Object Lessons: Rewriting the History of Clothing and Community in Federal New England

This, then, is a study of women, work, and the ways in which early American women’s work and work identities turned on both commonalities and differences, commonalities and differences continue to challenge us today, unaided by mythologies that elide them.

Lecture Description

This talk explores the history of early American women’s work in the clothing trades, as a means to better understand the meaning of craft skills, and the entangled ways that gender, artisanry, class, and opportunity shaped women’s lives in rural New England. Miller’s research seeks to disperse the haze of nostalgia that surrounds works of the needle while at the same time trying to understand its origins. It represents an attempt to overturn the prevailing sense — symbolized by constructions of Colonial Barbie and the mythologized Betsy Ross — that early American needlework was ubiquitous and undifferentiated. Miller explores the ways in which needlework shaped and reflected the circumstances of real women’s lives, circumstances that in fact varied widely over time and space; to restore skilled needlewomen to their artisanal status and to reconnect them to the expanding commercial world of the eighteenth century; and to observe the century’s economic transformations from the perspective of these needleworkers.


1700-1800 Women

ALL TOPICS & TITLES: Go back to all topics and titles.

More Distinguished Lectureship Program Resources