When friends Jennifer Bartos and Marion Arrington founded The Barrington House Educational Center, LLC in 2011, it was not the beginning of a new adventure, but rather the culmination of a long-time love of history and women’s fashions, coupled with the desire to share information and educate other like-minded ladies. For years prior to starting The Barrington House Educational Center, Marion and Jennifer would get together on Sundays to comb through their books and original period photographs. “We considered it playing while others may have considered it studying”, says Jennifer. No matter what you call it, they learned a lot of very interesting information on how Victorian fashion transformed through the era, what the defining details were of each period, and many tantalizing facts about women’s daily lives. Their vision for The Barrington House is to provide a place where ladies with a passion to know the truth about Victorian women can come to study the facts “straight from the horse’s mouth” and not rely on rumors, Hollywood or other unreliable sources.
To say that she is passionate about collecting is an understatement. Jennifer says she started out collecting antique beaded purses over 30 years ago. At one time her collection contained over 100 beaded bags. Then she decided that she needed hats to go with the purses. Of course that led to wanting dresses to go with the purses and hats, and her collection grew and grew. After being refined over the years, The Barrington House collection now includes approximately 2,000 items of women’s fashions and accessories, dating from 1785 to 1912. While Jennifer prefers high-end Victorian gowns, Marion is an expert on the Civil War era. No small feat for this lovely lady who was schooled in Germany, as American History was new to her. Of course, Marion did come by her love of history and vintage textiles honestly, as her father was an avid collector of medieval artifacts. The two met nearly 18 years ago, and their shared interests made them fast friends.
In their quest for definitive knowledge of Victorian fashions, Jennifer and Marion often came across information that contradicted another source, or was otherwise confusing. Jennifer finally came to the realization that when we read a document about vintage clothing written by a modern writer, we are getting that person’s opinions and interpretations of the material they have used for research. This let to the decision to only collect and study actual vintage periodicals on women’s fashion; Godey’s Lady’s Book, Peterson’s Magazine, and Graham’s Magazine are a few examples. They also started collecting period photographs – preferably those which were dated. As a result, The Barrington House also contains an extensive library of these original documents, which are carefully photographed so the images can be used for their educational workshops.
Currently, The Barrington (a combination of “Bartos” and “Arrington”) House offers a large variety of workshops, including a “basic” workshop covering Women’s Fashions of the Victorian Period, as well as several more tightly-focused workshops which cover only a few years each. There is also a session on Women’s Mourning Rituals, and another devoted Beaded Bags and accessories of the Victorian Period. They also offer a session on Medical Amputation during the American Civil War. There are also several hands-on workshops on such varied topics as corset-making, covering a parasol, custom-fitting a bodice, and various forms of needlework. Recently, demand has been growing for a workshop on men’s fashions. These workshops are popular not just with reenactment groups, but also those interested in history, fashion, and women’s lives in general.
Be sure to log on to The Barrington House web site at thebarringtonhouse.org to view some of the fabulous gowns and accessories presented. If you are going to be in or near Prescott, Arizona, be sure to contact Jennifer and Marion and see what wonderful program you might be able to attend. At the very least, try to schedule a visit to see the truly breath-taking original gowns and accessories, which are displayed in a fashion that would do the finest museum credit!
If you know someone that has taken their love of history and made it into an interesting business or hobby, and you think they should be featured in our Featured Lady pages, please email or call us and let us know!