“Denim Revolutionaries:” The Women of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Politics of Dress

Recently, our “Cotton to Kevlar” class was treated with a visit from Tanisha Ford, an Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst whose research explores “fashion, performance, and women’s rights activism” (http://www.tanishacford.com/). Professor Ford  teaches a popular course on “Feminism(s) and Fashion,” and is at work on a book titled Liberated Threads: Black Women and the Politics of Adornment, which “uncovers how and why black women use beauty culture and fashion as a form of resistance and cultural-political expression”—so naturally we were eager to involve her in our course from the get-go.

Civil Rights March on Washington DC (August 28, 1963); photo: Warren K. Leffler. This photo shows marchers in their “Sunday best:” note the fabrics, accessories, and hairstyles.

In her visit to the class, she focused on the clothing and the politics of denim—and especially the bib overall—in the Civil Rights movement. To prepare for her visit, she asked students to 1) Peruse a photo album of images from the civil rights movement, paying particular attention to the role denim does and/or does not play in the visual archive of the movement; and 2) Come to class with a short piece of writing (about 500 words) that reflects upon your relationship with denim–from your encounter to the present. Be ready to share in class.

When we gathered for her presentation, she began by asking people to talk about their experiences with denim. She told us about a memorable moment in her own sartorial past when, once she had her first “real” job, she splurged on expensive jeans from Citizens of Humanity; it “felt like passage into adulthood,” she explained (and happily, the jeans “lived up to the hype.”) Students talked about their reaction to skinny jeans (both pro and con: one said, “I could sleep in a pair of jeggings!”), to participating in trends indirectly via thrift shop alterations. One of the men in the course reported avoiding jeans, which he finds too confining given roomier alternatives.

Professor Ford then walked us through a set of images that helped us grasp the importance of denim when it appeared among Civil Rights activists. We analyzed photos from the era, observing how “church” clothes – the skirts, shoes, pearls and pocketbooks visible in the image above – that had long served as symbols of middle-class black respectability (given that the Civil Rights movement grew out of black churches, this also makes perfect sense) now gave way to denim. And not just any denim, but especially the bib overall.

Charles Moore – Alabama Fire Department Aims High-Pressure Water Hoses at Civil Rights Demonstrators, Birmingham Protests, May 1963

I was mesmerized, in particular, to hear Professor Ford talk about the motivations behind this shift. Activists, radicalized by their experiences across the south, adopted overalls as a gesture of solidarity with the working men and women they encountered along the way. Also—and this struck me most powerfully—lightweight cottons and heeled shoes were simply impractical in the face of waterhoses and attack dogs, and dresses and skirts no asset given the fear of sexual assault.

Activists Dorie and Joyce Ladner in bib overalls. Click here for an oral history of their work in the movement.

Over time, as Professor Ford helped us see, activists “adapted to the realities of life in the movement,” and it’s a change that can be observed in their clothing. Pleated skirts and beauty-parlor hairstyles gave way to overalls and jeans, and in time, afros and dashikis. In the end, it was a superb example of how fashion and clothing history can illuminate topics well beyond the sartorial.


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Everything Old is New Again: Gibson Girls, Flappers and the “New Look”

We have been hurtling forward in time, and on timelines, in our course “From Cotton to Kevlar.” On Monday, as we reached the turn of the twentieth century, our syllabus read: Educate your Eye:  Browse Flickr Commons, Luna, ARTstor and UMass Special Collections. Come to class ready to present a timeline visualization (using Timeline.js – http://timeline.verite.co/) that demonstrates the changing shape of women’s (or men’s) fashion–at least 30 images total–from the 1890s through the 1920s and 1950s.”

The aims of the assignment was threefold. We hoped 1) to help students gain some experience using robust online collections of visual sources (URLs we hope they return to in their college careers); 2) to see for themselves the great transformations that women’s clothing underwent in these decades, and 3) to help them gain familiarity with timeline.js, a terrific tool that we hope each team will employ in their exhibits.

