Tag Archives: Victorian widow

Lenten Costumes: 1876-1890

lent is over2

Lent is Over and the Curate is a thing of the past.

Beginning in the 1870s, a penitential garb was adopted by some fashionable ladies:

Exclusive New York modistes are already displaying some very ecclesiastical looking toilets, designed for special wear during the Lenten season. Evening Star [Washington DC] 9 February 1889: p. 10

The fashion seems to have arisen out of mourning garb and costumes were designed and sold by mourning retailers like Jay’s:

BLACK LENTEN COSTUMES, at Two Guineas each. Messrs. JAY, having had numerous applications from their patronesses for some kind of black dress suitable to the season of Lent, have produced special LENTEN COSTUMES, which, with a sufficient quantity for a bodice unmade, they are selling at £2 2s. each, and which have already obtained the most extensive approval. Jay’s. The Times [London] 13 March 1876: p. 18

There were always critics of modish fashions for widows and of the adoption of those fashions by those not in mourning:

The most successful of the season’s belles in society are widows scarcely out of their weeds. Mourning costumes were never more carefully or coquettishly made. They are not so simple, generally, as a strict regard for propriety might dictate… Widows’ caps have become the jauntiest imaginable, if desired, and in short, mourning is no longer necessarily very somber. To show how much in favor black has grown, it is only necessary to tell that

LENTEN COSTUMES

Will be quite commonly worn this year. They are already being made, and those who don them intend to stick to the quasi-mourning during the whole forty days preceding Easter. This Lenten dress will be black alpaca, serge or cashmere, and cut close in the throat, around which will be a clerical linen collar in black or white linen. The make-up of the garment will be severely simple. A missal, bound in black and edged with silver, will be suspended by a silver chain from a black belt, fastened with a plain, square silver clasp. The bonnet of black will be of the close-sided or white muslin, simply trimmed, will be worn around the neck blow the collar, fastened down with a silver pin representing a Lenten lily; and for the six weeks the hair will be uncrimped, unwaved, unbanged, parted in the middle and laid back behind the ears. In acute cases the underclothes and nightclothes will be embroidered in black, and the stockings will be on the inky hue. Thus attired a good many women might take a further step into religious somberness by getting into a nunnery , and nobody would say them nay, for they will be unfit for the gaze of man. On the other hand, such attire will be rather becoming to rosy and youthful women, and may lead to that other religious rite called marriage. Upward rollings of the eyes and mild pensiveness of countenances will go along with these modifications of sackcloth and ashes. I don’t say that the girls who do these things are humbugs. I will go no further than to express the opinion that not one in ten knows the real meaning of Lent, or would go around the corner to find out…. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 12 February 1882: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Many are the fashion notations, satirical observations, jokes, and sarcastic imprecations muttered under the breath about the Merry Widow. Mrs Daffodil has previously noted anecdotes about the wearing of mourning merely because it was so becoming, so it is no great surprise to find this fashionable austerity adopted as a faux-religious observance during the season of Lent when so many social amusements were forbidden. One expects that the Easter toilettes were that much more brilliant, as a gourmand relishes his meals the more after a course of taking the waters.

THE LENTEN COSTUME What the Fashionable Woman is Coquetting With Now.

New York, Feb. 27. In this season of sackcloth and ashes when the pleasures and vanities are supposed to be laid aside for more sober diversions, woman, seeing that her hands are tied regarding the elegant and showy wardrobe of the ball-room, coquets with her Lenten costume. In this make-up she resembles more closely the fashion plate in a woman’s journal than anything else.

Apparently she regards this as a sort of penance for looking so much prettier before, and it requires so little sacrifice on her part to pose as such a doll, but more likely it is her inherent coquetry which makes her adopt this sedate costume to prove to her admirers that all is not vanity, but a very chic woman can array herself in anything and look well, knowing the great secret of suitability. The less devout, but as clever a devotee is aware that the sober tint without relief of bright color is not becoming to her and here her own judgment is exercised. St Louis [MO] Republic 1 March 1890: p. 16

The austerity of the “Lenten Costume” was good in principle, but became something of a joke.

[Joke 1] “Dolly’s wearing a new Lenten costume.”

“Why do you call it Lenten?”

