Women In Science: Madame Caplin’s Reformed Corset

19th Century S&S Corset (Registered in Belgium) Image Courtesy of York Museums Trust

I have various historical interests and for my MA dissertation I decided to integrate my different interests and academic skills – focusing on the medical effects of dress reform and also putting a philosophical spin on it! The focus of my dissertation was the life and work of Madame Roxey Ann Caplin, a Canadian born writer and corset maker (or stay-maker, as Madame Caplin stated) who worked at 58 Berners Street, London throughout nearly the entire 19th Century. She was born in 1793 and died in Surrey on 2nd August 1888 – her long life was full of innovation, inspiration and individualism.

Madame Caplin’s Hygienic Corset Design

There are various claims on the internet that Madame Caplin invented the corset. The original purpose of the corset, as a stay and support of weight and to lift the body to avoid deformation harks back to Ancient Greece albeit in a basic sense, a cincture around the waist to support the back and breasts. (A topic which Caplin herself builds upon within her own writings)

Rather than Caplin inventing the corset, she reformed the 19th century ‘contemporary’ corset, which, she claimed, had lost its original purpose and became subject to tight-lacing and ill-constructions due to particular expectations of the female body. Health was compromised and women became oppressed both physically and mentally, the latter becoming internalised by women.


“The elegant form, the flexibility of motion, the gentle warmth, the cheeks crimsoned with the roses of delight, the brilliant eyes darting rays of love, or sparkling with the fire of genius, enlivened by the sallies of wit, or animated by the glow of passion, are the inheritance of those only who are in good health, and a moment is sufficient to destroy them. The whole is expressed in one word,—­there is an absence of health.”  – Madame Caplin, Health and Beauty, Chapter 11: Health, Dress & Its Relation to Temperaments

Madame Caplin’s Hygienic Corset (first credited to her husband, Dr Jean Francois Isidore Caplin purely for its medical acknowledgement) was fitted with elastic panels to support key organs from deformation and won the only award for corset-making at the 1851 Great Exhibition. I have been lucky enough to meet this particular corset, a beautiful blue ribbed silk corset with a cream lining. (It measures as a 20 inch waist) The particular colour of the silk corset was for display purposes only, (which provides an answer for its immaculate condition for its age) all of Madame Caplin’s corsets made to buy were either black or white. You can find images of this corset, and another of Caplin’s corsets (A pale blue Petticoat Suspender corset, through the Museum of London’s online site)

Madame Caplin’s success triggered her 24 different designs in total, covering a range of different activities and impact of a woman’s life. This includes juvenile corsets for correct and supported physical development into adulthood, spinal and scapula contractors to treat weakened muscles and bodily forms and Gestation corsets, for safe development of the body during pregnancy.

Madame Caplin’s Orthopaedic Corset design

I first became mesmerised by Madame Caplin during an evening lecture within a fashion gallery at a local museum – her unique name and corsetry designs stuck and I was quick to conduct further research on this interesting historical figure. Madame Caplin was born Emily Ann Pelletier to English born parents and on her arrival to England she was first married to a man with the last name Galloway. (and on early register she had used the name Roxey Ann Galloway) She later met and worked with Dr Caplin, adopting his name and her French title probably to boost her public profile (with French fashion and corsetry dominating Europe) and marrying him at a later date.

I was also quick to access a copy of her monumental book, Health and Beauty: Or Corsets and Clothing. The text details her idea of corsetry reform, her progress and effects of her designs in an eloquent manner, as well as providing insights into her business strategies. The book had numerous editions throughout the 19th century; it was first published in 1856 and was revised over the next decade. caplin-book.jpg

In my opinion, Madame Caplin was more than a 19th century corset maker and writer; she was a visionary, a social reformer, an underappreciated heroine in medicine and modern, medical research. I claimed that Madame Caplin was inspired by the American transcendental movement: she acknowledged and promoted the enlightened female body, its connections with nature and the integral relationship between the spirit of the mind and the spirit of the body. These three factors along the unlocking of new worldly truths and human empowerment were enabled and represented by the reformed corset.

