Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Portable First Person... or "The Right Mind" part 2

Almost a year ago, I started this blog with a posting called "The Right Mind". In this posting I promised to expound on the topic of Portable First Person. Here's the promised posting, a bit later than intended, which is typical for me.

Again I contemplate the Dear Newbie, handsomely dressed like a model for "Gentleman's Gazette of Fashion," and his foibles. He has been invited to play by a fellow re-enactor with the infamous words, "HALT! State your name and business." He shyly reaches into a convenient pocket and pulls out a xeroxed slip of paper with a penciled name and hands it to the soldier- re-enactor with barely a word.

Contrast this with an experience of a Dear Friend, likewise a Dude, as he approaches the military guard. As the guard quietly requests, "Halt! State your name and business" my Friend gets a look of confusion upon his face and asks, "Eh? Speak up, Soldier. I lost most of my hearing at Molino del Rey." "Your NAME and BUSINESS, Sir. ...and your PASS." "Oh, yes, right." Dear Friend proceeds to search every pocket of his top-coat, pulling out bits and bobs of all descriptions... grocery list from the Mrs., laundry invoice, pencil stub, wallet... from a different pocket his store account book, scrap of cloth obviously used as a pen wiper, an expired steam-boat ticket, a bit of string. He explores his frock pockets and produces a town pass, waving it triumphantly... then looks closer, "Nope... that was last month." He finally reaches into his satchel, opens his day book, and produces a letter from Chief Surgeon PuffedUp of the Depot Hospital in Local AnyTown contracting his physician services and giving him "pass" within the Town and promises to report to the Provost directly for this month's pass.

Most re-enactors/living historians look to Dear Friend and think, "I SO wanna be like him some day! But how do I learn and remember so much information?" The difference, Dear Newbie, is Portable First Person and it can be broken into two segments. Those two segments of portable first person are common knowledge and material culture. Both are demonstrated in the above scenario and both lead to more meaningful interaction with fellow re-enactors/living historians and more informative experiences for Visitors.

Common knowledge can include all the "little things" a person of the period would know; from how groceries are acquired to where is the bathroom to who is governor of our state. It includes words and phrases that are appropriate in specific kinds of company and etiquette rules, both followed and disregarded. This is the toughest to learn and remember because it is all encompassing. The way to learn this is to read... a lot. As you read literature, periodicals, manuals, and advertisements for workable tid-bits of knowledge, see if there is a physical item that can trigger the knowledge. If one's character is asked frequently how much something costs or how much they paid for something, a store account book can be just the "cheat sheet" that is needed. These are small booklets for customers of a store in which their purchases and payments are recorded. As one goes through modern life, get in the habit of thinking, "how was this experience done in period?" A winter storm might lead to a research tangent on winter clothing, animal care, home repairs, or even weather predictions. School shopping might lead to educational experiences, school supplies, retail experiences, or money systems. When you can relate to the topic, it is more fun to research and more easily remembered.

Material culture can include the physical items that support and enhance your common knowledge and make your interactions seem more "real." Everything from dishes and letters to buildings and vehicles to working tools and trash. At many events, one is portraying a townsperson about business and therefore would have little upon their person except what they carry. A special kind of material culture called "pocket trash" comes into play.
      Think about your pocket contents or your purse contents. Rarely do you leave the house without money and identification, at least. How often are your period pockets filled with period money and period identification? Small items like letters are easily reproduced and can be tailored to your impression and situation. They generally serve as identification in period. The basket a woman carries can say so much more than "I need a place to put stuff." The sandwich and book might say "traveler" or the carefully wrapped silver and glass might say "wealthy sport." The knitting project might suggest "patriotic" if paired with the remains of a rosette or an election ballot. But your basket will only talk when the contents can be examined.
      Again your modern life will guide your period choices. Look to what you carry with you in your trip to the store or work and explore the period equivalent. Consider that the period way of shopping or business might be handled differently today. In example, a store might have a clerk drop your purchases by your house later rather than your needing to carry an insulated bag all afternoon. You might buy on credit and bring your account book, rather than have sufficient cash for your purchases. You might bring along a tin container to buy oil or an empty basket to buy eggs.

