Readings for Rural Life

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

April 30th, 1864

Wherewithal Shall We be Clothed

I was much pleased with an article in the Rural (March 26th,) on hook skirts, but I should have been more so if so sensible a person, as a writer evidently is, had told us what (in her opinion) woman should wear. I can not think the former custom of wearing a half dozen skirts to make a figure to come up to the fashionable standard, less objectionable as regards health. Then what are we to wear? There is certainly a great need of a revolution in ladies’ clothing, especially farmer’s wives and daughters; and I think it would have been effected long since, but that ladies of wealth and fashion have not felt it so much an encombrance as they would if they were mechanically employed, and, as Faith Wayne says, but for its increasing their capacity to carry fantistic adornments; therefore the custom has become so prevalent and deeply rooted over most parts of the  civilized world, that to dress in any thing but flowing robes is considered indelicate, unfeminine, bold, &c.

What a fuss was made over the Bloomer dress! How the dear press did deride and caricature it, and yet, (though not acquanted with all its details except the short skirt and pantalettes,) it was a health-giving device, and the originator should be honored among mankand [sic], and held in grateful remembrance by all posterity.

I confess I cannot do the subject the justice its magnitude merits; but I feel impelled to lift my voice in favor of a radical change. For years I have considered myself a slave of my dress, hoops or not; and if there is a farmer’s wife or daughter who have not felt the same inconvenience in the performance of their domestic duties, from their skirts, they must be more of a philosopher than I am.

How many times a day do we go up stairs and down cellar, each time carrying half of what we otherwise could if we had not to carry our dress in one hand; and even then one will step on the dress sometimes, and then the ugly rent must be mended. It may do for those who have nothing else to do to have the care and carry their swaddling clothes or hire others to do it, but for us, – the working bees of this world – away with it; it is nothing but slavery to fashion as ancient as the Heather Mythology, of more ancient still for what I know.

I recently saw in a Hamilton, Canada West, paper and editorial (!) commenting on the ladies’ style of dress, and enumerating the different articles of gentlemen’s apparel the ladies’ had apprpriated to themselves; and concluding with the fear that they next would be confiscating the pants, and calling on gentlemen to resist, to the death, any such effort. Now, I have no doubt but this is the sentiment of most men; and this forces me to the conclusion that the gentlemen are afraid of losing this last vestige of their sovereignty – hense they are enjoying a distinction of authority they have no right to, else why care? But, gentlemne, we don’t want your pants, we only want our own. We sould like to be as conveniently and comfortably clad as yourselves, and I bellieve there are many ways to do so and still make a wide distinction in the dress of the two sexes.

If I were to name a fitting dress for woman in all the varied walks of life, I should give them as great latitude, in regard to their upper garments, as their tastes should dictate or fashion demand; but I should insist on two point to be always observed in their general costume, namely: – long hair, confined or not, and warm, loose pants confinded at the ankle by a band. I hope to see this subject agitated until not a yard of cotton (to say nothing of silk or other costly fabrics,) shall sweep the universe except in the shape of mops.

Mrs. Smith. Saltfleet, C.W. 1864


Vulgarity is often clothed in a silken garb

Moore’s Rural New-Yorker

February 2nd 1861

Over-Dressing, Again

It is well that the Rural has opened its pages to discussion upon this subject, for extravagance in dress has become the national sin of American women, and notwithstanding Linda’s spirited defense, they are without excuse.

The fact that husbands are often bought by an expensive toilet, is the very reason that over-dressing should be avoided, for what true women would wish to marry a man who wedded only for wealth. However, that class is small which, in seeking a bride, places of wealth before personal attractions, and when introductions are solicited to “that little butterfly of a coquette, made radiantly beautiful by silks and laces,” in nine cases out of ten it is something in the look, word, manner, or in the taste displayed that is the chief feature of attraction; and, generally speaking, an elaborate and showy wardrobe does little to assist in gaining admiration. On the contrary, (if we dress to please the gentlemen,) they must often be displeased, if not disgusted at the low standard by which we judge their taste in our extravagant attire. I am sure they would be better pleased, if the fair ones used a little more common sense, becoming women of America in the nineteenth century.