Both within and across the timeslines that students brought to class, we could see the shape of change, and also the way that the database or resource on which a student chose to focus shaped the result.  A student who worked principally in Artstor, for instance, tracked more extreme changes than another student whose timeline was grounded in Flickr photos of everyday Americans going about their daily business. Another student incorporated several ads into her timeline, providing insight into how ideas about “what’s next” or “what’s now” were disseminated.  In class, the timelines supported a discussion of the evolution of silhouette, and what shifting focus—that is, the rising and falling emphasis—on busts, legs, hips and shoulders told us about the ever-evolving place of women in American life in the decades that flanked the advent of women’s suffrage.  The effect of wartime and post-war exigencies surfaced, as did the changing construction of “femininity.”

Most students reported a fairly steep learning curve as they worked to master the software, but the results were worth it.  We’ll look forward to seeing how these skills and insights inform the work yet to come.

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Fashion Shoot (A Hands-On Tutorial of Digital Imaging Tools)

Cotton, linen and viscose top, under the USB microscope

Our most recent class meeting of “From Cotton to Kevlar” was one of experimentation and play.  Jon asked us to read Chapter 3 of Rosenzweig & Cohen’s book Digital History, to inform a discussion of the pros and cons of making things digital.  After looking at digital versions of Ackermann’s Repository (a resource for the team projects), the jaw-dropping work of the Berliner Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK) to reconstitute the Stasi archive, the presentation of objects “in the round” by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and UMass’ own very-impressive effort to make George Washington’s handwriting searchable, we talked as a group about the power of search engines and the preservation and presentation aspects of digital access.  Students seemed especially alert to the ways that digitization facilitated the preservation of items that normally might be lost, and expanded the number of items that one could easily share. For instance, students noted that family photos are easily shared digitally: once we used to be limited to just our own photos, but now it’s easy to share images among family members.  In fact, most of the examples offered centered on family genealogy—suggesting that the findings of Dave Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Presence of the Past continue to hold true among this rising generation.

One thing we didn’t discuss, but that I was thinking about as we looked at websites like these (and others we explored, like London Lives), that present large caches of European primary sources, was the relationship between digital archives and our collective carbon footprint, as online collections transform relationships between research and travel.  There are other related implications here as well; as my colleague Jon noted, these sites also allow people with more limited financial resources to engage in archival research.

Up close and personal image of a knitted scarf

But then we turned to the inevitable highlight of the afternoon: the toys.  Jon showed us Gigipan views of President Obama’s first inaguration and insect specimens at the North Carolina State University Insect Museum presented by National Geographic.  On the syllabus, Jon had asked us to “bring your favorite piece of clothing that you would like to digitize. This might be a piece of clothing from your own wardrobe, your grandmother’s, or something you picked up at a thrift shop.”  Out of bags and backpacks came T-shirts, tops, hats, caps and shoes.  One student modeled a vintage coat that she’d word in a theatrical production, which Jon photographed using a Gigapan and a Canon G10 camera.  Most fun for me was the USB microscope.  One student produced a colorful top made of cotton, linen and viscose; under the microscope, the fabric was transformed into a beautiful grid, stunning in its perfect regularity—quickly contrasted by another woman’s knitted scarf, which under the microscope became a rugged terrain of gray and white fiber.

We also played around with the smartphone application “123D Catch” by Autodesk, the makers of “AutoCAD.”  Two students who had brought objects that lent itself to this tool—a gladiator sandal and a fedora—photographed their objects from several angles and watched as the software created a 3-D image.

Both the microscope and 123D Catch have a good bit of “wow factor.”  How might we use them in the exhibits to come?  Next week we will form teams and assign topics: can’t wait to see what’s next!

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Clothes Shopping Meets the Museum (An Introduction to Online Exhibits)

This week in our course “From Cotton to Kevalr,” Jon Olsen introduced us to basic concepts in design for web exhibits. First we read Paula Petrik’s discussion of the “Top Ten Mistakes in Academic Web Design,” which drew our collective attention to the selection, size and format of graphics and images; the size, density, length and contrast of text; and other matters where technology meets content. Then we turned to an assessment of several online examples.

