We have two contrasting artifacts for you today! First, a ladies’ bustle, from the mid-late 1880s:


Many people have a sense of what a bustle was: a method of supporting a fashionably large skirt in the back. But as a fashion trend, the bustle was not static. Bustles of the early 1870s were wide, drawing the still-full skirts toward the rear. Around 1880 the trend faded somewhat as skirts grew narrower, but as that decade progressed the bustle came back, high and narrow and creating almost a right-angle with the wearer’s back. The undergarments used to create these different silhouettes were many and varied; some were full petticoats or crinolines with the bustle built in, while others were separate accessories. They could be made of steel hoops, layers of fabric, ties and springs, padded rolls, or stiffened hair-cloth (here is a nice assortment of historical examples, and the Metropolitan Museum online collection shows a variety of options).

Our example was originally cataloged as a “child’s bustle,” but while children’s fashions often copied adults’, this bustle was in fact designed for an adult.  Its narrow width (six inches wide) and pronounced shape put it in the mid 1880s.  The waist tape is printed with the manufacturer’s label, now hard to read, but with enough left to inform us that it is one of Christopher C. Shelby’s designs:

T2074 label

Mr. Shelby, of Passaic, NJ, patented a number of “New and Useful Improvements in Bustles” in the 1880s; I’ve not found a definite patent design match for our piece, but it closely resembles this patent from 1888. Even better, similar items can be found in other museum collections, such as this 1884 “New Phantom” model at the Victoria & Albert Museum. (You can also learn how to make your own, here!) The ribs of this bustle are designed to collapse inward when you sit down – likely considered by many women to be a definite “improvement.” Here’s our bustle on a dressform, showing the resultant silhouette (imagine sitting in this if it didn’t accordion inward), and below that is an 1883 Harper’s Bazaar fashion plate, showing the bustle effect in use in “ladies’ walking and evening dresses.”

T2074 in action

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper's Bazaar, December 1883

Walking (left) and evening (right) dresses, from Harper’s Bazaar, December 1883

As for who wore this particular bustle, that’s not entirely clear. Donated by Bob Eckman, it was found on the third floor of a home in Rockville during 1980s renovation work, and we presume it was left there by a previous owner. This Queen Anne style house, at 114 W. Montgomery Avenue, was built around 1890 by Edwin Montgomery West (born 1862), a master builder locally famous for employing the “Rockville Bay” window on many of his homes. West lived here with his family until 1909, at which point they moved to Virginia and sold the house to Judge Winfield Scott Magruder. Judge Magruder’s daughter, Daisy Valeria Magruder (1881-1970), lived here the rest of her life. However, Daisy was a little young for an adult-sized, fashionable bustle of the mid-late 1880s. It could have been brought to the house by her mother, Eleanor Magruder, but I personally favor West’s wife, Olivia Bogley West (born 1873), or even better West’s sister Frances O. Green (born 1860), who lived here along with Edwin and Olivia. Age-appropriate Frances packing away an out-of-fashion accessory in the attic, then forgetting it when the house is sold, makes sense to me… but I’ve not found much information about her that could help to confirm or deny.


I wanted to throw in another artifact today, and I could have gone a few different ways: Another 1880s fashion piece? Something else forgotten in an attic? But instead I decided on this item, with a similar function but, er, in the opposite direction: A bandeau brassiere from the 1920s.


This silk and satin bra, made by the Modishform Company of New York (size 38), was donated by Eugenie LeMerle Riggs, who described it as “a bra designed to flatten, 1922-23.” Indeed, there’s not much room in this garment; the only concessions to the shape of the body underneath are two minor tucks in each side, and the manufacturer’s name is a nod to the wearer’s desire to achieve a “modish form” or silhouette.  Not every woman indulged in a binding brassiere in the 1920s, of course (or in a bustle in the 1880s, either), but the flat-chested fashion wasn’t limited to high-living flappers. The 1927 Sears, Roebuck catalog featured a variety of bandeau bras, “confining” brassieres, and a “Boyshform Brassiere” (fun fact: that company sued Modishform in 1922 for trademark infringement), which “is very popular, as it gives your figure that smart boylike appearance that so many women desire.”

T1674 detail

Unlike the possible bustle-wearers listed above, we know a fair amount about this bra’s owner. Eugenie LeMerle (1904-2003) grew up in Washington, DC, and graduated in 1931 with an architecture degree from what is now George Washington University, where she was voted one of the “six most beautiful women” on campus. She had a brief career as a ballroom dancer, before marrying George Riggs and moving to Ashton to raise a family. She donated a lot of her fashionable clothing, from various decades, to our collections.  In other words, I can well believe she was concerned with presenting an appropriately boyish silhouette during the 1920s.  This isn’t the best pose for showing off said silhouette, but how can I resist adding this fabulous photo of Eugenie LeMerle in 1923?

