More Objects, More History

2016 North Carolina State Fair award winning pumpkin (and watermelon).


I enjoyed all the reading this week, but I’ll start first with Ott’s “Object Analysis of the Giant Pumpkin.” This article is an example of exactly the kind of writing and research (and object analysis!) that I most want to do.

This is my favorite type of history – where you take one thing, one object like the pumpkin and tease out all the strands of meaning and history embedded in it. I also feel like my experience as a food preservationist from an agricultural, rural background makes me feel particularly comfortable in the realm of food and meaning. My real life experience cooking and making traditional preserves and pickles is like Dannehl says, a type of historical reenactment, which I will come back to below.  I have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about how identity is wrapped up in food – both growing and procuring and cooking and eating. Like Ott says, “Natural goodness, agrarianism, and communal values are intangible sentiments you cannot own, but you can grow and display pumpkins to exhibit your appreciation and personal identification with them.” Pumpkins in this sense represent a compromise that rural identified people have made with their industrial or urban/suburban lives.

I wish I had known more about object analysis when I wrote my book on sweet potatoes. I feel the need to revisit the sweet potato as it moved from a subsistence crop to a commodity crop and how that has changed the society of the rural south, particularly my hometown of Vardaman, Mississippi.





In Karin Dannehl’s Object Biographies: From Production to Consumption she lays out two distinct types of object analysis — biography (specific, exceptional) and life cycle (generic) and the value of a combined approach, using both biography and life cycle analysis to fill in with one where another falls short to create a richer mosaic of an object’s history.

I found this type of approach helpful when thinking about my lingerie dress, as well as other projects like my recipe box that I am working on. With the lingerie dress, there are certain areas where its biography drops out. I do not know how the dress was commissioned, where the transaction took place, or for whom the dress was made. I hope to be able to use the life cycle to investigate how and where custom dresses in 1910 were made, as well as how they were distributed, worn, and how many were recycled or disposed of. I have found studies of a dressmaker’s workshop in Rhode Island that may provide insight into some technical production knowledge, as well as information or how dressmakers marketed their products and how they weathered the changing retail environment of the teens and twenties.

The redroom, where the Tirocchi’s clients were fitted. The Tirocchis were Italian immigrant dressmakers in Rhode Island (1915-1930s).

Dannehl also discusses is the idea of sensual history, which peaked my interest. As someone who spent 11 years delving into preserving food using traditional methods and recipes, I have often felt like I am in many ways a reenactor of that history. While I realize that some things cannot be recreated, the traditional methods that I used are remarkably similar to those my great great grandmother would have used on her sustenance farm in North Mississippi. Since I began the study of my lingerie dress, I have felt compelled to get my hands busy making things or doing needlework. I definitely feel like understanding the craft gives historians an advantage when attempting to “stitch” together these histories, especially as Dannehl mentions, the story that exists beyond the written record.

Last in Diderot’s “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown,” I was reminded of the Indian sari article that we read early in the semester.  When speaking of his old worn gown, Dierot writes,  “I was master of my dressing gown. I did not fear servant or myself or ashes.” This immediately reminded me of Daniel Miller’s “Why Clothing is Not Superficial,” and mature women’s mastery of the sari, or specifically the pallu. This all ties into the barefoot cook wearing long dresses at the old hearth. I’m still wrestling with what to make of the power or agency found in this mastery of technique or specific clothing/objects. It reminds me of when I was a child and was amazed at how my grandmother could stick her hand into a hot oven or reach her deft hand into a skillet of hot grease to adjust a browning piece of chicken. As historians, how do we use this information? How do we make it matter in the telling of history? I’m still learning, but it something I hope to continue to explore in the history of my lingerie dress.


Cindy Ott, “Object Analysis of the Giant Pumpkin”
Primary Source: Denis Diderot, “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown,” translated by Kate Tunstall and Katie Scott
Karin Dannehl, “Object Biographies: From Production to Consumption”

The Cultural Biography of a 1910-1912 Dougherty Lingerie Dress

In “The Cultural Biography of things, Igor Kopytoff says that in order to understand the value of commodities, we need to understand how those commodities were valued within the culture. In other words, we must examine their cultural biographies, not just their exchange in the marketplace. The object’s biography, he says, “can make salient what might otherwise remain obscure” (67).

As an exercise I thought I would put this method to a test for my lingerie dress. I am approaching my lingerie dress like I might approach a person who’s biography I am trying to record.

Lingerie Dress
Dressmaker: Dougherty, Margaret and Mary
Wearer: unknown
Materials: Batiste, Cotton, Linen

  1. Where does my dress come from and who made it? My dress comes from Paris fashion trends plus Philadelphian sensibilities. The fabric (likely Batiste or other fine linen or cotton) and some trimmings likely were imported from France as well. The dress was made by Catholic Irish immigrant women in Philadelphia in around 1910. The women ran a fairly substantial dressmaking business, employing almost 3 dozen dressmakers and a dozen tailors, many of who were family.
  2. How was it exchanged? According to Henry Callahan, my dressmakers held fall openings to show their dresses. They would have then taken custom orders, cut to fit,  and possibly altered fashions to the customers specifications, although it is also possible that my dressmakers were deferred to because of their expertise and professionalism. Custom dressmakers were one of the highest stations that could be occupied by working class women. However, I know from several sources that many dressmakers often struggled to get paid even from their wealthy clients. The dress was ultimately donated thus taking it out of the commodity sphere.
  3. What was the life of my lingerie dress like? I cannot say much about the life of my dress other than that it was special enough to be saved and donated by the dressmakers son to Drexel University’s costume collection. Poor record keeping obscures its history. I know from reading donor Henry Callahan’s oral history that his mother’s and aunt’s experience of and stories about the Edwardian era loomed large in his professional life as a visual display artist.  “My mother being nearly 40 years old when I was born [and his aunt was almost 15 years older than her], she was really part of the Edwardian era. My aunt was wearing taffeta petticoats all the time– she was that type. She even had customers back in 1914 or 1915 who wore dresses to the ground [very late]. They never wanted to change that Edwardian style.” My dress very much represents the romantic, dress to the ground feeling of the Edwardian era. It is of that era so it’s life was likely luxurious and refined.
  4. What is an ideal life for a lingerie dress? Ideally this dress would have been worn by one of Philadelphia’s young socialites. It is an afternoon dress, meant for semi-private, often domestic occasions, such as a garden party or a special afternoon tea. Similar types of dresses were also worn for various daytime occasions at the shore.
  5. How does the lingerie dress’s use change with age? If it was a special occasion dress it, it might have been passed on to someone else in the family to wear. It could have been made an heirloom (de-commodified according to Kopytoff).  Oftentimes dresses were reworked into other garments to extend their life. This one does not seem to have been so it is possible that the wearer/ owner had sufficient resources that it was not needed for materials.
  6. What happens at the end of the lingerie dress’s life? Many garments are passed along or traded in/ sold to become second hand garments for lower classes. Sometimes dresses are saved for sentimental or historic reasons (again de-commodified), or they are simply forgotten about in storage. Our dress was saved for some reason and then turned over to a collection because if must have been deemed noteworthy by the donor.