Putting portable first person together with a well-researched background gives fellow re-enactors/living historians conversational gambits to play off of and suggests to Visitors more things they can ask you about than what they readily see. In the example of my Dear Friend, we see the following:

*He asks the soldier to "speak up" in a manner that is friendly to the soldier and not putting a Visitor "on the spot" by having to interrupt and ask.  He has drawn Visitor attention to the interaction, and given them the volume control to make it comfortable.
*He mentions losing his hearing at Molino del Rey. He has established that he is a former soldier himself, which war he saw combat in, his age,  and tried to open a rapport with the soldier based on common experience... serving in the wartime army.
*Next his various bits of pocket trash as he searches for a proper pass:
     Grocery list from his wife (...while you are out can you pick up... )
     Laundry Invoice... (yes, they really did have professional laundries back then)
     Pencil Stub... pens get messy, but one needs to notate
     Wallet... one doesn't leave home without one
     Account Book from a store... where and how often he shops, and what he buys
     Scrap of Cloth used as a Pen Wipe... he writes alot
     Steam-boat ticket... the cities to which he travels can also help establish his probable sympathies
     String... another handy item
     Expired Pass... we've been under occupation awhile, he's familiar with the procedure, he's passed it once
     Satchel... a business-man who needs more than pockets to carry his things
     Day Book... he's a physician, does his patient list include townsfolk the soldier has encountered
     Letter from Chief Surgeon PuffedUp... this serves as ID when going to get the pass and establishes his position in relation to the soldier.. working for the same army with the trust of army officers the soldier should be able to trust
*He promises to go directly to the Provost for a current pass. This suggests to Visitors other venues that are being interpreted. Enjoying this interaction, they might follow him to the Provost to see what else they will learn about life under occupation.
From his pocket trash, Visitors can see a myriad of things to ask about and how they might be used and Dear Friend has a physical reminder to prompt "list" subjects and "name" subjects, like which patients he has under his care or who is currently the Chief Surgeon.

I strive to be like Dear Friend in my interactions. I get overwhelmed by the amount of "stuff" one needs to know to give a realistic impression. By breaking the subjects down into smaller research tangents, finding trigger and cheat sheet items, and letting my modern life inspire research into my period one I will continue on the journey of quality first person interactions that enhance the experiences and knowledge of myself, my fellow participants, and those who use my history to inspire their own. Fill my pockets with worthwhile stuff, so I don't need nudged to provide enough.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Army is No Place For a Woman...

Our Dear Newbie is considering yet more myths today. She has been told she has no place in a military camp and that women were absent from Civil War era military camps. She knows this isn't the whole story because she's seen the joking references and the heroines touted in the books. What IS the "real story" behind the women in Civil War era military camps? How did they come to be there? How were they treated? What did they DO while they were there? Let's follow the term "camp follower" and find out.

"Camp Followers" began even before America did. They were family members of men in the army who, for various reasons, traveled along with the army on campaign.  They were not providing "horizontal service" to the men. (There were a few who did, but only a few of the many women following the 18th century armies did and they were generally marginalized in a similar fashion as their town counterparts were) It was understood by the men that such wives of enlisted men would assist with all things domestic for the unit. It was also understood that she was of good character and under the protection of both her husband and the unit officers. Her duties might include laundry, repairs/mending of uniforms and cloth-based equipment, caring for livestock that would be processed into rations, assisting with the cooking, assisting the surgeon with care giving (NOT diagnosis, surgeries, or otherwise taking the role of a surgeon or his male assistants.. . sitting with a patient for long, boring, tedious hours making sure he doesn't undo the surgeon's work, clearing up the surgical theatre, fixing special diet items, scutt work requiring no skills or knowledge and garnering only a minimum of respect in other words) If a wife had particular aptitude for such, she might fix a "fancy" meal for an officer who is entertaining, assist the company tailor with more elaborate sewing, assist the surgeon with compounding medicines, or drive a wagon. Wives of the officers were also seen when the unit was in Winter Quarters or otherwise "safe and unlikely to leave in a hurry." They were "Ladies" and treated as such. They were not expected to do anything more taxing than entertain to the advancement of their hubby's military career and bring a breath of humanity and gentility to the chaos. The ones, like Mrs. Washington, who attempted more were seen as useful heroines and decidedly against the usual model.

