Accession number 1998-162-51a,b at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a pair of women’s stays in an unlikely size. Laced shut, they measure forty-six inches at the chest and forty-three inches at the waist, with a back length of eleven and three quarters of an inch. Even with no other information, we can deduce that they were worn by someone wider than average, and as they measure ten to fifteen inches wider than most other extant stays, they provide a unique example of how fashionable styles were adapted to fit less than fashionable bodies.
Chart of occupations of wage-earning Massachusetts women in 1837 (taken from page 20 of Transforming Women’s Work by Thomas Dublin)
The most controversial aspect of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) was likely the San Patricio Battalion. While they continue to be lauded as national heroes in Mexico, the US government refused to admit their existence until roughly 1915 and the Irish-American community has considered them an awkward and potentially threatening association. It is little wonder– the core of San Patricio Battalion was formed in 1846, consisting almost entirely of deserters from the US Army. Continue reading
The 1920s are commonly assumed to have been a time of great social change in sexual norms and gender politics in celebration of women’s equality upon gaining the right to vote. As usual with common assumptions about history, the truth is far more complicated. The right to vote was not a cure-all to sexual inequality, and the gender politics of the 1920s were not as significant a departure from the previous age as is commonly supposed. There was, however, a significant increase in the visibility of women’s sexual behavior, and a corresponding normalizing of women’s sexuality in regards to men. It is more accurate therefore to say that while there was a sexual revolution in the 1920s, men were the primary beneficiaries, and it was part of a larger shift toward youth culture and consumerism. Continue reading