Serving Up The Truth–Victorian Style

19th Century Petticoat

19th Century Petticoat

When I chose Lavinia Flagg as my Living Historian Persona, I knew that her life as both a slave and a free woman of color during the 19th Century would raise awareness and elevate discussions. Serving up the truth about the ever changing dynamics during the 1800s era is critical. As an example, many of the pictures show slave women working in the cotton fields fully clothed and wearing a gele or similar headdress.   (See  the gele/headdress in featured photograph.)  However, “Slave Life in Georgia” by John Brown states:

The women wear a shirt similar to the men’s, and a cotton petticoat, which is kept on by means of braces passing over their shoulders. But when they are in the field, the shirt is thrown aside. They also have two suits allowed them every year. These, however, are not enough. They are made of the lowest quality of material, and get torn in the bush, so that the garments soon become useless, even for purposes of the barest decency.”

Petti Point BraceCourtesy: MFA Educators Online

Petti Point Brace
Courtesy: MFA Educators Online

As a Living Historian, my period attire will be appropriate for going into town with family and/or friends.  The only time I would portray Lavinia as a slave would be  if there is an educational seminar or class on slave life.  As far as the cotton field is concerned, I will share with audiences that many slave women had to go topless because of a lack of trust by some slaveholders who wanted to guarantee 100% harvesting of their crops.  Rest assured, I will not be representing slave life in the cotton fields.  Therefore, this post shows the everyday clothing items that Lavinia wore during the years when she was enslaved.

In the end, each individual woman was beautiful in her own way.  If you look closely into the featured photograph, her skin was flawless without the miracles of modern day science.  Her eyes reveal wisdom beyond years.  She balances life with a grip unimaginable.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt

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