Jon invited us to look at four examples of web exhibits, to guide our conversation: The Canadian War Museum’s exhibition on the War of 1812; Clark Remix, a project of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; “Inventing Europe,” a “pioneering collaboration between historians and cultural heritage institutions throughout Europe”; and “U.S.-Dakota War of 1862,” an online project of the Minnesota Historical Society in observance of the conflict’s sesquicentennial. In addition, students were asked to “come to class ready to present shortly on your own favorite shopping website (not Amazon). Focus on why you like how the site functions.”

In class, four teams of students huddled around their respective laptops, looking at one of the four sites and comparing notes about what worked for them and what didn’t. When we reconvened, each team reported their observations. What did they like in terms of the site’s organization and navigation? What did they notice about relationships between content and format? Of the sites reviewed, “Inventing Europe” seemed to hold the most appeal. Students appreciated its straightforward style and organization. Clark Remix offered impressive bells and whistles, but the need to download new software to participate in the site was off-putting to some; others found the interactives offered on the War of 1812 site to be either too juvenile to engage college students or confusing, like “quizzes” that preceded rather than followed the sharing of content. In its easy-to-navigate format and brief (ca. 200-word) texts, “Inventing Europe” proved the easiest to understand, and hence the most appealing.

When the conversation turned to websites that students engaged with as literal rather than fictive consumers, a handful were named as models of design: Etsy, Rent the Runway, and American Apparel all received mentions. Praise for Rent the Runway centered on the ability to zoom in on the garment to see the fabrics involved, and the presence of images from all sides, to see how a garment hangs on the body. Etsy offers not only appealing content presented in a visually appealing way; it also “curates” (if we can use a verb in a way that has become controversial) the goods on display via the gatherings of “handpicked items” selected by members. The student who mentioned American Apparel directed our attention to the photography and the models, who seemed to look more familiar than many high fashion models. Jon suggested we consider J. Peterman, which on its catalog and site (famously) presents narratives that put the objects on display in imagined contexts. He also showed us the Google Art Project to demonstrate the power of Gigapixel images (something we will hopefully be able to try out in class soon as well).

And so, just as last week we began educating our eyes in terms of the chronology of clothing design, this week we began educating our eyes in terms of web exhibition, and particularly the way users engage objects in online settings. I for one have started paying more attention to the ways that exhibition design could learn from commercial enterprises. The discussion reminded me of a powerful conference paper delivered several years ago by the always-thoughtful Steven Lubar (Director of the Public Humanities program at Brown University), where he noted that museum visitors sometimes seem more engaged with objects in the museum gift shop than they do objects in the galleries, prompting some collective musing about what it is that curators need to learn from that end of the museum enterprise. How can we get visitors to look at the collections with equal care and attention? Jon’s set of exercises helped us think about what it is that we appreciate when buying clothing that might translate to good design in the study of clothing – a fruitful line of inquiry for the weeks to come.

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What did the pilgrims wear? Not just black and white!

This past Monday, Marla Miller led our freshmen seminar at UMass on Historic Dress. The topic for the day was Puritan fashion and we asked the students to prepare for our discussion by reading a chapter by Lynne Bassett titled “The Sober People of Hadley,”[1] on what people wore in and around our neighborhood in the 17th century.

Our first reality check with the students was they were not entirely aware that Hadley is located just one town over from Amherst. However, their impressions from the readings along with Marla’s short lecture allowed us to delve into the socio-economic and cultural reasons behind why most Americans perceive Puritan dress as only comprised of black and white.

Students pointed to the role that class played in determining the type, quality, and quantity of clothing owned by various members of the Hadley community. However, they were puzzled to learn that the differences between the wealthiest and poorest members of society were not as great as they had imagined. Marla pointed out that Hadley was the edge of the British Empire and one did not want to alienate some members of society, since all were needed to band together. Wealthier members of society needed to get along with their less privileged neighbors. However, a culture of modesty was also imposed upon the townspeople and this too could have contributed to the compression of clothing styles.

