You know this site, right? History Myths Debunked examines the stories about the past many like to think are true, and Death By Petticoat is one of the favorites. Here it is on an English site catering to reenactors. There’s a variation I’d never heard, about wetting petticoat hems to keep them from engulfing the wearer in flames. (OK, mild exaggeration: to keep the petticoat from igniting fully, thus… hat tip to Back Country Maiden for pointing this out.)
As someone who just finished mending a petticoat, you’d think I’d leap at the chance to drench my hem in water to prevent future mending episodes, but not so. For one thing, in the house or in the camp, that’s water I had to haul or cause to have hauled, and I’m not wasting it. Wet the hems and what’s next? Caked lumps of ash, mud, and.or other filth. No thanks.
The burns I got in my dress were acquired at the end of the day when we were hearth cooking and were practically in the fireplace ourselves. That is where you must be if you wish to stir the sauce until it thickens, and there was the hoisting of roast in its pan a couple of times, and general playing with fire in pursuit of food. My ca. 1799 dress is longer than my 1770s petticoats and gowns, and the extra inch or two probably contributed to the burns. But I wasn’t engulfed by flames, because the damn thing is wool. Self-extinguishing wool, worn with linen and wool petticoats and a linen apron. not going to go up in flames. Also not going to get dipped in water–and wouldn’t that result in steam and hence scalded shins?
I don’t know where these rumours start, but they could have started with a cynical curator joking with house tour guides who failed to get the joke. Not that I know anything about a story of about Providence kitten named Georgie in honor of George Washington’s visit to a large brick house on a hill .