Being we are close to Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d do a post on falling in love western style.
Despite Victorian mores, marriage and courting in the Wild West was a good deal less formal than the overarching norms of the period. This had much to do with the scarcity of women in the West, at least in the early period before the Civil War. After the Civil War, the female population increased somewhat as more adventurous women rode west, mainly in search of men to marry since the War Between the States had decimated the population of young men in the East and Southeast. Of course, women still made up a smaller part of the western population even in 1890 with the West reporting 41% of its population as female while in the total United States females made up 49% of the population.
Surprisingly, the marriage age was later for women in the West, perhaps because they could be choosier about whom they married and had a few more career options that allowed for independence, such as teaching and running boarding houses and stores, than their eastern sisters. The 1890 census reported 35% of men and 36% of females as married in the total United States while the Western Region reported only 30% of the male population married and 39% of western females as married.
When I began writing my first manuscript, a time travel set in 1871 Wisconsin, my knowledge of the era came mainly from history books (like those read in school), from movies, or from other romance novels. It wasn’t enough. I needed to know more.
In each scene, I struggled to imagine myself in my heroine’s mind, a late 20th century urban business woman cast back into the life of a 1871 farm wife. But, although I had grown up in a house built in the late 19th century, it wasn’t the same. I hadn’t actually lived in the time when that house was new.
What did they eat and how was it cooked? What illnesses were common; what medicines were taken? What were their beliefs and values? How much was a pound of sugar? Did women hand-sew everything, or were some clothes ready made? What did a child learn in school? What dances were popular? How were holidays celebrated?
Not that I needed to put all those details into the story, but I needed to know so I could put myself in my characters’ minds.
In those pre-Internet days, I trudged to the library. There were, of course, long shelves filled with history books. I’d already read many. Most were written about famous events and battles, about economics and politics. I found almost nothing about how the every day man and woman actually lived their day-to-day lives.
What I was looking for, but didn’t realize it until a few years later, were books on cultural history.
Over time, I’ve found many books that proved helpful to better understanding the era. Foremost of these was a series Harper Collins published called Life in Everyday America Series.
A few years after the Harper Collins’ series, Writer’s Digest books published the Writer’s Guides to Everyday Life series.
I discovered a wealth of information about my Civil War veteran hero when I found The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union.
Later I uncovered its companion book – The Life of Johnny Reb.
Diaries and journals are an incredible source, first hand impressions of the time. Mary B. Chestnut’s Diary from Dixie gives riveting accounts of a southern woman’s life in the Civil War. These treasures have the added benefit of letting you hear how people spoke, and wrote, in that time.
Today we are so fortunate to have the internet. Through it, a whole world of resources have been opened.
A favorite site of mine, one I’ve shared before with Hearts Through History readers, is the Food Timeline, a record of foods and when they were introduced from the beginning of man’s recorded history.
There’s a huge amount of information on World’s Fairs from the first one held in 1851 London to the present. Go to Expo Museum.com.
Victorian era fashion information can be found at Harpers Bazaar.
I’ve found a wealth of material on the Lone Star College – Kingwood American Cultural History site. It gives links, decade by decade and topic by topic, for 19th Century America. It also has a link which will take you to the 20th Century.
~ What are your favorite books, or websites of interest for learning about cultural history and how your characters lived?
From the comments received for this post, I’ll hold a drawing for a lovely hand-crocheted bookmark. Drawing to be held Friday evening, April 29th. Be sure to leave a link with an e-mail address where you can be reached.
AND THE WINNER OF THE BOOKMARK IS…Anna Kathryn Lanier! Thanks so much to all who read and commented. Enjoy the links!
Posted by Debra Maher.
Please visit my blog at debmaher.com.
Now you’re saying to yourself what’s a western author doing talking about stage makeup?
Since I’ve run out of historical things to write about that pertain to my current release, Miner in Petticoats, I decide to write about what I discovered while working on my current WIP.
The heroine in the next Halsey brother book has a disfiguring scar on her face from an accident when she was a child. Her family is prominent in society, and she refused to be hidden away. In fact, due to her accident, she became determined to be a doctor.
To find out how she could cover the scar when out in the world and not sheltered at home, I began researching stage makeup. In the late 1800’s few people other than stage performers or prostitutes wore makeup in the U.S.
These are some facts I discovered.
Stage Makeup items available before 1850:
White face powder
India ink for drawing lines
Rouge (very bright red or pink)
Misc. artist’s pigment base powders, (like Bole Armenia aka “burnt umber” for a reddish brown tone)
Burnt cork (for dark brown/black)
Lamp-black (for mascara)
Burnt paper (for gray shadows)
Wool crepe hair (for both facial hair and false noses)
1850’s Germany – Mysterious invention of greasepaint (powdered pigments mixed with lard) by either German actor Carl Baudius, or Carl Herbert.
1864 England – a short book, The Guide to the Stage, Containing Clear and Ample Instructions for Obtaining Theatrical Engagements, by Leman Thomas Rede includes 2 and ½ pages of vague advice on applying powdered pigment makeup.
1870’s USA-Anglo-French actor, Charles Fechter, supposedly spreads the use of greasepaint to the US while on tour.
1873 Germany– Ludwig Leichner commercially produces non toxic ready-made greasepaint sticks. Leichner’s company goes on to be the main European theatrical makeup producer for over a century.
1877 England -The Art of “Making-Up” by Haresfoot and Rouge*, published by Samuel French, the first booklet in English on theatre makeup is printed, describing makeup application with powdered pigments. Suggested pigments in this booklet are 3 kinds of white, Dutch pink rouge, carmine red, and ruddy rouge, Mongolian brown, powdered blue, and chrome (yellow), and antimony (a metallic gray-black) used for shadows, which was toxic.
The 1890s saw incredible innovations in makeup, most of which are still in use today, including:
•Nose wax (aka “mortician’s wax” an item co-opted from the Victorian funeral industry)
•Black tooth wax (aka “cobbler’s wax” an item taken from the shoe repair industry)
•Emil Noir (black tooth enamel)
•Cold cream and cocoa butter
•Mascaro in multiple colors (a dark, soft makeup stick in a lipstick like holder that was used as both mascara and eyebrow pencil)
•Ladies liquid colors for arms and necks
•Paper Sticks for application of color (Tortillions – artist’s blending tools)
•Wig joining paste
For my heroine I use the 1850’s version of lard and pigment powder. First because lard was easily accessible and the powder could be mixed to match her skin tone. Since the scar is lumpy, she can mold the the lard mixture around it and smooth it out to blend in.
This is why I write historical books. I dig deeper into areas that I would normally overlook to make my characters and story realistic.
What is the latest thing you researched for a book that you would not have found interesting otherwise?
Miner in Petticoats