Book Review: Death by Petticoat – American History Myths Debunked

Here at Frontier Homestead, we thought we would, from time to time, share with you what we are reading. This month our review comes from one of our interns, Maureen Carlson. We encourage you to share with us your favorite reads as the year progresses.

Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald is an American Historical book full of many historical myths told around the US in museums, historical books, and classrooms. This book, as the title states, debunks those myths, telling how they were or may have started, or even just stretched with a bit of truth, then giving the facts at the end of each myth.

Everybody has heard that the second most common reason for death for Colonial women, just under childbirth, was burning to death from a petticoat that caught fire, haven’t they (Myth #1)? Or, that the reason so many Colonial women used a fire screen was to protect their wax makeup from melting off (Myth #4)? Considering those are both incorrect, it is a shame that so many people seem to not only believe those myths, but that they continue to be told in history books, classrooms, and museums alike all around the country! The truth is that petticoats, being made of wool, cotton, and linen, burned very slowly, even if they did catch fire, allowing the women to stop the incident before it spread too far.

The fact behind women’s makeup melting is that Colonial women, in reality, hardly wore any makeup at all. If they did decide to wear makeup, women had to make it themselves using various ingredients. Not one of those ingredients was wax. The actual purpose for the fire screen, which wasn’t even a common household item, was to shield one from direct heat. Now that makes perfect sense, wouldn’t you think?

 Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald holds quite a few of these little myths, tall tales, and stretched truths in her little book. Sixty-three of them, to be exact. It is a short, easy read and is quite informative. I admire the work and research that Theobald has put in to debunking so many tidbits that happened to get twisted and made up throughout the years. It is astonishing to me how much is taught as our history that isn’t even true!

One example in this book that really surprised me as being a fabrication of time is Myth #59: “Quilt designs were really secret codes meant to assist escaping slaves through the Underground Railroad”. According to Theobald, this myth began in the 1990’s and no one knows why. Since then, many have worked together to debunk it without much success, sadly, as it is still being taught. The book states that “there is no evidence or example of coded quilts” (117). I grew up with this story in elementary history classes and seeing it on TV shows quite often, so couldn’t believe when I saw it in this book. It is a nice story that made me feel good, which is one of the reasons it has stuck around. People like a good story that is either exciting or gives you warm fuzzies. But if it is false, no matter how it makes one feel, it should not be spread. That is how Theobald feels as well, and why she wrote this book and does the research that she does.

Death by Petticoat is an enjoyable book, for the most part. Many of these so-called myths within the book I have never even heard of myself. Reading through the stories, I found that I have actually been taught the truth or had common sense enough to realize the facts myself, as some of the myths seemed too far-fetched for anyone to believe. That being said, there were a number of good things that I did learn, and it is an interesting book. It is worth checking out if you want something quick and interesting to read. The contents might even surprise you!

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Cedar City: A Look Back – Welcome Sign

Tourism has been and continues to be an economic mainstay for Cedar City and Iron County. In summer of 2016, a little over one million visitors, ate, slept, shopped, and were entertained in our local area. This does not count the thousands who come during the winter to enjoy our amazing winter recreation opportunities. This Welcome sign stood on the corner of Main and Center for many years. The photo was taken in 1947. For up to date information visit the Cedar City – Brian Head Tourism Bureau at visitcedarcity.com

Featured Artist: Blaine Demille

Colorado Mines Hotel Still Life
Oil

Aside from our regularly exhibited artifact collection, Frontier Homestead State Park Museum has a rotating special exhibit gallery that is used by artists and artisans of many disciplines to showcase, highlight, and sell their work. Through May 31 we are pleased to feature the work of visual artist Clayton Blaine Demille. Exhibited works feature an extensive collection of paintings highlighting desert scenes, portraits, and various still lifes.

For over three decades, Demille has been producing personalized fine art commissions in portraits, murals, and decorative painting. His early training was grounded in traditional figure and portrait studies under the late Al Gittins at the University of Utah art department. Later, in Denver, Colorado he tutored with European painter P.A. Kontny.

The Grandfathers
Charcoal

Demille designs and creates custom wall murals, sky ceiling, and painted furniture pieces for homes and business settings. In these diverse works, Demille endeavors to bring to the painted wall a touch of old world magic – an imaginative space which transforms any architectural setting.

Demille has exhibited in Colorado, Northern California, Florida, and throughout Utah. Frontier Homestead is open Monday-Saturday, from 9am to 5pm. Don’t let the opportunity to see this amazing artistic collection pass you by. Remember, the exhibit closes June May 31.

Demille painting a mural for the Violin School of America in Salt Lake City, UT.

The completed mural can still be seen at 200 South 300 East in Salt Lake City, UT

Archaeology Day 2017

Frontier Homestead State Park welcomes archaeologists young and old and their families to participate in its annual Utah Archaeology Day on Saturday, May 6, 2017. Visitors will have the opportunity to participate in activities involving Native American games, history, traditional crafts and skills, and visit with a variety of demonstrators. Archaeology Day will take place from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Cost per person is $2.00 per person or $5.00 per family.

Archaeology Day is the kick-off for a series of activities sponsored by Frontier Homestead State Park, Project Archaeology, Bureau of Land Management, Southern Utah University-College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Intersearch, Transcon Environmental, and the Cedar City Public Library.

Archaeology Day 1 - atlatll (1)The celebration of Utah Archaeology and Preservation Month continues on Friday May 12th and 19th at 7:00 pm with two showings of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at the Sharwan Smith Center on SUU campus.  An archaeologist will give a brief introduction. Admission is free, seating is limited, and the film is rated PG-13.

On Monday May 15, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, the public can take advantage of a rare opportunity to see artifacts from local archaeological excavations.  Repository Director, Barbara Frank, will open the SUU Archaeological Repository to the public.  The Repository is located in Room 101-A, west basement door, ELC, SUU campus. The tour is free and family-friendly.

Next, Saturday May 20, enjoy a free, guided tour of historic cabins in Kolob Canyon.  The tour will begin at Frontier Homestead State Park at 9 am and return by 1 pm. Sack lunches will be provided to all registered participants.  You must request a reservation and receive confirmation for this event, as space is limited.  Send request to samanthakirkley@suu.edu  This event is free, but not appropriate for all ages.

Come enjoy a special slide presentation by Shanandoah Anderson from the Southern Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Shivwits Band on Monday, May 22, at the Cedar City Public Library.  Ms. Anderson has taught at several reservation schools and enjoys sharing her cultural knowledge with others.  Don’t miss this unique and enlightening experience. This presentation is free to the public and appropriate for all family members.Archaeology Day 1 - pump drill (1)