Clothing Items Recovered

Nun robe fragments
Robe fastening clasps
Female clothing by unit location
Locations of all fasteners and
garter clasps
Button material by unit location
Button size within each type of material
Shoe parts
Footwear by location

Clothing items included actual cloth remnants as well as fasteners, buttons,
and shoe parts.

Cloth and Fasteners

The majority of clothing items recovered were clearly female related. Most were fragments of black cloth that made up nun habits.  In addition to the cloth, steel stays with brass clasps were recovered.  These likely represent the fasteners sewn into robes.  Some of the clasps had “WB”, “PN”, and “PAT Jan 18 1881” stamped on them.

As expected, the majority of these items were recovered from Unit C (that portion of the vault closest to the Chapel/convent building).

Other fasteners were recovered from both Units A and C, with the majority from Unit A (see graph).  This was particularly true of hose supporter clasps.   Unit A was closest to the kitchen/dining/laundry building.  This building housed a large kettle mounted on a brick firebox that would have been used to heat water for cooking and laundry.

Knowing that the kitchen/dining building also contained the laundry facility, and assuming that undergarments would have been washed more frequently than outerwear, it stands to reason that a higher rate of breakage of these items would take place at the laundry facility.   Thus discards containing more clasps, hose supporters, and strap adjusters would likely end up in that portion of the privy vault closest to the laundry room (Unit A).

At least 8 different styles of hose supporters were recovered.  The photo shows a sample of all those that were stamped or embossed with a name and/or patent date.  Most were chromed brass, some were plain brass.  The Velvet Grip clasp ends were rubber clad, but most were plain metal.

Hose supporter clasps.

At the turn-of-the-century, long stockings and knee pants were worn by both boys and girls.  Stocking supporters were needed to keep these up and the George Frost Company (Boston) manufactured the “Velvet Grip” hose supporters for this purpose (Historical Boys’ Clothing 2004).

At least 6 styles of strap adjusters were also recovered.  Many of these had names and patent dates.  The Ferris Brothers Company (341 Broadway, New York) manufactured under-waists and corsets for girls and women at least as early as 1880.  Under-waists were worn by both boys and girls to support additional underwear and outer-garments.   They were often of elastic material and came equipped with reinforcement straps, waist buttons, and garter tabs for attaching hose supporters.  Under-waist popularity declined in the 1930’s  (Historical Boys’ Clothing 2004).


Buttons were sorted and cataloged by material and size based on Osborn’s Button Button (1993).  Button size is measured using the French system known as “lignes” (lines).  Buttons recovered from the privy vault were made of bone, shell, metal, celluloid, cloth, vulcanized rubber, Jet, glass, and ceramic (prosser).  The majority of buttons recovered were of the prosser type (often called “China” buttons).  Prosser buttons were manufactured from the late 1840’s on in France, England and New York.  Celluloid was invented in 1870 and solid buttons of celluloid began to appear in 1890.  Bone, shell, and metal buttons have been manufactured for hundreds of years.

Prosser buttons, plain, embossed, and stencilled
Bone two and 4-hole sew through buttons
Metal snaps, one with a “jet” inlay

The importance of buttons in historic archaeology centers around the fact that they are durable (usually outlasting other clothing items) and varied in their cost.  Expensive clothing would often have expensive buttons.  Everyday work clothes usually had less expensive, utilitarian buttons.  This allows the archaeologist to use buttons as a way of piecing together the economic status of the people being studied.

Analysis of the recovered buttons indicated that they were just as likely to be disposed of in Unit A (near the laundry) as Unit C (near the nun’s quarters).  There didn’t appear to be much difference in the location based on button material.  When button size was graphed by button material, it was found that most small buttons (16 lines and smaller) were of shell.  Most medium size buttons (20-28 line) were prosser.  Metal buttons were found in all size ranges but bone buttons were found in only a few size categories (22 and 24 line).

The utilitarian buttons were of shell or prosser manufacture.  It appeared that more expensive buttons were made of rubber, glass, jet, metal, and possibly bone.  Although buttons had no writing, several snaps were stamped with the maker’s name and at least one had a patent date (1889).

A few studs were found made mostly of celluloid and shell.

Shoe Parts

Shoe parts and shoe polish bottles were discovered in all parts of the vault.  Shoe parts included cloth and leather uppers, leather and rubber soles, shoe eyelets, bootlace holders, and bone handles for shoe button hooks.  Although many more shoes were probably represented by the material recovered, at least 13 leather heals/soles were recovered and 2 rubber soles.

Seven types of shoe polish/leather dressing bottles were recovered.   The graph lists the makers and number of bottles recovered.  Also recovered were bone handles with rusted metal pieces embedded in the ends.  It is likely that these represent fancy shoe button hooks.   Button-down shoes were popular during the turn-of-the-century.