Revisited Myth #96: Because trans-Atlantic communication was so slow, the Battle Of New Orleans occurred after the War of 1812 had ended.

August 20, 2016



Thanks go to Ralph Eshelman, a historian who specializes in the War of 1812 and who busts this common myth, below. It’s one we find in many history books. I confess, when I was teaching, I presented this to my students as fact. Sorry kids . . .

This commonly held myth is based on the fact that the American and Great Britain peace commissions agreed to terms of a treaty on December 24, 1814. But the British were fearful of the US Congress failing to agree to the recommendations of their own peace commission such as occurred with the Jay Treaty. So the British demanded that all hostiles would cease only after the treaty had been ratified and exchanged by both countries.

This is very clear in the wordage of the treaty as found in the first sentence of Article 2: “Immediately after the ratifications of this treaty by both parties, as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the armies, squadrons, officers, subjects and citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities.”

Great Britain ratified the treaty on December 30. The treaty did not reach Washington City until February 14, 1815 and was not ratified by congress until February 16. The United States and Great Britain exchanged ratifications of the treaty on February 17. At this time the treaty became binding. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, forty days before the war was officially over and hostilities were to cease.



Revisited Myth # 95: They’re called “sadirons” because ironing was such a hated chore that any woman would be sad to iron.

August 7, 2016


A reader wrote: “Does anyone know the reason that irons were called “sad irons” in the 19th century? I’ve heard that ironing was a sad business and any woman who ironed would be sad.”

The dictionaries should be enough to debunk this myth. The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s give the word’s origins. The sadiron (today it is one word) is one type of iron. There are many others, developed for special uses, like goffering irons that pressed ruffles or specially shaped irons for sleeves. The OED says that the sadiron is a smoothing iron, solid and flat, as opposed to a box iron that is hollow and meant to hold coals (so it didn’t need to be heated and reheated on the stove). It says that the word sad once meant heavy or compact. Webster’s defines sadiron as a flatiron pointed at both ends and having a removable handle, and dates the term to 1738.

Evidently an American woman named Mrs. Potts invented a removable wooden handle in 1871 that made it easier to iron–it didn’t burn your hand (women used rags or potholders but still, those things must have been dangerously hot!), and you could put one sadiron on the stove to heat while you moved the handle to the hot one.


ore iron history, from Dr. Tina Brewster Wray, Curator of Collections at the White River Valley Museum:

In the first century BC, the Chinese became the first to apply heat in the process of pressing cloth, using long-handled metal pans filled with charcoal. Heated irons did not appear in the West until the 17th century. Since that time, a wide variety of irons have been developed in the attempt to find a solution to the problem of how to heat an iron efficiently — and protect both the user and the cloth against burns.

The sadiron — whose name derives from the Old English word “sald,” meaning solid — first appeared in the 17th century. The basic sadiron is a shaped piece of metal, with a polished base and attached metal handle. These irons were heated in front of an open fire or on a stove. The undesirable aspect of this, however, was that it heated the handle as well, so they had to be held with a potholder or thick glove. Sadirons were heavy, usually ranging from 5 to 9 pounds, and the weight contributed as much as the heat to the pressing process.

The first significant improvement of the sadiron was achieved by Mary Florence Potts of Ottumwa, Iowa. In 1870, Mrs. Potts was granted a patent for a sadiron pointed at both ends, making it handy to iron in both directions. The following year, Mrs. Potts endeared herself to housewives when she patented a sadiron with a detachable handle, thus allowing the iron to be heated without also heating the handle. These sadirons were sold in sets of 3, with a single handle.

One of the major drawbacks to all sadirons, however, was that they cooled off fairly rapidly, thus it was always necessary to have several irons so that one could always be re-heating. One solution to this problem was the “self-heating” irons.

