Archives for category: Textile

When thinking about the fashion of the women’s suffrage movement, people’s minds often naturally conjure images of women trading their long skirts for bloomers and vehemently casting aside their restrictive corsets. By this logic, one might easily dismiss the owner of this 1896 wedding dress as ambivalent, or even opposed, to suffrage and the sweeping changes to fashion associated with it. After all, the dress shows no evidence of the women’s clothing reform that began in the 19th century. Conforming to mainstream high fashion of the time, it has a high, stiff collar and would have been worn with a corset. Furthermore, the bride who wore it, Sarah Peters Hickok, was a homemaker and socialite from Oneonta, NY.[1] Yet, despite these facts, this dress is not sufficient grounds upon which to determine Sarah’s political position because suffragist dress and thoughts on the subject varied widely during the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

IMG_2701

Bodice and skirt, ca. 1896, patterned silk, satin, lace, H: 18 (bodice), 45 (skirt) x W: 22 in. (bodice waist). Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Hannah Hampe, N0041.1955a-b. Photograph by the author.

It is true that women’s rights activists had already donned bloomers by the mid-19th century. However, they soon largely returned to more traditional dress after realizing that the radical and shocking bloomers were actually more of a distraction than an asset in their fight for equality.[2] While bloomers reemerged by the time this wedding dress was made in the late 19th century, they were primarily used as bicycling outfits.[3]

Appropriate dress was a strategic and hotly debated topic among suffragists, dividing even those at the forefront of the movement. Some activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, equated the corsets and long skirts of contemporary female fashion with oppression, designed to keep women subservient. However, others followed the lead of Susan B. Anthony, who was stylish, aware of current fashion trends, and determined to maintain her femininity in dress.[4] Attempting to simultaneously challenge traditional ideas about both fashion and the right to vote was dangerous, with the former potentially jeopardizing the latter.

As in the U.S., suffragists in the U.K. also “married radical ideas with willfully conventional dress.”[5] Having observed the American bloomer debacle, British suffragist leader Lydia Becker took a conservative position on dress, advising women to “stick to your stays, ladies, and triumph over the other sex.”[6] Even Emmeline Pankhurst and the militant suffragists of the Women’s Political and Social Union, who were known for arson, window smashing, and picture slashing, exhibited elegance and refinement in their dress. Suffragists were advocating radical ideas and they had to choose their battles wisely: fashion or the ballot. Dressing in a conservative manner gave suffragists credibility and helped make the notion of women voting more palatable. It also prevented them from being seen as demanding too much change too quickly.[7]

So, was the owner of this wedding dress a suffragist? We may never know. However, what is certain is that the conservative and restrictive style of her dress does not preclude the possibility that she was. Indeed, suffragist Charlotte Hawkins Brown dressed very similar to Sarah Peters Hickok for her 1911 wedding. In short, one cannot judge a suffragist by her dress.

[1] “Delaware County News,” The Oneonta Star (Oneonta, NY), March 19, 1926, 7.

[2] Gayle V. Fischer, Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001), 104-107

[3] Ibid., 171-172.

[4] Jenny Cobb, “The Fashion of Suffrage: Women “Vote” with Their Clothes,” Bullock Museum, https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/suffrage-dress-shoes.

[5] Cally Blackman, “How the Suffragettes Used Fashion to Further the Cause,” The Guardian, Oct. 8, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/08/suffragette-style-movement-embraced-fashion-branding.

[6] Christine Bayles Kortsch, Dress Culture in Late Victorian Women’s Fiction: Literacy, Textiles, and Activism (New York: Routledge, 2016), 91-92.

[7] Ibid.

By Sarah Phillips

New York State’s centennial for women’s suffrage marks a worthy occasion to examine the period’s material culture and its connections to today. In the 1910s, the fight for women’s suffrage took a different form. Previously, most suffragists wrote letters and pamphlets and did speaking tours to publicize their arguments for women’s suffrage. Public protests did not become widespread until the 1910s. This yellow armband embodies the shift. Suffragists organized public protests and wore accessories to reflect their support for the movement, actions still practiced by protestors today.

votes for women

Women’s Suffrage armband, Felt, 1910-1920, Fenimore Art Museum, N0147.1945(01). Photograph by Michael Barone.

