Tag Archives: mourning jewellery

Encore: Alternatives for Mourning During the Great War: 1914-1918

mourning hat and veil 1914

On this Remembrance Day week-end we remember some of the alternative methods of mourning suggested during the Great War.

In 1917 Reformer Dorothy Dix strongly urged an end to traditional deep mourning. She pointed out that “What the psychological effect, not only upon the minds of women, but upon men of the sight of thousands of women dressed in mourning is appalling to consider…[a woman who puts on a colored dress] saddens no one else with her sorrow. She stabs no other woman to the heart with a remembrance of her own loss…Her colored dress, worn when her very soul is black with mourning, is the red badge of courage.”

Further, mourning is costly: “the cost of a complete mourning equipment for a well to do family would buy many liberty bonds…It is said that this war is going to be won by money…Therefore, the women of the country cannot only do a big patriotic duty, but avenge their dead by putting their money into bullets instead of crepe.”

And, finally, wearing mourning is literally sickening: “That women are depressed by wearing mourning and are made sick and nervous is a well-established fact…it wrecks her own health and makes her sacrifice the living to the dead…I hope that the women of America will rise above the heathenish custom of decking themselves out in black to show that they grieve. There will be no need of flaunting personal grief, for at the bier of every soldier who dies for his county the whole nation will bow in sorrow…” Augusta [GA] Chronicle 5 December 1917: p. 5

In 1914 Mrs Edward Lyttleton, wife of a clergyman soon to be criticised for his German sympathies, suggested that mourning for the dead of the War should consist of a “simple narrow band of purple cloth to be worn on the left arm by every man, woman or child who had lost a relation in the war.” She pointed out the economical advantages and that the badge “would be the same for all classes.”  In addition, “If the well-to-do women of the empire would lead the way in this matter they would make things easier for their poorer sisters, who surely must often stint themselves of necessities in order to get the “bit of black” so dear to their hearts.” The Denver [CO] Post 16 October 1914: p. 10

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

The mourning armband with a star. The patent application was filed in 1918, but it was not patented until 1920.

Another arm-band scheme was suggested much later in the conflict and endorsed by the President of the United States.

“No mourning costumes during war time, but rather the substitution of a mourning badge or an arm-band of black with a gray star,” was the recommendation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs at a session at Hot Springs, Ark. Mrs. L. Brackett Bishop, of Chicago, suggested that the conventional period of mourning be abolished during the war. Mrs. Bishop has made an extensive study of colors and concludes that the wearing of black causes many mental disturbances. “Certain colors are avoided by women because their nature resents them,” she said. “But the general effect is happiness. If happiness is to be won in the world, color will do it. Another reason for this strong need of color is the fact that the earth revolves each twenty-four hours a day, and each day we are in the same plane as was the fighting of yesterday. We must be bright and cheery to overcome the cloudy days. Color will win the war for us, and it is going to be won by the colors we wear and by the brightness we can thus add to the world and to the people about us through the mental attitude expressed in our costumes.” A standard arm-band furnishes an excellent substitute for the wearing of black. It has all the objectionable features of black removed and still serves the purpose of indicating that a death has occurred.

Arm-Bands Are Advocated

Patents for a standard arm-band have been applied for. This arm-band consists of a black background symbolizing the black war-cloud with the blue sky beyond. A torch indicates the blazing path of national attainment and a lyre symbolizes the rejoicing at valor and sacrifice, while the dove of peace hovers over all. These bands are to be made in the colors of the Allies. [This design does not appear in the patent records.]

The Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense has suggested an arm-band with a gold star for the death of each member of the family in service. President Wilson has given his approval of the suggestion in the following letter made public by Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, chairman of the committee:

“My Dear Dr. Shaw: Thank you for your letter of yesterday. I do entirely approve of the action taken by the Women’s Committee in executive session, namely, that a 3-inch black band should be worn, upon which a gilt star may be placed for each member of the family whose life is lost in the service, and that the band shall be worn on the left arm. I hope and believe that thoughtful people everywhere will approve of this action, and I hope that you will be kind enough to make the suggestion of the committee public, with the statement that it has my cordial indorsement. Cordially and sincerely yours, WOODROW WILSON.”

