Tag Archives: corset

The Coroner and the Corset: 1874


How to Put on a Corset. [From a report on a murder inquest.]

At this juncture the Coroner desired to show the jury the course taken by the ball, and for this purpose produced the corset worn by Mrs. Burkhart at the time of the tragedy. “You see,” said he, and here he drew the corset around his waist with the laces in front! “the ball must have gone in here from behind. No, that can’t be, either, for the doctor says the ball went in in front. Confound it, I’ve got it on wrong. Ah! This way.” (Here the Coroner put the corset on upside down.) “Now, you see,” pointing to the hole in the garment, which rested directly over his hip, “the ball must have gone in here. No, that can’t be it either, or—“

Here Mr. Mather, the handsomest man on the jury, broke in, “Dr. Stillman,” said he, “you’ve got that corset on wrong.”

Here Dr. Stillman blushed like a peony.

“Well,” said he. “I’ve been married twice, and I ought to know how to rig a corset.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Mather, “but you don’t. You had it right in the first place. The strings go in front and the ladies clasp them together at the back. Don’t I know? I think I ought to; I’ve been married. If you doubt it, look here (pointing to the fullness at the top). How do you suppose that’s going to be filled up unless you put it on as I suggest?”

“That,” said Dr. Stillman; “why, that goes over the hips.”

“No it don’t,” said Mr. Mather; “that fullness goes somewhere else—this way;” and here Mr. Mather indicated where he thought the fullness ought to go.

At tis the pale-faced young man with a voice like a robin and a note-book under his arm, said he thought the ladies always clasped their corsets on the side. The pale-faced young man said this very innocently, as if he wished to convey the impression that he knew nothing whatever of the matter. The jury laughed the pale-faced young man to scorn, and one of them intimated that he thought the young man was not half so green about women’s dress as he tried to appear. The young man was a reporter, and it is therefore exceedingly probable that his knowledge was fully as limited as was apparent from his suggestion, the juryman to the contrary notwithstanding.

Here another juryman discovered that Dr. Stillman had the corset on bottom side up. “Doctor,” said he, “put it on the other way.”

Then the Dr. put it on in reverse order, with the laces in front. This brought the bullet holes directly over the tails of his coat.

“I don’t think,” said Mr. Mather, “that the bullet went in there, Doctor.”

“No, I don’t think it did,” was the reply. “Confound it, it’s mighty funny—six married men in this room and not one that knows how to put on a woman’s corset.”

Here the Chronicle  reporter, who had several sisters and always keeps his eyes open, advanced and convinced Dr. Stillman and Mr. Mather, after much argument, that the laces of the corsage go behind, and that the garment is clasped in front. After this explanation the course of the bullet was readily traced; and found to bear out the explanation afforded by one or two physicians. Jamestown [NY] Journal 8 May 1874: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The victim was Mrs Harriet “Hattie” Burkhart or Burkhardt, shot by Jacob Wilkerson in 1872. Mrs Daffodil has been unable to find  an explanation of the motive for the shooting. The papers of the period are full of stories of ladies, unlike the unfortunate Mrs Burkhart, whose lives were saved by their corsets. For example:


How Kate Rafferty’s Stays Caused a Bullet to Glance

New York, April 7. Kate Rafferty, a domestic, employed by William Burns at No. 328 East Thirty-third Street, probably owes her life to her corset. She was sitting at a back window on the first floor yesterday afternoon, when she was startled by the report of a pistol. There was a crash of glass and she felt a sharp pain in her back. She screamed, and the son of her employer went to her aid. He found her bleeding from a bullet wound just beneath the left shoulder blade. Examination showed that the bullet had struck a steel in her corset, and had glanced aside, inflicting only a slight flesh wound. The police believe the shot to have been fired by some careless boy. St. Louis [MO] Republic 8 April 1896: p. 1