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.

Framed photograph of Eugenie LeMerle, 1923. Donated by Eugenie L. Riggs.


Whole books have been written about women’s undergarments, fashionable silhouettes, and what both mean for culture, social mores, feminism and femininity, and the like.  In other words, if these artifacts have whetted your appetite, there is much more to learn!  To get you started, here are some larger online exhibits of undergarments: The Victoria & Albert Museum provides a nice overview of late 19th century shaping undergarments;  the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History features a little more about the history of the bandeau bra; and the Museum at FIT has an exhibit (open through November 2014, if you want to visit) titled “Exposed: A History of Lingerie,” which includes an online version.


Bonus artifact! Men’s fashions have not been immune to the need for shape-enhancing (or –reducing) undergarments. However, we don’t have anything along those lines in our collections. Instead, enjoy a look at a now-rare form of support garment for men: a pair of sock garters from the 1950s, intended to help the well-dressed gentleman keep his non-elasticized socks from sagging unbecomingly about his ankles.  These were purchased as vintage pieces by MCHS volunteer Mary Lou Luff, for display in one of our exhibits.



Here we have a set of Textile Classification study cards, created in 1924 by Margaret Ravenolt, a student at Frederick’s Hood College. There are 51 cards, bound with a metal ring, each card providing details on the manufacture and usage of the chosen swatch of fabric.

M. Ravenolt study cards

Cotton cretonne

The 5” x 8” cards have been pre-printed with the desired information, as well as the name of the school; this was clearly a course-wide requirement, not a project created individually for fun. The fabrics are all noted as having been purchased in Frederick in 1924 (alas, the stores are not named), and they are a comprehensive lot. Ever read an historical novel and wondered, ‘what is foulard, or nainsook, or challis?’ Miss Ravenolt had the answer, in both written and physical form.


Cotton percale

Silk taffeta

Silk taffeta

Wool challis, detail

Wool challis

As much fun as it is to see examples of 1924 calico and cheviot, this is essentially someone’s homework – and from another county, at that. Why is it in our artifact collections? Thankfully, it was part of a donation of archival material, which helps us put our little pre-digital fabric database in context.

Margaret Ravenolt (1906-1990) grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Hood College in the early 1920s, and taught in the Maryland State public school system (probably Frederick County) from 1927-29. In 1928 she married Irvin C. Thomas of Adamstown, Frederick County, Maryland. During the 1930s, the Thomases moved to a home on Brooks Avenue, Gaithersburg, where Irvin worked as a manager at the Thomas & Co. warehouse. Irvin died in March of 1937; later that year Margaret returned to teaching, beginning her thirty year career with the Montgomery County Public School system. She taught at several schools around the county, and by 1963 she was teaching Home Arts at Edwin W. Broome Junior High, in the Twinbrook neighborhood of Rockville. She retired at the end of the 1967-68 school year.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas's collection.

Just a few of the pamphlets and brochures in Mrs. Thomas’s collection.

Most of the materials in this small collection (donated by Mrs. Thomas’s daughter, Barbara Thomas Lima) relate to these years at Broome Jr High, including recipes, knitting patterns, home furnishing books, and other resources for teaching home economics, as well as correspondence related to her pension. Along with these pieces there are also fun tidbits like notes on upcoming quizzes; a hall pass, written on the back of a recipe for ginger snaps; a letter thanking her for mentoring a student teacher from her alma mater, Hood College; and a 1963 report by Mrs. Thomas and her fellow Home Arts teacher Laura Burruss on how they dealt with classroom overcrowding.

Left: notes on "Cookies, Grade 9." Right: "Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers," a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

Left: notes on “Cookies, Grade 9.” Right: “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers,” a 1963 report on dealing with overcrowding.

(A side note on Broome Junior High: Named for Dr. Edwin W. Broome (1885-1956), a long-time County Superintendent, the school opened in 1957 in the rapidly growing suburbs of Rockville. It was a busy, full school for many years – as Mrs. Thomas’s 1963 “Four Classes, Three Rooms, Four Teachers” report attests – but by the late 1970s, the surrounding neighborhoods had aged; Broome closed in 1981, and its remaining students were moved to nearby Wood Junior High. The building, on Twinbrook Parkway, is still standing, used now as offices and storage space for county agencies.)

