Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Recent Acquisitions: Full Dress for Assemblies in the Persian Style

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel about my prints from Ackermann’s Repository: they were exquisitely engraved and colored, were of uniformly excellent quality during the twenty years of the journal’s existence, and are a total delight. But that doesn’t mean one of the other great publications of the Regency era, La Belle Assembl√©e, doesn’t have its moments as well.

One of those moments occurred in the December 1807 issue of the magazine, with the appearance of a plate titled Full Dress for Assemblies in the Persian Style.  I’ll let you admire it for a moment before we proceed.


The description accompanying the gown is curious, for it doesn’t seem to describe the dress very well in many particulars. One wonders if the colorist wasn’t given the description, and made her own decision about which colors to use. In addition, while the plate reads “Persian” style, the description heading reads “Parisian.” Oops:

A Ball Dress in the Parisian Style

A Neapolitan robe and petticoat, of white, or coloured satin, made quite plain. Armorial vest of white satin, beaded in gold stripes. A cestus [a girdle or belt] √°-la-Cleopatra, composed of wrought gold and amethysts. Hanging sleeve, gathered in front of the arm, with brooches of the same. The hair confined from the roots, the ends flowing in irregular curls, leaving the forehead and temples exposed. An Indian casque of tissue, with amethyst ornaments. A long veil of gossamer gause, rounded at the end, and embroidered in a delicate border of silver, or silk, flowing from the centre of the crown, over the right shoulder, and forming a drapery in front of the figure by the attitude of the left hand. Pear earrings of amethyst or pearl. Necklace of pearl, with amethyst star in the centre. White satin slippers, edge with silver beading, and white kid gloves above the elbow.

I can’t help wondering what held on the fez-like hat (close-up above)—presumably some description of hairpin. And it would have been remarkably tedious to have to hold onto the veil for the entire evening to "form a drapery in front of the figure." This may have been a dress to wear to balls and assemblies, but probably not one to dance in. 

Nevertheless, whether Persian or Parisian, it’s a delight. Would you like to have worn this one?

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Long Road to the Vote in Washington Territory


When researching for the upcoming Frontier Matchmaker Bride (Beth Wallin’s story), I came across some Washington State history I didn’t know. In the United States, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution acknowledged women’s right to vote in 1920. But in some states and territories—Wyoming and Utah among them—women could vote much earlier. Washington Territory, alas, took a while to get there, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

It helped that prominent pioneers like Arthur Denny of Seattle and Daniel R. Bigelow of Olympia were willing to sponsor bills in the state legislature. The first failed by only one vote. The story goes that the man who voted against it had a Native American wife. If she wasn’t included, he wasn’t supporting it. A new voting law in 1867 specified that all white citizens had the right to vote (bet he didn’t vote for that one either). In theory, that meant women could vote. They tried in the next election. Except for a handful, their votes were summarily dismissed.

File:Portrait of Susan B. Anthony on her 50th birthday.jpg
In the early 1870s, women in the territory rallied around the national suffrage movement when no less than Susan B. Anthony made a western tour. One of her stops was at the home of Henry and Sarah Yesler in Seattle. I like to think some of my heroines in the Frontier Bachelor series attended, even though the local papers took jabs at the women. The local sheriff (and Deputy Hart McCormick) had to provide additional protection for the suffragettes because of rumored attempts by male agitators to stop them from speaking.

During her tour, Susan B. Anthony spoke before the territorial legislature. Perhaps because of her impassioned pleas, once more a bill was introduced. It too failed. And to make sure there’d be no more of this nonsense, the legislature passed a bill keeping territorial women from voting until the issue was decided at the national level.

But remember, Washington Territory was still largely composed of bachelors. Some were fiercely anti-suffragette, others fiercely pro. Bills were introduced and voted down in 1875 in the legislature, 1878 at the Constitutional Convention, and 1881 in the legislature again.

You would think when, in 1883, the legislature finally passed a suffrage bill, that that would be the end of it. However, in 1887, the Territorial Supreme Court overturned the new law on a technicality. It seems the title of the law didn’t accurately describe its contents. The legislature promptly passed a law with a better title in 1888, only to have that overturned by the court for failing to align with what the court felt was the true meaning of the Territory Organic Act—that votes applied only to males. When the territory voted on its state constitution, women’s suffrage was voted down again.

