Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thanksgiving Day's coming, and we're taking a break

Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Loretta & Susan report:

As we do every year, the Two Nerdy History Girls will take some time off to prepare for the Thanksgiving Day holiday, celebrated in the U.S. this year on the 23rd.

There will be food, way too much food, probably. There will be friends and family getting together. And there will certainly be thanks.

We’re thankful for many things, including our jobs, which we do believe are among the best in the world. We’re thankful for our readers, who support our work and continue to follow us on our nerdy history peregrinations.

Our voyages into the past will continue after the holiday.
We wish you an abundantly happy one.

Image: Greetings of Thanksgiving, postcard, New York Public Library Digital Collections image ID 1588398.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Alexandra Palace

Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Loretta reports:

This qualifies as one of those things you don’t know that you don’t know. I knew about London’s Crystal Palace. Until I happened upon The Queen’s London, however, the Alexandra Palace meant nothing to me. The funny thing is, unlike the Crystal Palace, the Alexandra Palace is still there.

“What the Crystal Palace has been to the south, it was thought the Alexandra Palace would prove to the north, of London. The former was built of the materials used for the Exhibition of 1851 ; the latter, of those employed for the Exhibition of 1862. A superb site, north of Hornsey and east of Muswell Hill, was chosen for it, and it was opened in May, 1873. Fourteen days later the building was burnt down; and, Phoenix-like, the present structure rose from its ashes, being finished in just under two years. It is very fine in its way, and contains all manner of courts and a fine concert-hall. The grounds, too, with their ornamental water, are delightful. But for some years now, with the exception of an occasional Short season, the Palace has unfortunately been closed.

The Queen's London: A Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks, and Scenery of the Great Metropolis in the Fifty-ninth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria 1897*

And so, one thinks, another amazing building lost. But no.
This northern rival of the Crystal Palace, finely situated on Muswell Hill, was, after a chequered career, acquired in 1901 for the public use, and is controlled by a board of Trustees representing various local authorities. The grounds, comprising over 160 acres, command fine views of London and the country to the north, and contain a boating lake, cycling track, swimming baths etc. The Great Hall will hold about 14,000 people, and has a fine organ. During summer, attractive concerts and other entertainments are given in the grounds. Adjoining is the Alexandra Park Racecourse.
A Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to London and Its Environs 1919

John Bointon, Alexandra Palace from the Air
Unlike other abandoned structures, and in spite of burning down twice, the Alexandra Palace not only survived that “chequered career” but is still in use today. It has quite a fascinating and eventful history, which I won’t attempt to summarize here. You can find out more at the palace website's Did You Know?” section. Wikipedia has a lengthy entry as well.
Details about the first fire here. Image of Belgian refugees housed in Palace here.

*My personal copy (couldn’t help myself, once I discovered the book’s existence), from which I scanned the image above, is dated 1896.
Color photograph below, Alexandra Palace from the Air, by by John Bointon, via, Creative Commons License.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

From the 2NHG Library: "The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking"

Sunday, November 12, 2017
Susan reporting,

With the holidays approaching, books are always on the top of the 2NHG lists for both giving and receiving. Here's one that will appeal to many of our readers who love historic clothing, the 18th century, and recreating period clothing for re-enacting and interpreting. It would also be welcomed by anyone who enjoys reading about the Georgian era, and wonders exactly how stays and hoops and pockets all fit together on a woman's body.

The book is The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style by Lauren Stowell and Abby Cox (Page Street Publishing) and it's a wonderful introduction to recreating and wearing 18thc fashions, exactly as that over-long title says. For those of you unfamiliar with the American Duchess brand: it's a company founded by co-author Lauren Stowell and devoted to creating replicas of historic footwear for modern feet. Their products have appeared in film, television, and on Broadway (from Outlander to Hamilton), and walked everywhere from red carpets to battlefield re-enactments. This is the first American Duchess book, and perfectly designed to serve the market that wears their shoes.

Hundreds of color photographs cover not only every step of cutting, sewing, and construction representative women's garments, but also demonstrate how to wear and style the clothes accurately. Instructions are included for undergarments and accessories, too. Although the book assumes the reader may possess zero background in 18thc costuming, there is also plenty here to interest those with more experience, with glossaries of fashion terms, explanations of 18thc sewing and fabric, and troubleshooting advice.

I'm guessing that much of the expertise in this book comes from co-author Abby Cox, who earned a M.Litt in Decorative Arts and Design History from the University of Glasgow. Abby's name (and face) will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog from her years as an apprentice mantua-maker at Colonial Williamsburg, where she cheerfully both shared her knowledge and posed for my camera for numerous blog posts. As a member of CW's historic trades program, Abby learned 18thc sewing techniques from Mistress of the Trade Janea Whitacre, and that training and practice shows in every page of this book. While The American Duchess Guide isn't a Colonial Williamsburg publication, it does reflect the high standards set by Janea and the other mantua-makers of the Margaret Hunter Shop. Even the most accuracy-focused readers and sewers will be pleased by the detailed instructions and photographs. If you're like me, you'll soon be eager to try your hand at a gracefully elegant Italian Gown in flowered chintz.

All in all, an informative and entertaining look at a particularly lovely period of women's dress (I know, I'm biased.) You can purchase it here on Amazon.