Object Exercise #4: Interpretive Labels for StoryMapping Lingerie Dress

Author’s note: This assignment was particularly difficult for me due to the map constraints and the relative anonymity of dressmakers. My dressmakers likely did not have a brick & mortar establishment that was open to the public. They had workshops, but I have not been able to identify their location. From 1908-1913, there are 10-12 Dougherty dressmakers listed in Boyd’s with greater than 70 percent of them named either Mary or Margaret. Based on descriptions by Henry F. Callahan that his Aunt Margaret lived in the center of Philadelphia and based on the location of known patrons, my best guess is that my Margaret Dougherty was located at 1536 Pine St., but I cannot confirm this nor do I know if this was simply her residence, workshop, or some sort of store front. The donor, her nephew Henry Callahan, is the person who I know the most about, but he is difficult to tie to the actual dress. The wearer of the dress is unknown.

1. [Image of the dress details. Map of the Schuylkill Arsenal/ PHL Quartermaster Depot where the uniforms/ textiles were made.]

The many intricate pintucks, embroidery, and lavish lace of this handmade Lingerie Dress represent countless hours of labor by immigrant women like Mary and Margaret Dougherty that were required to maintain the image of high society women in the last gasp of the Edwardian era.

Within a few years, this would all change. With the start of World War I, every woman in Philadelphia with a sewing machine quadrupled her salary overnight when she was put to work for the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot, manufacturing uniforms, flags and other clothing for the war effort. Private dressmaking never recovered.

I wanted to talk about how labor changed over time and the end of the era that my dress represents. Also, Philadelphia as the center for the manufacturing of military uniforms was a fun fact (with an ADDRESS!) to tie in with the map. This was hard to do, however, while following Serrel’s guidelines to stay specific to the object and avoid generalizations.

2) [Map link to department stores. I also have ads from Gimbal Brothers that advertise lingerie dresses.]

The intricate pintucks, embroidery, and lavish lace of this handmade Lingerie Dress represent countless hours of labor by immigrant women like Mary and Margaret Dougherty that were required to maintain the image of Philadelphia socialites before the first World War.

Women of all classes, however, appreciated this popular summer style, which allowed 20th century women the freedom to participate in leisure and sporting activities. Ready-to-wear versions were available in many of Philadelphia’s department stores like Gimbal Brother’s and Wanamaker’s.

I wanted to talk about how this style of dress transcended social class and reflected changes in women’s lives. Ready-to-wear allowed me to tie in to the map, which is really what limits my talking points the most!

3) [Map/ Image of the Brimley residence or the location where Debutante Ball is held?]

What is the purpose of covering yourself from chin to toes in semi-transparent fabric and lace? Such were the contradictions in Edwardian feminine ideals.

The lingerie dress was a popular summer style of the early 20th century, designed specifically to display a young woman’s feminine charms. This version with its lavish lace insertions and innumerable tiny pintucks was custom made by Mary and Margaret Dougherty, Irish immigrants who were trained in needlework by the nuns of Ireland. Their exquisite dresses were worn by some of Philadelphia’s most elite women, like Catharine Brimley, “one of the season’s most attractive debutantes,” who wore a Dougherty dress for her debut in 1903. (source of quote: Philadelphia Inquirer)

I played around with posing a question to the viewer in this caption. It’s a question that I have asked myself as I have thought about my the form and function of the lingerie dress and what it says about Edwardian ideas about the female body. I move into specific elements of the dress a few sentences in. I wasn’t sure how it would work to tie a patron to a dress they didn’t actually wear, but I’m working with what I’ve got here!

Object Exercise #3: Local History

What was the Philadelphia life of my 1910-1912 lingerie dress?

Dougherty Philadelphia tag inside my lingerie dress

The first decade of the 20th century was a dynamic period in American history and Philadelphian history in particular. 1910 was the end of the Edwardian era (but it is reported that Philadelphians were still clinging to it as late as 1915), a time of relative prosperity and opulence. It was just a few years before the start of World War I, which would change dressmaking and Philadelphia fashion forever. Women would finally earn the right to vote by the end of the decade. Since the Civil War, Philadelphia had become an industrial powerhouse with textile and locomotive manufacturing, iron and steel production, shipbuilding, and sugar and oil refining. New Waves of immigration fueled enormous growth- tenfold increase in population since mid-nineteenth century- with almost all coming from Europe. Irish, Italian, Polish, and Eastern and Southern European Jewish immigrants provided cheap labor for industry. The Northern Migration of Southern-born African Americans fleeing racial violence and looking for greater economic opportunities had also begun but would swell in subsequent decades. A boon of public transportation induced the suburban flight of many of Philadelphia’s wealthiest families to the Main Line. Philadelphia was full of many independent, family-owned retail stores, including the giant “Big Six” department stores that lined Market Street, and began to cater to Philadelphia’s growing middle class. Chestnut Street was the other prominent retail street in Philadelphia at that time.

