Presentation 1 - Behind the Beautiful Dress: Making Cloth and Clothing in the 19th Century

This scholar is fully booked through 2021. This scholar will be available to book for programs in 2022 on September 1, 2021. You may also book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information provided.

It is hard to overstate the role of textiles in early American life. For families, the making of textiles and clothing required countless hours of labor. On the other hand, the purchase of textiles could consume a large portion of the household budget. For the nation, textiles drove the American pre-Civil War economy. They provided a money-making opportunity for a few and exploited the labor of countless others.

This presentation will explore cloth and clothing production in the 19th century and textiles’ impact on pre-Civil War life in Illinois. The audience will learn the following:

  • How the cotton economy impacted the home production of textiles
  • How the cotton economy involved the entire United States
  • How the ready-made clothing industry grew out of the American textile industry
  • The labor involved in making and caring for 19th-century clothing

The presentation will highlight examples of garments and artifacts from the Illinois State Museum’s collections. After the presentation, the audience will have the opportunity to draw parallels between the 19th-century garment industry and today while pondering questions such as:

  • Who makes my clothing?
  • Under what conditions do they labor?
  • What happens to my clothing when I am done with it?

This presentation will last approximately 1 hour, with 15-30 minutes afterward reserved for questions and discussion. The program will require a projector and a screen.

Program Topics

  • Labor History
  • U.S. Slavery
  • Clothing

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Erika via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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Presentation 2 - The Life Cycle of Clothing in the 19th Century

This scholar is fully booked through 2021. This scholar will be available to book for programs in 2022 on September 1, 2021. You may also book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information provided.

Americans invested a tremendous amount of labor into making and maintaining their wardrobes during the 19th century. This presentation will explore the life cycle of clothing during the 1800s: how it was created, mended, remade, washed, and ultimately recycled.

The presentation will highlight examples of garments and artifacts from the Illinois State Museum’s collections. After the presentation, the audience will have the opportunity to do the following:

  • Reflect on their own experiences with making, mending, washing, and recycling clothing, drawing parallels between the 19th century and today;
  • Share memories of this work in their families from earlier generations; and
  • Explore modern attitudes towards “fast fashion” and mending vs. discarding.

This presentation will last approximately 1 hour, with 15-30 minutes afterward reserved for questions and discussion. The program will require a projector and a screen.

Program Topics

  • Labor History
  • Women
  • Clothing

Book this presentation by first scheduling a date with Erika via email, then completing the Road Scholars Host Organization application.


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About Road Scholar Erika Holst

Erika Holst is the Curator of History at the Illinois State Museum. Her most recent exhibition, currently on view, is Fashioning Illinois, 1820-1900, a collection of 19th-century clothing worn by Illinois women.

Holst has worked in the public history field for more than 15 years, during which time she has curated more than a dozen exhibitions. Her 2013 exhibition, Hidden in Plain Sight: The Material World of Early Springfield, won the Illinois State Historical Society’s Award for Superior Achievement. She is passionate about telling the story of people and history through material culture. Before joining the Illinois State Museum, Erika served as Curator of Collections at the historic Edwards Place in Springfield, IL. She oversaw the complete renovation of the historic house to its c.1850s appearance.

Holst’s publications include Wicked Springfield: Crime, Corruption, and Scandal During the Lincoln Era; Edwards Place: A Springfield Treasure; and Historic Houses of Lincoln’s Illinois, as well as several scholarly and popular articles. Holst holds an MA from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture and a BA from Illinois Wesleyan University.

Learn More and Follow Erika

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About Illinois Humanities Road Scholars Speakers Bureau

Since 1997, our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau has invited Illinois writers, storytellers, historians, folklorists, musicians, and living history actors, among others, to share their expertise and enthusiasm with people throughout our state. It also supports local nonprofit organizations – including libraries, museums, arts councils, historical societies, civic groups, and many others – in presenting free-admission cultural programs of high quality to their communities for a modest application fee, which can be waived if your organization is experiencing financial hardship.

Our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau roster features speakers hailing from many different communities across Illinois who offer presentations on topics in history, archaeology, philosophy, literature, theater, film, music, politics, and other subjects that are thought-provoking and engaging. The breadth of these offerings reflects our conviction that the humanities can help us to examine the world in all its varied shades and discover in it the remarkable, the strange, the fantastic, the tragic, the humorous, and the beautiful.

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