Saved along with these contemporary resources were three earlier items, dating from Mrs. Thomas’s college courses: A report titled “Textile Notes,” another report on house styles (with lots of red pencil; she seems to have done better with textiles), and our Textile Classification study card set. Perhaps she used these items in her teaching . . . or perhaps she simply kept them on hand to remind herself what it’s like to be student, studying home economics and trying to remember fifty different types of fabric.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt's architectural styles report, circa 1920s.

A page from Margaret Ravenolt’s architectural styles report, circa 1920s.


I was already planning to feature Mrs. Thomas’s small collection this week when I learned that, coincidentally, yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day. So take today’s post as a reminder to appreciate your favorite teachers, past and present, no matter what subject! And please, if any of my readers remember Mrs. Thomas – or anyone else at Broome – or any Home Arts teachers around the county, share those memories with us!


… I know you wanted to see the hall pass, and I’ll oblige:

Hall pass

Our exhibit on laundry closes this coming Sunday, January 12; visit now, before all our lovely starched collars, blued petticoats, and terrifyingly complex laundry tools go back into storage!  In the meantime, here’s a look at a few, final laundry-related items that didn’t make it into the exhibit.

t0966ac-2This fringed linen hand towel is embroidered, in a charmingly free-hand style, with the word “LAUNDRY.”  It has the look of a once-good towel (it even has a stamped, numerical laundry mark, indicating it was sent out to be cleaned) which has now been down-graded to use in the laundry room; lest someone confuse it with a guest-worthy towel, it’s been conveniently marked with its function and place. (And yes, I realize it’s somewhat ironic that it really needs to be ironed.)   Early 20th century; donated by the Poole sisters.


Many of the helpful laundry-related tips to be found in magazines and household manuals relate to the problem of small articles going missing.  A subscriber submitted this piece of advice to Good Housekeeping’s Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries (1922): “Avoid loss of handkerchiefs (and of temper as well)” by basting them together before sending them out to the laundry.  (The contributor adds, “Of course, they are returned unironed, but who would not be willing to press them out rather than not to have them returned to you at all, particularly in these days of high-priced linens!”)  Stockings are also prone to loss, which – as anyone with a pile of lonely, mismatched socks knows – is particularly vexing.  The Ladies’ Home Journal “What Other Women Have Found Out” column for May 1907 included this reader-submitted tip:

LHJ 5-07 reader tips“Sewing pairs of stockings together before washing them will help the busy mother.  It does not interfere with the washing, and when they have been ironed it is a great help to find them all sorted and mated.  A snip of the scissors releases them.”

Our collections include many batches of basted-together collars, handkerchiefs, and stockings – that final “snip of the scissors” not yet achieved – including this pair of fancy cotton stockings, which are still sewn together at the top. Early 20th century, donated by Elisabeth Mast Buck.



And finally, one of my favorite discoveries while researching this exhibit: a wonderfully modern-sounding article from the January 1926 issue of Women’s Home Companion.  In “Charting the Seas of Matrimony,” Frances Duncan Manning (1877-1972), author of several books on gardening and frequent contributor to women’s magazines in the 1910s and 1920s, argued that “Where [husband and wife] are both at work a scrupulous fairness in the division of labors is vital.”  Manning uses the household chores of cooking and laundry to illustrate her point, which is why the article caught my laundry-attuned eye.  If an unmarried professional young woman has been taking care of her own wardrobe, she may see no reason why her new husband can’t do the same for his own – and if he blithely assumes she’ll provide his beloved “well-laundered shirts, mended socks, [and] exquisitely pressed trousers” as if by magic, the matrimonial seas will be choppy indeed.  Manning sums up her argument in a way that makes a fair division of labor seem like a positive thing (hooray, independence!) for everyone: “The corollary to economic independence of women is domestic independence for men.”  In other words, everyone should know how to do their own laundry.

split the work

Today we have a fur coat, owned and worn by Rebecca Darby Nourse Chinn (1904-1982) of Dawsonville and Rockville.


The coat was donated by Mrs. Chinn’s daughter, who described it as “Mother’s raccoon coat,” worn while attending Swarthmore College in the 1920s.  Rebecca Nourse (pronounced “nurse”) grew up in Dawsonville; she attended the Dawsonville School, the Andrew Small Academy in Darnestown, the Fort Loudoun Seminary in Winchester, Virginia, and then Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 1927 with a degree in biology.  After college, she taught at Gaithersburg High School until her 1929 marriage to Raleigh Chinn; later in life she worked as a librarian at the Twinbrook Library.

Her entry in her senior yearbook at Swarthmore.

Her entry in her senior yearbook at Swarthmore.