Tucks and some lace are preferable to a mass of cheap embroidery. Lingerie Dresses 1910

Although I do not yet know definitively the actual provenance of my lingerie dress, there is little doubt that Chestnut Street was its domain. After chasing down every prominent Philadelphia Callahan of the era (and with a game-saving assist from my professor), I finally discovered that Henry F. Callahan, acclaimed visual merchandiser and former Vice President of Saks Fifth Avenue, was the donor of my dress. The dressmakers were his mother and aunt, Mary and Margaret Dougherty, who immigrated from Ireland first to Pittsburgh in the late 1880’s. Back in Ireland, the Dougherty sisters had been trained in needlework by nuns. This tradition began as part of a famine relief scheme in the 1840’s and remained part of the curriculum at convent schools in Ireland (TLLM). A loyal client married a wealthy Philadelphian and advised the women they would find success in Philadelphia. They complied and their business grew to distinction, making dresses for the most elite women of Philadelphia. The women sent word back to Ireland to send cousins, nieces, and other family and friends to work in their dress shops.

Older sister Margaret was the visionary personality behind the business, while Henry’s mother Mary supervised the workshops. Callahan describes his Aunt Margaret as a formidable person and a great influence on him. It may be hard to imagine of a single, first generation Irish Catholic immigrant in Philadelphia, but she journeyed annually to Paris, where she would “stay at the Maurice Hotel and have the couturieres bring their models to her … Then she would buy the silks and the laces and trimmings and bring the models back to Philadelphia, show them at a Fall opening.” Just like the finest tailors in France (Perrot ) or even the black public waiters of antebellum Philadelphia (Pilgrim), she exhibited her expertise and wielded authority from her position at the margins of society. She was more than a skilled seamstress and needleworker. She absorbed and transmitted the highest forms of late 19th and early 20th century style.

auditioning a model in Paris, 1910, from Les Createurs de la Mode courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Though I have not yet been able to verify who wore my specific Dougherty dress nor the location of the Dougherty workshop, a dressmaker named Margaret Dougherty is listed in several directories during the time period at 1536 Pine Street. However, there were 2,640 dressmakers in Philadelphia in 1911. Ten of them were named Dougherty. Of those ten Dougherty women, seven were named either Mary or Margaret. This Margaret Dougherty location- whether a residence or a workshop- would put her a few blocks away from the bustle of Chestnut Street, where her nephew said they often walked at night and discussed the window dressings. At this location, she would also be just around the corner from Catharine Brinley of 247 South 16th St., who was described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “one of the season’s most attractive debutantes” in 1902 and wore a Dougherty dress currently housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for her debut (Haugland). Miss Brinley’s father Charles E. Brinley was and an Ivy League educated Episcopalian New Englander who was the managing director of the American Pulley Company in Philadelphia in 1902 (Who’s Who).

Around 1911, Mary Dougherty, in her late 30’s, married a newly arrived immigrant from Northern Ireland, Francis Callahan. Callahan convinced Mary to move to California much to the disappointment of Margaret. Mary gave birth to her son Henry in California, but she had great difficulty establishing herself as a dressmaker there. Eventually, her husband left and she moved back to Philadelphia and rejoined her sister in the dressmaking business.
Their reunion was short lived due to the beginning of World War I in 1914. During the war, every woman with a sewing machine was expected to put it towards the war effort, making uniforms for soldiers. There were no more trips to France for the latest fashions. Then after the war, the private dressmakers never came back. The transformation to ready to wear was complete.

Image source Seamus Callahan

Of all of the characters involved in the life of my object, it is the donor Henry F. Callahan, who went on to become the most highly regarded window artist of New York department stores, whose life best embodies Philadelphia’s history. In an illuminating oral history collected by New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Callahan reveals his earliest inspirations working in Philadelphia department stores, admiring the elegant debutantes (featured every year in a full page spread) in the Philadelphia Inquirer, his access to the luxuries of Philadelphia high society through his aunt’s and mother’s business, their obsession with the Edwardian period, and his experience of the drama and pageantry of his Catholic school experience at the Waldron School for Boys in Montgomery County.

Henry Callahan was a young window artist at Lousol’s on Chestnut Street in the 1930’s.

Callahan’s first job in the retail fashion industry was in Philadelphia’s Strawbridge & Clothier, then Allen’s department store in Germantown. He began to sell his drawings of shoes to various department stores around the city before being hired as a display artist at Bonwit Teller, then B.F. Dewees, and last as display manager at Lousol’s on Chestnut Street. He says he learned a lot of fashion knowledge from the buyers of merchandise at Philadelphia’s retail stores. He was galvanized by their enthusiasm as they highlighted smart details and conveyed how designers had shown the pieces. He put that same passion into building the very best shop windows to exhibit these dresses. His windows got noticed, and his reputation ascended. Callahan said of his days at Lousol’s, “I was proud of being part of a fine store on a fine street.”

At some point in his career, however, he realized if he wanted to be successful he needed to work in New York. After several failed attempts, he was finally hired at Lord & Taylor despite the obvious prejudice against him. When he was interviewed by Lord & Taylor Vice President Dorothy Shaver she said, “Now, Mr. Callahan, you have two strikes against you. One thing, you’re Irish and two, you’re from Philadelphia.”

Callahan went on to become THE visual display artist of 20th century American retail. Saks Fifth Avenue window by Callahan courtesy of Retail Fix.

Callahan says he was not surprised by her view of the Irish because that extended to the Philadelphia fashion industry as well. “Unless you were French or English, it was assumed you lacked a sense of style,” he said. At that time (1930s) all the stores in Philadelphia had fashion coordinators, who were expected to be young women with “a black dress, pearls, a John Fredrick’s hat, and a British accent.”

