WELCOME TO THE BLOG IN THE WORDS OF WOMEN

Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

Holiday Entertainments at Mount Vernon

Now that December is here it’s time to look into some holiday entertainments that are not only timely but informative. Depend on Mount Vernon to present an array of interesting seasonal programs. Plan a visit around those that appeal.

On view until the end of December is a splendid gingerbread replica of the mansion. Including animals in marzipan!

Candlelight tours scheduled throughout the month allow visitors to spend a few hours in the 18th century: visiting the kitchen where servants prepare holiday fare, admiring the dining table laid with beautiful china and traditional comestibles, mixing with costumed dancers and interpreters in the ballroom. There’s no better way to muster up some holiday spirit.

If I could make the trip I would attend a chocolate making demonstration (December 3-6). I never really appreciated the many steps involved in producing the chocolate that is the basis of that wonderful hot drink often served for breakfast back then. Enjoy a spell of spirited music with the fife and drum.

Perhaps the most unexpected and delightful event is a visit with Aladdin the camel. In 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon for the entertainment and delight of his guests and family. Today visitors can hear about his fascination with exotic animals and learn a few facts about camels.

If you can’t visit Mount Vernon do at least visit the online site, take a virtual tour, and enjoy the videos that accompany the holiday offerings.

posted December 2nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas, Food, Holidays, Mount Vernon, Washington, George

“ship-shaped headdresses “

An addendum to the previous post about fancy headdresses crowned by ships. Readers may want to read the following post by Brenna Barks on the subject: When Fashion Set Sail. Do read the entire article. She makes the point that the modes excentriques were not just amusing indulgences but were in fact anti-British: proud, patriotic symbols of French support for the American cause, by women who had few other ways of expressing political views. Short-lived perhaps, but nonetheless meaningful.

Anonymous, Le Négligé Galant Ornés de la Coëffure à la Belle Poule, 1778, Bibliothèque nationale de France, cote cliché RC-B-05642.

posted November 21st, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion, France

“the higher the pyramid of hair . . . the more fashionable”

In the middle of the eighteenth century, women with the wealth to indulge in the latest styles took to wearing not only “high hair,” created by adding rolls and padding, but also headdresses that included constructions atop the head or as part of a wig reflecting events, for example, the first flight of the Montgolfier hot air balloon.

MARY FRAMPTON, a young Englishwoman whose family was socially prominent, kept a diary in which she described the hair style of the period (1779) and the time and effort that went into creating it.

At that time everyone wore powder and pomatum; a large triangular thing called a cushion, to which the hair was frizzed up with three or four enormous curls on each side; the higher the pyramid of hair, gauze, feathers, and other ornaments was a carried the more fashionable it was thought, and such was the labour employed to rear the fabric that nightcaps were made in proportion to it and covered over the hair, immensely long black pins, double and single, powder, pomatum and all ready for the next day. I think I remember hearing that twenty-four large pins were by no means and unusual number to go to bed with on our head.

Since recent posts have focused on ocean voyages (Abigail Adams and Patsy Jefferson) it prompted me to present headdresses that had to do with ships. Yes, ships. It was the height of fashion (pun intended) at one time to wear headdresses that were elaborate representations of ships. These “modes excentriques” were often worn by French ladies of the court to commemorate victories at sea. A few style-conscious women of other nations followed suit. Abigail Adams was not one of them.

The Journal of Mary Frampton from the year 1779, until the year 1846, edited. with notes, by her niece Harriot Georgiana Mundy (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1885) pp 2-3.

posted November 19th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, England, Fashion, Frampton, Mary, France

“[My] wife . . . hath alienated her Affections from me”

Women during the eighteenth century were subject to the authority of men, whether father, brother, or husband. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, a text used in the training of American lawyers, had this to say about the relation of men and women in marriage. “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated in that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.” The wife was a feme covert. Divorce was very difficult and wives in unhappy marriages or abusive relationships had few options. Some wives out of desperation chose to run away.
Notices were frequently published in local newspapers by husbands whose wives had left them, declaring that they would not be responsible for any debts incurred by them. Susannah Smalley left her children behind. She had no money and it is likely she became destitute. Esther Austin, on the other hand, took money and some belongings that her husband claimed were his. Neither woman could legally remarry.

William Nelson, Editor, Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, Volume XX (Trenton: Call Printing and Publishing Company, 1898), pp 435, 449. Courtesy of the New Jersey Historical Society, Date 1760.

posted November 14th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: "feme covert", Marriage, New Jersey

“We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship. . . .”

