Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Morning After

Clovis had a grand old time last night.  He's moving a little slow today, though.  I think he has a food hangover.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Cover!

Howdy!  The book cover is final!  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

More Summer Fashion

To continue the discussion of summer fashion in 1864, below is a costume meant to be the height of fashion for a seaside resort from Godey's Lady's Book.

The caption reads:
The petticoat is of buff alpaca, trimmed on the edge of the skirt with a ruffle, bound with black velvet.  Above this are two bands of black silk, with narrow bars of black velvet between.  The dress skirt is of the ordinary length, of the same material as the petticoat, and trimmed in the same style.  It is looped up at intervals by straps of black silk, which are sewed into the petticoat.  The jacket is in the style of the Gards-Francaise.  It is faced with black silk, and trimmed with straps of black velvet.  Postilion hat of black straw, trimmed with a velvet feather.
And if you think the dress looks like it might be a little warm for summer time, you are probably right.  But Godey's has a solution for that, too!  Dress "shields" or ladies' "shields".  They are still around today, but in 1864 they were the newest thing.

The New Dress "Shields."  --  Ladies who perspire freely, and thus so soon destroy light silk, and other dresses, by discoloring them under the arms, will find complete protection using our light and convenient "Shields," made of a new material, and perfectly adapted to their use.  They can be applied in an instant, are taken in and out without any trouble, and add no encumbrance, which can be inconvenient or disagreeable to the most fastidious.
Problem solved.

Thanks as always to the incredible Providence Athenaeum!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bathing Beauty

Before we get to the main event, I'd like to sincerely thank the Providence Athenaeum for providing the most generous access to their archive of Godey's Lady's Books.  It is an amazing institution with an important mission and if you are ever in Providence, it should be at the top of your list of things to see.

The Godey's Lady's Book world of fashion in the 1860's encompassed resort-wear.  Who knew?  I came across this image of recommended bathing-wear in the July 1864 Godey's, along with the description of the fashions below.

Figure 1:  Turkish pants of a gray and white striped material, fastened at the ankle with an elastic cord.  Paletôt dress of a dark blue and black flannel, made with a small cape, and trimmed with black mohair braid.  Oil silk hat, bound and trimmed with scarlet binding.
Figure 2:  Suit of pearl-colored flannel, trimmed with dark blue flannel, and braided in a plain Grecian pattern with narrow blue braid.  Cap of oil silk, trimmed with dark blue flannel.
Figure 3:  Suit of black cloth, bound with scarlet flannel.  The collar is of scarlet flannel, also the cap, which is trimmed with black braid and a long black tassel.
Figure 4:  Suit of scarlet flannel, trimmed with wide and narrow black braid.  The dress is decorated with applications of black cloth, cut in the shape of anchors.  The hat is of white straw, trimmed with scarlett braid.
Godey's was printed in Philadelphia and they make reference to Cape May, New Jersey several times, citing the clean, punctual and efficient rail transport from New York and Philadelphia to the resort town.

