Fashioning Rugby: Dressing Emily Hughes

by Susan Jarrett

In this multi-part series, originally entitled- Fashioning Rugby: An English Lady’s Guide to Proper Dress in East Tennessee from 1870-1890, we will use primary source documents as well as period photographs and museum artifacts to build wardrobes for the key female residents of Rugby, Tennessee.

Emily Hughes’ notes describing her caterpillars


Rugby, Tennessee was the utopian vision of Thomas Hughes- a landed gentleman from Oxfordshire, England and influential lawyer, judge, politician and author. He is most famous for his novel Tom Brown’s School Days (c. 1857). Disaffected by the current economic, political, and religious state of Victorian Era England, Hughes envisioned a new society- one in which equality (for men) and the rejection of capitalism could create a more just, pure, and thus blissful existence.

Specifically, Rugby was a rejection of the British custom of primogeniture- or the right of the firstborn legitimate child to inherit the parent’s entire or main estate in lieu of shared inheritance among all or some children.

History tells us that Hughes Utopian settlement within the wild untamed wilderness of Northern Tennessee would ultimately fail. But for the 7 years in which it endeavored, The Rugby Settlement was successful in capturing the imagination of all who sought out and continue to forge a trail into the wilderness.

Emily Margaret Anna Hughes

Emily Hughes
Miss Emily Hughes c. 1880s

Emily Hughes was the daughter of Thomas Hughes’s younger brother. Emily traveled with her grandmother, Margaret Hughes to Tennessee from England to live in the Rugby Settlement. Shortly after Emily arrived in Rugby, a typhoid epidemic struck the colony and Emily nearly died. But this did not deter her adventurous spirit and she continued to experiment with agriculture, geology, and photography in her Tennessee wilderness home.

During her time in Rugby, she attempted to establish a silk worm colony and grew mulberry trees for them. She also grew grapes, tended chickens, spent time at the stables, and supplied the Tabard Inn with her milk from her dairy cow. Emily lived with her grandmother Margaret Hughes at Uffington House from 1883 until 1887. Her father and brothers rarely came to Rugby and Emily writes in her diaries of continual longing for their visits.

While at Rugby, Emily met Charles Wilson (a geologist) to whom she became engaged in 1887. However, the marriage was not to be as Wilson contracted Yellow Fever while on a geology expedition in Honduras. That same year, her grandmother Margaret Hughes died forcing Emily to relocate to Massachusetts to live with her father and his new family. Emily never returned to Rugby. But in 1902, she married Ainslee Marshall (another early Rugby settler) and the two traveled to South Africa with their son. She died overseas in 1938- her pioneering spirit never subsiding.

Dressing Emily Hughes

Emily Hughes was the daughter of the British gentry class. Like her grandmother, her fashions would have been highly influenced by Queen Victoria’s daughters- most of whom would have been the same age as Emily during her formative years. During her time in England, Emily would have worn gowns made of silk, lace, and delicate ornamentation. However, Emily writes in her letters, colloquialized as Dissipations at Uffington House (c. 1881-1887), how quickly she found her gowns and fancy shoes unsuitable for the rustic Tennessee terrain. She writes, “I find that clothes are awfully dear here, especially ‘little things’ such as gloves, lace, etc. I have bought a pair of top boots as my English boots were beginning to let in water.”

Dressing Emily Hughes


Emily Hughes would have worn under garments that would have supported the most up to date fashion trends. Below we find a cuirass corset, various sets of combinations, petticoats with additional fullness at the back, and wool stockings. During the 1880s, women’s athletic pastimes became en vogue and there is great possibility Emily would have traded in her heavily boned cuirass corset for a sporting corset such as the Ferris Good Sense corset, cycling corset, or another type of mail order athletic corset (not shown).

Dressing Emily Hughes

Dressing for Life in Rugby

Emily Hughes writes in her letters to her English friend Lucy regarding the difficulty in obtaining comfort goods from the Rugby commissary. Instead, she writes of taking the train to Cincinnati for shopping, seeing friends, and for attending the theater. Below you can find a variety of fashions suitable for Emily’s life in Rugby. Starched white cotton dresses for church and picnics, aprons and looser fitting clothing for tending chickens and milking cows. Sturdy boots and straw hats for daily wear. And a camera- which Emily was quite proficient with and said to have with her quite often. Her adventurous spirit makes Emily Hughes the “Annie Oakley” of the rural Tennessee.

Dressing Emily Hughes

Next: They came a court’in. Visitors to Rugby.

CalicoBall logo

CalicoBall is a grassroots effort to document, preserve, and present rural America’s diverse historical traditions. CalicoBall is an educational extension of Maggie May Clothing. All rights reserved.