Full disclosure: I received a pre-publication copy of this book for review. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of November 6, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• "Huge and black-bearded and ferocious": Byron's manservant Tita Falcieri.
• Why are these 1940s clothes so happy?
• Ten interesting facts about Napoleon's family.
• Dressing the graves for All-Saints Day in New Orleans, 1845.
• Salem's 1692 anti-woman witch hunt.
• John and Abigail Adams, the first President and First Lady to live in the (unfinished) White House.
Image: Royal Garden Party guests, 1935.
• A cricket on Ascension Day keeps bad luck away.
• When the wild beast of Gevaudan terrorized France.
Image: The portable darkroom used by Roger Fenton, a pioneer of war photography, during the Crimea War, 1855.
• The Queen was amused: Queen Victoria's Halloween celebrations at Balmoral Castle.
Home in a can: when trailers offered a compact version of the American Dream.
• Many fortune-telling games of the past were designed for girls and young women to see their romantic futures.
• A forgotten/lost manuscript by poet John Donne is rediscovered.
Jolly Jane Toppan, the killer nurse obsessed with death.
Image: Marie-Antoinette's initials are engraved in this repoussed music stand.
William Dawes tells a good story (and it even seems it's true, too.)
• The enduring allure of Baba Yaga, an ancient swamp witch who loved to eat people.
Image: The message on this c1900 trade card is just...strange.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Video: Flights of Fashion, 1946

Friday, November 10, 2017

Susan reporting,

Here's another wonderful short newsreel fashion-film from British Pathe. In the days before television, these were shown in movie houses along with a feature film, and were intended to entertain a wide audience. Considering the date - 1946 - I imagine this kind of stylish frivolity was far beyond the means of most English women, but the cheerful commentary, outlandish hats, and in-flight fashion show must have been a welcome diversion at the time. And how modern many of the clothes look today!

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing a blank space or a black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Remembering Lieutenant Davitt

Thursday, November 9, 2017
1st Lt William F. Davitt
Loretta reports;

On Saturday we’ll be commemorating the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I. At 11 AM on 11 November 1918, an Armistice was in effect, ending the Great War with Germany.

Initially, the annual commemoration was called Armistice Day. Sadly, that armistice didn’t mark an end to all wars, and after WWII, the name, in the U.S., changed to Veterans Day, to recognize all war veterans. Elsewhere, the name of the holiday is different, but the theme of remembrance remains.

Our local newspaper called my attention to one of the last men to be killed in action in WWI—minutes before the 11AM ceasefire.  First Lt. William F. Davitt, the Chaplain of the 125th Infantry, was a graduate of Worcester’s Holy Cross College. An extraordinarily brave man, he earned a Distinguished Service Medal, a Croix de Guerre with palm, and a Silver Star Citation.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Worcester has squares, with memorial markers, dedicated to its veterans.* Lt. Davitt’s is one I pass nearly every day during my walk. I didn’t know his story, though, until I saw this newspaper article, and recognized the name—because, yes, I often pause at these memorial markers and re-read the inscriptions, as a kind of remembrance.

There’s more about him at this website of the VFW post named in his honor.

His foot locker is here.

And there’s a detailed picture of the last months of battle as well as his particular story at the 32nd “Red Arrow Veteran” Association site (please scroll down to “FINIS LA GUERRE!”). If you take the time to find and read it, you'll understand how he earned those medals.

*At one point you could find photographs of all the memorial squares at this website, but the links do not seem to be working. You can see two examples on the home page, though.

Photograph: 1st Lt. William F. Davitt, photo credit: State Library of Massachusetts
Photograph: Davitt Square memorial plaque is by me.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Research Books Before Post-Its: Hamilton's Manicules

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Susan reporting,

One of my rituals after I finish writing a research-heavy manuscript is the removal of the Post-Its. I write surrounded by stacks of research books on the floor, each book bristling with multi-color flags to mark inspiring and important passages, facts, and images. Peeling off all those Post-Its means they've done their job, and it's time for the books to return to their shelves.

Post-Its are perfect for me, because I've never been able to bring myself to write in books. I like my pages clean, my spines intact. Even as a college student, I was horrified to see other people's textbooks striped with neon-yellow highlighter. In my generally cluttered world, unmarked books are one of my few attempts at order.

It's also a habit that would have marked me as clueless in an 18thc personal library. First of all, of course, I would have been the wrong gender to possess an extensive collection of books. Even the most well-read of 18thc American women - such as Abigail Adams, or Mercy Otis Warren - relied on libraries owned by husbands, fathers, and brothers. Studies, libraries, and offices were the male domains where books were kept in private homes, intellectual retreats that women entered by invitation (or to clean.)

Books were expensive, a sign not only of the prosperity necessary for such a purchase, but also proof that the gentleman possessed the luxury of sufficient leisure time for reading. Living in a country far removed from the great universities of Europe, books provided an intellectual connection to great minds of the past and the 18thc present, linking Americans with the Age of Enlightenment. Books were read and reread extensively, considered and referred to and used to settle disputes and discussions. Books were the primary source of knowledge and authority, and prized as such by their owners. They were symbols of continuing self-education, as well as of literacy.

All the American Founders possessed personal libraries of varying sizes. Many of these men were trained as lawyers, and their libraries were filled with the legal books required by their practices, but also filled with ideas that also helped shape the most important documents in American history. Benjamin Franklin's library alone had over three thousand volumes. Thomas Jefferson's library was the largest in the country; after the Library of Congress was burned by the British during the War of 1812, Congress purchased most of Jefferson's personal library as a replacement - nearly 6,500 books.

To men like Jefferson and Franklin, reading and studying a book included annotating it. Whether making comments or asking questions in the margins, underlining important ideas, or even "editing" by physically cutting a page, they viewed these notations as a way of personalizing the book and tailoring it to be more useful for their individual needs.

