Mary Miley Theobald

Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked


WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Every day – in museums and historic sites across America – myths are repeated and spread. Many believe that so many colonial women died from burns when their petticoats caught fire that it was the second-most common cause of death for women after childbirth. Others perpetuate the myth that beds were shorter because people slept sitting up; that men posed with one hand inside their vest so portrait artists did not have to paint the fingers, cutting the price of the portrait.

In her new book, “Death by Petticoat,” historian Mary Theobald separates truth from “myth-understandings.”

“Some of these stories really are true,” says Theobald. “But many are nonsense.”

Lucky for readers of her new book, Theobald’s true stories turn out to be every bit as entertaining as the myths she debunks. The author will separate fiction from fact at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, June 7 in the Hennage Auditorium in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, 326 W. Francis St., in Williamsburg. Copies of her book will be available in the museum store with a book signing following the lecture. A Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or museum admission ticket are required to attend this lecture.

The book grew out of a series of articles in “Colonial Williamsburg, the journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.” It is co-published by Colonial Williamsburg and Andrews-McMeel Publishing.

[Recorded on July 14, 2022.]

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      Mary Miley Theobald is a historian and writer. She received her B.A. and M.A. from the College of William and Mary, worked for Colonial Williamsburg and taught American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University for many years. She has published 14 nonfiction books and more than 200 articles for a variety of magazines and newspapers, plus seven mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties. When not immersed in the past, she retreats to the Virginia winery she owns with several friends, where everything she does would have been illegal in the Prohibition era. Visit her at www.marymileytheobald.com.


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