Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
History, Published June 5, 2012
Read May 2012, 144 pp.
Every day stories from American history that are not true are repeated in museums and classrooms across the country. Some are outright fabrications; others contain a kernel of truth that has been embellished over the years. Collaborating with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mary Miley Theobald has uncovered the truth behind many widely repeated myth-understandings in our history in Death by Petticoat including:
* Hat makers really were driven mad. They were poisoned by the mercury used in making hats from furs. Their symptoms included hallucinations, tremors, and twitching, which looked like insanity to people of the 17th and 18th centuries–and the phrase “mad as a hatter” came about.
* The idea that portrait painters gave discounts if their subjects posed with one hand inside the vest (so they didn’t have to paint fingers and leading to the saying that something “costs an arm and a leg”) is strictly myth. It isn’t likely that Napoleon, King George III, or George Washington were concerned about getting a discount from their portrait painters.
*Pregnant women secluded themselves indoors, uneven stairs were made to trip up burglars, people bathed once a year, women had tiny waists, apprenticeships lasted seven years–Death by Petticoat reveals the truth about these hysterical historical myth-understandings.
This was a fun read that debunked a lot of myths in American History that I had never even heard of, but at first glance made sense. It would be a great addition to a tour of the historical northeast. I liked that the explanations were short and concise with a little humor mixed in and it is obvious that a lot of research went into this book. However, the real history buff will be left wanting more.
Thanks to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.