The Historic Chalfonte Hotel, Cape May, New Jersey
In addition to providing the clothes and the locations, the fashion editor (not Sarah J. Hale, the literary editor of the magazine) had this to say about resort-wear.
As the warm weather is hurrying persons to the seaside, a few hints on bathing dresses may be acceptable.
There is no dress so easy of accomplishment as a neat, tasteful, and comfortable bathing dress; and yet, sometimes, when watching bathers at the sea-side, one is tempted to believe such an achievement impossible.
Instead of the usual flannel, Mme. Demorest is making bathing dresses of moreen, and considers this material better adapted for the purpose.  It is of a strong, firm texture; not too heavy, does not cling to the person after being in the water, as it immediately drains off.
A very handsome suit just finished at her establishment, No. 473 Broadway, was of drab moreen, the waist plaited to a yoke, and into a belt at the back, the front left loose and belted in like a morning wrapper.  The skirt not too short, about half way below the knee, and plaited at the back in large box plaits; the sleeves full, and fastened by a close band at the wrist; a small round collar of the same material give a neat finish to the throat.  The trimmings consist of a band of scarlet cloth, one inch wide, stithced all round the skirt, a short distance from the edge; the same on cuffs, collar, and belt.  Bloomer pants, fastened into a band of scarlet cloth at the ankle, completes the dress.  This suit should of course be lined, except the skirt, and was, in this instance, neatly done with a very thin muslin, with just sufficient texture to make it smooth; and the seams were covered int he same manner as a double gown.
Another of the same goods cut like a circular, only joined on the shoulders, was nearly finished and was exceedingly pretty.  The skirt being very full, with full sleeves and pants, and dark blue trimmings instead of scarlet, made a very tasteful suit.
But we doubt the propriety of any but a genius at work attempting to cut it.  However, we remember that a duplicate pattern may be had from this establishment of any and everything desirable in the dress department.
By the way, why does not some leader of fashion at Newport or Cape May introduce the havelock as an appendage to a lady's bathing hat?  It is so disagreeable to have the sun beating down on one's neck, which it will do, in spite of the wide-brimmed hats.  We merely throw out the suggestion.
Cole's Dictionary of Dry Goods (1892) defines moreen as:
A fabric of mohair or wool filling and cotton warp; formerly made in imitation of moire silk, for purposes of upholstery.  It was sometimes plain, but more commonly 'watered' with embossed patters by passing the cloth over a hot brass cylinder, on which was engraved various flowers and other fancy figures.  At present it is manufactured to some extent and used for petticoats, bathing dresses, etc., and the heavier qualities for curtains.
A havelock, according to Merriam-Webster, is "a covering attached to a cap to protect the neck from the sun or bad weather", first used in 1861.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Clovis!!

My young Clovis turns 5 today!  How time flies!  Here are some pics of him on his birthday morning....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The War of the Dots

A copyeditor who reviewed the text of my novel The Rebel Wife commented on the protagonist's use of the word "braille".  Is it of too recent vintage, she asked, for Augusta to be familiar with the word?  While I believed the word would have been accessible to Augusta, I also felt the need for a better understanding of how braille became accepted as a method of printing for the blind in the United States.

The Braille System
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary dates the use of the word as a system of printing and writing for the blind to 1853, as does, an online etymology dictionary that I use regularly.

Louis Braille

Louis Braille (1809-1852), however, invented the technique in the 1830's.  The usage of braille is so pervasive today that it seems like there would have never been any other system.  Through most of the 19th century and the first third of the 20th, however, there were ongoing debates over what the best method of print for the blind was and what the drawbacks of other systems were.

Dr. Émile Javal, c. 1900

The French ophthalmologist Dr. Émile Javal attributes the first system of writing using raised dots to a Captain Charles Barbier, which was presented to the Academy of Sciences in France about 1820.  It was this initial model that Braille improved upon when he created the six-point braille system with two columns of three dots each.

In 1854, France officially adopted braille as the writing method for the blind.  In 1870, a recommendation from a panel of blind readers led by Thomas Rhodes Armitage would lead to braille's adoption as the official print system for the blind in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, things moved somewhat more slowly.  The first institution for the education of the blind to adopt braille was the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, whose director, Dr. Simon Pollak, selected the system in 1860.  Other leading institutions for the blind in the United States included the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, formed in 1829 by Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, and the New York Institute for the Blind, formed by a group of philanthropists in 1831.

At this time, the blind required a mediator to read and write--that is someone who would read aloud to them or to whom they could dictate letters, etc.  If there was printed material for them to read, it was normally alphabetic letters embossed on paper so that they could trace the shape of the letters with the finger.  It was admittedly a slow process to read script or print by touch at this point.

Laura Bridgman c. 1855

Laura Bridgman (1829-1889) was a famous deaf-blind pupil of Dr. Howe's in Boston who learned to read and write first through tactile signs and then using raised lettering.

Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett by Ford Madox Brown, 1872, National Portrait Gallery, London

Henry Fawcett (1833-1884), a United Kingdom native who was blinded at the age of 25, could never accustom himself to raised lettering or to braille.  He was read to or dictated to others for his entire life.  Even so, he achieved a seat in Parliament and was named English Postmaster-General in 1880.

Even after acceptance at other institutions, some schools were reluctant to use braille, saying that it was too slow, even compared to raised lettering.    As late as 1905, Émile Javal, in an advice book for those who recently lost their sight, stated that:
Reading Braille, so precious for those born blind, is only a pis aller because of its exceeding slowness.  There is but a very limited number of blind who can read aloud a book in Braille with sufficient speed to make the listening to it endurable.

