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Monday, November 4, 2013

WOMEN of Victorian Texas: Fashion & Entertainment

The San Jacinto battle flag proves that women were the inspiration for the Texians even from the beginning...
The true tamers of the Old West...

In the beginning there were few women in Texas, and they were a tough bunch. Like the men, many of them were frivolous adventurers, shameless opportunists, and in order to survive they turned to working as cooks, or seamstresses, or prostitutes and barmaids. Some of them came with their men, and most of  the rest of them just wanted to get married and start a farm some place. And some dreamed of fame and wealth... any way they could get it...

A very rare daguerreotype of very young and vulnerable Julia F. Gilmore in a low cut, "off the shoulder" dress... This photograph was probably made around 1850. She is probably around 13 years old... born when Texas was still a sovereign nation.

A stunning 1850's ambrotype of confident Sally Anglin, of Anderson, Texas. Expensive, "store-bought" get-ups like this one could only be acquired in Galveston.

 A few of these adventurers found what they came for, and some perished in the quest. But no group of people has been done more injustice by Hollywood than the female citizens of the West.

Always reduced to wretched hags or voluptuous sirens in fishnet stockings, it has taken the powerful myth a long time to defer to the reality. Far from weak and helpless, it was the influence and expectations of women ( and Martial Law!) that brought reasonable civilization to a wild and insolent Texas.
 After the Civil War, beautiful and elegant Libby Custer came with her husband from Louisiana in an army wagon to Hempstead, where Federal troops were based. Adaptive and charming, She and George made many friends and became quite popular in Texas, even if they were "Yankees."

Women wanted homes, schools and churches, they wanted nice stores with clothes and pretty furnishings.  Even whores wanted nice clothing and perfumes and toiletries. And they all wanted their men to be clean and shaved and presentable. This was expecting way too much!

Post-Civil War cartes de visites... "cdv's" were the first paper photos...

 The attractive Morrison sisters of Stoneham, Texas, Susan Caroline, Versi Devereaux and Emma Sophronia were born before the Civil War to Montgomery County Judge Gwynn Morrison. The older two married two of the Whitesides boys of Navasota after the Civil War.
The Old South met the American West  here in Navasota, and the culture that evolved was a melting of the two. The women were a cross of Southern lady and Western pioneer. But as these old photographs prove, they were often beautiful, and suggest the pride and independence that made Texas famous. 
Victorian sensation Lilly Langtry

Entertainer Lilly Langtry was an inspiration to men and women in Texas. Judge Roy Bean named his saloon the "Jersey Lilly" and the town Langtry.  Young women saw her as a role-model and wanted to go to the big cities and become actresses. Navasota's Lena Rubenstein did just that, changed her name to Adelaide Prince and became a famous actress who toured all over the United States and Europe.

Ambitious Adelaide Prince left Navasota in the 1870's. She later claimed to have been born in England.
Many Texas girls struck out to become singers and dancers or entertainers of some kind.  The girls below starred in a frontier town melodrama. One played a barmaid...

Just like Buffalo Bill, often the line was blurred in American entertainment between real and pretend.


The following three photos were found in an 1876 souvenir album full of players in a production made in Coltharp, Texas, now less than a ghost town.

Lucy Hudson no doubt had a starring role.


A few silk carnations in her hair, and voila! A glamour queen sits before us.



Lovely Nora [Seeons?] makes a stunning Texas barmaid. With such a convincing costume, perhaps she had some experience in that field. If you look closely, she appears to be a little cock-eyed... life changing head injuries from beatings, livestock mishaps, buggy accidents, etc. were quite common in Victorian times...

A real barmaid in her uniform. Note the enthusiastic expression...

 Dance hall girls seemed to have floated to whatever hall was paying the best... they often moon-lighted as prostitutes. But many were just good country girls trying to make a living... This one was called Nola and her photo, a cabinet card from around 1890, was found among the possessions of an Anderson gentleman.



Many girls were from rural backgrounds and had no education or talent.  As fate would have it, some of them still became famous, after becoming prostitutes. 

Lounging in a low cut dress, smoking a cigar, with a pet parrot on her knee, ladies of the evening had a fairly glamorous image.

Towns like Navasota were infested with such women and the men looking for them. San Antonio had the most famous brothels and the most celebrated prostitutes. Members of the infamous Wild Bunch were favorite customers there. Here is a rogue's gallery of young women who forsook their trade in Texas to travel with some of the most notorious robbers of the west...

Once very pretty, beleaguered Laura Boullion ran with the Wild bunch and especially Kid Curry until their luck ran out.. and she went to prison. He escaped and was killed in a shoot-out.

 Haughty Annie Rogers made her parents proud when she left the brothels of Texas, only to tag along with Kid Curry, the most dangerous outlaw in the West... but she finally gave the outlaw life up.


Said to have been a school teacher, beautiful, mysterious Etta Place chose the outlaw life with the "Sundance Kid"... Harry Longbaugh, before disappearing forever. We can only hope better dreams were one day realized.

By the early 1900's, women had overtaken the wild men and Texas would spend the next fifty years adapting itself to their vision of of life... here is my grandmother and her mother, Gennie Durant McDougald, a socialite who relished in Galveston's high society.  My grandmother, Nell McDougald, was a throwback however, and loved to ride horses and spend time on the ranch with her grandfather's ranch hands...

Little Nell and Virginia Durant McDougald. Taken in 1902, it was about this time that these two lived in Navasota for awhile during a marital separation.

 Julia D. Owen of Navasota was an accomplished musician, songwriter and singer. Her claim to fame was "The Texas Bluebonnet Song."
So women won the West... and eventually made sissies out of their little boys and demonized guns and hunting and fishing and...
Well, some of them...

1 comment:

Gina Di Camillo said...

I ENJOYED VIEWING YOUR PHOTOS OF VICTORIAN WOMEN IN TEXAS. I HAVE BEEN READING A BOOK CALLED "THE PROMISE"
THE SETTING IS GALVESTON 1900 A WOMAN FROM OHIO BECOMES THE WIFE OF A DAIRY FARMER JUST PRIOR TO THE DEVASTATING HURRICANE.
I WAS UNAWARE THAT A HURRICANE OF THAT MAGNITUDE HAD DEVASTATED TEXAS
AND (EMBARASSINGLY) I WAS UNAWARE THAT GALVESON WAS DETACHED FROM THE REST OF TEXAS. I WAS GOOGLING PHOTOS OF THAT TIME PERIOD TO GET A SENSE OF EXACTLY WHAT THE AFTERMATH LOOKED LIKE. THIS IS HOW I FOUND YOUR MOST INTERESTING BLOG! THANKS!