Linda says that “personal beauty is rarely appreciated, except it be assisted with the elegance of dress.” In good society at present, personal beauty in simple but tasteful array in appreciated more highly than plainer features associated with rich apparel. But few things have a great bearing upon our success in society than dress, which depends not so much upon its elegance, as its grace and fitness. Expensive attire may usually be dispense with, but taste and neatness can never be omitted. I know a beautiful lassie who was woed and won in a corn-colored print, and whose suitor was highly educated and refined, moving in the first circles in our great metropolis. Her beauty was none the less appreciated because of her simple dress. Vulgarity is often clothed in a silken garb, but refinement cannot be mistaken in tasteful though unassuming garments.

“And often the chief attraction of the handsome face is dependent on some peculiarity of style, or shade of color in dress, which is made the subject of study by those who know the secret of their power in society.” It is the duty and privilege of woman to make her dress a subject of study, and adopt that which is most becoming. Every delineation of form and feature should be taken into consideration, and from among the great variety of styles in fashion, that one selected which will enable her to appear to the best advantage. Expensive and superfluous dress is not necessary to produce a pleasing effect. It is good judgement and skill in every department of the toilet, however minute. If I were to appear an evening in company with a view to charm an ideal admirer, I should certainly choose the dress which would give the best effect, though it were of plain material, rather than the most elegant, if it were deficient in any particular. Let the clothing be fashionable and faultless, but it need not be superfluous to be admired.

Certainly, American gentlemen do not prefer the stolid English, the phlegmatic German, or the plain features of the French, to our fair and spirited women, with all their sin of dress; but if the dear little wife who presides in the sweet vine-wreathed the sober colors of the English, would study more perfectly the true science and art of dress, in which the French excel, she could, with less inconvenience, be arrayed becomingly in the style her husband most dearly loves to see, which is oftener the tidy print, or the robe of plain material. Is it not, gentlemen? As we like to please the fastidious of the other sex, let us hear their views upon this important subject.

Jane E. Higby. Piffard, N.Y., Jan., 1861

For the continued disucssion of dress and over-dress, please click: Following the question

Over-Dressing (From the Rural)

