When most of us think about history, we think of great events such as wars, or about great men and women.
But sometimes the most interesting history involves everyday life. And everyday life was often difficult, especially for women during the Victorian Era.
Corsets had been widely used for centuries in Europe and North America, mostly as an undergarment.
The popularity of tight corsets, which changed the structure of women's anatomies, peaked in the Victorian Era during the early Dodge City years.
During this time, corsets were worn to attain tiny "hourglass" waists in women.
These undergarments were rigid, heavily-boned and tightly laced. Girls began wearing corsets at seven or eight keeping their waists tiny until pregnancy.
By the 1860s, corsets had as many as 60 whalebones, and towards the end of the era had over 100 bones. Wide skirts with bustles accentuated tiny waists. A major innovation in the mid-19th century was the ability for women to fasten their corsets in the front allowing them to put on corsets without assistance.
Less expensive mass produced corsets became available at the same time.
If overdone, the corset drastically altered the body's shape. This alarmed many medical doctors and "dress reformers" in the late 19th century.
Tight fitting corsets often changed the placement of, and damaged, the internal organs of their wearers. This contributed to infertility and problems during labor and childbirth.
The tight clothing women wore restricted movement and breathing, and was often the cause their frailness.
Though wearing corsets was considered by most to be necessary for good posture, modesty and fashion, dress reformists of the late 1800s, saw extreme "tight-lacing" as evil, exploiting women's sexually in the name of fashion.
Preachers railed against tight-lacing, which became increasing popular as the century went on. Doctors advised their female patients to "loosen-up," and journalists criticized this practice which placed vanity and fashion-sense over health and well-being.
Abolitionist and Temperance women insisted on sensible clothing which left them physically free to move. Some believed overly tight corsets were a male conspiracy to "make women subservient."
Getting rid of tight fitting clothing would free-up women and make them less dependent on men and marriage. Evocative of the bra-burning movement of the 1960s, in 1873, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward wrote: "Burn up the corsets! ... No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again.
Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun."
Beginning around 1900, at the close of the Victorian era, corsets gradually loosed evolving into much less restrictive girdles, which by the end of the 20th century were out of fashion.
Corsets are still worn as novelty items, such as by the Boot Hill Museum can-can dancers. Whalebones, thankfully for both women and whales, are no longer part of them.