The Ladies National Covenant via The Rural

This is a partial transcription from Moore’s Rural New-Yorker in Rochester, NY on May 21st, 1864. I encourage you to click over to Moore’s Rural to read the entirety.

 The Ladies’ National Covenant

Address to the Women of America – Home Products to be Encouraged.

A meeting of ladies was held at Washington recently, to inaugurate an important National movement. It is proper we should give the results thereof in this department of the Rural. The meeting was composed of the wives of members of the Cabinet, and of Senators and Representatives, of well-known authoresses, women of fashion, mothers who had lost their sons, and wives who had lost their husbands. There was an earnestness and a unison of feeling in this great meeting, which has never been exceeded in this land.

Address to the Women of America.

In the capital of our country we have this day organized a central society for the suppression of extravagance, the diminution of foreign imports, and the practice of economy in all our social relations. To this society we have given the name of “The Ladies’ National Covenant.” Its object is a good and generous one, which should inspire a spirit of patriotism worthy of women who are the glory of a great nation. For this society we have an example a precedent at once august and encouraging.

In 1770, the women of Massachusetts, actuated by the same impulse that inspires us, assembled in the City of Boston, as we have met here, and resolved to serve the country by an effort of self-sacrifice far greater than we are called upon to make.

On the 9th of February [of that year], 300 matrons, each the mistress of a household, met as we do now, and signed a pledge to abstain from the use of tea, the greatest luxury of the time, and the very life of all the social gatherings for which our New-England ancestors were so famous. Three days after, twice that number of blooming young girls met in the same place and signed like pledges. From that brave assemblage of women non-imporation societies sprang up, that produced an effect upon the mother country almost equal to that created by the success of our revolutionary armies. During all the terrors of the war these noble women held firmly to their pledges, and by their earnestness awoke the sympathy and co-operation of every sister colony in the land. The spirit thus aroused extended itself to imported goods of all kinds, and every hearthstone was turned into an independent manufactory. Thus it was that the flax-wheel, the hatchel, and the hand-loom became sublime instruments of freedom in the hands of American women. The house mothers of ’76 not only kept their pledge of non-importation, but with their own hands wrought from the raw materials the garments which clothed themselves, their husbands, and children. The pledge which they took and kept so faithfully evoked not only great self-sacrifice, but hard, hard toil, such as the woman of the present day scarcely dream of. Had they not endured and labored while their husbands fought, we should have had no might Union to pray and struggle for now.

We, the women of ’64, have the same object to attain and the same duties to perform which were so nobly accomplished by the women of ’76. Shall we not follow their example, and take up cheerfully the lesser burdens that the welfare of our country demands? They gave up the very comforts of life without a murmur; can we refuse when a sacrifice of feminine vanity is alone required? Can we hesitate to yield up luxuries that are so unbecoming when the very earth trembles under our feet from the tread of armed men going down to battle, and almost every roof throughout the land shelters some mother lamenting the son who has fallen gloriously with his face to the foe, or a widow whose husband lies buried so deeply among the masses of slain heroes, that she will never learn where to seek for his grave? 

In order to invoke this spirit of self-sacrifice, it is important that the great object of the covenant we have made should be broadly circulated and thoroughly understood. It discourages profligate expenditures of any kind, recommends the use of domestic fabrics whenever they can be substituted for those of foreign make, and advises simplicity of attire, both as a matter of policy and good taste. It asks the great sisterhood of American women to aid in this reform before it is too late. Thank God science has given us the means of reaching thousands on thousands in a single hour. While we make this covenant, the thought that thrills our hearts may tremble in fire along the telegraph, and awake kindred inspiration throughout the entire land. By every means of communication in our power, let us urge the necessity of prompt action. In every town and village throughout the Union, some woman who loves her country is implored to establish an auxiliary society and forward the names of the ladies invited to act for the State in which her duty lies. We ask simultaneous action, earnest work, and generous self-sacrifice at the hands of our sister women. With their ardent help, a work will be accomplished so important in its results, that the woman who shares in it may, hereafter, leave the emblem of our object as the richest jewel that she can leave to posterity.,no.21.pdf


Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Women’s Patriotic Association for Diminishing the Use of Imported Luxuries

This is one I was initially going to include in the Resources series. But, with some recent discussions, I would like people to be aware of this movement. It became fairly well known about since I am seeing it in rural papers (which I’ll share) as well as papers in England and Australia (I’ll have to refind that to transcribe.)

