More Clothing History

Yes, we spent several days roaming antique spots in Penn., but the real beginning of our trip plans was a couple current museum exhibits.

A gown seen in Williamsburg

A gown seen in Williamsburg

If you are ever planning a trip to DC do some planning several months in advance.  The textile and quilt curator at the Smithsonian gives tours into the archives twice a month.  You will need a reservation.  It is worth it.  We saw the quilt top done by Martha Washington.  It was never finished!  Thankfully her descendants preserved it and then passed it on to its current home.  It is a medallion like those done at that time period.  I would bravely say that I understand why it was not finished.  The center was not that creative.  I have many of those projects.

Along with this quilt top, we saw many other quilt treasures.  When the guides learned that I loved doll quilts, they hunted and found one for me to see.   They also found a pieced pillow case that Ann Hermes would enjoy seeing although her collection is much more dense.

Jane Austen Museum

Jane Austen Museum

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Bath museum of my favorite fiction author, Jane Austen.  Jane was writing her novels at about the same time the American Colonists were planning and carrying out their Revolution.  I do not believe the dress above was actually one of Jane’s but I am sure the curator tried to be time sensitive in using it as a welcome to the Austen Museum.

Gown at the V&A Museum

Gown at the V&A Museum

The above gown was on display at the V&A Museum while I was on the same trip to England.  Why am I showing you all these gowns?  England and Europe were a two class society when the colonies and our new country was forming.  The dress of the upper class has been documented and preserved.  But what about the lower class?  The common folk?

That question is what really started our trip plans.  It reminds me of the song from Camelot,What Do the Common Folk Do?“.


A few years ago a researcher in England asked the same question.  He was advised to check out the The London Foundling Hospital Museum.   What he discovered was enough to write a book, which he did.  The book led to an England museum exhibit of pages of infant records that the hospital keep.   This exhibit then moved to the Art Museum of Williamsburg.  VA keeps much more current than I do.  She was determined that we needed to see this exhibit, while I had no clue what it was.  It was worth the entire trip as it was so moving.  Everyone needs a friend who is more with it than they are.

Back to the story.  From 1740 -1756 the Foundling Hospital was privately run.  It took in babies from needy parents.  No questions asked.  The parent(s) was aware that they could reclaim the infant when their circumstances improved.   For this reason the parent was asked to leave a token to help identify the infant at the time he was reclaimed.  While some of the tokens were metal objects as a key, etc., most of the tokens were pieces of textiles.  That piece of textile was pinned onto the page along with all information about the baby, including every garment that came with the baby.

During this time the hospital could only accommodate about 200 babies at a time.  A lottery system was used to determine which babies were accepted.  As leaders became more aware of this despair, the government became involved and added finances to the hospital.  From 1756- 1770 no babies were turned away.

The hospital keep intricate records and preserved them all.  John Styles was able to study these records and research the over 5000 pieces of textile history.   Most of it was from the common folk with some exceptions.

I started to include a couple pictures of pages in the book to give you a feel for it, but then I read the copyright and will respect it.  It is well worth the $20.

For those of us who enjoy textile history this has been a great find.  But the reality of it is very sobering.  At this time period the mortality rate of babies in England was 50%.  For the Foundling Hospital it was 66%.  I am sure this was due to the health of the babies when they were admitted rather than the hospital care.

Of the over 16,000 babies admitted, less than 1% were redeemed by the parent(s).  We can be so thankful for the advances of science and humanitarian efforts of our day!

A Woman's Wrap

A Woman’s Wrap

I will wrap this history story up with a picture of a wrap.  It comes from Terri Clothier Thompson’s collection.  In the morning women would wear a wrap while they did their household duties.  In the afternoon they would change into calling clothes and restricting undergarments.   We have come a long way!



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