Off to Chautauqua!

27 Jun

The 2018 summer season at Chautauqua Institution opened on Saturday, June 23. Over the next ten weeks, travelers will be planning trips to the great summer assembly, either by car (using a GPS app on their phone for guidance), by air (landing at nearby Chautauqua County Airport at Jamestown), or train (Amtrack tickets can be purchased online or via a smart phone app).

Four ladies from Minnesota, ready to travel! (1920)

Travel to Chautauqua has changed a lot in the 142 years since Isabella Alden wrote Four Girls at Chautauqua. Back in 1876, the only way her lead characters in the story—Eurie, Ruth, Marion, and Flossy—could get to Chautauqua was by train. And preparing for their trip wasn’t as easy as tapping an icon on a smart phone.

Four young women walk to the train station in 1901

The first decision the ladies had to make was how much luggage to take. Practical Marion began the conversation:

“Ruth, are you going to take a trunk?”

Ruth roused herself from the contemplation of her brown gloves to say with a little start, “How you girls do rush things. Why, I haven’t decided yet that I am going.”

“Oh, you’ll go,” Marion Wilbur said. “The question is, are we to take trunks—or, rather, are you to? Because I know I shall not. I’m going to wear my black suit. Put it on on Tuesday morning—or Monday is it that we start?—and wear it until we return. I may take it off, to be sure, while I sleep, but even that is uncertain, as we may not get a place to sleep in; but for once in my life I am not going to be bored with baggage.”

“I shall take mine,” Ruth Erskine said with determination. “I don’t intend to be bored by being without baggage. It is horrid, I think, to go away with only one dress, and feel obliged to wear it whether it is suited to the weather or not, or whatever happens to it.”

An 1870 trade card for a dealer in trunks and valises.

The truth of the matter was that Marion—who barely supported herself on a teacher’s salary—didn’t own enough clothes to fill a travel trunk.

Besides, paying an expressman to deliver her trunk to the station, tipping baggage porters, and checking her trunk through to Chautauqua, was far beyond the cost of what Marion could afford.

A porter tends to a woman’s luggage and dog. (From a 1907 Tuck’s postcard)

As the eldest child of a hard-working doctor, Eurie Mitchell’s travel budget wasn’t much larger than Marion’s.

Ladies preparing to travel in 1915. (From the Indiana History Album)

Ruth Erskine and Flossy Shipley, on the other hand, were wealthy enough to insist on first-class accommodations in all her journeys. In all likelihood, they would have taken more than one trunk, each, as well as other pieces of luggage. Here’s why:

Luggage was much different in 1876 than the pull-suitcases and travel totes we use today.

Excerpt from an article in a 1906 issue of the Minneapolis Journal, illustrating the various types of trunks and cases needed to transport a lady traveler’s belongings.

For starters, different trunks or cases were made to accommodate different types of clothing and belongings.

For example, the average skirt of a woman’s dress in 1876 was made from about 8 to 10 (or more) yards of fabric. Underneath, women wore petticoats made up of an equal amount of material. These skirts, dresses, and undergarments took up a lot of room, and were usually packed in a dress trunk.

Dress trunks were made long and deep so skirts, petticoats, and dresses could be stored flat.

Shirtwaists, jackets, and suits went into a wardrobe trunk, where they could hang properly and minimize creasing and folds.

Wardrobe trunks, like this 1917 model, accommodated hanging garments like jackets and short coats. This particular wardrobe trunk would cost $701.16 in today’s money.

Hats and bonnets were transported in boxes designed to protect their shape and prevent damage to ornaments.

A standard hat box design for 1917. Adjusting for inflation, this hat box would cost $116.95 today.

Lotions and toiletries went into yet another case, fitted out with compartments for bottles and toothbrushes, and powders.

A trade card for a maker of trunks and valises, from about 1910.

Items a traveler might need to keep handy, such as clean handkerchiefs, fresh collars or cuffs, and possibly, a change of shirt waist, were carried in a valise or grip.

Trunks were sturdily built and meant to last a lifetime, despite rough treatment and wear and tear.

Some ladies also used tourist Cases to pack things to carry on the train and keep with them. Tourist cases looked very much like the small suitcases that were in use in the 1950s and 60s. The young women pictured in the photo below all have tourist cases (and one very large trunk!).

College students prepare to return home, about 1909.

For a lady traveling in the late 18th and early 19th century, traveling was not a casual business. It took planning, if she wanted to arrive at her destination looking fresh and effortlessly gowned.

Most hotels had carriages to transport guests and their small pieces of luggage to and from the train station. This 1890 photograph shows such a carriage, as well as a wagon convey trunks and heavy baggage, for a hotel in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

In 1904 The San Francisco Call newspaper published a full-page article on how to properly pack a trunk. The article was filled with plenty of practical, and not-so-practical, advice:

Making a trunk look nice is a distinct art.

A lady’s skirt should never have a front fold.

The author of the article was a professional packer of trunks. She tells the story of a phone call she received from a client:

“I want you to pack my trunks,” said she, “so I can catch the midnight train.”

“How many trunks are there?” I asked.

“There are twenty-seven,” said she, “and several boxes and suit cases, and the wagon is to call for them at five o’clock.”

Twenty-seven trunks! By comparison, Marion, Eurie, Ruth, and Flossy traveled light when they set off for Chautauqua!

You can read the full-page article “How to Pack a Trunk” by clicking here.

You can read all about the 2018 Chautauqua Institution summer program and events. Just click here.

And you can read previous posts about going to Chautauqua; just click on one of the links below:

A Tour of Chautauqua – Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua – Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

 

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Writer Jenny Berlin

Faith, romance, and a place to belong

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

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Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction and sweet, clean fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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