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Annich (1780s-1860s)

Annich was likely born enslaved between the years 1782 and 1784 on the property of Richard Van Riper. Her long life (about 78 to 80 years) was spent performing domestic duties for the Van Riper family descendants—five generations of Van Ripers total, from Richard (born 1733) to Mary Ann (born 1849). Legally, Annich had been emancipated from enslavement between 1840 and 1850; however, her designation as a “servant” on the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Censuses may indicate a continued period of unpaid involuntary labor, only called by a different name. As New Jersey laws were prohibitive against freed Black Americans, many women like Annich were faced with the grim reality of having to rely on their former enslavers for financial support. Towards the end of her life, she may have worn a dress similar to the green and gray plaid dress below.

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A fashionable 'Home Dress' made of lilac fabric with purple and gold accents, Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, April 1862.

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A cage crinoline, ca. 1860s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It is likely that Annich did not wear dresses with the same fashionable accoutrements that would’ve adorned the clothing of the Van Riper daughters. Annich’s wardrobe, however, would have echoed the broader patterns and silhouettes commonly seen in womenswear of the period. Especially in the mid-1850s, the invention of the cage crinoline democratized women's fashion in a way not previously seen. Made of lightweight steel hoops, the cage crinoline achieved the fashionable bell-shaped silhouette without the burden of multiple heavy petticoats, the previous method for puffing out one's skirts. More importantly, however, the cage crinoline was inexpensive to produce. Its low cost opened the door for women of diverse economic and social backgrounds to partake in fashionable trends once exclusively within reach of the well-to-do. The resulting popularity of the bell-shaped silhouette across all levels of American society ensured that crinolines were an essential part of a woman's wardrobe throughout the 1850s and 1860s.

The pleasant green plaid dress here most likely was for casual daywear- according to Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine, silk fabric and striped patterns were "in great vogue" for "plain dresses" in 1856. Its high, circular neckline and large sleeves would have been paired with large white engageantes (detachable undersleeves) and a collar to top off the look. The beautiful brown braid which trims the shoulders and cuffs provides a subtle form of decoration- making the gown fancy enough for a visit to friends, or a Sunday church service.


A cage crinoline, ca. 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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