Later he states:
Coming to Braille:  of all writing it is the slowest, especially for one who comes to it late.  I write four words a minute.  The most skilled blind person scarcely exceeds eight; by the help of the short form none succeeds in passing ten and then at the cost of legibility.
There were other writing systems, Javal notes, that created a veritable "Tower of Babel" for the blind, including systems devised by an Austrian named Dr. Klein, the "trait point" of Dr. Vezien and another system of raised writing by a Dr. Mascaro.  In the United States, at least two other systems could be added, the Boston Point and the New York point.

The New York Point

The most successful of these was the New York point.  Developed by William Bell Wait (1839-1916), an instructor at the New York Institute for the Blind, the New York Point was a modification of the braille system he proposed in 1868.  Wait's system, rather than two columns of three dots, turned the graphic on its side and presented three columns of two dots.  Javal recommends this system (again as late as 1905) because, he says:
...the glance of the trained reader passes along the heads of the letters, much more characteristic and varied than the bottoms.  In the same way, when I read raised writing, my finger grasps less the bases of the letters, and I chance to read a c instead of an m or an x.  It is because the most sensitive area of the finger is less than the height of the common raised writing.  I do not think I am alone in this.  I believe, in fact, that the frequency of this inconvenience has had something to do with the creation of the New York point.
Keller with Anne Sullivan in 1897
Not everyone agreed.  Perhaps the most famous American deaf-blind student was Alabama-born Helen Keller (1880-1968).  In a letter to the secretary of the New York Board of Education, written in 1909 at the time of a series of hearings on the benefits of New York point versus braille, Keller stated:
I have always found New York Point a difficult, unsatisfactory system.  I object to it as it appears in most books which I have seen because it does not use capitals, apostrophes and hyphens.  This sometimes spoils the sense for the reader.  But it has a worse effect upon the young pupil.  He is liable to get an imperfect idea of capitalization and punctuation.  I have received letters written on the ordinary ink typewriter from blind persons which contained errors significantly like the defects of New York Point, and I cannot but believe that this illiteracy is traceable to their habitual use of a defective mode of punctographic writing during school years.
Keller graduating from Radcliffe in 1904
Keller was well-placed to give her opinion on types of print for the blind, as she was apparently fluent in a number of them.  This story from the New York Times of August 14, 1899 gives a good sense of the challenges facing the blind and why Keller was appropriately heralded as something of a genius:

Miss Helen Keller, having completed under the tutorship of Mr. Merton S. Keith her preparation for college in three years instead of in the four which had been assigned by some of her friends for the purpose, went to Cambridge in June last to take the regular entrance examinations for Radcliffe.  She had successfully given the usual subjects at the preliminary examination two years ago, and these remained for this entrance examination:  Geometry, algebra, elementary Greek, advanced Greek, and advanced Latin.  
It is quite certain that no person ever took a college examination with so heavy a handicap—we may say with so many kinds of a handicap—as Helen Keller’s on this occasion.  As all the world knows,  she could not see the examination papers nor hear the voice of an examiner.  The natural method of communicating the questions to her would have been to make use of the fingers of her old-time “teacher” and interpreter, Miss Sullivan.  Miss Sullivan does not know Greek or Latin or the higher mathematics, and while she is able to serve Helen by communicating to her printed Greek and Latin letter by letter, she could not have given her the slightest assistance in answering the examination questions.  But it was deemed best by all concerned to avoid even the remotest suggestion or possibility of assistance.  A gentleman was found—Mr. Vining of the Perkins Institution, who had never met Helen Keller and who was quite unknown to her and unable to speak to her—who could take the examination papers as fast as they were presented and write them out in Braille characters, the system of writing in punctured points now much used by the blind.  The questions, thus transcribed by him, were put into Helen’s hands in the examination room, in the presence of a proctor who could not communicate with her, and she wrote out her answers on the typewriter. 
Here, however, came in one of the additional points of Helen’s handicap.  There are two systems of Braille writing—the English and the American.  There are marked differences between them.  Helen Keller has been accustomed to the English system, in which nearly all the books which have been put into Braille are printed.  As the arrangement with Mr. Vining was completed but a day or two before, and as it was not known to her that he did not write the English Braille, it was impossible to make any other arrangement.  She had to puzzle out the unfamiliar method of writing.  To add to her difficulties, her Swiss watch, made for the blind, had been forgotten at home, and there was no one at hand, on either of the days of examination, to give her the time.  She worked in the dark with regard to the time which remained to her as she went along from question to question.  
But she passed the examination triumphantly in every study. …  The question may well be asked, Will Helen Keller now take the regular college course?  Who will interpret to her the lectures in foreign languages which she cannot hear?  No one can do this.  No lecture, even in English, can be translated to her in the manual alphabet as rapidly as it is spoken.  Her usual interpreter knows no foreign tongue.  Who will read to her all the required matter of the courses of reading, none of which has been put into raised print?  It is beyond mechanical possibility to give her all this through her fingers.  The obstacles appear insurmountable.  But that is the principal reason why Helen Keller is inclined to surmount them.

