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Huge Hair For Revolutionary Ladies

Last spring I quoted some letters of younger Anna Green Winslow on Boston fashions within the early 1770s. Specifically, she described her “heddus roll”: a combination of “a purple Cow Tail,” coarse horsehair, and somewhat blond human hair, “all carded together and twisted up” to create padding for her own hair to be combed up and over.

Fashionable women didn’t replace their pure hair with wigs, as many males still did, however augmented their hair with such padding and short everyday hairstyles even wire frames of the kind Lucy Knox wore. The objective was to have one’s hair built up into a formidable tower. In Anna’s case, her aunt found that the gap from her hairline to the top of her cap was one inch greater than from her hairline to her chin. In the revealed version of Anna’s letters (called a “diary,” so don’t be confused), editor Alice Morse Earle reported that a fashionable roll may weigh 14 ounces.

Earle also added this remark: That same year the Boston Gazette had a laughable account of an accident to a younger woman on Boston streets. She was knocked down by a runaway, and her headdress obtained probably the most serious injury. . . .

That anecdote was in flip picked up by different authors, as in Early American Costume, by Edward Warwick and Henry C. Pitz (1929).

Nonetheless, I feel Earle was misled by the newspaper. The story she described appeared within the Boston Gazette for 19 Aug 1771, however it seems to be like printers Edes and Gill had picked it up from the Pennsylvania Gazette of eight August. Or maybe from a British newspaper, as a result of the Philadelphia printers had reported that the incident occurred “in High Holborn,” a major street in London. It was widespread for newspaper printers to reprint every other’s materials phrase for phrase, however often they have been extra careful about saying where every story originated. Different New England printers who picked up the tale from the Boston Gazette assumed, like Earle, that it had occurred in Boston.

Here’s the verbatim report from the Pennsylvania paper:Some younger man having tied an previous damaged chair to the tail of a big canine, turned him out into the road; away he run with great swiftness, and in his manner the chair catched hold of the gown of a very genteel dressed lady, and threw her down with great pressure; the canine being very sturdy, and the chair holding in her gown, he drawed her slightly method alongside the pavement, and bruised her in a number of locations.

However this was not the worst of the scene; the Lady having her hair dressed in the fashionable perpendicular style, the violence of the fall shook down this temporary monument to the very foundation, and great was the fall!

The materials with which it was erected had been as follows: A bit of black stocking full of black wool, and made proportionable to the style wherein the hair was dressed; and on the outside was hair very ingeniously worked into the stocking; upon this surprising piece of workmanship was frizzed the Lady’s personal hair, in order to lift the edifice.

She being disentangled, received up, and complained of being harm a little bit, however took no notice of her piece of ornament for the head, which some boys had received hold of, kicking about the road as a foot-ball.

When the Boston Gazette passed on the tale to its readers, the printers modified the black stocking to “black knit breeches,” which hardly exhibits a priority for journalistic accuracy. I’m not 100% positive this occurred anyway, even in London. It has all of the hallmarks of an urban legend of the type Snopes.com tracks, a story too good to verify. Ladies’ towering hair styles made easy targets for caricatures and ethical classes.