Franklin, Pa., Oct. 13. Mrs. Elia Zone of Woodcock owes her life to her corset steel. She was on her way to Meadville and passed a man carrying a rifle. After he had gone some distance the man attempted to load his gun, with the result that a cartridge was accidentally discharged. The ball struck Mrs. Zone in the side; she gave a scream and the man ran toward her. An examination disclosed the fact that the bullet had been deflected by the steel in her corset. But for that she would undoubtedly have received a fatal wound. Boston [MA] Journal 14 October 1900: p. 2

On the other hand…


Girl Who Gave Prisoner the Corset Steel Informed the Jailer

Vineland, N.J. Dec. 25 “Al” Stevenson, a colored ex-convict, arrested on Saturday on the charge of stealing a wagon-load of farming tools, came near escaping from the Vineland jail. He borrowed a corset steel from Gertrude Wright, in the adjoining steel cage, and was sawing his way to liberty when, at the midnight round of the jailor, Miss Wright informed on him. Stevenson was placed in the dungeon and the informer was given her liberty. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 26 December 1899: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Saturday Snippets: 13 July 2013: Corsets in court, naked gentlemen, naughty little kings, the Will tattoo, canine sagacity

From the V&A touring exhibition: Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion.

From the V&A touring exhibition: Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion.

 Slander Case. James Gosling, a dry goods merchant, doing business on Market Street, was mulcted in $1300 on Wednesday, by a jury in the District Court. Mr. G. sold two corsets to a Miss Lucy Morgan, and permitted her, as is the custom, to take them home that she might see if they would answer. It was found, on examination, that they would not suit, and they were sent back, but before they got to the store Mr. Gosling saw Miss Morgan in an omnibus at Hares’ Hotel, on her way to the railroad station, and , believing that she intended defrauding him, he called her a “rascal,” and said she had the corsets in her truck on the top of the vehicle. When he got back to the store he found them there, and Miss M. bringing suit against him for slander, obtained a verdict as above stated. Pittsburg Chron. Boston [MA] Traveler 16 November 1857: p. 2


The Small Monarch of Spain is Imperious and Obstreperous

If all the stories are true which are told about the little King of Spain, he must be a very willful little boy, indeed, and quite determined to have his own way in everything. One cannot greatly blame the little king for his waywardness, because the rules of his country are such that the word of the king is law, in many things, whether that same king be young or old, little or big. So little Alphonso must be pardoned if he is a “spoiled” child.

One day Alphonso and his governess were out driving, when suddenly the governess noticed that the little king was not acknowledging the salutes of his subjects.

“I am too tired to bow to them,” exclaimed he, pettishly, “and I am not going to do it.”

“But you must acknowledge their salutes,” insisted the governess, “because you are their king, and it is one of the customs for a king to bow to his subjects.”

“I shall not bow to them!” exclaimed Alphonso, loudly. “Then you cannot drive in the carriage with me,” replied the governess, kindly, but firmly for she feared that Alphonso would offend his subjects.

“Then you may get out and walk!” exclaimed the naughty little king. Then, calling to the coachman, he cried:

“Halt, Carlo! This lady wishes to go on foot.” Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] 12 November 1892: p. 9


 It is said that a woman, who had but a short time to live, had a five-hundred-word will tattooed upon her back to prevent any misunderstanding and to safeguard against forgery. The will was read before the woman was buried, by her attorney, in the presence of the relatives. Needless to say, there was no litigation, and the wishes of this astute Englishwoman were carried out. NZ Truth, 27 December 1924: p. 6

The Cat-o’-Nine-Tails in New York

Part of an east side family’s equipment is a small cat-o’-nine-tails. Not quite the instrument of torture used at Delaware’s three whipping posts, but a small affair, consisting of a short wooden handle and a few leathern thongs. The implement is designed for family discipline, and waved threateningly when east side children misbehave in the presence of their parents. All east side house furnishers sell the domestic cat-o’-nine-tails at 15 cents or less – New York Letter The Wichita [KS] Daily Eagle 15 July 1890: p. 6 

WHALEBONE CLOTH. – M. Schultz, of Prague, has taken out a patent for the manufacture of a kind of cloth from whalebone. We are informed that the cloth obtained by this process bears a strong resemblance to silk, and is particularly adapted for making cravats, under waistcoats, ribbons, &c. Freedom’s Journal [New York, NY] 1 August 1828

