Thursday, March 30, 2006

Victoria Woodhull for President!

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president, in 1872, almost 50 years before the nineteenth amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. How is that for a kick-ass heroine? She was also, in 1870 the first woman to testify before congress, and man, what a testimony that was! Instead of campaigning for an amendment, as most of the suffragists did, she declared that the United States constitution,
( as written by the framers already gave women the right to vote. Nowhere, she testified, did it use the word “male” but instead opted for the gender-neutral “person”. In fact, not until the 14th amendment, ratified 1868, did the word “male” enter the constitution, and that only in relation to voting, not citizenship. All which seems perfectly logical right?

The problem was, there was much logic on the other side of the debate.

In the late 19th century “obey” was still a part of the marriage vows, and women were in many ways still the property of their husbands. This being the case, couldn’t a husband then compel his wife to vote for his candidate? The secret ballot, after all, was not widely established in the U.S. until the 1880’s. Thus a married man would have 2 votes, a single man only one. Consider that the 15th amendment giving all men the right to vote regardless of race or creed, could only come after the 13 amendment, eliminating slavery. Women were still “slaves” to their husbands.

So why do we not hear about Ms. Woodhull regularly in relation to the suffragists? Well. . . .Ms. Woodhull was not exactly a proper Victorian woman. For one thing, in 1872 she was divorce, remarried and living with both husbands. Granted her first husband was an alcoholic and she felt sorry for him. But Ms. Woodhull had numerous other affairs, all with the consent, and encouragement, of her second husband. Both of them believed in the free love movement, and this, in the end was Ms. Woodhull’s downfall. Women’s suffrage was bad enough—free love was a step too far.

Free love, you say? But wasn’t that a 1970’s thing? Oh no, that was an 1830’s thing! And is a subject for another blog.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

This Is the Way We Wash Our Clothes . . .

Hate to do the laundry?
Well, compared to the Victorians, we have it easy. We separate our clothes by whites and colors, dark and light, then throw them into the washing machine, add soap, and the machine takes over. Afterward, we toss them into the dryer. The rest is folding--a few things may need ironing, but most can just be put away.
In the Victorian home, wash was usually done once a week and took up the entire day. Before 1880 when the first washing machine became generally available, the day started with fetching water. If the woman didn't have a well to draw water from, she'd have to lug it from a nearby stream. Some women used yokes so their back could take the brunt of the weight.
The soap used was homemade from water, wood ash and lard.
The water had to be heated in the hearth. The clothes were separated, much as we do today. Very dirty or heavy clothes were soaked in lye, then boiled. Lighter clothes were hand washed in cold or lukewarm water. Most women used a washtub or basin.
A variety of methods were used, just as today, to get out stubborn stains. The washboard was only used for the dirtiest garments. A long wooden stick with pins attached called a dolly was used to agitate the clothes in the washtub.
Once the clothes were rinsed in clear water, they had to be wrung out. This was either done by hand or with a press. This was a contraption with rollers. The clothes were rolled through it to wring out the excess wetness.
With no clothes dryer, the only option for drying clothes was either to lay them in the sun, hang them on a bush, or a clothesline outside or in the attic. Women often waited until the clothes were nearly dry to hang them outside to protect them from being splattered with mud.
The ironing was often left for the next day, but the wash area (if not done outdoors) had to be mopped or swept and the tub or basin had to be cleaned.
Here are a few links with further information and pictures:

Monday, March 27, 2006

Victorian Weddings

I came across something while surfing. This woman is planning her wedding, and apparently has done a bit of research. I found it interesting. Does anyone have anthing else to add?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Beneath It All #3

Now I'll wrap up my series on Victorian undergarments.
Petticoats were used to keep dresses clean by avoiding contact with skin and also to provide fullness in the skirt and protect the wearer's modesty. Victorian petticoats were often constructed of white cotton, although they also used flannel for warmth in cold weather. I've also heard references to women wearing red petticoats. To men of that period, a flash of petticoat beneath a woman's skirt could be erotic.
This essential undergarment had a ruffle at the bottom and was heavily starched to provide extra fullness. Before the hoopskirt, women would wear as many as five petticoats to make their skirts appear full.
The petticoat was worn tied around the waist over the corset, if one was worn, with a ribbon drawstring inserted into the waistband.
The hoop or crinoline (and these terms were used interchangeably) freed women from having to wear all those petticoats. Now they only needed two. One for underneath the hoop to protect their modesty, the other worn above the hoop to keep the bones of the hoop from showing through the skirt. Period hoops were boned with watch-spring steel, steel bands or whale bone. Now, just imagine having to sit down wearing that.
The hoop was essentially a fashion item. Working women of the period wouldn't have worn them. As with the corset, it depended on many factors as to whether the hoop was worn. They certainly didn't wear them all the time.
Skirts grew to their fullest in 1856 after the cage crinoline appeared, freeing fashionable women from wearing all those petticoats. Unlike the whale bone hoops, the steel bands of the crinoline could be compressed allowing some flexibility.
After 1862 the silhouette changed. Dresses became flatter in the front. The hoop was replaced by the bustle.
For photos, illustrations and further information about all the undergarments I've been discussing, check out these great links:
Next time I'll talk about how they washed all those clothes.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

After Dinner—the Rotund Victorians

So I cooked the Victorian Dinner, ate the Victorian dinner and now I have the Victorian hips. Just for kicks, I took the menu I published earlier on the site and tried to calculate the calorie count

Fried oysters-------------167
Oxtail soup----------------68
Salmon------------------- 184
Chicken Croquettes--------276
Roast Sirloin---------------177
Chocolate Souffle------------63

Which comes to a whopping 1,335 for one dinner! Now, granted the portions I used may be a little large, but I didn’t include all the side dishes, either, or the sauces that the Victorians loved to use. Nor did I add in the wine. So all in all, this count is probably about 500-1000 calories smaller than it would be when all the trimmings are added. For modern comparison, a Big Mac with large fries and a milk shake is 1,265 calories.