MARTHA “PATSY” JEFFERSON accompanied her father to Paris in 1785 when he was appointed minister to France. She was enrolled for her schooling at the prestigious Abbaye Royale de Panthemont convent. There she penned a letter to Elizabeth House Trist whose mother kept a boarding house in Philadelphia where Thomas Jefferson regularly stayed. Patsy, too, had lived there where she received some schooling. In her letter she describes her sea voyage; it is a nice follow-up to Abigail Adams’s account. The passage across the English Channel was typically difficult as Patsy’s letter attests. The rest of the letter is charming, Patsy describing all of the confusion of setting up house in a new and foreign city, being groomed to appear in French society, getting adjusted to life in the convent school. Although Martha devoted part of her letter to the voyage and early days in France, it is certain that a year at least had elapsed before she wrote it. (I have created paragraphs to make for easier reading.)

de l’abbey royale de Panthemont a Paris
[after 24 Aug. 1785]
My dearest friend
Your letter put an end to the inquietude that your silence had caused us. Be assured that I will remember you as long as I live. I am very happy in the convent and it is with reason for there wants nothing but the presence of my friends of America to render my situation worthy to be envied by the happiest. I do not say kings, for far from it. They are often more unfortunate than the lowest of their subjects. I have seen the king and the queen but at too great a distance to judge if they are like their pictures in Philadelphia. We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship that had only made one voyage before. There were only six passengers, all of whom papa knew, and a fine sun shine all the way, with the sea which was as calm as a river. I should have no objection at making an other voyage if I could be sure it would be as agreable as the first. We landed in England where we made a very short stay.
The day we left it we set off at six a clock the evening, and arived in France at 7 the next morning. I can not say that this voyage was as agreable as the first, tho it was much shorter. It rained violently and the sea was exceedingly rough all the time, and I was allmost as sick as the first time, when I was sick two days. The cabane was not more than three feet wide and about four long. There was no other furniture than an old bench which was fast to the wall. The door by which we came in at was so little that one was obliged to enter on all four. There were two little doors at the side of the cabane was the way to our beds, which were composed of two boxxes and a couplle of blankets with out eather bed or matras, so that I was obliged to sleep in my cloathes. There being no winder in the cabane, we were obliged to stay in the dark for fear of the rains coming in if we opended the door.
I fear we should have fared as badly at our arival for papa spoke very little french and me not a word, if an Irish gentleman, an entire stranger to us, who seeing our embarrassment, had not been so good as to conduct us to a house and was of great service to us. It is amazing to see how they cheat the strangers. It cost papa as much to have the bagadge brought from the shore to the house, which was about a half a square apart, as the bringing it from Philadelphia to Boston. From there we should have had a very agreable voyage to Paris, for havre de grace is built at the mouth of the seine, and we follow the river all the way thro the most beautiful country I ever saw in my life, it is a perfect garden if the singularity of our cariage had not atracted us the attention of all we met, and when ever we stopped we were surounded by the beggars. One day I counted no less than nine while we stopped to change horses. We saw a great number of chalk hills near Rouen, where we saw allso a church built by William the conqueror, and another at Ment which had as many steps to go to the top as there are days in the year. There are many pretty statues in it. The architectures is beautiful. All the winders are died glass of the most beautiful colours that form all kinds of figures.
I wish you could have been with us when we arrived. I am sure you would have laughfed, for we were obliged to send imediately for the stay maker, the mantumaker, the milliner and even a shoe maker, before I could go out. I have never had the friseur but once, but I soon got rid of him and turned down my hair in spite of all they could say, and I differ it now as much as possible, for I think it allways too soon to suffer.
I have seen two nuns take the veil. I’ll tell you about that when I come to see you. I was placed in a convent at my arival and I leave you to judge of my situation. I did not speak a word of french, and no one here knew english but a little girl of 2 years old that could hardly speak french. There are about fifty or sixty pensioners in the house, so that speaking as much as I could with them I learnt the langauge very soon. At present I am charmed with my situation. I am afraid that you will be very much disapointed if you expect to see me perfect, for I have made very little progres. Give my love to Mrs. House. . . .
Tho you have a great deal of patience I am afraid that this scrawl will tire it. But if you knew the pleasure I take in writing to you and receiving letters from you, you would pardon me. Pray write me very long letters by evry occassion. I should be very glad to write for papa, but I am sure that he could not have an occupation which gives him more pleasure than that. How ever when he cant leave his business I will do it with pleasure. I do not know when we shall come. Pardon this letter, being so badly written for I have not the time at present. There comes in some new pensionars evry day. The classe is four rooms excedingly large for the pensionars to sleep in, and there is a fith and sixth one for them to stay in in the day and the other in which they take their lessens. We were the uniform which is crimson made like a frock laced behind with the tail like a robe de cour hoocked on muslin cufs and tuckers. The masters are all very good except that for the drawing. I end here for I am sure my letter must tire you. Papa sends his most affectionate compliments to you and Mrs. House and begs you not to forget that you are indebted a letter to him. . . . Adieu my dear freind, be assured that I am and ever will be yours affectionately,
Martha Jefferson

“Martha Jefferson to Eliza House Trist, [after 24 August 1785],” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 436–439.] The illustration is from the Library Company: Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 219. First ed., 1855.


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