Moore’s Rural New-Yorker
January 5th, 1861
“The over-dressing of American ladies in the streets, at hotels, and in the churches, is a subject remark among travelers from abroad, as well as sensible people at home.” Rural New Yorker
There is a foreign savor about your discourse, Mr. Celebs. The true sons of “Uncle Sam” do not sit in judgment against the wives and daughters of their own country. Hav’nt [sic] you been taking a jaunt in the Queen’s dominions, and been accustomed to the sight of those somber-colored satin dresses that last from one generation to another, and from thence drawn your conclusions? Doubtless you have encased yourself in an armor of impenetrable reserve while the “conflict of” charms is viewed afar off, and while good care is taken that your position is beyond the reach of “Cupid’s darts.” Who are the sensible people you speak or? Are there any who do not make obeisance to keeping up appearances , especially in dress? A few prodigies of excellence and economy may exist; but the torch of Diogenes would evidently be required to find them. Suppose the American Ladies are somewhat in advance of those on the other side of the “big pond,” is there any rule by which they can be judged? Is there any judging in matters of dress? Surely nothing is more capricious than taste.
But if fault exists in matters of dress, where does it originate? For what purpose do they array their dear little selves in the most becoming style? Is it for their own gratification alone? On whom do gentlemen lavish their unceasing attention at “the Springs,” at Newport, at the ball, and, if you please, at the little private party in your own circle? To whom do gentlemen solicit introductions? Is it the plainly-dressed, unpretentious young lady? Or is it that little butterfly of a coquette, made radiantly beautiful by silks and laces? If I am not mistaken, men seldom value a jewel unless it be handsomely set. Dress, or over-dress, has a semblance of wealth, and husbands are not unfrequently bought with the lustre of money alone, and the conclusion of the matter sometimes is, that they find themselves beautifully “sold.”
Personal beauty is worshiped next to mammon, but is rarely appreciated except it be assisted with elegance of dress, and often the chief attraction of the handsome face is dependent on some peculiarity of style, or shade of color in dress, which is made the subject of study by those who know the secret of their power in society. Indeed, the great wonder is that so much attention is paid to mental culture and general intelligence. Goodness and intelligence must receive the homage that is due for their sakes alone, before a reform in dress can be expected. Newspaperdom is not the path to this field of reform. Honestly, Mr. Celebs, does not an American woman possess more attractions for a better-half with her great fault of over-dressing, or, rather, her fault of trying to please, than any of those English ladies who possess such a keen relish for roast beef and porter? Would you like to be taken captive by any of those German beauties whose liking for lager bear is equal to that exhibited by Artemas Ward’s musician – or would you prefer a French lass to serve up frogs in your dish of fricassee, and keep you spending half your life at a “café?” – instead of a neat little American home, where the vine and shrubbery grow undisturbed, and where the sunshine can play hide and seek, and the dear wife, arrayed in the becoming dress you so dearly love to see, is ever ready to welcome you. Linda Bennett. Hammondsport, N.Y., 1860
We wonder if Linda is not indulging in a sly hit at the occupants of the Rural sanctum, – administering her castigation over the shoulders of the devoted “Celebe?” At all events, she comes to the defense of American ladies with true spirit and courage, – genuine feminine grit, – and while we must, with the most profound respect, acknowledge the ardor displayed, we beg leave to enter our protest at being thus summarily read out of either the Union Federal, or Union Matrimonial, For the first, – and we include that naughty little sister, Miss S. Carolina, – we cherish a devotion that will last while pulse beats or heart throbs, and latter, bless your dear heart, Linda, we love with all our powers of body and soul. We speak knowingly, too; for instead of “keeping beyond the reach of Cupid’s arrows,” one of the aforesaid weapons touched us delicious years agone, as those who compose “our own circle” at home, – the little ones who clamber upon our knees and dally with locks where the frosts of winter are somewhat thickly sown, – could testify. In Linda’s remarks relative to the male race, there is unfortunately, too much of truth; we think, however, that the cause of this moral delinquency is not rightly judged. As to the question of dress, and the modes of styles thereof, we do not consider ourselves competent critics, and will take the advice of witty writer she mentions: – “Never don’t do nothin’ which it isn’t your Fort.” Our correspondent has broached the subject, – the ladies have the matter in charge, – and we will be glad to have them discuss its influence upon their sex, in a philosophical and hygienic point of view, through the columns of the Rural.


For the continued disucssion of dress and over-dress, please click: Following the question

Readings for Rural Life

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

April 16th, 1864

High Dresses

We are thankful for at least one of the dame Fashion’s freaks: she has turned her back upon low-necked dresses, and rather insists that collar-bones and shoulder-blades shall be covered. It is certainly a great improvement – not only because the study of anatomy in private parlors is not desirable, and that American damsels are apt to run to bone as some tall flowers do to seed., and because spinsters of uncertain age, fearful of being outdone by the nieces, presented such vast expanse of yellow neck and shoulder to the view at evening parties as were calculated to alarm nervous people seriously; but because since custom obliges us to wear garments, there can certainly be no reason why we should leave the most delicate portion of our frame without protection. Plumb shoulders and arms are pretty. But so (let us whisper) are plump legs. The mother who should fail to provide her daughter with stockings would be considered a cruel wretch, yet a year ago she might neglect to cover her chest and arms with impunity. We trust this state of things is over. We hope that the wisdom which causes every prudent parent to protect the pretty shoulders of her little girls with comfortable woolen sacques or capes will be appreciated; that sense will conquer vanity, and that in a little while it will be as absurd to say a woman in a low-necked dress as it would to-day to see a man in low-necked coat. – Sunday Times.


