Monday, May 8, 2017

Mourning in the 1880s: U.S. vs Great Britain

Monday, May 8, 2017
Sargent, Mrs. Adrian Iselin 1888
Loretta reports:

Having recently viewed the famous widow-dancing scene in Gone with the Wind, and encountered a late Victorian widow in a novel, I wondered how different mourning rituals were in the U.S. and Great Britain.

Obviously, things changed from Scarlett O’Hara’s time. The clipping from American Encyclopedia of Practical Knowledge 1886 tells us there aren’t any hard and fast rules, while the one from Manners and Rules of Good Society (England 1888) is quite specific. My own copy of Manners and Rules of Good Society for 1911 shows a loosening of the late Victorian rules, but things still aren’t as casual as in the U.S., and one can imagine some of the older generation frowning at younger widows who shorten their mourning period to less than 18 months.

U.S. Mourning 1886
England Mourning 1888

Image: John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Adrian Iselin 1888, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, via Wikipedia.

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Elena Jardiniz said...

I wish I could remember where I read this but in India at least in Victoria's era, wives of service men could not go into mourning at all, really. There was a story of a widow walking back to the base with her friends and one of the other officers asks her to marry him. She bursts into tears - she had already been asked, and accepted, from a man who wasn't as well off as the man who'd just asked her. How common this might be, I'm not sure, but given the precarious nature of life in India, especially for the rank and file, maybe not so uncommon as all that. Of course, everyone in the regiment knows everyone else - probably entirely too well in some ways.

A lot of these mourning conventions may be a way of showing off wealth - after all, a woman who can 'go into mourning' for a couple of years, forgoing the financial support of a husband, is well off. Could 'the lower classes' afford that? I have a feeling the answer is 'not really'.

Karen Anne said...

In working on my Danish family history, I found that it was common for people to remarry shortly after a spouse had died. It really took two adults to manage a family group financially. Not that the woman worked "outside the home," but the care of the kids, the farm chores, etc.

I had one ancestor who lost four wives to childbirth. Three of the kids survived. After the fourth wife's death, he seems to have given up marrying, but I was happy to find the family later together - He was working as a farm hand on a large farm, as was one of the boys. The other boy was a lodger there and the daughter had gone into service in her midteens, as was usual.

Four wives dying in childbirth, my guess is there was a terribly midwife there.

Gail said...

In the times of settlement in the western united states some women got remarried right after their husbands funeral. Word gets around fast and if there is a widower who needs someone to raise his kids and keep house a widow was fair game. More men then women out there hence the mail order bride business was booming

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