Saturday, December 11, 2021

A Letter from Lucy: The Christmas Candlelight Tours

The site hosts an annual event called 'The Christmas Candlelight Tours". Last year the event was canceled due to Covid-19 but we were able to hold it this year with restrictions in place. We wanted to share some of the highlights from the event. We combined video footage and photos taken during the event with our December edition of Letters from Lucy Stephenson to create this holiday video. Our site director writes a monthly column for the local newspaper entitled Letters from Lucy Stephenson. These are fictional letters written in the voice of our matriarch. Content melds together historical events and current activities at the house. We hope you enjoy the video as much as we enjoyed the event. Happy Holidays from all of us at Stephenson House!!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson: August 26, 1821

Photo by Jill Cook

I was asked by the Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper to write a monthly column about Stephenson House. After much thought, I decided to write letters in the voice of Lucy Stephenson; the matriarch of the historic home (1820-1834). These letters weave together historical events, present-day, and my imagings of what her life may have been like. Originally published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer,
August 30, 2021.

August 26, 1821

Edwardsville, IL

Dearest Mary,

     It’s been rather quiet on the farm of late. Visitors have been few, so I have little news to convey. Illness has swept across the region again, keeping many of our usual gatherings small. We are diligently trying to stave off a larger outbreak of sickness within the community. It remains to be seen whether our efforts prove effective but within our house, we’ve limited our trips to lower town and St. Louis, have begun washing our hands and linens more frequently, and covering our faces when in the presence of others. It may all prove futile in the end, but Ben and I feel it’s our duty, at least, to try to prevent the sickness from touching our friends and family intimately. Oh, how I long for a day when we shall return to the norm.

    Regardless of the sickness wreaking havoc currently, we manage to keep ourselves quite busy here with daily ministering necessary to preserver.  Summer will soon be at an end so there are always some tasks set forth each day. The apple trees have offered an abundance of fruit of late. It’s necessary we harvest throughout the week to forgo any needless waste. Winn and I, to date, have made apple butter, vinegar, jam, cider, and several large pies. All but the pies will be put up for the coming winter. We plan to store several bushels in the cellar as well. Tobe and James took the wagon to the mill yesterday to procure a good amount of sawdust to use in the large storage crocks kept in the cellar. The girls spent this morning washing them in preparation for the last of the fall apples to be added later next month. My father was always quite adamant that sawdust must be liberally added to each crock in order to thoroughly separate the apples to prevent rot. This method has proven quite effective over the years; we rarely have any spoilage during the winter and our apples from the previous year last well into the next. It’s quite a treat to enjoy the taste of an apple pie or tart baked mid-winter after all the fresh fruit is gone from the gardens. Fortunately, we have plenty to share and soon will find it necessary to trade some of our bushels to either the Robinson family (our neighbors) or Mr. Poage at the mercantile. Our cow and pigs quite enjoy the apples deemed less than worthy for winter storage and I do believe it makes them more robust too.

     The weather has turned most oppressive the last few days which is unfortunate since it's time to cut the hay in the south fields. As you know, this is our least favorite task. It’s hard, hot, dirty work made more draining due to the heat and humidity Illinois is known for. The men sharpened the scythes and mended the rakes two days ago and Ben is to Poage’s store this afternoon to purchase twine. The men lament a great need to purchase one of the newly manufactured horse-drawn rakes from back east to alleviate some of the labor, but Ben has not been able to procure such a rake much to his chagrin and ours. The children grumble daily about the impending chore but we all must work together to make short work of it.  Thankfully, Winn has made several batches of switchel for us to drink while in the fields. That will surely help stave off the excitability brought on by such a task and climate.

     I must bring this missive to a close so that Ben may carry it to the post this afternoon. It is my hope that upon his return I receive a letter from you. Extend my affections to your family and I look forward to a visit soon.


You most faithful friend,

Lucy Stephenson


P.S. Winn asked I enclose her receipt for switchel which she is quite sure you shall want for your own use at harvest time. She makes hers with molasses, but many prefer the more subtle flavor of honey. Winn often scoffs at this and insists molasses is more fortifying.

