Friday, April 30, 2010

Stitching Lady Dunmore's Gown: Part II

Friday, April 30, 2010
Susan reporting:

After more than 120 woman-hours of handwork by the mantuamakers of Colonial Williamsburg, the magnificent formal ball gown for Lady Dunmore is finally complete (see here for Part I.)

Left is a detail of the completed trim that edges each side of the front of the gown. Those long strips of ruffles were hemmed and edged with lace before they were pleated, while the zigzagging poufs were quilted and stuffed with sheepswool before they were sewn to the gown. The bows are not only hemmed and trimmed with both lace and gold braid, but stuffed with more lambswool to keep their shape. The fabric is silk brocade, in a pattern that matches an 18th c. description of "pale silk with slight stripes."

In the pictures below, apprentice Sarah Woodyard serves as the model for the final fitting of the completed gown.

Below left, Sarah's hair is dressed high in a 177os style and crowned with ostrich plumes and bows that match the ones on the gown. She is wearing stays over her linen shift, the standard underpinnings for every 18th c. lady. Tied against her right hip is her embroidered pocket.
Below right: Covered in plaid fabric, hoops are tied around her waist to support the gown. (Sarah is standing on a cloth laid on the floor to protect the silk gown from dust and dirt.)

Above left: Janea Whitacre and Doris Warren arrange the gown's petticoat over the hoops and tie it in place around Sarah's waist, adjusting the fullness of the pleats and gathers.
Below right: The matching jeweled stomacher is pinned directly onto the front of Sarah's stays with straight pins.

All that's left to add now is the gown itself – but I'm going to make you wait until Sunday night. Then I'll post pictures of the entire gown, with front, side, and back views, and I promise they'll be worth the wait!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stitching Lady Dunmore's Gown: Part I

Thursday, April 29, 2010
Susan reporting:

This week the mantuamakers in the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg have been working at a feverish pace to finish one of their most ambitious and elaborate projects, a ball gown for the royal governor's wife. While the original Countess of Dunmore would have desired her gown in time for a ball given here in Williamsburg in her honor in May, 1775, there's another deadline this week in 2010 that's just as pressing: the new gown will be part of a special event at CW this weekend called Lady Dunmore Prepares for the Ball. Lady Dunmore will be portrayed by visiting guest artist in residence Mamie Gummer.

True to the taste of a peeress like Lady Dunmore, the gown is in the most fashionable formal style of the mid-1770s, featuring a flowing, pleated back and wide, spreading skirts to accommodate the widest hoops. Cut silk brocade in cream and pale yellow, the gown is being trimmed with delicate off-white lace and looped gold braid, and a wealth of poufs, gathers, ruffles, and bows.

For a similar style gown, check out this one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But while the cost of an 18th c. ball gown was based primarily on the value of the materials rather than on the labor, there were still hours and hours of cutting, pleating, and stitching, with every step done by hand. All employees in the shop would have concentrated on completing such an important commission, and so is the case with the three CW mantuamakers.

In the photo top left, Sarah Woodyard stitches the long channelled panels for the petticoats trimming. Each channel is stuffed with sheepswool, and will be gathered and tied into a lavish border.

In the middle photo, Janea Whitacre pins one of the ruffles in place on the gown's elbows; the loose gathers of the skirt will eventually be filled by the hoops.

In the bottom photo, Doris Warren stitches the more trim in place, with the gown's skirts spread before her. Each one of those long strips of trim has been hemmed, edged with gathered lace, and finally topstitched with the gold braid – and yes, everything is being done by hand. No one is sneaking off to the sewing machine, no matter how fast the clock is ticking.

And just as an 18th c. mistress of the trade might hire an extra common seamstress or two for the less important stitching, so, too, in this case there's at least one outsider
who has helped out. In the bottom picture, those hands stitching gold braid on the trim are...mine.

Check back over the next few days for more pictures of Lady Dunmore's gown.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1829 What to wear to a masquerade

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Loretta reports:

I don’t often come across masquerade/fancy ball dresses in fashion plates, so I thought this needed to be shared.

From R. Ackermann's Repository of Fashions for April 1829

The print represents a full Turkish costume, as used on state occasions; and from its rich effect is well calculated to give variety to the Fancy Ball. The tunic is of rich yellow brocade, made very full and reaches to the knees, where it is ornamented by a trimming of white fur, laid round the hem. Under this are worn very full trowsers of white silk, striped with amber satin, and drawn round the ankle. The waistcoast is composed of celestial blue satin, striped with gold; it is very high behind, and cut low in front, to display the under-vest of fine muslin or rich lace, made full and confined round the throat by strings of pearl. The sleeves of the dress, which are very wide, are lined with yellow satin and trimmed with fur, to correspond with the tunic.