An active 150 pound woman needs about 2000 calories a day to maintain her weight. A Victorian woman could eat this in one dinner, and the kind of women who would attend this sort of dinner party (upper middle class to upper class) weren’t typically active. You'd think that these women had as difficult a time back then with weight control as we do today. Corset anyone?

So how did this all play out?

First of all, the phenomenon of the 8-9 course dinner was not an early Victorian experience. Early in the period dinner was a la francais . Basically this brought the courses down to about 3. Every diner had a plate, the food was put on the table and then passed around like we typically do at a holiday dinner. This differs greatly from the experience later in the period, when food was served a la russe, (
in which servants passed out each course on plates. In the first example, you could choose what to eat and how much. In the latter, you’d probably eat at least a little of every course so as not to insult the hostess. The latter would cause you to eat more.

Interestingly, the concept of (American) female beauty early in the Victorian period was slim and willowy—delicate. It was not fashionable, in fact, for a woman to display any sort of appetite at all. The ideal waist measurement was 18 inches and when dieting didn’t accomplish that (how could it?) a corset did. Some doctors played into this by advocating lighter menus for the delicate female body, and most people believed that that delicate female body functioned better with the support of a corset. I have to say here that when I read this I could hear my rebellious heroines wondering “If that’s true, how on earth did women survive before the corset?”, even as they try to lace the darned thing tighter, because women are slaves to fashion no matter what era we live in.

Later in the Victorian period, past the 1860’s the concept of female beauty changed. Artists started painting “fleshy” women. In the 1870’s doctors started advocating plumpness as a sign of good health. By the 1880’s it was fashionable to be plump and American women were more afraid of being too thin than being too fat.

It is interesting to note that dining a la russe became fashionable in the 1870’s, around the same time that plumpness became fashionable. By this time canning was widely used as were kitchen iceboxes. In the 1880’s refrigerator cars came into play. By the late 19th century food was cheaper and more widely available than ever before. People could quite literally eat more food, more easily. All of which has some similarities to today’s society: the notion that the rise in fast food has contributed to the rise in weight problems. It seems that the Victorian answer was to make “fat” fashionable.

And so, in answer to how I would handle my extra Victorian weight? It seems I might have celebrated it, unlike today when the answer is to diet and excercise. But I'm thinking that from a historical perspective I might just hold off on that. Maybe like the Victorians, instead of dieting, we’ll change our concept of beauty. . . .

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Lasting Tribute

A lovely Lady I know from one of the loops I'm on has written an article about the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore in Windsor. Actually, its more about Victoria and her grief and how she handled it. Anyway, its a great article to check out.

Ghosts haunting Cary House Hotel

I live in Placerville, CA, and find it to be a mecca for history lovers. The art gallery where I work in situated across the street from the Cary House Hotel which was built in 1857. Two ghosts, Stan and George, still call the hotel their home. Poor Stan. He was the person who checked guests into the hotel. One night, after consuming a fair amount of alcohol, he flirted with a pretty blonde lady. Her man friend was not happy at all, pulled out his pistol and shot Stan. He bled to death on the carpeted floor. Then there was George, the gambling man. The night after he lost at poker to a man he felt cheated him, George thought he saw the man return. He pulled out his gun and shot the scoundral. As soon as the man fell to the floor, he realized he'd shot the wrong man. One of Placerville's previous names was Old Hangtown. The judge sentenced him to be hung shortly thereafter.

Stan still roams the four levels of the hotel. Guests can hear the empty elevator moving up and down at night. Stan also checks every door knob, turning it back and forth, each night to make sure the ladies are secure. One night he actually locked a woman out on the balcony. She had to wait until somebody walked along the street below her to get help with unlocking the door.

Marlene Urso

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some Victorian Hotels in the Wild West by Jeanmarie Hamilton

Contrary to the ideas some folks have about the old west, there were many towns with fine hotels. Some of the better hotels had restaurants with popular menus for that time. Such as one where my great grandfather, Jim Christie, worked. He married my great grandmother in Houston and in the early 1880s they moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was assistant manager of the St. Charles Hotel. From there they moved to Galveston, Texas, where he was employed at the old Beach Hotel which was later destroyed by fire. In 1885 he was proprietor of a small hotel in Wooten Wells, Texas, which was considered at that time a summer resort for people from Dallas and that area of Texas. Later he became associated with the Vogel Hotel in Dallas, before they moved to El Paso. Following is a menu copied from an original menu handwritten by Jim Christie:
Carson & Lewis House
12 to 2 P.M.
Okra & Tomato
Hot Salmon
Fresh Pork & Cabbage
Tongue Sauce
Chicken with dressing

Venison Pie, Corn Bread
Macaroni & Cheese
Irish Sweet Potatoes, Turnips
Onions, Rice, Green Peas

Pickles, Chow Chow
Peach Cobbler
Apricot Pie, Blackberry Pie

Oranges, Apples, Cake, Cheese
Nuts, Raisins
EXTRAS – Fruit and Dessert taken from the table, and Meals sent to rooms will be charged extra.
J. Christie
75 cents

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Votes for Women!

