Nineteenth Century

From the Underground Railroad to the Water-Cure: David Ruggles

(This post originally appeared as a guest post on Linda Bennett Pennell’s blog, History Imagined.) In researching my historical novels set in nineteenth-century America, I have come across a number of people, now obscure, who deserve to be remembered for their heroism. One is David Ruggles, a black abolitionist. Born in Lyme, Connecticut, on March …

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An Unlikely Escort: The Dentist Who (Maybe) Helped Mary Lincoln Out of Frankfurt

In 1870, the widowed Mary Lincoln and her son Tad, who had already been in one war zone in Washington, D.C., found themselves in another as France and Prussia faced off. After her husband’s assassination, Mary refused to return to Springfield, Illinois.[1] Although the Lincolns owned a home at Eighth and Jackson Streets there, and …

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The Bloomer Movement

In 1851, a new word entered the fashion lexicon: the “Bloomer.” It referred not to undergarments but to what had been known previously by such names as the “reform dress” and the “Turkish dress”: essentially, a short dress paired with pantaloons, in place of the constricting women’s garments of the day. It would become associated …

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Within the Golden Ball of St. Paul’s

In nineteenth-century London (and apparently into the 1960s), it was possible for the venturesome to climb all the way to the interior of the golden ball surmounting St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (right below the cross). One of those who made the effort was the intrepid feminist Ernestine Rose, who along with her husband was …

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Mother Knows Best

Ernestine Rose, the subject of my novel-in-progress, was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Ernestine was much closer to Susan B. Anthony, who accompanied Ernestine to Washington, D.C., in 1854, defended Ernestine against those who would have kept her off the platform because of her open atheism, and visited Ernestine, a …

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Moving Day: New York Style

Early feminist Ernestine Rose, the heroine of my novel-in-progress, and her husband William changed residences multiple times during the more than 30 years they resided in New York City, which means that they frequently had to cope with what was known as Moving Day. Until well into the 20th century, most residential leases in New …

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Girl-Watching on Fifth Avenue

I couldn’t resist this charming poem and accompanying illustrations, apparently given as a contribution to a scrapbook in the early 1860s. (Sadly, I have only this page, not the rest of the scrapbook.) In case you have difficulty reading the poem, here’s a transcription: I’ve been requested in this bookTo write lines old or newBy …

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“Hidden Mothers”: Hiding in Plain Sight in Victorian Photography

A while back, I posted on the solemn subject of Victorian postmortem photography. Here’s a more lighthearted aspect of nineteenth-century photography: the phenomenon of what collectors have nicknamed the “hidden mother.” Contrary to legend, having a picture taken didn’t mean that the subject had to stand still for minutes at a time, except in the …

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Robert Dale Owen’s “Marriage Declaration.”

On April 12, 1832, in New York City, thirty-year-old Robert Dale Owen married nineteen-year-old Mary Jane Robinson. The son of reformer and socialist Robert Owen, Robert Dale Owen shared his father’s views and was a writer and a publisher. He also served in the Indiana legislature and Congress, was the American ambassador to the Kingdom …

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Postmortem Photography: An Appreciation

WARNING: This post contains photos of dead persons, though none are sensational or gruesome. If you are upset by such things, please skip this post. A few years back, I began collecting nineteenth-century photographs. In doing so, I have acquired a number of postmortem photographs. I find them moving and in many cases quite beautiful. …

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