As can be imagined for a successful lawyer and statesman, Alexander Hamilton, too, possessed an extensive library. (Yes, I know, I've managed to include another Hamilton reference - but since he's the husband of my heroine in I, ELIZA HAMILTON, I've looked at far more examples of his books and handwriting lately than of Jefferson's or Franklin's.) Although the Revolution had interrupted Hamilton's studies at King's College - he was granted an honorary degree later in life - he was a voracious reader on topics that ranged from medicine to history, agriculture to military science, and famously prepared himself for the bar in a matter of months.

And as can also be imagined for someone who was so opinionated, Hamilton freely wrote in his books, and his law books in particular were often marked to highlight a precedence or argument useful to a particular case. One of these - a copy of the 1738 The Rights of War and Peace by Hugo Grotius - has recently been shared online by a private collector; thanks to his generosity, you can view it here, as well as learn why Hamilton's annotated copy is considered an important volume to legal historians.

Hamilton not only wrote his name in the book, right, but he underlined, labeled passages alphabetically, and corrected printers' misspellings and translations. One of his favorite ways to call attention to a salient point was with a manicule, a decorative notation in use since the 12thc. Manicules are tiny hand-drawn hands, pointing into the text, and are as varied in style as the writers who made them. Some have exaggerated index fingers for emphatic pointing, and others have elaborate lace cuffs around the hand.

Hamilton devised his version of the manicule as a single calligraphic line, a pointing hand that often ends in an elegant curl, above left. He was, however, a bit breezy about anatomy; some of his manicules have only four fingers (much like Mickey Mouse), or even just the thumb and forefinger, lower left, with only a hint at the other digits. Still, they're distinctive, and variations appear throughout his books, and in drafts of his own work, too. Manicules are also elegantly utilitarian, because they do catch your eye, and make you look at what they're marking.

Hmm. Perhaps with a little practice, they might even replace my Post-Its.

Many thanks to Robert Pattelli for sharing this book from his personal collection, and for his assistance with this post.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Fashions for November 1881

Monday, November 6, 2017
November 1881 Fashions
Loretta reports:

For those readers who, like me, aren’t familiar with the terminology of dress and dressmaking, some of these descriptions amount to a foreign language. I’ve made what discoveries I could in limited time, and footnoted the more puzzling ones.

If you compare to the fashions of a decade earlier, you’ll notice that the circumference of the dress has decreased a great deal, for a more form-fitting look below the waist, the look of the “princess” style.

Along with the change in dress construction, and the tighter skirts, we see less skin on display in evening dress than a decade before. Many evening dresses have high collars or high necks and elbow-length sleeves like the green one.

Fig. 1—(281).—The Templemore Afternoon Tea Gown of dove-colored cachemire,[1] trimmed with blue satin and coquilles[2] of white lace. The dress is made in princesse form, with a bouillonné [3] plastron [4] in front, edged with lace, and has a Suisse belt: the collar and sleeves are very pretty. Will take 5 yds. cachemire double-width; 4-1/2 yds. satin: 18 yds. lace.

Fig. 2.—(292).—The Alice Home Toilette of silver-grey alpaca, trimmed with red satin ribbon of the shade called Princess of Wales's. The body is gathered front and back, and trimmed with a handsome lace collar: the overskirt is laid in pleats in front, and is elegantly draped behind; it is trimmed all round with a satin ruching, a fringe, and lace. The underskirt consists of lace or embroidered flounces, edged by a satin balayeuse. Will require 4 yds. double-width alpaca for overskirt; 9 yds. wide embroidery, or 12 yds. lace : 3 yds. narrow embroidery or 4 yds. Lace; 16 yds. satin ribbon ; 2-1/4 yds. balayeuse.

Fig. 3.—(283).—The Ernestine, an Elegant Dinner Press of olive-green satin, trimmed with brocade. The cuirasse [5] body is pointed back and front, edged by two cross folds of satin, which may be of the same color as the sash, or olive-green, as represented on the plate: the underskirt is composed of wide tabs of brocade and plissés [6]  of satin, crossed by draperies of the same: the back is well puffed and ornamented by a long moiré sash, matching in color the flowers of the brocade. Quantities required: 10 yds. satin; 4 yds. brocade; 4 yds. ribbon for sash.
The London and Paris Ladies' Magazine of Fashion 1881

[1] cachemire: I had thought this was simply an alternate or Frenchified spelling of cashmere. However, Cunnington’s Englishwomen’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century differentiates the two. Cachemire is “a textile of fine wool and silk, the patterns usually of Eastern shades.”

[2} coquilles: scallops

[3] bouillonné: Per OED—in dressmaking, “a puffed fold”

 [4] plastron: Per OED: “In women’s dress. A kind of ornamental front to a bodice introduced in the latter half of the 19th C; extended to a loose front of lace, or some light fabric edged with lace, embroidery, etc.”

[5] cuirasse: Per OED, a close-fitting (sleeveless) bodice, often stiffened with metal trimmings or embroidery, worn by women.