After his interview with Lord & Taylor, Callahan considered changing his name to Henry Emmet. When he discussed it with his Aunt Margaret, she said, “If you’re going to take this job in New York, you just go there and make the name Henry Callahan mean something, or just tell those people to go to grass.”

The Dougherty sisters buried together with Mary’s son Henry Callahan. Grave at Holy Cross Cemetary, Yeadon, Deleware County, PA. From FInd A Grave

I still have many questions about my dress, and many other leads to follow. This experience, however, has in every way shown me the deep history imbedded in objects that we regularly take for granted. My dress is the center of a network of social, political, and economic ties that bind a city to say nothing of the sexual and labor politics as well as the changing gender roles manifested in its form. With its Irish label and its Irish needlework, it is, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich says, “an object that reminds us of the lives we have left out of the story.” Through it, I can tell a small, missing piece of the history of Philadelphia, the nation, the world.



Green, Robert L., Transcript of an oral history interview of Henry F. Callahan conducted 1980 by Robert L. Green, The Oral History Project of the Fashion Industries. Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27 Street, New York, N.Y. 131 pp.

Haugland, Kristina. Email interview by author. Philadelphia, March 20, 2019.

Perrot, Philippe. 1994. Fashioning the bourgeoisie: a history of clothing in the nineteenth century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Pilgrim, Dana M. “Master’s of a Craft: Philadelphia’s Black Public Waiters, 1820-50,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (October 2018), 269-293.

Stafford, Hartford. 1920. Who’s Who in Philadelphia in Wartime. Philadelphia, PA: Stafford’s National News Service.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “Furniture as Social History” in Luke Beckerdite and William N. Hosley, eds. American Furniture (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), 35-64.

Irish Crochet Lace

Vestimentary Behavior of the French Bourgeoisie

Philippe Perrot’s Fashioning the Bourgeoisie examines the sociology and culture of the French bourgeoisie through their choice of clothing and the meanings those choices convey. He shows that fashions not only reflects societal beliefs, but also influences them.

As the rise of French ready-made clothing leveled the fashion playing field, Perrot shows that temporal restriction of those fashions (184) as well as the use of secondary signs and nuances were employed to demonstrate distinction. As Perrot says, “it no longer sufficed to be rich….one had to master the arcana of vestimentary propriety and its inexhaustible nuances(82).” It was in these obsessions that the comme il faut held onto their power as Second Empire prosperity created the noveau riche.

Restraint and tastefulness were nuanced markers of the comme il faut

Nouveau Riche vs. Old Money Aristocracy on the right










Interestingly, it seems that Perrot is showing that clothes hold social meaning, but his approach is less direct than the material culturists like Prown, Montgomery, Fleming or Ulrich, who we have read this semester. Instead of analysis of his artifact or individual pieces of clothing, he uses nineteenth century ads, etiquette or prescriptive literature (87), including new ideas about hygiene (124), to show how clothing and how it was worn is imbibed with social meaning.  Specifically Perrot shows that “propriety in dress,” or the good manners of dress, sorted out the classes much the same way that language did (89).

Thinking about my own object analysis of my 1910 lingerie dress, I found Perrot’s distinguishing between etiquette handbooks and fashion magazines to be potentially useful. Perrot states that etiquette handbooks “provide much better evidence of actual behavior than fashion magazines” because of “the conformism of their prescriptions and the pains they took to preach the most acceptable and legitimate norms (87).” Fashion magazines, on the other hand, he says, “sought to break with previous canons by advancing propositions that were by no means generally adopted (87).” How though did the consumption of these materials break down over social classes? Since we know that the lingerie dress was a style that transcended social class, what were the nuances of a high society version?

Perrot’s discussion of made-to-measure vs. ready-to-wear modes of clothing production also gave me a few things to think about in terms of my lingerie dress. Perrot states that the birth of grande couture was related to the expansion of the ready-to-wear industry. The made-to-measure tailor or dressmaker no longer were mere makers of clothing. They had to understand the new rules. “His domain must be that of elegance, just as vulgarity is the domain of ‘ready made.’ The tailor must have knowledge, taste, and initiative to fulfill and preserve his own role (184).” In this distinction and example of Charles Frederick Worth, we see a new prestige of tailors as artists or experts in their domaine of fashion. This transformation and elevation of occupation based on expertise, or the mastering of craft, reminds me of the black public waters of Philadelphia in Pilgrim’s piece that I wrote about earlier. I wonder how this played out among Philadelphia’s dressmakers and tailors. I have not yet figured out how to find out more about Philadelphia’s dressmakers of the late 19th and early 20th century. So far, they have proved to be anonymous and elusive. Maybe I need to find start with a famous Philadelphia fashion designer and work my way backwards.











Contemplating Place & Space

As someone who writes about Southern food and history and loves Southern literature, place is something I have often thought about. That said, I have spent little time contemplating the architecture of the spaces and places I have studied and how we are manipulated by the architecture that we inhabit. Who is welcomed? Who is excluded? How does it divide us? For those reasons, I was very engaged by this week’s readings.

In Dell Upton’s White and Black Landscapes in 18th Century Virginia, we consider the architecture of the plantation and how that architecture is experienced differently depending on a person’s race and standing in society. Specifically, he points out how much thought and meaning is put into the experience of entering the plantation: through the front gate, down the driveway, onto the porch, in the front door, waiting in the cold parlor, before possibly being received by the master of the house. This series of access points conveyed hierarchy and the guest’s place in it. The enslaved servants, however, were simply invisible to the white planters and their “legitimizing functions of white society.” Since they entered the back door and, they circumvented these barriers (365).