A little cake dipped in sherry wine will, it is said, restore the lost voice of a canary bird. That’s nice medicine. Albany [NY] Evening Journal 15 February 1870: p. 2


A frightful accident happened to the “Female Blondin” at Highbury Barn on yesterday evening. She has for some time past been engaged at this place of amusement, and was last night performing on the high rope, when she fell to the ground. She had gone through the greater part of her performance, having walked across the rope with a pole, wheeled a barrow along it, and walked across in a sack, when she started holding a pole loaded with fireworks, and Catharine wheel at each end. She had got three parts of the way across the rope, when the fireworks at one end of the pole seemed to give way and destroy her balance. She fell, but caught on the rope with her leg. Unfortunately, she was unable to support herself and the next instant she came down with a heavy thud on to the gravel walk beneath. She was of course taken up immediately, but was perfectly insensible, and when our reporter left not the slightest hopes were entertained of her recover.


This morning at eight o’clock Mr. Claremont, Mr. Saul, and Mr. King, met in consultation at Highbury Barn, and it was discovered that her chief injury is fracture of the neck of the femur (thigh-bone), but there are others. She was sensible, and at her own request has since been removed to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where she now remains an inmate. The unfortunate woman was to have performed tonight at Wolverhampton. There was but one feeling prevailed, which was, that the sooner these dangerous sensation exhibitions are put a stop to the better. Evening Star [London, England] 15 August 1862: p. 3  [Later reports stated that she could no longer practice her profession because of the injury.]


“Have you any children, madam?” inquired a sharp landlord of a lady in modest black who was looking at one of his houses, just finished and in perfect order.

“Yes,” said the gentle mother. “I have seven, sir, but they are all in the churchyard!”

A sign and the dew of a tear gave impressiveness to the painful remark, and without further parley the bargain was closed.

Her little flock were waiting for her in the churchyard around the corner, and were delighted to hear that she had found a snug house so speedily. The landlord says he shall never trust a woman in black after this. Anti-Slavery Bugle [New Lisbon, OH] 6 October 1855: p. 4 

CANINE SAGACITY The truth of the following instance of the sagacity of a dog, we can substantiate in every particular, and it is, we think, well worthy of notice. A little daughter of one of our prominent citizens has a well arranged baby house upon which she bestowed much care, tastefully dressing the various doll occupants thereof in the morning, and divesting them of their clothing at night. This practice she has followed for some months. The pet dog usually set by her at night, and superintended the work of preparing the dolls for bed. One evening last week the girl was away to tea, and did not return in season to perform the practical duties to the babies. The dog awaited her arrival until the dolls’ hour of retiring had passed, and knowing that they ought to be taken care of, he carefully went to work and undressed them—five in number—without injuring the dresses in the least. How he did it we know not, but it is a fact. [Nantucket Inquirer.] Mineral Point [WI] Weekly Tribune 5 July 1859: p. 1

“What impudence !” exclaimed Mrs. Shoddy. “Here is a man applying by letter for a situation as coachman, who signs himself ‘ Your obedient servant,’ and I have not even thought of hiring him yet.” Household Words Vol. 5, Charles Dickens, 1882

 The gentlemen disrobing for the bath in the evenings in the basement of the new Y.M.C.A. building, are certainly ignorant of the treacherous transparency of the ground glass windows by electric light, or they would hang a few curtains. Cincinnati [OH] Post 14 January 1892: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Even if it would have brought her into the clutches of the Holy Inquisition, Mrs Daffodil believes that she would have used the family cat-o-nine-tails on his insufferable little Majesty. The young King was Alphonso XIII [1886-1931], under the regency of his mother Queen Maria Christina of Austria, whom we have previously met in a post about a cursed opal ring.  King Alphonso lost his throne to a Prime Minister and a Republic, which perhaps would not have happened had he not offended his subjects by refusing to bow to them.