According to wikipedia (, suffragists are peaceful protestors and suffragettes are violent protestors. Huh, there’s a difference I wouldn’t have caught. But I guess when you’re protesting the protestors, you tend toward semantics.

Actually, when I see Suffragettes (suffragists, whatever), I think of music. Oh, I know the history of women’s right, not nearly all of it but more than the average person, but music always comes to mind with that word. Don’t know why, I don’t actually know any suffragette songs (songs sung by actual suffragettes), but if anyone does, I’d love to have the link. So, music.

In Mary Poppins, Glynis Johns, as Winifred Banks, sang it in the beginning:
We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for woman’s votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid!
Cast off the shackles of yesterday!
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!
Our daughters’ daughters will adore us
And they’ll sign in grateful chorus
“Well done, Sister Suffragette!”

Or David Bowie’s (or Alice in Chains, or Boy George, or from Frankie Goes to Hollywood, or some group I’ve never heard of, Get Up Kids, or from others, I’m sure) Suffragette City:
Suffragette City
Back in Suffragette City
Way down in Suffragette City
Back in Suffragette City
Doo wah! Suffragette City
Woo Hah! Suffragette City
Way down in Suffragette City
Suffragette City... Suffragette

Ragtime Suffragette (
What’s that noise upon the avenue?
What’s that crowd a-doin’ ‘round there too?
What’s the meaning of that awful crash?
Has a taxicab got in a smash?
Johnny, Johnny run and get your gun.
Get in quick or you’ll be dead, my son.
It would make Napolean quake
And shake his head with fear.
Oh dear, oh dear, just look, look, look who’s here;
That ragtime suffragette,
She’s no household pet,
Raggin’ with bombshells and raggin’ with bricks,
Raggin’ and naggin’ with politics,
That ragtime suffragette,
Ragtime suffragette,
For Lordy, while her husband’s wait home to dine,
She’s just rag-gin’ up and down the line.
A-shoutin’ votes, votes, votes for women,
She’s a ragtime suffragette.

Right, so that last one I found on a google search, I didn’t actually know it until today.

It’s hard to believe now, but many women (and men) who fought for women’s rights were treated worse than criminals. They were cruelly imprisoned, dismissed and hated. Okay, okay, so they did drastic things such as throwing themselves in front of the king’s carriage, chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to the contents of mailboxes and other forms of arson, smashing windows, and the “technical assault” (causing no harm) of police officers. They were all jailed.

But drastic time call for drastic measures and all.

Sure, there were pockets of universal suffrage: the Wyoming Territory (1869) became the first modern government where equal suffrage was extended to women, and the British colony of the Pitcairn Islands, gave women the right to vote in 1838.

(Where the *&^ is that? Apparently, there’s an island in the Pacific, population 50 +/-, where they currently raise bees. Yes, bees. According to their website: In 1789, a famous mutiny took place when Master's Mate Fletcher Christian and about half the crew took control of the HMS Bounty, and set the Captain, Lt. William Bligh, adrift in the ship's launch with those crewmembers who remained loyal to him. Several of the mutineers along with their Tahitian & Tubuan consorts and a handful of native men found sanctuary on Pitcairn. The current population of Pitcairn are descendants of 6 of the mutineers from this famous voyage, and their women.

Technically, the first suffragist in America was Abigail Adams. She admonished her husband, John Adams who was with the 2nd Continental Congress, to “Remember the Ladies and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors”. She wrote that on March 31, 1776 (

Yet the Declaration of Independence reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (

So much for that. We created an entirely new country, broke away from the parent country, something that’d never been done before, and we couldn’t even give all of our people something as simple (as implied in both Declaration and Constitution) as the right to vote. Two more amendments and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement later, and we’re finally nearly there.

But back to 1776. Abigail Adams wrote about women’s rights in 1776, yet it wasn’t until 1837, the same year our Era begins, that something organized happened.

(In 1836, Sarah Grimke began speaking as an abolitionist and a women’s rights advocate; male abolitionists think she’s a liability and force her to stop.)

Lucretia Mott, a Quaker activist, organized the first National Female Anti-Slavery Society convention in New York City. She was denied membership in earlier anti-slavery organizations because she was a woman. Eighty-one delegates from twelve states attended. Lucretia had other encounters besides being denied membership in anti-slavery organizations – the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London rejected her and other female American delegates based solely on the fact that they were women.

Apparently, anti-slavery didn’t extend to females.

Skipping ahead to July 1848 and the Seneca Falls convention, and the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions”. (

Skipping ahead again. 1866: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the 2 most recognized names in American Suffrage, form the American Equal Rights Association. This organization is for both white and black women (oh, and men, too, sure you can join!) who want to see everyone able to vote. Universal suffrage.

The 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment is ratified, defining ‘citizens’ and ‘voters’ as male.

