as another way to display a costly textile and decorative stitching.

The most elaborate of the petticoats on display was part of a wedding dress, detail right, worn by nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Bull at her marriage to Rev. Roger Price in Boston in 1735. The daughter of a wealthy merchant, Elizabeth had access not only to the celadon silk for the gown, but also both the leisure time to devote to designing and stitching the elaborate motifs and the budget to purchase the imported silk threads used in the embroidery.  I've featured this petticoat and the rest of the dress in three earlier posts here, here, and here, where there are many more photographs.

A brilliant yellow silk petticoat, middle left, from the 1750s was worn by Temperance Pickering (1732-1823) of Newington, NH. (The petticoat is displayed with c1780 stays, or corset, made from wool, linen, kidskin, and whalebone.) While the petticoat's maker is today unknown, the bold geometric design of the quilting remains as a testament to her skill. Beneath the yellow silk is an interlining of flax, quilted to the lining of yellow and white checked wool that make the petticoat both elegant and warm. The nearly 300-year-old silk has begun to break down, or shatter, near the waist, detail left, revealing the downy flax interlining.
The third petticoat, upper left and lower right, is a modern reproduction, commissioned by the MHS and beautifully hand-sewn and hand-quilted by our good friends from the Historic Trades program at Colonial Williamsburg: Janea Whitacre, Christina Johnson, Rebecca Starkins, and Sarah Woodyard. (For a brief video about their process, click here.) The petticoat is made of pale blue silk with wool wadding as an interlining and a linen lining.

Yet while new, this petticoat also has a New England history. Family tradition linked the original petticoat to a 17thc Massachusetts ancestor, Hannah Hudson, and was said to have been passed down through her family. The quilting design was traced from this original through a pricked paper pattern in 1896 by a descendent, Alice (Scott) Brown Knight Smith. Sadly the original silk petticoat was destroyed in the fires that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Realizing the value of the surviving pattern, Mrs. Smith had it transferred to muslin, and then gave it to the MHS. That pattern, lower right, was the one followed by the CW mantua-makers to make their stunning reproduction. (The petticoat is shown with mid-18thc stays, or corset, made of brocaded silk, linen, and leather.)

The quilting pattern and the reproduction are typical of wide quilted petticoats worn over hoops in the 1720s-1730s. However, as the exhibition's placard notes:

"Like many stories connected to family relics, Alice Smith's account of the original petticoat proved problematic as we began to examine it in detail. The purported original owner, Hannah Hudson Leverett, died between 1643 and 1646. How then can we explain the fact that, at present, the earliest documented extant petticoats with this type of quilted design in North America date from c1720-1730s, more than seven decades after Hannah's death? This is a mystery that begs to be unraveled - and so our research continues."

Regardless, the new petticoat not only recreates the one that was lost, but also proves that the tradition of 18thc fine hand stitching demonstrated in the other two original petticoats on display is still continuing today.

Many thanks to Anne Bentley and Kimberly Alexander for giving me a special tour of the exhibition, and for including me in the planning from the earliest stages. 

The book that accompanies the exhibition - generously illustrated with many full-color photographs - is being published by the University of Virginia Press. It can be pre-ordered here.

Middle right: Petticoat, detail, embroidered by Elizabeth Bull, c1731-1735, Boston Society.
Lower left: Petticoat, unknown maker, c1750s, University Museum, University of New Hampshire.
Stays, unknown maker, c1780, University Museum, University of New Hampshire
Upper left and lower right: Quilted petticoat from a pattern given by Alice (Scott Brown Knight Smith, 1953. Made in 2018 by Janea Whitacre and Christina Johnson, with Rebecca Starkins and Sarah Woodyard, Historic Trades & Skills Milliners & Mantua-makers of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Bonus Breakfast Links: Week of December 3, 2018

A bonus round of Breakfast Links! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Isabella Banks, "Orator" Hunt, and the Peterloo Massacre.
• In Ireland, making lace for the love of it.
• A brother's detailed guide for his sister on how to tie a new bonnet, 1830.
• A different kind of "ghost writing" from the Victorian era - and one that permitted men to take all the credit: W.B.Yeats and his "spirit-medium."
• The British royal Christmas list from 1750 included a "large Barril" (?) and a fencing master.
Image: Low 18thc chair of Agnes Burns, with short legs to accommodate household labor such as cooking, spinning, and nursing.
• A 1660s recipe for hot "chacolet" from Rebeckah Winche's receipt book.
• What if ordinary people made their own money? Billets de Confiance from the French Revolution.
• The secrets of newspaper names.
• That time when 18thc French aristocrats were obsessed with sexy face-stickers.
• The "detestable crime" in Regency Britain.
• Red silk tango boots from the 1920s.
Image: This little prayer book is believed to contain the last words written by French Queen Marie-Antoinette on the day of her execution, October 16, 1793.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.
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