Pilgrim Barbie (Photo: ialakaren@flickr.com)

We ended the class with a brief presentation by Marla that took many of the themes we had discussed and related them to the larger historical context in which the Puritans lived. She also traced the concept that Puritans only wore black to cultural representations in film and literature (from The Scarlet Letter to Pilgrim Barbie) that created the stereotypical concept many of us have of the Pilgrim dressed in black with a black hat with a buckle on it (the logo of the Massachusetts Turnpike even today). However, as Marla pointed out, the Puritans actually wore a variety of colors. Black was very expensive and was worn by the wealthier members of society, yet, those who could afford a painting of themselves were also members of the colony’s wealthiest families; when they had their portraits painted, they tended to wear their most expensive clothes.

In reality, the 17th century was full of color. There were pops of color through accessories and trim. There are even a few examples of colorful dresses that survive. The most exquisite of them include very ornate patterns, which again could have only been afforded by the wealthiest. Nonetheless, we can extrapolate that even in lower levels of society color played a role in their fashion choices. Dyed fabrics were common and outfits were constructed by layering several different color combinations.

The class is off to a great start and we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of museum web design next week.


[1] Lynne Basset, “The Sober People of Hadley: A Study of Clothing in the Probate Inventories of Hadley, Massachusetts, 1663-1731,” in Marla Miller, ed., Cultivating a Past: Essays on the History of Hadley Massachusetts (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2009).

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She made costume design really fascinating!

My colleague Kiki Smith is a wonder woman and it’s great to see her recognized. Check out this month’s Smith Alumnae Quarterly to see why. First, Kiki has put together an impressive symposium on Narratives of Women’s Dress Symposium, taking place on Nov. 1 and 2nd. But really, the essence of Kiki can be found in a snippet on page 27. Hotel architect Tobin Schermerhorn (’80) cites Kiki as her most influential professor at Smith. Tobin notes, “She made costume design really fascinating, relating it back to history and politics. I spent every waking hour in the costume shop.”

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Off and running: the semester begins

I am writing these words wearing an iconic piece of clothing. But I didn’t understand just how iconic until yesterday, at the first class meeting of our freshman seminar “From Cotton to Kevlar: Historic Dress meets Digital Humanities.”

A photograph of black yoga pants, shown from the waist down.

The ubiquitous yoga pants.

The course, as another post here explains, aims to introduce students to—and get them excited about—the scholarly opportunities of historic dress as they learn some of the ways digital humanities tools can help them study clothing from the past, and share their insights. As an icebreaker exercise, my colleague Jon Olsen and I asked students to write down an article of contemporary apparel that future historians will need to study in order to understand the world of early 21st-century UMass undergraduates. The black yoga pant won hands down on the “most-mentions” front.

What else should museums be collecting to document this moment? Answers included rompers, North Face jackets, skinny jeans, T-shirts, sweats and (sadly, to my mind, though accurate) combat boots. Surprisingly, no one mentioned baseball caps, platform shoes, Uggs or some of the other ubiquitous and/or of-the-moment items that we see around Herter Hall every day.

It was a revealing glimpse into the sartorial landscape of the campus–and a great start to the semester. After a brisk review of the syllabus and course expectations, we then plunged into the real treat for the day: Kiki Smith had brought over three boxes of highlights from the Smith College costume collection. Among other things we got to see Annette Kellerman’s one-piece wool bathing suit (“banned in Boston” at the dawn of the 20th century), the very collars that gave us “white collar” workers, women’s gowns both elegant and practical, a 1960s Pucci dress alongside its more approachable department-store counterpart, and a 1930s man’s robe best described as “early Abercrombie”.

A photograph of Kiki Smith standing at a table showing some historic costume objects, with Marla Miller behind her, and students seated all around.

Kiki Smith shares some objects from the Smith College costume collection with the UMass freshman seminar “From Cotton to Kevlar: Historic Dress meets Digital Humanities.”

