What a beautiful baby boy! Oops, I mean baby girl!

by Meredith McGovern, Art and Culture Collections Manager

You know how it goes — you’re at the grocery store and a well-meaning stranger attempts to compliment you on your child, but accidentally mistakes it for the opposite gender. Some parents try to curb this by dressing their son or daughter in a gender-specific color (pink or blue) or clothing style (dresses). What about our ancestors? How did they avoid this problem, particularly during the 19th century when the littlest children — both girls and boys — wore dresses? The answer: hair styles! Back then, parents meticulously combed and parted their sons’ hair on the side, brushed it forward, or curled it in a topknot; they parted their daughters’ hair in the center and combed it down.

Let’s look at a few examples from the Indiana State Museum photograph collection. Remember, the trick is in the part — little boys wore side parts, little girls wore centered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you have any, look through your family’s 19th-century photographs. Can you identify the boys and girls based on their hair styles?

2 Responses

  1. […] Museum photograph collection (for now). You can see my other posts here: Date this Photo and What a Beautiful Baby Boy … Ooops, I mean Baby Girl. I just couldn’t resist showing you these sweet portraits of children. Even though they were […]

  2. Hi Meredith,

    Your story on “What a Beautiful Baby Boy…Ooops, I mean Baby Girl” is so true. In the book I published about my dad, is a photo of him at three or four years old (1907-1908) wearing a dress.

    Indiana orphan boy (1904)

    Dad was born 1904 in Monon, Indiana. He lived with his grandma near Knox on a small sand farm for two years (ages 5 to 7), until she died. Russell was then shuffled between relatives – often strangers – to work for his room and board in Hammond, Indiana (description of Hammond in 1913). At the age of eleven dad was put on a train to Montana, where he worked numerous farms and ranches around the area. At eighteen he traveled back to Indiana and worked around the Chicago area. Dad once owned four farms. One near St. John, two east of St. John and one at Crown Point. His business office in Hessville. He lived in Gary several years (on Taft St. and then on Tyler St., Glen Park).

    Thank you,


    This is a biography of my abundant experiences, beginning when I was orphaned at the age of five in Indiana, 1909.

    I was shifted for several years among relatives, and, once, at around eight years old, was given to strangers who wanted me for chores. When I neared eleven years of age, one of my uncles put me on a train, alone, going far west—toward another uncle living in Montana.

    At twelve, I struck out on my own, working numerous farms and ranches, laboring hard from sunup until sundown. Jobs were scarce during the winters. So I rode the grub line, many times going hungry, cold and always no place to call home. If I was fortunate to find work, I labored in freezing conditions—some days twenty below.

    By seventeen, I was a full-fledged ranch and farmhand. I could do any part of the roundups, even castration. I harvested fields encompassing Poplar, Montana, throughout Kansas and into Canada. I burrowed deep down in copper mines at Butte, Montana, while underage; and within a year, advanced to blasting. I rode many rails and kinds of trains when roaming; wherever the locomotive stopped, I hopped off and did chores, in or near town.

    Usually I stayed two or three weeks before catching another freight. I traveled back to Indiana at age eighteen and worked various places: Illinois Steel Mill, Pullman Co., Gary Railways, Elgin-Joliet and Eastern Railroad, Standard Oil, Sheriff’s Department, Indiana Harbor Sheet and Tub Mill, Anaconda Refining Co., and Builders of Boxcars.

    When the depression elevated, I was out of employment like thousands of others. I couldn’t find any jobs and I didn’t want handouts. So I started vending eggs and additional farm products. I was thriving until the banks closed, wiping away my small funds. Again I embarked on my own, picking up discarded bottles and peddling these at speak-easies. After saving a few greenbacks, I bought perch from the great fish markets of Chicago, scaled and washed the merchandise before selling it to taverns and stores. I began gaining and grew ambitious for something else; thus, I jumped into hauling coal, which quickly led me toward black dirt excavating.

    Eventually, I broke loose from pennies to dollars, acquired lots of equipment, and became known around the area as “The Black Dirt King”. I also purchased three farms, fixing one up as a showplace. Several years later, failing health forced me to sell everything and retire.

    Since I liked traveling and seeing different cities, I entered the Greyhound School and emerged a driver—I loved every minute. Upon marrying for the second time, I resigned, obtained forty acres, and set up a farm.

    After two or three years of doing nothing, I developed restlessness and launched back into business—not as large as before, but still adequate. Subsequently, physical problems pressured me into quitting again, selling out, and moving my family to Daytona Beach, Florida. I purchased a new apartment building, which my wife and I operated. The Holly Hill Police Department hired me as a patrolman.

    During my Florida occupation I ran for constable, and, following the election for sheriff, was a real estate broker. I was also Chief of Police in South Daytona twice, and once at Altamonte Springs; a switchman for Florida Coast Railroad (briefly); top salesman with mobile home sales; and a security guard at a large motel. Now I’m biding my fleeting moments, selling at flea markets.

    I have traveled considerably across this country, from place-to-place, curious of each-and-every type of work. I want to try as much as possible before time runs out.

    Russell J. Milne, Sr.

    Orphan Boy by R. J. Milne, Jr. available online at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Authorhouse.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: