Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Susan S. Waters (United States, mid-19th century)

Figure 1.--Susan Waters painted these two brothers about 1845. Note that the Eton suit had reached rural America by the 1840s.

Art was considered a man's profession. This was especially true of American primitive artists as many were itenerate. It woulf not have been acceptable for a woman to travel in rural America seeking commisiins. Still there were a few women artists in the major towns. Susan Waters was one of the most important.


Susan Waters, one of the few women, American primitive artist painted many, providing valuable information on individual fashion in a period in which photography was just beginning to provide images. Unfortunately HBC has be unable to find any information on her.

The Portraits

I know of two interesting images painted by Waters. The first is identified as "Brothers". I do not know who they are other than they live in rural America. The second is identified as the Lincoln children. It is not President Lincoln's family.

The Fashions

The available portraits by Waters provide information on several important fashions.


It is difficult to identify who is who in Waters portrait of the Lincoln children, but the younger child in white may well be a boy, although this is not possible to determine for sure. If the children were all girls, would not the title be the Lincoln sisters? If so, it is an example of the dresses worn by boys before breecing at mid-century.

Figure 2.--Paintings are often difficult to analize, but this 1845 American primitive by Susan Waters shows an example of the dresses worn by the Lincoln sisters in 1848. The child between these two sisters wearing pinafores may be a boy based on the observation that his face looks more boyish than his sisters and the hem of his dress is above the knees. This often was the case with dresses made for boys at the time. Also, one would think if they were sisters they would have similar hair styles. Why would the twins have carefully coifed hair while the younger child have her hair chopped off at the collar? This seems unlikely if the child was another sister.


Waters portrait of the Lincoln children also show the pantaletttes worn by boys and girls in the 19th century. The use o pantalettes by boys was beginning to decline in the 1840s, but did not totally disappear until the end of the decade.

Eton Suits

The Water portrait of the two unidentified brothers is interesting because it shows two American boys in rural America wearing Eton suits. This shows how extensively the style had spread even before mid-century.


I have found no good sources on Waters yet.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: December 2, 1999
Last updated: December 2, 1999