In another UMass classroom this semester, students in Professor Tanisha Ford’s course Feminism(s) and Fashion in the African Diaspora?will be journaling about the clothes they choose to wear and the ways those choices are read by others around them—a great idea for connecting students to everyday clothing and their many implications. Professor Ford will be visiting us later in the semester, to share her research on black women’s history, fashion and body politics, and the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Among the many aims of both of these courses is helping our students become more aware of the many, varied and braided histories they step into when they reach into the closet each morning.

I have four pairs of black yoga pants, so I could easily donate one to this curatorial cause. As I slipped out of my own first-day-of-class ensemble (vintage ankle-length black and white polyester skirt, black cotton and modal t-shirt, white slap watch, black Naot “Peace” sandals) into my black yoga pants, I took a moment to appreciate their current status as a go-to item for women of all generations (I know this because my 72-year-old mother has four pairs as well). And I paused a moment too for another thought: this is going to be a fun semester.

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From Cotton to Kevlar: Fashion History Meets Digital Humanities

Historic Dress co-conspirator Jon Berndt Olsen and I have just got some terrific news.  In September, in connection with this larger Historic Dress project, we have been given a green light to offer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst a new First-Year seminar, “From Cotton to Kevlar: Fashion History meets Digital Humanities.” Our aim is to try out some ideas that animate Historic Dress while also introducing students to digital approaches to humanities research and interpretation.

The course is part of a larger program at UMass that gives new students an opportunity to work closely with faculty members on subjects they are especially passionate about.  Teaching this course seemed a great way to continue to explore, in collaboration with undergraduates, the material and archival resources associated with fashion history in the Five Colleges area while also continuing to build content for this online-resource-in-the-making.

In our course proposal, we wrote: “Clothing from any time and any place is a historical document: it sheds light on values, technologies, aesthetics, gender and class expectations, politics and economics associated with past cultures. From the boycotts of the American Revolution to the cotton market during the American Civil War to the 20th-century development of high-performing fabrics like rayon and Kevlar, fashion history is inextricably entwined with larger developments in our history. Today, digital tools are helping scholars from a range of disciplines research and write about clothing and fashion history. Students in this course will expand their knowledge of and competencies with digital tools like high resolution imaging, database management and Internet publishing as they read and write the history of American apparel.” Students in the course will read and think about fashion history while also creating new online content, probably in the form of an exhibition or exhibitions based on their own independent research in campus and local collections.

A specialist in Public History and New Media, Jon Olsen will tackle the DH elements, in alternating weeks devoted to topics like “Clothes Shopping Meets the Museum (Introduction to Online Exhibits);” “Fashion Shoot (A Hands-On Tutorial of Digital Imaging Tools);” Tailoring Your Vision (Project Planning and Implementation); Cutting and Sewing (Online Exhibit Building); and Advanced Cutting and Sewing (More Online Exhibit Building) – watch this space for another blog post on our aims there.  We’re hoping to schedule the courses in a new Team-Based Learning facility on campus (classrooms with large, round tables, each with three built-in laptops, and large wall-mounted monitors all around the room) to facilitate looking and learning collaboratively.

Meanwhile, I will help students see how fashion history is inextricably entwined with larger developments in American history.  I am eager to show them the wool suit George Washington wore to his first inauguration—a gesture to American manufacturing independence—as a way into discussions of political consumption in the Revolutionary era; the ties between their own wardrobes and U.S. trade policies, the history of domestic textile and clothing production, and the recent tragedy in Bangladesh will (if all goes well) become clearer to this group of UMass first-year students.  Global networks of production and consumption will emerge as students map the clothing in their dorm room closets. The larger histories behind Nylon, Rayon, Kevlar (I would love to find ways to link this discussion to our campus’ incredible Polymer Science programs) will illuminate the braided relationships between industrial innovation and fabric production. And I have already asked our colleague Tanisha Ford to share her work on “Denim Revolutionaries: SNCC Women and the Politics of Dress;” I would love, too, to assign the new (and prizewinning) book by our former colleague Kathy Peiss, Zoot Suit: The Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style.  All of this will be great preparation, too, for the larger survey course I hope to some day develop, tentatively titled American History/American Fashion.