In an explanatory statement on the subject the Women’s Committee says:

For a long time the Women’s Committee has been receiving letters from women urging some such action on their part. The determined avoidance of mourning by English women has been much commented on and praised. One woman. who advocates this step has four sons in the service one of whom has already been killed. She wrote recently: “I know the costliness of such supreme glory and sacrifice, and have felt both the selfish temptation to hide my pain behind a mourning that would hold off intrusion and the inspiration and stimulus of keeping up to my gallant son’s expectation that I should regard his death as a happy promotion into higher service. Patriotism means such exalted living that dying is not the harder part.”

The insignia which has been chosen by the Women’s Committee is of a kind that can readily be made at home out of whatever material can be procured. The band is to be black and 3 inches wide—the stars gilt, and one for each member of the family who has lost his life in service. These stars may be gold, of gilded metal, or satin, or of cloth. The design will not be patented, and the insignia will never become a commercial article. Dry Goods, Volume 19, July 1918, p. 5

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A Jet mourning brooch, c. 1880s

A return to a Victorian insignia of mourning was also suggested.

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

Now that almost all American women are joining it the movement to help win the war by banishing from the streets the depressing sight of crepe and deep mourning garments, the need is felt for some expressive symbol that shall be the privilege of those bereft by death, whether through the war or through other causes….every woman who feels it a sacrifice to give up her mourning apparel would appreciate some distinguishing symbol the wearing of which would satisfy her own heart.

When the question was being discussed the other day in a room full of women, knitting for the Red Cross, one sweet-faced little woman pointed to a beautiful old-fashioned jet brooch at her throat. “This,” said she, “is my mourning. It is a treasured family heirloom full of dear associations. The members of our family do not believe in mourning apparel, but this brooch represents to me, mourning. It is never worn except at such periods, and is then worn constantly—with all costumes. When I wear this brooch, I am in mourning as truly as though clothed in deepest black.” The idea seems a very beautiful one which may well be passed on. In every family there is some piece of jewelry of this sort beloved because of association with those who have gone before and worthy of being the special symbol of remembrance and a time set apart from worldly pursuits. Oregonian [Portland, OR] 23 June 1918: p. 73

For more information on mourning in the Victorian era, with some notes on the Great War, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil’s previous Remembrance Day post on the Peerage in mourning is here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Queen Victoria and the Governess: 1883

On the date when Her Majesty Queen Victoria joined her beloved Albert in the Other World, Mrs Daffodil presents a story of Her Majesty’s kindness to a mourning governess.

QUEEN VICTORIA’S TENDERNESS.

There is so much cruel forgetfulness of the rights of inferiors and servants on the part of the ” privileged classes ” generally, that we are always pleased and refreshed to read the stories which are told of Victoria’s good heart and kind consideration. Grace Greenwood relates the following:

When I was in England I heard several pleasant anecdotes of the queen and her family from a lady who had received them from a friend, the governess of the royal children. This governess, a very interesting young lady, was the orphan daughter of a Scottish clergyman. During the first year of her residence at Windsor her mother died. When she first received the news of her mother’s serious illness, she applied to the Queen to be allowed to resign her situation, feeling that to her mother she owed even a more sacred duty than to her sovereign.

The Queen, who had been much pleased with her, would not hear of her making this sacrifice, but said, in a tone of most gentle sympathy:

“Go at once to your mother, child; stay as long as she needs you, and then come back to us. Prince Albert and I will hear the children’s lessons; so, in any event, let your mind be at rest in regard to your pupils.”

The governess went, and had several weeks of sweet mournful communion with her dying mother. Then when she had seen that dear form laid to sleep under the daisies in the old kirkyard, she returned to the palace, where the loneliness of the royal grandeur would have oppressed her sorrowing heart beyond endurance had it not been for the gracious, womanly sympathy of the Queen, who came every day to her school room, and the considerate kindness of her young pupils. A year went by, the first anniversary of her great loss dawned upon her and she was overwhelmed as never before by the utter loneliness of her grief. She felt that no one in all the great household knew how much goodness and sweetness passed out of mortal life that day a year ago, or could give one tear, one thought, to that grave under the Scottish daisies.

Every morning before breakfast, which the elder children took with their father and mother in the pleasant crimson parlor looking out on the terrace at Windsor, her pupils came to the school-room for a brief religious exercise. This morning the voice of the governess trembled in reading the Scriptures of the day. Some words of Divine tenderness were too much for her poor, lonely, grieving heart— her strength gave way, and, laying her head on the desk before her, she burst into tears, murmuring, “O, mother, mother!”