Suffragettes continued working, hoping to amend the Washington Constitution. Working with members of the legislatures, they drafted an amendment that, once signed by the governor, could be put to a vote of the people. Someone stole it! A woman found the correct amendment just in time for the governor to sign. Unfortunately, when put to a vote by the people, the amendment was voted down.

It wouldn’t be until 1910 that Washington women became eligible to vote, still well before the Nation but long after Susan B. Anthony, Sarah Yesler, and Beth Wallin campaigned for it.  

You can find more information on the long road to the vote from the Women’s History Consortium at the Washington State Historical Society, of which I am a proud member. 

And I can vote.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Accessories, Part 12: Wrapping up Shawls (see what I did there?)


Now that I've gotten that out of my system... ☺

I’m doing something a little different in this installment on Regency accessories: bypassing the images from fashion prints, lovely as they are, and looking at an example of two of the real thing.


These are a pair of 19th century shawls that I own. Alas, I don’t have an exact date for either, but the height of popularity for shawls like this peaked in mid century. Unfortunately, I also have no idea where they might be from. Originally shawls of this design, with their distinctive teardrop-shaped boteh designs (boteh means “shrub” in Persian), came from Asia, especially the Kashmir region, where they were woven from the warm, silky hair of goats, first wild, then as demand grew, domesticated. They soon became so popular across Europe that European manufacturers began to create their own “Kashmir” shawls. The best of these were manufactured in the Scottish town of Paisley, which in turn lent the name we know today to the design.

Both of these shawls are made of a fine wool; the dark one is especially smooth. The undecorated parts of both shawls are twill-woven.


The cream-colored shawl, with its designs of bluish-green, red, gold-brown, and black, is square, measures 66 inches along a side. Does it perhaps remind you a little bit of this one?


Or this one?


The dark shawl is definitely not in as good condition as the cream-colored one--it's splitting in places, mostly in the undecorated area in the center-- and had its fringe chopped off at some point. But the pattern of the weave is gorgeous; with the careful placement of its six colors (mostly red and orange with bits of black, green, cream, and light blue) it looks more like dozens of colors. This shawl, also square, is a bit larger than the other, measuring 70 inches on a side (it's folded into quarters here.)


This one is called to mind...though I suspect that the darker color palette on this shawl means it dates slightly later to the Victorian era, when darker colors were more fashionable.


I hope you liked a quick look at the "real thing."  We'll be moving on to an different Accessory sometime soon...


Friday, February 9, 2018

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Designing Love

Valentine’s Day is approaching. My sweetie and I are trying to determine how to celebrate. Millions of people from school-agers to senior citizens will be purchasing or making cards to share with loved ones. To a large part, this nineteenth century heroine made that possible.

Esther Howland was born in 1828 in Worcester, Massachusetts, into a family that owned a prosperous book and stationery store there. She graduated Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1847. After receiving a valentine from an associate of her father’s, she decided she could do better.

And she did.

Now, there were Valentine’s Day cards made before Esther started, but she was the first to create them on a commercial scale in America. She used lace, gold, and colored prints to bring her creations to life. For those who might not be able to express themselves sufficiently, she even published a valentine writer with suggested verses. (We covered those here.) 

Her work was so in demand she had to start her own business and hire friends, creating an assembly line. She designed, her employees copied, and together they produced valentines that were considered elegant, refined, and of the highest quality. Simple cards went for 5 cents each. The most elaborate, with secret pockets for engagement rings or personal messages, cost as much as $50 dollars!

She trained hundreds of women through the years, most of whom worked from home for reasonable wages. Esther herself worked from a wheelchair the last 15 years she was in the business. She died in 1904, unmarried but highly successful, having grossed more than $100,000 a year many years (an amount close to $3 million in today’s dollars). She is known by many as the Mother of the American Valentine.

She simply loved her work.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fly the Friendly Skies...of the Aerostation Company?

I don't have a lot to say in this week's post, because really, there's not much I can add to this item from the July 30, 1825 edition of The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, a London publication that was a sort of Reader's Digest of the day, including snippets from other publications as well as original material. I've posted some amusing bits from them before; but air travel in particular seems to have been a popular theme with their editors, as this article demonstrates. I thought it would be more fun to show you the original, so here you go!


Well, that's one way to avoid the problem of airline food...