Switchel or Harvest Drink: Mix with five gallons of good water, half a gallon of molasses, one quart of vinegar, and two ounces of powdered ginger. This will make not only a very pleasant beverage, but one highly invigorating and healthful.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson: September 27, 1820

 **Written in September 2021 by RoxAnn Raisner (house director) in the voice of Lucy Stephenson and published in the online Edwardsville Intelligencer, October 6, 2021, Based on historical facts, current happenings at the House, and a historians vivid imaginings. Follow Letters from Lucy Stephenson on Facebook (

September 27, 1820
Edwardsville, Illinois


 Dearest Mary,

     It is with a very heavy heart that I write this letter. Unfortunately, we have not escaped the encroachment of summer fever sweeping across the region and mourn the loss of so many. It seems hardly possible that mere few weeks ago all was well, only to find ourselves caught unaware by a loved one’s sudden and complete departure from this world. How I ache from it daily. Preparations are being made so our house may observe a period of mourning. My daughters, Julia and Elvira, have begun the task of washing, airing, and mending clothing suitable for the expression of our loss. And, Winn has set to task picking apart some old garments to dye black and refashion. This morning, I sent an order to the fabric merchant in Belleville to procure several bolts of bombazine so we may sew-up some additional mourning attire for the entire household since it will be some time before we are unburdened by grief. The wool crepe bunting now hangs above our door so that all those who pass may be aware of our sorrow.

     Winn, in her infinite ability to be prepared, has baked several batches of funeral biscuits embossed with cherubs and crosses for mourners attending the funerals to pay their respects. I visited the newspaper in lower town yesterday to procure an order of small, printed remembrance wrappers to cover the biscuits, as well as several pieces of black sealing wax from Mr. Poage’s store to use in the closure of each. I find having a useful occupation keeps my mind from dwelling for too long on that which I cannot change. The reprieve does not last long, of course. I know you will want a copy of Winn’s receipt for the funeral biscuits so I shall include it. It’s quite simple and they store exceedingly well for long periods of time. I find many guests chose to keep their biscuit as a memento mori as opposed to eating them at the funeral.


Funeral Biscuits

Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of flour, three pounds of lump sugar, grated, which will make forty-eight finger biscuits for a funeral.


     Dr. Todd, our local physician, has truly been a godsend the last weeks. Besides attending to countless families suffering from the summer fever’s, Ben’s ague recrudesced quite suddenly. As you well know, for some time now, Ben has been plagued with bouts of this insatiable illness. Some episodes far worse than others. Admittedly, this particular recurrence was quite arduous, causing me great concern as to his safe recovery. The severity, at one point, warranted the need to send for Rev. Ballard who provided much comfort through his ecclesiastic ministering and friendship. Thankfully, a new shipment of yellow bark arrived a Poage’s store to which we procured two orders before the supply was depleted from demand. After several days of treatment, it appears the most critical time has passed. Ben appears to be returning to health, slowly, but I do believe we owe much to both Dr. Todd and Rev. Ballard. I fear the probable outcome without the succor of both.

     Well, my dearest friend, I must close this letter for there is much to attend to. Hopefully, my next will contain happier news and these dark times shall be left behind as distant memories. I pray you stay well. Please write soon so that I may have something to brighten these bleak days. Give my love to all and know I hold you in high regard, as always.


Yours In Friendship,


Lucy Stephenson


Bombazine was a fabric used for mourning clothing in the early 19th century. It was a silk and wool mixture with a very flat appearance. It is no longer made. The closest fabric resembling it today is wool crepe.

The Funeral Biscuits receipt (recipe) was published in the 1828 (5th Edition) of The Whole Art of Confectionary: Sugar Boiling, Iceing, Candying, Jelly Making, &c. by W.S. Staveley. These biscuits were commonly given out at funerals and often wrapped in paper with the deceased name, poem, and/or information about the person printed on the outside and sealed with black sealing wax stamped with a funerary image such as skull and crossbones, cherub, rooster, cross, heart, etc.

Ague is the historical term for malaria. At the time, it was treated with a bark from South American known as yellow bark, Jesuit bark, lima bark, or Peruvian bark. The bark contained quinine and was the most effective treatment available at the time.

Col. Stephenson died on October 10, 1822, from what historians believe to be malaria. The museum will host Mourning Col. Stephenson: A Special Exhibit from September 30-October 31. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson, July 24, 1821

 I was asked by the Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper to write a monthly column about Stephenson House. After much thought, I decided to write letters in the voice of Lucy Stephenson; the matriarch of the historic home (1820-1834). These letters weave together historical events, present-day, and my imagings of what her life may have been like. Originally published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer

July 24, 1821

Edwardsville, Illinois



Dearest Mary,

     How delighted we were to receive your package earlier this month containing so many wonderful items! The children barely contained their excitement as each new surprise was brought forth from the wrapping. I must tell you, Ben was no better than the children in containing his curiosity. He is convinced it was sent specifically for him since its timely arrival coincided with his birthday celebration on July 8. As you know, Ben is quite fond of this time of year due largely to it being his birth month, as well as, commemorating our nation's fight for Independence. He often tells visitors to our farm that the celebrations put forth by Edwardsville residents are, in most part, for His birthday and not the country’s. What tales he tells! I often tease him about being old enough to witness the signing of the Declaration when, in truth, he was but seven years old at the time.  He does so enjoy all the merriment and fuss though, and I believe the teasing too.


