Title page for ETD etd-11042008-143741

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Aldridge, Ryan Jerel
URN etd-11042008-143741
Title Dress in the United States of America as Depicted in Postmortem Photographs, 1840-1900
Degree Master of Science (M.S.)
Department Human Ecology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Kuttruff, Jenna Tedrick Committee Chair
Belleau, Bonnie D. Committee Member
Pierce, Sarah H. Committee Member
  • dress
  • postmortem photographs
  • nineteenth century
Date of Defense 2008-08-04
Availability unrestricted
The results of a content and historical analysis of American postmortem photographs from 1840 to 1900 found in Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America and Sleeping Beauty II: Grief, Bereavement and The Family In Memorial Photography American & European Traditions by Stanley Burns (1990 and 2002) indicate that day dress was the most popular form of postmortem dress depicted in the photographs. A comparison of the findings from this examination of the dress of 89 deceased individuals depicted in 84 postmortem photographs with descriptions of dress based on nineteenth century archaeological burial remains and portraits of living individuals indicates that deceased individuals were most often photographed and buried in their Sunday’s finest or nicest items of day dress. Deceased individuals were most likely photographed in their burial dress and the appearance gave the impression of a respectable final portrait.

Postmortem dress was described and categorized by decades from 1840 to 1900 and by age and gender including adult male, adult female, child male, child female and infants. Postmortem dress was compared to period photographs, illustrations, and descriptions of extant burial dress. Relationships were examined between postmortem dress and nineteenth century cultural belief systems. Differences in postmortem dress are closely associated with differences in the dates of the photographs and the age and gender of deceased individuals. Day dress, the most popular category of postmortem dress, followed fashion cycles over time and differences in postmortem dress were associated with differences in fashionable dress styles during the period. Postmortem dress depicted in postmortem photographs was influenced by many societal and individual level factors. Many of the customs and beliefs held by individuals, families, and friends in the nineteenth century influenced choices of postmortem dress. Postmortem dress is a reflection of nineteenth century American culture and the study of postmortem dress leads to a better understanding of customs and beliefs associated with this period.

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