This role for women was seen on some navy ships as well. These wives would often assist in the galley, care for live livestock, assist with cleaning, and other domestic work. Here it was very rare to see an officer's wife travel with the group, and most likely would be treated as a genteel passenger mostly confined to cabin rather than working member of the crew.

These roles are still seen to some extent in the War of 1812. Due to the distance of Mexico and Texas and the changing attitudes toward appropriate work for women, far fewer wives followed their husbands into the War for Texas Independence and the War With Mexico. "Regular" military who were stationed for long periods in the frontier outposts often had an enlisted man's wife (or several) to do for the group and often officers brought their wives and families along as it was understood this was a long-term assignment.

When the Civil War started, many women attempted to follow husbands to the Camps of Instruction and further onto campaign. Upper officers saw this early on and had their lower officers encourage the women and families to leave and eventually issue orders requiring them to go home. Only a few women didn't comply. Those were the ones we see coming onto the rolls as laundresses, "daughters of the regiment", "company matrons" and like titles of respect. The actual tasks they performed would vary by the needs of the unit and the skills of the woman. The French army, which America took much of her cue from in this era, also had roles for respectable women to travel with the army. They were termed "vivandiere" and "cantiniere", and in the French army had specific roles to fill. In America, the terms and duties overlapped somewhat. American armies would never have as many vivandieres and cantinieres as the French one per regiment, but the exact number who served in such capacities remains a mystery.
Within the Federal army of the Civil War era, the only officially sanctioned roles for women to travel with the army were laundresses and sutlers, and both were required to hold a certificate of good character. The sutlers, in addition, had to have and display a license. Prices for their services were overseen by the captain of the company. Provisions were made to see them paid for their work, whether the soldier was available to pay or not. They were entitled to draw shelter and rations with the rest of the company.

So, as we see, women were a respected presence in a Civil War era military camp with a long history of established service. With research and a commitment to accurate portrayals, perhaps the army is indeed a place for some women.

Read More:
The Role of Camp Followers in the American Revolution by Laura Webb Thomas
"The proportion of women which ought be allowed..." An Overview of Continental Army Female Camp Followers by John U. Rees
The Daughter of the Regiment: A Brief History of Vivandieres and Caninieres in the American Civil War by Susan Lyons Hughes
The Army Laundresses, 1802-1882
Ten Years in the Ranks of the US Army by Augustus  Meyer 
Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers by August Valentine Kautz 
Revised Regulations for the Army of the United States see sections 128, 129, 130, 7831212

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Can't We All Get Along?

In my time portraying a matron in the mid-19th century military hospitals, I've often heard from both sides on why the Military Medicos disliked the women nurses. When we consider how the 19th century folks thought about things, it becomes more clear.

Remember that before the war, when a man became ill or injured, he was taken to his
own home. The females of his own household attended him first. Based on their own experiences
with similar issues, the experiences with similar issues of other women of their acquaintance, and
advice printed in domestic manuals, a decision was reached to call a doctor. This worthy gent
made his way to their home. He went in, examined the patient, and came out to address the
women of the household. "Here's what is wrong. Here's how he should be cared for. Here's
prescriptions to be filled and how they should be administered. I'll be back to check on him this
evening." The women then had the authority to take the doctor's advice or declare him a quack
and do what she felt was right.

Why would the women than waste their money consulting with a physician when his
advice is going to be ignored anyway? Because the doctor consulted gave advice so out of their
realm of knowledge that it must, of course, be suspect.

When a man became sick or wounded in the war, the situation looked very similar to the
women working there. The Assistant Surgeon examines the patient, then addresses the Steward
and Matron. "Here's what's wrong. Here's how you treat him. Here's what medicines to give him
and when. I'll be back on evening rounds." The difference here being, the Matron (nor Nurses)
do not have the power to declare him a quack and use her own advice. Nor is the Assistant Surgeon
obligated to explain why his orders are in the best interest of his patient.