This armband, composed of yellow felt and black text, was a common design for the period. Its message is blunt: “VOTES FOR WOMEN.” Such armbands indicated to parade onlookers the event’s purpose, but also signaled to other suffragists that the wearer sympathized with the cause. This specific armband was hand cut from a larger piece of felt. It was probably part of a batch crafted for a large group of suffragists. Web searches unearth other similarly styled armbands, further suggesting its large-scale production.

votes for women 2

Women’s Suffrage armband, Felt, 1910-1920, Fenimore Art Museum, N0147.1945(01). Photograph by Michael Barone.

The American suffrage movement oft represented itself with two colors: purple and yellow. British suffragists popularized purple, which American suffragists later adopted. Yellow, however, was a purely American suffrage color, anchoring this armband in the American movement. Yellow became associated with women’s suffrage in 1867, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony attempted to pass women’s suffrage in Kansas. Suffragists started to use Kansas’s state symbol, a sunflower, to represent the movement, which led to yellow’s link to women’s suffrage. [1]

Today, protestors still wear clothing and accessories that coordinate with other protestors to emphasize solidarity. For example, after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, demonstrators wore hoodies, because Martin and his clothing choice had been negatively portrayed in the media. [2] In January, many women wore pink “pussyhats” to marches protesting President Trump’s inauguration. [3] Wearing these items created a sense of unity between protestors throughout the country.

However, these examples differ from the armband in a key way. The hoodies and “pussyhats” for the most part did not explicitly state the protest’s purpose. An onlooker would require background knowledge. If they were not familiar with Donald Trump’s leaked comments, or Trayvon Martin’s murder and its portrayal in the media, they would not understand the clothing’s meaning. A pink knit cap with ears or a hoodie would not seem out of place when worn by one person, but when thousands of people wear them, the message carries weight.

This armband, unlike the hoodies or “pussyhats,” explicitly states its message. An onlooker would not need to know that yellow represented the women’s suffrage movement in the United States to understand its wearer’s intent for wearing it, because it includes text. Today, the rise of social media and television allows the meaning behind protestor clothing choices to quickly disseminate. Sartorial expressions continue to be a powerful way for demonstrators to broadcast their unity and purpose.

By Erin Russell

[1] “Symbolic Suffrage Colors,” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed March 27, 2017. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/tour_02-02l.html.

[2] Linton Weeks, “Tragedy Gives The Hoodie A Whole New Meaning,” National Public Radio, March 24, 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/24/149245834/tragedy-gives-the-hoodie-a-whole-new-meaning.

[3] “’Pussyhat’ protestors headed to D.C. for post-inauguration rally,” Washington Post, January 17, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/pussyhat-protesters-headed-to-dc-for-post-inauguration-rally/2017/01/17/9fd3247c-dcf4-11e6-8902-610fe486791c_video.html.

By: Emily Q Welch

Family heirlooms are usually associated with things that carry great monetary value – a pair of earrings, a designer watch, or mahogany furniture to list a few examples. But in reality, the material culture that families cherish and maintain are sometimes only worth their weight in memories and emotion. Even things that at first glance seems unoriginal, such as once commonly made samplers, can hold a more compelling familial narrative than a priceless piece of jewelry. A prime example is the connection and history between two samplers within the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) collection that were passed down through the family before being donated.

PollyBentonSampler

Sampler, 1797, Polly (Mary) Benton Prout, Linen and Silk Thread, H: 7.25in. X W: 7.5in., New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Ms. Phoebe Prout Smith, N0411.1972. Photograph by Richard Walker.