     Ben was honored with a birthday song from the children attending the Academy for Young Ladies earlier this month. They made Queen’s Cake in the kitchen with Justine which they decorated with red, white, and blue icing (very patriotic colors to be sure) then proceeded to the front door of the house. Upon stepping out of the door, Ben was bombarded by their young jubilant voices wishing him many years to come. He was very touched by their efforts. I do believe he found their song to be his most favored gift this year. The smallest moments in our lives often create the most lasting remembrances.

     In addition to all the lively celebrations this month, we enjoyed a gathering of several War of 1812 veterans on our front lawn. As you will recall, Ben served as a Major with the Illinois Territorial Militia during the war. He is quite proud of his service, as well as the promotion to the rank of Colonel by the close of the conflict. The recent gathering of former soldiers was made up of men from the regulars and the militia. It was quite enjoyable to receive all the men, as well as their wives and children, on the farm. The gathering only lasted a couple days but the comradery was a sight to behold. It had the air of a recruitment muster held during the War with all the tents, men in colorful uniforms, and chatter about the place. I believe the men benefited greatly from the opportunity to join with others of a shared history. Admittedly, I found the company of so many ladies, from distant regions, immensely informative. We imparted so much news to one another that it shall take me another month to process it all.

     The brandied pears included in your package were exceptional in their taste. So much so that I found it necessary to hide them at the back of the cellar under several layers of burlap and straw, along with a barrel, or two, stacked on top, to keep the men from the recent soldier gathering from consuming them all. We hosted a fine supper outside on long tables Saturday evening, and I do believe Ben would have given the men any food item they desired in an effort to show his appreciation for their service. But we must be aware that winter is only a few short months away.  Please do not misunderstand my intentions in hiding the precious pears, we have been blessed in our good fortune and as Rev. Ballard imparts in his sermons each week, we must endeavor to share with those less fortunate, however, we cannot be foolhardy either.  Caution must be practiced in all things, as well.

     Please include the receipt for the brandied pears in your next letter so that it can be added to the household book Winn keeps in the kitchen. When I was a child, my mother was rather fond of pears preserved in this fashion. It has been many years since I enjoyed brandied pears, but it brings back so many wonderful memories of my youth in the Ohio Valley. Our lone pear tree here on the farm has yet to produce enough fruit to allow us to brandy them and what it does give, the wild animals tend to consume before we have the opportunity to harvest. However, our peach trees are quite prolific. Winn and I put up several crocks full of brandied peaches last summer to which we are almost through. As I know your fondness for new receipts is as passionate as mine, I shall include my receipt for you. It was imparted to my mother by the daughter of Mr. George Tucker of Williamsburg in 1804, and it is a staple to our table throughout the year.

Peel your peaches and put them in a stone pot—set the pot into a vessel of water, and let it boil until a straw will pierce the fruit—then make a syrup of the brandy and sugar—1Lb. of sugar to a quart of brandy. Set in your peaches—They will be fit for use in a month. Brown sugar will do very well. Better without peeling.

Well, I find my time for letter-writing at an end. The children are being quite boisterous in the parlor, so I suspect they are fighting over some trifle or exuberantly plotting some mischief led by James, who, at present, ardently proclaims the sole desire to become an officer in the militia. Of course, the soldier gathering only fortified his conviction--but must he launch a new military campaign daily with his brother and sister in tow? In the Colonel’s absence, I shall assume command of the troops and bid farewell.

Give my affections to your dear family. Write soon as I promise to do the same.

Yours In Friendship,

Lucy Stephenson

P.S. I almost forgot to mention the successful completion of our final Academy of the summer, so I shall include it here. It often saddens me when one of the Academies ends knowing it will be many months until these bright young minds cross our threshold again.  I do so look forward to when we shall meet again in the next year. Our final session was completed just yesterday. The young women attending the Secondary Academy of Learning were truly gracious and their exuberance to learn a joy to behold. We have been truly blessed with the skills of our preceptresses who direct the lessons. Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards taught each participant how to make candle mats so as to preserve wooden surfaces…very useful indeed! Nothing vexes me more than to find a water ring or candle wax on one of my tables. Of course, I used the silk and millinery wire you sent to teach the girls how to make a common straw hat, to which, each completed with great success. Miss Kaylee McCoy shared her receipt on pickling and preserving green beans from the garden. I believe this receipt has been in her family for some time and it proved exceedingly good. Mrs. Amy Mullane brought cream and cider from her farm so the ladies might enjoy a refreshing syllabub on their last day. It was a well-earned treat since the cream required each young lady present to provide her strength to whip the cream into a nice froth. The final product was very well received after such a prolonged effort. Of course, we did not neglect the artistic endeavors at the Academy. Miss Janice Camren provided two excellent lessons; one discussing the useful creation of transparencies and the other how to craft a lovely glass bead necklace. A most helpful lesson in quilting on a frame was conducted by our local haberdasher, Mr. Mark Myers. I was struck by the number of the girls who had never learned to quilt before this instruction. Do young girls no longer need quilts for their hope chests? How very strange that seems to me! Well, my dear friend, I must truly finish this missive or run the risk of falling behind in my duties. Love to all!