The turban is formed of numerous folds of the finest Indian muslin, divided in front by a tiara of wrought gold, ornamented by a large emerald in the centre, over which is placed an aigrette of amethysts and pearls, surmounted by a full plume of the feathers of the bird of paradise. The turban is richly ornamented by strings of Oriental pearls, disposed in various directions.

A rich cashmere shawl of a bright orange colour completes this superb dress.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Looks Like Summer in Colonial Williamsburg!

Monday, April 26, 2010
Susan reports:

I left a grey, wet, chilly Philadelphia, yet three hundred miles to the south, summer seems to have arrived in Colonial Williamsburg, with the temperature today in the low 80s. The gardens look like summer, too, with roses already mixing with the last of the tulips. Even the local cats were enjoying the sunshine today. More historical goodies to come – including the latest gowns from the 18th c. mantuamaker....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mr. Flight floors the Amorous Excise-man

Sunday, April 25, 2010
Loretta reports:

A Tale of Criminal Conversation from the Rambler's Magazine of 1823*

The plaintiff is landlord of the Gun Tavern, or Wine Vaults, Tottenham Court Road. The defendant was an officer of the Excise, he visited at the Gun as a friend, until he had primed the landlady to his purpose ; various reports about the Gun came to the plaintiff’s ears, and he watched his wife, who decked and plumed in her best feathers, took a flight on the wings of love to a certain rookery in Carlisle-street, where she nestled along with Mr. Willet as her husband, pro tempore. This accommodating place is kept by a Miss Henson ; we have seen the exterior of it. There are two dwellings communicating with each other, to show that the object of double dealing may be carried on in security, on the door is a plate marked, child-bed linen warehouse; on the windows, apartments for single gentlemen, and wanted two parlour boarders: a board betwixt the first floor windows, displays in gilt letters, seminary for young ladies.

Mr. Flight, upon perusing these delectable invitations to the viciously inclined, felt assured it was not for his honour that his wife went thither; he had given her no cause lately to want child-bed linen ; he had parlour boarders at the Gun who wanted her attention; a seminary for young ladies was not required, as his children were all at a school; ergo, she must be looking after the apartments for single gentlemen, instead of making his lodgers' beds at home ; he made an excuse for entering this suspicious  temple of love  where Hymen never dare shew his nose, and the appearance of the parties satisfied him of his dishonour, and to satisfy his vengeance, he floored the Exciseman on the very steps approaching to Love's altar ; the lady screamed—the watch came—and the hopeful trio were all clap'd in durance. Mr. Flight had to give bail, and now brought his action; an attempt was made to prove that Mr. Flight was also flighty, inconstant, and cruel, neglecting his Gun at home, and sporting abroad on dangerous grounds—the proof failed, for the defendant it was urged in mitigation ; first, that he was a young man—a bad plea before an old jury ; secondly, he had been bedfast a month from the beating he had received ; thirdly, that he had lost his situation in the Excise ; and fourthly, that he was unable to pay a shilling. In consideration of these set offs, the jury only mulcted him in £500 damages.

*The Rambler's magazine: or, Fashionable emporium of polite literature,  well supplied with crim. con. stories, gross puns, and ribald poetry, was apparently popular with women as well as men.

Illustration, Cross examination of a witness in a case of crim con, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Intrepid Ladies: Ann Ford (Mrs. Philip Thicknesse)

Friday, April 23, 2010
Susan reports:

"Intrepid" doesn't begin to describe the character and life of Ann Ford Thicknesse (1737-1834). Genteelly born, her father indulged her with an excellent education (she spoke several languages) and extensive music lessons. She soon displayed a rare talent for music and sang beautifully, as well as playing several instruments.

But while her father encouraged her in concerts for friends, he forbid her to perform on the stage. They quarreled so violently that she moved from home and into the house of a friend, announcing that she would support herself by her music. Her furious father had her arrested and hauled back home. Undeterred, she arranged a series of subscription concerts, and her father hired ruffians to disturb her first theatrical performance. Only the intervention of one of her aristocratic supporters permitted the show to go on.

Her concerts were a sensation, and made her a celebrity. Among other instruments, she played the viola da gamba, scandalously (properly) positioning the viola between her knees. More scandal followed when she had her portrait painted by friend Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788 ), himself an amateur musician. Shown with her instruments, her pose – with her legs crossed at the knee like a man – shocked society almost as much as her independent, intelligent gaze looking to one side that ignored the viewer. Handsome though she was, there was clearly none of the melting, doe-eyed society beauty about Ann.