The simplest of these was the charcoal iron, whose hollow interior could be filled with smoldering coals. In addition to being rather smoky, it was difficult to get a sufficient draft to keep the coals burning. For this reason, they were equipped with high, spout-like openings, so that the coals could be fanned by inserting a bellows, or by swinging the iron back and forth vigorously. In the late 1800s, other types of slef-heating irons were developed that used gasoline and alcohol as fuel, which was stored in small metal tanks at the back of the iron. The major drawback to these was the smell, and the tendency for them to “pop-off” suddenly when escaping fumes ignited, which not only frightened, but also singed the user.

The first electric iron was patented in 1882, but was far from an instant success, as most households lacked electricity — and those that did had power only at night to run lights. In addition, these early electric models were difficult to regulate. None had thermostats until the late 1920s.

So, as sad as many of us are to spend time ironing, that it not the origin of the word.

Revisited Myth # 94: Hair receivers were dressing table accessories meant for gathering hair with which to make hair art.

July 30, 2016


Thanks go to Ashley Rogers who sent this question: “I work in a historic home where I wrangle a corps of 30 volunteers, and keeping their wandering myths in line is a full-time job. I’ve gone through your site, and to my knowledge, I haven’t found anything about hair receivers. This is a contentious collection piece in my museum, because just like at most historic homes, many of my docents tell visitors that hair receivers were for gathering hair with which to make hair art. Bunk, I say! And here’s why: the hair that came off of a brush would be too tangled and broken to make fine hair art with. Also, hair art is so often associated with Victorian mourning practices that very often these pieces were made from locks from the deceased. Where do you weigh in on this issue? I’d love to see it covered, if the mid-to-late Victorian Era is not too far past your preferred time period.”

You’ve answered your own question so nicely, Ashley, that I consider this a “guest blog.” I can only add to your conclusion something that I located in the library, a book you may have seen: THE ART OF HAIR WORK (1989), which reprints Mark Campbell’s 1875 book plus excerpts from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. These pages show how to make numerous braid patterns and jewelry, specifically rings, necklaces, and bracelets, from hair. But all the hair is to be purchased from suppliers or, less commonly, cut from the head of a loved one, living or deceased. A nice thick, long strand is required, not broken, short, single strands collected from from a brush or comb. Those could not be gathered into a hank of hair suitable for jewelry-making.

So what happened to the hair in hair receivers? This tangled mess of hair could be saved until there was enough to stuff in a tiny pillow for use as a pin cushion or into a hairnet to make a ratt, a ball of hair that could add height or fullness to one’s hairdo. “While some say that hair saved in receivers was also used for hair jewelry, love tokens, and mourning mementos, Lori Verge, curator of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, states those items required straight, not tangled hair. She believes that women used cut hair (rather than combed out hair) for those purposes. Ms. Verge also reports that her grandmother used a hair receiver as late as the 1950s.” ( Also see (the official Victorian Hairwork Society website) for an article by Susan and Jim Harran for Antique Week, Dec. 1997.


Melissa Nesbitt says:
August 25, 2012 at 9:49 am (Edit)
I’m glad to see an answer to this. We also have hair receivers in our historic house museum. I’ve never been told they were used for making hair art but rather the ratts as you said. But I’m glad to know how hair art was made as I had not researched that before. Speaking of hair, we have in our collection a long blonde braid that is a false hair piece though made from human hair. It’s interesting to me that hair pieces are not a “new” thing at all.🙂

Eric Koontz says:
December 7, 2012 at 10:59 am (Edit)
Hair Receivers were used to make a hair Switch or as you say hair piece.

Cassidy says:
August 25, 2012 at 10:12 am (Edit)
Ever since I started looking into hair jewelry for an exhibition I worked on, I’ve noticed that people really, really like the idea of it as personal mementoes. Nearly every piece of hair jewelry I’ve come across with a provenance has a story about it being someone or other’s hair and they made it themselves, etc. I guess it’s more interesting than “this bracelet was bought in a store” or “this watch chain was made with hair from a supplier”.

