Living History Lectures ~ Tames Alan

Historical, educational, hysterical. One costumed woman tells you like it WAS.

Random Historical Facts: 19th Century

The introduction of window screens in the 1880s was said to be the “most humane contribution the 19th century made to the preservation of sanity and good temper.”

Posted 07/15/2011

In Europe, before the mid-19th century, blue dye was extracted by boiling the leaves of a plant in the mustard family called woad.

Posted 02/15/2012

By the 19th century, it was routine to take beds apart at least once a year and paint them with disinfectant or varnish to get rid of bed bugs. Manufacturers often advertised how quickly their beds could be dismantled for this annual maintenance.

Posted 08/15/2012

If a woman wanted to show off her legs in the early 19th century, she could appear at a transvestite ball, which were made popular in Russia by the Tsarina Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. She personally organized a number of these balls at her winter palace in St. Petersburg. The gentlemen were required to wear false breasts, but the ladies were not required to wear false calves.

Posted 10/15/2013

Wallpaper was originally made from old rags. The maximum size of each sheet was only two feet or so, which meant that paper had to be joined with great skill and care. It wasn’t until 1802 that a machine was invented that could create continuous lengths of paper.

Posted 05/15/2013

Until electricity, ballerinas routinely perished when the muslin of their tutus caught fire from the gas lamps used to light the stage; the deaths were referred to at the time as the “holocaust of ballet girls.” (The remedy, flame-retardant fabrics, was seen by many as too ugly to wear.)

Posted 12/15/2015

At the end of the 19th century, educators began to promote physical activity as necessary for a young woman’s health. Schools began to build gymnasiums. The general philosophy of physical education was different for women than for men. Men played to win. Women exercised for their health.

Posted 09/15/2016

The Married Woman’s Property Act passed in 1860.  It gave women the right to own property, but they still could not sell it without their husband’s permission.

Posted 03/01/2017

When the Duke of Wellington, he of the Battle of Waterloo fame, showed up at a famous ballroom in London, the matrons who ran the balls to ensure strict adherence to etiquette turned him away, because he showed up wearing trousers instead of the more formal breeches.

Posted 05/15/2019

Rousing sleepers so they would not be late for work was the job of the knocker-up (or knocker-upper), who sometimes used a pole to tap at the upper-floor windows of his or her clients in order to avoid waking up the whole household, or neighbors.

Posted 10/15/2019

During the 19th century, theatre and opera chairs had wire rungs underneath the seat so you could store your top hat during the performance.

Posted 12/01/2020

The Dentist’s Act of 1878 established a register of dentists but failed to make it unlawful for people without qualifications to practice.  So long as the unregistered did not call themselves dentists, they could be “dental experts” and put up signs reading Dental Parlor or Dental Surgery.

Posted 01/01/2021

It is considered bad luck for an actor to whistle on or off stage. The reason for this superstition was that before the invention of walkie-talkies or comms, the cues for the theater technicians were coded whistles given by the stage manager. This is because originally stage crews were sailors hired from ships in port. Theatrical rigging has its origins in sailing rigging, and therefore sailors. and by extension theatrical riggers, used coded whistles to communicate scene changes. Actors who whistled backstage could confuse the crew into changing the set or scenery, which could result in injury, death, or being fired.

Posted 04/01/2021