[6] plissés: Per OED, refers to material “shirred or gathered in small pleats,” IOW, pleated material. From what I can ascertain, this isn’t the plissé you find in a quick Google search—a sort of seersucker—which is produced by a chemical treatment. The image does seem to show pleating.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of October 30, 2017

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Mary Jane Peale: The forgotten Peale painter.
• "Such sleeves I never beheld - such frights!" Harriet Low and 1830s fashion.
• Sex and the single man in late medieval England.
Blackface: the birth of an American stereotype.
• Borrowing history: "expired" library books in pictures.
Image: "Ladies Ears Bored Gratis": A 1793 version of the Piercing Pagoda.
Mary Hodgkinson, Pre-Raphaelite super-model and the reason Charles Dickens should eat at Millais' step-brother's house.
• The 1837 house at 175 MacDougal Street in New York, home to a string of interesting and wealthy families.
• Ten pieces of (bad) advice from history to women on how to manage their periods.
Image: A hospital for cats in New York, 1888.
• A five-minute guide to waistcoats and vests.
• How to make a hedgehog - according to this 1797 recipe book.
• The rise and fall of Sir Robert Peel's Drayton Manor.
• More about restoring Queen Victoria's petticoat: the petticoat takes a bath.
• Southern comfort: America's pleasures and paradoxes are on display on its porches in the South.
Image: Benjamin Franklin was given this walking stick while ambassador to France; the gold cap is shaped like his signature fur cap.
• For those who love Regency townhouses: a simple guide to Hove's Brunswick Square.
Design for disability and objects in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Vindolanda: uncovering the secrets of a Roman fort.
Just for fun: Ancient literature as Onion headlines.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Video: Victorian Paramedics

Friday, November 3, 2017
Loretta reports:

Researching those of my books in which characters become ill, I’ve grown familiar with 19th century medical practices, many of which were based on theories dating back to the middle ages.

The strange treatments in this Horrible Histories video are mainly superstitions, rather than actual medical procedures. Still, they’re less disturbing than many of the remedies physicians truly believed in, all too often to the fatal detriment of their patients’ health.

Do you ever wonder what people a couple of centuries from now will think of our medical practices? They’ll be horrified, I don't doubt.

Image: Screen shot from video, Horrible Histories- Victorian Paramedics.

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.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Patriotism, French Fashion, and Mrs. Morris's Pouf, c1782

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Susan reporting,

One of those history-myths that refuses to die states that, during the years of the American Revolution, women of every class wore "homespun" to be patriotic. According to this myth - made popular in the 19thc as later generations looked fondly (and imaginatively) backwards to their ancestors - these women were paragons of colonial self-sufficiency. They not only herded and sheared sheep, processed, spun, dyed, and wove the wool and likewise process flax into linen cloth, but cut and stitched every garment worn by their equally patriotic family.

Well, no. Even if there were enough hours in the day, few women possessed the training to achieve all this. Most of the steps in 18thc clothing production were performed by highly skilled professional tradespeople, and most of the fabric - whether linen, wool, silk, or cotton - worn by Americans, rich or poor, had been produced elsewhere, and imported.

This didn't change with the Revolution. While restrictions to trade limited new imports, there was still plenty of pre-war stock in warehouses and shops. Wartime deprivations might have made the cost of new fabric prohibitive to many families, but that meant refashioning and refurbishing, patching and mending what was already owned. Fabric was valued, and there was no disgrace in making a new gown in 1778 from 1750 fabric.

For a wealthy woman like Mary White Morris (c1749-1827), left, the Revolution likely had little impact on her wardrobe, and she wasn't wearing homespun, either. Married to entrepreneur and banker Robert Morris, Mary was known as a lady who "ruled the world of fashion with unrivaled sway" - at least that part of the fashionable world centered by Philadelphia. This portrait of her by Charles Willson Peale was painted towards the very end of the Revolution, around 1782, yet she is shown in casually luxurious splendor. She is wearing fanciful, Turkish-inspired clothing that was the height of French fashion - a lace-trimmed silk sultana, a gown edged with fur, a silk sash - and her silk headdress, or pouf, is an elaborate concoction of silk, strands of glass pearls, feathers, and paste-jewel ornaments in the shape of stars and a crescent moon, with a trailing veil or scarf.

Yet by following the French fashion for dramatic hair, poufs, and turquerie, Mary Morris was not only following the lead of that international trendsetter Queen Marie Antoinette, but she was making a political statement of her own as well. The French were America's allies, and without French military assistance, the American cause would not have been successful. Mary's husband was much involved in both the war and creating the new country's government, and among their closest friends was the Marquis de Lafayette. Dressing like a Parisian for a portrait was patriotic.

But patriotic fashion reached back from Philadelphia to Paris, too. The French rejoiced along with the Americans in their victory over the British, and French women celebrated by wearing clothing inspired by the new country (or at least named for it.) This detail, left, from a French fashion journal shows  one of the latest styles for 1783: Chapeau à la Pensilvaine (Hat in the Style of Pennsylvania).

Thanks to Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell for her assistance and inspiration for this post, and for peering at Mrs. Morris's portrait with me last week at the Second Bank Portrait Gallery. For more 18thc French fashion, check out Kimberly's splendid fashion history, Fashion Victims (Yale University Press.)

Above: Mary White Morris by Charles Willson Peale, c1782, National Park Service Museums.
Below: Detail, Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français. 39e Cahier des Costumes Français, 10e Suite des Coeffures à la mode en 1783. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sir James Tillie's Strange Interment

Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Sir James Tillie's mausoleum
Loretta reports:

Looking for a suitable historical topic for Halloween that didn’t involve burning nuts or bobbing for apples, I found myself considering the subject of earthly remains and what to do with them. In Sir James Tillie's case, it was definitely not the usual thing.

A drawing of his mausoleum, along with the same exact account of his ideas for his dealing with his corpse, appeared in various 19th C magazines over the years, like the 1828 Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine and the Ladies’ Pocket Magazine of 1837.