One after another the children stole out of the room, and went to their mother to tell how sadly their governess was feeling, and that kind hearted monarch, exclaiming, “Oh, poor girl, it is the anniversary of her mother’s death!” hurried to the school-room, where she found Miss __ struggling to regain her composure.

“My poor child,” she said, “I am sorry the children disturbed you this morning. I meant to have given orders that you should have this day entirely to yourself. Take it as a sad and sacred holiday—I will hear the lessons of the children.” And then she added: “To show you that I have not forgotten this mournful anniversary, I bring you this gift,” clasping on her arm a beautiful mourning bracelet, with a locket of her mother’s hair, marked with the date of her mother’s death. What wonder that the orphan kissed, with tears, this gift, and the more than royal hand that bestowed it?  

Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, Volume 36, Samuel Rhoads, Enoch Lewis, eds., 1883

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was, indeed, a very kind gesture from Her Majesty, in keeping with this anecdote from the first moments of her reign:

The first act of her life as queen was to write a letter, breathing the purest and tenderest feelings of affection and condolence to Queen Adelaide. . . . Her majesty wrote the letter spontaneously and having finished it folded it and addressed it to “Her Majesty the Queen.” Some one in her presence, who had a right to make a remark, noticing this, mentioned that the superscription was not correct and that the letter ought to be addressed to “Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager.”

“I am quite aware,” said Queen Victoria, “of her majesty’s altered character, but I will not be the first person to remind her of it.” Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great, Charles Anthony Shriner

Her Majesty’s rigidity over the forms of mourning caused acid comment in the papers at the death of her son, Leopold, the Duke of Albany:

CONVENTIONAL MOURNING.

Dear Mr Editor, I hope I shall not shock you very much if I let your readers know in confidence that some of us are getting just a wee bit tired of the fuss people still persist in making over the death of the poor dear Duke of Albany. Fancy having to go into mourning at the very commencement of summer for six weeks. It seems too dreadful. A friend of mine, a charming woman, but sadly independent, declares nothing shall induce her to make herself uncomfortable for so long, and that she means to dress as usual next week. Of course nothing can come of her resolve unless some ill-natured friend tells the Court officials, but it is certainly running a risk. Ladies in society who disregarded the Queen’s injunctions about wearing mourning for the Prince Consort, were struck off the Lord Chamberlain’s list and debarred from attending all Court balls, State concerts and drawing-rooms for three seasons afterwards. This, I can assure you, is a very serious punishment. It means social annihilation for the time being, as people do not care to be seen in your company lest they too should incur Royal displeasure. The Queen does not insist upon crape, even her ladies-in-waiting are relieved from this infliction, but she requires that the period of mourning shall be strictly observed. As John Brown used to say, “When Her Majesty mourns, she mourns.” Truth remarks, perhaps a little ill-naturedly, that the Queen seems to take a morbid pleasure in ceremonies of a mournful nature, and to almost revel in all the undertaker’s details as to coffins, services, graves and monuments. Certainly she seldom seems as active and vigorous as when superintending something of the kind. Star 9 June 1884: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

For more on the customs of Victorian mourning, see The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Fad for Widows’ Rings: 1915

widow's rings cropped

FAD FOR WIDOW’S RINGS MAY SPREAD

Western Idea Will Afford Novelty for Two Varieties of Widows–at Least During Heated Season

The latest jewelry fad–special rings for the genuine, grass, and alimonied varieties of widows–is causing excitement in the hearts of jewelers all over the country as well as in the breasts of the bereaved ones who will thus be enabled to advertise their true condition to the world.

The real widow’s ring is to be a circlet of gold with a black enamel band running through the center; the grass widow will wear one with a streak of green enamel; and the weeping Rachels with alimony will display diamonds in a continuous circle through the gold band. The rings are expected to prove highly popular with two varieties at least–for their novelty, if nothing else.

Patriot  [Harrisburg, PA] 25 June 1915: p. 1

Mourning rings had another advantage: they told of the wearer’s marital status without making a vulgar announcement:

“Some young widows who find it difficult to indicate their bereavement when indoors, with hat and flowing veil removed, take advantage of the ring to announce to susceptible young men that they have returned to the matrimonial market. They need not look melancholy. A turn of the finger and the sad news is told.

“Do men use them?”

“Most assuredly. Widowers have no way of announcing their loss except by the band on their hats. With a mourning ring all embarrassing inquiries regarding the deceased wife may be avoided and knowledge of the widower’s restored eligibility quickly and neatly imparted.” Watertown [NY] Daily Times 11 February 1888: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mourning rings have been in and out of vogue at least since the 16th century. Here is a description of the “revival” of such rings, from 1903:

Mourning Rings.