A serious blow for women, but they didn’t stop there. During the 1872 presidential election, Susan B. was arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York. Sojourner Truth demanded a ballot at a polling booth in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was only turned away.

1878: A Woman Suffrage Amendment introduced to Congress. It failed. It’ll take another 41 years for it to pass.

Belva Ann Lockwood, a lawyer, can’t practice the law before the Supreme Court. For the next three years, she pursued legislation that finally enabled women to practice before the Court and became the first woman to do so in 1879.

Small steps in America and Britain, we worked hard, with both violent and peaceful movements, creating things for ourselves along the way – newspapers, magazines, books, papers, speeches, law even.

And New Zealand and Australia were the first countries to grant universal suffrage! New Zealand in 1893, Australia in 1894.

American women, as a whole, gained the right to vote in 1919 with the 19th Amendment. British women over the age of thirty gained the right in 1918, women over 21 in 1928.

It took 143 years for women to vote! Yet today, about 56.2% of eligible American women vote ( What happened? I think our Victorian forebears would be incredibly disappointed in us.

(Most of this information came from:

Monday, March 13, 2006

Victorian dinner part II—I failed.

It wasn’t the menu. I had the menu all set, complete with all the courses that my handy-dandy cookbook suggested—A Matter of History compiled by Living History Farms in Urbandale Iowa. The museum has on it an old 1870 Victorian mansion called the Flynn Mansion, and the book has a sample Victorian dinner menu, complete with 9 courses. You’ll find other less extensive menus on the internet or in books. I chose, however, to try the 9 course meal as one that would have been served, I believe, at a formal dinner.

Appetizer----------------------curried oysters
Soup----------------------------oxtail soup
Fish-----------------------------broiled salmon
Entrée--------------------------chicken croquettes
Roast---------------------------Roasted Sirloin of Beef
Ices to cleanse pallet
Game---------------------------Roast Duck
Dessert-------------------------Chocolate soufflé
Fruits and Nuts/Coffee

And so, I had my appetizers—shrimp for me, and yes, my husband brought home oysters. Had the soup—French onion—fish—filet of sole—entrée—stuffed artichokes—roast—steak—ices—citrus—game—duck—dessert—burnt orange cream. Now these foods are hardly Victorian recipes, but they do follow the plan. Also, I added the side dishes with the courses—potatoes and veggies (which are included in the meal, not as a course). By the time we’d finished the artichokes, we were completely full. We ate a little of the steak, but just stared at the duck. I never even cooked the veggies or, for that matter, the burnt orange crème. (a sort of crème brulee).

The next night—we didn’t even cook half of the second night’s menu. And again, never got to the dessert at all. We ate the previous night’s duck for lunch. My sons came home on Sunday and ate the leftovers for dinner. The rack of lamb (second night’s roast course) will be dinner tonight. All in all, 2 night’s dinners were enough to feed four people for 4 nights, and still have leftovers.

How on earth did they eat so much?

I suppose all the servings were very small—one appetizer, one fish fillet, a slice of duck, a slice of roast beef/lamb, etc. The ices, from what I understand, were just a tablespoon or so. To today’s American eyes each course would probably have looked very small, but when added together, the calorie consumption would probably have been pretty darned large for just one meal. Which will bring me to my next posting—The rotund Victorians.

In the meantime there are a few different sites you can visit to find more “authentic” Victorian menus:

This site give you an idea of the dinner service:

You’ll see they added a salad course—pretty late in the Victorian period—but skipped the appetizers and the entrée.
A Victorian Christmas feast, which skips the appetizer and puts the fish and soup courses together, and drops the ices into the dessert course.
Which distinguishes between courses and removes, and will tell you about the different wines.
A “simple” seven course meal, which excludes the entrée altogether.

Source: A matter of history; a cookbook by Living History Farms.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Victorian Era resource

While trolling the web, I came across this interesting Victorian Era site. It appears to be a list of resources, but the commentary is interesting, too. Anybody have any of these books listed? I’d love to know if they’re as good as the commentary suggests.