Other versions of the story appear in An Illustrated Itinerary of the County of Cornwall as well as this one from The Monthly Review 1803:

"Mr. Tilly, once the owner of Pentilly-House, was a celebrated atheist of the last age. He was a man of wit, and had by rote all the ribaldry and common-place jests against religion and scripture, which are well suited to display pertness and folly, and to unsettle a giddy mind; but are offensive to men of sense, whatever their opinions may be; and are neither intended nor adapted to investigate truth. The brilliancy of Mr. Tilly's wit, however, carried him a degree further than we often meet with in the annals of prophaneness. In general, the witty atheist is satisfied with entertaining his contemporaries; but Mr. Tilly wished to have his sprightliness known to posterity. With this view, in ridicule of the resurrection, he obliged his executors to place his dead body, in his usual garb, and in his elbow chair, upon the top of a hill, and to arrange on a table before him, bottles, glasses, pipes, and tobacco. In this situation he ordered himself to be immured in a tower of such dimensions as he prescribed, where he proposed, he said, patiently to wait the event. All this was done; and the tower, still enclosing its tenant, remains as a monument of his impiety and prophaneness. The country people shudder as they go near it.”

Lady's Magazine

You might also enjoy this version (please scroll down) by Sabine Baring-Gould in his 1906, Book of Cornwall.

And then there was the discovery of human remains on the site, as reported by the BBC a few years ago.

Photograph: Mausoleum of Sir James Tillie of Pentillie Castle by Rod Allday. Creative Commons license. You can get more information about the building here at Images of England.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A "Knitted Gift" Made by Eliza Hamilton in her Nineties, c1854

Sunday, October 29, 2017
Susan reporting,

For those of us who knit, embroider, crochet, and sew, October is the get-serious month for finishing handmade gifts for the coming holiday season. But as hectic as that can be, there's also a special satisfaction in putting a bit of yourself into something you've created, a one-of-a-kind memento that links the giver and the recipient in a way that a purchased present never can. If you're a "maker," you understand.

My guess is that Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (1757-1854), the wife of Alexander Hamilton, and the heroine of my new historical novel I, ELIZA HAMILTON, understood this, too. For 18thc American women of the elite class like Eliza, handiwork could be as practical as mending worn garments or stitching baby garments, or as extravagant as embroidery incorporating imported gold lace and silk thread. While nearly all women of Eliza's generation and social rank would have been taught at least rudimentary sewing and fancier needlework, for some it became a form of self-expression as well.

The objects these women created were a way that they proudly shared themselves, their accomplishment, and their love with friends and family. Often the most treasured of heirlooms are the quilts made in honor of a marriage, a tiny smocked infant's dress, or an embroidered mourning picture commemorating a lost parent.

Although there are no surviving written records of what needlework meant to Eliza, I suspect that it was important to her, and that not only did her practical and industrious nature mean that she was seldom without some bit of handwork, but also that she excelled at it. I've already shared examples of her needlework executed while she was in her early twenties: this embroidered mat that surrounds her future husband's miniature portrait, and the embroidered handkerchiefs that she made for their wedding. These are the work of talented stitcher who clearly relished her time with her needle.

This knitted pillow cover, however, tells a much different story. The cover is believed to have been made around 1854, shortly before her death at age 97. Although Eliza was said to have been sharp-witted to the very end of her long life, it's evident from this that age had taken its toll on her eyesight. It's telling that she chose to knit the cover rather than embroider. Knitting is a more forgiving craft that embroidery, and the repetitive motions of knitting are less demanding than the precision of a needle through linen.

Yet as a knitter myself, I look at this pillow cover and see what a challenge it must have presented. There are dropped, repeated, and twisted stitches, stitches that are mysteriously increased and others that disappear. The colored stripes aren't consistent, the rows irregular and misshapen. Instead of neatly mitering the corners and making a single, shaped square, the piece was done in strips that were sewn together, with woven ribbons sewn over the seams (perhaps by someone else helping with the completion?) to soften the awkward joinings. But despite all the mistakes, what I see most is the elderly Eliza's determination and persistence to make something special for an acquaintance, no matter how difficult the actual execution must have been for her.

Fortunately the recipient understood, too. Britannia W. Kennon (1815-1911) was the great-granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, wife of George Washington. Britannia is a fascinating woman in her own right, and deserves a future blog post of her own. In 1848, Eliza and her daughter Eliza Hamilton Holley moved from New York to Washington, DC, and rented a house on H Street owned by Britannia. The three women, sadly, had much in common. All three had been widowed at relatively early ages: Eliza's husband Alexander had died at age 48 (approximately; his birthdate is uncertain) of wounds suffered in his duel with Aaron Burr in 1804; Sidney Holly had died in 1842 in his early forties, and Britannia's husband, Commodore Beverley Kennon, had been killed in a shipboard explosion in 1844, less than two years after their marriage.

Britannia took the legacy of her family's past seriously. The elegant house in which she lived, Tudor Place, had been built by her parents with an inheritance from George Washington, and the furnishings included many pieces that had belonged to the Washingtons at Mount Vernon. Britannia arranged and displayed these objects at Tudor Place, taking care to record the details about each on hand-written paper tags.

Eliza's knitted pillow cover joined Britannia's collection. Perhaps it earned its place there because Eliza, long before, had been friends with Martha Washington, or because her late husband's numerous accomplishments gave luster to her own name by association. Perhaps, too, Britannia cherished the cover simply from respect and regard for Eliza herself. Preserved with the pillow is a small clipped paper, right, with Eliza's signature - "Elizth Hamilton", and on the back is a label in Britannia's handwriting: "Made by/Mrs. Alexander Hamilton/a short time before her/death, for Mrs. Kennon."