Readings for Rural Life – High Dresses

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

April 23rd, 1864

Working Dresses.

It is not my province to dictate any particular form of dress; but when, as is often the case, I see wives and daughters doing their necessary housework with crinoline and long skirts, or in other words, in full dress, I am led to inquire why will they not use their good judgment in this as in other particulars, and accommodate their dress to their duties.

Now, just take some of those long dresses that have become faded at the bottom and in front, take out the front breadths, leaving about five, tear off the bottom leaving the skirt long enough to come half way from the knees to ankle joints, use the parts taken out for pants, prepare skirts to suit the length of the dress, running “shurs” in one for three or four hoops from the discarded skeleton, and with good thick-soled shoes or bootees you are well, becomingly dressed for any and all kinds of work that may fall to your lot. And, if called to help fill the place of a father, husband, brother or son, who has nobly gone to the defence of his country, you have nothing to hinder you in this arduous yet noble extra toil. Such toil and such dresses show our hearts true to the interest of our country; and though the future looks dark, there is no way to make it light but to throw off the shackles false price and false delicacy have trammeld us with, prepare our heats for every trial by entire consecration to, and trust or faith in, God, our bodies with proper dress and care; and lay hold on every duty presented to us with an energy and courage that knows defeat, and will not listen to the doubts of the croaking.

Sisters, let me entreat you, do your duty faithfully, and when those dear ones return, you will not only meet a reward in their kind welcome and approving smiles, but will learn that useful exercise and refreshing breezes, and now and then a day in the hot sun, have brought light to your eyes, roses to your cheeks and a thrill of life to your veins that were never yours before.

True, you have given (or allowed to go) to the rescue of your country your support and home; but don’t wait for these to return and find you in sorrow, listlessly waiting for them, or some movement of Providence to bring light out of darkness, or hope out of despair; but arise, don the costume at once graceful, becoming and useful, and help to work out the salvation of our country, ever praying to, and trusting in, God, who is the author of our faith.

This is no fancy advice; ‘tis wrought out by experience of near two years, and my health is better. I can endure far more fatigue and enjoy life far better, for I have the consciousness of knowing that I have toiled and sacrificed for the good of my country; and when my husband returns our joy will be mutual, that we have together helped her rid of her enemy, slavery. May this be our privilege. Go thou and do likewise. Mrs. C.H.

EDIT: Additional Related Clips:

Clip Excerpt from The Prairie Farmer, Clip Short dress March 1855 Clip The Oneida Circular The Ohio Cultivator 1854 b The Ohio Cultivator 1854Clip Miseries later

This whole book is worth a download. It is on Google Books.Clip Watercure 54 aClip Watercure 54 bclip Punch

Readings for Rural Life – The Hoop Skirt

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

March 26th, 1864

The Hoop Skirt

Fashion kills more women than toll and sorrow. [Scalpel.]

It is a wonder that men and women endowed with the noble faculty of reason, have so little gratitude for the good gift, that they can carry it a willing sacrifice to their worse than heathen goddess. Better might they hide it in the ground, than give it to support the wanton destroyer of their race.

I feel “moved” to speak a contradictory opinion to that of the editor of the Scalpel, expressed in an article recently published in the Rural, on the benign blessings of the modern hooped skirt. But I do not intend to apply to him all I have written above, in retaliation of saying “No sensible person can fail to appreciate its benefit to the young girl or woman.”