The Earl of Jersey was smitten, and proposed that Ann become his mistress for a sizable annual sum and the promise to wed her when his ailing wife died. Indignantly she refused, and in defense of the rebuffed earl's attempts to slander her,  Ann published A Letter from Miss F--D, addressed to a Person of Distinction in 1761. In it, she argued that "a young woman may sing in public...or be a public singer, with virtue and innocence." Over 500 copies were sold the first week, and the letter was also published in the Gentleman's Magazine. The earl's rebuttal, A Letter to Miss F--d, was not nearly as popular.

After performing in London and in Bath, she traveled to Suffolk with her good friend Elizabeth Thicknesse, who sadly died soon after in childbirth. Six months later in 1762, Ann married her friend's widower, Captain Philip Thicknesse (last seen in the TNHG writing travel guides.) The match raised eyebrows: not only was Philip twenty years Ann's senior, but he drank, whored, gambled, and took laudanum to infamous excess. He was litigious, quarrelsome, and an open supporter of slavery, and his personality was so irascible that he was known as "Dr. Viper." He wrote ferociously and often slanderously, on subjects as wide-ranging as male-midwifery to fraudulent automatons.

Yet it was a most happy marriage for nearly thirty years. The couple traveled extensively through Europe. Their eccentric entourage included not only a parakeet, but a monkey who was dressed in livery and rode postillion before their carriage; Ann's personal luggage included her viola, two guitars, and a violin. She also began writing and publishing books of her own, including works on playing the guitar and glass harmonica, travel, a novel, and, in 1778, the three-volume Sketches of the Lives & Writings of the Ladies of France.

Undeterred by the French Revolution, Ann and Philip were traveling to Paris in 1792 when Philip suffered a seizure and died in Ann's arms in their carriage. Griefstricken, Ann buried him in Boulogne, but before she could return home, she was arrested as a foreigner and imprisoned for eighteen months. She was finally released by proving that she was no idle, unattached gentlewoman, but could support herself –– as a musician.

Returning to England, Ann continued to write and publish. In 1806, when she was 68, she was described as "the most singular, and if it may be added, the most accomplished woman of her day." How can we argue with that?

Click here for more about Ann and one of her favorite instruments, the glass harmonica.

Above: Mrs. Philip Thicknesse, nee Ann Ford, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1760, Cincinnati Art Museum

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Strange & Beautiful Shoes

Thursday, April 22, 2010
Loretta reports:

The first third of the 19th century, the setting of my books, offers all kinds of entertaining & fascinating apparel.  But not so much the shoes.  So far as I can ascertain, they were all flat soled, and came in two styles:  half-boots or ballet slippers.  This was the case, even in the 1830s, when women's fashions became flamboyant to a nutty degree.  As Rachel of the FIDM Museum blog explains in her post about these beautiful evening boots, flat shoes remained in fashion well into the century. 

We often hear people decry high-heeled shoes as bad for the back and knees.  But early 19th century shoes, with their thin soles, wouldn’t win any prizes from podiatrists, either.  (Not long ago, I heard one lecture at length about the evils of flip-flops.)  And as pretty as the flat shoes might have been, I would vastly prefer more variety in the up and down department.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered Toronto, Ontario’s Bata Shoe Museum and its 10,000-plus shoes.  This newspaper article focused on their exhibition of platform shoes —a footwear fashion dear to my heart, because it let me be deliciously tall and tower over men—or at least look them in the eye.

The slap-sole shoes in particular fascinated me.  If any historical dress experts want to hold forth about them, please feel free.  And if any of you has a theory about why the flat shoe stayed in fashion for so many decades in the 19th century, you are in the unique position of having, here at 2NHG, the kind of audience who actually wants to hear it.

And for those who haven't had enough shoes, here's the antithesis of the Regency ballet-style shoe.

At lower right is a shoe I absolutely love, dated 1909-1914, and courtesy the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540.  You can find the complete record here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Men Behaving Badly: Captain Thicknesse Offers a Warning

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Susan reports:

As more and more 18th c. Englishmen began traveling to the Continent for both pleasure and business, guidebooks were published to answer every question regarding a foreign journey. One of the most popular of these books was written by Captain Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792.) A minor military officer as well as an opinionated author known for his often eccentric views, Capt. Thicknesse believed firmly in the superiority of all things English, and the suspiciousness of everything else that wasn't.

The theme of the captain's guidebook, published repeatedly in the later 18th c., can best be summarized by the book's complete title: The Gentleman's Guide in his Tour through France, wrote by An Officer, Who lately travelled on a Principle which he most sincerely recommends to his Countrymen, viz. Not to spend more Money in the Country of our natural Enemy, than is requisite to support, with Decency, the Character of an ENGLISHMAN.