“She seems to have sacrificed about half of it.” The Hutchinson [KS] News 28 March 1921: p. 3

[Joke 2]

Mrs. Tiptop: Do you know, my dear, that fashion now requires that ladies must wear Lenten costumes?

Mr. Tiptop: Lenten costumes! Are they expensive?

“I am sorry to say they are—fearfully so. It’s some new sort of cloth, but I will have to have one, dear, at once.”

“Humph! Seems to me I’ll be the one that will do the repenting.” The Topeka [KS] Daily Capital 13 May 1887: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil was amused by Lenten shopping restrictions as voiced by a “dear old churchwoman.”

“During the early days of Lent,” said a dear old churchwoman to your correspondent yesterday, “I never shop for anything but black and white goods.” Dear old precisian, she had spent the better part of the morning in deciding the merits of two pieces of silver and black brocade either of which was handsome enough to divert her thoughts from her sins during the morning lesson by the bare memory of it, but she fancied herself very virtuous indeed because she had stopped at the color line—as not a few fancy it for the good of their souls to go to Lenten service in a black gown; and a silver mounted prayer book, swung by silver chains, is simply a patent of humility. Cincinnati [OH] Daily Gazette 12 March 1881: p. 10

This post was originally published by Mrs Daffodil in 2015.

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.

 

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The Widow, the Shoemaker and the Will: 1850s

A Flaw in the Will

A Flaw in the Will, Phillip Richard Morris http://blackcountryhistory.org/collections/getrecord/WAGMU_OP99/

An amusing incident is related of a woman in England whose husband, a very wealthy man, died suddenly without any will.

The widow, desirous of securing the whole property, concealed her husband’s death, and persuaded a poor shoe-maker to take his place while a will could be made. Accordingly, he was closely muffled up in bed as if very sick, and a lawyer was employed to write the will. The shoe-maker, in a feeble voice, bequeathed half of all the property to the widow.

“What shall be done with the remainder? ” asked the lawyer.

“The remainder,”‘ replied he, “I give and bequeath to the poor little shoe-maker across the street, who has always been a good neighbor and a deserving man.” thus securing a rich bequest for himself!

The widow was thunderstruck with the man’s audacious cunning, but did not dare to expose the fraud; and so two rogues shared the estate.

The Herald of Progress, 21 May 1864: p. 222

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil will point out that this story is very likely to be an “urban legend,” to judge by the many variants and repetitions found in the papers, but that does not make it any less plausible.

The widow of a man who was careless enough to die intestate generally only inherited a third of his estate. If you are interested in the arcane law covering subject of such vital interest to ladies who could have no property of their own until the Married Women’s Property Act was passed a few years later, please see this link. So it is no wonder that the widow was keen to perpetrate a fraud.  She does not seem to have been alone. Such impositions involving deathwills, and mourning were a staple of the nineteenth-century press. No trick was too low, where a bequest was concerned:

AN APPARITION OF HIS MOTHER

Was Invoked by Fakirs to Swindle H.S.H. Cavendish the Great British Explorer.

London, May 14. The chancery court has ordered the cancellation of the deed by which H.S.H. Cavendish, the explorer, provided that his property should go to Mrs. Strutt, wife of Major C.H. Strutt, and her children, to the exclusion of the plaintiff’s own wife, who was Isabel Jay, formerly leading lady of the Savoy theatre.

Mr. Cavendish, in his appeal to the chancery court, charged Maj. Strutt and Mrs. Strutt with influencing him through table turning, and claimed that Mrs. Strutt obtained the deed by pretending to be the ghost of his, the plaintiff’s, mother, and by representing the latter as speaking from heaven and advising him to so dispose of his property. The Winnipeg [Manitoba, Canada] Tribune 14 May 1903: p. 9

 

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.

 

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875

mourning ladies Quad's Odds 1875

ONE IN A THOUSAND

How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.

 

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.

The Lawyer and the Ghost: 19th-century

secret drawer

A secret drawer in the desk. popularwoodworking.com

THE CASE OF MRS. ROGER BLACK.

A Mr. Roger Black, a plain man, living in Kentucky, had just paid for a small house, which he had hitherto rented, and, returning home, told his wife, showed her the receipt for the sum—two thousand dollars—though more regular papers were to be made out next day, and, as far as she knew, he then went at once to his stable, where, some hours later, he was found dead, having been kicked in the head by a horse.

