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Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s - Clothing & Culture

Whaley House Period Clothing Program

By David Swarens

Thomas Whaley's silk vest, dated to circa 1845-55 by consultants at the conference. This is from when Mr. Whaley first came to California and predates the construction of his brick mansion in San Diego.


Your correspondent (left) with fellow conference associates in Harrisburg.


In early March I attended the tenth annual "Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s" conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The conference focus was the everyday life of mid-19th Century America, with special attention to clothing and culture. Information given was both specific and general, as well as theoretical and practical.

Clothing for work, leisure (the "Devil's workshop"), and dress were examined, with session topics ranging from variations in women's sleeve styles in the period to men's Whaley House Period Clothing Programcoats, vests, and cravats. The "stuff" of life, material culture and social life were also discussed. Participants had ready access to hundreds of original historic garments, with much of this selection changing with each day of the event.

I had the opportunity to meet and make a connection with experts and authorities, many of whom were already familiar through their writings and publications. I met Juanita Leisch ("Who Wore What"), Saundra Altman (Past Patterns), Bill Christen ("The Watchdog" and the Aurora collection) and Jon Isaacson. They are now much more than "names" to me, and are truly resources.

Over the past year we have been developing a period clothing program for the docents at the Whaley House Museum operated by SOHO. (Remember that free admission to the museum is one of the many benefits of your SOHO membership!). As we strive to return the interiors to a mid-19th Century look, with a focus on the later 1860s when the Whaleys returned to the home following the Civil War, we also would like to interpret the people of that time. We would like our guests to pass through a portal into another time, and leave with a deeper understanding of the Whaleys, their community, and the world in which they lived. The conference provided us with many tools with which to address this formidable task!

A notebook of conference photos will be available for review at the SOHO office in the Derby Pendleton House on the grounds of the Whaley House. Please call (619) 297-9327 if you would like to arrange access to this material.

2004 - Volume 35, Issue 2

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2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
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