To a Matron, the fruit and cider just delivered would be a welcome treat for the patient. What she
doesn't understand about why the Ass't Surgeon just ordered that man "no fruit" is that he's just
been given a medicine to constipate him and the fruit would work against it. Again, the medicos
were under no obligation to explain the "why?".

So take my example of giving a patient fruit. The doctor consulted may have prescribed
medicine to constipate the patient so he can do a surgery on an injury. He probably didn't bother to tell
the women why he requested they feed the patient "no fruits". So the women feed the patient
apple cider and bollocks the works. After all, cider is a beverage not a fruit, right?

To the women, the hospital wards were an extension of the home sickroom. They were Queen of
the home. To the Surgeons/Ass't./ Stewards the military hospital was a part of the military. They
were the Commanders-in-Chief of their own little section of the military. Thus the women were
forced to learn to offer their knowledge and experiences in ways that didn't undermine the
authority of the "Commander of the Hospital."

Add to that mix of posturing and politics, that many patients were detrimental to their
treatment because they out-ranked the Surgeon/Ass't. who were treating them. The women being
insubordinate was just one more prick to the already sensitive ego.

Most women did learn to pick their battles in offering their advice and learned to offer that advice in appropriate ways. Many Surgeons/Asst./Stewards came to value the contributions of the female staff and rely on their further participation. They did eventually learn to get along.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Schelp Like A Mule

 "What do you carry your stuff in?"
It will depend on what you need to carry. Modern women are accustomed to carrying everything possibly needed by everyone in their family. Such was not the case in the past. The first step is to give consideration to what you actually need to carry. Gents will find they need to carry more than they are accustomed to. Ladies will discover the freedom of carrying less... a lot less. Next step is to consider your impression and the choices they would be likely to make. A gent will be likely to go for bags and sacks. A lady will be likely to go for the universal basket.

What I do...
For nicer impressions where I need to carry small book, snack, and various event related papers... a traveling sack (also called a pouche pompadour) ...and the shawl, gloves, and parasol, of course

For a nicer impression where I need to add dishes, sewing kit, project to the above list.... a medium-small-ish basket of appropriately nice style covered with a fine linen napkin that maybe has some decorative edging or embroidery(for the whole lot, not both a traveling sack AND a basket)

For working class impressions where I need to carry a small book, snack, and various event related papers... a medium-small-ish basket of appropriately working-class style covered with a plain linen napkin
For working class impressions where I need to carry dishes, sewing kit, project in addition to the above list... a larger medium-small-ish basket covered with a plain linen napkin

The scenario in these instances would be a variation on "going to town/market/visiting"

For an "overnight" stay... I have a carpet bag that will accommodate extra underpinnings, basic toiletries, and even a writing slope (but the slope won't stay level.. so the ink becomes a mess).  I generally need to bring a set of dishes and projects... so the basket comes along for those. A mattress tick gets filled with straw at the event, a blanket (or several for cold events), and a pillow and I have a cozy sleeping pallet.

For an outdoor on-the-move scenario, a bedroll of blanket and ground cloth for bedding, basket for food and utensils and I can move with the best of them. I own a pack basket and a market wallet for scenarios where the lack of  "ready menfolk" mean that a woman needs to carry a larger amount of communal "gear" for the group.

I gave some serious thought to the question and did a bit of (admittedly shallow) digging... and found that women seemed to be reaching for baskets more than bags for the day-to-day... a basket for market purchases, a basket to collect herbs, flowers, veggies, a basket to port laundry, a basket for sewing "stuff", a basket for knitting "stuff"... etc. So I try to make a basket my first inclination. Were the scenario to accommodate such... I might use a pillowcase instead of a bag or tie items into a large shawl and make a bundle of it.