Edisto Island, SC 1862-1863 after Union Troops arrived and plantation masters had been driven out. This photo may have been staged. Henry B. Moore, Library of Congress

Another interesting point in Upton’s piece was what he described as the domain of the slave. The enslaved were segregated into 1 or 2 room houses down a lane from the planter’s mansion. While it was definitely true that the “big house” was the master’s domain, the slave houses, the land and gardens around these shacks, the surrounding woods, and all work areas were the slave’s domain (367). Upton states that we can think of the slaves’ quarters as “standing for all back and white people who were not great planters” and that their housing “merely reflected their status as poor people in Virginia.” (361) This reminded me of reading that the cultural exchange between poor whites and enslaved Africans (and Native Americans) has been under appreciated and under studied (Forret, 2004).  Thinking about who spaces belong to begins to hint at how landscapes and geography affect people, which we thankfully get more of in J.B. Jackson’s The Word Itself and A Pair of Ideal Landscapes.

One of my favorite parts in Jackson’s piece was his analysis of public space and the decline of the agora or the use of public space/ the piazza / town square as a space of civic engagement and political exchange. Today, we learn from William H. Whyte, what people want most from a public gathering place is an “agreeable environmental experience,” which Jackson insists means a space with “voices and color and movement and fleeting expressions.” (20)  Two things come to mind here. On one hand this reminds me of what in the restaurant industry we call the “feeling” of a space. It’s incredibly hard to articulate, but everyone knows it when they experience a place with a great feeling. Coming from another angle, I question how integration has affected these public, political spaces. There is so much in Jackson’s work that I would love to delve into – his ideas about small farmers, how we are culturally conditioned to see only certain things in a landscape, vernacular road systems, the de-valuing of the rural landscape, but that will have to wait for another day.

Keeping with the themes of race, Wyeneth’s The Architecture of Racial Segregation demonstrates the many ways that architecture manipulates our behavior. He then asks us to look at different artifacts from segregation and consider as historians what should be saved. I am for all of it being saved, but I think the effect of this history is in the telling of it. Wyeneth misses the opportunity here to highlight the not only state-sanctioned, but state-engineered racism of the Jim Crow era. The quote from the visitor to the museum, “you can’t believe people treated other people that way,” shows how these exhibits are failing to highlight the structural racism that cultivated the personal racism. Personal racism is atrocious, but it is only a symptom of a larger problem. In addition,  I often find myself wondering why we talk about Jim Crow without talking about Reconstruction, an era of promise and cross-racial power that few people even know about? What better way to balance the atrocities of Jim Crow and slavery than to celebrate these accomplishments and possibilities?

Next, I appreciated Wyeneth’s mention of how integration negatively affected black businesses. I have lived in several city’s with failed black business districts in need of rebirth. Jackson, Mississippi’s Ferris Street and Durham, North Carolina’s Parrish St. have dynamic histories just waiting to be celebrated and that I think have potential to revitalize these cities and communities.

Socialist feminist fantasy corporate culture?

We have considered the racial aspects of place. Angel Kwolek-Folland asks us to consider the gendered corporate work environment. Kwolek-Folland details how the work force is manipulated using architecture (i.e., women have to walk much farther to the bathroom)  and spacial arrangements (i.e, workers desks turn away from where visitors enter the office) to control both the behavior and perceived status of the employees. In the corporate world of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the company structure was modeled on domestic life and domestic roles, where the company was the employees’ “mother,” the executive the “father,” and so on, or what Kwolek-Folland refers to as “corporate domesticity.” (159) Despite managements best efforts, they discovered that people were not machines, and workers acted dynamically – both enforcing and defying gender stereotypes- as well as creating the modern office environment through a series of complex manipulations of space, time, and gendered space.

Last, I’ll mention a few highlights from Material Culture in America: Understanding Everyday Life by Helen Sheumaker and Shireley Teresa Wajda that I found either particularly intriguing or that struck me as being useful to either my investigation into my lingerie dress or to other projects that I am working on. Under the topic of Main Streets and Downtown Wadja connects an area’s civic pride to the commercial success of their downtown or main/ market street areas. In a large city like Philadelphia, that civic pride seems to vary greatly by neighborhood, but none can top Philadelphia’s Market Street of the early to mid 20th century. 21st century “quaintscapes” (here’s the use of “scape” that Jackson told us about) attempt to lure people back into these declining commercial districts.

New Urbanism rose in the 1980’s, influenced by Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford, and sought to build neighborhoods with a discernible centers (this is why I just cannot get comfortable in my neighborhood’s commercial district, the endless Germantown Avenue) and human-scale (97). I love thinking about these things. I have spent a lot of time as a business owner thinking about why some areas thrive while others never work, and I believe that these elements of space, architecture, and design cannot be overstated.

The Factory System (183) was the beginning of wage work, which came as a culture shock to many who valued their independence and self employment. I learned that pre-civil war there were no time clocks and people were accustomed to setting their own time and work schedules. This shift of time ownership from worker to employer echoes the temporal manipulation that Kwolek-Folland details.




Angel Kwolek-Folland, “The Gendered Environment of the Corporate Workplace, 1880-1930,” The Material Culture of Gender: The Gender of Material Culture, ed. by Katharine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames, (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1997), 157-179

Dell Upton, “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” in Robert Blair St. George, ed., Material Life in America, 1600-1860 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988).

Robert Weyeneth, “The Architecture of Racial Segregation: The Challenges of Preserving the Problematical Past,” The Public Historian 27 (Fall 2005): 11-44.

J.B. Jackson, “The Word Itself,” and “A Pair of Ideal Landscapes,” Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 1-56.

Helen Shuemaker and Shirley Teresa Wadja, Excerpts from Material Culture in America: Understanding Everyday Life, (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008).

Slaves, Poor Whites, and the Underground Economy of the Rural Carolinas
Author(s): Jeff Forret
Source: The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 70, No. 4 (Nov., 2004), pp. 783-824
Published by: Southern Historical Association

History at the Margins

This week’s readings give us new things to think about as we examine objects and tell their stories. I found myself asking myself repeatedly, “who’s story are we telling, who are we telling it for, and who are we leaving out?”. In “Black Public Waiters,” we begin to think about people working at the margins of the dining room and wielding their power as tastemakers of both cuisine and style (279). As W.E.B. Du Bois said Bogle’s “taste of hand and eye and palate set the fashion of the day.” These are stories that I have long been curious about after reading about Philadelphia’s large antebellum free black population, but I have found these histories hidden in contemporary mainstream media. As someone who has spent years waiting tables, tending bar, working in fine dining kitchens, and eventually owning my own food business, the divergent agency in these positions is not lost on me.  One thing that Pilgrim did not mention, but that I was curious about was whether Maryland or other Southern state plantation dining styles were transmitted to Philadelphia dining rooms through black public waiters. Generally, how did the dining styles of the aristocracy differ across the Mason-Dixon line? 

