Th 303768

Time travel

Dec. 1, 2008
The year is 1890. You are a middle class Victorian housewife and mother, Mrs. Russell Parsons.

by Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH

The year is 1890. You are a middle class Victorian housewife and mother, Mrs. Russell Parsons. Mrs. Parsons is holding an afternoon tea in her parlor for friends from the local township. Topics being discussed today range from Queen Victoria, to tea etiquette, to top fashions, to dental history and practices of the day.

Mary Kellerman, left, and Janet Parnes (aka Mrs. Parsons).
Click here to enlarge image

Travel through time and return to the year 2008. Janet Parnes is Mrs. Russell Parsons in a program titled "The Etiquette Expert of 1890." Janet lives in a suburb of Boston and has a bachelor of arts in French and a minor in education from the University of Massachusetts. In 2001, she began Royal Tea Parties by Lady J as a tea party event for girls ages 4 through 8. When parties began to slow during one summer, Janet started to research other options. Her grandmother was an antiques dealer, and Janet had always loved visiting her 1790s colonial home containing antiques that held many stories. She was especially fond of the late Victorian period. Later that year, she began to research and develop a script for an adult Victorian tea party. Janet has since adapted the program to include children and teen versions, including what a typical child's day was like and advice to teens on attending their first ball.

Mary Kellerman, RDH, and Sue Cohen, RDH, had been interested in doing a tea party for the Massachusetts Dental Hygienists' Association as a social and fund–raising event. Mary had seen Janet at a program and thought she would be a great addition to an event that was being planned. Janet began to research 1890s dentistry and added the information to her existing program. Her information is factual with a tone that ranges from tongue–in–cheek to poignant.

The goals of Janet's program are to:

  • Illustrate the story of a woman's life as a Victorian lady
  • Explain and resurrect the ageless traditions and values of the Victorian era
  • Describe the role of dentistry in the 1890s.

Janet's program is entertaining and enlightening. Victorian era women were bound by proper etiquette, fashion, and homemaking. The Victorian Code of Etiquette was vital in its day because it expressed the values that were held dear during the time period. It was the woman's responsibility to teach and enforce The Code in part by role modeling as a virtuous wife and mother. The values of honesty, respect, consideration, and generosity were essential and crucial to continued society. Janet places emphasis on these values and our own innate qualities. From a dental perspective, Janet discusses the history behind the first dental hygiene school, the Victorian beliefs and values about teeth, the causes of tooth decay, restorative materials and techniques, the use of anesthesia, and information about equipment that would be seen in an 1890s dental practice. In fact, a St. Louis physician in 1890 convinced a food product company to grind peanuts into a paste for his denture patients to wear, and thus peanut butter was born!

Janet's program is an interactive presentation where she solicits responses and moves through the audience presenting items such as dresses, skates, valentines, and other Victorian era items. She does not use handouts or PowerPoint but does allow participants to feel and see certain objects. Janet uses a number of props to add to the feel of the "day." Since the program takes place in Mrs. Parsons' home parlor, this interaction provides for an intimate atmosphere. Often the 1890s and 2000s collide when participants try to explain modern, everyday conveniences, such as cell phones or other electronic devices to Mrs. Parsons! Depending on a state's rules and regulations, the program may also qualify for continuing–education credits on the history of dentistry.

Janet is enthusiastic about performing and storytelling. She is also an avid writer. She writes for people of all ages who are celebrating an event — simply describe the person and she will create a personalized poem! Janet is also passionate about instilling in children the recognition and value of core qualities such as kindness, generosity, and respect for ourselves and others. She attended the Protocol School of Washington® to provide etiquette programs for children and young people.

Janet loves the feeling of connecting to audiences through meaningful topics. The connection can come in many forms such as laughter, a sudden realization or moment of understanding, or poignant memory. She loves immersing herself in the story and character and taking the audience for an enjoyable ride. Dentistry in 1890 is truly fascinating. Come along for the ride! For information about Janet and her programs, visit or call (866) 376–1110.

About the Author

Ann–Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene, member of ADHA and other professional associations. Ann–Marie presents continuing–education programs for hygienists and dental team members and has written numerous articles on a variety of topics. She can be reached at [email protected].