The raccoon coat – a large, enveloping affair – was a fashion fad of the 1920s, particularly among college students. Along with ukeleles, galoshes, jalopies, and Rudy Vallee’s megaphone, such coats became a symbol of 1920s youth, both at the time (see: Rudy Vallee singing “Do the Raccoon” (1928), or the contract-signing scene in “Horse Feathers” (1932)) and in later decades.  Raccoon coats are often thought of today as a strictly male style, but women also adopted the look, and why not?  A nice big fur coat was fashionable, looked expensive, and kept you warm in that open-topped car.

1924 photo of a Mary LaFollette of D.C., from the Library of Congress collections.

1924 photo of a Mary LaFollette of D.C., from the Library of Congress collections.

Mrs. Chinn’s coat is in good condition, though slightly bald in spots (it was worn by the donor’s daughter and grandchildren as a costume for many years) and missing a few of the large brown leather buttons.  It has a high shawl collar, deep cuffs, and two slash pockets edged with raccoon tails; the lining is brown satin on the top, and tan plaid wool on the bottom.  There is no store label.

Buttons (and tail-edged pocket)

Buttons (and tail-edged pocket)

The lining

The lining

The basic design of this coat, from collar to pockets to lining to buttons, seems to have been something of a standard style; a little poking around on the internet revealed examples of very similar coats for men and women, some without labels and some from a variety of shops and furriers. Here’s a man’s raccoon coat – same buttons, though without the tails on the pockets – by Saks Fifth Avenue, in the collections of the Met, and here’s one worn by Peter Lawford in “Easter Parade.”  A ladies’ version of the coat can be found in the 1927 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog as the “Swagger ‘Tomboy’ Model” (“collegiate style”). The only difference between this one and ours is that the Sears model is made of “natural gray opossum fur,” while our coat appears to indeed be raccoon.  Here’s the Sears description:

1927 Opossum Fur Coat SearsFor misses and small women, we offer here a fur coat of luxurious warmth and appealing smartness.  Made of genuine, Natural Gray Opossum Fur – only large pelts used and those of a selected grade – dense, long haired and very sturdy; of a pleasing silvery gray color with rich darker gray markings.  The pockets show attractive trimming of Striped Raccoon Tails.

The coat is called the “Tomboy” model, having been especially made for hard, strenuous service and cut on loose, comfortable lines in mannish double breasted style.  Fastens with large, novelty leather buttons.  The sleeves and yoke are lined with guaranteed, genuine Skinner’s Satin and for additional warmth and practical wear the lower part has All Wool Plaid lining.  Priced far below what you would have to pay elsewhere for a coat of this quality, and a value typical of those offered by our Fur Department.  Average length, about 44 inches. . . . Shipping weight 9 lbs.  $129.00.  (Nice cheap coat, right?  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calendar, $129 in 1927 would be $1,731 in 2013.)

Even better is this photo of Rebecca Nourse’s class at Swarthmore; several girls are sporting fur coats and collars, and the young lady holding up the left side of the banner, R. Esther Howard (Class Secretary), is wearing this coat.  (Well, presumably not the exact same coat.)  It’s a smallish photo; for a better version, check the 1928 Halcyon yearbook here.

1928 Swarthmore yearbook class photo
I don’t know if this coat was a college girl’s birthday present, something she purchased for herself, or what; regardless, Rebecca Nourse, like so many of us, wanted to keep in style (and keep warm) while she was at school.  But she wasn’t so faddish that she ditched the coat later; a good coat should last a long time.  To finish off today’s post, here’s a 1932 photo of Rebecca Nourse Chinn, in the front yard of her Rockville home; she’s wearing the coat.

RDNC in coat 1932

A good housekeeper keeps track of the household linens.  When was that tablecloth last used?  Which pillowcase needs mending? Did all the sheets come back from the laundress?  And whose towel is that, anyway? As Sidney Morse, author of Household Discoveries (1908), remarked, “All fabrics will wear better if not used continually, but allowed to rest at intervals . . . linen and other articles are often mislaid or stolen when sent to laundries, and sometimes taken from the line or blown away when spread on the grass to bleach.” Advice books and magazines from the 19th and 20th centuries suggest a variety of methods for inventory management, such as keeping a memorandum book, or tacking a list to the inside of the closet door. However, towels and sheets are not noted for their individuality.  The easiest way to maintain control is to mark them, either in embroidery or ink.

Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (1797-1858) of Sandy Spring wrote a cookbook, Domestic Cookery: Useful Receipts and Hints to Young Housekeepers, and published it herself in 1845.  The book was popular, and eventually went through 19 editions.  Our copy, published in 1856, includes this helpful tidbit on page 208:

House Linen. Have a book in which to set down all the bed and table linen, towels and napkins; every article of which should be marked and numbered, and counted at least once a month.”

I particularly like this piece of advice because it goes so nicely with these two artifacts, donated by Lea’s great-granddaughter Isabel Stabler Moore: a pair of pillowcases, marked respectively “M.L. No. 2″ and “M.L. No. 6.”

both cases
These linen cases are handsewn. Number 6 is larger, 33″ x 18″, with attached twill tapes to close it around the pillow.  Number 2 measures 28″ x 16.5″, is made of a slightly coarser linen, and shows more evidence of use; it is stained and mended.  Both cases are carefully marked in ink (which has created a slight stain around each set of initials).  The donor told us they were made and used by her grandmother – Betsy Lea’s daughter – Mary Lea Stabler (1822-1888) of Sandy Spring.  It’s worth noting, however, that the initials don’t actually match:

ML 2 and 6
Researcher Mary Robare* kindly provided us with a photo of Mary Lea Stabler’s embroidered initials, on the Pidgeon Family Quilt.  The form of the M there matches – or at least is closer to – our pillowcase No. 6 … assuming, of course, that Mary embroidered the quilt signature herself.

"M.L.S." embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

“M.L.S.” embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

At any rate, the two cases were marked by two different people, whoever they were. Did other family members mark them for Mary, as a gift, or just to give her a hand?  Was one of the cases made, marked, and/or used by Martha Lea, Mary’s sister – or by someone else entirely?  Initials can be deceptive; some women chose their middle name over their maiden name, or put their final initial in the center of the mark, or even added their husband’s first initial before their own.  A third pillowcase in this donation is marked “E.W.S. No. 6″; we haven’t been able to trace E.W.S., thanks in part to these issues.  However, based on the donor’s genealogy, it seems likely that one or both of the M.L. cases belonged to Mary Lea Stabler, following her mother’s published advice.

Household linens were not the only items that required marking.  Anything that was going to be sent out to the laundry would benefit from an identifying laundry mark; our collections include gloves, collars, shirts, aprons, dresses, and underthings that are marked in ink with initials and names, or have pre-made name tapes sewn inside.  For example, we have a pair of black cotton knit stockings, donated by Mrs. Jack Stone; each stocking has an attached strip of twill tape on which is written in ink “M. Clements No. 2.”

Mary Elizabeth Clements (1865-1962) of Rockville married Lee Offutt in 1888; awesomely, she won a Discretionary Premium for her knit stockings (including these??) at the 1889 Rockville Fair.  She must have had more than one pair of black stockings (since this is pair number two), and she may even have made them herself; I don’t know where she sent her laundry, but she clearly wanted to be sure she got all her belongings back in good order.

Laundry exhibit status: Both Domestic Cookery and Household Discoveries are on display in the exhibit, through January 12, 2014.  Though Mary Lea Stabler’s pillowcases and Mary Clements Offutt’s stockings are not included, there are plenty of other examples of laundry marks to be seen.

*By the way, there’s a new Sandy Spring Quilt installment on Mary’s blog, Quaker Quilts.

So tell me, gentlemen, what style of collar did you choose for today?  Detachable or attached?  High-stand or low-stand? Starched or soft?  Linen, cotton, silk, or celluloid? Polished finish or dull? Stand-up, turn down, or wing?

Just a few options from the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.

Just a few options from the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.

Regardless of these options, there’s one universal factor: the collar must be clean.  The detachable collar, legend has it, was invented in the 1820s when a New York housewife named Hannah Montague removed her husband’s collar from his shirt in order to launder it more easily.  The collars and cuffs of mens’ shirts needed extra care; through much of the 19th century fashion demanded a stiff, starched appearance, and anyway those parts of a shirt are more vulnerable to everyday grime and debris (e.g., ink, hair oil…).  The work of the laundress or laundryman was a little easier when these fiddly bits could be rubbed, scrubbed, starched, and ironed separately from the shirt itself, hence the introduction of collarless shirts and detachable collars, cuffs, and even shirtfronts.  By the mid 20th century, however, men’s fashions had changed, and stain-resistant, wrinkle-free fabrics were introduced. Attached collars became the norm, and a high starched collar is now generally worn only on formal occasions.