What is wrong with this picture? Has the influence of Philadelphia’s black public waiters on historic foodways been obscured? Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

As someone who has read a good deal about plantation cuisine and little about Philadelphia foodways, I was curious enough to follow some of Pilgrim’s sources for more detail. The first classic Philadelphia dish that I read about in detail was Catfish & Waffles, which mentioned only the inns associated with the dish and not the chefs or caterers. A few years ago, Pennsylvania’s new Keystone Center, founded to document and promote Pennsylvania’s historic foodways, featured the dish at dinner that headlined six Pennsylvania chefs interested in historic foodways.

An illustration of a classic Calas Vendor from a 1886 edition of Century Magazine

Another source mentioned women hawking Wissahickon catfish in the streets of Philadelphia from platters atop their heads, but said nothing of their race or history (Kyriakodis). From my knowledge of Southern, particularly Charleston and New Orleans foodways, these women are usually African-American. This is a topic for another time, but it made me excited to dig deeper into Philadelphia foodways, which at first glance seem relatively unexplored compared to Southern foodways.

Another of this week’s reading dealing with race and ethnicity in material culture was Jonathan Prown’s “The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation,” I was not sure what to make of his argument, or even what that argument was other than we should approach reading “ethnicity” into Day’s furniture with caution. The article left me curious to learn more about North Carolinian Thomas Day, and I hope that other scholars will take up the study of Southern African American furniture makers with more care and knowledge than Prown.

Furniture gets another look in Kenneth Ames “Death in the Dining Room.” I found enormity and the lavish ornamentation of the Victorian sideboards over the top, but the complete lack of function for some of the pieces is what really illustrated their use for me. Sideboards or china cabinets today are workhorses- displaying dishes, presenting food for service, holding serving ware and linens. I definitely could see these lavishly carved Victorian sideboards functioning more like alters.

As for their vulgarity, I completely bought Ames’ argument about how the changing tastes that rejected the images of slaughter/ glories of the hunt represented genteel avoidance (93). I often clash with my in-laws over similar issues. A few years back, I was with my husband’s family at a barnyard petting zoo at The Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. Upon seeing the turkey, my eight year old niece commented, “That’s funny. That bird has the same name as what we eat for Thanksgiving.”  Her mother caught my eye just as I opening my mouth to say, “Well, YEAH, because it IS!” and vigorously shook her head. I grew up in a hunting household in Mississippi, and home decor preferences there retain some of the masculine Victorian aesthetic. All in all I really enjoyed Ames’ piece, especially how it illustrated the power that changing cultural tastes have over aesthetic ones.

Last, their was a lot to learn in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “Furniture as Social History.” The thing that stood out the most was how effective comparisons can be in material culture methodology. By the time that she finished her comparisons of embroideries and Hadley chests (and further even to pie crusts as an illustration of the “unity of decorative arts”), I was completely sold that chests could indeed have gender. I was also fascinated by her use of probate records to track matrilineally transferred possessions or moveables. Ulrich states that it is important to conduct research moving “between documents and objects” in order to reveal their histories. I imagine this will be invaluable advice as I continue to research my lingerie dress.


Kenneth Ames, “Death in the Dinning Room,” Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) 44-96.

W.E.B. Du Bois, Negro in Philadelphia: A Social Study , 1899.

Harry Kyriakodis, The Tale of Catfish and Waffles, Hidden City Philadelphia, (2016).

Rick Nichols, Young Chefs Take up the Torch for Pennsylvania’s Heritage Foods, Philadelphia Inquirer (October 2016).

Dayna M. Pilgrim, Master’s of a Craft: Philadelphia’s Black Public Waiters, 1820-50,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (October 2018), 269-293.

Johnathan Prown, “The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation,” Winterthur Portfolio, (1998) Vol. 33, No. 4, 215-229.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Furniture as Social History” in Luke Beckerdite and William N. Hosley, eds. American Furniture (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), 35-64.



Object Lesson #2: Lingerie Dress (1910)


Lingerie dress, back, 1910

I went into Drexler’s Fox Historic Costume Collection on Tuesday, February 5, with my notebook, measuring tape, and magnifying glass, reading to investigate my dress. Immediately, I started to imagine the life lived in my dress, and the work involved in its rendering. The snap of Melissa’s blue exam gloves provided the focus I needed to zoom in on the details.

The dress is made of several different types of lightweight cotton or possibly linen fabrics. The bodice of the dress has a high neck rising 1 ½ inches from the nape of the neck with six bands of alternating lace patterns. Below the nape of the neck alternating openwork create a “V” neck that is inset with a diamond shape of alternating openwork and a light cotton, possibly Batiste, or handkerchief linen, which is embroidered with with flowers, tendrils, and vines, and also includes arched insets of openwork running through the embroidery.

These designs expand down the bodice of the dress and ½ -inch strips of open work run down each side of the bodice from under the arm to the side waist. From the base of the “V” fifteen ⅜” pintucks run vertically down the chest with more pintucks beneath the underarm. The chest is non-binding but measures 15 ½ inches flat or approximately 31 inches before being cinched in at the waist to 10 inches flat or approximately 20 inches with dozens of pleats and gathers. Sixteen crochet-covered buttons extend down the back of the dress, from the high neck to more than 12 inches below the waist. A band of openwork, most likely crocheted lace, is sewn in at the waistband with a large crocheted flower motif overlaying the back center where it fastens with hook and eye closures. Narrow bands of open work create a V-shape down the back of the dress with more vertical bands of open work running from each armpit to the waist.

