Saturday, March 25, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of March 20, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The chef who cooked for Winston Churchill.
• In March 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John on the evacuation of Boston.
Aristotle's Masterpiece: what to expect when you're expecting, 17thc style.
• The first Texas-set novel was written by a Frenchman in 1819.
• The "Edinburgh Seven", the first women to study medicine and matriculate at a British university in 1869.
• How America smuggled its way to revolution.
• Two 19thc stables for the horses of millionaires are all that remain on a NYC block that was one lined with them.
Image: When you need something stronger: an 18thc flask.
Charles Byrne was an 18thc marvel at 7'7" whose dying wish was to rest in peace; scientists had other ideas.
• The black soldiers who biked 2,000 miles over mountains and out of American history.
• Who was Moses Hazen, and why didn't George Washington share his name with Congress?
• Searching for Connecticut "witch" Hannah Cranna.
• Victorian fat-shaming: harsh words on weight from the 19thc.
• Fortune telling through moles.
Image: Better to be a cow-banger than a fatuous pauper: unusual occupations from 1881 census.
• St Patrick's Confessio: a medieval autobiography.
• How 18thc crowds in Pennsylvania and New Jersey expressed their views through festivities and protests.
• A tale as old as time: earlier versions of the Beauty & the Beast story have the woman as the ugly one.
• After George Washington's death, his wife Martha moved to an upstairs bedroom under the eaves: explore it in this virtual tour.
• A guide to the Atheneums of New England.
Image: "Please accept this curl": poem and lock of hair from Craigleith Military Hospital, 1917.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Alexander Hamilton's Powdered Hair, c1796

Thursday, March 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

Yesterday I wrote here about how Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (the heroine of my new historical novel, I, ELIZA HAMILTON) followed the latest fashion for hedgehog-inspired hair, a style made popular by Marie Antoinette. Curled and frizzled, pomatumed and powdered, the hairstyle would have been the work of a skilled hairdresser, and probably taken considerable time to achieve, too.

For her husband Alexander Hamilton, that same powder and pomatum was a near-daily ritual. Today we look at portraits of the Founding Fathers and think the American Revolution was the work of a bunch of old men. This wasn't the case: many of the members of the Continental Congress were in their thirties, or even their twenties, and the soldiers fighting in the army were even younger. Even George Washington was only in his early forties when he became the Commander-in-Chief. However, many of the portraits of the Founders that we see today were painted when these men were much older and more venerable. In addition, many of them powdered their hair, which made them appear prematurely grey.

While many 18thc gentlemen wore wigs - signs of status as well as fashion - American military men often took their cue from Washington, who always wore his own hair instead of a wig. Washington's hair was naturally reddish-brown, but always hidden under a thick coat of pomatum and white powder, exactly as used by the ladies (more about powder and pomatum here.) But while the ladies were hoping for plenty of big-hair-volume, Washington expected his pomatum regimen to hold his hair neatly in place and out of the way, sleeked back from his forehead, clubbed, and bound in a queue at the nape of the neck with a black silk bow. He expected his officers to do the same, a show of military uniformity and neatness, and many of the men continued to wear a variation of the style long after the war was over and their military days done, or at least as long as they still had the hair for it.

Among these officers was Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Washington's most trusted aide-de-camp during the war and a bonafide hero in battle, Hamilton always enjoyed the display of a well-cut uniform, and was proud of retaining his military bearing throughout his life. By the 1790s, many American men had already abandoned wigs and the now-old-fashioned pomatum and powder except for the most formal occasions. Younger men were cutting their hair short, too. But Hamilton preferred to retain the smart military look of well-dressed hair from his days as a young man in the Continental Army, much the way some modern former soldiers continue to wear very short or shaved haircuts even after returning to civilian life.

Hamilton's hair was serious business, with payments to his barber listed in his cash books. His third son, James Alexander (who was born in 1788, making this recollection likely from the late 1790s, when Hamilton was working as an attorney in New York City), recalled his father's ritual with the barber:

"I recollect being in my father's office in New York when he was under the hands of his hair-dress[er] (which was his daily course). His back hair was long. It was plaited, clubbed up, and tied with a black ribbon. His front hair was pomatumed, powdered and combed up and back from his forehead."