1886 Victorian Hotel To Be Focus of GHOST HUNTERS March 22

What's a Victorian hotel without a few resident ghosts? A hotel that's probably losing money. The beautiful Crescent Hotel in the Victorian SPA, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, doesn't have to worry about ghosts or business. They've been conducting their nightly Ghost Tours for years, sometimes with eerie success.
This photo of the 120 year old fireplace in the lobby shows a supposedly ghostly blue image. No, it's not the can of beer stashed high on the far right of the chimney piece: it's the disc-like blue light at the top of the picture.
Yes, this is a real hotel. I stayed in it for the first time with my parents when I was a preteen, and I've spent many nights there during the decades since my first visit. I've always felt a strong sense of warmth and wellbeing there, and I never want to check out. Never noticed anything creepy - but then I'm not "tuned in" like a lot of people. I just enjoy the Victorian ambiance.
If you're not into the paranormal, you can forget that aspect. Just stay here and enjoy the shopping, restaurants, and views - spectacular at any time of the year. There's also a 21st century spa and gym on a lower floor.
People of the town are far prouder of their area history and architecture than they are of their supernatural side. However, the town hosts a big international UFO Conference every year and even the toniest antique shops display "aliens" in their store windows.
The 19th century seems to have contributed two spirits to the Crescent. The first was Ghost #1, an Irish stoneworker named Michael who fell to his death from the roof during construction. He landed where Room 218 would be built and is said to play tricks on guests in the room, which is one of the hotel's most popular.
Victorian Ghost #2 is a formally dressed middle aged gentleman who sports a beard and a mustache. No one has a clue about his identity, but he hangs around the lobby and bar areas without speaking, then vanishes or walks through a wall.
After the boom of the Gilded Age, the hotel and the mountain town fell on lean times. The next hundred years saw the the Crescent change hands many times and serve as many different things.
In 1908, it became the Crescent College and Conservatory. Unhappy Ghost #3 took up residence sometime during the following decades. She was a student who jumped from the roof and supposedly has been seen on the grounds dressed in white.
Ghost #4 is supposedly millionaire inventor, Norman Baker, who bought the hotel in 1937. Not an MD, he opened a Cancer Cure hospital in the hotel. There were many ugly stories in town about "The Morgue" in the basement, and the fact that patients never seemed cured and no one ever returned home. Baker ended up spending four years in a Federal prison for mail fraud and lost the hotel.
Ghost #5 wears a 1930's nurse uniform and pushes an empty gurney down a third floor hall in the wee hours. She vanishes through a solid wall.
Today, paranormal activity has been "documented" in many parts of the building, especially the old morgue. The crew of Ghost Hunters has supposedly
filmed another ghost in the hotel. He's described as wearing a hat and waving to them. They are calling him a Civil War soldier.
I'm so fascinated with this place that I've made it the cornerstone of my current Victorian novel, Reaching Little Rock.
If you watch the Sci-Fi Channel, you might want to check out Ghost Hunters, Episode 213, on March 22, 2006.
Link to Crescent Hotel site.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Beneath It All #2

When you think of Victorian clothing, you usually envision the hourglass silhouette. The corset was responsible for creating the illusion of the full bosom, rounded hips and that tiny waist. The Victorian corset, unlike those made by 'Victoria's Secret', were constructed of cotton and boned with steel or whale bone. Tiny hooks and eyes closed it up in front. The back was held together by adjustable lace. The top and bottom of the corset may have had a bit of ribbon or lace trim, but otherwise this was a totally utilitarian foundation garment.
But did all Victorian women wear a corset all the time?
Photographic evidence suggests that all women didn't wear corsets, since women had formal portraits taken when they clearly weren't wearing one. And it would be hard to imagine a woman working in the house or field wearing such a constricting garment.
But the corset was what molded the figure into that hourglass shape and made those fitted bodices fit smoothly. The garment also accounted for the necessity of the fainting couch. Women who had their corsets laced too tightly found it hard to draw more than a shallow breath. Overtight lacing was also responsible for incidents of cracked ribs.
But the corset was an essential garment enabling the fitted clothing of the period to fit and look good day to day.
In a romance novel where the hero puts his hands on a woman's waist, he'd feel the bones of the corset, rather than the woman's form. If she's not wearing a corset, he'd surely notice that, too.
Here's a great link containing descriptions and illustrations of all the undergarments I've been describing. The website is a guide for beginner Civil War reenactors and a fun site to visit.
My final blog in this series will cover the petticoats and crinolines that gave those full skirts their shape.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Fashionably Victorian -- Part 1

I'm taking a sanity break between homework and studying today ... blogging sounds like too much fun, by comparison:

During some of my fashion design studying today on historical costumes, I ran across an editorial in the October 1980 Vogue. The editors summed up a few of the under-documented elements of the relationships of fashionable ladies of the Victorian years with their seamstresses and couturiers. Ironically, the Old World societies which were typically derived from the European aristocracy were still trembling from the 18thC beheadings and revolutions over flour-powdered wigs and skirt-hoops too wide to fit through doorways. This top level of society actually made a practice in public (and especially when traveling) of wearing their oldest and even threadbare clothes – but in the finest cuts and fabrics – which the untrained eye wouldn’t associate with aristocratic roots yet aptly identified them to their own ilk. Accordingly, the top levels society were notorious for such subtlety and this practice was typical of the notable Boston Brahmins. Old world society attempted not to incite reactions to their attire -- partly fear of reprisal, partly confidence in their social standing.

Onto conspicuous consumption...

The House of Worth set the groundwork for a change in societal opinions about tailors and seamstresses which up to this point in Western history were not considered part of proper society, even if they were proper in all their respects. Worth attracted societal matrons and youthful royalty such as the Empress Eugenie to his shockingly sumptuous salons and made them at home with leisurely fittings that required endless hours out of a day. Such organized in-house social hours were societal events in and of themselves and featured lavish entertainment which allowed for moments away from public censure with discreetly served (scandalous) fine wines, etc. The society women would vie for prestige while visiting with each other and being coddled in the couturier salons. The whole process was a bit of a game and much gossip was mongered. Haute couture came into being.

Onto international scapes:

Women of means on the American continent or even from Africa and the Colonies would travel to the Continent for fittings regularly, and then await their new gowns with over eagerness. An American woman could, for once, be dressed in a similar manner to royalty. Until this time, the term ‘designer’ wasn’t in usage, and there was no social prestige to the job as there is today. Worth’s magical touches as a "couturier" propelled him to greatness and to near-Sainthood in the eyes of his Society patronage. Subsequently, his price tags skyrocketed.