Kathy Bundy says:
August 25, 2012 at 11:38 am (Edit)
Thank you for using the word “hank”, as in hank of hair. Also thanks for the correct spelling of ratt. Details make all the difference.

As a sentimental mom, I have saved hanks of hair I harvested from my children when they were nearly grown, my son’s is a braid of about 12″ long. Don’t know if I’ll make jewelry, but it’s sure to freak somebody out after I’m gone. We won’t even talk about baby teeth.

Erin says:
August 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm (Edit)
This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a hair receiver! What a great idea. I wish I’d had one on my dresser when I had long hair. Question for you and Kathy: what’s the spelling history of rat/ratt? The OED only gives the former spelling, and all seven example sentences (from 1863 to 1996) use the word with only one “t” (also, the OED says it’s a “U.S.” term rather than “chiefly U.S.” — so what are hair pads called in the UK? Canadians also say “rat[t]”.

marymiley says:
August 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm (Edit)
Sorry, Erin, I can’t answer that question about spelling. I can only say that in almost every instance when you see the word in print, it is spelled both ways, like “ratt (also rat)” or vice versa. Since the more scholarly-looking places seemed to prefer the double T, I used that one. Also it makes for less confusion. I wondered if this term had anything to do with the phrase “rat’s nest,” something my grandmother would say back in the ’50s when my hair was all tangled, but I haven’t seen any solid connection.

Mary Miley says:
August 30, 2012 at 8:06 am (Edit)
Now I’m getting ads from China in my email box, trying to sell me human hair!

Gemma says:
September 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm (Edit)
Erin: I’ve never noticed this before (and will definitely use in the future) but to the right of the definition of many words in the OED is a link “thesaurus”. For rat it suggests: roll (1532), cushion (1774), toque (1817) and system. Each links straight to the relevant definition of the word with quotations.

Mary Miley says:
September 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm (Edit)
You must be talking about the online version of the OED, which I have never seen. I just use the huge, multi-volume set at the library. That feature sounds wonderful. I wish I had access to it.

Carlos Talavera says:
December 3, 2012 at 10:13 am (Edit)
As a costume designer having done some research for period dress/styles; Ratts were used to roll the hair into pretty elaborate styles during the late Victorian and into the Edwardian period (think of the Gibson Girl illustrations with the hair almost twice as wide as the face). Not every woman was blessed with a ridiculously full head of perfectly setting hair. I am not sure if they did offer “rolls” of hair for sale that you could use (much later they were made of nylon mesh over a wire frame) but what better than your own hair that matched your color perfectly?

Sarah Kirton says:
October 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm (Edit)
My grandmothers both hung the wads of collected hair outdoors for the birds (and probably the squirrels) to use in their nests, starting in early spring to a bit after mid-summer. They both used hair receivers.

Mary Miley says:
October 8, 2013 at 8:43 am (Edit)
Hi, Sarah. My grandmother did that too. Only she would gather the hair from her hairbrush and put it on a tree near her bird bath and feeders. She could call the birds and they would come. It always amazed me to watch. Thanks for the nice memory!


Revisited Myth # 93: The word “Mayday” comes from the French “M’aidez,” or “Help me!”

July 24, 2016
Marconi, inventor of the radio telegraph

Marconi, inventor of the radio telegraph

Not a myth–this is true! A quick check of the OED shows the origin of this English word is French for “Help me!” The Oxford English Dictionary says it is a phonetic reproduction of the French that has become an international signal of distress. The International Radio Telegraph Convention of 1927 lists 51 Rules, and this is among them. So the word “mayday” was officially born in 1927.

As more than one alert reader pointed out, the French is wrong. “Help me!” in French would be “Aidez-moi!” But then, Marconi was Italian. And if it wasn’t his fault, the International Radio Telegraph Convention was held in Washington, D.C., where French was not exactly a second language. So we’ll overlook the grammar.

For more on grammar, see below. 