And speaking of technological advances, even history bloggers have to keep up with them. I'm happy to report that you can now find ALL my e-books for sale on GooglePlay...and that includes a short story I just released, just for the fun of it, titled Family Reunion. Of course you can also find Family Reunion in all the other usual sales outlets--Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo--as well.

Friday, February 2, 2018

More Than Pretty Pictures

File:Lyme Park 2014 01.jpgLast week I had the privilege of sitting in on a Regency architecture class given by the incomparable author Cheryl Bolen. Her collection of pictures illustrating both exterior and interior styles, as well as landscapes, are nothing short of brilliant. And you can find them all here on Pinterest. Cheryl has curated pictures of furniture, paintings, various rooms in the country houses and town houses of the rich and famous in England during the early years of the nineteenth century. She even has floor plans. Well worth the look.

And while you’re on Pinterest, might I recommend the following author's and their boards:

Joanna Waugh. Joanna has collected a number of interesting Regency era illustrations, including pictures of Almack’s, Regency performers, arts and crafts, and beekeeping. 

Cora Lee’s Regency Women’s Fashion. All of Cora’s boards are fun (she had me at Historical Dr. Who), but the fashion page is particularly top notch. 

Ann Glover’s Regency pastimes. You’ll find a wealth of information from author and blogger Ann as well, but I loved this board with some pastimes you might not have expected. 

And may I mention that I now have a Regency pets board, with portraits from the late 1700s and early to mid-1800s of people and animals? 

All in all, these are far more than pretty pictures. They are treasures to those who love to read, and write, about the nineteenth century.

Photo by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

1810, What a Year It Was...Except When It Wasn’t


Last week I mentioned that I had intended to write a post for my 1810 series about the celebrations in observance of George III’s fifty years on the throne. It was kind of a big deal—only three other monarchs since the Norman Conquest (Henry III, Edward III, and James I—and James only squeaks in because of his years on the throne of Scotland as James VI before he became James I of England) had been fifty years on the throne. I blithely assumed that the king’s jubilee took place in 1810—specifically, on October 25, which was the 50th anniversary of the day he became king on his grandfather George II’s death in 1760. But all my poking around into the events of 1810 made no mention of a jubilee celebration in 1810. Weird, I thought. Maybe it wasn’t celebrated because of the war, or...or something.

And so I continue to think...until last week's research into a darling Jubilee cloak print from La Belle Assemblee made me dig deeper and discover the real reason why there were no jubilee celebrations in 1810... Because they'd all happened in 1809!

I was able to find a fair bit of information about the jubilee observances themselves, but no explanation for why they were held at the start of the 50th year of his reign and not on the anniversary of his assession. The closest I've gotten to an explanation is that it was generally known that the king's health was not good, and it seems that many people were worried that he might die before the anniversary itself. Evidently plans for celebrations were a bit of a last-minute thing They needn’t have worried: in fact he lived for another ten years, outliving Queen Charlotte, though nine of those were spent in a twilight of dementia. By summer 1809 it looked as thought the poor old man would survive, so the tentative plans began to firm up (evidently the first sign of the impending celebrations was a sharp increase in the cost of candles, which were being hoarded for illuminations.)  Sadly, he would not be able to enjoy many of the spectacles that were eventually held in his honor, because his eyesight was almost completely gone by this time.

So how was the jubilee observed?

The King and the royal family attended a service of thanksgiving at Windsor, where the queen later threw a spectacularly splendid fete for the court. But there were plenty of less solemn observances all over the country: many of the nobility had oxen and sheep roasted and basically held barbecues for their tenants and workers, with games and races and bread and ale to go with the meat. Assembly balls for the middle classes in towns and larger villages and fireworks and illuminations in the cities were also widespread. After the fact many communities erected public monuments and statues in honor of the king's anniversary. And of course, there was merchandise. You can still buy George III Jubilee medals on eBay (yes, really), and for the wealthier souvenir hunter there were commemorative dishes, glassware, and my favorite, a child’s game celebrating the glories of the kings of England.

In a way it was probably a good thing that George's jubilee celebrations happened in 1809; by the actual anniversary of his accession in October 1810 he would be in even poorer health—on the verge of his final collapse (the Regency would be declared in January)—and his beloved daughter Amelia on her deathbed. I doubt anyone would have felt much like celebrating.