Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An 1850s Wedding

In preparation for this year's Candlelight Tours (featuring the 1857 Huggins-Work Wedding), some background on 1850s weddings:

Changing Homes (1862) by George Elgar Hicks
George Elgar Hick's Changing Homes (1862).
The Guests
To quote extensively from The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (London, 1852):
"The parties who must be asked, are the father and mother of the gentleman, the brothers and sisters (their wives and husbands also, if married), and the immediate relations and favoured friends of both parties. Old family friends on the bride's side should also receive invitations,-- the rationale, or original intention of this wedding assemblage, being to give publicity to the fact, that the bride is leaving her paternal home with the consent and approbation of her parents." 
The bride's parents or guardians are omitted, as they are, in fact, hosting the event. Contrary to current practice, friends excluded from the reception on account of crowding are expected to put in an appearance at the church.

Aside from invitations, there are several customs which announce the wedding: wedding cake is sent to special friends, especially those too far away to attend the ceremony, and notices are put in the newspaper to inform the general public.  When settled into their new home, the newlywed couple will send their (visiting) cards to all acquaintances they mean to keep.

The Ceremony
There seem to be several possible period practices (page 356 of Inquire Within For Everything You Want to Know [1856] has a very succinct treatment of the subject):
  • Church wedding in the morning, followed by a wedding "breakfast" (reception) at the bride's parents' house which lasts into early afternoon; then the couple leave on their wedding trip
  • Church wedding in the morning, from which the couple immediately leaves on their wedding trip 
  • Wedding before a magistrate ("a mere repetition of a vow")
  • Wedding held in bride's family home (ceremony and reception both), which may take place in the evening
The actual descriptions read almost identical to modern practices, save that the bride is assumed to be wearing gloves and that the word "obey" is still used.  For more details on British institutions (including banns, licenses, special licenses, etc.) see The Etiquette of Courtship...

Sources agree that the number of bridesmaids can vary greatly: Godey's gives three as typical, but twelve or sixteen as possible; Bridal Etiquette suggests one to six, as the bride fancies. These may be close friends of the bride, or young relatives (10-14 years old) of either party.  They are supposed to help the bride dress, receive guests, and hold her gloves/bouquet for her.  According to custom, all bridesmaids stand to the bride's left during the wedding ceremony, and all groomsmen to the groom's right.  Groomsmen may equal the number of bridesmaids, though in British custom, there's only one regardless of the number of ladies.    

The Wedding Breakfast or Supper
" A wedding breakfast is a collation--kind of blending of all the repasts that are served up morning, noon, or night..."- Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper (1860) 
"At a large party, or at a wedding, there is generally a supper table; lemonade and cakes having been sent round during the evening."-The Behavior Book (1854)
Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861, mostly earlier material) gives a recommended Bill of Fare for a summer Wedding or Christening Breakfast, or a Ball Supper.  The cake is placed in a place of prominence, toasts are proposed, and music/dancing is apparently out of fashion (or not, depending on the source).

Defunct Customs

A number of "exploded" bridal customs are named:

Wedding Presents

According to Mr. Thayer in Pastor's Wedding Gift, it is customary for the presiding clergyman to present a book of advice (and/or a thematic devotional work) to the newlyweds.  Titles such as "The White Veil: A Bridal Gift" and "The Bridal Souvenir" are also advertised as good bridal presents.

Close friends and relatives may choose to present the bride with  "plate, furniture, jewelry, and articles of adornment" for use in her new home (the story "Bridal Presents" mentions many utensils and dishes).  Miss Leslie recommends "any handsome article of dress, or of furniture", also noting that articles of jewelry and household ornaments are customary. These presents from friends are distinct from the gifts of jewelry which her fiance may have presented, and from the trousseau (new clothing) given to the bride by her parents.  

Though not everyone approves of the custom, bridal gifts are typically displayed, along with the giver's name.

Gifts may by homemade, such as these suggestions from Martha Pullen's Treasures in Needlework (1855):
Bridal Presents (To be worked in embroidery, braidwork, beads, or Berlin-work):
Chairs, Sofa Cushions, Screens, Hand Screens, Antimacassars, Table Covers, Set of Dish Mats, Fancy Mats, Ottomans, Whatnots, Doyleys, Watchpockets, Netted Curtains 
For A BridePoint-Lace Collars, Chemisettes, Handkerchiefs, etc., Embroidered Ditto, Handkerchief Case or Box, Glove Box, Slippers, Work Basket, Carriage Bags, Purses, Porte-Monnaie or Note Case, Embroidered Aprons, Toilet (Pin) Cushions, Reticules
Bibliography (see also individual citations)

