Sunday, November 20, 2011

In response to our preceding post on reenacting, the following comment was offered.  We decided to answer in another post because we felt a clarifying response may serve to make our previous article more lucid as well:

Douglas John says:

"Were not the "Bluestockings" simply what were considered to be intellegent or advanced women? How did the connotation arrive that a bluestocking or intellectual woman of the 18th century was a feminist. The picture you paint of the genteel Christian southern woman is very nice however quite romanticized. The unfortunate exploits of women of the south during the War of the States have not truly been recorded in places where the public can become familiar with them. Much of the published literature about women in the 19th century focused on prescriptions for proper female behavior, expressing social norms formulated largely by men. Their writings described the ideal female, emphasizing the passivity of her Christian nature and her domestic attributes, and focused on middle-and upper-class urban women. The ACTUAL experiences of women who were forced (by blockade or otherwise) by circumstances to earn their own way or own living, of common women, of immigrant women, and of black women bore no relation to those established norms. Scrubbing pots near an open fire with a white apron and white bodice would be indicitive of an upper class woman pretending to be a common woman. While the intent of what you are saying is to be a soft portrayal of dependency and true womanhood, an honest living historian would realize that there were not a lot of menfolk Christian or otherwise in the South to depend upon and lead them. The picture is painted quite prettily but the reality is that the women who sacraficed were not at all able to compare to those you have relayed in your information."

Our response:

Douglas John, 

Thank you for taking the time to comment. We appreciate your thoughts on the subject. The connotations associated with “Bluestockings” are broad but the most commonly accepted is that of a feminist who is uneducated and intellectually negligent. Feminists were “advanced”... we believe in the wrong direction. It is true that the general attitude towards Victorian women in their time was often in need of reform due to the influence of Enlightenment philosophies declaring men to be reasonable and women to be purely emotional and unreasonable. Unfortunately, the men and women who were most influential in the feminist movement, in an attempt to rectify enlightenment errors, only made matters worse through continued disregard for the Word of God. Instead of establishing women and men as joint heirs of the grace of God, content in the complimentary roles preordained for them by God, they encouraged discontent, strident rebellion and independent autonomy among women taught to believe themselves ill-used victims under a Judeo-Christian paradigm. This brought about not mutual respect and honor between men and women but furthered destructive degradation of the “weaker sex” mirroring some of the most uncivilized and pagan societies in history.
Regarding romanticizing Christian Southern women; permit us to recommend a few resources for your further research. South Carolina Women of the Confederacy by Mrs. A. T. Smythe, The Women of the Confederacy by J.L. Underwood and The Women of the South in War Times by Matthew P. Andrews are source books recording ACTUAL women and their actions, not behavioral prescriptions. Dabney’s Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, Christ in the Camp by J. William Jones, and Beloved Bride - The Letters of Stonewall Jackson to His Wife, by Bill Potter are also excellent resources for understanding the Christian men and women of the time, describing what they actually thought and acted.
There is also extensive research on excellent women such as Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Stuart and other virtuous and thoroughly intelligent, influential women. Our article often directly reflects the perspectives we gleaned from journals concerning the character and convictions of these women. In the direct sources and biographies of the women we seek to emulate there is no trace of passivity. Their Christian character is ardent and unaffected; the phrases in their letters pattern after phrases in Scripture implying their thorough familiarity with it, bolstering their men with confidence in their righteous cause, assuring them of their support from home. They recognize the tremendous impact of domestic dependability and efficiency and delight in serving in this way.
Perhaps the low-class, common, uneducated women were numerically dominant. We honestly have not researched numeric denominations thoroughly as yet because it is not a crucial factor for us right now. Mrs. Dawn Eggers captured the intent of our article in her responding comment well. We are not primarily interested in portraying the “51% majority,” whether or not they are righteous. In other words, our primary concern IS portraying the righteous minority, however minute in numbers.
Concerning muslin Garibaldi blouses and Osnaburg aprons, both are visually documented among working women throughout the 1860’s. You may be interested in researching sources other than CDV’s where women appeared in their best matching bodice and skirt with starched white collar in anticipation of being formally photographed.
Lastly, we would like to say a word in defense of Southern men. We believe they together constituted one of the last significant Christian civil governments in latter times. Their eventual dissolution and loss of impetus was simply God’s judgement on a nation which persists in rebellion and seeks not the Law of God.  Jefferson Davis, Thomas Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and other Southern men were some of the most remarkable leaders in history comparable to George Washington, Monroe, Admiral Coligny, Joshua Son of Nun, William of Orange, James Polk, and Napoleon Bonaparte (militarily). Their wives testify to their greatness and honor through their unmitigated, informed devotion and unfaltering loyalty.
A little more research may reveal that our short paraphrase was merely scratching the surface of a most beautiful deeply, characteristically Christian culture, the remnants of God’s special grace in the foundations of our nation. Alexis De Tocqueville (a French lawyer and historian analyzing American culture) paints a far prettier picture in his remarkably insightful work, Democracy in America, written in the 1830‘s, wherein he describes how the very topography of America was conducive to productivity and dominion. He also outlines the vastly different ethics in North and South and predicts their incompatibility. Interestingly, he notes, “I have no hesitation in saying that although the American woman never leaves her domestic sphere and is in some respects very dependent within it, nowhere does she enjoy a higher station. And if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.”
Humbly in the service of our King,