As demand for expressions of growing wealth from American ventures peaked, other designers began emulating Worth in his business approach and women could “pretend” to have *gasp* obtained their gowns from his salon.


a. The application of science, especially to industrial or commercial objectives.
b. The scientific method and material used to achieve a commercial or industrial objective.
2. Electronic or digital products and systems considered as a group: a store specializing in office technology.
1. An argument or a fight.
2. Trouble; bother.

What do you get when you combine the two? A headache.

I have 1 house phone line (with 3 phones), 1 cell phone (with a cool Bluetooth), 1 desktop, 1 laptop, 1 DSL with wireless connection that doesn’t always go wireless, 2 TVs, 2 VCRs, 2 DVDs, and 2 radios. And I live alone. That’s just at home. At work I have an office – ‘nuff said. How on earth did we manage before all this? I remember doing it; I mean I went to college when cell phones were new-ish. I didn’t talk on them during my 3 hour drive. I didn’t spend hours doing research online. I didn’t spend even longer emailing or playing games.

How’d I manage? How did anyone? I’m sitting here, typing on my computer, my Doors CD playing from the CD-Rom, and I think – I can’t go back. Or, more accurately, I CAN’T GO BACK! DON’T MAKE ME, I’LL FIGHT YOU ALL THE WAY AND YOU’LL BE BLOODY WHEN I’M DONE, I PROMISE YOU THAT! (See definition of panic.)

And yet is my life easier? Is it simpler? Well, I do get to talk to my family more often. That has to count for something. Of course, people can actually find me now, too. But I can keep in touch with friends I haven’t seen in years, ones that live across the country, or around the corner. I talk to my best friend every day – mostly by email, but we also call each other on our commutes home. Physically see her? Uh…no.

Note I’m not actually writing, as I should be. I need to finish my website and edit 2 chapters. Possibly do a load of laundry, the dishes in the sink that’ve been there for 3 days, and put the rest of my stuff away from vacation. At some point I’d love to catch up on my sleep.

So the best thing about technology? It’s great for procrastination.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Finding the Time

“Where do you find the time???”

As a SAH mom who works from home, this is the question I’m often asked by relatives and non-writing friends. (I like to think my writer friends don’t ask me this because they know the answer as well as I do). I don’t “find” the time. I make it.

You know what they say about the best laid plans, but some days it works out. The alarm goes off at the crack of dawn, and instead of frittering time away tidying the kitchen or doing laundry, I actually make it to the computer and sit down to write. Sure, there are days when life intrudes; kids get sick, work piles up or the words simply won’t come. But there are other days; days when the words won’t stop and I have to tear myself away from the keyboard. I feel so great when that happens; it means I’ve accomplished something, that I made time to do something that gives me joy (you mom’s out there know what I’m talking about) But the downside is that the rest of the day my mind is somewhere else. I may be stopped at a red light or shopping for groceries or scraping dried-on oatmeal off the kitchen floor, but my mind is in Texas, circa 1883, with a hero with a fast gun and a heroine with an even faster temper.

For me, when it comes to writing, it’s all about the characters. Jodi Thomas once said (and this is not an exact quote since I don’t have it right in front of me) “I never know who’s going to walk into my brain, pull up a chair and start talking to me.” Boy was I relieved when I heard that --I’m normal after all (well, the dh would argue whether we writers are “normal”, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog). But when that happens it’s impossible not to write. I have to get to the computer, or a scrap of paper – a napkin, anything-- and get the words down. I simply have to. That’s something non-writers probably wouldn’t understand. And that’s okay; I’ve never been compelled to knit a scarf or crochet a baby blanket, but I know lots of people who have. It’s just that the creative side of my brain takes me in a different direction. I never know what will spark something in my brain and have me running to the internet or the library to track down some tiny tidbit of historical information that will germinate into my next plot or story idea. All I know is I can’t rest until I’ve uncovered every last detail.

And finding the time to do all of that can be really difficult around kids and a husband and a house and a job… it can be difficult even if you juggle even one or two of those things. That’s why I don’t “find” the time. I make it.

Next time this “easterner who writes westerns” (as I have been called) will speak on “the cowboy mystique” – what is it about those handsome heroes on horseback that makes us swoon?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Victorian Robots

I googled the Victorian Era just to see what I could find. (I didn’t put my search in quotes.) The first was History in Focus ( the second was Wikipedia (

Now I know a lot of writers don’t trust Wikipedia, but it’s been tested (not scientifically, but by librarians evaluating the two) against Britannica Online ( and has beaten it in terms of accuracy. Librarians, those stereotyped matrons with glasses and pencils in their buns, love it. Why? It’s fast, easy to navigate, and, as previously stated, more accurate than the premier encyclopedia, Britannica. It also is more readable for general audiences. (For the record, I don’t actually know any librarians with buns, or pencils in their hair for any reason. Glasses are different, but then nearly 150 million Americans wear glasses or contacts.)

Back to my search. The third site was no longer available, but the fourth was “History of Robots in the Victorian Era” ( What’s this? Huh. Robots. Robots and Victorians? Interesting thought, that.

And I was sidetracked...