Widows have revived the fashion of wearing mourning rings, and a design that is finding great favour in the eyes of the wealthy consists of a large single black pearl, sunk in a rim of what is known as tarnished silver. Then, too, there are cameo rings, bearing the likness of the the woman’s late husband, and set in a circlet of gold covered with black enamel.

All mourning rings are large and heavy, and must be worn above the wedding circlet.

According to jewellers, the fashion for wearing rings is on the increase. Indeed, the thumb is the only digit that you may not adorn in these days; marquise rings being first favorites for wearing on the index finger. We owe to this fashion the new finger tip squeeze, for one really cannot describe such a proceeding as anything else; and a handshake would indeed be exquisitely painful to those who have rings on every finger, the gems in which would cut into the flesh if pressed in a hearty grip.

The Star [Reynoldsville PA] 25 March 1903: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil is shocked at the notion of a widow wearing a gold ring, even adorned with black enamel, in the first stages of widowhood when, according to all of the rules of mourning, nothing lustrous may be worn. However, most mourning jewels were set in gold and this ring may be designed for the second year of mourning, when glossy silks and polished jet are resumed. And, to be frank, in 1915, mourning observances were not followed as assiduously as in the halcyon days of Queen Victoria. The horrific casualties of the Great War took a good deal of the pleasure out of mourning.

“Grass widow” is a term with several possible meanings. She might be a woman whose husband was away on business. She might be “a woman who is separated, divorced, or lives apart from her husband,” as defined by a 19th-century dictionary. Or she might be a female living irregularly with a man already equipped with a wife. The phrase “grass widow” may also carry a suggestion of illicit trysts on the grass, alas. The “alimonied” widow, however, is no widow, but a divorcee. One wonders why diamonds are used to mark the failure of a marriage: was it a case of the former husband paying handsomely for his guilty conscience or the wages of sin?

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Several articles on mourning jewellery will be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe: 1918

An 1840s mourning brooch in "French Jet" or black glass. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O120605/brooch-unknown/

An 1840s mourning brooch in “French Jet” or black glass. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O120605/brooch-unknown/

Old-Fashioned Jet Brooch Replaces Crepe.

American Women Join in Move to Discard Mourning Garments.

Now that almost all American women are joining it the movement to help win the war by banishing from the streets the depressing sight of crepe and deep mourning garments, the need is felt for some expressive symbol that shall be the privilege of those bereft by death, whether through the war or through other causes.

It has been universally acknowledged that courage is as important these days as money or other material means of help; and high courage and deep mourning do not go together, either in the hearts of the bereaved, or in the hearts of those facing the imminent possibility of bereavement. All colors—or almost all—worn this season are soft and neutral in tone, and all styles are exceedingly simple, so the brave and truehearted woman who sacrifices personal prejudices for the good of the greater number, and gives up mourning even though it be a comfort to her own spirit, need not feel herself unduly conspicuous in dress. But every woman who feels it a sacrifice to give up her mourning apparel would appreciate some distinguishing symbol the wearing of which would satisfy her own heart.

When the question was being discussed the other day in a room full of women, knitting for the Red Cross, one sweet-faced little woman pointed to a beautiful old-fashioned jet brooch at her throat. “This,” said she, “is my mourning. It is a treasured family heirloom full of dear associations. The members of our family do not believe in mourning apparel, but this brooch represents to me, mourning. It is never worn except at such periods, and is then worn constantly—with all costumes. When I wear this brooch, I am in mourning as truly as though clothed in deepest black.” The idea seems a very beautiful one which may well be passed on. In every family there is some piece of jewelry of this sort beloved because of association with those who have gone before and worthy of being the special symbol of remembrance and a time set apart from worldly pursuits.

Oregonian [Portland, OR] 23 June 1918: p. 73

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There was a good deal of controversy about the wearing of mourning during the Great War. Some felt that it hampered the wearer from fully participating in the War Effort. Others decried the expense and waste in wartime. And still others felt that it had a bad effect on the spirits and health, both of the wives and mothers who wore it and the soldiers home on leave who would be surrounded by a crepuscular sea of crape, just at a time when they were trying to cope with the Horrors. The Great War saw a decline in the formal mourning traditions of the Victorian era.

An abridged version of this article will appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.