Perfecting the Duchenne Smile–Victorian Style

In case you haven’t noticed, all of the 19th Century featured photographs of women on my BLOG have a natural smile, which is also known in the scientific world as the Duchenne Smile. Guillaume Duchenne, a French physician, studied the physiology of facial expressions during the 1800s.  This type of smile is the natural raising of the corner of the mouth and cheek bones. Tyra Banks, renowned supermodel, dubbed this in the 21st Century as the Smize.

Thus, one of the most important techniques I have to master as a Civil War Living Historian is the Duchenne Smile.  One would think smiling with the corner of the mouth and the cheek bones would be very easy to do; however, after a lifetime of taking pictures with the fake “Say Cheese” smile, achieving the Duchenne Smile is indeed a challenge.

The featured photograph is courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.  As you can see, the unidentified woman has a natural smile through the corner of her mouth and cheek bones.

For those who are new to this topic, see the Youtube video titled “Smize” by America’s Top Model.  Enjoy!


Remembering That People Matter–Victorian Style

As I was reading the book called Women In Atlanta by Staci Catron-Sullivan and Susan Neill, I came across this featured photograph of a 19th Century black woman wearing an embellished Victorian Dress.  Staci and Susan draw the eyes to the young lady’s hand which appears to be covering a necklace charm.  They state, “The sitter appears to shield an object and may be concealing a slave hire badge. . . . If hired-out slaves were found without the proper badge, they were arrested, and their masters were forced to pay fines for their return.”

1848 Free Slave TagAtlanta, Georgia City HallCourtesy:

1848 Free Slave Tag
Atlanta, Georgia City Hall

Then I remembered the Labor Behind the Veil tour in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Often slaves were arrested and their legal tags were taken from them by the captors.  As a result, many slaves and free people of color were then taken to the auction block and resold to new slave owners.  Either circumstance, shielding one’s identity was critical to survival during the era of slavery.  If you are following the story of Lavinia Flagg, she and Wilkes were sold back into slavery after leaving the state of Georgia and returning.

Because someone knew that Wilkes and Lavinia mattered as human beings, the Wilkes family freedom was reestablished after $750 in fines were paid. Historians tend to focus on the peculiar institution of slavery.  However, many rarely look at slavery from the slave or free person of color’s perspective.  This is why the masses have lost interest in Civil War history which has become primarily about the Generals, the Battlefields, and the progression of the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t want the Wilkes’ love story and similar Civil War stories to be hidden within hundreds of pages of books.  As the authors of Women in Atlanta point out, these stories are about people, not property; and their life experiences deserve to be shared globally.  Love, Faith, and Hope are relevant in 2013. This is why its important to remember that people will always matter.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt

Expanding the 19th Century Wardrobe–Victorian Style

“The Impeccable dress of Nancy Cunningham Luckie, a free black woman, shows no discernible difference from ensembles typically worn by her white counterparts.” ~Staci-Catron-Sullivan, author of Women In Atlanta

Civil War Womens Fashion

Drawing of Civil War era
ballroom dress

Initial findings suggested that free women of color wore very simple clothing made of cotton with small patterns.  However, after selecting Lavinia Flagg as my Living Historian persona, I have learned that free women in the State of Georgia wore fine fabrics, such as silks and wool with large prints.  As an example,  Louis De Vorsey, author of The Plantation South, states, “When the Civil War began, Flagg had accumulated an estate worth over $25,000, a respectable sum for those hard-dollar days, and his wife Lavinia lived unusually well for an African American in those times of slavery.”

Thus, I do believe that the dress code for free women of color varied based on social climate.  Because Lavinia was known as a personal female confidant to Mary Ann Lamar Cobb, wife of Governor Howell Cobb, Lavinia perhaps was allowed to attend social teas and sewing circles due to the wealth Wilkes had accumulated.  This financial status coupled with the fact that Milledgeville was a 19th century urban city created the ultimate backdrop for fashion.

Featured is a 1862 photograph of Nancy Cunningham Luckie, free woman of color and wife of Solomon Luckie who ran a barbershop and salon at the Atlanta Hotel. The Victorian dress that Nancy is wearing is a wool silk blend.  Picture is courtesy of Staci Catron-Sullivan, author of Women in Atlanta.