Christmas at Nomini Hall, Virginia, 1773

“I was waked this morning by Guns fired all round the House.  The morning is stormy, the wind at South East rains hard. Nelson the Boy who makes my Fire, blacks my shoes, does errands & c. was early in my Room, drest only in his shirt and Breeches!  He made me a vast fire, blacked my Shoes, set my Room in order, and wish’d me a joyful Christmas, for which I gave him half a Bit.–Soon after he left the Room, and before I Drest, the Fellow who makes the Fire in our School Room, drest very neatly in green, but almost drunk, entered my chamber with three or four profound Bows, & made me the same salutation; I gave him a Bit, and dismissed him as soon as possible.–Soon after my Cloths and Linen were sent in with a message for a Christmas Box, as they call it; I sent the poor Slave a Bit, & my thanks.–I was obliged for want of small change, to put off for some days the Barber who shaves & dresses me.–I gave Tom the Coachman, who Doctors my Horse, for his care two Bits, & am to give more when the Horse is well.–I gave to Dennis the Boy who waits at Table half a Bit.–So that the sum of my Donations to the Servants, for this Christmas appears to be five Bits, a Bit is a pisterene bisected; or an English sixpence, & passes here for seven pence Halfpenny, the whole is 3s and 1 1/2 d.

At Breakfast, when Mr. Carter entered the Room, he gave us the compliments of the Season.  He told me, very civily, that as my Horse was Lame, his own riding Horse is at my Service to ride when & where I Choose.

Mrs Carter was, as always, cheerful, chatty, & agreeable; She told me after Breakfast several droll, merry Occurrences that happened while she was in the City of Williamsburg. This morning came from the Post-Office at Hobbes-Hole, on the Rappahannock, our News-papers. Mr. Carter takes the Pennsylvania Gazette, which seems vastly agreeable to me, for it is like having something from home–But I have yet no answer to my Letter.  We dined at four o-Clock–Mr. Carter kept in his Room, because he breakfasted late, and an on Oysters–There were at Table Mrs. Carter & her five Daughters that are at School with me–Miss Priscilla, Nancy, Fanny, Betsy, and Harriot, five as beautiful delicate, well-instructed Children as I have ever known!–Ben is abroad; Bob & Harry are out; so there was no Man at Table but myself.–I must carve–Drink the Health–and talk if I can!  Our Dinner was not otherwise common, yet elegant a Christmas Dinner as I ever sat Down to…”

 –Philip Vickers Fithian, Saturday, December 25, 1773 from Journal and Letter of Philip Vickers Fithian, ed. Hunter Dickinson Farish, 39.

The Story Behind Godey’s Lady Book

I am doing a directed reading this semester with a student who is interested in early American material culture.  Today we discussed Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America.  I read this book in graduate school, but upon reading it again I remembered just how good this book is and just how valuable it was to me as I wrote The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

On several occasions throughout the book, Bushman discusses Godey’s Lady Book, a fashion and conduct guide for women that was best selling periodical in Victorian America.

Over at Past is Present, the blog of the American Antiquarian Society, intern Susan Lydon provides some historical context for this very valuable primary source.

Here is a taste:

Leaf through the pages of Glamour or Vogue in mid-March and the inventory will reveal that American fashion designers’ thoughts have turned to the spring line.  Here at the American Antiquarian Society, when our thoughts turn to fashion, they turn to hoopskirts and side curls and to the famed fashion plates of Godey’s Lady’s Book.  As March is women’s history month, we thought it the perfect time to examine this “Lady’s Book.”


As you might know, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the number one selling periodical in Victorian America.  Mr. Godey himself calculated the number of readers at a million by the eve of the Civil War.  You might also know that the colored fashion plates at the beginning of the magazine were its most famed component.  But did you know that the colored plates were hand painted?  That the ‘lady editor’ of the magazine was vehemently opposed to including fashion plates in a woman’s periodical?  That the magazine played an integral role in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday?  That hoopskirts were gigantic during the Civil War?  All of this information and more can be found in original issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book in the collections at the American Antiquarian Society along with secondary source material on the creation of the magazine.  Godey’s Lady’s Book contains not only a wealth of information about Victorian fashion but also about the culture of bygone America. 

The ‘lady editor’ of Godey’s Lady’s Book was Sarah Josepha Hale, a literary-minded social reformer whose civic-minded zeal rivaled that of Lucretia Mott and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  She edited the magazine along with its owner, Louis A. Godey, from 1837 to 1877.  Many are familiar with Hale solely for her authorship of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but Sarah Hale’s accomplishments reached far beyond a poem for children.  Formal education for women at the time was scant.  Hale derived much of her education from a brother who attended Dartmouth College and tutored Sarah at home.  After losing her husband at a young age, Hale went on to support her family through literary means, successfully submitting novels and shorter pieces to publishers.  She edited the Boston-based Ladies’ Magazine, the first women’s magazine in America.  In the magazine, she included original literary pieces by American authors, an unusual practice at a time when American magazines borrowed largely from those of Europe.  As editor, she promoted women’s education and worthy social causes.  She spearheaded the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument and founded the Seaman’s Aid Society of Boston to give monetary relief to the families of poorly paid sailors.

Read the rest here.