From a modern perspective, many grim aspects of Victorian life are best left in old, unsmiling photos. Impoverished children working in mines and factories, rigid class structures and the idea of “separate spheres” in which men were strong and women were weak, come to mind.
Heavily boned corsets that sent oxygen-deprived “hysterical” women to the “fainting couches” are best left to history, too. And let’s not forget life on the beach in what has been considered Galveston’s “Golden Age.”
“The only activity for women in the ocean involved jumping through the waves while holding onto a rope attached to an off-shore buoy,” according to Victoriana Magazine. “Their clumsy Victorian- and Edwardian-style bathing suits were often quite burdensome.
“Women typically dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar, and worn over bloomers trimmed with ribbons and bows. The bathing suit was accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers and fancy caps.”
But the Victorian era also had many redeeming qualities. “It was the time of the world’s first Industrial Revolution, political reform and social change, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, a railway boom and the first telephone and telegraph,” according to history.com.
And some Victorian traits are worth emulating, not the least of which are elegance, architecture, ingenuity, decorum, civility and the fact people of that time enjoyed a good party.
“The Victorian era was a time of calling cards and letters of introduction; starched collars and corsets; croquet and garden parties; and afternoon teas, cotillions and fancy-dress balls,” according to the Smithsonian Institution.
But what’s so fascinating about it all is how a small island in Texas still is so heavily influenced by the reign of a queen who served as the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901.
Although much has been lost to time and neglect, Galveston has managed to preserve historic buildings despite storms, and boasts one of the largest, most well-preserved and historically significant concentrations of Victorian architecture in the United States.
Each year, thousands of people travel to the island to revel in all things Victorian during Dickens on The Strand, a festival created to help shine a light on historic architecture.
Among those creators was Evangeline Whorton, who with a few others, defied business interests and city officials who wanted to demolish some historic buildings.
Last year, the pandemic forced the cancellation of Dickens on The Strand. But we hope fans of the festival and the island’s Victorian past can get their fix in this issue.
From our convenient perch in the present, let’s celebrate the good and acknowledge the bad of that bygone era.