We have a number of late 19th-early 20th century collars in our collections, representing only a small portion of the almost dizzying array of style options available to a gentleman of fashion. (If you need a visual, here’s Lloyd Coates, Jr., of Sugarland in a wing-tip collar, or do an online image search for the Arrow Collar Man.) Because collars were so persnickety, they are often mentioned in laundry how-to guides, household hints, and personal accounts of housewives and laundresses. Starching was a messy business, added on to the heavy work of the rest of the laundry, and the sheer numbers of small white pieces – collars, cuffs, handkerchiefs, gloves, diapers, &c. – generated by the average household could be overwhelming. The simplest solution was to send them out to a professional.  Many women did their best to divest themselves of the laundry chore altogether, but when that wasn’t possible, the next best thing was to send out the menfolk’s collars and cuffs.

trio of collarsNaturally, there were various inventions and discoveries that tried to mitigate the problem.  The three collars above (shown au naturel at left, and held together with collar studs at right) present a continuum of starchiness, as it were, starting with the Arrow “Prom” style wing-tip in the back; this one is starched into shape, with the necessary folded points.  The other two are relaxed enough to store flat: First, a Van Heusen collar (in the “Van Hart” style), patented in 1921, which includes the printed instructions “NO STARCH   IRON FLAT WHILE DAMP.”  (This one is in the center in the lefthand photo above, and on the right – resting on its points – in the righthand photo.)

T567a 1Despite these protestations the collar has, in fact, been starched, which may point to the inadequacy of the patented technique, described by the inventor as “a collar sufficiently stiff to maintain its upright shape without the employment of starch and nevertheless sufficiently pliable, by reason of the introduction of reinforcing threads in the fabric to receive and maintain a curvilinear set appropriate to the wearer’s use. . . as applied to a collar of the turn-over type.” (Patent # 1,383,694.)

The third option in the photos above is a “Hempstead” style Arrow collar, probably from the mid to late 1920s, which proclaims itself “A FLEXIBLE STARCHED COLLAR.”

T567d 1(Again, despite the instructions, it is currently in an unstarched state, so it gives a nice contrast to the stiffness of its friends.)  Though I suspect that these manufacturer innovations were less about the laundress’s time and efforts and more about the wearer’s comfort, the printed instructions nevertheless provide a hint of the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into a gentleman’s attire.

T2078Other possibilities included celluloid (plastic) collars, “washable” and easily wiped clean.  Or, one could also simply avoid the laundering altogether by using disposable collars.  The Reversible Collar Company, Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of several paper collar manufacturers in the late 19th and early 20th century.  This package of ten “Linene” collars (“Plaza” style), circa 1910, provides instructions that explain their appeal: “Wear both sides then throw away.”  The cotton-faced paper collars maintained a clean, polished and starched appearance (see below) for a little while, and then could be thrown away with no regrets.

T2078 collar 4

In case you – like me – have never attempted to starch something in your life and require a little more proof of the task’s unpleasantness, here’s an account written by a career “collar starcher” from the late 19th century, and, below, a description of the starching step from 1908 (remember, household laundry was a two-day process):

“To apply starch. – Strain the hot starch through a piece of cheese cloth and use while it is still warm.  Select first the articles that require the most stiffness, as shirt bosoms, collars, and cuffs . . . .  The garments to be starched should be nearly dry.  Immerse them or such part of them as should be starched in the thick starch, and rub between the hands to work the starch thoroughly into their texture.  Remove the starch, squeeze out the excess, and rub once more with the hands to distribute the starch evenly through the material [or else it won’t iron well].  Dry the articles, sprinkle them, spread on a clean white cloth, and roll them up in bundles so that the dampness will be evenly distributed before ironing.”
– From Household Discoveries, An Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes and Processes, by Sidney Morse, 1908.

Laundry exhibit status: These collars did not make the exhibit, but there are several others on display.

Linen and cotton collars: anonymous donors.  Package of paper collars: donated by Gladys Poffenberger.

More collars! From the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog

More collars! From the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog

It’s National Volunteer Week (April 21-27, 2013), and it’s also getting close to the day when we will say farewell to Bethania, our fabulous high school intern.  We could not operate the Historical Society’s museums, library, or programs without our many volunteers!  So, as a small token of thanks to all the people who help keep us going, I thought I’d highlight one of Bethania’s collections projects on today’s blog.

As we do with all our high school, college, and graduate level interns, we assigned her a wide variety of activities, from the interesting to the rather less interesting.  If you’re thinking about going into museum work, it’s important to know that it’s not all opening boxes of treasures; some days you may be making copies, or setting up chairs.  But we do try to make most of their time here at least moderately entertaining!  As her final project, Bethania is helping me prepare new boards on our infant Pinterest page by taking photos of our shoe collection.  Over the years we’ve amassed a large number of shoes, mostly women’s and children’s; unfortunately many came with no particular provenance, but they’re still pretty interesting (and sometimes just plain pretty).  I confess, these are my picks rather than Bethania’s – she is taking time off from the internship to handle pesky things like exams and college prep – but perhaps you’ll be hearing from her on the blog soon.

