Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Just thought I'd Show you Something Very Old

Here's 'an historical costume' that might confuse some future anthropologist from a far away planet. A long dress with a tiny tiny top. Even today's A list actresses couldn't wear it.

It's a christening dress from 1868..(or earlier) belonging to my husband's grandfather, Thomas Gavine Wells. Over the years, a few other children have been christened in it, but not too many.

A member of my husband's family wanted this dress to be donated to the McCord Museum. Except that they already have some of the same, owned by more illustrious Montrealers. (I saw one on display a few years ago.)

Thomas Gavine Wells, President of Laurentian Spring Water and character in my ebook Milk and Water  (about corruption in Jazz Age Montreal) owned this little dress that comes with two slips in two sizes.

This christening dress is not only an artifact of family history. Manufactured in the Victorian Age it likely is made from cotton grown in the US South (by slave labour) and manufactured in Lancashire or thereabouts (by children?)

A few years ago I discovered a Royal Crown Reader (used in Canada and the UK) from 1902 that had articles about the cotton industry. (See below)

 I am visiting the McCord Museum tomorrow to check out their archives, and information about one Frank Randall Clarke, photographer and journalist, who was the brother in law of suffragette Annie Kenney and who likely hosted his other suffragette sister in law, Caroline Kenney in our fair city in 1913. Caroline seems to have come over to Montreal to live that year and to start her own suffrage organization, the Equal Suffrage League.

The Kenneys were working class girls who worked in cotton mills in Yorkshire before becoming social activists.

I think the McCord museum is having a display of hats, which will prove interesting.

I thought this might be the oldest item in my house, but then I thought again and I have a pin belonging to my husband's great great grandmother from Coll. It must be from around 1840 at least.

And I have lots of old lace. Who knows how old that is. And I even have a stone from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Now that's OLD.

Some of this lace is going to be used for the wedding decor at my son's July wedding.

Picture from 1902 Royal Crown Reader. Book 4. These were used in Quebec Schools too. These are cotton workers, but wearing sarongs. The only workers mentioned in the book are American Negroes..so kids would have assumed these are American Negroes..even slaves.

I have been meditating on the cotton industry in 1910, and how I can weave this social welfare theme into Flo in the City.

In short, I wondered how much Marion, Edith and Flo knew about the cotton industry. I know they loved clothes and as women who made their own clothes, they knew a bit about fabric.

But did they know enough about the industry to care about the textile workers and their trials and strikes.

Well, I just re-discovered that the 1902 Royal Crown Reader I have on hand (purchased off Ebay) has two articles on cotton!


1) The Cotton Plant:

We do not know when cotton was first used for clothing. People learned to cultivate useful plants long before they learned to write, so none of our books are old enough to tell us who were the first farmers, or bakers, or weavers. But it is only about a hundred years since cotton cloth was woven in this country. (UK).

Indian muslins have long been famed for their beauty. A traveller, writing more than two hundred years ago, mentions some muslins that are so exceedingly fine that when laid on grass and dew has fallen on it, it is no longer visible.

These delicate materials were woven on looms of the coarsest and simplest kind, and now when the machinery has been made better, the natives seem to have lost much of their former skill (sic), so that the new fabrics are by no means as fine as the old.

When America was discovered by Columbus, about four hundred years ago, cotton was found growing there, and the natives showed some skill in weaving it into cloth. The United States of America has long held the first place among the cotton growing countries of the world, and from it we get most of our raw cotton.

For many years, indeed until about thirty years ago, the work in the cotton fields was performed by negro slaves; but after a long war, all the slaves were freed in 1885.

(Another page describes how the cotton plant grows, how the bolls are harvested and how the plant is woven into fibres at the factory.)

The following article is called Samuel Crompton and the Cotton-Spinner.

It is due to the invention of these new machines that the cotton manufacture has grown to such a very great extent in England. Manchester, Liverpool, and other towns in Lancashire, have become vast hives of busy workers and population of the country is five times what it was at the beginning of the century.The cotton spinners and weavers were at first very much against the new machines...

(It goes on to describe the life of Samuel Compton)

A recent In Our Time about the Industrial Revolution (on BBC Radio Four) debated this issue, whether innovation sparked the Revolution or whether economics did.)