“The head is the treasure-vault of all our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and pas­sions; the thorax contains the heart and lungs; the abdomen all the digestive and secretive organs; and even the orifices are all mysteriously furnished.” Madame Roxey Ann Caplin, Health and Beauty, Chapter One: Of Health and Beauty

Previous Research surrounding Madame Caplin tends to take an exclusive reformative dress perspective, her surviving corsets which lie in the Museum of London have constant interest and examination, while there is little in-depth analysis of her literature. This realisation is somewhat ironic. To refer to the introductory paragraph, Madame Caplin is clear on her position on dress and health and her purpose of her literature – which is overlooked by modern research.

Regarding transcendentalism, I claimed that there were subtle philosophical references within the text which connects dress reform, spiritualist ideologies and medical reform – providing new insights into the three domains. Transcendentalism is an individualistic theory, inspiring each member to find their own path and original impacts within the world. Madame Caplin utilised her experience of ill-constructed corsets, her experiences and knowledge to produce her original creation – which was then projected onto others. Her female customers, newspaper reporters and medical professionals all accepted her corsetry designs and therefore, its different spiritual elements and connections.






Tracing and connecting with individuals through museum objects

In connection with an upcoming historical redevelopment, the history team at York Castle Museum recently hosted a series of object “speed dating” events, which introduced the public to a range of unique pieces within the museum’s extensive collection – and only having four minutes to connect the public with the object. I was quick to accept an invitation to help out at one of these events – it was such great fun and full of really enthusiastic attendees with brilliant ideas for redevelopment.

You may think four minutes with one object may be both limiting and overwhelming for the speed dater as the object’s spokesperson had to cover historical context, relevancy to York and social history as well as ‘selling’ the object’s appeal to its audience.  However, the sessions sparked instances of passion, amazement and creativity among the visitors, as well as discussions of which stories should be included in future exhibitions at the museum and how visitors would like to see these objects to be displayed. This idea of display has various factors such as whether the object would be behind glass or actually handled by visitors and what particular aspects of the object should be promoted.

A fan depicting a map of London, (Image courtesy or York Museums Trust)

The objects within the sessions included souvenirs and keepsakes, including as a “mermaid fish”, an 18th century fan depicting a map of London and items relative to York’s history, including the collar of an “aristocratic” dog who (along with his humans) lived at Heslington Hall, a beautiful manor house which is now part of the University of York.

An object which kindled a lot of curiosity was what first appeared as a small rectangular piece of stone – the object which I was lucky enough to pitch for! Close examination of this miniature stone revealed carvings, different messages and dates. The most clear carvings read: John Linn, 35, Bible, 1848 and the most interesting inscription of all York Castle. York Castle at this point (1848) was a prison, one of the key and most notorious Gaols of the North of England. York Castle Prison held both debtors and felons, a fact which suggests that this object was the creation of a prisoner.


19th century prison graffiti was common, it reflected the boredom of prisoners, their emotions and presence within Gaols, their identities etched on the stone walls. However this stone carving is unique: it is not fixed to the prison walls, it is movable and independent. The sides of the small stone are filed and smoothed to form the shape of the Holy book, the reverse side depicts the phrase “This Keep from Me.” The Stone Bible, in great and robust condition, fits in the adult hand securely: it acts as a mark of comfort, hope and religious devotion of a prisoner and their experience within the York gaol.

The intriguing nature of this object fuelled further interest into the story of John Linn, both for visitors and myself. The visitors were mesmerised by this particular object, the fact they were able to handle and read the object generated a lot of empathy and claims of aesthetic appeal for the object. The consensus was that this object should not be located behind glass – it needs to be handled and examined in order to realise and enhance this historical connection, an idea I strongly agree with.