When the first horror was over, and Mr. Black’s funeral had taken place, the widow naturally looked for the receipt, but could not find it. Having incautiously mentioned this fact, the person who had sold the property denied having received any money from Mr. Black, and insinuated that Mrs. Black uttered a falsehood when she declared that her husband had done more than talk about buying the place. In proof of this, he showed a document, only half completed, and declared that Black had said: “let it wait until I think it over “—and that, for his part, he had been very willing to wait.

The widow naturally fought for her rights, but had no case.

She had no witnesses, and the lawyer who had the interests of the other side in charge brought witnesses to prove that Mrs. Black was the victim of hallucinations—thought that her mother’s spirit sat at her bedside when she was ill, and had held spiritual circles at her house. Believing in an alleged medium, who was afterward exposed, and in warnings of Mr. Black’s death, in the shape of raps on her head-board.

People who could not believe Mrs. Black capable of trying to defraud anyone, readily leaned to the idea that she was the victim of delusion, and the poor woman, who could not prove the truth of her statement to anyone, was also aggrieved by being supposed insane.

The night before the decision took place, she gave up all hope and went early to bed, taking her two little ones with her.

She could not sleep, but lay there weeping, wondering how she could feed her children, from whom their hard-earned home was to be wrested. There was a public clock not far away, and she heard it strike, nine— ten—eleven—at last twelve—then, weary with her sorrowful vigil, her eyes closed.

She lay in a deep and heavy slumber, when she was aroused by heavy blows upon her outer door. As she was alone in the little house, she felt alarmed, and, pushing up the window, leaned out and asked who was there.

To her surprise, the voice of the lawyer who was working against her replied:

“It is I—come down, Mrs. Black; I must speak to you.”

Accordingly, she dressed and went to the door. In the cold, gray dawn, they stood there together, and she saw that something moved him strongly.

“Mrs. Black,” he said, at last, ” to-night, as I lay in bed, I thought that your late husband came into my room, and stood looking at me. I do not believe in such things as apparitions, you know; but I could not fancy it a delusion when he spoke—’you are helping that man to rob my wife,’ he said; ‘I did pay him the money. We were to have a lawyer make out papers next day. I showed wife the receipt and then put it in my mother’s old bureau, up garret, where I keep other papers, in the secret drawer—get it.’

“Then,” said the lawyer, “a light by which I saw him, faded—I got up and came to you.” The widow shook her head—” I am afraid you have been having hallucinations now,” she said; “poor Roger never would have put the receipt there. To be sure, there is a secret drawer—I will go and see—come up.”

She led the way up to the garret, in the corner of which stood a broken, old bureau. There was a so-called secret drawer between two manifest ones. She touched the spring—a number of yellow papers lay there and some Daguerreotypes. Amongst them was a large, white envelope.

“That is it!” Mrs. Black cried, drew it forth, opened it, and—behold! the receipt.

“Mrs. Black, you have but to bring that receipt to court to-morrow,” the lawyer said, slowly; “my client is a rascal.

“If I may ask you a favor—it is this—that you will keep the secret of my vision, it would greatly injure me to have it known. But I do not think that you are anxious for revenge?”

Mrs. Black held out her hand to him.

“You have done me a good turn by coming here,” she said, “and I promise.”

“I wonder my poor husband went to you—I should have thought he’d come to me instead—but you acted right, and I’ll never tell.”

She never did, while the lawyer lived. After he died, she no longer felt bound by the promise she had made him.

I do not vouch for this story. It was told me as a true one; but it resembles very closely a tale in an English periodical many years old. However, it is an illustration of my idea that lawyers are employed by spirits who have legal affairs to settle before they can forget the troubles of this world. 

The Freed Spirit, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1894: pp 183-186

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is a popular idea that the legal profession is composed exclusively of vultures, sharks, and other unpleasant creatures, preying on the unfortunate. It is refreshing to find a lawyer happy to do a good turn, even if it is at the urging of a spectre. One does wonder why the ghost came to the lawyer, but perhaps he thought the lawyer’s disinterested position would offset the unpleasantness over Mrs Black’s unorthodox supernatural views.

