New Book Coming Soon!

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My new book on Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel will soon hit the shelves. I’m anticipating publication this summer or fall. If you love history and enjoy a good romance, watch for news of it on this blog. Continue reading

Dressing for the Weather

North Water Street winter 800As Martha’s Vineyard, along with the rest of the northeast, braces itself for another mass of cold and ice this week, I can’t help but think how much easier we have it now than in the 1860s when Anna Osborn lived on that island. We who dash to our cars and crank up the heater can hardly imagine traveling in an uninsulated carriage warmed only by lap robes.

Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s narrow side streets were more suited to foot traffic than carriage, anyway. Living only a couple blocks away from Edgartown’s shopping district, Anna must have frequently bundled herself up to walk a couple blocks to meet a friend for tea, post a letter, or buy piano music for the latest tune. The current photo above pictures North Water Street, just a few blocks away from where Anna lived, during a storm similar to the one we’re experiencing now.*

Bundling up in the 1860s was a much different affair for women than it is today. Tucking my pant legs into my boots this afternoon, I have a fighting chance of traveling sure-footed. Not so for a 19th-century woman encumbered by sweeping skirts and petticoats. Everywhere she went, the long-skirted woman had to keep a hand free to manage yards of cloth swirling around her ankles. The early 1860s fashions also featured the mixed blessing of hooped skirts. Although they swayed gracefully when a woman walked, they also totally obscured her feet from her own view.

I frequently get calls to portray Susan B. Anthony in costume during her birth month (February) and women’s history month (March). These excursions give me ample opportunity to appreciate how much needed were the dress reforms of the 1850s, when Miss Anthony and her friend Mrs. Stanton experimented with shorter skirts over trousers. This bloomer costume, as it was called, kept one’s skirts out of the kind of slush that’s predicted during this winter storm. Being able to actually see her own feet gave a woman much less chance of falling on the ice that covered the rutted, unpaved streets of yesteryear.

Unless Anna Osborn had Susan Anthony’s thick skin in the face of ridicule, she would not have worn the bloomer costume on the streets of Edgartown. The bloomer’s practicality and safety were no match for the jeers that accompanied women who dared to sport that revolutionary fashion. But as Anna gazed at snowy scenes similar to the one above, she may have secretly longed for some of the freedoms and comforts that we take for granted today.

*Photo used with permission by Point B Realty, Martha’s Vineyard.

African American Solidarity, 19th Century Style

Frederick Douglas1In the second half of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass was as well-known as Martin Luther King. For many years he lived in Rochester near the Anthony family and frequently dined with them and their Quaker friends.

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Parlor Music: A Favoite Nineteenth Century Pasttime

Rose Hill Mansion Music Room. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Rose Hill Mansion Music Room. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Recently I enjoyed a concert by Jacqueline Schwab, a celebrated pianist who has made several PBS documentaries with Ken Burns, among them Civil War and Not For Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

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Where Anna Walked

trail on MV from thr websiteAnna Osborn Anthony, the heroine of the novel I’m writing, was both challenged and supported by her physical environment on Martha’s Vineyard. Read about trails like those she must have strolled on that magical outcropping of sand and rock off the Massachusetts coast. This photo shows a trail overlooking Vineyard Sound, which lies between the island and the mainland. Continue reading

Orange Blossoms for the Bride?

Federated Church, Edgartown, taken from pulpit and facing entry. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Federated Church, Edgartown, taken from pulpit and facing entry. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

In choosing a winter wedding, Anna Osborn departed from the Victorian custom of marrying in the warm months when orange blossoms and other flowers were in abundance. Continue reading

Preparing for Society Wedding on Martha’s Vineyard

    Fed Cong church steeple 2        D.R. Anthony married Anna Eliza Osborn in January 1864 in the Congregational Church (now known as the Federated Church) located on the same block Anna’s beautiful home that faced the sea. Continue reading

Religious Revivals on Martha’s Vineyard

The Oak Bluffs cottages are only one room wide, built on the size of the original tents. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

The Oak Bluffs cottages are only one room wide, built on the size of the original tents. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

One of the most picturesque features of Martha’s Vineyard is the Campground Meeting area, which began in Oak Bluffs in 1835.

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Unexpected Civil War Loss

Model of a whaling ship seen at Martha's Vineyard. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

Model of a whaling ship seen at Martha’s Vineyard. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

In my last post I mentioned that Captain Abraham Osborn owned several whaling ships. One of these, the Ocmulgee, came to an untimely end early in the Civil War. Since the Ocmulgee was not a Navy ship, this was most unexpected. Continue reading