Today Tudor Place Historic House and Garden is a National Historic Landmark, and open to the public; see their website here for more information. Eliza's "knitted gift" is now part of Tudor Place's collections. Information for this post came from unpublished sources from the Tudor Place archives, and from an annotated edition of Britannia W. Kennon's reminiscences that currently being compiled for future publication. Many, many thanks to Curator Grant Quertermous for his generous assistance with this post. And thanks, too, to Hannah Boettcher, Public Programs Coordinator, Museum of the American Revolution, for suggesting that I seek out Eliza's pillow cover.

Above: Pillowcase, made by Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton before 1854. Linen, wool. Courtesy of Tudor Place Historic House & Garden.

Read more about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of October 23, 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The ghost of Kit Carson: women's history along the Santa Fe trail.
• Medieval graffiti: demon traps, spiritual landmines, and the writing on the wall.
Emily Dickinson, poet and baker.
• "The Hatpin Peril" terrorized men who couldn't handle 20thc women.
• Inside London's sumptuous Drapers' Hall.
Image: This 1770s porcelain macaroni's wig bag is bigger than the archway (though not perhaps his fashion sense.)
• What does the painting Surrender of Lord Cornwallis have to do with author Edith Wharton?
• Final telegraph transmissions from on board the Titanic.
• Explore the diaries of Miss Fanny Chapman, a 30-something single woman living with her aunt in Regency England.
George Washington's mausoleum: Congressional debates over the work of monuments.
• Video: "I remember the interior of that cabin": how the curators at Monticello used a diary to furnish a reconstructed slave cabin.
• The "petting parties" of 1920s flappers that scandalized many Americans.
• Death takes wing: birds and the folklore of death.
• The poet Shelley's spyglass, found in the wreck of his boat.
• Eradicating smallpox: history in objects.
Image: A daunting to-do list from Thomas Edison's 1888 journal.
Lord Nelson's lasting legacy in London.
Eliza Ross, the forgotten female "burker," who, with her partner, had murdered her 84-year-old lodger to sell her body to anatomists, 1831.
• Skull cup associated with Lord Byron heads to auction.
Image: Princess goals: Prince Margaret's morning routine, 1955 (from the book Ma'am Darling by Craig Brown.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Video: Strip Tease on a Trapeze, 1901

Friday, October 27, 2017

Susan reporting,

Today we think of Thomas Edison (1847-1931) as a masterful inventor of practical things, like the light bulb, that changed the world. But he was also a shrewd businessman who wasn't afraid to apply his inventions (like the motion picture camera) to pure entertainment. He gave the people what they wanted, and his short films included boxing cats, kissing couples, and this film featuring Charmion, one of the more famous vaudeville stars of the early 20thc.

Charmion was the stage name of Laverie Vallee (1875-1949), who not only dazzled audiences with her trapeze acts, but also with her well-developed muscles. In an era where the ideal woman was soft and round and confined by her corset, Charmion was a "strongwoman" who struck the same exaggerated poses as strongmen to show off the well-defined muscles in her arms, shoulders, and backs.

This short film shows her most famous act, performed on a trapeze. Beginning in full 19thc street dress, Charmion energetically sheds them all while on a trapeze, piece by piece falling away (I suspect an early version of Velcro in use) until she's left in nothing but a flesh-colored acrobat's leotard. This was hot stuff in 1900, and the humorous reactions of the two men who are nearly overcome in the balcony probably weren't that far off from from reality for some audiences.

And yes, this being 2017, not 1901, all two minutes are now entirely suitable for viewing at work.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Funeral Etiquette in the Early 19th Century

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Graves at Kensal Green Cemetery
Loretta reports:

At some point early in my career, someone informed me that women did not attend funerals in early 19th century England. However, while researching funerals recently, I learned that there was disagreement on the matter.

The Gentleman and Lady's Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment of 1833 (a French work translated into English) offers this:
When we lose any one of our family, we should give intelligence of it to all persons who have had relations of business or friendship with the deceased. This letter of announcement usually contains an invitation to assist at the service and burial.

On receiving this invitation, we should go to the house of the deceased, and follow the body as far as the church. We are excused from accompanying it to the burying-ground, unless it be a relation, a friend, or a superior…

At an interment or funeral service, the members of the family are entitled to the first places; they are nearest to the coffin, whether in the procession, or in the church. The nearest relations go in a full mourning dress. It is not customary at Paris for women to follow the procession; and, nowhere do they go quite to the grave, unless they are of a low class. A widower or a widow, a father or mother, are not present at the interment, or funeral service of those whom they have lost. The first are presumed not to be able to support the afflicting ceremony; the second ought not to show this mark of deference.

The Gentleman’s Quarterly Review of August 1836 takes a different view. Regarding the Rev. W. Greswell’s Commentary on the Order for the Burial of the Dead, the reviewer has this to say:

We hope the hints relative to the nonattendance of females of the higher classes at funerals, will produce its due effect; it is a direct avoidance of a great Christian duty, which too often arises from selfish and effeminate motives of indulgence. Mr. Greswell ought, however, to have considered that if the females do not attend the funeral of their departed relatives, like the male mourners, yet they bear a far greater share previously in their attendance on the sick and dying ; and show a tenderness and firmness that the other sex cannot always boast: thus they are often incapacitated by distress, added to watchfulness, weariness, and even sickness, from attention to these last duties. This is a sound and legitimate cause of absence; but it is the only one.