T1067 2


A pair of snazzy toddler shoes, black patent leather with tan cut-out trim, circa 1925; history unknown.



T1123 1




White kid pumps, purchased from Rich’s Proper Shoes, Washington DC, circa 1950; history unknown.


T2171 2




Lace-up high-top ladies’ boots, brown leather, purchased from the Maryland Shoe Company of Cumberland, circa 19o0; history unknown.




T73 1



Some of my personal favorites – a pair of “Princess Pat” shoes, early 1920s; history unknown.



T2165 2



And at last, a pair of white fabric peep-toe sandals, made by Valcraft and purchased at Julius Garfinckel & Co., Washington DC, circa 1965.  This pair was owned by Frances Partridge of Rockville.

(Apologies if the text and photos aren’t matching up right – they look okay in my preview, but I suspect things will go wrong on other screens.)

Want to relive past intern projects? (Who wouldn’t?)  We’ve featured them in these posts: Log cabin toy, A peek inside the dairy house, 1912 and 1924 diaries, a compendium of summer projects, and one guest blog.  Take a moment to check out their work – and remember, if you see a volunteer, say Thank You!

Last week, a reader admired the tidy little boots sported by the Parsly children in their family portrait. Here’s a closer look at a similar, though slightly earlier, pair.


These side-button black leather boots are six inches from toe to heel. They’re fairly worn and scuffed, and the right shoe has a hole worn through at the big toe, but otherwise they are in stable condition.  They were probably sturdy, everyday shoes, worn until outgrown.


The boots were likely worn by their donor, Isabel Stabler Moore (1885-1971), daughter of Dr. Augustus and Helen Snowden Stabler. Isabel was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, but the family returned to “Roslyn,” Dr. Stabler’s home in Brighton (Sandy Spring area), after the death of his father in 1890.  An interesting – and currently unanswered – question is, why were they saved?  For sentimental or practical reasons, or perhaps it was simply an oversight?

Inside the left boot is a label for “Best & Co., New York,” a high-end children’s clothing store (originally, anyway) founded in 1879. I can’t find catalog images for that shop, but here’s a selection of children’s shoes from the 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog. Isabel’s boots resemble the “spring heel” boot on the right (minus the scalloped edge), suitable for both boys and girls.

1886 bloomies shoes

In surveying 1890s images from our photo collections, most of the girls are wearing side-button boots while the boys have front-laced ones, but I don’t believe that was a hard and fast rule.  Slightly older girls had heeled boots, but otherwise toddler shoes of the late 19th century seem fairly interchangeable.

warfield and pooleLeft: Robert Leroy Warfield (1889-1970) of Rockville, donated by the Warfield family. Right: Martha Sprigg Poole (1890-1972) of Poolesville & Washington DC, donated by Katherine Poole.

Want more children’s shoes? We have a nice selection, some of which will probably end up on the blog eventually, but in the meantime check out the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has gathered their 1890s children’s footwear onto one page (including a fabulous pair of blue boots, which I covet).

We have a lot of wedding-related things in our collections: not only gowns, but also accessories, photos, hymnals, presents, and even a few cake-toppers. What we, and many other museums, lack is the men’s side of the story. There are various reasons for this lamentable fact, and the first draft of this post went into some detail, but let’s sum up for now with “Americans don’t get very attached to the groom’s outfit” (remember, today it’s often a rental) and head straight to one of the few groom-related artifacts in our collections.



These silk and leather suspenders, embroidered in wool, represent a fashion which should be brought back immediately, because they are fabulous. They were worn by Washington Irvin of Baltimore upon his marriage to Mary Florence Hamilton, in either 1874 or 1880. His daughter, Florence Irvin Wright of Kensington, donated them in the 1970s, along with her mother’s wedding shoes; some years later Mrs. Wright’s own daughter added the plaster “Good Luck” horseshoe from the wedding cake. The Irvins have defeated my armchair genealogy skills, so I haven’t been able to confirm the wedding date, about which mother and daughter disagreed.

see how nicely the patterns match up?

