My previous #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts have been pretty wordy—and pretty serious; I think we all just need to see some Salem women of that gilded, reforming era at the end of the nineteenth century. Ever since that Phillips Library digitized part of their large collection of glass plate negatives created by photographer Frank Cousins I have been pouring over these images at the Digital Commonwealth looking mostly at streets and structures. But Cousins captured people as well—lots of people—even if they were not always his primary (or secondary) consideration. Sometimes he lets them pose; often he captures them unobserved, mostly on busy Essex Street. Now that I know how active Salem women were, for abolition, suffrage, temperance, and other causes, I’m wondering if they also embraced dress reforms, but I’m not enough of a sartorial scholar to tell! The other issue is dating: Cousins’ photos date roughly from 1880 to 1915, but very few are dated precisely, and fashion changed within these decades.
Unreformed dress and reformed suit, from Abba Goold Woolson’s Dress–reform: A Series of Lectures Delivered in Boston, on Dress as it Affects the Health of Women, 1874.
Of course the women on the streets of Salem, going about their business, or striding or sitting on a Willows avenue or beach, are not going to represent either the “ideal” corseted and bustled or sturdy-suited model figures above, but something in between, clad for their real lives. I don’t see a lot of “tight lacing” in the photos below, but I definitely discern corsets, and the skirts are only shorter for the girls. I’m a bit wary of extreme photo manipulation (photographs are sources) but I have no problem with extreme zooming!
At Salem Willows: the first images is dated 1880; not sure about the rest—but I believe that draped skirts of the second photograph are from the later 1880s.
Streetwear, 1890s? Again, the first image is dated—it is Columbus Day, 1892—but the rest are not. Young women were always allowed to wear shorter skirts, apparently (like the girls in front of the old Salem Hospital on Charter Street and the Pickering School on North Street). Shop windows (like Cousins’ own Bee-Hive) and signs are also clues for evolving fashion. Lots of parasols on the streets of Salem, in rain or shine. The “leg of mutton” sleeves worn by ladies in the last two photographs clearly date to the later 1890s: sorry she is so blurry, but my very favorite anonymous “bicycle girl” on Essex Street seems like a perfect match for the famous Gibson Girl.
Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives at the Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth +ephemera at the Library of Congress.