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Letters from Lucy Stephenson: June 22, 1821

I was asked by the Edwardsville Intelligencer newspaper to write a monthly column about Stephenson House. After much thought, I decided to write letters in the voice of Lucy Stephenson; the matriarch of the historic home (1820-1834). These letters weave together historical events, present-day, and my imagings of what her life may have been like. Originally published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 3, 2021,

NOTE: The word 'receipt' was the period term for 'recipe'.

June 22, 1821

Edwardsville, Illinois


My dear friend, I have been rather lax in my letter writing of late. Now that the gardens are planted, I hope to have more time to send you news. Life on our farm has kept all of us exceedingly busy this spring. We endeavor to keep the deer out of the garden plots this season. As you may remember from my last letter, they completely decimated our crops last year. There was hardly enough food to put up to get us through the winter. Ben consulted with several local gardeners, more knowledgeable than he, on possible remedies to our problem but we are hopeful that our current solution, will discourage the animals from helping themselves to our hard-earned produce. It is quite ingenious, I must say. Mrs. Donna Bardon, Mrs. Deborah Rathert, Mr. William Eaton, and Mrs. Carol Gardner were the gardeners Ben consulted. They designed and built a tall fence, which exceeds 8 feet in height, around our main garden. It is constructed of wire and wooden posts from which hang various lengths of colorful ribbons. The movement from the ribbons as well as the height discourages the deer from trying to jump into the beds. It is with great happiness that I can say, it has worked grandly so far. No deer have been in the garden since the fence was complete. Unfortunately, we have not been as successful in keeping the rabbits out. But I suppose, there must always be something to keep us occupied.

As you may recall, several years ago I establish a small Academy for the education and betterment of young ladies from local families. It has been most successful. A lovely group of girls attended the first session last week to which we presented several topics for their amusement, and I must say to mine as well. Young minds are so willing to embrace unknown challenges. Each attendee accepted the opportunity to learn with great vigor. Some of the lessons I, and my good instructresses, sought to impart included sewing, penmanship, writing a proper letter, paper quilling, crafting a puzzle purse, baking in the beehive oven, and making a refreshing drinking vinegar.

The weather has turned quite pleasant this week. It was so stiflingly hot last week that the reprieve is very welcome. I must tell you the heat was so overbearing on the last day of the Academy that one of the poor dears nearly fainted. A small bit of ice, still stored in the cellar from winter harvesting, was wrapped in a bit of linen cloth and placed upon her neck with strict instructions for her to lay upon the settee in the parlor until it was completely melted. My friend, Mrs. Kathleen Schmidt, fanned her vigorously until her color returned. After her rest, she was quite recovered.

Well, I find that my duties must be seen to so my letter must end. One parting bit of information must be given though. In your last letter, you requested the Tea Cake receipt that Winn is quite renown for here in Edwardsville. She has written it out and I enclose it here.

Tea Cake.

There is a kind of tea cake still cheaper. Three cups of sugar, three eggs, one cup of butter, one cup of milk, a spoonful of dissolved pearlash, and four cups of flour, well beat up. If it is so stiff it will not stir easily, add a little more milk.


Give my affections to your family. Please write to me soon as I promise to do the same.

Yours In Friendship,

Lucy Stephenson

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lucy Takes a Bath: A Night Routine in 1820

My family portraying the Stephensons.
     We've been making YouTube videos at the site over the past year. Actually, one of the site's interns had been filming and producing the videos, the rest of us were actors, supplied some of the historical contexts for the early videos, and provided the setting/props. It's was great fun. 
     I'm not one for being on camera let alone playing the lady of the house but due to COVID-19, I was drafted from laundress to lady. My husband in real life portrays Col. Stephenson, the man who built the house in 1820-21. He's featured in one of the first videos where we discuss how a gentleman of the early 19th century got dressed. Filming began in December 2020 but due to the pandemic, we couldn't bring in lots of outside reenactors. That's when I was promoted to playing his 1820 wife Lucy Stephenson. Our sixteen-year-old daughter got in on the fun too as Stephenson's oldest daughter Julia. It became a genuine family affair. 