After the session I decided to do further investigations into John Linn, hoping to understand his story and the creation of this object in more detail. Census records and prison registers reveal that Linn was a felon at York Castle; he was a considered a serious criminal and had lesser privileges than debtors who were still able to communicate with the outside world. Linn’s trial was in March 1848 at the York Assizes and his crime and charge was for the offence of Night Poaching. Linn received the maximum punishment written under the Night Poaching Act of 1828: transportation to Tasmania.

Research into Linn’s transportation journey revealed various facts. The first was that he was transported in the year 1850 and therefore spent at least two years within York Castle Prison. With this in mind I consider the Bible to be cherished, not only for his religious devotion, but as the only item of his possession and as possible acknowledgement and redemption for his crime. The second fact was that Linn was transported on the Maria Somes, an exclusive convict ship which had two main voyages to Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania – one in 1844 and 1850. Linn was one of 256 other convicts on board the ship and departed from Portsmouth. The medical journal of the ship’s physician detailed the diagnosis, progress and deaths of ill passengers. Linn was not listed, suggesting that he survived the voyage with little ill health. However Linn’s further movements in Tasmania or other areas of Australia, at present, remain unknown and I intend to do further investigation.

This miniature stone bible, whether you consider it as a keepsake, a handicraft or graffiti, is fundamentally an embodiment of Linn. It is a living record, reflecting various characteristics of Linn’s identity and life. All the information needed to discover and tell his full story are carved onto the stone; the object illuminates Linn’s presence and permanent connection with York Castle Museum.

Four minutes with an object is enough time to fuel interest in its history and significance from an audience perspective. It ignites curiosity and further research into its formation and story, revealing alternative dimensions to individual narratives and the impact of an objects creation.

How would you like to experience objects in a museum, or what aspects do you look for when you see an object on display?


  1. Convict Records, The Maria Somes, https://convictrecords.com.au/ships/maria-somes/1850
  2. England & Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892
  3. Medical Journal of the Maria Somes, convict ship from 1 April to 16 August 1850 by J. G. Williams, Surgeon Superintendent, during which time the ship was employed on passage to Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, The National Archives, ADM 101/255/1F
  4. Passengers in History, Maria Somes Ship Details, http://passengersinhistory.sa.gov.au/node/931167
  5. “York Museum reveals prisoner’s graffiti” The York Press, 2008: https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/3961545.York_museum_reveals_prisoners____graffiti/

English Rose, Elizabethan Make-Up

As I’m currently part of an online course, Historic Royal Fashion, I really want to see how added knowledge has changed my views!


Next in line for historic beauty regimes is a very traditional English look – The Elizabethan Era (1558-1603), or as I like to call it, the ‘English Rose’ look.
The first thing that comes to mind, for me, is like the later Victorian era, the majority of women in an Elizabethan society were fair skinned – however not all of this was purely natural. 13695150_10210011679751645_860193231_n
For instant, Queen Elizabeth is depicted with this white complexion which is actually enhanced with a heavy make-up base. Some may claim this is due to the famous ‘virgin status’ of the Queen, with the colour white being symbolic of this characteristic.  Additionally, women were inspired by the Queen’s presence that her style was also reflected in daily beauty regimes, a lot like celebrities nowadays being the style icons and trend setters.
As already mentioned in my Victorian regime, there is the additional factor of the…

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Humors, Herbals and Health: Cosmetic Beauty

The Elizabethan ‘look’ is iconic. An English Rose. The look of a noble and strong Queen. A white complexion, a blush of pink cheeks and red lips. It was considered the ideal concept of beauty of the Early Modern period and spread globally. How did this phase of beauty come about, and what does it signify?

Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I – 1559

For my module last term “Medicine and Spiritual Healing” I became really interested with female recipes for beauty and I found my evenings filled with digitized manuscripts and receipt books (thankyou Wellcome Collection)

Recipes demonstrate that beauty was synonymous with health, and was attached to the prominent medical theory of the time – the humoral theory. The four ‘central’ parts of the body; white phlegm, black bile, yellow bile and blood had colour associations as well as temperaments. (2 cold, 2 hot as well as having own characteristics)

The perfect ‘harmony’ of these humors throughout the body resulted in what was considered, perfect health. An imbalance of one, a lack of or excess, resulted in poor health and required the ‘curing’ properties of other ingredients. A popular remedy for humoral imbalance for Mercury – it purges the excess of heat and restores the balance of the two ‘hot’ humors – blood and yellow bile.