Here's a typically inflammatory sample:

Having hinted at the affability of the [French] ladies, I think it may be highly necessary to advise you to be extremely cautious in your amours (if any you propose.)  The air of the southern parts of France is warm and impregnating. Consequently the women are extremely amorous, and the majority of them have it in their power to confer upon you a certain favour, which if it does not cost you your life, may stick by you all your days; it being reputed to be equally destructive as that of the Neapolitans. The surgeons here make a very serious affair of such an accident, and will run you up a bill of fifty guineas before you can look round you; so that a misfortune of this nature will throw your frugality out of the window, and set your constitution on the wreck. You will no doubt be frequently accosted in the streets, by fellows who are lookers-out to bawdy-houses, asking you if you want a jolie fille. And happy are they, when they can lay hold of an Englishman, [for] as these girls say, they bleed freely. Their reward on those occasions, [should be] to break your cane over their shoulders; for many unguarded foreigners have been seduced by those notorious villains, into places from whence they have never more made their appearance.

If you'd like more of his advice, the fourth edition of The Gentleman's Guide (printed in 1770) can be downloaded here.

Above: Captain Philip Thicknesse by Nathaniel Hone, 1757

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Regency era face-lift

Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Loretta reports:

Instead of a face-lift, here’s what you could do in 1811.

Aura and Cephalus

[This curious receipt is of Grecian origin, as its name plainly indicates, and is said to have been very efficacious in preventing or even removing premature wrinkles from the face of the Athenian fair.]

Put some powder of the best myrrh upon an iron plate, sufficiently heated to melt the gum gently, and when it liquifies, hold your face over it, at a proper distance to receive the fumes without inconvenience; and, that you may reap the whole benefit of the fumigation, cover your head with a napkin. It must be observed, however, that if the applicant feels any head-ach, she must desist, as the remedy will not suit her constitution, and ill consequences might possibly ensue.

A Paste for the Skin.

[This may be recommended in cases when the skin seems to get too loosely attached to the muscles.]

Boil the whites of four eggs in rose water, add lo it a sufficient quantity of alum; beat the whole together till it takes the consistence of a paste. This will give, when applied, great firmness to the skin.

From The Mirror of the Graces; or, The English Lady's Costume by a Lady of Distinction, 1811

Illustration: A fashionable lady in dress & undress, color etching by Robert Dighton, 1807, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lost Lady Writers Found

Sunday, April 18, 2010
Susan reports:
There's much talk of e-books in publishing these days, and of how the format will affect writers. But for long-forgotten writers,  e-books and books on-line offer a literal life-line to modern readers, and their only chance to be rescued from dusty obscurity.

Women writers of the past are among the most neglected. While everyone knows Jane Austen, there were many others who were dismissed as "scribblers" in their time, and ignored by ours. Fortunately, there are libraries determined to change this. One of the more noteworthy is the Chawton House Library, whose mission is to promote the study and research of early English women writers. (It's a splendid coincidence that the beautiful Chawton House was also the home of Jane Austen's brother.)

The library's collections focus on writers from 1600-1830, and slowly but surely, they are putting more and more of these collection on line. How about dipping into The Princess of Cleves (1777) by the extravagantly named Marie-Madeleine Ploche de la Verne La Fayette? Or Paris Lions and London Tigers (1825) by Harriette Wilson, better known for her less literary endeavors?

Of course I had to check out the irresistibly titled Romance Readers and Romance Writers: a Satirical Novel (1810).  The author, Sarah Green, is long neglected, but unjustly, as the opening paragraph shows:

"It is very strange," said Uncle Ralph, with evident impatience and vexation, as he threw down on the table with great force a romance of the last century, "that a writer must use so many words, only to tell us, that a woman got up and sat down again! No, they must inform us in high-flown-poetic language, that she rose from her mossy couch, and then thoughtfully reseated herself, and resumed her pensive posture! and then, if the wind happened to blow her thin clothes about, and made her ribbons flutter and fly, we must be entertained through half a page with her silk scarf floating in the wind and the rude zephyr discomposing her light and nymph-like attire!"

Personally, I'm hoping for the on-line version of another of Mrs. Green's novels: Scotch Novel Reading; or, Modern Quackery; a Novel Really Founded on Facts (1824).

Above: Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1775. Mrs. Lloyd elegantly carving her husband's name into the bark of the tree makes for a beautiful painting, if not for a very accurate one of a lady writing (though I doubt even Sir Joshua could make great art of a current lady-writer, hunkered down over her laptop.) But we'll let it stand in for Ms. Green, for whom, alas, I could find no portrait.
Digression alert: Mrs. Lloyd's picture, however, does turn up in the work of another, more famous women writer. In The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, heroine Lily Bart scandalously chooses to recreate the painting as a tableau vivant at a late 19th c. house party: "Deuced bold thing, to show herself in that get-up." 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cabinet dressing-case

Friday, April 16, 2010
Loretta reports:

I was looking for something else when I came upon this in the 1824 Ackermann's Repository.  It's typical of some of the ingenious furniture of the time—"ornamental and useful."

