Category: Forward Femme

Elizabeth Keckley: White House Dressmaker and First Lady Confidante

Elizabeth Keckley: White House Dressmaker and First Lady Confidante

This month’s post reflects the pursuit of highlighting more stories from forward femmes of color going forward on FFF. The post will focus on an important African-American female from the 19th century, Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907), though much of her story takes place a little earlier than the usual FFF timeline. Keckley was a former slave who ultimately became primary dressmaker and dear friend to Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, a confidante to Mary and the wives of politicians she dressed, as well as an activist. Against all odds, and being born into a nightmare of slavery, Keckley became a self-supporting dressmaker to some of Washington’s most influential women. As if that doesn’t already sound incredible enough, just wait to read more of the amazing details of Keckley’s life and her contributions to American society!

Elizabeth Keckley
Portrait from her memoir, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, ca. 1868

Fortunately for historians, Keckley’s memoir Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, provides a great deal of information on her life. Unfortunately for Keckley, the memoir would ultimately drive a wedge between herself and her friend, former First Lady Mary Lincoln, upon its publication in 1868. The focus of this post is on Keckley’s contributions to fashion and her relationship with Mary Lincoln, but links are provided throughout the post for further reading on other details of Keckley’s life.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Keckley: White House Dressmaker and First Lady Confidante”

Always in Vogue: Edna Woolman Chase

Always in Vogue: Edna Woolman Chase

When we think of Vogue magazine today we often think of its current editor-in-chief, the formidable, Anna Wintour. While Wintour will certainly go down in history as one of Vogue‘s long-standing (since 1988) and notable editors-in-chief, there is another important Vogue editor who’s run at the magazine lasted from 1914-1952 — Edna Woolman Chase.

In this month’s post I’ll highlight excerpts by Edna Woolman Chase (1877-1957) on fashion she wore and observed during her early years from the autobiography she wrote with her daughter, Ilka Chase, Always in Vogue. 

Chase witnessed the changes in silhouette that this blog chronicles, from 1880-1930, and I love that we’re able to have a primary source that comments on these distinct changes — not to mention, someone involved in the fashion industry who happens to be very opinionated!

Continue reading “Always in Vogue: Edna Woolman Chase”

The Nurse: Uniform Attire, Practice & Florence Nightingale

The Nurse: Uniform Attire, Practice & Florence Nightingale

When did nurses start wearing a uniform? What inspired their look? Have you ever wondered how the uniform for nurses developed? Okay, not many people have — but hopefully this post will pique your curiosity now!

Before nurses starting wearing scrubs in the 1980s, the uniform that began in the mid-1860s was relatively unchanged until about the 1940s.

Florence_Nightingale.png

Duyckinick, Evert A. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women in Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Wilson & Company, 1873. [Public Domain]

Modern nursing is largely attributed to Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). She is credited for creating “modern” techniques and developing a certain look for the job. Her name sounds like something from a historic romance novel and her biography is equally worthy of a 19th century TV drama (there actually is a movie based on her life made in 1985). She was born into wealth and could have easily accepted a life of leisure, but decided to pursue an unlikely career as a nurse.

Continue reading “The Nurse: Uniform Attire, Practice & Florence Nightingale”

The Australian Mermaid: Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman was ahead of her time for her physical abilities in the water, her belief in the need for women to maintain a healthy body, and importantly in fashion by her swimwear. She seemed to live in a different era, undeterred by the formalities and restrictions, (whether real or self-imposed) that prevented most women from doing the same. In fact, many of things she did would never have occurred to most women of the early 20th century.

Originally from Australia, Annette took her talents worldwide, breaking swimming and diving records, traveling to various theater stages in Europe and the United States, and eventually made Hollywood silent films that showcased her talents. Hollywood later revisited her incredibly life story, and Ester Williams would channel Annette in The Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).

Annette_Kellerman pic 1
Annette Kellerman in a self-designed bathing suit, ca. 1903-1913, [Public Domain]
Continue reading “The Australian Mermaid: Annette Kellerman”

Inez Milholland: Socialite, Suffragette, Icon

There are several reasons why this month’s post will focus on the fascinating Inez Milholland. Not only did her efforts as part of the women’s suffrage movement inspire many, she also became a lawyer – a highly unlikely profession for a female — and was celebrated for her efforts during her lifetime as well as considered a martyr after her death! The interesting tie-in for fashion is in her stylish clothing and the change in attitude in Vogue‘s pages while covering the suffragette movement and Milholland.

Inez Milholland
Looking every bit the Edwardian lady here ca. 1911, in an S-curve silhouette gown. Davis & Eickemeyer; Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. (August 7, 1862 – April 25, 1932) [Public domain]

Continue reading “Inez Milholland: Socialite, Suffragette, Icon”