Richard Haydocke: Frontispiece, in A tracte containing the artes of curious paintinge (1598)

This internal balance inspired the visual depiction of ‘perfect’ health, resulting in various experiments such as alchemical recipes and domestic creations. This was partly responsible for the introduction of white led and vermillion (containing the most corrosive aspect of Mercury) onto the face. Richard Haydocke discussed the arts of colours within these chemicals and how they relate to the humoral theory.

In some cases early modern cosmetics were used to hide blemishes and scars– yet the chemicals within the same cosmetics were often the cause.

Herbal recipes were also popular due to accessibility to communal gardens and domestic confinement of women.  My favourite recipe so far is in fact a herbal based recipe created by Caterina Sforza – an elite Italian woman who documented a range of recipes from domestic recipe to alchemy.

to make the face white, beautiful and colourful: mix sugar with egg whites and red byrony (Bryonia diocia) water. With this mixture, you should wash your face.”[1]

It’s a meringue recipe!

This recipe demonstrates female intellect; the ability to know the manipulating properties of plants such as Red Bryony. The plant is recorded as drawing out two humors, yellow bile and white phlegm. Sforza was then able to manipulate the colour of the face – creating a version of ‘ideal beauty.’

In summary, Early Modern Beauty was really Early Modern Health, with the aspect of colour prominent in reflecting the ‘perfect’ complexion.

[1] Gigi Coulson, Caterina Sforza’s Gli Experimenti: A Translation (Printed by Amazon, 2016) 13.

Wonder Women of History

What do does Wonder Woman, Florence Nightingale and Rachel McAdams have in common?

My visual culture module this term is super interesting; public health campaigns and medical knowledge depicted in various mediums – films, comics, even stamps. This week’s task was a 2 minute presentation on a more recent campaign or method; I chose comic books because it gave me an excuse to scroll through Pinterest for a couple of hours. Seriously, Pinterest is a great source for this module.

The first quick search I did was ‘Nurses in comics’ because I was binge watching Call the Midwife (again) at the same time and came across this amazing comic illustration of Florence Nightingale. The comic was 4 pages long and details the entire story of Nightingale’s life in an inviting and aesthetically pleasing way.

florence nightingale

The title was “Wonder Women of History, told by Alice Marble.” Alice Marble is a famous American tennis player who on retirement became an associate editor for Sensation Comics. Inspired by the Wonder Woman comics which began in 1941 Marble ran the original comic from 1942 – 1954 and each week was dedicated to another “Wonder Woman of History.”

Marble realised the impact that comic books had on the youth, outlining in a letter to the Bureau of Internal Revenue that fifteen million comics were bought each month and that there was opportunity to develop the superhero genre into an educational benefit. During this time there was a significant divide and hesitation in mixing the mediums of education and entertainment; the glamour of Hollywood for example was prioritised over reality.  Marble recognised the positive aspects of the Wonder Woman comic stating “Wonder Woman marks the first time that daring strength and imagination have been featured as those womanly qualities. This has a lasting effect upon the minds.”

While not exclusively connected to any public health campaigns or strictly based on medicine, the first three ‘Wonder Women’ were nurses, specifically nurses within wars. The first comic was Florence Nightingale, the second Clara Barton ‘The Angel of the Battlefield’ and the creator of the Red Cross and the third, Edith Cavell.

It is not confirmed, yet I have a theory that the later Marvel series of “Night Nurse” takes inspiration from the successful “Wonder Women of History” series. Beginning in the 1970s, the series depicts three nurses, Christine Palmer, Georgia Jenkins and coincidently Linda Carter. (Although the Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter emerged 3 years later.)