The sleeves consist of six bands of openwork alternating with six wider bands of cotton or linen fabric with five ⅜” pin tucks circling the arm. There is a small repair made with inferior stitching around the bicep of the right arm. A fourth type of lace is used to trim the flared cuff at the wrist, which closes with three crochet-covered buttons. A tag that hangs from the wrist tells us that the dress was donated by Callahan and dates to 1910-1912.

There is no lining in the bodice of the dress, but a knit sheath lines the skirt portion of the skirt. There is an embroidered tag that reads “Dougherty Philadelphia.” The skirt is full but relaxed and has two layers, not including the lining, and both are sewn on the bias. The top layer has a deeply scalloped hem and a larger version of the flower and tendrils embroidery featured on the bodice. The dress measures 61 ½ inches from neck to the bottom of the skirt hem.

It took an enormous amount of self control not to run my hands down my dress and wrap it around my body. It is a textural masterpiece with its many variations of lace, fabric, seams, and embroidery. Even lying flat on the workbench, the dress danced.The dress did not so much “sing” to me as Charles Montgomery said (145), but it danced. The fluidity and body of the fabric was undeniable even with it lying flat on the table. I can only imagine what a delight it was to wear. Even in its petite form, my dress is swimming in fabric. It must have swished and shimmied when you walked in it.

I find myself pondering the purpose of covering oneself from chin to knuckles to toes in sheer fabric. Is this dress a glimpse at the changing attitudes toward the female body in the early 20th century? This dress offers complete coverage but definitely hints at the female form underneath.


Is it possible to know how my dress was made? Within moments of inspecting my dress, I saw that much of it had been pieced, like a quilt. I first noticed that the sleeves were hand stitched bands of alternating lace and fabric, which reminded me of the process of piecing a quilt. The narrow bands of fabric that made up the sleeves could have even been a way to make use of scraps of fabric, those same scraps of linen that Ulrich mentions being memorialized by poet Lydia Sigourney in “An Unfinished Stocking” (412). I could see a group of women or women and children making these dress components in their homes and even sewing them together there. Surveying the rest of the dress I noticed that the bodice was pieced in a similar way of alternating fabrics and lace, pieced to create different designs like the diamond shape on the chest. The many components and textures suggest that the dress could have had many makers. Perhaps someone made one type of lace and someone else another. Someone covered buttons with crocheted lace. Another person crocheted the waistband, perhaps even another the flower centerpiece. Yet another worked on the embroidery, and another still the sheath lining. Last, someone stitched it all together. I imagine women using machine made (i.e. post-homespun) fabric that they have elevated with their fine needlework or “fancywork,” thus navigating their new roles in the post-industrial economy (Ulrich, 412).

My next question then is “who were those women?” and is it possible to determine the identity of the anonymous craftswomen of generations past? My preliminary research suggest that there were large numbers of newly immigrated, poor Irish, Italian, and Jewish women in Philadelphia in the early 20th century. Cheap tenement housing was created in Philadelphia from the newly emptied buildings as the upper middle class fled to the suburbs. Most of the lace featured in the dress is of the crocheted type that is known as Irish lace. Was the openwork or lacework done by immigrant women? Children? Was there anything unique about Philadelphia’s labor pool?

These are some of the questions that I hope to answer upon further historical research.

Methods of Analysis in Material Culture: Lingerie Dress

My Object:

The dress to be analyzed from the Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexler University. Photo by Dr. Hilary Iris Lowe

Lingerie Dress, 1910, Philadelphia with a tag that reads “Doughtery.”

My analysis of the lingerie dress will follow the basic methodology described by Valerie Steele’s “A Fashion Museum in More than a Clothes Bag,” which she adapted from Jules David Prown,1982. Step one of the analysis is a detailed description of the object itself. I will visit Drexler’s Costume Exhibit next week to take basic measurements of the waist, chest, hips of the garment as well as gown length, sleeve length and rise of the neckline. I will also record weight of the dress. These measurements may offer quantitative evidence later when I compare them to early, more burdensome and restrictive styles.
After recording measurements, I will observe and describe all materials that are used in the dress. Is the material cotton or linen or even silk? How many different types of lace are included? Is the lace handmade or machine made? How was the dress put together or articulated? How do the parts relate to one another? Is there any color employed anywhere on the dress? What is the texture of the lace? What is the texture of the inside of the dress if it differs from the outside? What designs, ornaments, or motifs are employed? How is the dress constructed? Does it have any detailing, such as pintucks? Since this dress is from a period that saw massive change from handmade to machine made fashions, I will include close observations of what parts, if any, are still handmade.
Once I have observed as many details as I can, I will take a step back to observe the overall form and shape of the dress. The technique of looking at an object with your eyes half closed that was mentioned in our readings is one I know from looking at landscapes and geology, and will use it to observe the structure and overall form of the dress.
Following objective physical description, I will insert myself into the analysis, as Steele says, for the deduction stage of analysis. In this stage I will interact with the lingerie dress, such as imagining myself wearing it. What does it feel like? How do I perceive the dress? What is the experience of wearing it? When would I have worn it? What can the dress tell us about the time or place or seasons in which it was worn? What is my emotional response to it?
At this stage I will also compare my lingerie dress to other lingerie dresses of the period following E. McClung Fleming’s method of evaluation through comparisons with other objects. Since I know that there was a wide range of quality in similarly styled dresses of this period, I want to know where my dress falls on that spectrum. Is it of a higher or lower quality and what might that tell me about the wearer (without extrapolating too far in this stage per Prown’s method). Comparing the lingerie dress to the bulkier dresses of a previous generation of women might also illuminate where the dress stands in the transition of women’s clothing styles from late 19th to early 20th century similar to Ulrich and Gaskil, 2015.

