Books for teaching History – Queen Victoria’s Underpants

With Book Week upon us, we thought a book suggestion would be appropriate. One of the Notable Picture Books in this year’s Children’s Book Council Awards was Queen Victoria’s Underpants – by Jackie French and Bruce Wheatly.

Published by Harper Collins

In the early years of schooling the study of history is often about children noting simple differences between today and the past. During Book Week we are running an activity for early year’s students using this book and we have found it to be a great conversation starter. The story provides a great opportunity to discuss differences in clothing and lifestyle and the reference to underpants is always enjoyed and often prompts lively conversation.

For students in the older years of Primary School, this book can also be used as a conversation starter when looking at Australian History. Queen Victoria ruled a vast empire that included Australia and her thoughts and wishes were paramount. Ladies in the colonies aspired, like their British counterparts, to follow the Queen’s style. For this reason, many of Victoria’s personal preferences become commonplace in the community and the wearing of underpants was one of them.

Therefore, reading this book can lead into a discussion about the daily lives and clothing of Australians during the gold rush era. Many women in Australia did elect to wear underpants, as was the new fashion of the day, but underwear for both men and women was quite different to what we know today: both men and women wore long, crotchless drawers. This is a great opportunity to get students thinking and questioning: why was underwear crotchless?

There were a number of reasons for the crotchless underwear, but chief among them was the style of clothing. With the many layers, tight corsets and long dresses and petticoats for women, the idea of pulling ones underwear on and off was impractical. And as for men, their underwear was often a complete neck to ankle garment that could not be removed unless all the top layers of clothing were taken off. Not a good idea in a cold English or Ballarat winter!

Ladies undergarments on sale at the Criterion Store, Sovereign Hill

Many of our Education Sessions here are Sovereign Hill give students the experience to view and hold (clean) underwear of the 1850’s. It seems nothing gets students thinking about the realities of 1850’s life like a discussion of methods of toileting!

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