In the first part of the nineteenth century, it was fashionable to dress babies in long petticoats to protect them from drafts. Voluminous clothing might also help keep a child from slipping out of its mother’s or nursemaid’s arms. According to Elizabeth Ewing in her History of Children’s Costume, the first modern baby carriage in America was introduced in 1848 by Charles Burton, but it was soon banned for being a nuisance to pedestrians. He had more success opening a factory in Britain, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that a pram was created where a baby could lie down. So prior to 1870, babies had to be carried.A well-nourished 18-month-old weighed an average of 26 pounds. (Quick aside: Have a look at these next two pictures: the first one really gives you a sense of the baby’s heft. The mother in the second one doesn’t seem to be straining to hold that kid at all.) By the 1870s, you start to see baby prams in paintings. The impressionists seemed fond of painting them. Here’s Degas:and Gauguin:and here’s a later model, 1913. It’s such a sweet picture, isn’t it?
the Bottom Up
A few days ago my writer friend, Erin Dionne, posted this status update:
Erin is a fantastic writer, incidentally. You should read her new book, if you haven’t yet.
She followed up with
(Loree Burns is another writer friend, who has written several nonfiction books about insects. If you don’t yet have them, you should run out and buy all of her books immediately.)
Erin’s post sparked a lively conversation in … Read more
One of my favorite memories from childhood was opening a new box of crayons. I marveled at the beautiful hues. When I was older and took painting classes, I never lost that feeling of awe at the brilliant, saturated colors that came right out of the paint tube. But five hundred years ago, painters didn’t have the luxury of buying their paints from the art supply store. They had to mix their … Read more
As I may or may not have mentioned in my last blog post, one of the best–but also most perilous–things about doing research is that it’s so easy to get sidetracked. While looking for images for my book proposal, I spent a lot of time that I don’t really have to spare looking at Victorian/early twentieth century greeting cards on various archives (British Museum, Library of Congress, and New York Public Library). They’re fascinating.
The penny post was introduced in Britain in 1840, and that meant a lot of people could afford … Read more
I have a new favorite publication. During my recent week of research in New York City, I spent many happy hours poring over nineteenth century copies of The British Medical Journal. I found it so diverting—literally—that it was difficult to stay focused on my area of research. It’s written in a very approachable, conversational style, well, for a medical journal—with lots … Read more
The subject of today’s hilarity will be nicknames from the Viking Age. (I did a post awhile back about some of my favorite royal nicknames.) As with most people living in medieval times, the Norse had no last names (surnames), outside of patronyms (Ander’s son, Peter’s son). So, as happened frequently in other medieval communities, nicknames were used as a way of identifying individuals. We’ve all heard of Eric the Red, but there are lots of better ones. The list below comes from the people … Read more
I’m working on a new book right now, and as part of my research, I have enrolled in an online course on forensics. My professor is one Roderick Bates, an organic chemist and associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. I find him delightful. Soft-spoken, with a pleasant British accent, he wears a white lab coat and safety glasses, and he delivers his lectures about heinous crimes involving wood chippers, analysis of body tissues found in chain saws, and body-dissolving sulphuric acid in bathtubs, with a charming exuberance and a hint of a smile playing on his lips.
This week, Dear Reader, I won’t be posting, as I’m doing research for my next book. I’m staying in the empty apartment of a New York City friend and will be spending all my time here, at the New York Academy of Medicine:
And here, at the New York Public Library. Back next week!
Last month when I was in Paris my husband and I spotted a statue in a small park, and long before we were close enough to read the inscription I said, “That is so the 1830s.” Here’s the statue. In case you can’t see the inscription, the date is 1830.
Not that I should get mad props for ID-ing the fashion era. The period from 1830 to the early 1840s was marked by a very characteristic look in fashionable European and American circles. I loathe it.
The first time I stumbled across a reference to the disease known as phthiriasis (pronounced “thuh-RY-uh-sis) I was reading Plutarch’s gleeful account of the death of the Roman tyrant Sulla.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138 – 78 BC), who had a nasty habit of putting his enemies’ heads on pikes, died a relatively old man, having murdered all the people who might try to assassinate him. And yet, according to Plutarch, Sulla met a ghastly … Read more