Sampler making was a common aspect of a girl’s education so she could learn her letters and to sew at the same time. [1] Born in 1784, Polly (Mary) Benton Prout completed her sampler in Richmond, Massachusetts in 1797, as part of her education. She kept her sampler, which had likely taken her many hours of work, even after she married her husband Curtis Prout in October of 1810. As Polly and her husband started their family, which would eventually consist of them and seven children, her sampler was probably largely forgotten as she filled her role as wife and mother.

PhebeProutSampler

Sampler, 1827, Phebe Prout Barlow, Linen and Silk Thread, H: 11.25in. X W: 12.5in., New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Ms. Phoebe Prout Smith, N0412.1972. Photograph by Richard Walker.

But soon enough, her children would begin their own educations and in 1827 one of her daughters, Phebe Prout Barlow, completed a sampler herself in Windham, Connecticut.[2] One can only imagine the pride and nostalgia Polly likely felt at seeing her daughter’s completed work and remembering her own sampler. This may have even been the impetus for saving Phebe’s sampler along with Polly’s.

 
These two samplers, made 30 years apart by mother and daughter, in two separate towns in two separate states, were kept and passed down in the family as heirlooms. The surprisingly good condition they are in despite their age indicates that they were cherished and well cared for by the family. After all, these samplers represented a connection to the familial past, a connection to the family’s maternal predecessors, and offered a view of where the family had come from. Even after they were donated to NYSHA, we can see the pride the family had in its history as both were donated by Phoebe Prout Smith in 1972, a descendant of Polly and Phebe. Not only had the donor inherited a family name, but she inherited the samplers. Though her reasons for donating the samplers to the museum are unknown, we can safely say that they were cherished by the family to have survived nearly 150-200 years in the family’s care. By donating them to the museum, Phobe Prout Smith gave others a chance to not only have a better understanding of her family’s history, but also ensured that that history would be preserved.

[1] Lynne Anderson, Samplers International: A World of Needlework, 2nd edition (Eugene: Sampler Consortium, 2011): 9.

[2] Ancestry.com

By Julia Fell, ’17

In November of 1827, Elizabeth Phillips of Fishkill, New York, was 11 years old. Around this age, most girls in early American society completed a sampler. A sampler is a piece of fabric embroidered by a young girl in order to learn a variety of stitches, as well as to show off her skill with the needle.[1] Elizabeth’s sampler (N0024.1982) was a record of her educated upbringing in the early 19th century. This may not have been Elizabeth’s only sampler, as it does not contain any alphabets or number series, as many samplers do. This piece is entirely verse, which would show off her skills with the needle as equally as alphabets would, however for her own education, another sampler with the traditional sets of letters and numbers may have been completed. The fact that Elizabeth chose to complete a large piece of needlework, perhaps in supplement to another sampler, shows her desire to hone her skills.

sampler

Sampler, 1827, Elizabeth Phillips (1816-1902), linen, silk, H: 16.75in x W: 16.5in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Weber, N0024.1982. Photograph by Richard Walker.

The verse that Elizabeth embroidered is quite macabre, playing into a popular 19th century inclination for mourning rituals and a preoccupation with death. Her poem is rife with flower symbolism, another popular theme during the 19th century. Unfortunately, a severe split in the middle of the fabric as well as the wearing away of much of the thread on the bottom half prevents the whole poem from being read. It is clear, however, that 11 year old Elizabeth is already aware of the temporary nature of life, and warns the reader to live to his or her best ability, as even the young will perish, like roses or lilies “…whither when cold winds do blow.”

Elizabeth Phillips Storm

Elizabeth Phillips Storm, 1845, Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), oil on canvas, H: 33.625in x W: 28in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Weber, N0001.1983.

Aside from the fine craftsmanship and theme of the sampler itself, a portrait of Elizabeth, painted by the well-known artist Ammi Phillips[2] in 1845, is evidence of her education and her society’s somber traditions. Her bright white lace collar and black dress could be indications of mourning wear, black being the primary color appropriate for mourning during the Victorian period, and white being the only acceptable color for accessories during the early stages of the mourning process. Elizabeth is pictured leaning on several books, which is a sure indication of their importance in her life as a well-educated woman. She also holds a small leaf, which may be a Mulberry leaf. In Victorian flower language, Mulberry could be interpreted to mean “wisdom.”[3]

Elizabeth Phillips’ sampler, both for its content and theme, supplemented by visual cues from her portrait, is evidence of her education and as well as of her society’s preoccupation with death and mourning.

