The Ladies' Tea Guild

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mrs. Burnett's dress, part 2.

Harriet Burnett's dress,
ca. 1849
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
Wow, I hadn't realized how long it's been since I last posted!  I've been keeping busy, though, with historical things.  Researching Harriet Burnett's governor's ball dress (see photo at left) has been really interesting.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any period description of the dress at the ball in any of the contemporary newspapers, because San Jose didn't have its own newspaper until 1851 and the ball was in 1849.  The nearest local papers were out of Monterey and San Francisco, and relied on the mail bringing news from San Jose in order to publish the Legislative happenings.  Unfortunately, the winter of 1849 was so rainy and stormy that the roads were unusably muddy and no news could get out of or into San Jose!  It took until the end of January 1850 for the rain to let up and the roads dry out enough that the mail could get through to Monterey and San Francisco, so by that time any excitement about the ball had died down, and the papers recorded the inauguration of Governor Burnett, and mentioned, almost as an aside, "there was a ball in San Jose." 

There was no further description or mention of the event itself, although an interview with someone who was there, done many years later, and published in 1941, has the woman recalling that the ball was "the" event for the Bay Area for years afterwards.  I think the only place where I could find a fuller description of the ball, would be in the letters or journal of someone (a woman) who was there, but I don't know of any journals or letters from 1849 in San Jose that have been published, or are available to the public!  I think I'm at a dead end in verifying the provenance of the dress, so I've just made a record for it in the museum database, saying that the dress "is said to have been worn" at the Inauguration Ball.  I'll have to leave it at that for now.  It's been really fun reading all those old newspapers, though.  I found a website, the California Digital Newspaper Collection, that has scanned the papers into digital form and made them readable (you can enlarge the printing from the teeny-tiny original size!). 

I've also bought two new books in the last few months.  I've been watching the Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, and Wartime Farm series on YouTube for the past few months, and I recently bought the companion book to Wartime Farm and Victorian Farm.  They are so much fun to read, with a lot of cool information, although I wish they went deeper into each topic instead of giving only 2 to 4 pages to each chapter.  I totally want to be like Ruth Goodman when I grow up!  And the guys on the team, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn, get into some pretty cool projects themselves.  I wish someone would do the same kind of show here in the U.S. -- the "Frontier House" and similar shows were more Hollywood-reality shows than historical documentaries -- because I would love to participate!


Steph said...

Fascinating, how you go about this research!

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Hi Steph, I find it fascinating, too! I only wish I could earn my living doing this kind of research, instead of doing it as a volunteer. But it's so interesting that it takes up most of my free time. There is so much information out there, that it's like a treasure hunt to find it, and then there are so many (annoying and yet intriguing) gaps in the info, that working out how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together is a challenge. Yet, it's like a game to me, I guess.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)