If I am entitled to the doubtful compliment, I will bear the honor meekly, but it shall not restrain me from confessing that I do fail to see what he has so happily discovered. ‘Perhaps it is all in consequence of not seeing the matter in a “professional” light; but mine is the “light of experience” which is quite sufficient to enable me to judge of its health-giving properties to my own satisfaction. Of its artistic ones, it is hard telling who is able to judge. The word artistic applied to woman’s dress, has such and India-rubber signification, that it may be one thing, or its opposite, according as it is looked upon by persons who consider the consistency of adaptation to natural requirements, or by those who merely take a fancy to the article, or the lady who wears it. Fashion so changes out aesthetic taste into prejudicial notions, that it is nearly impossible for us to tell whether we judge from the true or an artificial standard. However it may be with myself, evidently it is not fashion that has formed my notions in regard to the hoop skirt, one of which is, that God designed for woman a “skeleton,” and I cannot rid myself of the idea that He must have considered it quite sufficient for her needs; and we might reasonably expect it to be an “admirably artistic and health-giving device,” but Fashion and her devotees have denied it the former property, and after sacrificing the latter through persevering ages, to make some appearances of it possession, til, discouraged of ever arriving at any permanently satisfactory result, they have at last compromised the difficulty with the Devine Artistic, by doing the best they can with shaping a portion of His production so as not to shock too severely the refined sensibilities of humanity, and have disguised the remainder of it by hiding it within a new device, modeled after the most artistic designs of a cooper’s shop.

After such a nice adjustment of things, gentlemen who are intensely susceptible to the influences of the beautiful in nature and art, may be well distressed at any indications of the abandonment of their perfected ideal, which is doubtless appreciated not only because it embodies the most symmetrical proportions in its passive state, but is capable of changing into ever-varying artistic figures: such as those assumed in ascending high places and descending to lower ones, in entering carriages, sitting down in arm chairs, and especially in arising therefrom, in walking in the dew, dust, mud, rain and snow – in short, in being comformable to the demands of any emergency.

Women, without her second skeleton, has no more dignity than a wilted cabbage leaf. It gives her an air of majestic stiffness, so fascinating in a moving object; enabling her to rival the gracefulness of the mud-turtle; besides, it increases her capacity to carry fantastic adornments, which is such a commendable way of disposing of wealth in a country over-burdened with prosperity and comfort.

In regards to health, the editor merits the thanks of woman for his candid and instructive reasoning, but he makes compromises with her follies and weaknesses, instead of advising her to forsake them altogether, that she may secure the fullest measure of the blessings of health. He first inscribes himself within a circle whose circumference he dare not, or will not, over-step, and then does the best lie can within his limits. If he had taken for his theorem, The hoop skirt is injurious, and ought to be abandoned, he would have had some excellent arguments for a demonstration.

I was not aware that “its end is to insure the unrestricted use of the limbs in walking” (why not add in skating also.) If it has such pretensions it is a decided humbug, for everybody has learned that that liberty is not attainable while there is one within sight; and most especially is it true of the person whose every step is measured by a boundary which suggest, “thus far shalt thou go and no farther.” If it is meant to insure that use of them to itself, it is a very pertinent remark, and included both hands, of course. Its “benefit to the young girl” in climbing trees and fences, and doing all other necessary romping, has, probably, some signification not at first apparent.

It is thought to be more healthful than the old style of wearing heavy skirts, but I have heard eminent physicians pronounce it even more injurious; confining a body of cold air about the lower portions of the body, causing unequal circulation, and consequent congestions of the organs in the upper portion. But it is not so very light a load for delicate woman to carry thirty metal hoops, and as many yards of cloth, for a genteel covering, which must be so long as not to expose the feet, or it is offensive to good taste, suggesting a lack in the accomplishment of an intended deception. It is more pleasing to fashionable taste to drag it a few inches or more.

Really, I don’t see how a physician, or any other “sensible person,” can fail to see that crinoline, with its train of evils, is injurious to health, to temper, to the free development of mind as well as body, and a monstrous distortion of the beauty of the human form.

