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Section 24

Its People and Institutions as I knew them about Sixty Years ago.


Wednesday, September 1st, 1897


And here the gentle maids and matrons too,
Their ancient lines of fashion did pursue;
And fashions then were not in ceaseless change;
The coming years brought little new or strange;
Unlike the fickle nations of to-day,
When fashions came, they came to stay.

The muslin cap was wifehood’s queenly crown,
Severely white, and sometimes black or brown; -
The youthful bride at marriage did assume
This honor badge for cradle and the broom,
Always at home, abroad, and everywhere,
A tidy cap was her maternal care.

To please the eyes of quizzing boys and men
The girls wore pinching stays or corsets then
With boards of wood, or plates of hammered steel,
To keep them straight and slender and genteel.
These pretty, torturing fixtures of to-day,
Are naught, compared with those long passed away.

Each noble woman did her rights assert,
And proudly, queenly, wore her homespun skirt,
For silks and satins, rich brocade and lace,
Till later years, here found no cherished place;
And oft the wedding robes of long ago,
Were homespun-wove or prints of calico.

In Grecian folds her skirts hung loose and neat,
And were not used to sweep and dust the street;
Her sphere of life was modest like her skirts;
She reigned at home, despising fops and flirts,
And left creation’s lords in full command,
To sway the sceptre o’er our peaceful land.

NOTES: - The peculiarities of female attire of the Long Ago are quite outside my sphere of rhyming. Vestiges of the memories of the past, however, still linger with me. The everyday dresses of the women and girls were made of homespun wool and cotton, and their best dresses of calico. Lacing was carried to excess; even the domestics in the kitchen prided themselves on their wasp-waists. Often did I please myself in exhibiting my mechanical skill in making stayboards for the girls and women. They were made of ash, about twelve or fifteen inches long, one and a half inches wide, and one-eighth thick. Instead of these, plates of steel were sometimes used. The first saw I ever owned with teeth and handle was made from one of these. The girls curled their hair on corncobs, and it was not an unusual thing to see them at the spinning wheel or loom with their heads encircled with these ornament. The women put up their hair in a large twisted top-knot on the rear-top of their heads fastened with a conspicuous horn comb. They wore high laced leather boots with long leather laces, but some times indulged in prunella. They were not favored nor troubled with rubbers. The first rubbers ever seen in Berwick were owned by a Mrs. Morton, a school teacher from St. John, about 1838. They were made of pure rubber, had no soles and looked as if they had been moulded around a shoemaker’s lapstone, with a hole in one side and were very elastic. As for their Bonnets, in view of their magnitude I have written them with a big B.