Thursday, October 31, 2013

Acceptable Sports for Females #4: Ice Skating

The Winter Olympics always had my family glued to the TV set when I was growing up. Skiing was the backbone of our local economy, Dad worked at a ski area, and ski lessons were part of our school program. The Olympic sport I loved watching the most was figure skating -- the strong and graceful athletes who seemed to defy the force of gravity, with the little remnants of their costumes fluttering as they flew. I never skated as a child, because in our region, any open water was in the form of twisting brooks that flowed downhill over glacial boulders and fallen trees. It would freeze up in great jagged lumps and piles of thick floes. No one seemed to care enough to keep snow cleared off the wider river down in the village.

Ice skating has been a popular pastime and method of transportation for thousands of years, it seems. Holland, with abundant flat stretches of flooded land, was famous for ice skating. By the 19th century, skating was an accepted activity for women, although most pictures depict men skating and women watching them make fools out of themselves. Currier and Ives made a number of popular skating prints, ranging from fun on the farm to vast throngs of jolly urbanites crowding the ice at New York's Central Park.

Most of the fancy footwork and amazing leaps of today's figure skating was developed by competitive and exhibition skaters much later in the 19th century. Some of these skaters were Axel Paulson, Alois Lutz, and Urich Salchow. Names sound familiar?

Sources: Skating scene, Timid Dolly, Rev. Walker, Minerva, falling guys (?).

An Eerie Tale

It being Hallowe'en (notice I still use the apostrophe to denote a contraction), it seems fitting to post a weird and thrilling tale, told by Minerva to the easily unnerved Dolly. The ill-fated Penelope is so elated to attend a dinner and dance at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, escorted by the devastatingly handsome Sir Herbert Longshot (be still, my rapidly-beating heart!). Attractive as it may be to be prone to swooning, poor Pen is truly in danger. Excusing herself discreetly, she withdraws to the ladies' toilet. There, she is so struck by the opulence of the fittings, that she loses consciousness and sinks gracefully to the marble floor.

"Eefmghwwfff!", Dolly cries out from under the covers.

For a rather tame ghost story from Ackermann's Repository, click here.

Sources: background picture, Penelope, frame

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Acceptable Sports for Females #3: The Graces

You know these ladies, The Three Graces. No doubt our sport of the day was named with them in mind: a trio of elegantly nimble young women floating about, not "sporting" about. In The Girl's Own Book, Mrs. Lydia Child recommends The Graces as an excellent activity. It played with a light wooden hoop and sticks held by the players. Mrs. Child instructs each player to hold two sticks, while contemporary prints of adults playing show them using one stick each. The hoop, which is wrapped in strips of cloth or ribbon to pad it, is thrown up in the air from a stick and caught by another player on their stick or pair of sticks. That player, in turn, keeps the game going by flinging the hoop off the stick. Besides being a fine general physical activity, it promotes good hand-eye coordination. I would think that the two-stick version would be the better of the two in that regard. The hoop must be caught on both sticks held a few inches apart, and flung by crossing the sticks and pulling them apart. I would have been the despair of Mrs. Child, as my complete lack of hand-eye coordination is legendary and the stuff of long-standing oral tradition around the evening campfire. If it involves a moving object and a planned connection between me and it, I'm not your girl.

An interesting, though probably unwritten, rule of the Graces is that a man or boy may play against one or more females, but two males never play against each other. The bottom line is most likely that this is a girl's game, and while it is a friendly gesture on the part of a man to play against women, two guys just  don't fling the hoop around. It's a good way to meet bouncing girls though. That being said, there are later pictures of boys playing against each other. These lads may not have heard of this injunction, or simply dismissed it, claiming they were playing a new game called "Rings of Death", played without the ribbons. Note that these boys use two rings at once. Other early pictures show two rings in use, and the companies which sell the game today usually include two rings. Go, Rings of Death Lads, go!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Acceptable Sports for Females #2: Shuttlecocks & Battledores

Mrs. Lydia Maria Child (1805-1800) was a remarkable woman. A prolific writer, she used her talents to share her convictions; among them, the abolition of slavery in the United States, Native American rights, women's rights, and the education and health of children. She also wrote the classic American poem,  "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day", better known as "Over The River And Through The Woods". Among her books concerning mothers and children are The Mother's Book (1831), and The Girl's Own Book (1833). In both books, she promotes vigorous exercise for both boys and girls, and daily outdoor activity. The Girl's Own Book has descriptions of many suitable activities to promote the health and good physical development of girls. They may seem somewhat limited to today's reader, who is used to girls (and women) playing strenuous team sports and competing in national and international games, but Mrs. Child was a controversial voice for her day. The societal view of women was more and more restrictive as the 19th century wore on, which was most evident in the styles of clothing women were forced to wear by the dictates of fashion. 

