Family Portraits: What Clothing Can Tell You

Ms. Jeannie’s great grandmother, Mable,  arrived by post yesterday. It had been quite a few years since Ms. Jeannie had spent any time with her, so as you can imagine, it was very exciting to see her lovely face again.  It’s not often (in Ms. Jeannie’s case anyway!) that she gets a visit from an ancestor;)  She couldn’t wait to get her all situated.

Tin portrait of Ms. Jeannie’s great grandmother, Mable Jeanette Edwards

Mable is one of the most photographed women of Ms. Jeannie’s family. She’s actually the only family member born before 1900 that has been photographed at all stages of her life from childhood to senior citizen. It’s nice to see the transition…

Mabel Jeanette Edwards circa 1890’s.

She was born in Benton County, Iowa in 1887 , the daughter of an Ohio civil war soldier, who suffered eye damage in the war.  Her parents traveled by covered wagon from Indiana, the day after they were married, (some honeymoon!) to Iowa where they rented a farm and started a family.   Mable had 10 brothers and sisters, but only eight of them lived to see their adult years. Mable carved out her own little place in the family’s heart.  As the very last baby, she was the most spoiled, the most doted on, the most played with.  Imagine all the attention from all those brothers and sisters!

Ms. Jeannie guesses that  Mable is about 5 or 6 in this picture. She was such the Victorian poster child here, portraying all that was trendy and stylish just as the century as drawing to a close. As you can see,  her hair is quite long and fringed, as was popular with any young miss at that time, and she is wearing quite a bit of jewelry ( two rings and a necklace pendant) which tells you that her family was doing well enough to be able to afford pretty non-necessities for their littlest member. She’s also wearing a detachable crocheted collar, possibly made my Mable’s mom or sisters. Everybody crocheted in the the late 1800’s. Doilies, tableclothes, blankets, collars – if it could be sewn it could be crocheted!  Crocheted collars, in particular, were favorite accessories of both the Victorian and Edwardian eras because they could be mixed and matched with a bevy of different outfits. They also lent a bit of bright to the preferred somber colors of the time.

Here she is at the age of 15…

Mable Jeanette Edwards circa 1900

At the time of this picture she would have been almost finished with her schooling. By this age, her clothes have changed from the dark,  heavy Victorian colors to the lighter, brighter colors and fabrics of the Edwardian era. Very Downton Abbey! Also as she is maturing her style is more feminine and delicate. This white eyelet blouse with its high color was also a very popular style in the early 1900’s. It seems Mable was quite trendy when it came  to clothes! And you’ll note, that her hair was pinned up in place at the nape of her neck. This is the transition period between having hair hang down her back as a child, and having it pinned on top of her head as an adult. It s fascinating what you can learn  just by a picture!

Mable Jeanette Edwards c. 1904

This next picture was taken just a couple of years later, after Mable finished school. She became a teacher and taught in a rural one room schoolhouse in Benton County, Iowa.  Her pocket watch was most likely a staple of her school mistress attire.

Now that Mable is an adult – her hair is pinned on top of her head.  Also we can see she is wearing a winter outfit as noted by the dark colors. Her skirt and hat were most likely in the shades of dark brown – considered a very attractive winter color.  And looks what’s on her head…a feather! This brings the Plume Trader blog post full circle!  Ms. Jeannie suspects this might be a rooster tail feather in Mable’s hat.

Her blouse would have been either a moss green color or a lavender grey color to match her hat plume. These color combinations were very popular for the winter wardrobe of the stylish Edwardian lady.

Mable on her wedding day. November 18th, 1909.

In November 1909, Mable married Illinois born William Earle Race at home in Vinton, Iowa. She was 21 years old, Earle 23.  Her wedding dress was made out of brushed silk with detailed hand-embroidered lace.  The collar style of Mable’s dress is called a  high dog collar, which was popular for brides of the era.

William Earle Race, circa 1915

Mable and Earle had one little boy, Phillip Ardath…

Phillip Ardath Race with his neighbor circa 1915

Here, he’s entertaining their neighbor. So cute – both of them. Ms. Jeannie loves Phillip’s romper and the neighbor lady’s dress is gorgeous.  Another Downton Abbey style! The look they are having so much fun!

Mable Edwards Race with her mom, Martha Jane Brewer Edwards

This is Mable and her mom, Martha around the 1930’s. Ms. Jeannie loves the difference in clothing between these two genereations. Martha still favoring the long skirts and long sleeves of the Victorian era. Most likely, Martha was of the thrifty mind-set and wore her clothes until they wore out. Mable on the other hand as we have learned was always keeping up with the trends. Here Mable is showing much more skin then her mom yet is still conservatively dressed.

Mable & Earle Race – circa 1940’s

Here Mable and Earle are pictured on their farm in Washington State.  Taken in the late 1940’s, Ms. Jeannie loves this candid shot. Mable smiling, her hand on her hip, Earle with his thumbs in his pockets.  They look so comfortable around each other. As you can see, Earle was a whole head taller then Mable, almost an entire foot! By this point they have been married over 30 years.

Phillip always said that Mable and Earle were great loves. They traveled the ups and downs of life  with the same  level of fortitude, making the best they could of everything. Through the Depression, through countless jobs, through countless moves, from Iowa to Washington State and back again twice.  Together they were.  Mable was a grower, a writer and a bird lover. Earle a salesman, a logger, and a baker. To their grand-kids they were “Memo” and “Bumpy”.

Earle died in February 1975 and Mable followed six months after. Family lore said she died of a broken heart.

Ms. Jeannie understands. She has a great love too. Ms. Jeannie also has a feeling that if her and Mable were alive together at the same time – they just might have been good friends. Imagine that. Imagine if you could be friends with your ancestors. Who would you pick?

Thanks to the wonderful world of Etsy, you can now recreate Mabel’s fashionable looks from the late 1800’s to the 1950’s. Etsy’s vintage shop sellers have all the garments you will need! Take a look:

For young Mable as a Victorian girl:

Rare Antique Victorian Girl’s Dress from SouthernVintageGa

Civil War Pineapple Crocheted Collar by MadeByHandThings

Mable’s Edwardian teenager look…

Ivory Pintucked Dress from FoxyBritVintage

Vintage 1909 Cotton Dress from WildHoneyPieVintage

Mable in school teacher attire…

Victorian Black Taffeta Blouse – from BlacklistVintageMPLS

Victorian Bodice Skirt Dress from JenniesJunque

Antique Victorian Millinery Supplies Feather from Antiquesofromance

Antique 1907 Pocket Watch from goldandgemsllc

Mable on her wedding day…

1900s Silk Wedding Trousseau from daisyandstella

Mable in the 1950’s…

1940s Betty Barclay Striped Dress from LipStickWhiskey

1940’s Striped Day Dress from MaeVintageInc

Would you like to see more? Click on any above picture to visit that Etsy sellers shop!