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May 29, 2012

Did Colonial Women Die Because their Petticoats Caught Fire?

Every day – in museums and historic sites across America – myths are repeated and spread. Many believe that so many colonial women died from burns when their petticoats caught fire that it was the second-most common cause of death for women after childbirth. Others perpetuate the myth that beds were shorter because people slept sitting up; that men posed with one hand inside their vest so portrait artists did not have to paint the fingers, cutting the price of the portrait.

In her new book, “Death by Petticoat,” historian Mary Theobald separates truth from “myth-understandings.”

“Some of these stories really are true,” says Theobald. “But many are nonsense.”

Lucky for readers of her new book, Theobald’s true stories turn out to be every bit as entertaining as the myths she debunks. The author will separate fiction from fact at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, June 7 in the Hennage Auditorium in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, 326 W. Francis St., in Williamsburg. Copies of her book will be available in the museum store with a book signing following the lecture. A Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or museum admission ticket are required to attend this lecture.

The book grew out of a series of articles in “Colonial Williamsburg, the journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.” It is co-published by Colonial Williamsburg and Andrews-McMeel Publishing and is available for $12.99 at the Museum Store, WILLIAMSBURG Booksellers in Colonial Williamsburg’s Visitor Center, 101 Visitor Center Drive, Everything WILLIAMSBURG, in Merchants Square, by phone at 1-800-446-9240 or from

Programs and exhibitions at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum are supported by the DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit center for history, citizenship and democracy, encouraging audiences at home and around the world to learn from the past. Colonial Williamsburg demonstrates its commitment to expanding its thought-provoking programming as well as its dedication to cultural and historical authenticity on-site and online through the preservation, restoration and presentation of 18th-centry Williamsburg and the study, interpretation and teaching of America’s founding principles. Purchase of Colonial Williamsburg products and services supports the preservation, research and educational programs of the Foundation. Philanthropic support by individuals, corporations, and foundations benefits the educational mission of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7280