*Originally published in France.
Photograph Photo copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Diamond Rock Octagonal School, 1818

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Susan reporting,

Education was important to the first generations of Americans after the Revolution. True, there were a great many things to be sorted out by the new country - everything from minting money to debating a standing army to creating public works for safe drinking water. But the ultimate success of the Revolution and the new government that followed would depend on citizens who could think and make important decisions for themselves. Literacy was key.

Among those who recognized the need for education was John Adams, who wrote the following in a 1786 letter:

"But before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of Education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of Society nearer to the higher. The Education of a Nation, instead of being confined to a few schools & Universities, for the instruction of the few, must become the National Care and expence, for the information of the Many...."

The same belief was expressed on every level of early American society, and not just in the affluent and sophisticated coastal cities. While only twenty miles from Philadelphia, the Great Valley region of Chester County was still farms and forest in 1818. Yet in that year, a group of thirty-four individuals from the Great Valley came together to subsidize the creation of a school for the local children.

To be sure, thoughtful citizenship wasn't the only reason for the school. Being able to read, write, and cipher were important skills for farmers, too, and being able to read the Bible was as important as reading newspapers. Education was also seen as "improving," a way to better one's self and rise higher in the world. What parents - then or now - don't want that for their children?

None of these individuals founding the school would have been considered wealthy. The original subscription list shows that only one contributor paid thirty dollars, with the majority offering between three and five dollars, and one subscription of only fifty cents. But together, they raised the amount necessary to build a single-room schoolhouse: $260.93. Members of the community continued to contribute, whether in money to pay the teacher's salary, or by offering a spare room for the teacher's lodgings, or by cutting wood to burn for heat during the winter months. From the beginning, the school was considered a "free school", without a religious affiliation, and open to all boys and girls in the area.

The little schoolhouse still stands today, upper left, and is known as the Diamond Rock Octagonal School. Its single room is in fact an octagon, a forward-thinking design for schools at the time. Windows supplied light from every direction, and heat came from a wood-burning cast-iron stove, lower left, in the center of the room. The teacher's tall desk, upper right,  stood nearby, where he or she (the list of teachers between 1818 and 1864 shows the post was nearly equally divided between women and men) could survey the students.

And what a task that must have been. Students sat on backless benches, divided by age and ability into groups that faced one of the eight walls for study and assignments. When it was each group's turn to be taught, they would swivel around on their benches to face the teacher. Their ages ranged from small children to young adults, and during harvest and planting seasons, the older students would be kept home to help with crops. Tradition says that at its greatest capacity, the school could accommodate sixty children - a staggering number in a single room, and a testament to the dedication and adaptability of those early teachers.

The schoolhouse remained in use until 1864, when newer, more modern schools were built nearby. Over time, the little building fell into disrepair, and late 19thc photographs show that it had deteriorated into a roofless shell. Around 1915, the  artist Wharton Esherick became involved in the restoration of the school and used it as his studio for several years. He added the concrete floor, and was also responsible for the diamonds in the shutters and the iron work on the windows and door.

The school soon found another savior in Emma W. Wersler, a local woman whose mother and sister attended the school and was a descendent of one of the original subscribers. She supervised the school building and its restoration, and arranged for original artifacts - books, the teacher's desk and chair, the wooden buckets for drinking water, lower right - that had been scattered when the school closed to be returned for display. In 1918, the school reopened as a museum and historic site.

Overseeing the maintenance of the school was the Diamond Rock Old Pupils Association, which also served as an alumni group for former students. These included three physicians, two ministers, and a congressman - ample proof that "improvement" could in fact take place in a one-room schoolhouse.

For more information about the Diamond Rock Octagonal Schoolhouse, including hours when it is open to the public, visit the website here.

Many thanks to Susanna Baum for her assistance with this post.

Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Visit with the late Duke of Sussex

Monday, October 23, 2017
Tomb of Duke of Sussex at Kensal Green Cemetery
Loretta reports:

In my recent post about London’s Kensal Green Cemetery, I mentioned the Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). This son of George III made the place fashionable by deciding to be buried there rather than at Windsor. In life, as in death, Prince Augustus Frederick went his own way.

Though he was a big guy—six foot three and burly—he wasn't hale and hearty. Yet the asthma that plagued him also helped make him “the most consistently Liberal-minded person of the first half of the nineteenth century.” His brothers championed the Whigs in youth, but mainly in rebellion against their father. When he no longer had power over them, their politics went the other way. Not so with Prince Augustus.

Thanks to the asthma, he spent much of his early life abroad and had no military career. He matured free of the influences that shaped his brothers’ politics. Equally important, he had far more time to cultivate his mind. He became a person who supported abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and many other progressive ideas. These views won him the hostility of, basically, the entire Establishment, including his brothers. They cost him financially, too.

On the other hand, he wasn’t unlike his brothers when it came to women. At age twenty, he fell madly in love with Lady Augusta Murray, daughter of the Earl of Dunmore, and married her, in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act, which required the monarch’s consent. King George III refused, and a decree was issued, annulling the marriage.

Nonetheless, the prince stuck with his woman...until he had to choose between getting the title Duke of Sussex—with £12,000 per annum—and her and their two children. In 1801 he chose the title and money. By 1806 he was bringing legal action to prevent her calling herself the Duchess of Sussex. (She was given a lesser title instead.) By 1809 he took the children to live with him. Still, he didn’t remarry until 1830, after she was dead. The second marriage, to Lady Cecilia Buggin, was problematic, too, until Queen Victoria recognized it in 1840 and made the lady the Duchess of Inverness.
Duke of Sussex , Knight of the Order of the Thistle

The Queen adored her uncle: “When he was dying she drove down in tears to Kensington Palace in an open carriage to inquire for him, although she was hourly expecting the birth of her third child.”