Berlin wool work is a type of needlepoint defined more by the materials than by the technique. Berlin wool, a soft embroidery floss, was developed in Germany in the early 1800s; it was hard-wearing, brightly dyed, and suitable for functional pieces. In the mid 19th century patterns for Berlin work cushions, bags, bell-pulls, slippers, and suspenders were published in women’s magazines (such as the image below, from Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1867) and sold as single sheets. The designs, often floral pictures, were worked on canvas in cross-stitch, tent-stitch, or other variations. Mr. Irvin’s suspenders are a repeating (and mirrored) floral pattern in tent-stitch, worked on silk net.


Embroidered suspenders were fashionable in the mid to late 19th century, and surviving examples are often (though not always) associated with weddings or other special occasions. The groom did not saunter down the aisle with his colorful accessories on view, however; suspenders were support garments and, technically, underwear. My favorite description of the fancy-suspender trend comes from The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and Phillis Cunningham, published in 1951:

“1857-1866. At about this period braces [British for “suspenders”] embroidered in Berlin woolwork of many colours came into notice. What is remarkable about them, apart from their colours, is the fact that they were so often worked by young ladies and given as presents to the sterner sex; this at a time when prudery forbade the mention of the garments to which they were destined to be fastened. Perhaps we should regard them as symbols of a secret attachment.”

Mrs. Wright knew only that “someone made them for [my father] to wear” – for the sake of his bride’s sensibilities, let’s hope that she herself did the needlework for her future husband.


The Maryland weather is getting colder, which means those of us with winter wardrobes can start making the change. That’s right, it’s time to break out the long underwear!

Hooray for the internet: the union suit has its own Wikipedia page.  Everyone’s favorite one-piece undergarment was invented in the late 1860s,  originally marketed toward women as a liberating change from restricting corsets.  The ladies did not seize upon the concept with much enthusiasm, and instead the garment ended up worn mostly by men and children.  By the mid 20th century the union suit was considered old fashioned, and when Americans needed extra warmth we turned to two-piece “long johns” instead.

But though today the union suit with its rear “fireman’s flap” is considered comical, it had its day in the mainstream, and we have several in our collections.   Here are three (well, two suits and a box) from the 1920s-30s, manufactured by the Allen A Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin.  At left is a short-sleeved union suit, “50% wool,” worn by Judge Thomas M. Anderson (1902-1980) of Rockville.  It was purchased at an estate sale and donated to us by Peg Sante (once our volunteer textile curator); she noted that it was worn by Judge Anderson in the 1930s “when he went hunting.”

This smaller version (below), sized for a toddler, was donated in 1974 by Jayne Greene, and may have been worn by her husband Alexander J. Greene (1923-2010), past Mayor of Rockville, during his childhood in New York.  Like Judge Anderson’s suit, this one has an Allen A Spring Needle label.

And here’s an Allen A Underwear box, circa 1925, from Gladys Benson.  It’s labeled on the end “Union Suits,” and the original tissue inside adds “Spring Needle Knit – Light Weight and Heavy Knit for Men and Boys.”   I suspect that the box was used in later years to store some of the small textiles Miss Benson donated, and no stories about the box’s original use came with the donation.  Perhaps the contents were purchased at a Rockville or Washington store for Miss Benson’s father or brother, both of Rockville.

The Allen A Spring Needle name and logo were added in 1920 to the Black Cat Textiles Company’s goods; the box is copyrighted 1920, the name was registered with the Patent Office in 1921, and many ads from the early 1920s emphasize that the Allen A name on your familiar Black Cat stockings should be seen as “the Maker’s personal pledge of responsibility to you. ‘Allen’ – the name of the Makers.  And ‘A’ – the standard mark of first and finest grade.”  “Maker Allen” was Charles C. Allen, a noted industrialist in Kenosha, who acquired the company in 1912.  The Great Depression hit Kenosha’s factories hard, and the Wisconsin factory closed in the late 1930s; it was eventually bought by the Atlas Underwear company.  The fact that, let’s say 30% of our union suit collection is made up of Allen A pieces is probably just a coincidence – there were lots of rival companies – but perhaps the stores in Rockville, where two of our pieces were worn, favored this particular brand.

It was harder than usual to find additional images for this week’s post as, unsurprisingly, we have no photos of 1920s-30s county residents in their skivvies.  Plus, many of the early Allen A advertisements are too discreet to show their product in use.  Here, however, is a 1926 ad (scroll down to the third row) with a confident gentleman sporting his union suit in comfort and, dare I say, style. (He pomaded his hair!)  Doesn’t he make you want to enjoy some old-fashioned, warmth-providing underwear this winter?

Both the adult and child sizes (the latter shown above) feature a ‘side opening’ flap, not the standard old-guy-in-a-1930s-cartoon two-button flap… which goes to show that you can’t always judge an antique by its cartoon representation.