Fashion Flashback: Similarities Between Dresses in 1920s and 1960s


In our current exhibition of Fashion Flashback: 1920s – 1960s, one thing that stands out to me is the amazing similarity of the 1920s and 1960s dresses. Both decades were heavily influenced by the younger generation, more outspoken and vibrant than perhaps in any other times. The 1920s, on the heels of the devastation of World War I, saw demands for a carefree and fun-loving fashion scene. Not only was the female body released from heavy corsets, coverage and constrictions, but this new freedom crossed socio-economic lines as well. There was a thirst for exoticism and acceptance of styles from across the globe.

In the 1960s, we witnessed another cultural revolution, again led by younger ideas and a thirst for change – in social, racial and gender ideals. Another devastating war was raging, this time in Vietnam, along with a racial war at home for equality and acceptance. Some of this unrest translated into short, swingy, unconstrained clothing for girls that echoed the popular styles of the 1920s. It is interesting to reflect on these two pivotal decades that changed feminine clothing so dramatically.

These three dresses are from the 1920s – all relatively shapeless and short, with a sense of glamour and fun demanded by the times. Think how shocking these must have been for a generation used to floor-length, body-concealing garments of the previous centuries. The aqua silk shift dress has an especially bold ribbon lattice in back and built-in sautoire in front. The Nile green chiffon dress has a slightly flared skirt and side flaps to add to the elegance of the metallic beadwork across the front and back of the dress. And the pink voile home-made dress echoes this same freedom and sass.

From the 1960s, these three dresses demonstrate the bold, youthful strength of the fashion world at that time. From the sweet lace Short Stops by Ronnie fashion to the geometrically imposing coral mini dress by Pierre Cardin, these dresses harken back to the simple silhouette of the 1920s. The third 1960s dress is a pop-art poster dress, not only with the distinctive 1960s shape but displaying the decade’s love of provocative, in-your-face art.

Fashion Flashback closes soon (June 14), so take this last opportunity to compare these dramatic decades for yourself.

Storeroom Stories: Coprolites


Coprolite is the scientific term assigned to fossilized animal droppings. Just like any other fossil, all of the organic material has been completely replaced by minerals over millions of years buried in layers of sediment. Coprolites fall within a category of fossils known as trace fossils. Trace fossils are fossils that are left behind by organisms that aren’t directly part of that organism. Examples of trace fossils would include foot prints, burrows, and of course, coprolites. These fossils are just as important as skeletons or shells as they give scientists a view of the behaviors and daily lives of extinct creatures. In fact, there are paleontologists that specialize on coprolites alone, and attempt to identify which animal left them.

Fossilized dung may not seem like the most important find in the world, but it can tell scientists a lot about an animal’s diet. When the coprolite fossilizes, so does any material that survived the digestive process. There have been coprolites that have been preserved that contain easily identified plant material, fish bones, shells, even bones of larger animals like birds. These coprolites were collected locally and include coprolites produced by crocodiles and sharks. If the coprolites were split open, there’s a chance they would contain the remains of these animal’s favorite meals.


Armed Forces Day - May 16, 2015


In honor of Armed Forces Day, we present a uniform from each branch of military service. The Army uniform was worn by Warren Ripley of Charleston during World War II. He served as a second lieutenant with the Army Field Artillery and with the Army Reserve until 1963. The Marine Corps selection is a uniform worn by Susan Corbett, a corporal in the quartermaster’s department, stationed in Charleston during the war.

For the Navy, we offer a Navy Air Force uniform worn by Lt. jg. Cornelius I. D. Wise, Jr. of Sumter, SC. The Air Force selection is an Army Air Corps uniform worn by Corporal Abe Schwartz of Charleston during World War II. And for the Coast Guard, we present a SPAR uniform, worn by Betty Jean Wolf of Michigan, who was stationed in Charleston during the war.

These and many more military uniforms will be on exhibit from June 26, 2015 – January 10, 2016 in our Historic Textiles Gallery. On Parade, Into Battle will feature uniforms and accoutrements from the American Revolution to the present.



Fashion and Function: Bonnets


Long before we knew the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, women were intent on protecting their fair skin from the ravages of sunlight and keeping their complexion fair. It was not fashionable in the mid 19th century, and indeed until the 1920s, for a woman of refinement to have a suntan which was more indicative of the laboring classes.

This mid-19th century bonnet offered serious protection from the hot Southern sun. An amazing hat, made of cotton and rice straw, it was worn by Margaret Adger Smyth of Charleston while she was living with her son in Summerton, taking refuge from the bombardment in Charleston during the Civil War.

