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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - January 31, 2007

Hi! Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back with news from the Stephenson House. The annual dinner was an interesting evening with good company, good food and a fun auction with Mayor Gary Niebur as auctioneer. Kathy, Deanna, Elizabeth and George each presented short skits with school students demonstrating how the educational trunks help children learn about life on the frontier in the early 1800s. Ol' Henry heard that George led a group of young students in a militia marching drill! Congratulations to Andrew Schlueter, Jim Couch and Bob Jurgena who were presented with the Stephenson House Preservation Award for their dedication and outstanding service as volunteers. They are certainly appreciated!

There was a good turnout for the recent lecture series on Stephenson Genealogy presented by Karen Mateyka and Federal Architecture by Joe Weber. It is fun to share with others what has been learned.

The recent cold weather got Ol' Henry to remembering what I've heard over the years about the clothing folks wore on the frontier in the winter. The basic answer is that natural fabrics were used and in the winter different weights of wool kept the frontier people warm. Henry heard RoxAnn say that the clothes were made of many different weaves of wool. One type was Lindsey woolsey, an inexpensive rough, scratchy fabric. Another was wool flannel, a commonly used thinner weight wool for making undergarments such as shirts, chemises and underpetticoats. Broadcloth, a densely woven wool that did not fray, was used for outerwear like great coats and cloaks.

RoxAnn knows all about how the folks dressed in a lot of layers! A woman wore a shift of wool flannel, then a garment of stays that was followed by an under petticoat. The final layer was the petticoat and short gown. Today these garments are often mistakenly called a skirt and jacket. Henry knows they should be called petticoat and short gown! The petticoats or skirts were often quilted or made of wool and wool flannel. The short gown or jacket was also made of wool flannel or a slightly heavier weave of wool. Dresses made of silk, lightweight wool or cotton could be worn in place of the petticoat and short gown. Then the lady, dressed in layers of clothing, added an apron and a cloak to ensure staying warm! Hey, Henry overheard this about apron strings! On the frontier they would not have wasted material on the apron strings that tied in the back. The strings would have been narrow strips of fabric or actual heavier “strings”! Remember the old saying about “cutting the apron strings”?

Now, there were more steps needed to keep warm! The woman would were a warmer cloak for outdoors or she may have chosen a dense wool fabric for a walking coat. Some women preferred short, fitted jackets of wool called Spencer jackets. Women over age 30 wore caps to keep her head warm and her hair clean.

Ol' Henry knows that many layers of clothes were needed to stay warm in the brutal cold! So, the women would simply add one or two more under petticoats!

The biggest difference in the clothing of the Stephensons and the working class was the choice of fabric and the number of clothes an individual owned. The working class had at least one “good” dress for special occasions. After a few years of wear the women would often recut their “good” dress and sew it into a more fashionable design. Lucy Stephenson would have had a number of gowns for special occasions. After repeated wear she probably wore her old gowns when she was working at home or she may have passed older clothing down to a servant. Nothing was wasted in the frontier!

The man on the frontier dressed in wool. The shirt was the man's undergarment and no man would be seen in public without a vest over his shirt. Here is something Henry did not know. The portly man would often wear a corset! Wow! Long, highwaisted trousers of wool, shirts of wool flannel and wool vests were the basic winter attire for a man. Then he would wear a wool coat or cape to ward off the cold. Henry thinks that a man probably wore more than one wool flannel shirt on some cold days!

Great or watch coats, big heavy wool coats, were very popular with the men. They were of great value and were often passed down by will. An 1822 Spectator carried an ad offering a liberal reward for the return of a new green plaid cloak with otter skin collar that had been lost between Edwardsville and St. Louis. Henry thinks that man needed his cloak!

The men wore hats of beaver skin, wool or felt. They could order hats from James McManus, the hatter on Mainstreet in Edwardsville. The workingmen wore felt hats or stocking caps. A fashionable dress hat for men was the stovepipe hat. Henry figures it was not as tall as Abraham Lincoln's hat! The men and women wore mittens or leather gloves and sturdy shoes in the winter.

Fur was in demand for protection against the cold and both men and women used fur muffs. Blankets or furs were used for cover when traveling in a wagon. Of course, a foot warmer was also used in the wagon.

The job of keeping the family and servants in warm winter clothes was a major project! Henry thinks it took many hands to sew clothing for everyone. The children's clothing had to be strongly constructed with big hems to be let down later because the garment was often passed down to another younger child. But, the first job was to purchase or make the fabric. Golly, that is more than Henry wants to think about!!!

The Valentine Dinner is coming up February 9 and 10. Henry can't wait to see the folks in the candlelight as they enjoy dinner. Candlelight makes everything and everyone beautiful! Tickets are limited, you know, because “my” house can only hold so many people.

I am heading for my warm, fluffy bed for a long overdue nap!

See ya' later,

Henry

 


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