The Times, going back to an article of August 24, 1878, also records that division over the merits of braille versus New York point were active even then.  A convention of instructors for the blind who had gathered in Columbus, Ohio were divided over which method was better for the instruction of music, braille or New York point.

These debates would continue until finally in 1932 the "Treaty of London" was signed, giving prominence to the British version of braille.  The American Association of Instructors of the Blind and the American Association of Workers for the Blind ultimately endorsed the Treaty and a common English braille usage was agreed upon.


Artman, William and Hall, L.V.  Beauties and Achievements of the Blind.  New York: Auburn, 1859.

Howe, Maud and Hall, Florence Howe.  Laura Bridgman, Dr. Howe's Famous Pupil and What He Taugth Her.  Boston:  Little, Brown, and Company, 1903.

Holt, Winifred.  A Beacon for the Blind, Being a Life of Henry Fawcett, the Blind Postmaster-General.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914.

Javal, Dr. Émile.  Edson, Caroll E., trans. On Becoming Blind:  Advice for the Use of Persons Losing Their Sight.  New York:  The MacMillan Company, 1905.

New York Times:  August 24, 1878, August 14, 1899, February 9, 1902.  Excerpted first chapter of The War of the Dots by Robert B. Irwin.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gilded Age Baby Got Back

I've been going through some of the 19th century "lifestyle" magazines, that is magazines targeted toward women.  They not only cover fashion in exhaustive detail, but also provide poetry and fiction, morals and manners, cooking, health and hygiene and other articles.  The "Work Department" is always fascinating.  More on all of that to come, but I had to post my favorite advertisement I've found so far.  The "Lotta Bustle".  In case your trunk didn't have enough junk in it already.  Check it out.

An ad from Godey's Lady's Book June 1875

Thanks for this to the Providence Athenaeum for giving me the most generous access to their archives of Godey's Lady's Books to find this wonder of the 19th century.  If you are ever in Providence, please visit this fantastic and historic institution and consider donating to keep them open to the public!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Local Curiosities

I've had a friend visiting for the past week and we have done some exploring of Rhode Island.  Here are some of the local curiosities we have come across.

This is pogodave's car.  It is powered by insanity.  Indeed.

Clovis sleeping in the car.  :)

Parade of swans in Narragansett Bay.

Clovis engaged in a little personal grooming in the sun.

Beautiful bust in a garden in Newport.

The Del's iced lemonade truck, a Rhode Island specialty, at Colt State Park.

Keystone of an arch at the Bristol Armory.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mow the Lawn

In my novel, The Rebel Wife, there is a small part played by the lawnmower.  It is a very small part, but the image was very important to me.  I wanted to be sure not only that lawnmowers existed in 1875, but what type of lawnmower exactly Simon, the caretaker of the garden, would be using.  This led me on a fascinating search about the history of the lawnmower.

Up until the 1830's, there were not many ways to mow your lawn.  On a big estate, you might have sheep roaming around the lawns keeping them trimmed close.  You might also have someone mow your lawn with a scythe, like this man in the UK.