One active game Mrs. Child recommends is Shuttlecocks and Battledores, an early version of badminton. The shuttlecock (or birdie, as we call it) was batted back and forth between players until a player missed and let the shuttlecock fall. A net was not used until the rise of "badminton battledore", a game popular in British India and transported back to Britain by retired army officers.  Shuttlecocks and Battledores was a popular game in France in the late 1700s, and like most other French things (except for guillotining large numbers of the population), it was taken up by the British upper classes with great enthusiasm. 

Dolly and Minerva are visiting their friends, the Sperlings, of whom I will write at length at a later date. The Sperling girls are playing with their brother Henry, while a French couple play in the background. 

Sources: Caricatures Parisiennes, watercolors of Diana Sperling, Ackermann's Repository, frame

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Acceptable Feminine Sports in Georgian England: #1. Archery

I am not much of a sports person. Alright, I'm hopeless at sports and I don't much care, so the limitations on physical activity for women in Georgian high society would not have bothered me much.  I would have been content to sit, shaded by my parasol, watching the young men prance about, displaying their feats of strength and sweating. Sports for women, such as they were, were established by necessity, such as being able to ride a horse well and gracefully, or sports in which women appeared elegant and poised. The loose, lighter clothing styles during this era enabled women to be much more active, and many of them must have longed to indulge in some seriously energetic physical activity. Many of Ackermann's fashion plates show women in "walking dress", or garments suitable for seaside strolls. Seawater baths were becoming popular, and many women, including Jane Austen, were fond of a brisk swim in the waves.

One particularly popular feminine sport was archery. Archery built up strength and promoted good posture. Moreover, women looked lovely while they pulled the bowstring back. In their long, white gowns, they conjured up the perfect classical image of Diana the Huntress. Many archery clubs sprang up during 1780s, and soon after, some began accepting women as members. One in particular, the Royal British Bowmen, was the first in that regard. A serious competitive group, the RBB viewed the presence of women as a deterrent to male members who were less devoted to improving skills and more inclined to drink and carouse. Archery societies such as these were excellent venues for upper-crust young men and women to meet and socialize. The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma shows an archery scene, although Austen's book does not include it. It is a common activity, however, and in a movie, provides a much more interesting setting to this contentious dialogue than two talking heads on a park bench. Poor Emma is not hitting the mark on any level.

Sources: Adam Buck print, The Archers; Ackermann's Repository; Royal British Bowmen (link above); Currier & Ives lithograph, Indian Hunter; photos of wicker furniture.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Life and Age of Woman

As I wrote in a previous post, the firm of Currier and Ives was the most prolific maker of quality lithographic prints of the 19th century and the most recognized today. Much of our mental image of American life in those days comes from their pictures. Among their series is "The Four Seasons of Life", depicting happy, middle-class people enjoying Childhood, Youth, Middle Age, and Old Age. A less idyllic viewpoint is found in the pair called "The Life and Age of Man" and its partner, "The Life and Age of Woman". The baby begins the uphill climb to adulthood, going "over the hill" to a long old age. How many people in those days actually reached the less than ripe old age of 100? After looking at this picture, I would hope I wouldn't!

One bit of information I found very interesting is that a major artist for C&I was a woman, Frances Flora Palmer. She did the Four Seasons of Life series, as well as the grim "Life and Age" pair. Her true passion was landscapes and she painted great numbers of them; beautiful scenery which was usually a backdrop for dramatic action. Palmer painted the Mississippi steamboat series, American Life Series, Civil War battles, and many favorite winter scenes: in all, over 200 pictures. I am so glad she didn't do the simpering girl portraits or those weird kittens!