The annexed plate represents an elegant cabinet dressing-case: it is formed of fine mahogany, and richly carved. The lower part incloses a drawer, with wash-bason, ewer, &c. complete. The upper part contains three mirrors, in sliding frames and running on centres, with sundry divisions and cases for small and large bottles; the whole forming an ornamental and useful piece of furniture, suitable for a dressing or sitting-room. We have been kindly permitted by Mr. Durham to copy this handsome piece of furniture at his manufactory, 26, Catherine-street, Strand.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tasting (Chocolate) History

Thursday, April 15, 2010
Susan reports:

It's not often that historical research involves eating chocolate, but we intrepid Nerdy History Girls will try almost anything in pursuit of the past. Which is why one of our favorite things about Colonial Williamsburg is the the 18th c. chocolate.

Chocolate became increasingly popular in 18th c. Europe. Served primarily mixed with milk or cream as a morning beverage (the way it is being enjoyed by this French family, left) or in coffee and chocolate houses, 18th c. style chocolate is a very different animal from modern sweetened chocolate. It's a more complicated flavor, full of spices: not exactly sweet, but not bitter, with undertones of anise, red pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

In other words, it wasn't a kiddie drink with sugar and marshmallows, but a sophisticated "adult beverage", and an expensive, status-conscious one, too, since all cocoa beans were imported. Chocolate was also praised for its quasi-medical benefits. According to Dr. Quincy's Medical Lexicon in 1782, chocolate was "good likewise not only in all intentions as a nourisher, and a restorative, but as an emollient, by lubricating and relaxing the passages."

In one of those rare, glorious unions between history and commerce, Colonial Williamsburg has recently rebuilt Charlton's Coffeehouse on its original site through the support of Forrest and Deborah Mars of the Mars Corporation (you know, M&Ms, Snickers, Dove Bars, and other necessities of the writing life.) Mr. and Mrs. Mars have also sponsored academic studies of the history of chocolate, as well as a line of historic chocolate products that's for sale throughout the historic district.

The CW chocolate comes in slender, historically accurate cylinders that are dusted with cocoa, and sold in small, cloth, drawstring bags. And as Loretta and I discovered, it's quite addictive, and we both have lots of the little cloth bags to prove it, too. If you'd rather drink your chocolate (and yes, we did that as well), the last stop of the tour of Charlton's Coffeehouse is the kitchen. There visitors are offered a choice of 18th c. style coffee or chocolate – which, from the number of half-full little cups discarded in the trash barrel by the door, may be a little too unusual for the tastes of most modern visitors.

But not for us. We now understand entirely why 18th c. ladies couldn't begin their day properly without the ritual of the chocolate mill and pot (like the one, right), or why so many gentlemen adored their chocolate houses, and the chance to sip away the hours. Who wouldn't?

In addition to eating historical chocolate, we read about it, too, and American Heritage Chocolate has a new book.  I have to admit I haven't read it (yet) but it's on my wish list, and I promise to dust the cocoa from my fingers when I turn the pages. And, as a freebie, here's a video about how 18th c. chocolate was made.

Above left: Le Dejeuner by Francois Boucher, 1739, the Louvre

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fashions for April 1824

Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Loretta reports:

From Ackermann's Repository Vol III 1824

London fashions for April 1824

Dress of emerald green gros de Naples; corsage plain, and bordered at the top with a satin band of the same colour, and a narrow tucker of tulle:  the sleeve is very short and full, and composed of crèpe lisse; the fulness regulated by pyramidal bands of gros de Naples, and finished in a double satin band round the arm.  A very novel kind of flounce ornaments the bottom of the skirt, which is cut nearly a quarter of a yard up, and a fullness of crèpe lisse introduced, and formed into a regular row of demi-bells, the lower part kept extended by two statin pipings, and the top of each surmounted with a double satin circlet and a triplet of satin leaves appliquéeFichu of crèpe lisse, edged with satin piping, and trimmed all round with narrow blond, confined at the shoulders with corded leaves, and arranged in front to form a stomacher, the points coming below the ceinture, which is also edged with satin and blond, and unites behind in a leaf rosette with the corner of the fichu.  The hair is separated in front, and a pearl comb confines it on each side from the temple; round the back of the head it is arranged in large regular curls.  Ear-rings and necklace of rubies.  White kid gloves; white satin shoes; India shawl.