Simon Damant mowing in the June 2008 West Country Scythe Competition
Scything was still done in the 1870's and later, for instance in this engraving "Preparing for Croquet" from 1871 by Edward Hughes...

but by then the lawnmower was almost 40 years old and far more available than ever before.  The lawnmower was well-known enough to be the feature of a humorous editorial from the Iola Register from Iola, Kansas on July 6, 1878, "The Old Way of Doing It":
The grass was getting frightfully high around our domicile, and the cow was out of meat, as it were, and so we bought a scythe; a lawn-mower is too new a contrivance, to be recognized yet, by any one of old-fashioned tastes, and so we simply went for the good old tool of our daddies.  We never had interviewed a scythe before, and at the present writing we never want to get mixed in with a scythe in the future.  A scythe seems to be made of crookedness and cussedness mixed in about equal parts; and how a man is expected to go straight at his work, behind one of them, is a little in advance of any mathematical calculation we have on hand.
What made our defeat too humiliating for any thing was, we had been lecturing our young descendants, during the breakfast hour, upon the nobility of labor, and also upon the wickedness of running after every new thing that came out to lessen the labors performed by our forefathers; that we used a scythe instead of a lawn-mower as a matter of principle, and after breakfast we’d show them how their lamented grandfather mowed his hay, and how their Maker intended hay should be mown—and didn’t want they should ever become so averse to labor, or so filled with pride, as to countenance the use of a horse-power machine, or a sacriligious lawn-mower in the performance of this ancient and honorable branch of labor.
Garden manuals, as well, were taking note of the prevalence and availability of lawnmowers in the 1870's.  Frank J. Scott's The Art of Beautifying the Suburban Home Grounds (published by D. Appleton & Co., New York in 1870) has this mention in its chapter on lawns:
Rolling mowers by horse or hand power have been prinicpally employed on large grounds; but the hand machines are now so simplified and cheapened that they are coming into general use on small pleasure grounds, and proprietors may have the pleasure of doing their own mowing without the wearisome bending of the back, incident to the use of the scythe.  Whoever spends the early hours of one summer, while the dew spangles the grass, in pushing these grass-cutters over a velvety lawn, breathing the fresh sweetness of the morning air and the perfume of new mown hay, will never rest contented again in the city.  It is likely that professional garden laborers will buy these machines and contract cheaply for the periodical mowing of a neighborhood of yards, so that those who cannot or do not desire to do it for themselves may have it done cheaply. 
Funny, I never remember feeling quite that giddy about getting behind a lawnmower.  Compared to scything, however, it must have been nothing short of miraculous.

Edwin Beard Budding is credited with the initial invention of the mechanical lawn mower.  Budding was a mechanic in a United Kingdom textile mill and was inspired by a cylindrical bladed reel he saw that was used to trim the nap on woolen cloth to an even finish.

Budding's Lawnmower - c. 1830

The patent for Budding's lawnmower was granted on August 31, 1830.  Budding went into a manufacturing partnership with John Ferrabee, but they also allowed other manufacturers to produce lawn mowers under license.  This allowed other makers to spread awareness of the lawnmower and also its technical innovation.

By the 1860's, Farrabee was manufacturing eight different types of lawn mowers.  Other well-known UK manufacturers included Ransomes of Ispwich and Thomas Green & Sons of Leeds, who named their mower the Silens Messor (silent cutter).  Early lawn-mowers could be either horse-drawn or human pushed.  If horses were used, they were also supplied with special leather boots to keep them from damaging the turf.

The first United States patent on a lawnmower was granted to Amariah Hills of Connecticut on January 12, 1868.  Early Connecticut manufacturers of lawn-mowers were located in Glastonbury, Hartford, Derby and New Britain.  Hills own manufactory, the Archimedean Lawn Mower Co. of Hartford, was formed in 1871 and specialized in branded lawn mowers with names like the Archimedean and the Charter Oak.

The Archimedean from c. 1871, thanks to the UK Old Lawnmower Club

A close-up of the Archimedean, c. 1871, thanks to the UK Old Lawnmower Club

Another early U.S. manufacturer of lawn-mowers was Elwood McGuire of Richmond, Indiana.  The Memoirs of Wayne County and the city of Richmond, Indiana, edited by Henry Clay Fox, published in 1912, states:

The Dille & McGuire Manfuacturing Company was started in 1870, as a general machine shop, by H.H. Dille and Elwood McGuire.  The first lawn mowers were made in 1874.  The company was incorporated in 1880 and has grown to be one of the largest and best equipped lawn mower factories in the world.

A lovely shot of several early lawnmowers from Antiques from the Garden by Alistair Morris from the Garden Art Press (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1996).
Antiques from the Garden by Alistair Morris from the Garden Art Press

Advances in lawn-mower technology included steam powered mowers in 1893 and the first rotary mowers in 1899, developed in part by African-American John Burr.