Ken says:
August 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm (Edit)
m’aider (to help me) can appear only in the company of a verb: Il faut m’aider (You must help me ). In French, Help me! (as quoted) is Aidez-moi! But, I suppose, Marconi was Italian, not French.

marymiley says:
August 19, 2012 at 8:50 am (Edit)
Good point! You get an A for the grammar quiz!

Edouard Bernard says:
May 1, 2014 at 11:35 pm (Edit)
Strictly speaking, and speaking as someone who is majority French and a French speaker,… not true. “M’aidez” is a perfectly adequate response to danger stimulation. After all… if you were drowning in the middle of a pond, you wouldn’t bother shouting out “You must help me!”… you would simply shout “HELP!”:-)

stanito says:
June 3, 2013 at 9:23 am (Edit)
I had no idea, thanks forsharing this about Mayday😉

danman says:
December 12, 2013 at 8:59 am (Edit)
It means, “come help me”.

gshenaut says:
February 6, 2015 at 11:10 am (Edit)
It’s not m’aideZ that mayday comes from, it’s m’aideR (as in [venez] m’aider). So to some extent, it is after all a myth that it comes from m’aidez.

Thoughts: 5.1.15 | amendezvillamil says:
May 1, 2015 at 5:02 pm (Edit)
[…] Per my coworker Mariel, the word mayday is derived from “m’aidez,” French for help me. Fact. […]

What do you think?

Revisited Myth # 92: An unmarried girl wore her bonnet streamers loose to attract a beau.

July 10, 2016


Thanks to Katie Lange for inquiring about this myth concerning bonnet streamers.

Bonnets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had ties made of ribbon, lace, or fabric (those were called lappets). When they were not tied under the chin, they might hang down the back or get pinned up. During the late nineteenth century, particularly 1865-1870s, long streamers down the back became a popular addition to hats and bonnets. According to the myth, the fluttering of these wispy streamers from the back of a hat were intended to encourage a courtship with a young man. An attracted beau would follow the young lady home and ask the father for permission to court.

Cute myth. No evidence. First of all, seeing an attractive girl and following her home was assuredly NOT the way to impress her parents. Second, these streamers were popular on hats of married women as well.


While I found no documentation for this myth, I did, however, come across a possible origin. During the nineteenth century, these long ribbon streamers were sometimes known as “follow-me-lads,” according to Althea Mackenzie’s HATS AND BONNETS (2006). Perhaps the tongue-in-cheek nickname led to the myth.

I discovered, on a recent trip to Lancaster County, PA, that the Amish in that region have a custom that sounds vaguely related to this one. At 16, a girl will begin to wear a black prayer cap to church, indicating her coming of age. This could also be seen as a subtle notification that she is available for courting, although I was told that few Amish girls marry that young.


Revisited Myth # 91: Popcorn was the first breakfast cereal.

July 2, 2016

Park Ranger Kevin Hanley wrote: “Outside of the 9 to 5 job, I’m a trustee for a historic Dutch house in Brooklyn. As part of my research into Dutch stuff, I’ve come repeatedly upon a reference to the Dutch use of popcorn. According to the texts, the Dutch didn’t know what to make or do with popcorn. Dutch wives apparently improvised and, supposedly, placed the popcorn in a bowl and added milk. Viola! The first cereal – or so it is claimed. Can you verify or bust this myth?”

This is a tough nut to crack. First, it’s terribly illogical. Pour milk on popcorn and it becomes a soggy glop. (I’ve tried.) Searching for historical underpinnings to this myth yields nothing in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, but see Myth #70–popcorn doesn’t become significant until the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was not something Indians introduced at the Pilgrim’s harvest feast we now call Thanksgiving. 

There is at least one somewhat historical mention of eating popcorn with milk, and it comes in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, page 32-33, a book set in the late 1850s but written in the 1930s. The author mentions that young Almonzo (who would become her husband) liked popcorn and milk. “You can fill a glass to the brim with milk and fill another glass of the same size brim full of popcorn, and then you can put all the popcorn kernel by kernel into the milk and the milk will not run over. You cannot do this with bread. Popcorn and milk are the only two things that will go into the same place. Then, too, they are good to eat.” Of course, she also repeats the myth about Indians and Pilgrims and popcorn at Thanksgiving, so she is not wholly reliable. Even if we take her words at face value, she isn’t talking about breakfast cereal; she talking about a science experiment that tastes good.