He went his own way in death, too, and it wasn't only in the choice of burial site. In keeping with his very progressive views on dissection, he gave directions in his will for his body to be opened and studied “in the interests of science.” In keeping with his ideals, his is a modest tomb. (So modest that we apparently forgot to take a picture of it.)

For the bulk of this post, and the quotations, I’m indebted to Roger Fulford’s Royal Dukes. When online sources proved unsatisfying—especially regarding the duke’s personality—I remembered this very enjoyable book.

Images: The tomb of Prince Augustus Frederick, Kensal Green Cemetery
Photo by Stephencdickson, Creative Commons license

G.E. Madeley, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex wearing the robes of a Knight Companion of the Order of the Thistle.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of October 16, 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Advice for English ladies in India, 1847.
A handy guide to vampires from the Royal Armouries.
• The spinster's numeration table: a guide for 19thc men.
• Blowing a cloud: pipes in Georgian London.
Image: Forget Gatsby: F.Scott Fitzgerald's legacy is secured by this note in which he conjugates the verb "to cocktail."
• Striking images by portrait photographer Olive Edis,  who was commissioned to document the women's war effort in France and Belgium during World War One.
• How Eleanor Roosevelt and Henrietta Nesbitt transformed the White House kitchen.
Talking corpses: how even in death, women's testimony was considered less credible than men's.
• Conservation of Queen Victoria's petticoat.
Image: Print showing the interior of a fashionable London haberdashery in 1825.
• Among the rarest and oldest books in Horace Walpole's collection: two 16thc books of swan marks.
• How a gilded-age heiress became the "mother of forensic science."
• The whimsical world of garden follies.
• Heroin, opium, mercury, and cocaine were among the ingredients in Victorian medicines that "soothed" the nation's children.
• ImageWomen's Home Defence Corps, 1940.
• To dine at Kew: the meals of George III.
• Napoleon's "Kindle": the miniature traveling library that he took on military campaigns.
• First look at the newly restored York Mansion House.
• In Boston in 1765, there was one tavern for every 79 adult men; the importance of taverns.
• Just for fun: Sky-high modern paper wigs inspired by 18thc excess in fashion.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Video: Frankenstein, according to Thug Notes

Friday, October 20, 2017
Loretta reports:

If you have not already discovered Thug Notes, and don’t have a problem with Language for Mature Audiences Only, you might want to check out the videos. Host Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., takes on the classics, summarizing and analyzing them, “original gangster” style, in about five minutes.

As part of my Halloween countdown, I offer his take on Frankenstein.

Video: Frankenstein - Thug Notes Summary and Analysis

Image: still from YouTube 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.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the Archives: Finding Conjugal Bliss in Dr. Graham's Celestial Bed, 1781

Thursday, October 19, 2017
Susan reporting:

We TNHG are generally very good at remembering things that happened two hundred years ago, but during the last ten - not so much. Sometimes it takes a reader to jog our memories about old posts that are worthy of a return appearance. Many thanks to Alun Withey for reminding me of this post that first appeared back in 2011!

Exploiting the love-lives of the rich and famous is hardly a new pursuit. From ancient times, charlatans have offered exotic, expensive potions to increase flagging libidos and unusual regimes designed to restore the magic to chilly marriages. One of the most infamous of these is Dr. James Graham (1745-1794), a self-proclaimed physician, self-promoter, and inventor (Wikipedia luridly categorizes him as a "sexologist") who captured the imagination of English society in the 1780s – and a good deal of their money besides.

Like all good quacks, Dr. Graham had a splendid gimmick, and his was the Temple of Hymen in Shomberg House in Pall Mall, a kind of overwrought clinic for his unusual treatments. His most profitable speciality was improving conjugal sex and fertility, and he found a clamoring audience among the upper classes whose survival depended on producing healthy heirs. Many of his customers were weakened by venereal disease and general dissipation, but that didn't stop Dr. Graham from making the same outlandish guarantees that often appear today in spam folders. His celebrity clientele included politicians John Wilkes and Charles James Fox, aristocrats such as the Duchess of Devonshire and the Duke of Richmond, and courtesans like Elizabeth Armistead and Mary Robinson.

While his treatments varied from elixirs to mud baths, the centerpiece of the Temple of Hymen was the Celestial Bed. This over-sized bed (it measured nine by twelve feet) could be tilted for an optimum angle, and was supported by glass rods that could permit the bed and its occupants to become so charged with static electricity that it gave off a greenish glow. Decorative automata, a pair of live turtle doves, and lush bouquets of fresh flowers were also features of the bed. Adding to the ambiance was a mattress stuffed with a special mixture of sweet-smelling herbs and hair from the tails of the most rampant English stallions, while a special celestial pipe organ played music calculated to inspire love-making. For the next three years, until Dr. Graham's extravagance landed him in prison for debt and bankruptcy, there were plenty of couples eager for the experience.

The price of a magical night in the Celestial Bed? An astonishingly steep fifty pounds. Did it work? Perhaps – though who wanted to admit that it didn't?

In honor of Valentine's Day, 2011, the Museum of London is recreated Dr. Graham's Celestial Bed as a special adults-only exhibition. For more information about this, as well as more detailed descriptions of Dr. Graham's claims, see here – though be forewarned that this post, like the exhibition, is probably best not read at work.

Above: The Celestial Bed, with the Rosy Goddess of Health reposing thereon, unknown artist, English School, 1782, private collection.
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