There is a demand for earnest discussion in regard to the momentous question, wherewithal shall we be clothed? and we are always obliged to gentlemen for taking an interest in our welfare; but it will be better, if they will please remember in their advice, that what would be poison to them is not likely to be healthful food for us; and they need not fear to speak contrary to the mandates of Fashion, for potent as she is with our vain sex, their admiration is ten times more so. Faith Wayne. Barre, Orleans Co., N.Y., 1864.


Readings for Rural Life – The Unprotected Female

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

March 19th, 1864

The Unprotected Female

Editors Rural New-Yorker: – Here are a few thoughts, suggested by reading a part of a letter in the fourth number of the Rural, signed M.J.C. She says: – “The unprotected female, sitting among her boxes and bundles in some bustling depot, is, or ought to always to be, the subject of interest. Made up as she is, of nerves, inefficiencies, headaches, cold feet, anxiety and skepticism, she has a title clear, my dear sir, to you candid opinion, as to whether the cars are moving east or due west, or even to express her conviction that they are stationary and surrounding objects are marching on.”

“The unprotected female!” Will M.J.C. please tell us why a female, unprotected, should demand any more interest or sympathy than an unprotected male? Has not her Creator endowed her with the same instinct for self-protection, and given her reason to guide it? Has He not bestowed upon her the same number of limbs for purposes of locomotion, and given her two hands with which to provide for her wants, and protect herself, the same as he has the male?

“Sitting among her boxes and bundles.” What business has a woman to load herself, or any one else, with such rubbish? It is that she may keep two or three men standing, while she has the satisfaction of seeing said boxes and bundles occupying the seats which, by right, if not by custom, belongs to them? I agree that a woman thus situated ought always to be the subject of kindly interest, – so had a man who carries with him such an unmistakable evidences of an unsound mind. Who can look at woman through the clear glasses of reason, instead of the colored ones of fashion, and not see that she is deficient in either education or independence. Her appearance clearly denotes hat she is an object slave, who is either ignorant of the fact, or considers it an honor that she is such, and is unwilling to appear, at least before strangers, unless surrounded by unmistakable evidences of her servitude. If she goes from home for a visit of a few days, she needs a baggage wagon to carry what she deems necessary for the display of her master’s power.

If she is compelled to carry anything in her hands she is really to be pitied, for women, clothed as this class are, have not even one hand that they can properly claim for any use except to guard their badges from injury. They are arrayed in a manner that makes it actually unsafe for them to enter or leave a car or carriage, unless they have both hands free to prevent their skirts from being caught by one of the projections that seem made expressly to torment poor women – or being entangled by the feet of their fellow travelers. Why, unless they are proud of their servitude, will they consent to be thus shackled, while men go about unencumbered? Their hands are free, never being required to keep their clothes from dragging on the dirt, or being trodden upon by the feet of their companions. Their “boxes and bundles,” even for a long journey, are all stowed in one satchel or valise which they can easily carry in one hand, thus leaving the other free to grab the hand of a friend, or assist some unprotected female who has ventured from home to spend a few days, but is already wishing she was back again; for how is she to change all this baggage from the depot to the cars without breaking her neck or tearing her dress?

“Made up as she is, of nerves, headaches, cold feet, anxiety and skepticism.” Poor things! How much suffering is combined in this sentence. Yet who of the sufferers will allow even their best friends to tell them why they are thus made? I will write [sic] although I will admit that I have not a friend who suffers from these afflictions that I should dare to speak my mind freely to, lest they should consider me an enemy to right, because they consider these an affliction of Providence which it would be sacrilegious to see to escape.

Women have no more “nerves” than men, and they would be no more nervous, where their bodies as healthy, and their nerves a little less taxed by petty cares and little accidents. As to “inefficiencies,” supposed you try the experiment of dressing a strong man in trailing skirts, well extended by hoops! Pin his waist so tight as to prevent his stooping with ease, and only allowing him the use of the upper portion of his lungs. Then oblige him to look after the many boxed and bundles that we unprotected females are required, by fashion, to be encumbered with, and see who is the most inefficient! I would pronounce him a model of patience if he did not swear at the many hindrances and annoyances that he would be subjected to on account of his change of clothing, and consequent baggage.

