Fashionable Lady of Belleville, circa 1881-3

Belleville, Ontario Lady. Collection of the author.

This is “Cassie”, wearing a stunning bonnet and gown consistent with the period 1881-1883, if she was style conscious. The profile of the dress would have been long and slim with a form-hugging skirt and only the ghost of a bustle. The high neck and fussy fringe are also haute-mode for the early ’80’s. Hats of this kind were inspired by European old master paintings.


Also note the jewellry. Cassie has pierced ears and modest drop earrings. The brooch is of the “bar” type, extremely popular in the late 19th century. Many examples, costume and fine, are offered by dealers today.

Before the twentieth century, the name “Cassie” was usually a nickname for girls baptized Cassandra. In Greek myths Cassandra was a beautiful woman with the power of prophesy. After she rejected the advances of the god Apollo, she was cursed. Although she could still see the future she was no longer believed. Cassandra foretold the fall of Troy and her own death, but was powerless to prevent it. In literature, the name is synonymous with tragedy and particularly with gifted but doomed women. It was a strange choice for a baby girl. I have often wondered if some forgotten Victorian novel popularized it.

There are two potential Cassies in Belleville in 1881. Cassie Cole was born in 1849 and was living in Belleville with her widowed mother, Elizabeth. This Cassie would have been in her early thirties when the photograph was taken. She is the most likely candidate. However, there was another Cassie, Cassie McGarry, a seamstress born in 1861, daughter of Thomas McGarry, a builder. She would have been in her early twenties.

The photographer, J.H. Ford, is found under Belleville in directories from about 1879 to about 1884, according to Glen C. Phillips.

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Filed under Material culture, Photographica, Photography

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