To show a different side, I recently made a number of generally helpful carrying items for a Dear Friend who is a gentleman. I included a number of "poke sacks" of various sizes, a specially compartmentalized duffel bag for his specific impression with removable tidys, a period compartmentalized dishes/lunch carrier (based on a description I read in a period magazine, "sailor style" drawstring shoulder-sling duffel bag and a market wallet. (he declined a carpet bag or "carpet haversack" style bag, though there is plenty of reference for them)

Pouche Pompadour/ Traveling Sack
"Before Paper or Plastic: The Universal Basket" by Virginia Mescher
Carpet Bag
Bed Roll- Horse Collar style
Bed Roll- "Hobo" or "Short" style
Pack Basket
Pantry Box
Market Wallet
Poke Sack
"Sailor" Duffel (sailor-types sometimes call this a "ditty bag"
Travel Duffel
Carpet Haversack
Valise, Satchel, Saddle Bag, Hunting Bag, and like

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Advice for the Independant Age- continued

We return to the idea of advice manuals. We've explored the types of manuals available and some of the context of why they may have become so popular. In this posting, we'll explore how one can use age, interests, and experiences to choose which advice manual one's impression might be likely to reference using domestic medical advice manuals in example.

The history of medical thought was transitioning in this era. New theories were emerging to explain the whole of thought in relation to new discoveries. Alternatives to some of the more extreme treatments and medicines were being found, advertised to the medical community, and put into practice... or refuted as so much bunk. It was an exciting time for medicine with new discoveries and theories published as fast as the printing presses could run.

With the Spirit of Independence explained in the previous posting, it is easy to see a Jacksonian looking at the medical practices of the day and wanting to understand for him/herself why such invasive practices as blood-letting, violent purging, and cupping might be needed to treat his/her medical issue. The Jacksonian would also want to be an informed consumer when the visiting the apothecary. They turned to medical texts geared to the domestic market for this.

A person solicits advice at a turning point. One of the most prominent turning points in the life of a Jacksonian woman was the setting up of her own household, usually upon marriage. The women in her life would be very likely to offer her advice on setting up and running a household at this time. For the modern re-enactor/ living historian this is the first step toward figuring out which advice manual to reference. I'll use myself as an example. I'm currently 37 years old. If my impression is the same age, I'd have been born in 1825. The average age at marriage for the Jacksonian era is about 20, putting a likely marriage date in about 1845. To figure out which manuals my women friends would have bought for me, I should view publication dates between 1840 and 1845. Thus, I decide her Auntie gave her an edition of "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases."  That one has had a reprint many times, so Auntie would see a new edition with the same title she has used herself as a solid choice.

The next turning point in a Jacksonian woman's life was the birth of a child. The new mother constantly solicits advice from everyone to assure herself that she is "normal," her baby is developing "normal," and attempt to divine if her child is one of the lucky ones to survive and prosper. If she is particularly nervous or if things go amiss a new manual may be consulted for the most up-to-date information. Using myself as an example again, my impression has no children and that needs explaining. I often will use a childhood case of rickets weakening my bone structure to explain both a slight limp and several miscarriages. She would have consulted physicians, midwives, and the newest manuals for the most current theories on why she isn't "normal." Thus, she picks up "Domestic Medicine, or Poor Man's Friend".

Another turning point to many women of the mid-19th century was the start of the Civil War in 1861. My usual impression will be obligated to accept employment as a "matron" with the Women's Department for nursing. While there, she will meet other women. Each woman will bring her own learning and understanding of medical practice. Each woman will have an opinion on the challenges presented, based on the success or failure of various treatments she has experience with. (So do the surgeons, stewards, orderlies, and patients... but we'll confine this discussion to female nurses.) When a group of people with a shared interest meet, the exchange of ideas, opinions, experiences, and research flow free. Thus, a fellow female nurse suggests "The Household Physician" by Dr. Warren.

Continuing with that Jacksonian ideal of exchange of ideas, a friend may expand an impression's knowledge by suggestion. With the case of my impression, a steward was over-hearing a recipe from "The American Frugal Housewife" explained  and noted it was similar to a prescription in Beasley's "The Book of Prescriptions." In fact, many of the ingredients were exactly the same, just expressed in scientific terms in Beasley's work.

A friend of mine, who also re-enacts, has MS. This sent our little research group into exploring how MS would have been viewed in period and what treatments may have been offered. We've discovered that her impression may have an interest in a period system of treatments called "hydrophathy." This would have lead her to a whole group of specialty advice manuals. She'd have picked up "Hydropathy: or, Hygienic medicine" and would have shared what she was learning.