“Headaches and cold feet” are two severe afflictions; the former generally caused by the latter by imporoper dress in the majority of cases. I have never seen a woman yet, who had not broken out of fashion’s train entirely, that did not dress her feet and lower limbs too thin, her hips too warm, her waist too tight, and carry suspended from her waist, weights, varying according to the season and the caprices of the wearer, from two to fifteen pounds. All these things aid in destroying the circulation of the blood, and the action of all the organs of the body.

That the present suffering of women is a punishment for their sin, I fully believe; but it appears to me that nothing but genuine stubbornness can prompt a continuation of the sins which we know have brought upon us such just suffering. Men, being clothed in substantial goods, made in a manner that allows them the free use of their bodies, and protects them from the cold, do not suffer these many severe afflictions, that are the bane of our lives; except such as they inherit. It would seem that after any class of beings, endowed with reason, had become so enfeebled as the women of the present have, that they would strive in every way possible, to regain their natural powers of body and mind. To do this, the first step should be to adopt a dress that would give perfect freedom to mind and body, instead of one that cripples and deforms the latter, while it exhausts the former to keep it in a condition that will be considered by the rulers as acceptable.

“Anxiety and skepticism” are but attendant evils that will vanish when their causes are removed, which will be when women are not ashamed to be clothed in a manner that will insure them warmth and freedom. I do not believe that there is a woman living in the United States who has reached her sixteenth year, and dressed for the last three years with the least regard to the dictates of fashion, that, when dressed, even loosely, can draw a natural breath at the first trial.

Will women ever learn to consider their bodies as only the dwelling place of their souls, where they are to be fitted for the world to come? If they ever do, we shall cease to hear so much prating about the inferiority of women, and her need of protection. She will then be safe travel anywhere among Christian people unprotected, and will not need “your candid opinion, my dear sir, as to whether the cars are moving east or due west,” and as to “expressing her conviction that they are stationary and surrounding objects marching on,” she will be no more apt to make such expressions then than men will. I have heard many, who call themselves ladies, make remarks that were quite as sensible as that would be; but I consider that their greatest ignorance consisted in no knowing that it is a disgrace for even a lady to be ignorant. Amanda Roberts Keyser. Pekin, February, 1864


Readings for Rural Life – Don’t Abandon the Hoop Skirt

From Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY

February 6th, 1864

Don’t Abandon the Hoop Skirt

This is the burthen of a man-ifesto from the Editor of the Scalpel. But “There’s no use o’ talking!” A certain goddess has decreed that skirts shall be smaller, and they will be smaller. If she had said, “let there be none at all,” we are confident they would have been abandoned. But the Editor of the Scalpel is in distress; listen to him:

“We consider the modern hooped skirt of the most admirably artistic and health-giving devices of our time; and no sensible person can fail to appreciate its benefit to the young girl or woman; we will give our reasons for this opinion; of course they will be entirely professional for we are no man milliner.

