Bonnet - Bartos Collection-222x302px
Are you sure you’d like to live back then?

One Reason They Didn’t Smile

“…  [Husbands] may use any reasonable amount of force …. “

“The rights of the husband over the wife, as defined by our laws, are of the most absolute character known to civilization. Held to be one flesh in the religious rite, the being of the wife, or her legal existence, is merged in that of her husband. Except where the Womans (sic) Rights movement has affected recent legislation, the wife has

  • No property
  • Can make no contract or will
  • Collect no wages
  • Nor support herself in any legal way, independent of her husband.”

So begins T.C. Leland in his Illustrated Manners Book, published by Leland, Clay & Co. in 1855.

And why would this presumed authority include this information in a book on etiquette? Because if a woman were going to behave properly, she had to understand her status. In the case of married women in the United States in the 1850s — and earlier, of course — that status was little better than a slave.

As diarist Mary Chesnut famously has said, “There is no slave, after all, like a wife.” … More

Short hair
This beautifully dressed young woman is elegant in her short hair.

Yes, They Sometimes Wore Their Hair Short

Spoiler warning: you’ll never look at a historical films the same way again.

Living historians look for obvious markers that authenticity matters in film productions. For women, the most obvious marker is the actresses’ hair. One film in particular comes to mind. All the actresses have appropriate hairstyles, except the main character, who is a grown young woman wearing her hair down to her shoulders and continually falling in her face. There are inaccuracies of behavior aplenty, but it’s the hair that makes me cringe. Think of this post as a primer for Hollywood, if you will. … More

Not historical
Authentic? No. But some “historical” writing is a similar mix of it-might-be and facts and just about as authentic.


History by Any Other Facts Is Fiction

File this blog post in the Complaint section. I can’t help it. This is something that needs to be said.

I have a philosophy of writing that is simple: if it’s fiction, call it fiction; if it really happened, call it history. Don’t confuse the two.

I research, research, research to arrive at the most accurate representation of my fictional characters and their times as I can. I’ve said before and will say again that I find it impossible to call a work of fiction “historical” just because it is set in an earlier time period. … More

Bullet Hole - Charleston Museum
The War was a failure by good men on both sides to do their best to solve their problems.

What to Call The War that Killed 750,000 Americans

I read the comments on blogs about The War. Some of them are insulting, combative, and offensive.

I’m talking about The War that happened in the United States when Americans fought each other between 1861 and 1865. There even are volatile feelings triggered by which name is used for The War, never mind the particulars, such as what caused it. … More


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How They Lived