 

[1] Lynne Anderson, Samplers International: A World of Needlework, 2nd edition (Eugene: Sampler Consortium, 2011): 9.

[2] New York State Historical Association. “Elizabeth Phillips Storm (N0001.1983).” New York State Historical Association. Accessed April 5, 2016. SKIN Museum.

[3] Hooper, Lucy. The Lady’s Book of Flowers and Poetry to Which Are Added, a Botanical Introduction, a Complete Floral Dictionary, and a Chapter on Plants in Rooms. New York: J.C. Riker, 1842. 187-188

By Kate Webber, ’17

Sampler

Sampler, red & blue darning, n.d., linen, cotton, L: 15.75 x W: 13.75 in. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Donor: DeVere Card, N0020.1955. Photograph by Richard Walker.

In February, 1955, DeVere Card of Hamilton, N.Y. donated a darning sampler to the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). There is no record of why he brought it to NYSHA;  he may have had friends there, or thought the sampler had some connection to the Cooperstown-based organization. A decade earlier, he had donated some farming equipment and a cobbler’s knee vice. Fortunately, we do know something of Devere Card’s career and interests. The small act of donating a sampler tells us more about him, as Card’s life tells us more about the sampler.

The sampler in question is stitched with cotton threads on bleached linen, and is about the size of a tea towel. It is decorated with a three-by-three grouping of small, intricate rug-like designs in blue, red, and white. These miniature carpets are demonstrations of skill in darning—a sewing technique used to repair fabric or knitting.

Devere Card 2It is a “sampler” because this was likely a schoolgirl project; the sewer created samples of the different patterns and techniques she mastered.[1] Certain sections are created not by adding threads, but by artfully removing them—a technique called “cutwork” that creates a lacy effect. The result is both a practical learning tool and a visually pleasing piece to show with pride. This style was common to mid-state New York, and was likely made between 1800 and 1820.[2]

Devere Card 1DeVere Card’s possession of the sampler makes some sense—he was a “legendary American antiques dealer” from the 1920s until his death in 1980.[3] He was known both in the antiques field and among scholars, referenced in books noting his fine collections and his frequent expeditions to view New York State Dutch barns.[4] Card was considered the father of burl collectors, and published a catalog on the subject (a burl treen is a wooden bowl formed from a knotty growth on a tree)[5]. His name meant quality, and burl pieces that he had owned are still considered especially desirable.[6]

How does a schoolgirl’s graceful darning sampler fit into the picture of this antiques dealer who specialized in the solid, traditionally masculine artistic expressions of barns and wooden bowls? Card recognized good work when he saw it, regardless of the form it took. He specialized in functional objects that were nevertheless created with an aim for artistic beauty. In donating this darning sampler to an organization that would preserve it for the benefit of the public, he was perhaps recognizing the role of women’s work in both industry and art.

 

[1] Lynne Anderson.  Samplers International: A World of Needlework, 2nd edition (Eugene: Sampler Consortium, 2011).

[2] New York State Historical Association record of a survey by Rabbit Goody, Nov. 29, 2001.

[3] Steven S. Powers. North American Burl Treen: Colonial & Native American. Steve Powers, 2005. 8.

[4] John Fitchen and Gregory D. Huber. The New World Dutch Barn: The Evolution, Forms, and Structure of a Disappearing Icon. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001. Xvii

Stephen V. Grancsay. American Engraved Powder Horns: A Study Based on the J. H. Grenville Gilbert Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jan 1, 1946

[5] DeVere A. Card. “The use of burl in America.” Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1971.

[6] Powers, 8.

Photographs of DeVere Card: Powers, Steven S. North American Burl Treen.