We have previously read of a similar case where a lawyer witnesses a ghost’s return in the story of The Will and the Ghost. But if, as Miss Dallas suggests, spirits employ lawyers, where are the bills sent? Are said bills for “chill-able” hours? Or do such lawyers work “pro-boo-no”? [Mrs Daffodil must apologise. That person over at Haunted Ohio, so reprehensively fond of puns, must have crept into Mrs Daffodil’s rooms in a shocking invasion of privacy and added those last two sentences, as the manuscript sat in the type-writer.]

 

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.

 

“Mother lived without the Parish; she’ll be buried without the Parish:” 1842

The Potters Field

The Potters Field

It was a fine summer Sabbath evening in June, and we were knocking about among the tombstones as usual, making our observations upon life and character, when our attention was arrested by a plain coffin, borne upon the shoulders of four men in black, and followed by eight chief mourners, all in decent but humble suits of sables. The chief mourners were eight children—four boys and four girls: or, to speak more correctly, three boys and three girls, with two little ‘ toddles,’ mere infants, straggling in the rear. The eldest boy and girl might have been about fifteen and fourteen years respectively; the next, twelve and eleven; the third pair between seven and eight; the youngest, as we have said, between infancy and childhood. The eyes of all spectators were upon the bereaved ones as they stood around the grave, yawning to receive their only parent and provider; and few were the dry eyes of those that behold the melancholy group— the eldest boy looking fierce and manlike, the rest weeping bitterly, save the youngest pair, looking wonderingly around, as if marvelling what all the ceremony might mean.

“Cutting funeral, that, sir;” observed a little pursy man in black who stood near us; “werry cutting funeral, indeed,” repeated the little man, blowing his nose violently.

“Who are they?” we enquired, not without anticipating something like the little domestic history we were favoured with by the nose-blowing little man in black.

“Horphans, sir—every one on ’em horphans; that’s their mother as is a bein’ buried, sir.”

“Indeed.”

“Yes, sir; she was a ‘spectable woman—highly ‘spectable, indeed— werry wirtuous, poor woman, sir—paid rates and taxes in the parish for twenty year. I ought to know it; for I’m one of the overseers—I am.”

“I should like to hear something of the family.”

“Should you, sir? Well, you shall hear; but it’s a melancholy story— wery melancholy, indeed. You must know, sir, there wasn‘t a more decenter couple in this parish than Thomas Mason and his wife, Jane; they were well to do, and doing well; every body respected them, for they paid their way and was civil to their customers. Well, Thomas fell in a decline, sir, and died; but he didn’t die soon enough— for his sickness wasted all their substance, and the business was neglected, so the family fell into poverty: but the poor widow struggled on, and the exertions she made to maintain them little ones was really the wonder of the neighbourhood. ‘Mr Smith,’ says she to me, when I offered some relief, ‘I won’t trouble this world long, and parish money shall never cross my palm; but when I’m gone, you won’t see my desolate orphans want a morsel of bread.‘ So, poor woman, she was right; for she soon sickened, and was bed-ridden for thirteen months; and them children, as you see a standin’ ’round their mother‘s grave, worked themselves to an oil to keep her from the hospital–much more the workus. The girls worked all day; and boys and girls sat up all night, turn and turn about, with their poor mother–she was sorely afflicted, poor woman. Well, sir; when she died at last, our vicar went and offered his assistance, and told the children, of course, the parish would bury their mother ; but that there hobstinate boy, him that’s a givin’ his orders, wouldn’t hear of it, and blowed up the vicar for mentioning such a thing. So the vicar comes to me, and says be, Mr Smith, these here young Mason’s is the oddest babies as ever I see, for they’ve sold their bed and all their things to bury their mother; let‘s make up a purse for them, and there’s my sovereign to begin with. Says I, sir, never mind, I‘ll bring them right; and the parish shall bury the poor woman, so that’ll be so much saved: and with that I goes off to Poppin’s court, and into the fust floor; there was the poor woman dead, and the room stripped of all the furniture and things. Says that there youth, ‘ Mr Smith,‘ says he, ‘ I’d be wery glad to see you another time, but we’re in great grief for our mother bein’ dead, and we hope you‘ll excuse us not askin’ you to sit down.’ Lord love you, sir, there wasn’t the sign of a chair or a table in the room, nothing but the corpse, and a bit of a plank. Says I, ‘my boy, I’m sorry for your grief, but I hope you won’t have any objection to let the parish manage your poor mother’s funeral.’ With that, sir, the boy flares up like any think, whips up a poker, and swears if he catches the parish a-comin‘ to touch his mother, he’ll brain the lot of ’em: ‘Mother lived without the parish,’ says he, ‘died without the parish, and she’ll be buried without the parish!’ With that he opens the door, and shews me down stairs as if he was a suckin’ markis: that‘s the story on ’em, sir; and they’re a riggler hindependent lot as ever I see. God help them, poor things!”

