Textile: Corset belonging to M. Lavinia Warren

From Barnum Museum

Date manufactured/created
1862 – 1870

Miniature cotton or cotton and linen corset worn by M. Lavinia Warren, dating to the 1860s or early 1870s.  Except for its diminutive size, it resembles a typical corset of the era, with boning, lacing eyelets, and a front closure of studs and hooks.  The corset is designed to cinch the waist, pushing excess flesh downward to the hips or upward to the bust area, resulting in an "hourglass" figure.  Until the 1930s, women always dressed with a corset, first putting on a simple cotton or linen garment called a chemise, much like an A-line or short "tent" dress of today.  The corset was worn over the chemise, followed by a corset cover (camisole) and petticoats added at the waist.  This particular corset fits an 18-inch waistline, plus or minus with fit adjustments.  It is composed of layers of strong material; off-white and cream were common colors.  The material is cut in many sections which are seamed together to produce a garment that sits very close to the body, and is made rigid with the addition of boning, which may be made of various materials including steel.  Narrow "pockets" are created into which the boning is inserted.  Stitching that appears as decorative embroidery, forming "triangles" at the end of each section of boning, actually has a functional purpose to keep the boning from breaking through and popping out, and also reinforces places where seams would be strained.  Triangular pieces called godets are included in the bust and outer hip areas to provide additional dimension.  The corset was taken on and off using the stud and hook closure at the center front, but adjustments to fit were made as needed with the lacing cord at the center back.  The cord on this corset is old but may not be original.  The studs and hooks are attached to wider stiffening bones, together called the busk, which is not nearly as flexible as the boning in the rest of the corset.  This corset appears to have a manufacturer's flaw as the studs and hooks are slightly misaligned, resulting in the off-set notable along the top edge of the corset.  The top of the corset is edged with a manufactured trimming.  

M. Lavinia Warren was a well known entertainer, whose career spanned the 1860s to the early 1900s. She was born Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump on October 31, 1841, in Massachusetts. She married fellow entertainer Charles S. Stratton on February 10, 1863, and following his death in 1883, she married an Italian entertainer of a similar stature, Count Primo Magri, on April 6, 1885.   Warren was a schoolteacher originally but soon began her performance career on a river boat at a time when exhibiting people with dwarfism was profitable.  Warren signed with showman P. T. Barnum at age 21, along with her younger sister Minnie (Huldah) Warren, who also had dwarfism.   After her marriage to Stratton the two toured the country and around the world giving performances, becoming America's first international celebrity couple.  During Warren's second marriage, she and her husband also toured for many years and later operated a roadside stand in Middleboro, Massachusetts, her birthplace.  Lavinia Warren Stratton Magri died on November 25, 1919, and was buried beside Stratton at Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Object Type
associated with

Measurement Notes: over all waist: 18", eyes 3/8"; CB height: 8.5"; CF height 8 7/8"; single piece width: 8 3/4"
Measurement Types: Item (Overall)
Accession/ID number
1993.018.003 AB