“It is conceded by all correct observers, and fully recognized by our anatomists and gymnastic teachers, that the muscles of the thorax and its appendages, the arms and abdomen, are not used more than one-fourth as much by our modern women as they are compelled to use those of the legs; nearly all the movements which our unfortunate young people are permitted to perform by the inexorable flat of Japonieadom are what they may be called passive. Her hands must be reverently and lovingly folded across her chest in order that their whiteness may not suffer by permitting the least motion; the lungs, of course, must be kept quiet, not only because she is not allowed to walk fast enough to require much air, but because the position of the arms, and weight of the fore-arm and hand resting upon the lower ribs, will not allow their elevation so that the air can enter the lower part of the lungs at tall. At best, but a sixth part of those life-giving organs are now used, and only their upper part fully inflated. Now if the hooped skirt be hooked to the jacket in four places, at least, and not left to rest upon the hips, the reader will perceive that the backbone and all muscles which inclose[sic] and steady both the great cavities of the body, and keep them elegantly  erect upon the hips, must carry both the hoops and the skirt; then these may be made both light and elegant, or heavy and grand as the seasons my require; while drawers of material adapted to our severe winters, may be so artistically adjusted, and supported by suspenders, as completely to protect and clothe the limbs, without the necessity of the skirts so girding the body by drawn cords to keep them and the drawers in place, as not only seriously to cripple all the viscera, but to interrupt the healthful action of the muscles of the abdomen, and worse than this, to compress all the veins that carry back the blood from the lower limbs to the heart for purification, and often, as we have seen, to render the integument, below this girdle of many cords, very perceptibly dropsical. Every lady, if she will use her eyes, can see this for herself; the ‘horrid marks’ that they cause, she often laments. Now, reader, if the lungs are only used one-sixth part, the muscles of the body scarcely at all, and venous blood from the lower limbs, prevented from returning at the full rate of five-sixths of the speed intended by nature, when you are all walking even at the snail’s pace you are allowed to , what must be the result on the nutrition of the muscles in these limbs? for you know they act and grow by blood alone; depend upon it, though you may make them dropsical and deceptive in size, they will not help you to dance as well, or to go up and down stairs.

“And this brings us to another great evil, if we will sacrifice so much to brown-stone fronts and the fancied necessity of fashionable streets; if we must live in houses furnace-warmed and if we must live in houses furnace-warmed and eighteen feet by five stories high, for pity’s sake let us so distribute the load of dress our climate requires, as to allow every part of the body be used to carry it up stairs; let the jacket or the shoulder-straps give the chest it share of the work; in a word, let our wives and daughters shoulder their loads, if they would have their days prolonged in the land. “If the ladies will pardon us, we will venture to a hint on the dimensions of the skirt. Its most excellent end is to insure the unrestricted use of the limbs in walking; it must, therefore, be of the sufficient diameter to allow a full step and the necessary space for the underclothing; if it restrict the step in the least degree, it is too small. No woman should be ambitious of a short step; the longer the step the more breadth required, and the greater development of the thorax and lungs; quick and energetic walking, with the shoulders thrown back, will do as much for the grown of the vital organs as singing. Women must dress warmly, keep her feet dry, walk more, and eat more, or she will never fulfill the great object of her creation.”


Fashionable Women

Fashion kills more women than the toil and sorrow. Obedience to fashion is a greater transgression of the laws of woman’s nature, a greater injury to her physical and mental constitution, then the hardships of poverty and neglect. The slave woman at her task will live and grow old, and see two or three generations of her mistresses fade and pass away. The washer-woman, with scarce a ray of hope to cheer her in her tolls, will live to see her fashionable sisters all die around her. The kitchen maid is hearty and strong, when her lady has to be nursed like a sick baby.

It is a sad truth that fashion-pampered women are almost worthless for all the good ends of human life. They have but little force of character; they have still less power of moral will, and quite as little physical energy. They live for no great purpose in life; they accomplish no worthy ones. They are only doll-forms in the hands of milliners and servants, to be dressed and fed to order. They dress nobody; they feed nobody; they instruct nobody; they bless nobody. They write no books; they set nor rich examples of virtue and womanly life. If they rear children, servants and nurses do all, save to conceive and give birth to them. And when reared, what are they? What do they ever amount to but weaker scions of the old stock? Who ever heard of a fashionable woman’s child exhibiting any virtue and power of mind for which it became eminent? Read the biographies of
our great and good men and women. Not one of them had a fashionable mother. They nearly all sprang from strong minded women, who had a little to do with fashion as with the changing clouds.