Saturday, October 15, 2011


I left poor Clovis alone for most of the day.  Terrible.  I was at the Poetry and Politics Conference in New Hampshire where I met an amazing list of poets laureate of states from Texas to Maine.  It was wonderful (aside from being apart from Clovis)!  Interesting discussions and lots of great poetry.  State arts organizations are under siege all across the country, and no one knows it better than these poets.  We should all do more to support our state and local arts organizations and tell our government officials how much we value them.

But in the meantime, we can appreciate a few pictures of Clovis I took the other very sunny day just before our nap.  If Clovis could talk, he would definitely be a vocal supporter of poetry and the other arts!  :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Must Read

Please check out the new book by Juan E. Mendez with South Carolina poet laureate Marjory Wentworth, Taking a Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights.

Mendez gives an account of his own abduction and torture under the Argentine military dictatorship and his subsequent career in human rights law to detail the broader story of how human rights, beginning with the administration of Jimmy Carter, became an important part of the diplomatic process.  The story is harrowing and moving.  Mendez now lives in the U.S. and has acted in a variety of roles with human rights organizations and the United Nations.  He continues the fight for our global society to demand human rights accountability from all governments.

This is a great and important read for everyone!  Find your local independent bookstore here and pick up a copy!  And if you are in the New York area, hear Mendez speak on October 24th in an event sponsored by the Open Society Foundation.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mourning Fashionably c. 1865

Unidentified woman wearing mourning brooch and displaying framed image of
unidentified soldier, Library of Congress
Custom and social ritual dominated life in the 19th century in a way that we find often difficult to access and understand today.  There is no ritual that holds more fascination for us moderns, nor that still is surrounded by more remnants of old practices, than that of mourning.  I have written here about the rise of embalming and will soon get back to the services provided by undertakers, but now I'd like to spend a little time discussing some of the fruits of my research into the fashion of mourning in the Godey's Lady's Books of 1864 and 1865.
Unidentified girl in mourning dress holding framed photograph of her father as a cavalryman
with sword and Hardee hat, Library of Congress
As Drew Gilpin Faust notes in her amazing book This Republic of Suffering, 18 percent of white males of military age in the South died in the war.  The death rate in the North was one-third that of the South, but death and loss were omnipresent parts of daily life throughout the country.  Due to scarcity or the overwhelming rush of death, some mourning practices may not have been followed, but it was nonetheless important for people, regardless of economic resources, to show their grief through dress.  The ritualized function of mourning dress was a visible representation of their loss as well as a cathartic process.
Mourning card, In memory of Abraham Lincoln, Library of Congress
In 1875, Harper's Bazar published "The Bazar Book of Decorum: The Care of the Person, Manners, Etiquette, and Ceremonials."  In it, they say this about mourning customs:
We have shown the good taste in America of abolishing the hired mutes, the emblazonment of the emblematic horrors of death, the skull and cross-bones on the panels of the hearse, and all that "luxury of woe" so remarkable in English funerals.  We have borrowed from the French and Germans the tasteful practice of the use of flowers.  This, however, with our usual tendency to excess, has become immoderate, and there is often an ostentatious exhibition of a profusion of crowns, crosses, hearts, and stars of the rarest and most costly products of the hothouse, which seem rather an indication of the exultation of wealth than of a regret for the dead or sympathy with the living. 
The notice of a death and the invitation to the funeral are conveyed through the newspapers to the friends and acquaintances generally, but notes are sent to those who are to serve as pallbearers.  In this country ladies occasionally, but in England never, follow the procession, and the female members of the family not seldom make their appearance in company with the male chief mourners.
It is now beginning to be the custom in America, as in England, to send to relatives and friends cards edged deeply with black, upon which is printed or engraved the name of the deceased, with his age, place, and date of his death.  These are acknowledged by letters of condolence sent immediately, and visits of ceremony after a proper time.  With a singular preference of devotion to fashion, ladies, whatever may be the control of their emotions and disposition to perform their religious duties, abstain from going to church before, and for several days after the funeral.  The card, and the letter-paper and envelope edged with black are used during the whole period of mourning. 
Mourning should be worn, as we are told by a professed authority,
"For a husband or wife, from one to two years, though some widows retain their mourning for life.
"For a parent or grandparent, from six months to a year.
"For children above ten years of age, from six months to a year; for those below that age, from three to six months; and for an infant, six or seven weeks.
"For brothers and sisters, six to eight months.
"For uncles and aunts, three to six months.
"For cousins, or uncles or aunts related by marriage, from six weeks to three months.
"For more distant relatives or friends, from three weeks to as many months, according to the degree of intimacy." 
The servants are ordinarily put in mourning by those who can afford it on the death of an important member of the family.  The nurse only in the case of the death of young children.
It is interesting to note the gradations of morning based on the age of children who die.  The mourning period for women who lose a husband was typically much longer than a man who loses a wife.  And a widow, as Faust describes, "mourned for two and a half years, moving through prescribed stages and accoutrements of heavy, full, and half mourning, with gradually loosening requirements of dress and deportment."
Arlington, Va., Capt. Nevins and officers in front of headquarters, Fort Whipple;
mourning crepe drawn over doors and windows, June 1865, Library of Congress
Heavy or full mourning was the first stage of grief for a widow and could extend for up to a year.  During this period, clothes were to be all black without any color showing whatsoever, not even the white of cuffs, fichu or collars.  Materials were to be dull rather than shiny and accessories of any kind were normally discouraged.  After the first phase, a widow entered half-, light or second mourning, where somber colors like grays and lilacs could be worn and gradually more trimming and accessories.

