Aunt Fannie dress

Historic Collection Highlight: Aunt Fannie’s Mother Hubbard

Mar 14, 2022
Brenau Staff

This Historic Collection Highlight features an unusual garment that belonged to an unusual woman: A Mother Hubbard owned by Francis Caroline “Aunt Fannie” Picklesimer Kerby Smith (1825-1914) of Rabun County, Georgia.

Who was “Aunt Fannie,” you might ask, and what in the world is a Mother Hubbard?

“Aunt Fannie” Picklesimer Kerby Smith was a high-profile resident of Rabun County, Georgia. Active in church, politics and the community, Aunt Fannie ran a successful business as a hostess and was famous for her fried chicken according to a 1971 article by M. Motes. Aunt Fannie provided food for Native Americans who camped near her home in the winter; she also attempted, unsuccessfully, to convert them to Christianity. In addition to her entrepreneurship and evangelistic endeavors, Aunt Fannie was highly influential in politics. According to Motes, local lore says that “once a candidate gained Aunt Fannie’s favor, he could never lose an election.” 

Aunt Fannie dress closeup

In the 19th century, a Mother Hubbard was a loose-fitting garment worn at home by women in a period of heavy skirts and corsetry. Because Mother Hubbards were a utilitarian garment rather than a fashionable one, few of them exist today and there is little discussion of them in literature from the period. The origins of the term are uncertain, but a 2014 article by S.H. Gray suggests that the term originated with children’s wear named for the nursery rhyme and eventually was used to describe women’s clothing with similar styling as a child’s yoked dress. According to Gray, Mother Hubbards had a variety of uses; they were worn as maternity dresses, for relaxing at home, and for doing housework. 

Aunt Fannie’s Mother Hubbard, a gift to Brenau from Bette Todd Wages Advani in 1995, is black and white calico with a Peter Pan collar and a decorative ruffle on the front placket. It dates from about the 1890s, so Aunt Fannie most likely wore the garment doing housework or enjoying some well-earned rest. 

References

Gray, S. H. (2014). Searching for mother hubbard: function and fashion in nineteenth-century dress. Winterthur Portfolio, 48(1). 

Boyle, Gail (n.d.). Francis Caroline “Fannie” Picklesimer Smith (9 Mar 1825–20 May 1914), Find a Grave Memorial ID 5959955, citing Camp Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, Rabun County, Georgia, USA; Maintained by Gail Boyle (contributor 15929457). Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/5959955/francis-caroline-smith

Motes, M. (August 1971). “Aunt Fannie” Smith: The famous hostess of Sinking Mountain. Georgia Magazine.