Laura F. Edwards’s new book, Only the Clothes on Her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States, is an innovative recasting of U.S. legal and economic history through the power of clothing for those who lacked power and status in American society.

This new book offers engaging stories of people's lives, combining material culture and social history with legal history.

Hear from the author at our free book talk and submit your questions. This event will be followed by a book signing.

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Add to Calendar 08/04/2022 19:00:00 08/04/2022 20:00:00 America/New_York Ford Evening Book Talk: Only the Clothes on Her Back

Laura F. Edwards’s new book, Only the Clothes on Her Back: Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States, is an innovative recasting of U.S. legal and economic history through the power of clothing for those who lacked power and status in American society.

This new book offers engaging stories of people's lives, combining material culture and social history with legal history.

Hear from the author at our free book talk and submit your questions. This event will be followed by a book signing.

REGISTER

In-PersonVirtual

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Cost

Free

About the Book

What can dresses, bedlinens, waistcoats, pantaloons, shoes, and kerchiefs tell us about the legal status of the least powerful members of American society? In the hands of eminent historian Laura F. Edwards, these textiles tell a revealing story of ordinary people and how they made use of their material goods' economic and legal value in the period between the Revolution and the Civil War.

Only the Clothes on Her Back uncovers practices, commonly known then, but now long forgotten, which made textiles—clothing, cloth, bedding, and accessories, such as shoes and hats—a unique form of property that people without rights could own and exchange.

The value of textiles depended on law, and it was law that turned these goods into a secure form of property for marginalized people, who not only used these textiles as currency, credit, and capital, but also as entree into the new republic's economy and governing institutions. Edwards grounds the laws relating to textiles in engaging stories from the lives of everyday Americans. Wives wove linen and kept the proceeds, enslaved people traded coats and shoes, and poor people invested in fabrics, which they carefully preserved in trunks. Edwards shows that these stories are about far more than cloth and clothing; they reshape our understanding of law and the economy in America.

Based on painstaking archival research from fifteen states, Only the Clothes on Her Back reconstructs this hidden history of power, tracing it from the governing order of the early republic in which textiles' legal principles flourished to the textiles' legal downfall in the mid-nineteenth century when they were crowded out by the rising power of rights.

About the Author

Laura F. Edwards is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.

She is the award-winning author of A Legal History of the Civil War and Reconstruction: A Nation of Rights, The People and Their Peace: Legal Culture and the Transformation of Inequality in the Post-Revolutionary South, and Scarlett Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era.

This is her first project that connects her longstanding needlework interests with her historical work.

Sponsored By The Ford Motor Company Fund

Sponsored By The Ford Motor Company Fund

Mount Vernon has enjoyed a very special relationship with the Ford Motor Company dating back more than 90 years. We are grateful for their generous support and we applaud their abiding respect for American heritage.

Contact

Stephen A. McLeod

Director, Library Programs

703.799.8686

smcleod@mountvernon.org

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