I find quite a bit to like in every fashion era.  One thing I like about the early-mid 1820s is the move to a natural waistline, while retaining the hip-skimming skirt of the previous era.  In a few years, the sleeves and skirt will start to pouf out, the prelude to the exaggerated shapes of the 1830s.  For now, though, women are showing off their natural shapes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Every 18th c. Aristocratic Child Is Whining For This Spring

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Susan reports:

There's nothing children like more than tooling around in their own set of wheels. Just as today's kids have their miniature cars (can you believe that that American-made classic, the Cozy Coupe, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year?), so the lucky children of affluent parents in 18th c. England and America had their own tiny carriages, too.

This splendid toy chariot, made by the carriage builder of Colonial Williamsburg, is a replica of an 18th c. riding toy. It features a padded leather seat and the same turning mechanism being used for full-size carriages. The bench-style seat is slung on leather straps for an easy, rocking motion that's similar to the springs used in coaches. The red-painted wheels were high-fashion, and on the side of the seat is painted a pineapple, the same kind of family emblem that would have decorated carriage doors. This little chariot would not have been pulled by an animal, but by other children, and the handle is covered with leather for a good grip.

To be sure, this was not a common plaything. Ordinary folk didn't own carriages or coaches, and their children didn't have miniature chariots, either. But for the fortunate children who did, riding toys like this must have been a blast.

Because the chariot is a replica and not an antique, it's been road-tested by countless children visiting CW. You can see the chips in the paint and the wear on the wheels; in fact, when we took this photograph, the chariot was in the stables, waiting for a seasonal tune-up. But by spring, I'm sure it was back out on the grass, ready for another year of pushing, pulling, and squabbling over who gets to ride and who has to pull. Somethings never do change, do they?

Friday, April 9, 2010

The trouble with educated women

Friday, April 9, 2010
Loretta reports:

A short while ago, we learned that the French arranged marriages long after the English gave up the practice, and each side believed their approach assured more happy marriages.

This was before the days of marriage therapy, couples counseling, etc.

Let's move on to the U.S. in the 20th century.

I had heard about Eugenics but was startled to learn that Paul Popenoe, the man behind The Ladies Home Journal ongoing feature, "Can this marriage be saved?" (launched in 1953)and the man who seems to have started the marriage counseling business— had been a leader in the Eugenics campaign "to sterilize the unfit and urge the fit to marry."

I am indebted to a fascinating article by Jill Lepore, "Fixed: The Rise of marriage therapy, and other dreams of human betterment," (New Yorker 3/29/10--you can listen to audio here ) for sending me to a piece of early 20th century "scientific" writing that made my jaw drop: Applied Eugenics.

Among other things, Popenoe wrote, in 1918, that a college education rendered women unfit for marriage.

"The causes of the remarkable failure of college women to marry" he breaks down into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. Among the "avoidable reasons"--(1) They desire not to marry, due to a preference for a career, or development of a cynical attitude toward men and matrimony, due to a faulty education." For those who desire to marry but can't, reasons include "(b) Their education makes them less desirable mates than girls who have had some training along the lines of home-making and mothercraft."

Further on he declares, as Lepore quotes, "Many a college girl of the finest innate qualities, who sincerely desires to enter matrimony, is unable to find a husband of her own class, simply because she has been rendered so cold and unattractive, so over stuffed intellectually and starved emotionally, that a typical man does not desire to spend the rest of his life in her company."
Good thing my husband never got around to reading that book.

Photos at top and center left courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Top:  The bride's prayer: "Make thy face to shine upon me.  Make my life a life of love." c 1905
Center:  College for Women of Western Reserve University c1913

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More about Corsets: Baleen Ho!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Susan reports:

Whenever the word "corset" is mentioned in a historical context, it's almost always described as being "whalebone." Yet this is something of a misnomer: corsets weren't stiffened with whalebone, but with another part of the whale called baleen.

Baleen is the feathery, comb-like feature in the mouths of whales, screening and trapping food as they swim through the water. Baleen is made of keratin, a flexible material that's more akin to cartilage and fingernails than bone. But in the past, the definition - and the whale's anatomy - was blurred, and baleen and whalebone were used interchangeably. Baleen was harvested by whalers, and sold in strips such as those above left, on display in the milliner's shop in Colonial Williamsburg.

As a material, baleen is strong and stiff but yielding, and can be cut, filed, and shaped. Many things that are today fashioned from plastic were made from baleen in the 18th c., including eyeglass frames, the spokes of umbrellas and parasols, and the blades of folding fans.

And corsets. As soon as fitted, stiffened corsets
became the fashion in 16th c. France and Italy, baleen was the stylish choice for the stays - the long, narrow pieces that were forced into the corset's vertical channels. Baleen didn't crack like reeds or wood splints (other popular and less expensive options.) Baleen was strong and pliable, and it could be split to make the very thin stays that were necessary for sophisticated shaping.

