17 stunning photos of black Victorians show how history really looked.

When you think about America's Gilded Age, what do you imagine?

Perhaps you see images of "Little House on the Prairie"? Or photos of dapper gentlemen and women dressed in frilly lace, riding steam engine trains across the country?

Most of us equate the fashion and social norms of that time period with the latter Victorian era that occurred in the U.K. around the same time. And that's not in-accurate, per se ... except for the part where we tend to assume that everyone was white.


Yes, Jim Crow laws were in effect. But there were still plenty of black Americans rockin' those cravats and wide-brimmed hats, too. You just don't see them in most history books.

So I dug up 17 of my favorite historical photos of black people in Gilded Age fashions. Believe it or not, they were easily accessible through public archives — which means they've been there all along, waiting to show us what history really looked like.

1. Meet Corporal Isaiah Mays.

Born into slavery in Virginia, Mays enlisted in the military as a free man and received a Medal of Honor for his actions in the Wham paymaster robbery of 1889.

2. Or take a moment to admire parasol-wielding Nellie Franklin.

Not much is known about this dapper debutante other than that she was near Tallahassee, Florida, when this photo was taken between 1885 and 1910.

3. Eartha Mary Magdalene White was a humanitarian and philanthropist.

A lifelong resident of Jacksonville, Florida, White amassed her fortunes through serial entrepreneurship in real estate, laundry, dry goods, taxis, and more. Along with her adopted mother, Clara (also pictured), she provided for the hungry and homeless and also built the first public school for black students in nearby Bayard, Florida.

4. The Honorable Reverend Hiram R. Revels was the first black person to serve in the U.S. Senate.

He only served for about a year for the state of Mississippi from 1870 to 1871 before being appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University).

5. Whoever they are, this man and his son were fine examples of the fashions of the times.

Not much is known about the subjects of this photograph other than that it was taken in Connecticut at some point during the 1860s.

6. And then there's this little girl, who is clearly not pleased that her parents made her wear such period-appropriate dress.

Hey, we've all been there. This photo was taken sometime between 1890 and 1900, and was part of W.E.B. DuBois's collection, which was featured at the 1900 World Expo in Paris.

7. The Florida A&M graduating class of 1904 looks ready for their yearbook photo.

At the time, the historically black college was known as the Florida State Normal and Industrial School for Colored Students.

8. And these women were shading themselves from the hot Georgia sun while showing off their Sunday best, too.

Not much is known about the subjects here either other than that the photo was taken around 1899.

9. People didn't only dress up for special occasions, though. Here's a family lounging for a portrait on a lawn in Georgia around the turn of the century.

10. Photography was getting pretty common and accessible by the 1890s. But people still liked to look good.

11. When it comes to this woman's dress, I'm a fan.

This photo was taken in or around Tallahassee, Florida, sometime between 1885 and 1910. Note the fancy feather fan in her hand — it probably came in handy in that humid heat.

12. And look at this guy's sweet satin coat!

13. Here's a woman rockin' a velvet-print bodice.

14. Then of course there's Marie Selika Williams.

She was a star soprano singer and the first black artist to perform at the White House in 1878.

15. The Honorable Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi was the first black American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate from 1875-1881.

Like Revels, he was a Republican from Mississippi. He later served as the register of the treasury under Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley.

16. And who could forget Small?

Little is known about this man beyond his name and the fact he was walking around Philadelphia at some point in the late 1850s, showing off these fine threads.

17. Last but certainly not least, let's not forget the black fashions of the Victorian era that were occurring across the pond.

Sarah Forbes Bonetta, right, was an orphaned Yoruban princess who was raised as a goddaughter to Queen Victoria. She eventually married Capt. James Pinson Labulo Davies (left), a wealthy Nigerian businessman, philanthropist, and merchant marine.

As fun as it is to look back at the fashions of yesteryear, it's also a good reminder that actual history isn't as white as we make it out to be.

Cultures and skin colors have all been intermingling since at least the days of ancient Rome. That's why it's so important to point out these not-actually-fluke fashions: because race might not be "real," but racism through erasure definitely is.

All too often, the movies and media and books that retell the stories of our past err on the side of all-white casting unless it's something that's explicitly about race. And all too often, they use "historical accuracy" as an excuse for that same whitewashing — regardless of the easy-to-find evidence presented above.

They say that "history is written by the winners." But I think it might be time to set the record straight.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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