Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked” as Want to Read:
Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked

3.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  239 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
Every day stories from American history that are not true are repeated in museums and classrooms across the country. Some are outright fabrications; others contain a kernel of truth that has been embellished over the years. Collaborating with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mary Miley Theobald has uncovered the truth behind many widely repeated myth-understandings in ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Death by Petticoat, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Death by Petticoat

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 677)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jun 07, 2012 Amanda rated it it was ok
This history book has assembled the most often-repeated myths of US History and one-by-one debunks them.

Short (only 63 myths). No citations (except for images). A complete disappointment from this history buff's point of view.

The cover is cute though.

Check out my full review (Link will be live on June 10, 2012).

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Mar 16, 2012 Birgit rated it it was ok
Were long skirts and petticoats likely to catch fire thus being a leading cause of death in woman of Colonial America? In Death By Petticoat Mary Riley Theobald sets out to expose historical myths which are apparently still widely believed in today.
Presenting a wild collection of myths - all set in Colonial up to Victorian times on the North American continent - it was interesting to see how some of them are also familiar in European context while others have been completely new to me. While a q
Rebecca Reid
Jun 08, 2012 Rebecca Reid rated it it was ok
Shelves: b-nonfic-history
I greatly enjoy American history so I was excited to read Mary Theobald’s Death By Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked (Andrews McNeel Publishing, June 2012). I ended up leaving it a bit disappointed because of the lack of depth behind the book. It was an amusing and quick read, and I did learn some trivial facts from American history, but because I had expected a more detailed examination of myths and reality, I was disappointed in the superficiality of Ms Theobald’s offering.

Note: I rea
Elizabeth Kennedy
Mar 14, 2016 Elizabeth Kennedy rated it it was ok
While this book includes a variety of myths anyone studying American History will have read or heard, I kept coming back to the question of "Where did this information come from?". There is no bibliography, just a list of people the author says helped her. Not knowing these people, I am left to wonder if the author's debunking of the myth is in fact just adding a layer to the myth. To me, if I had read this while researching for a scholarly paper or while gathering info for an article, I wouldn' ...more
Sharon Tyler
May 18, 2012 Sharon Tyler rated it liked it
Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald, with the support of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, is schedule for release on June 5 2012. This book explores sixty-three myths about Colonial America that are often repeated in schools, trivia games, and even historical homes or museum. The truth of the myth, how it might have come about, and why it is still repeated is given for each. There are also full color photographs to illustrate some of the myths. Some of ...more
Lis Carey
Jan 15, 2012 Lis Carey rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This little book covers a collection of popular, oft-repeated myths of American history, both the completely fabricated and those with a grain of truth vastly over-inflated to make a better story.

The title refers to the claim that long skirts and petticoats were so likely to catch fire that "death by petticoat fire" was the second leading cause of death for colonial American women, with only childbirth beating it out. In fact the leading cause of death for colonial American women was disease--an
Mar 03, 2012 Dawn rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
"Death by Petticoat" is a cute, rather fluffy piece with all of the serious, scholarly weight of the Reader's Digest.

And that's why it works.

Theobald writes in the kind of voice you expect to hear over a kitchen table, amused with just a touch of sarcasm. Clearly enjoying her task of putting paid to some of the sillier legends that pepper American history, she goes after some of the things I'm sure tour guides and curators roll their eyes at on a regular basis. Closet taxes. Quilt codes. The j
Jan 08, 2016 Alison rated it really liked it
Death by Petticoat is such a wonderful book, and very easy to read, this is a definite must read and will certainly be something you'll want to keep on your shelf so you can bring it out next time naked ankles or Chers missing ribs are discussed.

Mary takes 63 common (and not so common but very interesting) myths from American history and, with great wit, explains the origin and reality of each myth.

This is very well researched, and will surely cause a few surprises for most readers, and romance
Cat Testino
Jan 05, 2016 Cat Testino rated it it was amazing
This book is really cool. It's not exactly an entire story. You can basically pick it up and put it down on a daily basis if you want to just read about one myth that was debunked. I kind of skip around in the book and read some of the one that seems more interesting were things I was into first then others. Totally fascinating on the history buff and there was stuff in there that like I totally did not even know about. I stumbled across this book on amazon while purchasing a lot of books from b ...more
Feb 01, 2012 Jerelyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I love books like this, fun facts that no doubt will prove useful at some point. It was very well done, and really very informative. I couldn't believe how many of these myths I thought were fact. If your interested in early American history the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation really is the place to go for such information and it was entertaining.