We have much still to work out about the syllabus and assignments, but there are many ideas in play. Students might study and scan the run of Ackermann’s Repository of Arts in the library’s Special Collections. They might study images of students and faculty, analyzing the sartorial history of UMass in its first half century.  They might help document as-yet-uncatalogued costume collections in our area.  The options are wide open.

I will be planning the course over the summer.  Any thoughts on what to assign?  Already I have too many ideas for readings I’d love to share, but need to pick ones that will work well with first-year college students. If you have had success with something, please share!

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A Conference Presentation about HistoricDress.org

Over our spring break, Marla Miller, Arden Kirkland and I met at Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia for the conference entitled Women’s History in the Digital World.  Marla had set up a panel to present three initiatives that work to share and cultivate research and research skills (among undergraduates, professionals and avocational scholars) on American women’s clothing. 

First to present was Astrida Schaeffer who is the lead organizer of the New Hampshire Historic Dress project.  This is an initiative sponsored through the University Museum at the University of New Hampshire, seeking to create an online searchable database and visual record of all historic clothing holdings in the state of New Hampshire.  She plans to include the many historic societies and small museums to allow virtual access by researchers to collections.  She is working on the first phase to create the database.  Next she will provide participating institutions with access to collections care assistance, information, mini-grant opportunities, volunteer training, workshops and more.  All her aims and work so far seem closely connected with those of this site.

Next, Arden spoke about an online exhibit she produced working with students at Vassar College where she works: “Fashioning an Education: 150 Years of Vassar Students and What They Wore”.  As she said, projects like this one are made possible by ten years of effort to provide digital access to the Vassar College Drama Department’s research collection of historic clothing.  She has worked with various formats (currently Omeka) with little funding or technical support.  She included detailed data and images with photographs, letters, articles and illustrations, photographed garments inside and out, and made videos and animated views which the viewer can rotate.  She highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the study of dress; the historians and librarians in the audience (which was packed into a tiny room) all agreed. You can read more about Arden’s presentation, and her thoughts on the entire conference, on her blog.

I spoke third about this project, hoping to stimulate feedback, interest and potential collaborators.  And stimulated they were.

We heard from Gayle Strege, an old friend who is the Director/Curator of the Ohio State University Collection and who has received a substantial grant to build a digital site of photographs of that extensive collection.

Patricia Keller of the University of Delaware was there and gave her support.  She is the Digital Collections Curator for the Sampler Archive Project and had made a great presentation that morning (also representing Lynne Anderson, the Project Director, who at the last minute couldn’t attend the conference).  She had worked on the development of the Quilt Index site.

There were representatives from the Litchfield Historical Society and the Connecticut Historical Society.  They were especially interested and I plan to incorporate them into the project asap. One archivist was appalled that all this rich material wasn’t already available. 

Despite digital glitches (no connections with the projector/screen which is pretty ironic for a conference on digital history), the presentation was a great success.  And we also had the benefit of many other presentations, some more useful than others, but all interesting.

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Lost in the folds of a shawl

Part of my job as a costume consultant for this project is to review the metadata for each item and make sure that the title, description and date are as accurate as I know how to make them. A week ago I sat down at my desk with the best of intentions, determined to work through a great pile of images and get them all done. Unfortunately, I had reached only the third one when I was led wildly astray.

The shawl that proved my undoing is a long and narrow stole-like garment, about 13” wide by 78” long that is preserved in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. The ends are patterned with five rows of “botehs,” the floral tear-drop shape we now commonly call “paisleys.” This shawl was made in Europe between about 1805 and 1825 to imitate the designs of shawls made in India and Kashmir, which were highly fashionable in the early 19th century.

