Thursday, 28 August 2014

What is a 'Mother Hubbard' Dress?

I have been reading 'Daughter of Earth' by Agnes Smedley over the last couple of days. It is a beautifully written book, but not an easy read. The dire poverty of the turn of the 20th century in Missouri, US, is quite shocking.  As ever when I read a book, I am always looking for those references to dress. At one point in Part One, it talks of

'' My grandmother...went barefoot, smoked a corn-cob pipe and wore loose flowing Mother Hubbards.''

And the term 'loose flowing calico dress (or wrapper)' is used three times in chapter one alone to describe what the author's mother wore, which may or may not be a similar article of dress.

I have heard the term 'Mother Hubbard' before, but only in regards to this very old nursery rhyme : -

''Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To give the poor dog a bone...''

{Apparently the nursery rhyme was first printed in 1805, but the character's origins may be hundreds of years earlier.}

In the late nineteenth century a woman thief and criminal (Margaret Brown) was known as 'Old Mother Hubbard'. She was born in Ireland but ended up in the US. It would make sense to me if this woman wore large, loose flowing gowns to hide all her stolen goods in, and that is how the term came to be linked with this sort of loose gown, but who knows??

According to Wikipedia, a Mother Hubbard dress is
''...a long, wide, loose-fitting gown with long sleeves and a high neck. Intended to cover as much skin as possible, it was introduced by missionaries in [[Polynesia]] to "civilise" those whom they considered half-naked savages of the South Seas islands.'' 

The article has this fascinating image alongside it: -

Tahitian girls in their unadorned 'grandmother's dresses' between 1880-1889.

Deb at The Mantua Maker has a pattern for a Mother Hubbard wrapper: -



Over at Past Patterns, there is a pattern for a nightgown from the 1890s which states '': -
''This might be called a Mother Hubbard nightgown.''
This makes me think that the style of nightgown is very similar to the Mother Hubbard Dresses- which indeed do look like nightgowns to me.


During my search, I stumbled across another pattern which is titled 'Prairie Dress or Victorian Nightgown Pattern'. (I don't know the pattern company, or anymore information about it.)

Whilst having a look at some Amazon items, I came across a wonderful print from Period Paper, which illustrates a pattern for a 'Ladies improved Mother Hubbard Wrapper' from the 1890s : -



And there is this book, which can be read for free at Google Books:-

'Calico Chronicle' - Betty J. Mills 1985

This looks very interesting. One of my particular areas of interest is rural and provincial clothing, so it has immediately gone onto my wishlist. (I'm not a fan of reading much on a pc, or this kindle business. My eyes just can't bear to look at a screen for very long). There is a lovely section about ''At Home Wear-The Wrapper', which talks about the Mother Hubbard wrapper, although the author cannot say where the term 'Mother Hubbard' originated. There are many photographs of Frontier Dress in this book- wonderful.

Oh, this the real deal :-
''Searching for Mother Hubbard: Function and Fashion in Nineteenth Century Dress''

Sally Helvenston Gray has written the above paper, which can be purchase for $4 here at Chicago Journals:-
Sadly I can't read it as I do not belong any university, but if you are, and you're interested, the little that I can read online looks superb!

Naomi x