Thanks to Net Galley and to the publishers for my review copy.
Lauren Csaki
Mar 10, 2015 Lauren Csaki rated it really liked it
This was a really fun little volume from Colonial Williamsburg about popular myths surrounding colonial American life. The author briefly discusses (and debunks) 62 myths that have been circulating around school classrooms, living history museums, and American pop culture since God knows when. The book is beautifully laid out with charming and relevant photos/prints for each myth. I only wish she had been a little more thorough in her discussion. The lack of any source citations was particularly ...more
Feb 12, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing
This is a nice volume debunking some of the most commonly-repeated history myths. How often have you heard that people didn't bathe regularly until the 20th century? Somehow we believe people changed so drastically that they suddenly starting noticing they were dirty and smelled bad. In fact people have always bathed, or at least, washed, but they didn't always have bathtubs nor ready access to running water, especially not hot running water. I mean, men were generally clean-shaven in the 18th c ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Ama rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tripe, from-oyster
This is one of the worst books on a historical subject I have ever read. Supposedly Ms. Theobald has an advanced degree in American history yet somehow never learned how to cite her sources. She mentions "reports" and "studies" many times throughout the book but never actually lists them. How can a reader know if this is more than just more anecdotes or myths without some indication as to where she got her information from.

I would have given this book more than one star because some of it was am
Dec 13, 2011 Kerry rated it liked it
This is not the type of book that you can sit down and become thoroughly engrossed in, nor would any adult want to. Only one page is dedicated to each myth, occasionally using only 4-5 sentences in order to debunk the popular tales. Theobold is not one to go into detail or produce thorough explanations. The reader is simply made aware of a myth and immediately told "Nope, not true." There is not even a list of references in this book or citations concerning where Theobold pulled her information ...more
I love the idea for this book-it is right up my alley as a history major who specialized in US history. I love collections of truths and myths that break them down in easy-to-read ways and this looked like the perfect quick read for me.

And it was a quick read. Each entry is only about one page and includes a picture to further illustrate the point. The writing was easy to read and due to the shortness, you can very quickly read this book. I think it would be fun to pick it up and read an entry o
{ I received this as an ebook from NetGalley. Review originally posted to my blog, PidginPea's Book Nook. }

Death by Petticoat is a collection of fun, brief explanations of historical myths. Each myth is covered in a few paragraphs, making for a sufficient explanation, but I wouldn't have minded a little more depth. Some of the explanations ended a little abruptly, leaving me wishing there was more to it. But the short style makes it perfect for picking up here and there whenever you have a momen
Donna Brown
Mar 31, 2012 Donna Brown rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, history
I live with - am married to - a history buff, so of course a little of it rubs off. That said, I've always been pretty interested in history myself, especially some of the everyday details, so Death by Petticoat was an exciting book choice for me. I loved the idea of debunking some of the myths, such as petticoats catching fire being a major cause of death!

The premise of the book is simple: it examines a myth and how it came about and quickly approves or debunks it, explaining why it was or wasn
Andrea Dubnick
Jul 20, 2012 Andrea Dubnick rated it liked it
This one comes out of Colonial Williamsburg, so it has a decidedly 17th- and 18th-century slant. But so many of the myths pertain to earlier centuries as well as the 19th (and later, I suppose; I am not involved in historical interpretation later than about 1910).

The "Petticoat Death" of the title refers to the conviction by many folks (myself included, at least before I read this book) that the second-commonest cause of death in historical women resulted from long skirts catching fire from out
May 10, 2015 Bibliotropic rated it liked it
I'm always interested in historical trivia, so this book seemed right up my alley. It was simple, quick to read, and more than striving to explain the truth behind some of the myths, it also opened my eyes to some of the more ridiculous things that people actually believe about not just Colonial America, but North American history in general.