The Women’s Patriotic Association for Diminishing the Use of Imported Luxuries (New York, 1864)

This book opens with an address from May of 1864. It also contains several letters.

There is something more we can do for our country! We wish to make, we can make, no stronger appeal that this to those who have been working for our sick and wounded soldiers for the past three years, who are working for them now, who means to work for them until the war is over. We ask you to consider seriously the subject now presented; let it commend itself to your reason; for, if once convinced of the importance of the measure, we cannot doubt but that you will show yourself as ready to help our country by not doing, as you have hitherto helped it by doing.

… The most effectual way of doing this, we are told, is to diminish our use of foreign luxuries, although a general economy is all superfluities will do much towards it. At present our imports – or the articles purchased by us from foreign countries – are very much greater in value than our exports – or the articles we produce at home and sell abroad. It is estimated that when the accounts for the year are made up, on the 30th day of this coming June, we shall find that the country has been sending abroad seventy or seventy-five millions of dollars in gold to pay the balance of trade against it. And what have we bought with this money, so much needed at home just now, and which might be dispensed with? Silks, satins, velvets, laces, jewelry, ribbons, trimmings, carpets, mirrors, and other imported luxuries – every woman knows what they are without running through the whole list – things that are not necessary, which would benefit our country should we do without them altogether, but which, if wanted, can, with but few exceptions, be obtained of our own manufacture.


As with the Temperance movement this also has a pledge:

Form of Pledge We, the undersigned, during the continuance of this war of rebellion, pledge ourselves to refrain from the purchase of Imported Articles of Luxury, for which those of Home Manufacture or Production can be substituted.


Edited later to add:

I’ve been reading The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution by Marla Miller. When I reached this passage, I instantly thought of this post. 

After the war ended, women remained conscious of the political impllications of the astorial choices. In November of 1786, more  than one hundred women in Hartford, responding to the postwar economic depression adn the tension swelling to the nrth as Massachusetts coped with Shay’s Rebellion, expressed their patriotic zeal by forming an “Economic Association.” “Taking into serious consideration the unhappy situation of their county, and being fully sensible that our calamities are in great measure occasioned by the luxury and extravagance of individuals,” the founders expressed the hope that “those Ladies that used the to excel in dress… will endeavor to set the ebst examples, by laying aside their richest silks and superfluous decorations, and as far as possible, distinguish themselves by their perfect indifference to those ornaments and superfluities which in happier times might become them.” The resolutions reflected the signers’ sense of themselves as participants in an internationaly network of clothing makers and consumers. They observed that “the English and French fashions, which require manufacture of an infinate variety of gewgaws and frippery,  may be highly beneficial and even necassary in the countries where those articles are madel as they funish employment and subsistence for poor people.” But, thought sympathetic these individuals, they also recognized larger and more sinister interests at work; “foreign nations,” they stated, were anxious to “introduce their fashions into this country, as they thus make a market for their useless manufactures, and enrich themselves at our expense…. Our implicit submission to the fashions of other countries is hightly derogatory to teh reputation of Americans, as it renders uss dependent on the interest, or caprise, of foreigeners, both for taste and manners; it prevents the exercise of our own ingenuity, and makes us the slaves of milliners and mantaumakers in London or Paris. For the next seven months, the women said, they would refrain from purchasing “gauze, ribbons, flowers, feathers, lace and other trimmins from frippery, designed merely as ornaments.” They would reduce new purchases for weddings and mourning, eliminate purchases of new materials for routine visiting, and buy domestic rather than imported goods whenever possible. In sum, they vowed to dress simply, to limit occasions that called for fashionable excces, and to “use [their] influence to diffuse and attention to industry and frugality, and to render these virtues reputable and permanent.” 

The Hardford Association’s success is impossible to gauge – perhaps this was the year that one of the Trumbull girls famously wore the same, plain muslin dress all season long, to great local acclaim for her simplicity – and bravery. Whether the signers abstained from the unneccassary purchases in unknown, but their awareness of the political and economic impact of ephemeral style is striking.     

This also brings to mind Mrs. Philadelphia’s words in my January post.

Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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