And with this the little man blew his nose once more, as the group of motherless children, reformed in their sad order of procession, and with streaming eyes, and many repeated last looks at their mother‘s grave, departed to their naked home.

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 52, 1842

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Just as going to the “work-house” or, in the United States, the “poor farm,” was a disgrace—the last humiliation of the desperate— being on the parish dole was seen as a mark of shame. A “pauper’s funeral” was considered equally degrading: the coffin, if there was one, was of the cheapest wood, nothing more than a coarse shroud was provided, and burial was in the Potters Field where one would lie cheek-by-jowl with the stranger, the unchristened, and the immoral. Shuddering at the prospect, many persons went into debt to pay for a respectable funeral.

If anyone could have used financial assistance, it would have been the bereaved Mrs Mason and her brood of eight, but her pride would not allow it. One hopes that Mrs Mason’s children saw happier days and, when they had families of their own, purchased extensive life-insurance coverage to protect their loved ones from a similar, sad fate.

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.

 

A Baby in Mourning: 1889

Baby with mourning bows. http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559

Baby with mourning bows and a black petticoat http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+47559

A BABY IN MOURNING

TRAPPINGS OF WOE WHICH WERE DECIDEDLY OVERDONE

The wearing of black fabrics, especially of that particularly somber black fabric known as crape, as emblematic of mourning has long been a much-mooted question. Even those who have taken a decided stand against such as would abolish the custom, on the ground that in too many cases it savored of mawkish sentiment, have agreed that its excessive use is revolting. Perhaps a more aggravated case of revolting excess in this direction was never witnessed than that which was necessarily endured by a carful of passengers on a Sixth-avenue L train yesterday.

A woman, whose face was lit up with more than ordinary intelligence, got on the car at Fifty-ninth-street with two children, a girl about four years old and a babe in arms. Under different circumstances the hearts of those who saw this mother must have gone out in kindly sympathy, for she was young and a widow, as was evidenced by the fact that her dress was of the deepest black and her headgear a long crape veil, reaching far below her waist. The three should have formed a most attractive group, for the children were unusually bright and pretty, but it is doubtful if the passengers, judging from the expressions on their faces, ever looked upon a picture that filled them with greater disgust. The mother’s “weeds” should and would have commanded respect, in spite of their superabundance, had it not been for the fact that she advertised her bereavement by arraying her little ones in costumes which, because of the contrast, were even more somber than her own.

The little girl, whose hair was so golden that it seemed as though the sun was streaming through it, had not a touch of color about her, except that which came from her hair and bright blue eyes. Her dress was of black cashmere, with a heavy drapery of crape, and she wore a black hat, also trimmed with crape. Even the little pin that fastened her somber dress at the throat was of jet, and she carried a black-bordered handkerchief. The climax was reached, however, in the clothing of the babe in arms, a swaddling robe of unrelieved black crape, the little head covered with a baby’s cap of the same material. The effect was positively ghastly, and there was a sign of relief when the widow and her two little ones left the car.

New York [NY] Times 5 August 1889: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: How very unkind of the passengers to be “disgusted” by a bereaved lady with two very small children!  To be fair, there was much controversy over whether it was healthy to put children into full mourning. Crape was considered depressing to health and spirits in adults and it was feared that the effects would be magnified in vulnerable, impressionable children and infants. Despite this, it is possible that the widow was pressured by an officious mother-in-law or well-meaning friends to clothe her little ones in black as a mark of respect for their departed father. There was much anxiety among the bereaved about “correct” mourning, Common sense was sometimes sacrificed on the altar of propriety.