This site is a hoax, something intended to advertise a graphic novel about Boilerplate, the tin soldier. Still, it caught my attention and I began thinking…robots in the Victorian Era. Sure, it makes sense now, when I look back and realize that in the broader sense of the term, ‘robots’ could mean anything mechanical that does the work of a human or animal, but when I first saw the site, I was flabbergasted.

Wow, robots! Cool!

But in a time of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells why not? Science fiction was a new and fascinating genre that took us to the moon and deep into the center of the Earth. It let us think about time travel and what it’d be like to travel the solar system on a comet.

In Australia’s outback Ned Kelly used heavy armor to deflect bullets and continue his outlaw ways. Oh, it didn’t work, but he tried. In an era labeled as cold, asexual, and stifling, how can an outlaw wearing armor be boring? Stifling I can see, it must have been hot in that thing, but that’s about it. Stifling in a domineering way, in a can’t express myself way, no.

“At about dawn on Monday 28 June [1880] Ned Kelly emerged from the inn in his suit of armour. He marched on to the police firing his gun at them, while their bullets bounced off his armour. His lower limbs however were unprotected and he was shot twenty-eight times in the legs (sources vary, some saying six times).” (

I’m going with 6 times – he survived, after all.

“In Robur the Conqueror (1886) Verne predicted the birth of heavier-than-air craft,” (

What do you think of happening in 1886? Do you think of heavier-than-air crafts? I don’t. Or, well, didn’t. So what happened in 1886 that had Jules Verne thinking that?

I didn’t know either, so I went to the History Channel website, got sidetracked with William Shatner on the homepage “How William Shatner Changed the World” (, took the Weekly Quiz and went 3 for 5 with the stupid thing. I guessed on 4 out of 5, because I really did know that the first all-synthetic plastic was called Bakelite. Usually I’m much better at this, but the only thing I knew about Jesse Owens was what I remembered from an old movie I once saw about him. He’s also probably one of the only Olympians I can actually name. I still don’t know who Alf Landon was except that he was a presidential candidate in 1936 and Mr. Owens endorsed him on the radio. Thank you, quiz.

But my timeline!

In general, when I think of that time I think Wild West, Robber Barons, Colonial England, China’s diminished power, Russian revolutionaries (I have a serious Russia obsession), and the Statue of Liberty. I couldn’t tell you who the president was (Grover Cleveland was elected, Arthur Chester was leaving), that the element germanium was discovered (Clemens Wilder), or that the first Coca-Cola was introduced in Atlanta.

I don’t think robots. I don’t think mechanics. This was an era of steel ships, of bigger, better, heavier, faster, but Victorian + mechanical doesn’t = 4; it equals a lot of other things, but until this tangent, it wasn’t 4. The car for instance. Not a 20th century invention (my teachers were consistently wrong about this in both high school and college), and not pioneered by Henry Ford. The 1908 Model T wasn’t the first car in the world, merely the first one to be mass-produced; over 15,500,000 of them were sold in the United States alone (

“In 1885, German mechanical engineer, Karl Benz designed and built the world's first practical automobile to be powered by an internal-combustion engine. On January 29, 1886, Karl Benz received the first patent (DRP No. 37435) for a gas-fueled car” (

So if we could have a motorized bicycle, why not a car? And if we could have that, then why not robots? How cool would that have been? Robots helping around the house, doing everything we have them do today, but 120 years ago. Before WWI with Big Bertha, Germany’s mega-gun (not very practical), before the tank, before the airplane.

What if we did have robots then? Would we have managed to get to the moon sooner? Would we actually be living there now? Could Gene Roddenberry’s vision of our future with spaceships and traveling between the stars at faster than light speed have been realized by now? What about hover cars? Something I was promised when I was young – oh, we’ll have cars that drive in the sky by the year 2000; we’ll be vacationing on the moon like we do in Florida! Still waiting…

But what if?

Victorian Dinner Part I --what was with the oysters?

This weekend my husband and I will send our kids off to Grandma’s house for our annual Victorian weekend. In truth, the weekend is really only Victorian in the dinner aspect of it. I spend a week or two working diligently to create an authentic Victorian meal—minus the oysters.

What is with the Victorian obsession with oysters?—slimy rubber creatures that have no place in my pretty notion of the Victorian period. When I first started doing this years ago, partly because I wanted to know what a real Victorian dinner was like (more on that in a later post) the initial menu I read had oysters in it. At first I thought it was just a matter of the particular book/website I was reading, but I came to discover that all of them had oysters. The Victorians seemed positively obsessed with oysters, so much so that I found websites about plates specifically designed to accommodate oysters:

So I got to thinking (because I am a romance writer) that maybe the oysters were used as an undisclosed aphrodisiac in a period that was becoming, at least in the written word, increasingly disdainful of sexual intimacy. Maybe oysters made their way into Victorian dinner because men hoped they would excite what the little sexual feeling that women had. What a wonderfully intriguing thought!

And false.

I’ve recently learned that oysters were in fact a “filler”—cheap, easy and apparently considered elegant.
In modern times we consider bread a filler at dinner. Why not in Victorian times? I don’t know for sure, but I would theorize that it was because hot, homemade bread was a given. For centuries bread was made at home once a week or more. What would be exciting about that? Where as with increasingly better transportation (decreasing spoilage) and new canning techniques ( previously unavailable food items were now the latest fad. (like celery—which is for another blog, too).