Beadle's Dime Book of Practical Etiquette. New York, 1859. Available here.
de Chatelaine, Clara. Bridal Etiquette. London, 1856. Available here.
Etiquette: Social Ethics and the Courtesies of Society. London, 1854. Available here.
Hartley, Cecil B. The Gentlemen's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness. London, 1860. Available here.
Leslie, Eliza. The Behavior Book. Philadelphia, 1853. Available here.
The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. London, 1852. Available here.
Thornwell, Emily. The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility. New York, 1856. Available here.
Willis, Henry. Etiquette and the Usages of  Society. New York, 1860. Available here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Wedding Clothes Research, 1857

Picture of Queen Victoria in her wedding dress (1841) from the Victoria and Albert Museum
Queen Victoria's Bridal Gown, 1841
The queen is credited with
popularizing white wedding dresses.
Fort Nisqually's Candlelight Tour will be portraying 1857 this year, which means the fine folks at the Factor's House will be celebrating the October 21 wedding of Miss Letitia Work and Mr. Edward Huggins.

We know a bit about the event itself--notably that it was celebrated in the home of Dr. & Mrs. Tolmie at HBC's Fort Nisqually, and that the guests included Miss Work's family and friends from Fort Victoria, as well as a large party of Americans from Fort Steilacoom and Steilacoom City. There was fiddle music, and at one point, gate crashers were ejected from the party--also, the American gents apparently enjoyed the "fine wine and liquors" enough for it be remembered 50 years later.  Additionally, Mr. Prosch of the Steilacoom Herald thought that the cake was delicious.  Most details of the proceedings and material culture did not merit recording, however, so there's a few things we need to fill in for ourselves.

My main concern is dressing the bride.

The People
Letitia Work, or Wark, the third daughter of HBC Chief Factor John Work and his metisse wife Josette Legace Work, is 25 years old in 1857.  She has two older sisters (both married to high-ranking Hudson's Bay officers) and four younger sisters, as well as 3 younger brothers. The Work family traveled in the Snake River Brigade during Letitia's infancy, and her childhood was mostly spent at Fort Simpson, a HBC outpost in the far north.  She attended some school at Fort Victoria, and the Works moved there in the late 1840s; Letitia's older sisters married within a few months of each other in 1849-50.

Among the few possessions of Letitia's which have come down to us are a sewing box and certificate which she received in school (accolades for her neat sewing and for assisting the other students), and the sewing machine she acquired in 1862.  We know that she spoke "four or five" Native dialects, had traveled Puget Sound by canoe, and was once chased by a bear.  A grand-daughter remembered her liking the color purple and trimming her hats with pansies.  Though apparently blond in youth, a photograph of Letitia c. 1860 shows a dark-haired woman with an oval face. She has her hair dressed simply and wear a fine, not overly-decorated, dress which may be silk and photographs dark.  During the 1850s, she spent a great deal of time at Fort Nisqually, staying with her sister Jane (wife of Chief Trader, later Chief Factor, W. F. Tolmie) and caring for the Tolmie children.

The groom, Edward Huggins, is a clerk at HBC Fort Nisqually. He's also 25 years old, originally from London, and has been on the Pacific Coast for the last 7 years.  Later in life, he'll operate a ranch, become involved in local politics, help found the Washington Historical Society, and write many letters.

The Clothes
La Mode, October 1856
"We confess we do not like to see a young lady especially go to the altar in any but a white dress. If a widow likes to wear a coloured silk, let her do so by all means... and if those of limited means prefer, like the Vicar of Wakefield's wife, to choose their dress for its solidity rather than its beauty, we can but respect their economical motives..." 
--Clara de Chatelaine's Bridal Ettiquette, 1856
From her family's position, Letitia can certainly afford a new dress--likely, a very nice one. Considering the state of society (and roads!) in the region, an all-white silk dress would likely get little practical use after the wedding.  In fact, she'll spend her first years of married life at a farm called "Muck Station" (once a 'decent house' is ready for her), some ten road-less miles from sister Jane's lovely home, and bit more than that from the nearest town. So, instead of white, I imagining her selecting a nice fabric in a favorite color, and making it up as a fashionable dress--perhaps trimmed with orange blossoms for the wedding itself, and thereafter worn as "best".
1857 white basque wedding dress with tiered skirt, from the VAM
Wedding Dress, 1857
The basque bodice, tiered skirt, fringe trim, and open sleeves are all very fashionable for fine 1857 daywear.  
White is prevalent, but colorful wedding dresses also appear in museum collections before during and after this time.
Headgear for brides takes two major forms in the 1850s: floral-crowned veils worn over dressed hair, or nice fashion bonnets, typically white, and with a white bonnet veil.  In either case, orange blossoms are ubiquitous, but other white flowers such as jasmine or white roses may also be used.
As with white dresses, the fashion and advice books steer young women away from bonnets.

