Revisited Myth # 34: Colonial women were put in the pillory for the crime of showing their ankles.

Punishment:  Karen Clancey Steve Hollaway 2001 CWJ. Photo By David M Doody

While there have been many instances throughout history when women didn’t bare their ankles, the colonial era was not one of them. “Skirt length,” says Linda Baumgarten, curator of textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, “was a matter of both fashion and occasion. Formal clothing usually has longer skirts. Work clothing was nearly always shorter for practical reasons.” For example, polonaise style gowns in the 1770s and early 1780s are shorter and reveal plenty of ankle. And during the work day, a woman might hike up her skirt and tuck the hem into her waist to get it out of the way. No one went to the pillory for showing her ankles.

P.S. I loved this picture so much, we used it on the back cover of DEATH BY PETTICOAT.

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2 Responses to Revisited Myth # 34: Colonial women were put in the pillory for the crime of showing their ankles.

  1. James Meek says:

    There were a number of offenses for which Delaware law in colonial times specified the pillory as one of the punishments, but indecent exposure was not one of them.

    Look at the google copy of the Laws of the state of Delaware: 1700-1797 for pillory

    http://books.google.com/books?id=dMpJAQAAIAAJ&q=pillory#v=onepage&q=pillory&f=false

    Offenses punished with the pillory include subborning witnesses, blasphemy, a woman bearing a bastard child of a Negro (both woman and man were punished), counterfitting, blasphemy and theft

    In the latter case the prisoner also wore a Roman letter ‘T’.

    Additional punishments include whipping and cutting off the ears of the prisoner and nailing them to the pillory.

    Delaware continued to use whipping as a punishment until relatively recently (1960’s?).

    The New Castle’s whipping post/pillory was shown in 1868 in Harper’s magazine with a crowd watching http://nc-chap.org/maps/images/whippingPost1000h.jpg

    In an oral history of Agnes Hewlett Megginson (7/10/1887 – 6/1988) she recalls that prisoners convicted of stealing would
    be whipped, then placed in the pillory.
    http://nc-chap.org/oralhistory/megginson.php (part 4, 1:30)

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