The pastel drawing, above, was a portrait that the Hamilton family regarded as one of the best likenesses, showing his handsome profile and half-smile. It's also a splendid view of that well-dressed hair tied with the black ribbon. It appears to cut shorter and fuller in front, with the back long (I'm resisting mullet references.) I especially like how there's a dusting of hair powder on the collar of his black coat - once the sign of a well-groomed gentleman.

Fun fact: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette were all described by contemporaries as having various shades of red hair. Who knew, under all that powder?

Above: Alexander Hamilton by James Sharples, pastel on paper, c1796, New York Historical Society.

From Paris to New York City: Hedgehog Hair, c1785

Susan reporting,

It's a still-too-popular myth that early Americans were unfashionably plain and self-sufficient, wearing simply braided hair and clothes of homespun fabric. In this unrealistic vision of 18thc life, women not only tended the sheep, but spun the wool, wove the thread into fabric, and then cut and sewed all the clothes for their family.

Well, no. Very little fabric was produced at home, and nearly all of it was imported. People who lived along the coast were eager to follow the fashions of Paris and London, and the latest styles were imported along with fine woolens, silks, cottons, and linen. Even settlers and Native Americans living on the frontier traded for woolen cloth made in England. European visitors were surprised by how fashionable Americans were, and how the ladies in Philadelphia, Charleston, and New York followed the same trends as their sisters abroad.

These two portraits show how swiftly and thoroughly fashion came across the Atlantic. The portrait, left, of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France, was painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1785. The queen wears her hair in the latest style, a la hérisson, or the hedgehog, devised by her hairdresser Léonard-Alexis Autié. Monsieur Léonard (as he was known at court) cut the front of the queen's hair shorter, brushed it with a scented "hard" pomade made from beeswax, curled it on narrow rollers or with heated tongs, and frizzed it for extravagant volume. Unlike today, frizz was an 18thc lady's best friend, and the more, the better. Loose falling side curls towards the back soften the effect. Finally the entire hair is dusted with a starchy powder to whiten it. (See here, here, and here for more about 18thc hair powder and pomade.)

The queen not only favored this hairstyle, but found it was a good "support" for the oversized turbans, plumes, and poufs she liked to wear during this period. While white-powdered hair was beginning to fall from fashion - it disappeared for good with the French Revolution - the queen continued to powder her fair hair to an even whiter pallor, the better to show off her complexion in contrast.

Variations on the hedgehog style were popular throughout the 1780s. Many of the ladies in portraits by Thomas Gainsborough sport hedgehog-inspired hair, and the hairdressers of the recent movie The Duchess gave Kiera Knightley wigs with stupendous hedgehogs.

In 1787, the style was being worn in New York City, too. The second portrait, right, by American artist Ralph Earl, is of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of then-member of the Continental Congress Alexander Hamilton; she's also the heroine of my upcoming book I, ELIZA HAMILTON. The Hamiltons were a fashionable young couple in Federalist New York City and in Philadelphia, attending the theatre, balls, and dinners with equally fashionable friends, and would have been very aware of European styles in hair and dress.

In her portrait, Eliza has clearly followed the royal trend-setter. Some historians (male, and dismissive of fashion history) describe her as wearing a wig, but that's her own hair, frizzed and powdered into an elegant hedgehog. It's a surprisingly close copy of the queen's hair, down to the horizontal falling curls at the back, although Eliza chose a simpler headdress of fine linen or silk gauze instead of Marie-Antoinette's plumed turban.

That snowy white hair must have taken a considerable amount of powder to achieve, too, for beneath it Eliza's natural hair color was described as a very dark brown, almost black - you can see it showing through the powder. So much powder made a statement of affluence as well. Hair powder was considered a luxury good, and while flour could be substituted as a low-cost alternative in a pinch, the best powder was imported, a finely ground mixture of starch, bone, and orris root for scent. It's likely that Eliza wore her hair this heavily powdered only for special occasions, and by the time she sat for another portrait in the 1790s, she'd given it up, and is shown wearing her own dark hair. There is, however, a record of Eliza receiving a gift of hair powder in 1780 from Martha Washington - a thoughtful present from another 18thc lady who enjoyed a good powdering.

