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Susanna Dickinson: Alamo Survivor

October 13, 2008

Studying a historical person or event often involves exploring different types of materials, as each type contributes a distinctive perspective on the subject. For example, walking through a restored home places you where someone celebrated with their family and friends, experienced loss or tragedy, completed daily tasks, and much more. Additionally, historians can read letters, diaries, and other documents written by people who lived in the past and touch artifacts that they created and/or used. Researchers also use secondary sources written by scholars; these works synthesize information from disparate sources and place the experiences of an individual or group within a larger context.

Visitors to the Alamo can walk through the historic structures of the former mission, and the collections of the DRT Library complement this experience with a variety of primary sources, artifacts, and secondary sources. Such is the case, for example, with Susanna Dickinson, who, with her daughter Angelina, was among the women and children who survived the Battle of the Alamo. Mrs. Dickinson lived the rest of her life in Texas and died in Austin on October 7, 1883. You can read more about Susanna and Angelina in the Handbook of Texas Online.

Susanna Dickinson

Susanna Dickinson. (SC95.342)

Angelina Dickinson

Angelina Dickinson. (SC95.052)

The DRT Library has a copy of a photograph of Susanna and an ambrotype of Angelina. Both images show the women later in their lives (above). Moreover, two of the treasures at the DRT library are petticoats that belonged to each of these women. These clothes, which they did not own and wear until several years after the Texas Revolution, and the photographs were donated by one of their descendants, Mrs. R. E. Nitschke.

Angelina Dickinson's petticoat

Angelina Dickinson’s petticoat.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries the word “petticoat” was used to indicate a “skirt, as distinguished from a bodice, worn either externally or showing beneath a dress as part of the costume (often trimmed or ornamented).” As authors C. Willett and Phyllis Cunningham note in their History of Underclothes (1992), petticoats and other undergarments have traditionally served several purposes for both men and women, including protecting the body against cold and creating fashionable shapes and silhouettes. To see how women’s fashions changed in Europe and the United States throughout the nineteenth century and over the course of Susanna’s and Angelina’s lives, see the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s thematic essay and online exhibit entitled “Nineteenth-Century Silhouette and Support.”

Lace detail, Angelina Dickinson's petticoat

Lace detail, Angelina Dickinson’s petticoat.

Finally, the DRT Library also has a marriage bond for Almeron and Susanna Dickinson dated May 24, 1829 in Hardeman County, Tennessee. This document obligated Almeron Dickinson and co-signer B. D. Johnson to pay Governor William Hall $1,050, an amount owed only if the bride or groom changed their mind or if a legal or moral obstacle to the marriage presented itself.

Marriage bond, Almeron and Susanna Dickinson

Marriage bond, Almeron and Susanna Dickinson.

For Further Reading

Hansen, Todd. The Alamo Reader: A Study in History.

“Historic Sites — Alamo — Alamo Defenders”: the DRT Library has vertical files for Angelina, Almeron, and Susanna Dickinson.

Hollmann, Robert. Susanna Dickinson.

King, C. Richard. Susanna Dickinson: Messenger of the Alamo.

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.


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