Social protocol ordered the day’s events and how they were carried out for British aristocrats of the Victorian era.
Viewers of the British television program “Downton Abbey,” which airs in the United States on PBS, can attest to the strong influence those protocols had in America, too.
They’re being celebrated in two exhibits on view at the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center through July.
“The Victorian Era: The Queen’s Way” and “Votes for Women: From Seneca Falls to the 19th Amendment” examine many of the social graces of the time through clothing, accessories and other everyday items.
Curated by Carolyn Warnock, “The Victorian Era: The Queen’s Way” includes beautiful, elaborate dresses typical of those worn by aristocratic women of the Victorian era, which cover the years from 1837 to 1900, the reign of Queen Victoria of England.
“These dresses came from the Seaton family in Ashland,” she said. “The family traveled extensively. These dresses weren’t worn in Ashland but were worn in Europe and major U.S. cities.”
She said while true aristocratic families are British, influences of the aristocracy and of the Victorian era spread to the United States.
“Every aspect of your day was geared toward social rules,” she said.
A display of fans is accompanied by a list of guidelines showing what each gesture of the fan communicates from the lady to her suitor.
Quilts provide the backdrop to much of the display, which also includes men’s hats, a child’s sailor suit like the one made popular when worn by Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward, hats, toys, christening gowns and other apparel.
The exhibit naturally leads into “Votes for Women: From Seneca Falls to the 19th Amendment,” curated by Heather Akers.
The exhibit takes the viewer into a much freer, more progressive time in history that included suffrage protests, from the 1840s to 1920.
Many of the dresses resemble those appearing in the Victorian exhibit, but a dress from 1920 is much more revealing, reflecting the freedom women celebrated when they won the right to vote in 1920.
The hat accompanying the dress is a cloche design — one with no brim that fits close to the head.
“Previous hats had larger brims and women wore their hair longer,” Akers said. “The cloche hats came along when many women were cutting their hair short.”
The exhibit also includes a collection of hat pins, which often were confiscated during suffrage marches because they are so large and threatening, they could easily be used as a weapon.
Shoes have a prominent role in the exhibit, as marching for rights was common, Akers said.
There also is an anti-suffrage portion which includes household utensils.
“There were those who opposed suffrage for women because they thought it threatened the woman’s place in the home,” Akers said. “And also the men’s. They were afraid the roles of men and women would be reversed.”
Highlands Museum and Discover Center is at 1620 Winchester Ave. in Ashland. For more information, call (606) 329-8888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEE WARD can be reached at email@example.com (606) 326-2661.