Unidentified soldier in Union uniform with saber and revolver
in locket with chain of braided hair, Library of Congress
Obverse, Library of Congress
Godey's Lady's Book of 1864 and 1865 seems in many cases almost reluctant to discuss mourning fashions, as if the grimness of the war had no place in a fashion magazine.  But there was definitely a demand for more information on the fashion of mourning and Godey's responded to it.  In August of 1864 in the "Chitchat" from the Fashion Editor, they write:
Information and suggestions on mourning dress and materials are desired by our readers, and we are pleased to give them the benefit of a letter on the subject from Mme. Demorest.
Bombazine is used now comparatively little for dresses.  Queen’s cloth, Yamise, Hernietta cloth, Barathea, all wool delaines, and merinos, are much preferred, as being more durable, handsomer, and still lusterless.  Alpaca is worn where trimming on the skirt is allowable; of course in deep mourning no trimming is used.
 For the heat of summer, such as we are now experiencing, black French grenadine, crape Maretz, and crape Eugene are the principal materials. 
Very elegant shawls are made of silk grenadine, with a fold a quarter of a yard wide of crape or silk.  Circulars are often made of the same material, trimmed with a fold of the same.  For fall, a fine black Thibet shawl edged with a wide fold of crape or silk is the most desirable. 
In bonnets, bombazine, crape Maretz, silk covered with crape, and all crape with crape ruche inside, are the only styles admissible for deep mourning. 
There is no dress that requires more discretion in the choice and arrangement than that called second mourning, but it is one of the most elegant, when well selected. 
For half mourning at this season of the year, Mme. Demorest is making black grenadine richly trimmed with flutings and silk, or ribbon quilled and laid on in various designs, while an endless variety of chene grenadines, lustrines, crapes, and Mozambiques, in black, gray, and lavender, give ample scope for a display of taste in all the gradations of mourning dress. 
Some very beautiful designs in shawls have been exhibited this summer, in black grenadine with a border composed of white and violet stripes edged with a heavy silk fringe. 
Basquines and circulars made in lusterless silk, and without trimming, are very much worn in light mourning. 
For a half mourning bonnet black tulle puffed and trimmed with violets; or, for full dress, white crape covered with black lace and trimmed with violet flowers and violet strings; the latter is very much admired as a reception bonnet. 
One of the most elegant bonnets we have seen this season was composed of a new material having the appearance of fine Tarleton and velvet woven together to form small diamonds; the bonnet was covered plain with the material, while a simple, trailing vine of black ivy leaves, veined with white, fell over the crown and cape inside, white and black flowers and white strings.
In February 1864, the "Chitchat" produces this interesting anecdote on mourning accessories:
A style for which we have no word of praise, but is much worn, is a string or double string of large black beads round the neck, worn over the paletôt or wrap.  They are graduated in size, the largest being the size of a very large marble, and they are of jet, glass, or imitation jet.  They are particularly fancied in mourning.
The soldier's memorial, Currier & Ives, Library of Congress
Bonnets were often featured that were suitable for later stages of mourning, although, like dresses, there were never (during the period of 1864-1865) features of a dress for full mourning.  Quite simply, to describe fashions of full mourning would have been in contradiction of its purpose.  There should be no fashion to intense grief.