While strolling through the pages of C&I prints, Dolly gets sidetracked.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Brain Hurts!

I'm one of those camera-shy people.  I am not photogenic. A photographer would have to take scores of shots of me, in hopes of getting one or two which don't have some odd grimace, hair problem, or just an unfortunate angle on my long face. Sure, tell me that I just don't like the way I really look. That's the problem with the camera. It does not lie.

I can only imagine the amazement of people in the 19th century when photography became available to the public. For the first time, people other than the wealthy could have their likenesses in their own hands, a lasting memorial to their looks. And a photograph was the real you. A photographer might pose you to your advantage, but, unlike a painter, he could not (at that time) make you look like anything you were not. It was you, warts and all. More than this, I would imagine it was strange, even difficult, to look at a photographic image after a lifetime of only seeing things represented in paintings, printed engravings, or drawings. For a few years, I had the same feeling looking at Pixar movies. The computer animation was just not processing through my brain properly. It looked like drawing/painting, but it also looked "real".  Too creepy, which is how we often describe information we can't process well. We actually feel "creepy" when our brains don't interpret the unfamiliar.

Dolly and Minerva have the same experience, and they back off.

If you love early photography, especially daguerreotypes, do visit Dennis Waters' Fine Dags website. He, his son, and daughter are top-notch collectors and restorers of daguerreotypes.  You will be amazed by his quality wares and amused by his snappy commentaries. They are situated in Exeter, NH, which isn't terribly far from me. He's encouraged me, by email, to take a trip out and root through three stories of a barn, packed with old dags. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Old Maps

Antique maps are fascinating. The technology of ancient cartography seems so limited in these days of satellite photography, but armed with compasses, astrolabes, and their own two eyes, the sailors of old managed to draw maps that were surprisingly accurate.  Each successive navigator refined the previous map, filling in the unexplored gaps and blank seas where "Here Be Dragons". Landlubbers focused on maps of terra firma, while sailors marked dangerous currents, submerged rocks, and welcome harbors. One of my favorite maps is this portable diagram of ocean currents and islands used by Polynesian voyagers. This stick chart, or mattang, was a guide to ocean swells between the tiny islands dotted throughout the Pacific, enabling these people to travel incredibly long distances in their fragile crafts.

One of my favorite Jane Austen movie characters is Margaret Dashwood, the younger sister of Elinor and Marianne. The author does not give young Margaret much depth, but the film gives her an independent, adventurous spirit and a love of maps. The maps are all places she has yet to see and conquer, and her ability to memorize geographical information is the foundation of her future success. I love the scene where Edward Ferrars uses her obsession with geographical accuracy to lure her out of her hiding place under the table. I could imagine being that girl. FYI, I was a geography teacher.

Here we see Dolly and Minerva on a walking tour.  Being bound by the world of publications, they wander across a map, which is simple, but much less interesting than "real" travel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Currier & Ives' White Kittens

Currier and Ives was the great print-making firm of the mid-1800s, and hardly a home existed without one or more of their framed prints. They published series of prints on interesting topics, ranging from American landscapes, domestic scenes, pretty girls, Civil War battles, seasonal activities, to simply cute pictures.  How many Christmas cards have you received with a Currier & Ives winter scene on it? Dolly and Minerva have happened upon one of the series of playful white kittens, and of course, they have no idea what is going on.

I've been asked for more information on the girls themselves. Dolly has lighter hair and seems a bit more clueless than her sister. Minerva is the dark-haired sister who takes charge through force of personality, more than intelligence or accumulated knowledge. Dolly turns to Minerva for direction, and usually ends up none the wiser for it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Introducing Dolly and Minerva

I've been fascinated by gravestones since I was a child. Having grown up in the northeast United States, there are many quite old cemeteries with markers dating from the 1700s. It's interesting how the styles changed over the years, reflecting the taste in art and the cultural attitudes toward death. In the early 1800s, the grim death-heads and staring angel faces gave way to the classical metaphors: urns, weeping willows, and broken columns. Many prints were sold featuring mourners at the grave site. Of course, Dolly and Minerva are a little unclear on the concept.