Regardless, there will be no oysters at my Victorian dinner, even if my husband does like them. And I have one or two characters in my books that feel about oysters the same way I do. After all, we are told to write what we know.

For all that, I can’t completely let go of the aphrodisiac theory. So much more fun. . .

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Great Resource for Men's Hats in the 19th Century

Some of you may already know about this site but I found it accidentally today.
It's Clearwater Hats: .
I think this site is a gold mine!
Its categories include CIVIL WAR, VICTORIAN, OLD WEST, and HOLLYWOOD. (Jude Law wore their Slouch hat in the movie, COLD MOUNTAIN.)
I didn't know a Derby from a Bowler, or that there were/are different kinds of Top hats. They also show Homburgs, Trilbys, Pork Pies, Tucsons, Plantation hats and Panama hats.
Their historical photos are very informative too. You can tell men are always men - whether they're in a ball cap turned backwards or in a top hat.
You can order any of their hats.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Beneath It All #1

Okay. The time period I write is the Civil War. Visions of small waists, confined by corsets and bell-shaped hoopskirts likely fill your head as you think of that time period. I'd like to start by discussing what Victorian women wore underneath those dresses. As a Civil War reenactor, I actually wear all the layers beneath my dresses for authenticity purposes. As a romance writer, when thinking about characters of the period, I want to be as authentic as possible when I describe the heroine dressing, undressing, or ah . . . er . . . being undressed by the hero. Just what did they wear under those clothes? I'd like to begin by discussing the first layer. Next to their skin, Victorian women wore a chemise, a pair of drawers (not bloomers) and stockings. The chemise was a loose shift-like garment with short sleeves. It had a scooped neck collar and could be pulled down over the shoulders for wear with a low cut ball gown or evening dress. It came to just below the knee. Most women owned several of these. The drawers had either a button or drawstring closure on the waistband. Women wore them to mid-calf length, while girls and more fashionable women wore them a bit shorter. The interesting thing about the drawers was that the legs were only attached at the waistband, leaving the crotch completely open. There was a reason for this, and it's probably not what you're thinking. Tsk, tsk. Since women wore tight fitting corsets over the chemise and drawers, plus several layers of petticoats, it would have been impossible for them to have reached up and loosened the waistband of the drawers to use the necessary. I can tell you from my own experience it's much easier to pull up your skirts, pull the legs of the drawers apart, then when finished, let them drop back into place. Last is the stockings. These were thigh-high and generally knitted of wool, but fashionable women wore silk stockings. Next time I'll discuss corsets, petticoats and crinolines. That's all for now, back to work on my book.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Slip Into Something Victorian Blog

Another of my favorite books is CRACKER CULTURE, Celtic Ways in the Old South. This was written by Grady McWhiney and published by the University of Alabama Press.
From the dustjacket: From their solid base in the southern back country, Celts and their "Cracker" descendents swept westward decade after decade throughout the Antebellum period until they established themselves and their culture across the Old South.
The Celts brought with them to the Old South leisurely ways that fostered idleness and gaity and a society in which people favored the spoken word over the written and enjoyed such sensual pleasures as drinking, smoking, fighting, gambling, fishing, hunting and loafing.
I couldn't help but think of all this as I watched Bucky Covington on American Idol last night. He's a real throwback to the Old South!
Somebody give that boy some sweet tea, please!
Mary Ann

My Little Corner of the Victorian Era

One overwhelming interest of mine is the American South - after the Civil War and before 1900. It was a wild and wacky place, and not nearly as sad and downtrodden as people "let on." In fact, it became a boom-time.
There was exaggeration and outright lying about the status of various families before the war, because anything could be covered by simply saying, "Our family lost everything in the wa-ah."
I've collected books about this time - which extended into the early 20th Century
One of my favorites is SOUTHERN LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, by Florence King. She presents such Southern "types" as these:
The Penniless Junior Leaguer
The Little Ole Lady Lush
The Brooding Beauregard
Actually, this book is fascinating and full of humor.
Chapter Two is titled "THOU SHALT BE KINGS NO MATTER WHO BEGAT THEE or I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls."

Victorian Romance, everybody's style

Well, not just North American, Denise. Britain and Europe were involved in some pretty exciting stuff, too, and let's not forget Australia! From penal colony to Commonwealth, things were really hopping. Speaking of Australia, it was the first place in the world to give women the vote--yup, during the Victorian era.

Although I find these histories fascinating, too, at the moment I am writing about North America. Here's something I've been wondering about. Gaslight. So, this guy wanders the streets on stilts at sundown, lighting the lights as he goes. At first, I thought "what a great job! You are gainfully employed seven days per week, and the only skill required is balance." But then, I got to thinking. Each city, even if a small size, would need several of these men. And some cities (I'm thinking of Quebec City, particularly) are not what you'd call level. So now, there's a number of men walking up and down STEEP streets on stilts! Suddenly, not so easy. Then, you add in the snow and ice. I've been to Quebec City in the winter (site of my current WIP) and there is a LOT of ice. I'm sure the good residents and shopkeepers kept their frontage shoveled, but the thing about snow and sunshine is, it creates ice. Even if the snow is shoveled. So, how did they do it? Anybody? Anyone at all? By the way, my story takes place about five or ten years before gaslight, so this is just a curiosity question.