J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Anna Green Winslow: fashion-conscious teen

Anna Green Winslow arrived in Boston in 1770. She was ten years old and had grown up in Nova Scotia, where her father was the commissary-general, or supplier for the British army. Anna's parents had sent her to Boston, their home town, for advanced schooling that Halifax couldn't yet supply: mostly sewing, dancing, and handwriting, as well as informal lessons in the deportment department. Anna lived with her aunt; attended the Old South Meeting and the religious lecture on Thursday mornings; and developed her social skills in the company of other young ladies.

While she was away from home, Anna wrote a series of decreasingly detailed letters to her mother. (In other words, the letters get shorter and less frequent as time goes on.) It looks to me like she copied those letters into a little bound sheaf of paper, which was transcribed and published by Alice Morse Earle in 1894 as Diary of Anna Green Winslow. Diaries must have been more marketable than collections of letters. That book is still in print today, but the current cover from Applewood Books has completely anachronistic artwork. That's why I'm showing the previous cover, which shows Anna herself.

One of Anna's big concerns was dressing well. Her laments may sound familiar to parents, as in this letter from 30 Nov 1771:

The black Hatt I gratefully receive as your present, but if Captain Jarvise had arrived here with it about the time he sail’d from this place for Cumberland it would have been of more service to me, for I have been oblig’d to borrow. I wore Miss Griswold's Bonnet on my journey to Portsmouth, & my cousin Sallys Hatt ever since I came home, & now I am to leave off my black ribbins tomorrow, & am to put onmy red cloak and black hatt—I hope aunt wont let me wear the black hatt with the red Dominie—for the people will ask me what I have got to sell as I go along street if I do, or, how the folk at New guinie do? Dear mamma, you dont know the fation here—I beg to look like other folk. You dont know what a stir would be made in sudbury street, were I to make my appearance there in my red Dominie & black Hatt.

By 25 May 1773, Anna's head decorations had become more outlandish, as even she recognized:
I took a walk with cousin Sally to see the good folks in Sudbury Street, & found them all well. I had my HEDDUS roll on, aunt Storer says it ought to be made less, Aunt Deming said it ought not to be made at all. It makes my head itch, & ach, & burn like anything Mamma. This famous roll is not made wholly of a red Cow Tail, but is a mixture of that, & horsehair (very course) & a little human hair of the yellow hue, that I supposed was taken out of the back part of an old wig. But D——— made it (our head) all carded together and twisted up. When it first came home, aunt put it on, & my new cap on it, she then took up her apron & mesur’d me, & from the roots of my hair on my forehead to the top of my notions, I mesur’d above an inch longer than I did downwards from the roots of my hair to the end of my chin. Nothing renders a young person more amiable than virtue & modesty without the help of fals hair, red Cow Tail, or D——— (the barber).
The most excellent history website Common-Place features an article by Kate Haulman on the hairstyles of the time, with Anna as one of the best sources.

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