For my impression, a shared interest in medical practice can logically lead me to be quite current in my medical knowledge and even have a limited knowledge of some alternative treatments. For several of my friends who don't share my zeal, they'd be content with Buchan and Gunn. For our Dear Newbie, she should start with editions close to her impression's marriage date and then work forward with turning points in her impression's life.

Explore domestic medical advice manuals for yourself:
William Buchan & William Cadogan "Domestic Medicine, or The family physician" 1772
William Buchan "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases" 1791, revised and republished in 1805, 1809, 1813, and 1826
William Buchan "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases" 1859
Dr. Gunn "Gunn's Domestic Medicine, or Poor Man's Friend" 1835
Dr. Ira Warren "The Household Physcian" 1859
Mrs. Child "The American Frugal Housewife" 1833
Henry Beasley "The Book of Prescriptions" 1855
Edward Wickstead Lane "Hydropathy: or, Hygienic medicine. An explanatory essay." 1859

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Advice for the Independant Age, in two parts

Our Dear Newbie is ready to branch out and explore a bit. She'd like to know what her household would be like in the mid-19th century. Her mentors, like their mid-19th century counterparts, are quick to offer a dizzying array of advice manuals from the period. ...but which one to trust? In the first part of this series, we'll look at why advice manuals became popular and some of the various types of advice manuals. In the next part, we'll take one selection "domestic medicine" and trace the factors in selecting which manual your impression likely consulted.

Why advice manuals rather than consult a professional? During the Jacksonian Era, America was caught up in an independent spirit. Authority was distrusted. The Common Man doing for himself and his family was held to the highest standard. Education and knowledge was not just for the elite few, any person with the desire to know could explore for themselves. Anyone with the desire to share information could write a pamphlet, treatise, or text... and many did just that.

What types of advice manuals were written? Many of the most well-known today include the "Every Man His Own..."  and the "Beadle's Dime Guide to..." books. From such booklets, the Jacksonian man or woman could learn the basics of a variety of professional and artisan skills including law, medicine, tailoring, dress-making, shoe-making, veterinary medicine, brokering, gardening, brewing, horse training... to name a few. (See the links to Google Books below)

Many women lent their pens to the trend in recipe books and cooking manuals in this era. These often included not only recipes for every day meals but fancy meals, entertainment advice, household cleaners, caring for household items, caring for sick persons, caring for and feeding children, and even governing servants. Even Robert Roberts, an African-American butler, in 1827 thought to advise fellow servants in his work, "The House Servant's Directory."

Medical practitioners got in the act, too... and home medical guides were very well received by the public. (more on that in the second part of the series.)

In an age where success in society was based on present behavior rather than accident of birth, folks wishing to be successful depended on etiquette advice manuals to avoid a success-killing faux pas. In these books the lives of society persons were dissected for how to dress for every occasion, how to write communiques and to whom, how to pay calls, how to walk in the street, how to talk to people and who not to, how to mourn beautifully, how to select staff and how to let them go... even how to conduct oneself in business.

Thus we see that a spirit of independence  and DIY ambition led to advice manuals being written on almost any topic one cared to explore. When we continue, we'll use domestic medicine guides to explore which manual Dear Newbie's impression might reference.

Some of the varied "Every Man His Own..." books:
Every Man His Own Trainer, or How to Develop, Condition, and Train a Trotter or Pacer 1889
Every Man His Own Art Critic 1888
Every Man His Own Cattle Doctor 1825
Every Man His Own Brewer 1768
Every Man His Own Gardener 1841
Every Man His Own Gardener 1813
The Family Physician, or Every Man His Own Doctor 1835
Every Woman Her Own House-Keeper 1796

"The House Servant's Directory" by Robert Roberts

A few of the earliest American recipe books and domestic advice manuals:
 Feeding America, The Historic American Cookbook Project

Etiquette Manuals:
Rules of Etiquette and Home Culture, or What to do and how to do it 1889
Self Instruction in Practical Business Qualifications 1890
The Gentleman's Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness 1860
Etiquette: Social Ethics and the Courtesies of Society 1854