The first packaged, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals were invented in the 1870s and made of oats and wheat. Cereal took a turn for the better in the early years of the twentieth century when the Kellogg brothers accidentally invented wheat flakes and corn flakes. None of these cereal pioneers used popcorn, presumably because it doesn’t work well. That doesn’t mean no one ever ate popcorn with milk, but it doesn’t seem to have been common or popular enough to call it the “first breakfast cereal.” 


12 Responses to Myth # 91: Popcorn was the first breakfast cereal.
Jean says:
June 30, 2012 at 7:33 am (Edit)
Thanks for pointing out that the Little House series is not reliable as historical fact. We need to keep in mind that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were written decades after the experiences. The books were also heavily edited by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura & Almanzo’s daughter.

Don’t get me wrong, the series is wonderful. There are working historians who trace their start interest in the Little House books!

Keep straightening us out with this blog!


marymiley says:
June 30, 2012 at 8:41 am (Edit)
Thank you, Jean. I’m straightening myself out with this blog too!Lots of things I assumed were true, I’ve found are not, and some things I thought sounded fishy turned out to be true!

As for the Little House books, yes they are WONDERFUL and inspiring, but that doesn’t mean they are historically perfect. The American Girl series is great too, but perhaps not as engaging because it isn’t “real.”

Pamela Toler (@pdtoler) says:
June 30, 2012 at 10:37 am (Edit)
I can’t speak to when popcorn was first used as a breakfast cereal, but I know my grandfather poured milk on left over popcorn and ate it for breakfast.

marymiley says:
June 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm (Edit)
I’m sure it happened on occasion. Popcorn seems traceable back to the mid-19th century. But since there isn’t any evidence for widespread practice of eating it with milk for breakfast, I’d hesitate to call it the first breakfast cereal. It does seem clear that it was not a colonial Dutch practice.

Keith Doms says:
July 4, 2012 at 9:16 am (Edit)
I remember reading about popcorn being used as a breakfast cerial by the Colonests in the World Book Encyclopedia Young Persons set in the the late 1960s.


Sei Paulson says:
May 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm (Edit)
Could it possibly have been “parched” corn? A recipe for parched corn is included in Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden (originally published as “Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians,” 1917). It’s a little like modern corn nuts, in that the corn poofs out. I imagine in milk it would be a little like corn puffs.

Mary Miley says:
May 17, 2013 at 7:39 am (Edit)
How interesting! That’s a new idea for me, anyway. How does one make parched corn? I always assumed parched corn was just dried corn, but evidently not.

Sei Paulson says:
May 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm (Edit)
You sort of… roast it on a griddle? I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to try it. ^_^

deb mcintyre says:
March 31, 2014 at 11:09 pm (Edit)
We often ate popcorn in milk with a spoon, but as an after supper snack. My grandpas family (who had this tradition) originally came from New York state – just like Almanzo!

pavan inr levels creator says:
July 5, 2015 at 10:53 pm (Edit)
I learned about this in grade school. The Native Americans probably did this. They were geniuses with corn.

Sally says:
July 23, 2015 at 7:59 am (Edit)
My mother ate warm buttered popcorn with milk on it. She acquired this tradition from her father (b abt 1872 in NH). Said it was like Oyster Stew—a salty butter in milk flavor.

Mary Miley says:
July 23, 2015 at 8:12 am (Edit)
Have you ever tried that? Wouldn’t it turn to soggy slop instantly? I tried it once and that’s what happened. Maybe my “recipe” wasn’t the same as your mom’s!


Revisited Myth # 90: Unmarried girls wore their pockets on the outside of their clothing to show off their needlework skills to prospective suitors.