Above left: Marie Antoinette with a Rose by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lower right: Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Mrs. Alexander Hamilton by Ralph Earl, c1787, Museum of the City of New York.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Amazing Angle Lamp

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Loretta reports:

As well as going under the Mound House of Estero Island, I entered the house itself, which has been lovingly restored to one of its earlier incarnations. Indoors included an immense bathroom (from a later period), which holds some fascinating exhibits for both children and adults.

But what caught my Nerdy History Girl attention was the lamp in the restored living room. A guide told me it’s an Angle Lamp, and showed me an old advertisement for it. Turns out this was a well-known type of kerosene lamp, which was around for quite a long time, and whose advertisements appeared in numerous periodicals.

Many of us tend to assume that, as soon as a new lighting invention came along, the old ones went away. But of course not. Just as today, we don’t always have the latest model refrigerator, people in the past, for the most part, kept their stuff until it didn’t work anymore and couldn’t be fixed. I exclude, naturally, the people who always have to have the latest thing, because they were around too, needing the most up-to-date caves, I’ll bet.
Angle Lamp 1907 ad

With lighting, it’s not necessarily a matter of making things last, though this is part of the story. People continued to use older types of lighting because the newfangled inventions were either suspect, e.g., for safety reasons, or simply for practical reasons. Thus gas began lighting the streets of London long before it lit private houses. In between, it blew up some buildings. Electric utilities came into being in the early 1880s, but it was a while before they became ubiquitous. And it was another while before many people deemed electric light safe, healthy, and/or not hideous.

You can read more ads and some fascinating claims (e.g., white light causes blindness!) via these links
The Mayflower, Volume 20, Issues 10-12 1904
 
The Medical Brief 1899

Watson’s magazine Vol 6 (1906)

Floral Life Vol 5-6 (1907)
—and many more by simply Googling "Angle Lamp"

Advertisement Image
American Monthly Review of Reviews Vol 36 (1907)

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, March 19, 2017

A Parade of Potential Nursemaids, 1827

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Susan reporting,

I recently spotted this amusing illustration on the Instagram account of Patrick Baty, an expert on the history of paint and colors (and a good friend of this blog), and he has graciously permitted me to share it with you here. It hasn't appeared anywhere else, because it's from his family papers, a drawing done by one of his ancestors to amuse the rest of the family. As always, click on the image to enlarge it.

The illustration is entitled Preparations for the Grand Review December 1827. Patrick describes it as a "piece of family satire. Drawn as a result of a letter from my 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Susanna Graham, from Hove to the housekeeper at their London house. 'Get as many nurses as you can collect against our coming up' [was the order.] As Madame la Générale, she orders: 'Fall back there - eyes right.'"

To explain a bit more: moving a large family from one house in the country to another in London must have been a considerable challenge for Mrs. Graham in 1827. Here she stands, sword in hand and a feathered turban on her head, reviewing the possible nurses that have been gathered. Another lady (whose name I can't make out, but who is wearing an equally formidable hat) beats the drum and says "Rub a dub, rub a dub, who'll enlist?"

The nurses are a mixed assortment of women, wearing equally assorted attire. The caption in the upper left gives them each a brief statement, ranging from "I have a sweet voice & good lungs" to "I speak grammatically." Most poignant is the statement of the elderly woman who's first in line: "I have lived 50 years in my last place."

Whichever of the nurses is finally hired (perhaps all!), it's clear that there will be certain strict standards to maintain. The family carriage is fast approaching in the background, filled with heads that likely belong to the children, and flying a standard that proclaims "Perfection or death." I feel sorry for those nurses. . . .

Many thanks to Patrick Baty. His new book, The Anatomy of Color: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, will be published this July.
 
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