Not only does the straw extend out 11”, well-concealing the face, but the 9” deep blue cotton bavolet (or neck ruffle) offers excellent protection for the neck. It is lined with the same blue cotton. There is both machine and hand stitching on this bonnet – it could well have been made here in the Lowcountry.

Another of her bonnets, made of wheat straw and purple flowered cotton, was said to have been salvaged from a blockade runner in Charleston harbor by her son, Gus (Augustine) who was on the gunboat Chicora. It features the same design and sun-blocking qualities.

Although I have not yet been able to definitely identify whether these were in fact made of rice straw and wheat straw, there are visible differences in the straw and even the construction is a bit different. Relying on family information and memories can often make for “a good story” that is difficult to verify absolutely. It seems logical, though, that bonnets were being imported to Charleston – most finished goods were imported before the war – and it seems logical too that a local hat maker, and even the average person, was capable of making a bonnet like this from available materials.

Regardless, they are both delightful bonnets, well-designed for the job while still being pretty. They would work as well as the highest SPF on the market, though might not match well with today’s bikini on the beach.

Storeroom Stories: Lusitania Medal


On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British-built luxury liner Lusitania killing more than 1,100 civilian passengers. Claiming the ship was carrying weapons for World War I’s allied forces and was therefore justified in destroying it, German sculptor Karl Goetz set about producing a medal to expose this point.

Unfortunately for Germany, Goetz engraved the wrong date of May 5 on the medal’s obverse, inadvertently predating the Lusitania’s actual sinking by two days. It was a colossal blunder.

Believing now that Germany’s act was not merely a defensive tactic but a premeditated one, Britain recreated thousands of these medals complete with a printed box and used them to convince otherwise neutral nations (including the United States) that their help was now needed to fight a “common and brutal enemy.”

A copy of the propagandized leaflet with which each of these British-made medals were packaged is also exhibited and describes its details.


Storeroom Stories: Souvenir spoon and machine dies


Souvenir spoon and machine dies
James Allan & Company
Charleston, 1900-1905

On April 14, 1865, four years to the day after surrendering Fort Sumter to the Confederacy, Union General Robert Anderson was back in Charleston reclaiming what was left of it for the United States. For Charleston, the long and disastrous war was over, and a long road to recovery just begun. For the next few decades, however, Charleston’s economy steadily improved, as did some of its agricultural and mercantile interests. James Allen, a Scottish-born silversmith, jeweler, and retailer who had established his Charleston firm just before the War in 1855, was one of several who actually flourished in the post-bellum period.

For years, James Allen’s company produced all manner of jewelry and silverwares for local consumers, and by the fortieth anniversary of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, was producing souvenir spoons stamped from iron dies. These spoons – made in both table and tea size – depict iconic images from both the Revolutionary and Civil wars. On the handle, a stoic Sergeant William Jasper of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment points toward the defeated British fleet after the 1776 battle of Fort Sullivan. Below in the spoon’s bowl are embossed the unmistakable blasted out ruins of Fort Sumter circa 1865.

Downtown Flooding


LIDAR Map of Charleston Peninsula

Have you ever wondered why downtown Charleston can sometimes get such horrendous flooding? Anyone who has had to drive through deep ponding on downtown streets surely has. A Museum staff member’s minivan literally floated in one of these floods! The answer lies in the natural history of the area. Long before people settled in Charleston numerous tidal creeks from the Ashley and Cooper Rivers cut into the peninsula formed by these two rivers. The historic landscape can be seen in the “LIDAR” map above. LIDAR is an acronym for “light detection and ranging” and consists of pulses of light directed at the ground from above to measure distances to the Earth. The red areas represent the highest ground on the peninsula, yellow next highest, green next, and light blues represent the lowest possible ground. The rich blue denotes the waterways that currently surround Charleston.

A look at an historic map of the Charleston peninsula shows that the tidal creeks present in the early settlement of Charleston correspond very closely to the light blue areas of the modern LIDAR map. So where did the tidal creeks go? Over time as the city’s population grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a need for more space to live and work. Charlestonians filled in these waterways with trash, discarded brick, pieces of old buildings, ship ballast, and various other debris to provide more living space.

Area bordered roughly by Jonathan Lucas/Barre, Cannon, Coming, and Bull Streets as shown on LIDAR map.