     In my first independent video as Lucy Stephenson, I showed a possible scenario for a lady's nightly routine. Most of my friends have had quite a bit of fun telling me how risque it is since I do undress and take a bath on camera (all done with 1820 modesty in mind, of course...No Nudity! Lucy only undresses to her shift, even to bath). Regardless of the ribbing I've taken, it was a lot of fun to make. I'm amazed at the interest that's out there regarding something as mundane as taking a bath but I suppose it shows an aspect of daily life that many people are curious about. 

Lucy (aka me) in her bath.
     There is a common misconception that people in the early 19th century were filthy and rarely bathed. For some reason, we like to believe that our ancestors were dirty and ignorant when in reality, they were far from either. It's true, a full-bodied bath, where one got into a tub to wash, was not something that was done every day; maybe every couple of weeks. There was a fair amount of work involved in preparing, taking, and emptying a bath before the convenience of indoor plumbing. Most people washed up in some way each day either in the morning, evening, or both. A simple washbasin, water pitcher, bar of soap, and a washcloth/sponge were sufficient to remove the dirt of the day. We'd call this a sponge bath today. Another alternative to the bathtub would have been to visit a local watering hole such as a creek, river, or pond. As modern Americans, we tend to be obsessive about bathing and showering but that just wasn't an option in the early 19th century. Another thing to consider would have been a readily available supply of water. Where did your water come from and how was it stored? Rain barrels? A well?  If you were experiencing a drought, priorities changed. What is more important bathing or water for the household and livestock?  Yes, if you traveled back in time you'd probably be overwhelmed with a plethora of smells we do not have to deal with today but that isn't necessarily an indication of uncleanliness. 

A small bowl, sponge, and pitcher were often used daily to clean the body.

     The tub I used in the video is called a hip bath. It is just one type of tub that was available to our forefathers and mothers. There were much larger tubs where you could be submerged similar to our modern full bathtubs but this small tub was easily portable and didn't require tons of water. Our tub is made of tin and can be lifted easily with one hand. In the photo below, the tub is lined with a linen bathing sheet. This sheet helps to protect your delicate parts and skin from metal that would get quite warm when hot water was added or even rust depending on the type of metal used; ours is tin so it would tend to rust if not dried properly after use. Wooden tubs had a tendency to splinter after repeated use so a bathing sheet was standard equipment on bath night regardless of what type of tub you were using.

The Stephenson House's tin hip bath is lined with a linen bathing sheet.

     Obviously, a hip bath is not going to require a lot of water which was definitely more convenient for whoever was going to be hauling the water, heating it, or emptying the bath. In many ways, it's just a step up from a bowl and pitcher sponge bath. In our video, I have someone helping me bathe which was a common practice for someone of Lucy Stephenson's economic standing. Altogether, we used only three pitchers of water to complete the bath; any more and the tub would have overflowed. Once an adult-sized body sits in the tub there is very little room for excess water. Bathing next to a hearth (with a fire) allowed for kettles of water to be heated and kept warm for use.  Most likely a pitcher of warm water was poured over the seated (or standing in the tub) bather who then soaped up a sponge or cloth for washing their wettened body. Once all areas were cleaned then another pitcher may have been poured over the bather to rinse or the water from the tub reused.

        Many viewers asked why I wore a shift to bathe in during the video. Well, firstly I was not going to strip down to my birthday suit to be filmed bathing then have it posted on the internet for all creation to see. I love history but there's not enough money in the world to convince me to do that on camera.  Secondly, and most importantly, it was a common practice in the early 19th century for a lady to wear what was called a bathing dress, bathing gown, or bathing shift to maintain her modesty. Historical images depict women of various social classes bathing all-natural as well as covered, so either is correct. I chose to interpret a more modest Lucy and wear a bathing shift while being assisted by another member of the household.  Once the bath was complete a fresh clean, dry shift was donned before finishing the nightly routine and retiring to bed.

     Before moving on to the rest of Lucy's nightly routine I want to dispel two bathing myths that historic sites often perpetuate. Let me be perfectly clear, the following are myths...lies...untruths, so please stop repeating them. My mini-rant shall begin in

  Myth #1 "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" deals with the bathing practices of ancestors.

