Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rachel Littler Bodley and a Patchwork Mystery

Rachel Littler Bodley (1831-1888)

This carte-de-visite (CDV) photograph of a young woman has been described as a woman wearing a Balmoral skirt.

Peterson’s Magazine 1861
 Balmoral skirt:
a striped or plaid underskirt
revealed by a turned-up (retroussé) overskirt.

If you look closely she is holding or
wearing a patchwork item over that striped underskirt.

Who is she and what is that bound piece of patchwork?

From her hairdo and the her clothing we
can guess the photo is from about 1860.
The woman is identified as Rachel Littler Bodley of
Cincinnati, Ohio, who would have been about
30 years old in 1860.

The objects in the photo tell us something about her. Note the microscope and glass vial on the desk. Rachel was a chemist, the first woman professor of chemistry at a medical school when she became Chair of Chemistry and Toxicology at the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1865. She may have posed for this portrait then, or perhaps it was a celebration of an earlier triumph in 1862 when she became a professor of natural sciences at the Cincinnati Female Seminary.

The objects on the floor and plant stand include books,
perhaps her science and medicine books plus 
a copy of a privately printed book she finished in 1865.

Rachel Bodley's Catalogue of Plants
Contained in the Herbarium of Joseph Clark.

The basket at her feet and the one on the plant stand may be full of plant specimens symbolizing her interest in botany.

But the piece of triangle patchwork? 
It certainly looks like an overskirt.

Bodley's papers are at Drexel University, but I can't find the source for the CDV. 

I think I'll go as Rachel Bodley if I ever go to a Civil War re-enactment.

Read her book here at Google Books:


Sharyn Mallow Woerz said...

thanks for making me think, much more interesting that "The Dress" sensation of the moment

WoolenSails said...

It looks like she is wearing a quilted dress? Maybe something for warmth and practical for a woman who spends a lot of time outside gathering and studying plants.


Jeanne said...

Hmmm, I think I'll start planning my own official portrait!

allstontowers said...

I wonder what she is holding in her right hand? The cape is obviously thrown back from the hand for a reason and not just to reveal the bottom of the sleeve beneath it I suspect as everything else in the CDV is so carefully placed.

Barbara Goetz said...

It sure looks like she may have repurposed a quilted patchwork to make that overskirt.

Wendy Caton Reed said...

Love a good mystery! Love the patchwork floor pattern as well.

Meredith Morrow said...

Is she holding a trowel in her right hand? Is the back triangle an exposed piece of striping on the underskirt? Are the other triangles depending from the hat somehow? Possibly as part of a gauzy under-the -chin tie? We may never know, but she does look like an interesting woman to meet.

Roberta Burke said...

Is the "tile floor" actually a quilt?