This area included one of the largest tidal creeks that cut into the peninsula well into the nineteenth century. Today, with heavy rain and a high tide some parts of this area are prone to flooding. The tidal creek is shown clearly in the accompanying 18th century map related to the Siege of Charleston. Spring Street and Cannon Street, constructed on higher ground, represent safer ways in (Cannon) and out of the City (Spring) during flooding.

Although the creeks were filled in, they still represent the lowest areas of the city. When heavy rains fall over several hours, especially combined with a high tide, the laws of gravity require that water flow to the lowest point. If the water cannot run off fast enough, it soon inundates these depressed areas, often creating very deep pools. Unfortunately some of these places are on major thoroughfares such as Calhoun Street, East Bay Street and the Crosstown.

The City of Charleston has made significant improvements to the underground drainage system over the years and has long-term plans for further work, but only so much can be accomplished when facing Mother Nature and the laws of physics. Ultimately, water will almost always win. Interestingly, the Native Americans who lived in the Lowcountry prior to the arrival of Europeans avoided settling on the lower Charleston peninsula. They may have been on to something.

Area bordered by Charlotte, Meeting, Mary and E. Bay Streets as shown on LIDAR map.

The area in dark red at the bottom of this detail immediately above Charlotte Street includes Wragg Square and the grounds of the 2nd Presbyterian Church, one of the highest points on the Charleston peninsula. A crucial part of the American defense line during the Revolutionary War was constructed along this natural “high ground.” Note that The Charleston Museum sits atop a former tidal creek. During the British siege of the city in 1780, this creek fed a moat that ran across the peninsula directly in front of the American lines.

Thanks to Dr. Jon Marcoux, of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, for his assistance in providing the LIDAR map.


"My table must be well supplied without waste…"


Charlotte Drayton Manigault was born to Charles Drayton and Hester (or Ester) Middleton in 1781 on their plantation in Goose Creek. Hester Middleton Drayton was the sister of Arthur Middleton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and died when Charlotte was eight years old. By all accounts Charles Drayton was a man of enlightened thought and experimented in diverse avenues of industry, including botany and animal husbandry. He had received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1770, had served as a captain during the Revolutionary War and Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina in 1785.

Charlotte married Joseph Manigault on May 27, 1800 at her family home, Drayton Hall Plantation. They moved to 8 Maiden Lane in Charleston where she had their first two children, Joseph in 1801 and Ann in 1803. In 1801, Joseph and Charlotte started building a home in the Wraggborough area on the Neck and moved in soon after the birth of their daughter. Viewing the Joseph Manigault House today, details of Drayton Hall can be seen in the architectural as well as the ornamental design - strong evidence that Charlotte had given her opinion in designing the house.

Charlotte would have six more children, all boys, including twins, her last child born in 1824 at the age of forty-three. Her household not only consisted of eight children but also included anywhere from eleven to twenty-one slaves. Raising children and managing such a large domestic unit took patience and required much of her time. Just a month after her last child was born, she reflected: 

     “I every day see the great necessity of forbearance, patience and command of temper – particularly if one mixes much with the world or has to direct a large household of persons of various tempers. These directions will be negligently obeyed, frequently with ill will & excuses for not doing as much as was required.
      It will require all the attention of an over-looker to have business correctly and faithfully executed. It cannot be my intention to make such a sacrifice of time, or to attempt such a tryall [sic] of temper - therefore be satisfied if things are done tolerably. You cannot change others, though you might with judgment rule with comfort to yourself and your domestics also.”

Along with everyday household duties, Charlotte was active with the Charleston Orphan House and would give often of her time and financial support. She was also an accomplished artist and enjoyed sketching and painting the buildings and landscape scenes that surrounded her in daily life.

Family and household were the most important elements of Charlotte’s life and her writings reveal this desire to be the best wife and mother as well as caretaker to her “domestics”.
     “Endeavour not to be put out of humour or flurried by any circumstance - many things require your attention and they can all be attended to one after another and will be best done calmly. You are desirous of accomplishing all that is in your sphere of duties,
toward my Husband, my Children, my domestics, my people &c. Lastly my own improvement in thoughts, words and actions.

      Perseverance with gentleness will go a great way in accomplishing any of these, and is essential in a woman - and as I must depend on my own exertions, singly, Caution and Prudence, Perseverance and Gentleness aided by Liberality must be my prime ministers. I must frequently turn my attention to medicine, I must sometimes umpire, I must excite the indolent to industry, my house must be clothed in scarlet, that is well clothed, or kept well or in order by the exercise of the needle; It must be cleansed and purified, it must be governed by good regulations steadily and gently enforced. My table must be well supplied without waste, carefully teaching and encouraging Cook and Pastry-cook to perform their parts.”

