Sunday, July 17, 2016

Abigail Adams and Her Dimity Pocket, late 18th Century

I look forward to beginning my tenure as the Andrew Oliver Research Fellow for 2016-2017 at the Massachusetts Historical Society ( in August.  Recently, while on site mapping out my research strategy with the curator, Anne Bentley, I was fortunate to take a bit of a detour and view an accessory associated with Abigail Adams (1744-1818), the second First Lady of the United States. [1
The MHS has a pieced dimity pocket, which belonged to her in the late 18th century. The pocket is 14 inches long and comprised of eight pieces of dimity. 
According to family tradition, she may have used the pocket into the early 19th. The maker is unknown. Cotton tapes serve as ties. It is its very simplicity and functionality which renders the piece so striking. There is no excess, nothing which is not needed for its intended use. [2]

According to Eighteen Maxims of Neatness and Order, written by Theresa Tidy in 1819, the essentials for a pocket include:
It is also expedient to carry about you a purse, a thimble, a pincushion, a pencil, a knife and a pair of scissors, which will not only be an inexpressible source of comfort and independence, by removing the necessity of borrowing, but will secure the privilege of not lending these indispensable articles. [3]

My project “Reading Textiles as Text: An Examination of Pre-1750s Survivals at MHS” will set the experiences of fashion, consumerism and consumption within a cosmopolitan Atlantic world that carried the elegant fancies of fashionable London to the gentility of provincial British America. The garments and textiles housed at the MHS offer insights into the ongoing debate over the process of Anglicization in pre-Revolutionary America. I will share information as the research unfolds.

1.    For the Adams papers, see:

2.    For additional information on the pocket, see:

3.    For information on pockets, see:

My thanks to Curator, Anne Bentley, for her ongoing assistance with MHS textiles. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.