When worn alone, the veils could be quite large.  The examples from the Victoria & Albert Museum, for instance, include several square veils of lace or lace-edged net which are over 2 yards per side (the smallest one seems to be about 43" x 54").
19th century Honiton lace wedding veil, Victoria and Albert Museum
Wedding veil, mid-19th century, from The VAM
English bobbin (Honiton) lace on machine-made net.
Bonnet veils tend to run much smaller, though not necessarily.  The bride in George Elgar Hicks's 1862 painting Changing Homes, appears to be wearing a bonnet with a very long veil:

Detail of bride and groom from G.E. Hicks's "Changing Homes" (1862)
Detail from Changing Homes, 1862
1846 Wedding veil, from the Met
Wedding veil, 1846
Bonnets appear to follow the fashionable lines.  The surviving ones which are labelled as "wedding bonnets" are not necessarily white, though depictions of wedding tend to favor that color. 
1849 wedding bonnet, from the Met
A wedding bonnet c. 1849
For this event, the bride will be wearing a veil and white flowers rather than a bonnet--if for no other reason, the wedding it taking place in a private residence, where bonnets would be removed. As Madame de Chatleaine writes: "It is obvious, however, that those who are married at home, by a special license, cannot wear a bonnet."

Favors could be given out to the guests to mark the occasion:
Wedding favors, 1854, in the Victoria and Albert Museum
Wedding favor, cloth orange blossoms with silk ribbon, 1854
[Images of period garments and artifacts are from the VAM and Met online collections.]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

1850s Print Dress

Here's another dress for the Nisqually volunteer wardrobe.  Draped to fit bodice, self-drafted bishop sleeve, gauged skirt; material is a reproduction cotton print.

Coral striped dress for 1850s with bishop sleeves.

Gauged skirt and gathered bodice for 1850s cotton print dress.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Green Wool Skirt, 1850s/60s

Still working away at several large projects, but I did finally finish the sage green wool skirt.  It's intended for use with a contrasting basque bodice (for fashionable late 1850s wear) or a with a white waist and silk belt (for fashionable early 1860s wear).  The skirt is knife-pleated--box pleats at center front and back--and has black wool tape applied to the faced hem.

Green wool skirt with knife pleats, 1850s-1860s.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: How To Be A Victorian

Cover of "How to be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman

In addition to cooking delicious historic food, Elise also has excellent book recommendations: case in point, How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman.

[For those unacquainted with the author, Ms. Goodman is the domestic historian who appeared in the BBC's Victorian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy, and Edwardian Farm series. She knows rather a lot about late Victorian daily life.]

How to be a Victorian is a history book aimed at the general reading public; it uses the structure of a day (waking up, washing, dressing, eating breakfast, going to work...) to provide an overview of Victorian customs and institutions.  These take into account both the wide span of time involved, 1837-1901, and differences between classes.  For example, the mid-day meal of "supper" is handled differently between agricultural and industrial workers, which in turn contrasts with the lighter meal taken by white collar workers, or the fine luncheon of the upper classes.  The food available may change a little or a great deal over the course of the reign.

I found Ms. Goodman's writing style and tone to be very approachable; reading the book often feels like a conversation with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic friend rather than like a lecture.  Personal insights gleaned from living on a Victorian farm are also included: particularly in the hygiene sections, the author will explain a period practice and then describe her own experience with it.

My main complaint with this title is the lack of footnotes--while a list of references is included at the end, they are not matched up to particular sections, adding a layer of difficulty to one looking for primary sources on specific topics.  The structure of the book can also feel a little thin compared to the breadth of information presented; the leisure chapter, for instance, includes information on the development of modern sports, popular children's games, impact of legislation on workers' lives...  It's all very interesting and relevant, but pacing-wise feels like a long tangent.  Other chapters have similar wide-ranging coverage of topics, so the "day in the life" aspect ends up acting as a sort of umbrella for everything from education reform to food adulteration to the development of public swimming pools.

Ultimately, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in a broad overview of Victorian daily life and social history.  It's very readable, interesting, and informative.  The lack of footnotes make it somewhat difficult to recommend as a living history resource, but it's a great starting point for learning more about Victorian practices.  Those who focus on a narrow time frame of the 19th century may find the large span of years less helpful, but I think it offers useful context and discussion of changes within the period.

Stars: 5
Accuracy: High, relies on primary sources