Jamaica Pond ice-skaters, 1859

A crowd of men, women, and children skate under a cloudy sky.

In the 1850s, a rage for dancing and ice-skating swept America.  Both the ball room and the surface of an icy pond offered antebellum northerners a way to escape the stiff conventionality of everyday society and discover different ways of moving and being.

This beautiful old print, a 1859 view of skaters on Jamaica Pond outside Boston, captures this well.  Look closely and you may see a lady with a hockey stick.

The hazards of the ice justified the suspension of some proprieties.  Top hats flew as gentlemen lost their dignity.  Beneath the ladies’ long, voluminous skirts, their calves and ankles were plainly showing.  Shocking!

While some women in the picture are wearing the floor-length skirts typical of the time, others are wearing shorter skating skirts which were more novel, freer and more daring.

Image: from this source.  Click to enlarge.

This is the first in an occasional series on ice skating.  Click forward to see the others.

6 responses

  1. I also see in the rear right of the picture an ice sail boat. My grandfather used to talk about going ice-sailing in Minnesota in the early decades of the 20th century. It’s still done and the boats go incredibly fast!

    • Ah, yes–I see what you mean! I didn’t notice that contraption at all, and if I had I wouldn’t have known what to make of it. I’ve never heard of an ice sailboat–but good idea!
      Similarly, one of the young men in the left foreground is giving a young lady a ride in some sort of sleigh-chair. I love the array of attitudes that the artist captures–I think there may even be a group playing ‘crack the whip’ far out on the pond.
      Thanks, KW!

  2. When I was a kid, my father made my brothers and me an ice sailboat by welding a steel mast to a sled. We kids hung on for dear life as the boat went flying across ponds. Exhilarating and scary!

  3. A hockey stick helps me balance, and focusing on the puck helps me not overthink the mechanics of skating!

    • I’m beginning to wonder how many of the people in this picture were trying skating for the very first time! And this would have been a very early hockey stick, too, if indeed that’s what the lady is bearing.
      Yes, skating’s best when one gets into the flow and manages to forget about the details.
      It’s in the upper 30s here, so no skating yet for us.
      Thank you, dear Mary, and Merry Christmas,