Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boys and Girls in America

As book titles go, it was pretty catchy.

"Death by Petticoat," with the subtitle "American History Myths Debunked," was the subject of author Mary Theobald's book and talk today at the Library of Virginia,

She began by talking about how people are wedded to myths, perpetuating them long after facts have proven them wrong.

Taking examples from her book, she shared some long-held myths and the research that had taken them from "fact" to full-on myth.

Like how quilts were made to show secret codes to help slaves escape...except most of the supposed escape quilt patterns were created long after the Civil War.

Like how during colonial times, the number one cause of death for women was their petticoats catching on fire hearthside...except the number one cause of death was really disease, followed by childbirth.

Like how the position of the horse's feet in an equestrienne statue told whether the rider was wounded or died in war...except it didn't.

Theobald pointed out that many of these myths were perpetuated by guides of walking tours, ghost tours, carriage tours and the like.

In other words, tours focusing more on entertainment than education.

One of the most interesting factoids I leaned was about the term "hoe cake," which had been believed to have arisen from slaves cooking corn cakes on their hoes while working out in the field.

And while they may have done that, too, the fact is that hoe is an obsolete word for griddle.

We know that because Martha Washington said so in the cookbook she wrote.

And if you can't trust Martha Washington, who can you trust?

During the Q & A, a woman asked about separate stairs for girls and boys at an old schoolhouse she'd visited, saying the guide had claimed it was so boys wouldn't look up girls' skirts.

Even Theobald had to admit that that was probably no myth.

Plenty of things change over time and others not so much.

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