Ad from Ladies Home Journal June 1901

At last, we move into speculation, the final stage of analysis where we begin to turn outward from our objects. Here I will begin to ask questions of my object and begin to frame hypotheses that may be tested by external evidence.
What is the significance of the lace? It strikes me as interesting that a garment that covers the body from head to toe would be made from a sheer fabric. Following Adrienne Hood’s example of investigating the artisan’s materials, what historical insight can the fibers used and the lace itself tell us about the maker or owner of the dress? Our tag shows an Irish name of Dougherty. Is this the dressmaker? Shop owner? Though this study is limited to the academic semester, a deeper study into lace and lace artisans in Philadelphia might yield interesting material. If we can pull the lens way back, what are some of the political, economic, leisure, labor and technological changes happening in Philadelphia that precede the more relaxed, lighter style of the lingerie dress? We generally assume that fashion influences come from the top down, but in the radically changing society of the Progressive Era, and with a fashion that spans social classes, can that be challenged? How did the newly realized “female power in the household economy,” as stated by Ulrich in “An Unfinished Stocking,” influence clothing styles?   In a post-slavery economy in the United States, what was the source of the cotton?


Jules David Prown, “Mind in Matter,” Winterthur Portfolio 17 (1982): 1

E. McClung Fleming, “Artifact Study: A Proposed Model,” Winterthur Portfolio 16 (1981): 154

Jennifer M. Black, “Gender in the Academy: Recovering the Hidden History of Women’s Scholarship on Scrapbooks and Albums,” Material Culture, Vol. 50, no. 2 (2018): 38-52.

Beverly Lemire, “Draping the Body and Dressing the Home: The Material Culture of Textiles and clothes in the Atlantic World, c. 1500-1800,” in History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources.ed. Karen Harvey (New York: Routledge, 2009), 85-102.Laurel

Thatcher Ulrich and Ian Gaskel et al., “A Field-Hockey Dress: Fit for a Knockabout Sport,” in Tangible Things: Making History Through Objects (New York: Oxford UP, 2015), 64-70.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “An Unfinished Stocking, New England, 1837,” in The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 374-412.

Joan Severa and Merrill Horswill, “Costume as Material Culture,” in Dress 15 (1989).
Valerie Steele, “A Museum of Fashion is More Than a Clothes-Bag,” in Fashion Theory 2 (1998): 327-336.


The History of Fashion in Philadelphia & Fashion as a Lens

This weeks readings can be divided into two basic categories. The Encyclopedia of Philadelphia entries give us historical background information on the role that fashion played in the making of Philadelphia, as well as a brief introduction to how huge changes in 19th and 20th century housing, transportation, and global economics are expressed through fashion and retail changes. The remainder of the readings focus on the objects themselves and the many ways that they challenge and inform us.

Daniel Miller’s “Why Clothing is Not Superficial” seems like a good place to start because it begins this week’s readings by turning the lens on ourselves and questioning our notion that our true selves lie deep inside of us. This idea is challenged by the Trinidadian belief that what is real and true is on the outside and that this identity is more fluid and dynamic than the more static Western (English) idea of the true inner self.

Trini dem Girls

From Trinidad Miller takes us to India to study women’s saris, and I found it truly fascinating all the meaning and emotion that he was able to conjure from this one garment. It left me searching my memory for any similar piece of clothing in my own history, such as the apron that my great aunt Louise used always wear when she was taking care of my sister and me. She used her apron to wipe our faces; she would gather the aprons corners to make a basket to carry the rest of the days garden harvest back to the kitchen; her long pink fingernails would reach into her apron for the pocket knife that she used to peel fresh-from-the-garden cucumbers for our snacks.

My grandmother (L) and two of her sisters, including my great aunt Louise (R), who had long hot pink fingernails and carried a pocket knife in her apron.

The author goes on to show the many other motivations and decisions that inspire what we wear (or don’t wear) each day, whether it is the paralysis of personal choice in London or the societal pressure to convey respectability in the capital of Spain. The reader is left with many examples of how clothing can be a lens through which we study everything from gender roles to philosophy to sociology.

In Leslie Shannon Miller’s “The Many Figures of Eve: Styles of Womanhood Embodied in a Late – Nineteenth Century Corset,” we see the corset as both a representation of 19th century femininity and as the cause of many of the qualities that were then associated with women, such as their frailty and dependence. There is no doubt that we view corsets as barbaric today, but are there 21st century fashions that might be viewed with similar manner by future generations? Will our shapewear and stiletto heels survive into the 22nd century?

“Grooming, Clothing, and Accessories” by Helen Sheumaker discusses a variety of artifacts of personal style from modern times. Shampoo, lipstick, jeans, fashion sneakers, and Wonderbra make me think of the 90’s, my teenage years. I can still remember my shadow striped Girbaud and my stonewashed, button-fly Guess jeans; my blonde, spiral-permed highlights; and my first pair of Nike Airs. What I didn’t know was the historical events that shaped these trends, such as the modern germ science that changed personal grooming rituals in the early 20th century or how iconic sneakers arise from the emerging importance of athletics (and athletes and hip hop) in the late 20th century.

Some favorite 90’s fashions

In Jennifer Price’s “When Women were Women, Men were Men, and Birds were Hats,” we get to see how fashion and material culture can illuminate environmental/conservation history, as well as women’s history and changing gender roles. I am currently reading Jack E. Davis’ Gulf: The Making of the American Sea, which also mentions the plumage industry and its affect of Gulf birds. It also mentions that fashion trends were leading to the decimations of alligators and turtles as well, but these clearly prove to not be as stirring calls to conservation as birds. I think Price addresses this issue quite well when she tells how the conversation seemed to focus much more on the expected roles and behavior of women than on the birds themselves. Otherwise, would the agitated not turn their wrath toward the men who marketed and sold this hats or those who killed the birds to obtain them?

In total these readings illustrate the rich and varied story that fashion can tell using methods of material culture and ethnography to tease out the details. It may look like they are studying fashion, but they unveil a web of social, political, and economic relations.