A stylish 18th c. corset was a work of art, or at least of very high craftsmanship and engineering. Here are a few examples: from the Boston Musem of Fine Arts, the MMA's Costume Institute, and the Victoria & Albert.

There could be dozens of baleen stays in a single corset, each carefully cut, tailored, and finished to size. Nearly all corset makers were men, simply because few women possessed the hand strength necessary to force the baleen into the narrow channels. Of course, this also led to lots of salacious prints from the era, such as this one, lower right, with the leering corset maker fitting the young woman while another gentleman watches. Why do I doubt it's her husband?

But by the middle of 19th c., steel boning began to replace baleen in corsets. Steel was equally flexible, but far easier to manufacture and use, and considerably less expensive than baleen. Just as the development of oil drilling and the petroleum industry in the 1850s spelled the end of the whale oil market, so, too, did metal corset stays do the same for baleen.

Fortunately for whales, the days of Captain Ahab are as long gone as corsets. Today the harvesting of baleen and all other by-products of American whale fishing is strictly regulated by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and profits from the sale of baleen are limited to Alaskan Aleuts, Indians, and Eskimos (which is the source of the baleen used at Colonial Williamsburg.)

For more information (and lots of photographs) about the sociology as well as the history of corsets, I recommend The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dept of Quotation: Hones Every-day book 6 April

Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Loretta reports:

From The Every-day Book; or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, etc. 1827, by William Hone

April 6.

1348. Laura de Noves died. She was born in 1304, and is celebrated for having been beloved by Petrarch, and for having returned his passion by indifference. He fostered his love at Vaucluse, a romantic spot, wherein he had nothing to employ him but recollection of her charms, and imagination of her perfections. These he immortalized in sonnets while she lived; Petrarch survived her six and thirty years.

Francis I., who compared a court without ladies to a spring without flowers, caused Laura's tomb to be opened, and threw verses upon her remains complimentary to her beauty, and the fame she derived from her lover's praises.

1803. Colonel Montgomery and captain Macnamara quarrelled and fought a duel at Primrose-hill, because their dogs quarrelled and fought in Hyde-park. Captain Macnamara received colonel Montgomery's ball in the hip, and colonel Montgomery received captain Macnamara's ball in the heart. This exchange of shots being according to the laws of duelling and projectiles, Colonel Montgomery died on the spot. Captain Macnamara was tried at the Old Bailey, and, as a man of honour, was acquitted by a jury of men of honour. The laws of England and the laws of christianity only bind honourable men; men of honour govern each other by the superior power of sword and pistol. The humble suicide is buried with ignominy in a cross road, and a finger-post marks his grave for public scorn; the proud and daring duellist reposes in a christian grave beneath marble, proud and daring as himself.

Starch Hyacinth. Hyacinthus racemosus.
Dedicated to St. Sixtus I.

Above:  Portrait of Petrarch's Laura, in the Laurentian Library, Florence

Sunday, April 4, 2010

That Foreign Curiosity the Fork

Sunday, April 4, 2010
Susan reports:

A Venetian nobleman sitting down to sup with King Henry VIII in 1530 would have at once noticed something missing from the English table. Each guest would have a silver spoon for pottage, sauces, and jellies and a knife for cutting meat, but no forks. Like most other Englishmen, His Majesty believed that fingers would suffice to carry food to the mouth, and anyone who thought differently was considered over-nice, or maybe just Italian.

While most of the courts on the Continent had been using forks for years, the English were very slow to pick up this particular dining refinement. Charles I's Queen Henrietta Marie brought them from her native France in the 1620s, and Charles II, too, favored them after his lengthy exile in Europe. By the end of the 1600s, diners of the better sort had begun accepting the two-tined fork (a smaller version of those used for carving meat) as a useful invention, and often carried their own with them. Not until the 18th c. did fashionable English forks acquire that extra tine or two, and receive the graceful bend to help carry food. Still, the two-tined variety remained in use into Victorian times in rural areas of England and among those who saw no use in tossing away perfectly good cutlery.

But it wasn't a refinement easily won. Like most Englishmen, traveller Thomas Coryat regarded forks with the greatest suspicion when he first encountered them in 1608 in Italy (perhaps at a grand banquet like the one above), and of course made fun of them – after, I suspect, he was "brow-beaten" himself for using his fingers.

"I observed a custom in all those Italian Cities and Townes through which I passed...The Italian and also most other strangers that are commorant in Italy do alwaies at their meals use a little forke when they cut their meate. For while with their knife which they hold in one hande they cut the meate out of the dish, they fasten their forke, which they hold in their other hand upon the same dish, so that whatsoever he be that sitting in the company of any others at meate, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meate with his fingers, he will give occasion of offence unto the company, as having transgressed the lawes of good manners in so much that for his error he shall be at the least brow-beaten, if not reprehended in wordes....The reason of this curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means indure to have his dish touched with fingers, feeling all mens' fingers are not alike cleane."