In May 1864, they include this bonnet.

Godey's, May 1864, Providence Athenaeum
Their description:  Bonnet for second mourning.  The front of the bonnet is of black silk.  The crown is of a light lavender silk, covered with a network of black chenille. The bow on top of the bonnet is of lavender silk, edged with black velvet, and the ends embroidered and trimmed with black chenille.  The inside trimming is composed of white and black lace, and loops of lavender-colored ribbon.
In the same issue, they include this evening dress, the second figure from the left.

Godey's, May 1864, Providence Athenaeum
Their description:  Evening dress for second mourning.  Lavender-colored silk dress, with three crepe puffs on the edge of the skirt.  The over-skirt is a network of fine black chenille, finished with a very rich chenille fringe, which just reaches the crepe puffings on the skirt.  The corsage is low, and pointed both back and front.  The fichu is formed of white and black lace and lavender ribbons.  The coiffure is of black velvet and lavender daisies.
In the March 1865 "Chitchat", they write the following:
Dresses of black tulle, puffed, are very fashionable for persons in light mourning, or even those wearing gay colors.  They are also convenient and pretty for a watering place.  Among the many fanciful ways of trimming are the following:  Studding them all over with steel or white satin beads, or else applying silver leaves at intervals over the puffs.  Others, again, are composed of several skirts ornamented with white floss silk, darned in to represent blonde patterns. 
Fancy pins and arrows of all descriptions are worn in the hair, and some very pretty ones, formed of crochet work and jet, have appeared for mourning.
In July 1865, they include the following in their color fashion plate.

Godey's, July 1865, Providence Athenaeum
Their description:  Second-mourning costume.  Dress of black silk edged by a narrow ruffle and trimmed with two rows of lace and bead insertion.  The over-dress is of spotted black lace, worked with beads, and caught up and ornamented by large jet beads.  The corsage is low, and finished at the waist by a belt of black velvet edged with jet, and finished with a jet clasp.  The sleeves are short, and formed of a full puff of lace over black silk, and ornamented by loops of black velvet.  The neck is covered by a fancy fichu of black lace, trimmed with black velvet and beads.  Leghorn hat, trimmed with narrow black velvet, steel beads, and short plumes.
And in November 1865, the following, the first dress on the left.
Godey's, November 1865, Providence Athenaeum
Their description:  Costume for light mourning.  Dress of rich black silk, trimmed with thick cord and violet silk.  The corsage is made with long coat-tails, edged with cord, and turned over with violet silk.  The front of the corsage is of violet silk, arranged to simulate a vest.  The edge of the skirt is trimmed with thick cord, and every breadth is cut up and turned back with revers, the space being filled in by violet silk edged with a fluted ruffle.  The bonnet is of black silk, covered with figured net, and trimmed with loops of violet velvet.  The inside trimming consists of a blonde ruching and a tuft of velvet.
Mourning in the period was not completely humorless, as this joke from the September 1864 issue attests.
CUSTOMER. “A slight mourning hat-band, if you please.”
HATTER. “What relation, sir?”
CUSTOMER. “Wife’s uncle.”
HATTER. “Favorite uncle, sir?”
CUSTOMER. “Um—well, yes.”
HATTER. “May I ask, sir, are you mentioned in the will?”
CUSTOMER. “No such luck.”
HATTER (to his assistant, briskly)—“Couple o’ inches, John!”
Thanks as always is due to the wonderful Providence Athenaeum. Please visit their website and find out what a worthy organization this is!