Thursday, March 6, 2014

Raising an 18th Century Pudding Head

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator

It was not easy raising a child in the 18th century. What does one do if little Nabby is just learning to walk and she “Bruses her forehead sadly” because she “is fat as a porpouse and falles heavey”?

If you are Abigail Adams writing those words to your sister in 1766 you might ask to borrow a pudding cap, the early American version of a crash helmet for the wee set.

A toddler is protected from bumps with this pudding cap.

This “quilted contrivance,” as the future First Lady described it, apparently got its name for a resemblance to a kitchen pudding mold. The caps were stuffed with straw, or horsehair or other fibers and strapped on the toddlers’ heads to help contain concussions, cushion collisions, and otherwise protect the young ones from becoming “pudding heads” from too many hard falls.

The caps could be bought ready-made from merchants. Catherine Rathell, a Williamsburg store owner advertised “quilted Satin Puddings for Children” in the January 30, 1772, issue of the Virginia Gazette. These were received “from London, on commission” in a “Parcel of neat Goods.”

Lest you think the use of such “contrivances” ended two hundred years ago, you may want to check out the Thumper Bumper at to see the 21st century equivalent for children and for adults with balance problems. Or take a look at the Thudguard, which just happens to be imported from England. In a parcel of neat goods, no doubt.


Baumgarten, Linda. What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America. New Haven ;London: Yale UP, 2003. Print.

"Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon, January 30, 1772, Page 3." Virginia Gazette. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

This article originally appeared in the January 2010 Gunston Grapevine.

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