June 26, 2016


Thanks to Rose Linden for submitting this myth–and yes, it is a myth.

I found an MA thesis written in 1994 by Yolanda VandeKrol of the University of Delaware entitled “The Cultural Context of Women’s Pockets” that treats this topic thoroughly. According to Ms. VandeKrol, pockets were common from the end of the 17th century until around 1800, when the neoclassical dress styles (high waists and clingy lines) made wearing interior pockets impossible. Dresses with hoops or bustles more easily accommodated pockets. By the early 1800s, pockets had been replaced by drawstring bags called reticules.

Pockets were defined in 1688 as “little bags set on the inside with a hole or slit on the outside, by which any small thing may be carried about.” They were “not visible for reasons of orderliness, privacy, and crime,” says VandeKrol. “Women did not deliberately display their pockets,” but sometimes they were briefly visible, as these prints show. Interestingly, these prints also show that women of all socio-economic levels wore pockets–even servants and slaves.

Wearing the pocket inside the clothing gave the woman’s outfit a neater appearance. It also allowed women to keep certain private items, like letters, away from prying eyes. But the biggest reason was probably fear of thieves. The cut-purse, like the pickpocket, was aptly named.

Most women made their own pockets and many were decorated with embroidery (usually floral designs) or pieced or sewn from preprinted fabric. Needlework and decorative sewing was an acceptable occupation for women and because “idleness is inexcusable in a woman, and renders her contemptible,” so young girls of all social classes were encouraged to do lots of needlework from the time they were children. Some gave decorated pockets as gifts.

To summarize, unmarried young women did not wear their pockets outside their skirts to show off their needlework or to try to catch a man. (Honestly, can you imagine a young man vetting prospective wives by examining their pockets? I don’t think young men have changed that much in three hundred years . . . I think her face and figure would rank a bit higher than her needlework display.)

Check out these images that show women or girls wearing pockets.



Erin says:
June 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm (Edit)
I always look forward to new posts. Thanks so much for keeping this up! About the end date on hanging pockets, though, the clingy neoclassical styles that led to their demise were long gone by the 1840s (and reticules long in use). See for more.

marymiley says:
June 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm (Edit)
Yes, you are correct. I must have mixed up some dates. I’ll make the change.

Liz says:
June 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm (Edit)
While I agree they were not worn on the outside, the dates are off. The straight styles of the Empire period were worn from the 1790s through the 1820’s and that is the period that reticules were used. Pockets were popular again in the 1840s-1860s when wider skirts and then hoops were worn.

marymiley says:
June 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm (Edit)
Will make that change. Let me know if it needs more work. Thanks.

Dori says:
June 19, 2012 at 12:05 am (Edit)
To add to what Liz pointed out, the pockets of the 1850’s-60’s were sewn into the skirts of the dress, not made as an accessory.

This myth seems almost related to the one I’ve heard about tying one’s apron strings in front or back depending on one’s marital status…which always seems like so much hogwash to me, but hey, I’ve been wrong before!

Anna says:
September 12, 2012 at 11:42 am (Edit)
I’ve just discovered your blog looking for info on pockets. What a great discovery! Thank you. The only thing I can add is that pockets were voluminous even later than the 1860’s. There’s a lovely description in Gwen Raverat’s memoir ‘Period Piece: A Victorian Childhood’ (she was born ca. 1885) in which she laments the loss of proper pockets in women’s clothing and lists what she kept in her pockets ‘always pencils and india-rubbers, and a small sketch book and a very large pocket-knife, besides much string, nails, horse-chestnuts, lumps of sugar, bits of bread and butter a pair of scissors and many other useful objects [She must have been a slightly unusual girl!] Sometimes even a handkerchief and for a year or two I carried around a small book of Rembrandt etchings.’

Mary Miley says:
September 12, 2012 at 11:47 am (Edit)
Wow, that was one helluva pocket Miss Gwen wore!




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