Any trouser-clad women in your old family photo albums?

For those of you in who celebrate it, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving full of good times, good food and only slightly deranged arguments that stopped well short of fisticuffs. I have family history on my mind today, thanks in large part to my father taking a moment before we gorged on a wide selection of fine viands to note that the house had been in our family for 106 years and Thanksgiving had been celebrated in it that whole time. His mother grew up there and even when she got married and had kids of her own, they always went to her parents’ house for TG. My father remembers fondly going every year as a child and youth when his grandmother hosted Thanksgiving dinner. Now that my parents live there, they have carried on the century-old tradition with great verve. Thanksgiving is my mother’s favorite holiday and they make a real production out of it every year.

Family lore always make me happy, so before the tryptophan knocks me unconscious more thoroughly than any fisticuffs ever could, I feel compelled to encourage you to check out Women in Trousers: A Visual Archive, a Cardiff University project that is collecting and digitizing images of daring, hard-working, all-around badass women who wore a variety of transgressive bifurcated garments from bloomers to Edwardian trouser skirts where you barely tell there are trousers under there to wide-legged jeans from the 40s. The archive is populated with all kinds of images — drawings, illustrations from periodicals, photographs of women on the job, advocating dress reform or simple in costume — from the mid-19th century to the 1960s. While the imagery focuses on the wearing of trousers, the project’s brief is a wider one: women’s social and political history and the evolution of dress reform in Britain, Europe and America.

The archive is already a fantastic browse but it is still far from finished, and the authors have appealed to the public to submit any photographs and stories they might have of women in their families wearing pants. The ones that have been uploaded so far are universally grand. The Land Girls from WWII are probably my favorites because of how cheerful and tough they were, but I love the ones on ski trips, on the boardwalk and in plays just living their lives and having a blast.

I’m going to go through my grandmother’s old black paper albums and look for a picture I remember seeing as a child of my great-grandmother — a Connecticut Yankee in the most authentic sense of the word who could shoot a rattlesnake through the eye from 100 yards, canned everything that wasn’t nailed down and used an outhouse until the very end of her long life. She was tough as nails but smiled constantly, always had a twinkle in her eye and a funny story for her great-grandkids. She also had a cast iron hand-pump that was the sole source of water inside the house. I was fascinated by it because it seemed like something in a play or on Little House on the Prairie, totally outside my experience and oh man the water was so, so cold. And rusty. She washed in it every day, bless her bulletproof hide.

I hope I can find that pic of her wearing pants because I would love to add her distinctiveness to the archive. With the holidays coming up, now’s a great opportunity to rifle through dusty closets and drawers for photographic evidence of the kickass trouser-clad women in your family. It would be worth it just for the conversations that the pursuit might stimulate, especially with the senior members of your clan.

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Comment by Susie Bar-Orian
2017-11-24 06:25:38

Remember seeing years ago a photo show about women in trousers. Will also have to go through old pictures of my grandmother.
Btw.. Hope you all know that you are celebrating the Second Thanksgiving in America. The first on was on Dec. 5, 1619 in Berkeley Hundred, Virginia. Two years before the Pilgrims. But hope you enjoyed anyway!

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Comment by Jean @ Howling Frog
2017-11-24 11:48:24

Hey, I’ve seen a picture of my grandmother wearing 30’s pants on a boat. Very stylish.

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Comment by A
2017-11-24 22:41:47

And all this time I’ve been under the impression that you were British! I have no idea where I got that idea.

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Comment by Albertus Minimus
2017-11-26 08:16:09

My mom certainly did not hesitate to wear the pants in the family, more so in the ’40s. Kudos to your granny’s markswoman-ship; bet she could make would-be perps easily wet their trousers. :yes:

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Comment by BruceT
2017-11-28 08:47:51

First a thanks to Susie for correcting the record of Thanksgiving in the U.S. before the dastardly revisionists of the North wrote the preeminence of the Old Dominion out of American history. Smack ’em hard, Susie!

My great-Grandfather owned a general/feed store in the early 20th cen. He had seven children, all but three girls. The girls were a bit older and worked in the store until the boys were capable of it.

My first cousin has a framed pic of my Grandma and two of her sisters in their coveralls, circa 1917 on the old loading dock beaming next to huge stacks of sacks of feed they’d just unloaded from a freight car.

It was kept due to the fact it was last pic of a sister who drowned in a flash flood in the fall of 1917.

There’s also a pic of the wife of the man who delivered mail in that area mounted on a fine looking mule in pants and boots. When he was feeling bad she would ride the route. It simply say’s “Mrs. James hauling the mail, 1924” on the back. That’s my favorite, as she’s holding a pipe and has a ornery look in her eye.

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Comment by Bob
2017-12-20 13:53:37

Sometime it would be interesting to see a psycho-cultural analysis of the Western(?) fixation on gender and gender symbolism and its origins. What is particularly interesting is how in some cultures women and men act to encourage the gender characteristics they find socially valuable and personally attractive, and even modify their own behavior to encourage those, while in Western culture in the last century or so, we have been led to engage in gender conflict in which some women attempt to attain male-like gender roles which necessarily imply the assumption of female-like gender roles by some males. This while they generally continue to find effeminate men personally unattractive.

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