Updated: Dec 1, 2022
On September 22nd, the Longmeadow Historical Society and Storrs Library will proudly present a virtual talk by renowned expert Lynne Bassett, titled: "Dressing the Lower and Middle Classes in New England, 1675 - 1875." Please see the Storrs Library Events calendar for information about signing up for this program.
The Longmeadow Historical Society has a fabulous collection of textiles from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. As is usually the case, many of the items are special, and were preserved as important family relics. Among the extraordinary items in the collection are a royal blue, five-piece skating outfit from the 1860s (think "Little Women"), wedding dresses, adorable baby caps and monogrammed linens.
Skating Outfit c. 1860
Longmeadow Historical Society collection
Longmeadow Historical Society collection
Linen towel monogrammed by Abigail Davenport, first wife to Stephen Williams Longmeadow Historical Society collection
And I haven't even mentioned samplers and flags! We also have a nice collection of underwear, but of course not just the ordinary everyday kind, but the heavily decorated and trimmed items that might have been included in a lucky Victorian woman's trousseau. Undergarments were saved more than you might think--we also have hoop skirts, bustles, and corsets--items that gave the clothing the proper silhouette.
circa 1780 corset
Uniforms were also a favorite item to save for future generations. I wish we could say that we have an officer's Revolutionary War uniform, but alas, no. We do have a red jacket that probably dates to the 1820's, and likely belonged to a militia musician. We have parts of Civil War uniforms--buckles, shoulder bars and epaulettes, but no uniforms. The Spanish-American War is represented, and the World Wars of the 20th century.
What about hats and shoes, you might ask? Accessories are very well represented--two dozen fans, a similar number of parasols, hats of all kinds, and even purses. My favorite purse is a small beaded bag, done by knitting! Such patience I do not possess! Shoes are necessary, too, and our collections do not disappoint there, either. One of the oddest pairs in the collection is made of wood, decorated with mother of pearl or abalone, and 5' high! The note attached claims they were a souvenir of a trip to Syria and were worn as wedding shoes!
Decorative Wedding Shoes from Syria Longmeadow Historical Society collection
Not worn by a common man, but one of our most prized textile items is a clerical collar, or Geneva band, that belonged to Stephen Williams (1693-1782). Made of extremely fine linen, it was professionally conserved several years ago. Reverend Richard Salter Storrs' collar is also in the collection.
And of course, no Historical Society of good repute would be missing the ubiquitous spinning wheel. While some people could purchase cloth, and even finished clothing, many people in town made their own. Sheep maintained for wool were not common, and the climate was not conducive to cotton growing, but flax grew here in abundance. There are many notations in the account books about the sale of flax seed and flaxseed oil. The flax plant grew well here, and was processed into linen cloth. Linen was used to make clothing of all kinds, sheets, and even towels. Linen is a very absorbent cloth, and was not just used for summer clothing. According to probate inventories, the majority of people had a spinning wheel, or several, in their households. Others also had looms for weaving the fiber into cloth. Those same account ledgers often mention people using woven items and clothing in trade for goods from their neighbors.
Spinning Wheel Longmeadow Historical Society collection
Everyday clothing and other textiles often did not survive, or were remade into other objects, and therefore do not remain in collections like ours. But what did the average person own? What did the average working person wear to work in the fields or in the house for daily chores? Lynne will describe what those everyday items might have been and what happened to them.
Contributed by Betsy McKee, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
September 16, 2021