Thursday, 9 December 2010

Corsets, Backboards and Deportment Training for Recalcitrant Young Ladies

One of the greatest influences on my writing has been the publications, journals and fiction hailing from the Victorian era (or, I suspect, purporting to in some instances). Below are a couple of transcripts of page scans that I recently came across on my travels across the web taken from the correspondence pages of a journal entitled ‘The Family Doctor’, a publication of the late nineteenth century. I suppose it is the second letter that really hits the spot - that atmosphere one senses, reading between the lines, of domination and the curbing of the spirit. Clearly much more has been done than merely putting the pair of teenagers in corsets - one senses there has been a battle of wills and what is observed is the aftereffect of a crushing defeat . Reading through brought my mind to mull over another subject much discussed in that era, one even more amenable to inclusion in any disciplinary and obedience training regime one might devise that also incorporates corporal punishment: deportment training. Tightly-laced boned corsets, backboards, the cane or riding switch and deportment training seem in my mind to go together seamlessly. This still from Lupus Pictures seems to succeed in summing up all of that in that one shot. Actually I have an even more apt pictorial example somewhere but can’t seen to be able to put my hands on it at present. But I have it stashed away as hard copy so if it comes to it I can always scan the printout.

Our eldest girl, aged nineteen, wears a backboard of very old pattern, originally made for her mother when at school in Bath. It consists of a flat plate of metal, somewhat pear-shaped. that extends from the nape of the neck downwards to the loins, and across from shoulder to shoulder--covering the back exactly, in fact, and hollowed to fit the figure snugly. This is strapped closely to the body by broad shoulder straps (comfortably padded, and arranged to buckle in the centre of the back out of the wearer's reach) and a broad leather waist-belt, also padded and buckled behind. The backplate is covered with blue leather, and when properly fixed is immovable upon the body, partially because the waist-belt is shaped to cover and closely embrace the hips. In the centre of the backplate is a small brass box somewhat like a watch, through which slides a vertical rod carrying at its upper end the "collar"--really the most useful part of the apparatus. Inside the brass box is a lock which fixes the vertical rod and collar at any desired height; and in front of the collar is another minute lock to prevent the chin being unlawfully released! All the locks and straps. I must say, have been renewed several time? but the backboard and collar are just as my wife wore them, and their beautifully chased or engraved bright portions are still perfect.
My second daughter wears an appliance similar to this, with the addition of two hooks or padded crutches, which come from the back under her arm­pits, and have smaller shoulder straps to keep the arms in position therein. This, I feel sure, makes the elevation of the chest more complete. and avoids the slight chafing caused by shoulder straps passing under the armpits.
The backboard worn by our youngest daughter is similar to the last in pattern, but the back is of polished wood (easily renewed as she grows), and the staff and collar are screwed at a fixed height to the wood direct. This does not allow her the freedom at her desk that her elder sisters gain by having their collars lowered, but by the time she is ready to be fitted with the more graceful and permanent steel backboard her fixed collar will have enforced that erect carriage of the head and neck that is so ample a repayment for the present discomfort.

The "stocks " are simply oblong boxes of polished wood, in which the two feet are placed heel to heel, and the toes turned outward. A lid then slides in from each end, having two half-round apertures to em brace the ankles. These lids have a lock at their point of contact in their centre which effectually pre­vents the withdrawal of the feet during the required period of discipline.

These appliances may sound very barbarous to those who favour the ungainly slouching habits far too common nowadays, but by their aid the following round of daily exercise has blessed me with three of the most graceful and, I will say with truth, healthy girls to be found in England. Their daily life is about as follows :--On rising, each is strapped to her backboard, the youngest, of course, having her collar, and consequently her chin, at a very high level, the two elder having theirs only half high, but all, never­theless, securely locked. After breakfast, at 8 a.m., the collars are raised to an equal height, and all, including their governess, have amusement in the garden, coming into the schoolroom about nine. Lessons proceed until luncheon, after which comes a period-about one and a half hours--of walking drill and calisthenics, in which is added to the ordinary backboard a long one reaching across the shoulders from wrist to wrist, and keeping the elbows well behind. After drill the three collars are removed entirely, and, with their backboards concealed by their ordinary dresses, all three girls go out to spend an afternoon in the park or upon the heath. For dinner the collars are again fixed, and we dine in happy fellowship, the girls afterwards standing in their stocks, with the collars elevated and the long backboards across their shoulders, for about two hours during the evening.

It may interest some of your readers to know that my wife is in the habit of using several other appliances, and of enforcing many, perhaps irksome, postures at drill with the ultimate object of perfection in view; but of these I shall be pleased to write if you can spare the space.

Concluding this lengthy letter, I may say that both pretty heels and small corsets count among her system of rewards. All our girls are confirmed wearers of night stays, in addition to what may be new to your readers--i.e., finger-nail corsets.--Believe me, Sir, yours truly, CARL.

P.S.--I shall be pleased to reply to inquirers through the FAMILY DOCTOR if you will permit, but do not desire private correspondence.
Camden Town, N.W (Sept 28 1889).

SIR,-I can quite endorse the opinion of several of your correspondents advocating corset discipline in the management of refractory children. A lady friend of mine has two daughters aged fifteen and sixteen with whom it has proved a complete success. They are both members of the tennis club to which I belong, and used to be much remarked by their rough behaviour, as they played more like school­boys than young ladies. Their mother was advised to make them wear their stays while they played, instead of leaving them off, as they usually did; but she did more than this, by having them fitted with very long, heavily-boned stays, with stiff, broad busks, which, of course, quite prevented stooping, besides being very uncomfortable. They were laced very tightly. when they next appeared, and I never saw girls so much improved, for they were now well behaved young ladies. Their figures were slim­waisted, and the lacing was so effective that, playing or sitting, they were obliged to keep erect. Their hands were encased in long, well-fitting kid gloves, which they were not allowed to remove. They now played a quiet, lady-like game, and looked very pretty and graceful, being laced so tightly that ungainly movements were impossible. Their mother says she finds this means of restraint is very beneficial, as it enforces patience and submission. When there is any need for punishing either of them, it is easily done by tightening the culprit's lace so as to entail an extra degree of discomfort as discipline, as well as improving her figure and carriage. These girls never know now what it is to be without con­stant pressure and restraint, for at night their already slender waists on being released from their day corsets are immediately enclosed in others having flexible busks and laced in an inch smaller than before. Their hands are kept constantly gloved both day and night in very tight kid, and fastened by bracelets to prevent them being removed, and are becoming beautifully white in consequence. (Aug 31 1889 )


benjamin said...

See my vintage picture blogs:

Madmonkey said...

What do those have to do with anything? are you just trying to get more hits?

Anonymous said...

One thing is clear: There is nothing like stricht corset and high heel training to keep unruly teenage girls in line!

Toyntanen said...

I'm assuming that latter comment was aimed at the guy who put up that list of dodgy links not me coz now I have had had time to run through them I have noted there seems little of intesrest to those that regarly come to this site and so I wonder as to his motives