Clothing and Religion
Happy New Year. |
Hebrew Publishing Company, between 1900 and 1920.
Note difference in dress between new arrivals (Right)
and established immigrants (Left).
Prints and Photographs Division (52),
Library of Congress.
In Becoming American Women: Clothing and the Jewish Immigrant Experience, 1880-1920, Barbara Schreier argues clothing signaled shifts in religious identity. Immigrants during the Great Migration often abandoned Jewish restrictions on dress in order to appear "more American." Clothing, she notes, became an "identifiable symbol of a changing consciousness" (Schreier 5). Women often bore the brunt of these changes. "My mother," wrote Mary Antin, "gradually divested herself...of the mantel of orthodox observance; but the process cost her many a pang, because the fabric of that venerable garment was interwoven with the fabric of her soul" (Schreier 12).
In this post I would like to turn the clock back before the Great Migration began to the 1790s-1840s, an era in which the notion of what it meant to be a Jew was undergoing radical transformations. Clothing, I will argue, helped respond to those changes. Portraits of Jews from this era struggle to confront what it meant to be a Jewish women in an era in which Jewishness and gender were increasingly embodied. Unlike Shreier who primarily uses photographs for her analysis, I will turn mainly to early American portraits. I'd like to talk about three examples in particular: Pierre Jacques Benoit's "Five enslaved women going to various places of worship" and Shop of the Jewish "Vette-Warier" [retailer] (ca. 1831); the portrait of Sarah Brandon Moses (early 19th century; AJHS); and J.L. Riker's daguerreotype of "Johannes Ellis en Maria Louisa de Hart" (ca. 1846; Rijksmuseum).
|Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage a Surinam . . . cent dessins pris sur nature par l'auteur (Bruxelles, 1839), plate xvi, fig. 32. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)|
|Detail of Jewish retailer|
Isak Abraham Levy
|Pierre Jacques Benoit, Voyage a Surinam . . . cent dessins pris sur nature par l'auteur (Bruxelles, 1839), plate xi, fig. 20. (Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)|
|Dressing white and Christian. Detail from |
fig. 24 of Benoit's Voyage to Surinam (1839)
|Anonymous, "Sarah Brandon Moses" (AJHS); Digital Version |
in Loeb Database of Early American Jewish Portraits
|Anonymous, "Urania, Muse of |
Unknown Plaster Vatican
Museums and Galleries, Vatican
|Firmin Massot, Portrait of the|
Empress Josephine (1812)
"Portrait of a Surinamese Girl" |
(ca. 1810). Copyright, Rijksmuseum.
|Thomas Sully, "Sally Etting" |
(1808) Jewish Museum, NY
|J.L. Riker's daguerreotype of "Johannes Ellis en Maria Louisa de Hart" (1846). Rijksmuseum|
|Detail of Maria Louisa de Hart|
|Detail of Maria Louisa de Hart's dress|
|How corsets reshaped and remade female bodies to be "radically incommensurable" with male bodies. O'Followell, Le Corset (1908)|
|1845 Corset from Valerie Steele’s The Corset|
|Amelie Dautel D'Aubigny, Phebe Yates Lazarus (ca. 1840). Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association|
Works Cited and Resources
Byrde, Penelope. Nineteenth Century Fashion. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1992.
Cunnington, C. Willett. English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations (Dover Fashion and Costumes . NY: Dover Publications, 1990.
Godey's Lady's Book (1830-98). Online free at the University of Vermont (1855-58). Full archives by subscription at Accessible Archives.
Handler, Jerome S. and Michael L. Tuite Jr. The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. [Includes digital versions of Benoit's work]. University of Virginia. updated 13 Nov 2013.
Hoefte, Rosemarijn and Vrij, Jean Jacques, "Free Black and Colored Women in Early-Nineteenth-Century Paramaribo, Suriname," in David Barry Gaspar and Darlene Clark Hine (eds), Beyond Bondage: Free Women of Color in the Americas. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004. 145–68.
Loeb Database of Early American Jewish Portraits. American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) http://www.loebjewishportraits.com
Lyons, Clare A. Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age of Revolution. Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina P., 2006)
Ribeiro, Aileen. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750-1820. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.
Schreier, Barbara. Becoming American Women: Clothing and the Jewish Immigrant Experience, 1880-1920. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1995.
Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.
Tobin, Shelley. Inside Out: A Brief History of Underwear. London: National Trust, 2000.