Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dressed for success

photo of group of women taken in  late 19th century
These professional ladies were called "women's editors."
This Orange City Library Association photo appears on
page 57 of Our Story of Orange City, Florida 
The heroine of my work-in-progress (Stitching a Life in Persimmon Hollow) is a skilled seamstress and 19th century fashionista. Or as much a fashionista as one could be in a pioneer town a few hours from urban civilization. So, lately, I've been thinking a lot about how women dressed in frontier Florida.

Then, as now, the range is vast. Our perspective is distorted because people donned their best for photo-making sessions in the early days. Even so, we can note interesting distinctions by looking at a few photos, shared here.

Full-length photo of Florida pioneer Mary Ann Thursby
West Volusia Historical
Society photo of pioneer
Mary Ann Thursby is on
page 8 of Our Story of
Orange  City, Florida
A trailblazer like Mary Ann Thursby dressed to get the job done. She settled at Blue Spring  with her husband and children in the mid 1800s. Their nearest neighbor was eight miles away. We're talking wilderness. Her story in the fourth edition of Our Story of Orange City, Florida (Village Improvement Association, 2000) includes a picture of her in a no-frills garment, matched by a no-nonsense attitude. But even she put on a clean white apron to pose for the camera.

The hotelkeepers in another of the book's photos are ready for a different kind of business. The ruffles, tucks, bows, and pleats of the women's outfits speak of starched fabric and hours at the ironing board. Cinched waists tell of the corsets underneath. Every hair is in place - no easy task in our frizz-inducing humidity. The Freeman women are polished and professional, and waiting to welcome guests.

Family business activity was acceptable for 19th century women, particularly when based at home. Ladies who went out to work often faced discrimination, low pay, and social disapproval. You wouldn't guess it from the photo of the "women's editors" of the Orange City Times, an early newspaper. The editors smirk for the camera. Their attire resembles that of the hotelkeepers in style. But the dresses aren't as starched. Wrinkles can be detected. And the hats are positively frightful. Perhaps they were the height of fashion. Or maybe they hid the frizzy tresses of a crew too busy breaking barriers to style their hair.

End note: You can visit the historic Thursby House at Blue Spring State Park.

19th century photo of family on porch
The Freeman family is poised and professional as they wait to greet guests
at their hotel. West Volusia Historical Society photo is on page 22 of
Our Story of Orange City, Florida.

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