     Oftentimes historic site docents state this myth as a historical fact when referring to the bathing practices of our forefathers; which often required family members to take turns bathing with the same bathwater being used by each. This was an easy way to conserve water and labor. The theory behind this saying is that by the time the last child bathed the water was so milky and dirty that mothers would throw out their babies because they didn't see them in the tub. Why is it assumed the baby was the last to be bathed? How on earth would a mother who had just finished bathing her child suddenly forget they were in the water? It's so far-fetched it's ridiculous! In truth, this saying is a very well-known German idiom first documented in the print Narrenbeschw√∂rung (Appeal to Fools) by Thomas Murner, 1512. Essentially it means, don’t throw out something valuable with something worthless. There is no documented historical reference to anyone throwing their baby out with the bathwater or of this even being a possibility. 

  Myth #2“People only bathed once a year.”

     First of all, YUK! And, no they did not! A daily bath was not as convenient as we find it today but that does not mean they were filthy. To only bathe once a year would have caused all kinds of health problems. Granted, a full-body bath (where everything was submerged in a tub of water) was done less frequently; typically every two weeks or so. Thanks to modern indoor plumbing, bathing or showering on a daily basis is typical for most of us; but preparing a bath in the 1820s would have been a major undertaking. Water had to be hauled up from the well and brought to the kitchen for heating then carried to where the tub was sitting. Once the bath was complete, the tub had to be emptied by hand and the water carried out of the house. The entire process was labor-intensive and time-consuming. It was more common for people to take a “sponge” bath at the end of the day, washing body parts that had been exposed such as the face, neck, and arms.

      Rant finished! Time to move on to skincare and the remainder of Lucy's possible nightly routine.

     When getting ready to film this video I thought very hard about how my modern nighttime routine might be similar to what Lucy may have done before bed. What types of skincare products might she have used to help smooth sun damage or stave off aging? In an effort to gain a better understanding of historical cosmetics available and those commonly used during the early 19th century, I contacted  Alicia Schult of LBCC Historical Apothecary. She thoroughly researches a variety of historical skincare receipts (the period term for recipe) then accurately recreates them to sell in her Etsy shop. Her expertise was invaluable in formulating what Lucy may have used on a regular basis.  Alicia recommended the following nighttime routine based on information from the 1811 publication Mirror of the Graces or the English Lady's Costume, as well as, her extensive research. 

Lucy's dresser shows a variety of skincare items used in the video.

     The first item I applied to my skin using a small natural sea sponge was Elder Flower Face Wash. This astringent wash according to Alicia  "helps fight wrinkles, acne, scars, sunburns, evens out and softens your skin." Mirror of the Graces refers to this type of wash on page 221.

Unction de Maintenon
The use of this is to remove freckles. The mode of application is this; - Wash the face at night with elder-water flower, then anoint it with unction. In the morning cleanse your skin from its old adhesion by washing it copiously in rose water.
Recipe: Take of Venice soap an ounce, dissolve it in half an ounce of lemon juice, to which add of oil of bitter almonds  and deliquidated oil of tarter each a quarter ounce. Let the mixture be placed in the sun until it acquires the consistency of ointment. When in this state add three drops of oil of rhodium and keep it for use.   

Pictured are several sea sponges, Elderflower Wash (tall bottle), Virgin's Milk (center), Lily Pomatum (short jar), and Milk of Roses (back right).

        An application of Virgin's Milk followed the elderflower wash and was also applied all over my face and neck with a clean sea sponge. This step was not included in the video but would have been part of many ladies' nightly routines. The receipt used to create this particular Virgin's Milk dates to 1825. It contains Balm of Gilead, (anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and analgesic), Storax (promotes healing and overall skin health), and Gum of Benjamin (anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, soothing). Virgins' Milk was used to combat acne, age spots and to keep the skin looking youthful. This item is currently not available through LBCC's Etsy shop but an alternative product would be Milk of Roses; which has similar properties and was very popular in the early 19th century.

Virgin's Milk (page 229, Mirror of the Graces)

The Tincture of Benjoin is obtained by taking a certain quantity of the gum, pouring spirits of wine upon it, and boiling it till it becomes a rich tincture. If you pour a few drops of this tincture into a glass of water, it will produce a mixture which will assume all the appearance of milk, and retain a very agreeable perfume. If the face is washed with this mixture, it will, by calling the purple stream of the blood to the external fibres of the epidermis, produce on the cheeks a beautiful rosy colour; and, if left on the face to dry, it will render it clear and brilliant. It also removes spots, freckles, pimples, erysipelatous eruption, &c. if they have not been of long standing on the skin.

     Lily Pomatum finished the administerings to my face cleansing and skincare routine. This particular receipt was created in 1772 as a wrinkle cream but it had many other benefits including treating dry skin, spider veins, scars, sensitive skin, and burns. It contains Lily oil which smells wonderful. Once applied it makes the skin appear shiny and was left on until morning then washed off. 