During the course of their life together, Charlotte and Joseph split their time between their home in Charleston, now called the Joseph Manigault House, and their plantation, White Oak. Charlotte seemed to enjoy plantation life more than living in town and after Joseph’s death in 1843 began to spend more time at White Oak. She sold the Wraggborough home in 1852 and moved to a “hired house on the corner of Calhoun & Washington Streets” equipped with gas and “very convenient for the house keepers”. She would later move to South Bay Street where she died peaceably on February 5, 1855.

Charlotte Drayton Manigault was not an abolitionist, she was not an activist, and she did not speak in front of large crowds. She was a simple woman with strong beliefs about how a woman should conduct herself as a wife and mother. Supporting and loving her family unconditionally, she rejoiced in their successes and encouraged them through their failures. Charlotte buried two sons and helped raise several grandchildren and managed it all with style and grace. She will always be remembered as a devoted wife, mother and grandmother – a woman who always had a table well supplied without waste.

Excerpts were taken from the journal of Charlotte Drayton Manigault located at the South Carolina Historical Society; The Charlotte Drayton Manigault Papers, 0436.01.01.07


Storeroom Stories: Centennial of the Museum’s independence


March 10 marks the Centennial of the Museum’s independence! On March 10, 1915, Thomas Pinckney, R.L. Montague and William M. Bird, officers appointed to manage the Museum, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State of South Carolina for the incorporation of The Charleston Museum. With this filing, the Museum officially separated itself from the College of Charleston, and became an independent organization. Per its Articles of Incorporation, its declared purpose was “to increase and diffuse knowledge,” preserve objects and places of artistic, scientific and historic interest, and furnish “public instruction and recreation.”

After the Museum’s founding in 1773 by the Charleston Library Society, it was subsequently overseen by the Library Society, the Literary and Philosophical Society of South Carolina and the Medical College of South Carolina, which later became MUSC. In 1850, the Medical College turned over the collections and management of the Museum to the College of Charleston. It would remain there for the next 65 years.

These images show parts of the Museum collection on display in Randolph Hall at the College, c. 1900. The top image shows a significant geology collection and placards above the entrance doors which note “Mineralogy.”

In the second image, two gentlemen, possibly students at the College, enjoy themselves at the expense of plaster casts of Amenhotep III (rear) and Sety II (front). One of the young men has placed his hat on Amenhotep’s head while the other gazes deeply into Sety’s eyes. The two casts, along with the larger cast of Ramses to the right and an Assyrian example barely visible in the left of the photo, are currently on display just outside the Museum’s Early Days exhibit. The casts were copied from original statuary at the British Museum and were purchased by Museum Curator Gabriel Manigault in the 1890s.


Dave Jars


At some point in his early life, Dave, a man born into slavery circa 1800, learned the fine art of throwing, turning, and glazing various forms of pottery including churns, storage jars, pitchers, and jugs. While it is popularly presumed that Dave learned pottery while enslaved under Harvey Drake, Dr. Abner Landrum, and Amos Landrum, “copartners in the business of a pottery establishment” in the Edgefield district of South Carolina, who was most responsible for this training remains unknown. Moreover, can only currently speculate just how Dave became literate. After all, any slave from the early and middle 1800s who could read and write typically raised suspicion. Worse, in some areas around South Carolina and the greater south, it was outright illegal.

Nevertheless, beginning in the 1830s and continuing on up to the start of the Civil War, and thanks to his knowledge of the written language, Dave freely, and oftentimes boldly, signed and dated much of his work, even occasionally inscribing it with poetic verses. These poems, in fact, have come to provide invaluable insight as to who Dave really was - as a person and not just bonded property. One particular jar displayed at The Museum nears the poignant inscription “Dave belongs Mr. Miles, wher the oven bakes and the pot biles.” (The last word is believed to be an alteration or corruption of the word “boils,” Which Dave likely made purposely in order to form a proper rhyme.” His liberties with the English language notwithstanding, these lines are significant because they interpret Dave’s familiarity with his own enslavement and further convey that, contrary to the popular belief of the time, slaves were neither ignorant nor blind to their predicament.

After emancipation, Dave took the surname “Drake” after his first owner. He died sometime during the 1870s. Today, however, Dave’s wares, particularly those inscribed with his own brand of poetry, are among the most celebrated products of southern folk art, and often reach record sums at auction. Furthermore, because of its early studies and collections of Edgefield pottery, The Charleston Museum holds (and exhibits) the largest public collection of Dave’s work.