We are Jennifer Bartos and Marion Arrington…Bartos + Arrington = Barrington
Marion and I met about 18 years ago and became instant friends due to our love of history. I had been a Victorian dress collector for about 12 years prior to that and Marion was raised with a love of history from her father, being a longtime collector of Medieval artifacts. Marion is German and grew up, for the most part, in Germany. You wouldn’t know it to hear her speak English, but when she says something in German, you can tell it is her first language.
Just prior to meeting Marion, I had the opportunity to see one of the local reenactment groups perform. I never realized that there were folks that wore reproductions of the beautiful Victorian gowns I had been collecting. So I jumped at the opportunity to join. When Marion and I became friends she naturally had the same interest and joined in. Marion immediately immersed herself in historical research…remember, Marion was schooled in Germany so American history was rather new to her. But, Marion is tenacious and when she puts her mind to something there is no stopping her. After a few years of her studies, I would say Marion probably knows more about the Confederate activities in the American Civil War than most folks. So, Marion’s specialty is the Civil War era and her particular interest is in the South. Additionally, Marion has a great interest in Civil War mourning rituals, medical and how the lower, or working, class lived. Her studies include many diaries of ladies from the Civil War era and items from their daily lives.
In contrast to Marion, I have refined my collection to include the chic, trendsetting and colorful fashions used by the higher class of Victorian ladies. So, Marion and I make a great team where you get the full spectrum of American life during the Victorian period.
I began aggressively collecting antique beaded purses about 30 years ago, after being introduced to the world of Victorian women’s fashions from a new friend. Once my collection included over 100 beaded bags, I decided that I probably needed some hats to go with those purses. And then, of course, I would need dresses to go with those hats and purses…so, the collection grew and grew. Over the years I have bought and sold thousands of pieces to refine my collection to choice items of Victorian women’s apparel. The collection now includes approximately 2,000 items of women’s fashion goods from 1785 to 1912.
In my and Marion’s quest for knowledge we, of course, began collecting and studying books published on these subjects. But in the books published on Victorian fashions, we found the information conflicting and confusing. We finally realized that we were reading a modern publication based on someone else’s opinion of the information from the time period. So, in an effort to get to the truth, I began collecting and we began studying authentic period periodicals specializing in Victorian women’s fashions (Godey’s Lady’s Book, Peterson’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, etc.) We then could study from the actual information that the Victorian ladies used to determine the current fashions of the time period. Our research library contains over 250 volumes of original documents focused on Victorian women. The collection includes nearly every publication of Lady’s Godey’s Book (the most popular women’s periodical) from 1831 to 1890, Peterson’s Magazine (second only to Godey’s) from 1846 to 1889 and many other issues of Delineator Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and others up to 1912.
For years, prior to starting The Barrington House Educational Center, Marion and I would get together on Sundays to comb through our books and original period photographs. We consider it “playing” while others may consider it “studying”. No matter what you call it, we learned a lot of very interesting information on how Victorian fashion transformed through the era, what the defining details are of each period and many tantalizing facts on women’s daily lives.
How did the Barrington House start? One day I was talking with a lady who was, at that time, the President of a local historical group. We had recently seen a fashion show and I was commenting to her about the lack of authenticity in some of the ladies’ costumes. So, in a nutshell, she told me to “put my money where my mouth is”. She said “Okay, then teach them the right way.” At first I was terrified and thought “no, I can’t do that”…and then I thought, “hmmm…why not?” So, Marion and I put our heads together and late in 2011, created The Barrington House Educational Center, LLC. Our goal is to have a place where ladies with a passion to know the truth about Victorian women can come to study the facts “straight from the horse’s mouth” and not rely on rumors, Hollywood or other unreliable sources.
Marion and I are firm believers that if you are presenting yourself as educational or living history then it is imperative that you pay attention to the details that define the period you represent. We feel that if you are claiming to be period correct, then BE period correct from top to bottom…hat, hair, jewelry, shoes, accessories, etc. Representing history does not just mean a lady in a long dress with a big hat…there were fashion rules in the Victorian period that should be followed and we would like to help ladies achieve near perfection. If you are going to buy an item or make a costume…why not make it right!
More about our workshops: The information we have in our collection could keep workshops going for years! We tailor the information to fit the desires of the attendees. We focus the information on that era but always feel it is important to give a brief summary of the Victorian fashions leading up to that era. For some folks it is easier to understand the period details if you can see where it all started.
Currently, we offer workshops on demand…and the demand has kept us hopping all year. To our surprise the workshops have been quite popular with not only the ladies from reenactment groups, but also those interested in history, fashion and/or women’s lives in general. Our attendees have been ladies of all ages and walks of life. In the fall of 2012 the fashion portion of the museum will close and our expansion project will begin. We will still have hands-on workshops and study time available but no gowns will be displayed during the expansion construction. In the Spring of 2013 we will open with a space twice as big as we have now with an open and spacious classroom overlooking the pond and garden and a display area that will give enough space to display each ensemble individually for viewing rather than bunched together as they are now.
We hope you join us for this exciting adventure through our workshops and/or website. We are all about learning the truth!