The Perrin collection: History, fashion, and art in nineteenth-century bags and purses

JoAnn Bussian Steere, University of Rhode Island


Selected objects from the Perrin family textiles and related documents in the University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection served as the subject of the first phases of a material culture study. The Perrin collection, comprised of more than eight hundred objects, is one of the largest in the University's Collection. Maude Freeman Perrin Streeter and her daughters Maude Ide Crabbs and Mabel Etta Perrin donated the objects that represent four generations of family history. The Perrin family traces its lineage directly to Roger Williams, as well as to David Perrin, a Revolutionary War ancestor. Flax was grown on the family farm in Seekonk, Massachusetts; wool and flax wheels have been handed down to family members now living in Johnston, North Kingstown, and Alton, Rhode Island. The study focused on eighteen bags and purses in the Perrin collection. A history of nineteenth-century purses and comparable examples provided the basis for analysis. The family genealogy facilitates an understanding of the provenance of these nineteenth-century textiles and offers insight into the lives and interests of the women who owned them. Family photographs, records, and newspaper articles increase the overall understanding of this local New England family. The purses as well as the Perrin photographs indicate that the women in the family dressed fashionably. The Perrin bags and purses reflect popular nineteenth-century American motifs and styles. The bags could have been expensive, particularly the knitted beaded bags, but also could be made at home with readily-available materials, patterns, and fashion magazines. The analysis, comparison to like objects, and dating of the Perrin bags and purses will benefit the Historic Textile and Costume Collection database as well as add background on the Perrin family. The information will serve as a useful reference for the investigation of similar artifacts in other collections. The Perrin bags potentially could be highlighted in a Textile Gallery exhibition on bags and purses.

Subject Area

American history|Art history|Textile Research

Recommended Citation

JoAnn Bussian Steere, "The Perrin collection: History, fashion, and art in nineteenth-century bags and purses" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1491618.