A child's mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/50734/

A child’s mourning dress, c. 1882. It shows signs of being hastily made. http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/

No Crape for Children

It is fortunately no longer the custom, as a general thing, to put little children into black, and even when it is done crape is no longer employed, even as trimming, and black cloth coats and hats and black ribbon sashes are the greatest concessions that are made. The St Paul [MO] Daily Globe 13 January 1895: p. 13

A child's black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369

A child’s black velvet dress. This was a mourning dress for a little boy, Travers Buxton, who wore it on the death of his mother in 1871. http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/658369

Official Court Mourning: The children all wear black sashes on their white dresses; black gloves, black veils, and black ribbons on their straw or Leghorn hats. La Belle assemblée: or, Bell’s court and fashionable magazine, 1824

A child's half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562

A child’s mourning or half-mourning dress and bolero c. 1850-60 http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1362562

Young persons, or those who are in mourning for young persons, frequently wear a good deal of white, as for instance, white ribbons, handkerchiefs, and white gloves sewed with black: very young children, only wear white frocks and black ribbons. The Workwoman’s Guide, by A Lady, 1838

Children are, as a rule, dressed in white when they are placed in mourning, as so many people feel that black is out of harmony with their tender years and bright feelings, which can happily be only temporarily damped. Bruce Herald 7 April 1899: p. 6

And then the girl remembered that she had seen a baby downstairs decked out in crape and black ribbons, and she knew that this must be Jacky’s baby sister. How could this mother be so very foolish?  Star 26 January 1901: p. 1

For more details on Victorian mourning see The Victorian Book of the Dead and posts on this blog labeled with the topic “mourning”.

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.

 

The Young Widow: 1870

Weeds for a Young Widow, 1896

Weeds for a Young Widow, 1896

The Young Widow.

A census-taker, going his round, stopped at an elegant brick dwelling-house, the exact locality of which is no business of ours.

He was received by a stiff, well-dressed lady, who could well be recognized as a widow of some years’ standing.

On learning the mission of her visitor, the lady invited him to take a seat in the hall. Having arranged himself in a working position, he began his unpleasant task by inquiring the number of persons in the lady’s family.

“Eight, sir,” replied the lady, “including myself.”

“Very well—your age, madam?”

“My age, sir,” replied the lady, with a piercing, dignified look. “I conceive it’s none of your business what my age might be; you are very inquisitive, sir.”

“The law compels me, madam, to take the age of every person in the ward; it’s my duty to make the inquiry.”

“Well, if the law compels you to ask, I presume it compels me to answer. I am between thirty and forty.”

“I presume that means thirty-five?”

“No, sir, it means no such thing—I am only thirty three years of age.”

“Very well, madam,” putting down the figures, “just as you say. Now for the ages of children, commencing with the youngest, if you please.”

“Josephine, my youngest, is ten years of age.”

“Josephine-—pretty name—ten.”

“Minerva was twelve last week.”

“Minerva—captivating— twelve.”

“Cleopatra Elvira has turned fifteen.”

“Cleopatra Elvira—charming — fifteen.”

“Angelina is eighteen, sir; just eighteen.”

“Angelina—favorite name—eighteen.”

“My oldest and only married daughter, sir, Anna Sophia, is a little over twenty-five.”

“Twenty-five, did you say?”

“Yes, sir. Is there anything remarkable in her being of that age?”

“Well, no, l can’t say that there is; but is it not remarkable that you should be her mother when you were only eight years of age?”

About that time the census-taker was observed running out of the house, why, we cannot say. It was the last time he pressed a lady to give her exact age.

The “Hokey Pokey” Joke Book, 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This delicacy on the part of census takers may explain some of the discrepancies found in the rolls. Ladies’ sensitivity to telling their age is, of course, proverbial and forms the bedrock of many vintage jokes or “old chestnuts,” such as this “thigh-slapper.”

But What Was Her Age.

Toward the close of a lawsuit in Massachusetts the wife of a Harvard professor arose and, with a flaming face, timidly addressed the Court.

“Your Honor,” said she, “if I told you I made an error in my testimony would it vitiate all I have said?”

Instantly the lawyers for each side stirred themselves in excitement, while His Honor gravely regarded her.

“Well, madam,” said the court, after a pause, “that depends entirely on the nature of your error. What is it, please?”

“Why, you see,” answered the lady, more and more red and embarrassed, “I told the clerk I was thirty-eight. I was so flustered, you know, that when he asked my age I inadvertently gave him my bust measurement.”

National Lumberman, 1910

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.