What makes this shawl particularly interesting is that with its black ground and gray botehs it was probably designed to be worn by someone in mourning. Not that all black shawls are mourning shawls—a black ground can simply be a fashion color against which the brightly-woven borders stand out in strong contrast. But in this case, the patterned ends are not highly-colored. The little squat botehs are carried out only in shades of gray, one slightly pinkish and another slightly bluish, but all basically gray.

The donor’s name was given in the museum records as a Dr. Hardy Phippen. We know the approximate date of the shawl, and we are almost certain it is a mourning shawl, and therefore it is probably associated with a family death. With those clues, could I possibly trace his family back to a plausible owner?

And that is how I got hooked.

Many hours later, the better part of the day lost in a trance of internet research, I had an answer. Of course I cannot be sure it is the truth, but it is plausible, and it goes like this.
As anyone who works in a museum costume collection knows, most garments descend through a maternal line. Clothing and needlework were often the best ways to remember mothers and grandmothers who may have left little other record. Indeed, our museum costume and textile collections are the record of America women for periods when the men dominated the public sphere. So I was prepared to look back from mother to grandmother to great-grandmother.

The donor of the shawl, Dr. Hardy Phippen, was from a Salem family. He was born in 1862 and never married, so there was no wife to be traced. That meant I had only one or two generations left to investigate.

Thanks to the resources now on the internet, I found that Dr. Hardy’s father was Joshua Phippen (1812-1890). Joshua had two wives, Betsey Barr Holman and Eunice Louise Daniels. Neither of these women were old enough to have worn the shawl but their mothers might have been.

Betsey Barr Holman’s mother was also named Betsey Barr. This earlier Betsey was born in 1786, married Jonathan Holman in 1815 and died in 1827. The Essex Institute has a rare early Kashmir shawl marked “Betsey Barr Salem” that must have belonged to this Betsey, so it is quite possible that she also owned the mourning shawl. However, I have not as yet found a family death in the period I believe is most likely based on the style of the shawl (1815-1820).

After Betsey Holman Phippen died in 1856, her husband married Eunice Louis Daniels, who in 1862 became the mother of the shawl’s donor. Eunice herself was born too late to wear this shawl, and her family was from S Danvers and before that from Maine. I was not successful in tracing Eunice Daniels’ line, but the more tenuous connection with Salem makes it seem somewhat less likely, especially in light of other information about the Phippens.

Joshua of the two wives (Betsey and Eunice) had a brother, George Dean Phippen, who was the first librarian and last surviving founding member of the Essex Institute, which later merged with the Peabody Museum to become the Peabody Essex Museum. This suggests a strong family connection on the Phippen side with the receiving museum, and makes it very likely that Phippen family items would be given there.

So I moved on to the next earlier generation.

The father of Joshua and George Dean Phippen was Hardy Phippen, a sea captain (1778-1868). Captain Phippen was a man of standing in Salem, being the master and/or part owner of several vessels trading out of Salem, and at one point Chief Inspector at the Customs House. He sailed with the father of Nathaniel Hawthorne and with Nathaniel Bowditch when Bowditch was preparing his great book of navigation. Captain Hardy Phippen’s wife was Ursula Symonds (1775-1859), and she is another strong candidate as owner of the mourning shawl.

The interesting fact about Captain Hardy and Ursula Symonds Phippen is that their parents were married to each other. Captain Hardy’s father (another Joshua) and Ursula Symonds’ mother (another Ursula) had both been widowed, and they married each other in 1801, bringing their grown children into a single family. Hardy and Ursula, brother and sister by virtue of their parents’ marriage, then married each other in 1804 bringing the Phippen and Symonds families together again in the second generation.

In December 1818, the elder Ursula Phippen died at the age of 70. It is quite plausible that her daughter and son-in-law would have bought a mourning shawl to mark the death of the woman who had been “mother” to both of them, and the date is perfect for the shawl.
Why this date is so persuasive will have to be the subject of another blog entry, since I have now wasted the better part of the afternoon writing this one (and just trying to sort out maybe one more detail), with the result that I have a hungry husband and that same pile of images to catalog before I sleep. I’ll add pictures as soon as I figure out how. Next week!

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