“The magnitude of our undertaking dawned on us”: Victorians Go Camping


Check out Liva Gershon’s piece at JSTOR Daily: “How the Victorians Went Camping.”  She builds it off of Phoebe Kropp’s 2009 article in the Journal of Social History: Wilderness Wives and Dishwashing Husbands: Comfort and the Domestic Arts of Camping in America, 1880-1910.”

Here is a taste of Gerson’s piece:

Camping brought the domestic work typically done by women into full view. One woman described her husband’s enjoyment of washing dishes in a creek, scouring them with mud and moss. “This recognition prompted the question of who exactly produced the comforts of civilization in an era where the definition of home came to center upon the purported absence of productive labor,” Kropp writes.

For many well-to-do campers, of course, the people who actually did much of the domestic labor at home were servants. That raised the question of whether to bring hired help along on a camping trip. Some families saw camping as a vacation from managing servants, while others appreciated not having to cook or wash the dishes themselves.

In other cases, campers hired “guides” who might explain the local landscape, handle unpleasant chores, and contribute to the campers’ spirit of adventure by embodying entertaining stereotypes. “The ‘Canuck guide,’ the ‘Chinaman cook,’ and the ‘Indians’ became stock characters in some campers’ stories, who contributed equal parts expertise and ethnic flavor,” Kropp writes.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Josh McMullen

Josh McMullen is Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Government, History and Criminal Justice at Regent University. This interview is based on his new book, Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture?

JM: I have long been interested in popular religious movements. When at seminary, I became interested in Pentecostalism and the divine healing movement. I was particularly curious as to where Pentecostalism fit into the modernist-fundamentalist dichotomy. At the University of Missouri, I was introduced to scholarship on consumer and therapeutic culture. Combining these two subjects—popular religion and consumer/therapeutic culture—sounded like a great way to explore my historical interests. The driving question became how the United States could be so consumer-driven and yet highly religious.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Under the Big Top?
JM: In contrast to some stereotyped images of revivalists as Victorian hold-outs, I argue big tent evangelists participated in the shift away from Victorianism and helped in the construction of a new consumer culture in the United States. I contend revivalists and their audiences unlinked Christianity from Victorianism and joined it with the new, emerging consumer culture.
JF: Why do we need to read Under the Big Top?
JM: The pervasive understanding of Protestantism at the turn of the twentieth century is the fundamentalist-modernist dichotomy. While I think this can be a helpful lens, it can also cloud as much as clarify. I hope this work opens up new ways to look at Protestantism in this period. I also believe that scholarship on therapeutic and consumer culture has not fully appreciated the role that religion has played in the construction of consumer culture in the United States. I hope this book stimulates dialogue about the role of religion in American therapeutic culture.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JM: I started graduate school in theology. I quickly realized I was most interested in historical theology. That soon led to an interest in the context for ideas. This finally led me to history. I was torn between studying the patristic period or American history. A couple of classes in American religious history, particularly Pentecostalism, tipped the balance.
JF: What is your next project?
JM: Under the Big Top deals with popular religious figures who embraced consumer culture, albeit tentatively. I am still curious about the construction of a therapeutic culture in the United States, as well religion’s role in this. For my next project, however, I want to explore a figure who rejected therapeutic culture or resisted it.

JF: Great stuff, thanks Josh!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

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.