18th century clothing, 19th century clothing, authenticity, dress, fashion, living history, museum collections, Museums, Newport, Newport Historical Society, Quakers, Research, Rhode Island, Rhode Island history, style
The Newport dresses seemed a little strange to me, in that the collar treatment was more like what I would expect to see on a pelisse than on a gown. But I am willing to be wrong, and delighted to be wrong if that’s how I will learn something.
@silkdamask (that’s Kimberley Alexander’s twitter handle; she has a blog you might want to follow if you don’t already) posted a photo of the dress (above left) she imagined a young woman she’d been writing about might have worn. Housed at the Met, this embroidered American cotton and wool gown ca. 1806 has a cross-over bodice and collar.
Another day dress from the Met (above right) has a ca. 1820 date, but looks very much like the gown worn by Mrs Amelia Opie (she was a British Quaker) in this engraving after an 1803 portrait. (Other, similar gowns and portraits are pinned here.)
Nantucket and New Bedford both hard large Quaker populations (remember Moby Dick?), and the Williams family in Newport had connections to New Bedford, so I looked in collections in Nantucket and New Bedford as well.
The gown below, now in the collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, was worn by Susan Waln Morgan Rodman (Mrs Benjamin Rodman), while pregnant; using a genealogy, we can establish pretty solid date ranges for the dresses at New Bedford Whaling Museum. It looks 1820s in style, and her first two children are born in 1821 and 1822.
A date range of 1820 to 1822 seems plausible. Susan Waln Morgan Rodman would have been about 20 with her first pregnancies. (Genealogies are on Google books.)
She seems to have kept up with style and to have liked clothes; a search for her name in the NBWM catalog returned some interesting items, though the catalog does not allow for linking to item records or searches. Mrs Rodman’s appears to have kept pace with style changes; that is, her wardrobe did not ossify in 1820-something, but evolved as fashions changed, and was appropriate for different situations.
Does that mean that all Quaker women kept pace with style changes? It’s hard to say; each of us today updates our wardrobe according to our fancy, our purse, our inclinations and our age. Are those Newport gowns going to turn out to look more like the Met gowns than I imagine? I don’t know, but it seems possible.