Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Those Restricted in Cultural Role - Women and the Civil War

Sit With the Ladies in Godey's Arm-Chair
and Mourn

A. Cultural Compartmentalizing of Issues

The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865 was a country-shattering event.

Yet, it was compartmentalized, packaged, carefully surrounded with batting for the delicate minds of ladies at home, those for whom heavy thought was considered damaging, physically and mentally.

See the editorial treatments, from Godey's Lady's Book. Godey's was the subscription of choice for entertainment, fashion and stories, hints and medicine sought by ladies of leisure. We have the annual leather-bound version containing the twelve months' publication subscriptions.

1. First, May 1865. See the small, framed notice in the specific month's edition, May 1865, and that is re-typed at the Studying War site, Studying War: Domination by Diminution: Lincoln, Godey's Notice of Death. It is tiny in size, squeezed in, understandably, to meet publishing deadlines, a quick nod to the assassination of President Lincoln, and expecting no more reflection on its import than "mourning." There is no reference at all to the surrounding events - the Civil War.
2. Then, June 1865. See the next month, after there was time for more contemplation:

Simple, emotional descriptions of mourning, and more mourning, what was draped, what churches die, ruthless murder most foul, so weep on. No mention of the Civil War, the issues, nothing more than the shooting itself, and oh, so murderously foul.

3. And, finally in July 1865, a longer editorial: (the photo is our own) - the Godey's Tribute on the Death of Lincoln - July 1865 edition.


JULY 1865

"OUR short notice last month of the heavy calamity which has fallen upon our country was hastily written, as the news came too late for a more extended one. And now the pen shrinks from the painful task.

"The past month has been a scene of mourning throughout the length and breadth of our country. The funeral pageant of our noble, martyred President has passed slowly from city to city, followed by the tears of every beholder. From Washington to Springfield the march has been an ovation unequalled in history. Every point passed has hung out the mourning drapery, poured forth its weeping inhabitants, and offered up its prayers for the noble dead, whose sudden and awful end roused such bitter indignation and grief in every heart.

"Never, perhaps, has there been a Ruler so endeared personally to the people, whose welfare he guided, as Abraham Lincoln. He was emphatically the beloved of the people. To approach him the humblest needed no mediator. His hours of leisure, after the severe strain of public duty were over, were given to any demanding admittance. Directly to the President the petitioner was summoned, and no one wqs turned away until a kindly hearing had been granted.

"The news of the dastard murder of this man, so honored and so loved, fell upon the people with a crushing force. All political differences were thrown aside; those who had opposed him on such grounds, now remembered only his grand, noble nature, his pure patriotism, his devotion to his country, and above all, his kindness and never-failing goodness; and all bowed alike before the stunning grief. As the news flashed over the wires from city to city, every dwelling, store, and public building was draped in mourning, the church bells tolled forth the dreadful tidings, badges of sable hue were placed upon every arm, breast, or shoulder, and with one accord the nation bowed in grief-stricken homage to the mighty dead.

"As the mournful cortege passed over its appointed route, every city, town, and village vied each with the other in shoing the love and reverence of its inhabitants. The tear-bedewed flowers were never allowed to fade upon the coffin-lid; prayers from pulpit and hall were offered up publicly, and from bleeding hearts in the silince of the closet. From the millionaire's costly drapery of tricolor and heavy crape, to the fluttering rag of black muslin upon the meanest hovel, the signs of grief were everywhere apparent, until at last the faithful escort had their last mournful look at the death-stilled features, and the coffin-lid hid them from earth forever.

"The dark stain will linger upon our country's page forever, the stain of blood shed by murder, but the faithful, unselfish heart has gone to meet its reward, while thename that has been the patriot's watchford for four long years, must become now, in the hearts of the people for whom he died, but a memory."


This in Godey's is a highly moving piece. A fitting description of deep mourning. But inadequate to engage anyone further then the tears. Is that the intent.

Now think: How many of the adjectives used here would apply to presidents since? Now? Just asking.

Still no mention of the issues, the Civil War, who did what, what to expect next, nothing.

B. Have we changed with Women's Suffrage?

We have changed in opportunities otherwise available, not just the domestic magazines, for learning and participating; but in those days, there was to be another 50 years or so before a woman could even vote.

Women's suffrage (right to vote) was not won until 1920, see overview at ://, so women's approved participation in national discourse was limited largely to what their husbands permitted.

But with what practical effect.

Women are just as duped, just as dupable as men.

Looking back at Would the Civil War era have taken any different course, if the women of the time had been involved in the decision-making, the national conversation. Has our course in Iraq been any different with women's involvement? Who can fight power's path once decisions are made. Not easy issues. What would it take for Afghanistan's future, or Iraq's, to substantively change even if there is full suffrage. What cultural brakes get applied to change in any culture.

C. What is needed for democracy
is inclusion along with transparency and accountability

Until then, without active protest, how many groups' reactions to world events will be limited to that of mourner. Observer. Ask no questions; and there is no mention at all of the Civil War context, or why the assassination might have occurred. Don't worry your pretty head, my dear.

Godey's Lady's Book - 19th Century. By 1865, a subscription journal with monthly mailings of paperback editions on fashion, home management, stories, a forum for solving household issues, patterns. Not a news source. So it is not surprising in itself that the death of Abraham Lincoln, and even the Civil War itself, get almost no mention.

But it is a lesson in questioning: what difference would suffrage earlier have made, if anything. How long to delay full participation by any group.

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