A historical party
If you were a pioneer woman traveling on the Oregon Trail, would you have worn a corset?
If this question intrigues you, be sure to stop by Philip Foster Farm this month. From 1-4 p.m. Saturday, July 15, the National Historic Site will host Mary Charlotte's Garden Party, a celebration of the life of Philip Foster's wife and other pioneer women.
"Women in history tend to not get as much credit, because their history wasn't recorded in the same way," said Jennifer Goldman of Philip Foster Farm.
History books discuss Philip Foster's involvement in welcoming travelers to Oregon at the end of their journey. For many pioneers traveling west who finally reached the Barlow Road in the 1800s, the farm was a place to rest before they began their new lives.
But the person working behind the scenes, cooking and cleaning the cabins available to the settlers was an often unsung hero: Mary Charlotte.
"It wasn't in the press, but that stuff didn't happen without (women)," Goldman added.
In order to allow guests at the garden party to learn more about the lives of pioneer women, the day features interactive garden displays, bread baking, lawn games and a fashion show.
In addition to models wearing reproduction dresses from the era, historic dresses also will be on display. Goldman thinks people may find the fashion element of the day particularly interesting because of the intricate nature of pioneer clothing.
"(The fashion show is a) look beyond a cool skirt," she said. "There were a lot of layers to the dresses, and (there were a lot of) undergarments. They all served a purpose."
Typically, when dressing for formal occasions, a woman would wear pantaloons, petticoats, a chemise, a hoop, an outer skirt, a jacket or vest and an apron. For casual affairs, adjustable housedresses, known as wrap dresses, were popular — and practical, because they could be adjusted in size during pregnancy.
"Lots of thought went into these things," Goldman said. "Women had to have a balance between practicality and looking nice."
In addition to balancing aesthetic and practicality in their outfits, women had to be knowledgeable in a variety of areas, including caring for the sick or injured in their families.
In historic Eagle Creek, the closest doctor was in Oregon City — 16 miles away on horseback. Because of this, women had to know the basics of herbal medicine, something that will be a focus of the event's garden activities and discussions.
Because the lives of pioneer women weren't all work, the garden party will also feature traditional lawn games from the era, such as croquet.
And by the way, some women opted to forgo the corset while walking along the Oregon Trail, but many did not. Goldman noted that while uncomfortable, pioneers saw many benefits to corsets.
"(They) helped with posture, and many women wanted to set a precedent for their children," Goldman noted.
She encouraged anyone interested to stop by the event to learn more about the other decisions pioneer-era women had to make.
"It's a different way of seeing the farm," she said. "Even if you've been here before, it's a different part of history."