Becoming a Living Historian–Victorian Style

Becoming a Living Historian, as we say in the south, is bigger than a bread basket.  The  end result looks so easy.  Put on a hoop skirt and dress–you’re done.  Well, not so fast.  When I learned about all of the underpinnings, I couldn’t believe how much 19th Century women endured.

As you know, clothing was hand washed in the 19th Century.  Therefore, the underpinnings were worn to prevent the soiling of one’s Victorian dress.  After all, washing underclothes on a weekly basis was easier than washing a dress made of equal to or greater than 15 yards of fabric.  Remember, the 19th Century lady changed outfits several times a day.  Thank goodness for the modern convenience of electronic washers and dryers.

I found this video which will give you a greater appreciation for the lengths in which women living historians and reenactors go through to preserve the realism of 19th Century fashion.


Ann DeWitt


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

Restoring History Lost in the Backwoods of America–Victorian Style

I have fought a Good fight,
I have finished the race,
I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV)

When I see the unkept graves of United States Veterans, my heart sinks. Large investments are made into Arlington National Cemetery (Virginia) and Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta). However, there are a sect of Civil War Veterans who were given military instructions and who provided military service valiantly under tremendous circumstances. Yet, their graves are left in deplorable conditions.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America issued General Orders No. 14 on March 23, 1865 to enlist African Americans to serve in the Confederate States Army/Navy. This featured photograph is presumed to be the gravesite of James Polk, who enlisted with the 18th Georgia Battalion Infantry (CSA Colored Troops) and was an 1865 Appomattox Parolee. He is buried at McLarty Family Cemetery In Douglas County, Georgia.

Even though Confederate Cook James Polk made United States Military History, his individual story is left untold. However, historians as part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and auxiliary organizations are researching the military histories and restoring the gravesites of all veterans regardless of race, creed, or color.

Because of these efforts, we are able to locate the graves of United States Veterans so that they can be honored for their individual contributions to United States Military History.

At the current condition of his grave, United States Veteran James Polk’s voice rings, “I have fought the good fight; I have finisthed the race; I have kept the faith.”  Thus, a Living Historian answers the call and teams with others in the restoration of a history lost in the backwoods of America.

Highlighting the good in humanity,
Ann DeWitt