Children at Rockwood

Children at Rockwood

The photographs in the Rockwood archives provide a very interesting look into the world of the children there. Children, however, are not as often pictured as adults in the albums maintained by The Shipleys and Bringhursts and in loose prints of the families and their friends also in the archives. Considering how much modern Americans photograph their children, this suggests an interesting discrepancy in time. But the clothing, poses, and setting of children in these photographs help us understand the norms and roles of children during the Victorian Era and the early 1920s.
I found it especially interesting to compare the clothing of girls and boys according to age. Having sex-specific clothing for young children is actually a fairly recent cultural construct. In the Victorian Era, it seems that the age of children was more important than gender. This neutrality with the clothing of young children could be related to the high death rate of children under 5. Perhaps if all children were marked the same, it was less of a social loss than if one invested fully in dimorphic clothes from the start. Clothing catalogs from the time period do advertise pants for young boys, but the earliest age I saw for male-gendered clothing was age 3. At this age, boys wore short pants or knickerbockers. The full-length pants were only sold in sizes for boys older than 7. Corsets and shirtwaists were marketed to both boys and girls. For girls, corseting could start as early as 9 or 10, generally with one wearing a formed shirtwaist before that age.
There are very few candid photographs of the Bringhurst children. Most are posed with the children in formal dress. Edward and Edith are frequently photographed on the grounds of Rockwood or in the Conservatory. The Rockwood archives have many photographs of other children, either from the Shipley family or family friends of the Shipleys and Bringhursts. Edward is the most frequently photographed of the Bringhurst children and is frequently posed with dogs or in costumes, either in the conservatory or outside on the porch. Despite the number of pictures of Edward alone or with male friends, I chose to display the image of Edward and Edith because it shows so well the sex ambiguity of very young children.

[Rockwood Archives: Box 87]

-Elanor Sonderman

References Used

Victorian Catalogs examined (both in Special Collections): E Buttericks Pattern Book, 1872. New York City

The Chenery Manufacturing Company, Portland Maine, 1898