The three nurses were depicted as having superhero powers (rightly so because nurses are real life superheroes) and being the ones to tend to injured superheroes. This echoes the lives of Nightingale, Barton and Cavell who tended to war heroes.

night nurse

Yet issues with “Night Nurse” are obvious. While a commendable effort in depicting nurses as Wonder Women, cultural stereotypes were still attached; the sexualised nature and ‘ditzy’ persona. There is evidence which implies this may be a reason for the series end. Young girls were more attracted to new mediums outside of comic books, such as more serious and realistic novella series such as Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames. With this in mind Marble’s original teaming of reality and the superhero genre appears to have reverted.

The characters of Night Nurse have popped up in more recent Marvel films; Rachel McAdams portraying Christine Palmer, this time as a surgeon, in Doctor Strange (2016) The occupational shift from nurse to doctor may be a topic of further research in the superhero genre – are comic books still fixed to nurse stereotypes? Yet the character development may be conceived as a step forward – or be applied to other campaigns such as the “Women in Science” – encouraging girls to enter into scientific areas and change stereotypes of what is considered ‘gendered.’ In a way this adds a new dimension to Marble’s original Wonder Women campaign, as an empowerment.

A vintage patchwork pattern

Manx Log Cabin was a popular quilt pattern in the Victorian era, along with the traditional hexagon pattern (variations include Grandmother’s Flower Garden) and the ‘Crazy Patchwork’; which uses all the scraps of fabric regardless of shape or design. The Victorians wasted nothing. The log cabin is an interesting pattern; the stitches hidden by folding the strips of fabric.

The pattern itself traditionally represents a log cabin; a red square in the middle symbolizing a fire with different sides (diagonally) representing the light and dark sides of the cabin. Different strips of fabric are layered; reversed (fabric side down) and sewn across one side before being folded over to reveal the right side of the fabric. Stitches are hidden, creating a very neat and interesting sewing pattern.

The Log Cabin quilt was preferred by members of the lower class of Victorian England for two practical reasons. The first is that the pattern is quick to construct; when getting into the hang of the pattern and sewing it can become really speedy. The second is the layered effect the pattern takes on –it becomes an insulator, helping to battle the surroundings due to a lack of central heating and in some extreme, but highly likely, situations of homelessness.

Log Cabin strips were often torn by hand and measured by own judgement or using measures of the hand – for example the width of the fabric strips were measured using the length of a finger to ensure equal sizing throughout the pattern.

Regardless of the practical purpose of quilt making, Log Cabin patchworks can be incredibly beautiful.

I’ve chosen to use the basis of the Log Cabin pattern to create a cushion cover. Due to spending a lot of my time making Log Cabin squares in a replica Victorian Drapers Shop (so realistic even down to replica light conditions!) and therefore hand stitching I’ve opted to use a sewing machine for this quick project! I’ve had quite a lot of people asking me how it works as I stitch, so I’m using this post as an attempt to explain online.



Since I’ve gone crazy by buying the whole set of the new Beatrix Potter fabric, I’m going to make a bunny log cabin piece.



What you need are:

  • One large piece of backing fabric, cut into a square. The bigger the square the more layers of the log cabin can fit.
  • Different fabrics. You can have two contrasting pieces used throughout, or a range of different pieces. Traditionally there are two ‘dark’ fabrics to contrast with two_MG_5618‘light’. I’ve decided to use pastel colours, two blue bunny fabrics to contrast with the pale pinks. Between each ‘bunny’ layer I’ve continued with the pastel theme; green accompanying the blue and yellow alongside the pink. This will help to break up the ‘busy fabrics.’ The central square is a peach shade to add definition to layered effect.
  • A needle or thread (if doing it by hand) or a sewing machine!