This isn't the sort of book that a hardcore historian might want on their shevles, though. It breezes through things, relying more on dispelling eneral myth
Kah Cherub
May 05, 2012 Kah Cherub rated it liked it
read complete review here:

The author is highly amusing in her way to expose silly and absurd myths and the truth behind them, but it's too bad there were so little of them and such short explanations. The book made them clearer and easier to comprehend, but in the end they came out sounding a bit trivial, without very much depth into actual history. But I'm not a historian, so I had fun and learned quite a few things.

It's a great book for when you need to
Jan 23, 2016 Sepideh rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan Polep
Aug 04, 2015 Jan Polep rated it liked it
Fluff of a book mentioned in the July/Aug 2015 "Family Tree Magazine". It debunks 63 myth-understandings associated with American history and culture. No, we weren't all short, didn't all die young, were mostly illiterate...or built log cabins and believed potatoes were poisonous. Would be a fun book for a teacher to read a "myth-a-day" from so the kids could entertain with fun facts at dinner time (except for the one about syphilis).
Dec 18, 2014 Leslie rated it liked it
Judged as what it aims to be (a light trivia book meant to debunk some myths and enlighten the average person), this book is an enjoyable read. It's silly to object that it's not deep enough or serious enough, or that the author doesn't "cite her sources," because it's not intended to be a serious historical treatise. I am interested in history, but not that of this period or location, so I learned some interesting things from it.
Feb 17, 2016 Faith rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very funny discussion of historical myths, I laughed out loud for quite a bit of the book. This would make a good gift.

Most of the myths are debunked using common sense that makes you wonder why you thought it was true at all, like the fainting couches and the removal of ribs in Victorian times. It encourages you to think more closely about and apply logic to things that you hear.

Like another reviewer pointed out, I'm dubious about China being the birthplace of ice cream because all the time I w
Oct 28, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it
I was a history major in college and I'd only ever heard 3 of the myths in this book (and honestly, who still believes the "Pilgrims & the Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving together at Plymouth Rock" myth anymore?). I didn't really learn anything (other than weird myths people apparently believe), but it was a light interesting read all the same.
Nicki Markus
May 15, 2012 Nicki Markus rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
This was a book that caught my interest when I saw it on NetGalley because I love finding out about the origin of myths. A few of the ones in this book were familiar to me while others, being particular to America, were not. All were fascinating though and offer an insight into how such stories come about as fact blurs with fiction.

This is a fairly short book and easy to skim through in a evening. I liked the inclusion of images to illustrate the myths as they provided added interest. This is a
Aug 03, 2015 Nic rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Really more like 3.5 stars, just because 4 stars for me is a pretty awesome book. This one is fun and informative, though. It debunks a few myths I had believed. Always good to know the truth!
Dec 18, 2013 Melyssa rated it liked it
I picked this book up at the gift shop at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home. It was a quick, fun read. Many of these myths were unfamiliar to me, but it was fun/interesting to read how crazy myths came to be believed as fact.

Examples: People would get their portraits painted with one hand inside their vests to avoid paying extra to have the fingers painted; beds were short b/c people slept sitting up or they were shorter then; and some women had ribs removed to wear smaller corsets. The ti
May 28, 2014 Kari rated it it was ok
I ended up skimming the book. It just wasn't interesting enough to read all the way through. History buffs would probably enjoy this one.
Oct 01, 2015 Jackie rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
A cute light way to pick up a little colonial history based around mistakes you often hear at historic houses.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 22 23 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • First Generations: Women in Colonial America
  • Home Life in Colonial Days
  • 10 Ways to Recycle a Corpse: and 100 More Dreadfully Distasteful Lists
  • Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England
  • A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans: Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History
  • Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750
  • Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots, and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871
  • The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play
  • Women's Indian Captivity Narratives
  • Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News
  • Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History
  • Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
  • Uppity Women of the New World
  • Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers
  • Twilight at the World of Tomorrow : Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of  War
  • The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital
  • Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia
  • Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience
Mary Miley Theobald is a historian and free-lance writer specializing in history, travel, and business topics. She received her B.A. and M.A. from the College of William and Mary, worked for Colonial Williamsburg for many years, and taught American history and museum studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Writing as Mary Miley Theobald, she has written a dozen nonfiction books and 200 articl ...more
More about Mary Miley Theobald...

Share This Book