Above: Detail from The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, 1563, The Louvre
Below: Silver filigree knife with steel blade and fork, late 17th c. French

Friday, April 2, 2010

They do it differently in France

Friday, April 2, 2010
Loretta reports:

I had occasion to reopen my yellowed copy of Fanny Trollope’s  Paris and the Parisians recently, and was reminded what a delightful account she offers of Paris in 1835.  I suggest you read the entire Letter XXXV —which I have had to hack up mercilessly below.  It points out a very interesting cultural difference.

By this time, in England, arranged marriages were a thing of the past, but not in France.  This led to some interesting differences in social behavior.  In France, Fanny tells us, the unmarried girls are the last to get dancing partners.  It’s the married women—and many of them no spring chickens—to whom all the young gallants flock.  She discusses this oddity with an unnamed French woman of her acquaintance, who asks, "Will you then have the kindness to explain to me the difference in this respect between France and England ?"

Fanny: " The only difference between us which I mean to advocate is, that with us the amusement which throws young people together under circumstances the most likely, perhaps, to elicit expressions of gallantry and admiration from the men, and a gracious reception of them from the women, is considered as befitting the single rather than the married part of the community."

 " With us, indeed, it is exactly the reverse," replied she,—" at least as respects the young ladies. By addressing the idle, unmeaning gallantry inspired by the dance to a young girl, we should deem the cautious delicacy of restraint in which she is enshrined transgressed and broken in upon. A young girl should be given to her husband before her passions have been awakened or her imagination excited by the voice of gallantry.…When a girl is first married, her feelings, her thoughts, her imagination, are wholly occupied by her husband. Her mode of education has ensured this; and afterward it is at the choice of her husband whether he will secure and retain her young heart for himself. In no country have husbands so little reason to complain of their wives as in France ; for in no country does the manner in which they live with them depend so wholly on themselves.”

After politely debating which country has got it all wrong, the Unnamed Lady concludes:  “…as we go on exchanging fashions so amicably, who knows but we may live to see your young ladies shut up a little more, while their mothers and fathers look out for a suitable marriage for them, instead of inflicting the awkward task upon themselves?* And in return, perhaps, our young wives may lay aside their little coquetries, and become mères respectables somewhat earlier than they do now. But, in truth, they all come to it at last."

*Italics mine.

Above is Frances Trollope.  Below is an 1835 French Lady, Marie J. Lafont-Porcher

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Growing Old Gracefully (and Powerfully)

Thursday, April 1, 2010
Susan reports:

Commenting on a recent blog, reader JennyGirl asked if the ladies on my two book covers (far right) were related. They're not, not even remotely. But for anyone glancing at a group of 17th c. ladies by Sir Peter Lely, (1618-1680) THE portraitist of his time, there is, ahem, a striking similarity.

Much of this is because the ladies wanted to be shown in the fashionable "look" of the time (think of the interchangeable blond starlets of today), and Sir Peter happily obliged. He wasn't wildly successful for nothing. But Sir Peter could certainly paint more than one kind of face, and his two portraits of Elizabeth Maitland, Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698) prove it.

In an era of indolent brunette beauties, Elizabeth was unique. She was well-educated, assertive, outspoken, and ambitious, and a countess in her own right. You didn't mess with Bess. During her long life, she studied philosophy, married twice and bore eleven children, served as a Royalist spy during the Civil War, acted as a fierce behind-the-scenes politician on behalf of her husbands, and conducted a love affair considered especially shocking because she was in her forties! Here's an overview of her story.

Elizabeth wasn't conventionally beautiful by the languid standards of the day. Her first portrait by Sir Peter, painted when she was about 22 in 1648 (above left), shows her famously auburn hair (faulted for being "deep coullerd") and sandy brows and lashes. Unconventional or not, she was widely regarded as a great beauty, and praised as well for her wit.

When Sir Peter painted her the last time (above right), between 1675-80, she was in her fifties – absolutely ancient in the 17th c. – yet still confident enough in her appearance not to have herself idealized, but painted as she was.

Some historians simply can't accept this, however, and interpret this portrait as a memento mori, one of those cheerless warnings of mortality and impending death. I don't agree. To me the duchess seems quite content in her own skin and that swath of scarlet silk. She's proud of whom she has become, not who she wishes she still were.

Above: Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1648, Victoria & Albert Museum (Ham House)
Below: Lady Elizabeth Maitland, Countess of Dysart, Duchess of Lauderdale, by Sir Peter Lely, c. 1680, Victoria & Albert Museum (Ham House)
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