What you do is…

  1. Cut the strips into different lengths; the first four lengths of your chosen pattern should be a tiny bit longer than the central square to make sure there is no gaps. The following strips should also be a tiny bit longer than the growing layered

3. Take the first strip and place it on its reversed side. I want the bunnies to be facing the right way up, so make sure you position the fabric to be your preferred way when folded over. I’m working with the pink fabric first, on the top panel. Line the top edge of the fabric with the top edge of the central square. Pin in place and sew around half a centimetre in across that edge. When sewn, fold the fabric over and pin to keep the fabric flat (and the correct way up).

4. Take the second strip of fabric and place it on the right side of the central square, again matching the edges and partially layering the first strip. Pin again and repeat the sewing and folding.

5. Repeat on the remaining two sides of the square using the alternative fabrics.


6. Once the first round of the pattern is complete, you can continue to layer the strips, positioning each new strip correctly over the previous fabric so it overlaps evenly. The central square is only a reference point in the first round as each layer builds on the previous folds, showing the pattern as it grows.


thumbnail_The Vintage Sewer


Find and shop some of my vintage inspired sewing here!: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheVintageSewerShop

Customizing vintage outfits with Dinky Craft Brooches

I came across Dinky Craft one day, during my various daily scrolls of Twitter. I’m always attracted Dinky Craftto small craft businesses on any social media platform, and I was drawn in by the wonderful an
d innocent logo. On further investigation I thought to myself: what a hidden gem this account is!

Dinky Craft specializes in brooches and other accessories, inspired by the love of retro. The brooches are beautiful wooden designs, finished so elegantly. One thing which Dinky Craft explains so well is that there is no such thing as too much glitter!

Independent businesses take pride in all aspects of their products, even down to the packaging. For Dinky Craft, the aesthetics of the beautiful and ‘shimmering’ red packaging really went above and beyond the confines of normal packaging, suggesting a higher quality of treatment for customers.

Needless to say I was very impressed by this personal touch. This, with the addition of fast shipping made me a very happy customer.

I currently own 3 Dinky Craft Brooches and plan to expand my collection. I have _mg_4758my eye on the teapot and the umbrella and the unicorn – oh okay, I want all of them.

In regards to the vintage feel, Dinky Craft brooches are so ‘modern’ and quirky, yet have a strong retro charm. They are somewhat magical, accessorizing a vintage with these outfits only adds to the vintage feel, without taking away authenticity. Additionally, they add instant glitz and glam to any outfit, also transforming a modern day style into a vintage inspired look.

Without further ado, here are my suggestions of how to style an amazing Dinky Craft brooch.

How about, a cocktail on a cocktail dress?


This Martini brooch appears to be a big seller, and I can understand why!

Just look at how fabulous this silver and a little flash of green looks against the hot pink material, emphasizing the bold and clashing features found in other retro looks.

It is a perfect addition to this reproduction Lindy Bop vintage dress, alongside a chain of 1940s beads. Quirky, but undeniably vintage!


Found that perfect combination but missing the final piece of accessory?


The colours of these clothes items are perfect together; the pale blue cardigan accenting the cornflour blues and pastel yellows in this 150s inspired day dress. However, I feel this outfit on its own is missing something – the sunflower brooch is the solution!

It’s almost as if this brooch was made for this outfit, reflecting the summer feel and layering the tones of yellow and blue.




Moving on from summer, how about transforming a plain black knit dress – essential as a winter warmer!



This little gem of colour and shine gives this outfit a character. Not to mention it’s feline shape – perfect for a cat lover *crazy cat lady* like me!

It’s a spin on the classic, understated look – yet presents elements of both mystery and confidence.

Note that this particular brooch is available in a variety of colours, all equally as perfect alongside a black garment.




For those who want to use brooches differently, how about this attachment to a vintage style hat? Equally as mesmerizing. (And Ebony the cat approves too!)

It is so so important to support small businesses. From experience independent businesses have that extra bit of quality making a product so special and useable.

I absolutely adore my Dinky Craft Brooches and I am so excited to purchase more!


Etsy: dinkycraft.etsy.com

Twitter: @dinkycraft