Costume historian Patricia Campbell Warner collects fashion plates depicting the evolution of everyday dress

  • Patricia Campbell Warner at her home in Belchertown with a 19th-century sideboard, a family piece. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • When she taught costume history at UMass, she would tell students, “Out of you 200, two will get As. Maybe.” STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The author of “When the Girls Came Out to Play,” a social and cultural history of American sportswear, she collects fashion plates. This print of an 1812 etching shows women wearing split-trousers under their dresses. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Piano and Noah's Ark print at the home of Patricia Campbell Warner in Belchertown, Monday, March 18, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A watercolor by Patricia Campbell Warner. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sideboard at the home of Patricia Campbell Warner at her home in Belchertown, Monday, March 18, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Croquet scene at the home of Patricia Campbell Warner in Belchertown, Monday, March 18, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • She bought this Noah's Ark print — which depicts the New York City skyline, then with the twin towers — after becoming a U.S. citizen. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Page from July 13, 1872 edition of Harper's Weekly at the home of Patricia Campbell Warner in Belchertown, Monday, March 18, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • The living room of her sunny, two-bedroom Belchertown condo. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Home of Patricia Campbell Warner in Belchertown, Monday, March 18, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 3/21/2019 4:08:03 PM

Having read my previous profiles of foreign-born inhabitants of our Valley, my good friend Patricia Campbell Warner asked me, “Why don’t you interview me? I’m from Canada, I’m foreign-born. Even my parents were Canadian.”

“But Canada isn’t all that different, not like Lebanon or India,” I answered. She shook her head, sighed and said, “You Americans — you don’t know anything about Canada.”

She was right, of course. “Canadians now, I think, revel in their Canadianism,” said Warner.

Patricia Campbell was born in Toronto and studied art and archaeology — a combination of art history and fine arts — at the University of Toronto, a top university in Canada. This course of study prepared her magnificently for her later career as a costume historian and a passionate painter.

Her family summered in a cottage on Georgian Bay in Ontario, a place where she and her older sister Peggy Pinkerton have returned every summer of their lives. “If you want to know about my life, you will often hear, ‘up at the cottage,’ ” Warner explains. She got to know Huber Warner there at the age of four. His family was from Ohio. As a young adult, he studied biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They lost contact for many years, but when they reconnected “up at the cottage,” Pat observed, “he was a new person.”

They married in 1961 and had two sons, Geoffrey, an architect in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Peter, a computer-aided designer who lives in Paris. The boys were both born in St. Paul, as Huber was working at the University of Minnesota. (When he got the job offer, Pat confessed to not knowing exactly where Minnesota was.)

However, after about twenty plus years, “the marriage was getting tired,” as Pat put it tactfully. She felt increasingly isolated and unhappy. She remembered sitting in a bare apartment in Berkeley, California — where Huber was on sabbatical for six months — and where she knew no one. She was reading Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

“No book has ever had such an impact on me. I figured that if Maya Angelou, with all that she had against her, could make it out, so could I,” Pat said.

So when she got back to Minnesota, she immediately enrolled in university courses which included “The History of Costume.”

“Thanks to my great training at the University of Toronto, I knew more about the subject than (the professor) did,” Pat recalled. In that class and at that moment, a light bulb went off in her head. “I can do this subject! Better than she could! I could make a career out of this!” And that is what she did.

Pat went on to get a masters in design and a doctorate in costume history. As she was older and more outspoken than the other students, a wise dean tapped her to be an assistant to the dean, a job she held for four years. “He was incredibly supportive of older women,” Pat recalled. She thus acquired a great deal of administrative experience.

During those years she went “outstate” to lecture all over Minnesota, accompanied by a collection of the University’s paintings which depicted people in leisure times. Titling her talk “America at Play,” Pat focused specifically on the clothing they wore. These lectures on clothing went over very well with all audiences. They became the underpinnings of her dissertation and of her later book “When the Girls Came Out to Play. The Birth of American Sportswear” (UMass Press, 2006), which analyzed women’s sports clothing from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries.

She and Huber divorced in 1985, and she left for a job at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro the following year. After one year there, UMass’s department of home economics (later to be renamed consumer studies) called her to see if she would like to come to Amherst. Pat “dithered,” as she put it, but UMass called again several times. She came for a campus visit, liked what she saw, and arrived in 1988.

She taught the history of costume, a general education-eligible course, with an enrollment of 200. Many students assumed this course would be easy, an issue Pat addressed directly at the first class meeting: “Out of you 200, two will get As. Maybe. This course is not a gut.”

One reason Pat was so good in this subject was that she had sewn all her own clothes from about age 13 on (a young neighbor up at the cottage had shown her how). She told me years ago that when she looked at a 17th-century portrait, say, she could analyze a specific garment in it, know how many yards of fabric it took, and “what it looked like as a flat pattern.”

The consumer studies department was disbanded by UMass in the late ’80s, and this time the theater department came wooing Pat. She negotiated a smaller class size — 60 students — for her history of costume course, and was very happy in her new department, especially as she could now work with graduate students. She retired in 2007.

Pat has for years lived in a two-story condo in Belchertown, a compact, sunny home which she, with her artistic bent, has decorated very tastefully. A distinctive 19th-century sideboard in her dining room is a cherished family piece. He own paintings, watercolors, sketches and monotypes hang on the walls, along with other artworks. There is a fabulous print of Noah’s Ark silhouetted against the New York skyline (still with the twin towers), which she bought in 1995 when she became a citizen. The swearing-in ceremony was in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, “a wonderful place to become an American citizen!” she recalls. “I cried all through the swearing-in ceremony — as did many others in the packed auditorium.” She has, however, retained her Canadian citizenship, while simultaneously acknowledging that it was in the U.S. that she blossomed professionally.

In her house are many fashion plates — from the popular Godey’s Lady’s Book to Gibson illustrations to Harper’s Weekly. In her bedroom are a series of prints of sports costumes, from bathing dresses to elegant outfits in a croquet scene. Pat stressed the importance of this scene: “For the first time men and women together are playing out of doors, with direct contact among them.” I noted that the women had to hitch up their skirts in order to be able to see the ball at their feet and thus could expose a shapely ankle without censure. Pat smiled. “Showing an ankle was an invitation and yet very subtle and apparently genteel,” she said.

As Pat said in her book, she has always concentrated on the clothing of ordinary women, not high fashion. “When the Girls Came Out to Play” records the long struggle by women in the U.S. to have clothing in which they could exercise freely and compete in sports, a process in which women’s colleges such as Wellesley, Smith and Mount Holyoke were very much involved.

All part of the complex and important — not frivolous — language of fashion, at which Pat excels.

Nina M. Scott is Professor Emerita of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a member of Five College Learning in Retirement. Originally from Germany, Scott is profiling a series of foreign-born Valley residents for the Gazette.

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