     The next step, and probably the most interesting part of reenacting this nightly routine, was to wash my eyes. Yes, you read that correctly, I washed my eyes. This was very much a thing done by ladies of the period. It was believed that bright clear eyes were an indication of good health. I did NOT however use an actual period eyewash since the one listed in Mirror of the Graces (and most receipts at the time) called for camphor as an ingredient. CAMPHOR SHOULD NEVER BE USED IN YOUR EYES!! EVER!!! IT IS POISONOUS! IF IT GETS INTO YOUR EYES OR BLOODSTREAM IT CAN CAUSE BLINDNESS, ILLNESS, OR DEATH. There are references to eyewashes containing blue tint to make the eyes appear brighter. For the video, I simply used an eye cup similar to what they used (and still available today) and a contact lens solution. Honestly, my eyes did feel great afterward so I can understand why they liked washing their eyes. But again, DO NOT USE A PERIOD EYE WASH RECEIPT! 

An excellent Eye-water (page 233, Mirror of the Graces)

Take 6 oz of rectified spirits of wine, dissolve it in one drachm of camphor, and half a pint of elderflower water. Wash the eyes night and morning with this liquid, it clears the vision and strengthens the eyes.

The eye washing cup I purchased online along with the bottle I filled with contact lens solution.

     Once my eyes were nice and clear I moved on to cleaning my teeth. The toothbrush I used was a simple brush that LBCC offers made of bamboo...even the bristles are soft bamboo and a type of nylon. Granted our ancestors didn't use bamboo or nylon but the final product is passable for a period wooden toothbrush with boar bristles, plus it is biodegradable and good for the environment. The toothpowder consisted of ground clove, rose, sage, nutmeg, and lemon. The receipt LBCC uses is documented to be much older than 1820; it actually first appeared in 1653. The basic receipt didn't change much over the years but some ingredients added in the early 19th century were less than healthy for you (of course, LBCC's receipt is safe and uses only healthy ingredients). It's definitely not like modern toothpaste. It's gritter and doesn't get sudsy but my teeth and gums felt clean and refreshed. 

My horn cup, toothbrush, and toothpowder. My mouth felt great after brushing with these.

The final step to recreating Lucy's nightly routine was to curl or set my hair for the morning. Curls surrounding a woman's face were very stylish at the time so it stands to reason Lucy curled her hair at night. One way to achieve these curls or ringlets was to put dampened or pomade slickened hair into multiple rag curlers to sleep on.  I sectioned off all the hair in front of my ears and braided everything behind. The front section was then separated into four equal parts which were coated with a lovely lemon-scented hair pomade made onsite the day of filming. It helped to condition the hair and set the curls created by the rags overnight. The rest of my hair was braided to keep it tangle-free during the night making styling it in the morning much easier. All of this was covered by a nightcap to keep it in place while sleeping.

Adding rag curls to the front of my hair.

Now, Lucy's night routine was complete. It was time to settle into bed with a good book; I was cleaned, moisturized, and curled.  One thing I took from this experience is that not much has changed over the years.  Ladies at the time were just as concerned with appearance, health, and aging, as we are today. We don't wake up looking our best, we have to put in an effort. Some of the things we do for beauty can look rather silly during the process (rag curlers, for instance, are pretty silly looking perched on top of one's head) but the final outcome is quite lovely. At first glace, it appears that many of the routines our female ancestors practiced were quite different than our own but when we take a closer look, we discover, they're very much the same.

Goodnight, Lucy! 

NOTE: I am not affiliated with LBCC nor do I receive a commission from LBCC. All of the products I've tried from the shop are wonderful. And I can attest that my skin felt great! 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Small Federal (or Regency) Bum Roll: A Quick Tutorial

Recently, I completed a lovely white bib-front gown for an event at Stephenson House. The event ended up being canceled due to COVID-19 but I did get to wear it for a video filmed at the site. The dress is a very lightweight cotton fabric that is wonderful to wear. But, it needed a little something to support the pleats at the back as well as help hold the ties of the bib-front in place. A small bum roll would be in order.

The size of ladies' bum rolls drastically reduced by the early 1800s compared to previous decades where false rumps were quite large. Small bum rolls are often seen sewn-in, hooked, or held with ties at the back waist of extant gowns and come in a range of sizes. There wasn't a standard pattern used by everyone to sew a bum roll. They simply made one based on their needs. Bum rolls offered support of the pleats, apron strings, ties, belts, etc in the high-waisted styles popular during the Federal/Regency/Empire period. There are also examples of bum rolls that tie separately around the waist for the same purpose. I chose to sew mine in since I really didn't want one more thing tied around my waist.  

I based my bum roll on the following images. Getting up close and personal with any of the originals was not possible so I simply studied the photos for details then used previous sewing experience to fill in the blanks.  What follows is a simple tutorial for making a small, attached early 19th-century bum roll.

My Inspiration

Silver and blue shot silk dress, c. 1810-1813, National Museum of Australia,  ID# 2005.0005.0141

I was unable to find which museum owns this gown or its history. It is shown as an example in a blog entitled John Marshall House Dress.

Three examples of early 19th-century bum rolls sold by Christie's in 2009.

My Bum Roll

First I needed to figure out how wide my bum roll should be. I didn't want it to be a huge roll that went around most of my fashionable waist (directly under my bust since gowns were high-waisted during this period)  but something that sat at my bodice's lower back. After looking at the two gowns and their bum rolls (pictured above) it became obvious that the rolls were roughly the width of the bodice's lower back where it connects to the skirt pleats. It's hard to see in the photo below but I am measuring the space between the two back seams at the waist. The measurement was roughly 6" plus it would need a 1/2" seam allowance on each end; totaling 7".

Where the measuring tape begins and ends marks the seams of the bodice's lower back. 

Bum rolls tend to be shaped like a crescent moon or half circle.  Now that I had my width of 7" for the top of the bum roll, I needed to decide on the measurement at the deepest point (center of half-moon). Keeping the half-moon shape in mind, I decided to make the middle of my pattern 2" plus 1" (for a 1/2" seam allowances at the top and a 1/2" seam allowance at the bottom/side) equaling 3". There is no particular reason I chose 3" other than I wanted to keep the bum roll small like the example in photo #2 above. I have a barrel chest/ribcage and wanted to keep extra bulk to a minimum. 

I took a piece of scrap white cotton from my stash and folded it in half.  The overall top width needed to be 7" but since I had folded my fabric in half, I'd only need to draw half of the top measurement for my pattern (red line) to create the top of my half-moon.  On the fold, I measured down 3" from the top line to find the deepest (and center point) for my length (yellow line). After establishing the width and length, I simply drew a curved line between point A and point B then cut out the shape. 

The hardest part was over.

Pattern piece after it's been cut out.

After cutting out the first piece, I laid it on top of the dress interior to check if my proportions were correct. The blue lines in the photo below show the lower back side seams. Once the bum roll is sewn with 1/2" seams it will be a perfect fit.

Finished pattern draft being checked for fit.

Once the first pattern piece was cut out, I used it to cut a second piece from more scrap cotton fabric.

The two pieces were stacked on top of each other and pinned all around the outside. Using two yellow-headed pins, I marked off a 2" space at the top that would be left open. This opening allows for turning and stuffing the roll.

A 1/2" seam was sewn around both pieces leaving the spaces between the yellow pins open for now.

The seam was trimmed to 1/4", the curved edge clipped, and the corners trimmed to eliminate bulk at the corners. 

The pieces were then turned right-side-out and pressed.

The only thing I had on hand to use as the stuffing was quilt batting. It worked fine however I did not lay it flat but wadded it up as I stuffed it in. The bum roll needed to have fullness to it. Cotton or wool wadding/stuffing would have been better but I didn't want to buy a big bag of wadding for such a tiny project.

Quilt batting was all I had on had to stuff the bum roll.

I stuffed the bum roll pretty tight so that it was nice and fat. The corners needed to be filled too so I worked the batting into them with a knitting needle.

Once it was stuffed full the opening was pinned then whip-stitched closed.

Opening pinned and ready to be stitched closed.

Again, referring to photo #2, there appear to be some tufting-like stitches sewn into the bum roll so I did the same. I assume these tuffs help to hold the batting in place over time.

Two stitches were sewn at equal distances in the center to create tufting and help hold the batting in place.

The bum roll fits nicely between the lower back seams. I tacked it on top of the waist seam so I could easily remove it before laundering (if necessary) and also in an attempt to hold that seam down.  

The finished bum roll.

It works perfectly and doesn't create a large bulk at the back of my dress. I'm not sure how I ever got along without a bum roll before now. This one has convinced me that I may need to make one that ties around my waist to wear with my other dresses....even though I said I wouldn't wear one more thing around my waist. This was a super simple project completed in less than an hour (I love instant gratification). It really made a huge difference in how my dress lays, hangs, and fits.

The bum roll is attached on the inside and completely unnoticeable from the outside. 

The dress from the front. This is probably one of my favorite gowns.