By Jeri Arent
One persistent myth is that in the 18th and 19th century women had a “confinement period” when they were pregnant and did not go out in public while they awaited the birth of their child.
This was not true. Women during the 19th century, even during the Victorian Era, did not stay sequestered during their pregnancies. Poor and middle class women could not be away from their chores that long. Wealthier women probably had enough servants to do the everyday work, but they did not want to forgo a social life just because they were pregnant. Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of textiles, writes that letters and diaries as well as historic clothing reveals that women went about their daily lives, attending church and cultural events while expecting a child. In fact, James Kilbourne’s wife Lucy set out with the rest of the Scioto Company, to settle Worthington, when she was close to giving birth to their daughter, Orrel. The Kilbourne family stopped along the way for her to give birth in October of 1803.
Another myth, associated with women, was that they did not show their ankles until skirts became
shorter after World War I.
Actually, women in the colonial period did wear shorter skirts for work clothes although they might have worn a longer skirt for formal wear. Hard working housewives often hiked up their skirts to make it easier to do their work.
Source: Mary Miley Theobald, “Lies My Docent Told Me,” Colonial Williamsburg,
Autumn 2010, p. 67.