Emily and Aubrey Lenz

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The attack of Scarlet O'Hara and The Bluestockings

Since our family recently undertook the enterprise of reenacting the War Between the States, we are specifically working through the different ideas behind our war-time impressions.  In the midst of our research regarding 19th century women we have uncovered a troubled sea of mixed and muddied waters.  While we were not surprised by it, the mayhem will take a good deal of sorting through, and we have started by scratching the surface.  It is important to us to represent our unit and family well, to be accurate and excellent historical re-enactors. At the same time, our paramount concern is the Kingdom of God and reforming culture for His glory.
If the topic of this discourse seems to present a defense to the air, then perhaps a brief explanation here will clear the matter.  We are often questioned, usually in good spirit, about our impressions of the Southern women.  Some are mildly curious, many sincerely interested in our purpose, and a few are mistakenly quite confused and a bit piqued by "Northern" girls reenacting Southern women.  It is not our intention to make loud statements merely for a "shock effect," so we believe we are responsible to think and answer circumspectly regarding our purposes and the messages we convey through our actions. 
Flora Cooke Stuart
wife of Gen. Jeb Stuart
During our research, the feminist Bluestocking reared her wild head first.  As is true with any endeavor, it is regrettably easy to compromise and promote a feminist or anti-Christian agenda inadvertently. Growing up with four brothers instilled in us a marked aversion to weak frilliness.  The opposing "tom-boy" can be an all-too-convenient alternative.  With that said, we have no intention of representing the exclusively self-sufficient, "tough" woman "toting my faggot on my back with my pipe in my mouth" (as one reenactor put it).
As far as we can observe, feminism in its modern manifestation was not prevalent until the late 1800's and even then only amongst the lowest of society representative of European licentiousness. However, even if feminism were the normative context, we would yet desire to represent the remnant faithful to God in any given society.  As in every area of life, we are primarily concerned with reforming culture to God's standards through accurate representation of history rather than simply reenacting the lowest supposed common denominator in any given society. 
Mildred Lee
daughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee
Further than this, we aspire to portray superiority of intellect and education characterized by quiet humility, not snobbish arrogance.  With a thorough knowledge of the facts of the war, history and theology similar to what women like Anna Jackson, or the Lee daughters would have been familiar with, we would avoid the representation of loud, ignorant, Southern country bumpkins
Here Scarlet O'Hara flounces onto the field to confuse the air further. Our aim towards impressions of specifically upper-class Southerngentlewomen is predominantly personal preference and priority.  We are not averse to representing poverty. Frankly, fortitude and self-sufficiency in hardship intrigue us in many ways reminiscent of the challenging pioneering lifestyle. However, Dabney wrote in the Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson that the South was characterized by "...gallant gentlemen and their reputable dependents".The phrase reputable dependents necessarily includes merchants and business men of every class.  Dabney's description is particularly obnoxious to the egalitarian Northern industrialist who favors equal distribution of wealth and libertarianism.  Consequently, history revisionism has painted a gross calumny on Southern women characterizing them as  frail, manipulative, weak-minded, vaguely malicious, spoiled and obtusely prejudiced wall-flowers.

Mary Curtis Lee
daughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee
Aversion to the "aristocratic, agrarian, multi-generationaly prosperous South" concept has only grown in society to the present day. The associated phraseology probably grates on the modern mind taught to envision social, economic and personal horrors of the worst kind in connection with the antebellum South.  It is in the interest of winsomely laying to rest the scandalous libels on these heroic Southern women that we are endeavoring to portray their counterparts.  In spite of the prejudice cultivated by propaganda, we believe Dabney's description captures the essence of Southern Christian heritage and the blessings of inheritance passed down from generations of righteous, industrious patriarchs.  
Anna M. Jackson
wife of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson
So, specifically regarding the issue of femininity, we as girls have a fine line to walk. We want to portray sturdy usefulness so we try to avoid silly ornamentation that renders us incompetent for productive conversation and work. We also want to portray noble feminine dependancy, and by that I mean a graceful acceptance of chivalrous assistance offered us.  We do not seek to compete with anything our brothers or father do, nor do we wish to seem to desire to be physically stronger or independent of their protection and service.

While it is obviously more difficult and probably more likely to be misunderstood, we would like to emulate the dignified, informed gentlewomen of the South.  Women who sacrificed dearly for a righteous cause; who were perhaps accustomed to a life of relative ease yet discovered by painstaking forethought how to guard and dispense their fortunes unhesitatingly; whose characters were sturdy and whose minds were resourceful to face whatever danger with calm fortitude and inventive courage.  Women who considered it an honor to serve meals and scrub pots for a righteous cause and did not shirk hard labor but rather believed themselves privileged to accomplish work in the service of others.  Women who could wear both the practical attire suited to physical industry and the dignified attire suited to daughters, sisters or wives acting as household plenipotentiaries in the absence of their statesmen, warrior and reforming men.
Essentially, we want to represent the women we would wish to be in that era: Christian women in the service of our King.  This means that while studying historical documentation on dress and custom, we will not necessarily portray the most common women found in pictures or journals from the South. After all, were our descendants to reenact our lives, we could hope they would not find us entirely characteristic of our era!
 We hope to post more of our findings and discoveries on the topic and related issues in the near future and invite comments, questions and constructive critique.