Illinois During the Gilded Age
Pictures and Illustrations.Front Cover Image
Dress and Vice.
Leaflets for Mothers' Meetings.
BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART
FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD.
There is nothing in sex as such, which makes the female fond of dress and display. This is proved by the plain mother bird, and her brilliant mate; the gorgeous peacock and colorless hen; the shaggy splendors of the lion and toned-down tout-ensemble of his comrade. And that this analogy holds good of the human race, is apparent when we consider the elaborate head gear of chieftains, or the savage warriors bedizened with paint and feathers, in contrast to the plainer outfit of the women by their sides.
Love of display does not, then, inhere in sex, and will disappear in men and women both in proportion to their refinement and good sense. "Beauty unadorned is adorned the most" has in it as much philosophy as poetry. Woman's present attitude toward her dress requires some farther elucidation than that it is necessary to the attraction of men. For my part I believe that the costly, hampering and grotesque dress of women — the worst bondage from a barbarous past that still enthralls us — has a twofold explanation. First, that when all men were soldiers and before money was known, they made the women folk who staid at home in places of comparative safety, the custodians of their wealth, hanging it upon them in rings, necklaces, bracelets, and rich fabrics. Secondly, that the more women could be hampered by their clothing — the trailing skirts that impeded locomotion, the half-bared head and lightly clad feet which exposed them to the discomfort of snow and rain and cold; the veiled face which prevented them from seeing or being seen, the more were they content to stay indoors, and thus the more especially did they become
4the exclusive property and utter dependents of some fierce barbarian, who while heaping his treasure upon them, regarded these fair and fragile beings as the chief treasures of all he had amassed.
A Christian civilization has worn away the most repulsive features of this bondage, but every punctured ear, bandaged waist and high heeled shoe is a reminder that manhood and womanhood are yet under the curse transmitted by their ignorant and semi-barbarous ancestry. Men have emerged farther than we, because they are more enlightened and more free to seek their own development and comfort. They have always set the fashions, because they have always been and are today the ruling class. Man and woman are King and Courtier in the world's great realm, and will be, until he, in his growing wisdom and tenderness shall say to her, "I will no longer make a law for you since I perceive that God has made laws for us both. Let us hereafter, like boy and girl at school, study out, side by side, the sacred laws of health and happiness which He has written in His Works and Word." Man in our age has begun thus to speak to the gentle companion whom God gave to be with him, and as she emerges into the sunlight of truth and becomes a citizen of the great, home-like world which his prowess has subdued for her, she will throw off the badges of her long servitude and appear in a costume at once modest, healthful and elegant. All roads lead to Rome, and a discussion of the origin of woman's love of dress — which I claim is superinduced, and her senseless extravagance — which grows out of her ignorant and subject condition, leads inevitably by a logical process of thought, to industrial independence and the self-protection of the ballot as essential to her deliverance from both these senseless follies. Therefore I believe we must appeal to men to grant us "where to stand." We must urge the growing army of White Cross Knights to lift their sisters above the servility that makes them bow down to the decrees of arbitrary fashion-mongers and thus trample the laws of health and wholesomeness under their tortured, because distorted, feet. Meanwhile let that mother know who tricks out her little girl in all the colors of the rainbow; puts rings on her fingers if not
5"bells on her toes"; binds her at an early age into a corset; sets her to wallowing in a long skirt and tilts the vital organs at the invalid-angle by high heeled shoes, that she has deliberately deformed a body that came fresh and fair from God's hand, and manacled a soul that was made in His image. Girls learn the love of dress at their mother's side and at their father's knee. Most of all they learn it from their wretched, heathenish dolls. Girls are systematically drilled into the lust of the eye and the pride of life; into false standards of taste, and those worldly estimates of value which look only upon the outward adorning; and in this hateful school their teacher is the doll, with simpering face and fluffy hair, bespangled robes and perfect artificiality. The Kindergarten is doing no one thing so helpful as to banish this grotesque Queen of the playroom; and to substitute for boys and girls the same playthings, and these based upon good taste and common sense.
Let any mother who would have her daughters behave rationally about their dress, give them Froebel's Kindergarten gifts and teach them to make all their plays a means of mental development and physical well being. I know a mother whose sweet fifteen year old girl wears her gymnastic suit to school, and is an adept with the tricycle. Good health and good spirits will be her choicest dowry, while her mincing mates are already mortgaged to the rocking chair and lily-pale miseries of invalidism.
Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a woman soweth that shall she also reap.
But in our day, the present costly and insane style of dress, is, perhaps, the worst temptation to vice among the poor.
Alas for the "saleslady" who falls into the snare of some city establishment which advertised for help, and whose proprietor told her, when "the terms" were being settled, that she could get so much more per week, if she would "obey any orders they might give her!" She should dress in as many furbelows as she pleased — at the price of her own honor. So frequent as this bait of filthy lucre become, that our social purity workers will, it is hoped, soon add to their efforts for the legal protection of women, the attempt
6to secure such enactments as shall make it a penal offence for any man to offer such wages to women as will not suffice respectably to board and clothe them. The style of dress among hired girls is often pitiful to see. But it usually puts to shame the mistress more than the maid by reason of its tawdrier imitation of tawdry fashions set in the parlor which, in this democratic land, the kitchen will be sure to follow. It also indicates that lack of sympathy between these two parts of the house, which is a growing evil of our times. The true Christian lady will make common cause with her helpers, especially counselling them as to what is for their health and setting an example of moderation in personal expenditure. She will put books in their hands, such books as "Eve's Daughters," by Marion Harland; "Build Well," by Dr. Cordelia Green, and Ellice Hopkins' leaflets for women. The W.C.T.U. can do much by the circulation of these among the poor, and at every mothers' meeting literature should be on sale, which those who attend will gladly purchase and put in circulation.
The relation of dress itself, as well as the love of it, to immorality, should be carefully discussed. I am glad that the Minneapolis Convention adopted the following as one specification of its pledge for women:
"I promise, by the help of God, to be modest in * * * * dress."
Alas, that the time has come when in the (so-called) "best society" of this Christian Republic reputable women will appear in such costume as makes it difficult for sons and brothers to keep the White Cross Pledge. If women realized the unspeakable degradation of this exposure, if they reflected upon the consequences to the world in case all women should dress as they do, if they could be made to know the results that inevitably and swiftly follow such immoral exhibitions of what should be reserved for the sacred and inmost privacy of home, they would need no tinge of artificial color for the cheeks, which would be carmined with shame.
If young women knew what is the outcome to those tempted as they are not, of an evening spent in their company, where the low corsage, the naked arm, the whirling dance, allure young manhood, they would
7sink upon their faces before God in penitence. If they realized what distressed parents could tell them as they have told me, about the results of such temptation upon the conduct of their sons; the penalties vicariously borne, the blight upon home's peace and purity, not even the all-potent dictum of the (im)-"modiste" could hereafter bring them to this unchaste public disrobing.
If young women knew what young men think and say of them when they pass along the street in pyramidal hats which are but cages of dead birds; dresses displaying the bandaged, hour-glass waist, the camel's hump, the mopping skirt, with front so strapped as to display the lower limbs in most unseemly fashion; with arms akimbo and so pinched that a sausage is their only parallel; and this fashionable effigy upborne upon the same hideous slant-heeled pedestals that the demi-monde of Paris wear; if even these young women could hear the remarks of the young men as they pass by, they would never again appear in such a hideous guise. Contrast with such an image a young lady quietly dressed in plaited waist, plain skirt of some soft goods, falling to the ankle, low heeled walking shoes, pretty collar with a bit of ribbon, and neat cuffs at the wrist, neat round hat, hair in a simple knot, clear skin, and cheek touched with the bloom of youth and purity! No young man having one spark of sense or manliness could look upon the first figure without secret contempt, or upon the last without sincere respect. One would "lead him a life," the other would found him a home. In one his heart might safely trust, the other would be apt to marry him in haste for his money and leave him to repent the squandering thereof at leisure.
But it is quite likely that the absurd-looking young woman is not nearly so bad as she seems. She is thoughtless and crude; and has made up what she is pleased to call her mind, that "one might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion." She has the courage of no convictions and makes herself a fright simply that she may look like the rest. But if her mother and pastor and Sabbath-school teacher had shown her what a practical, every day thing is Christianity, how it should modify every garment we wear
8and mould our very walk and conversation, she would never have permitted herself to become such a caricature of womanhood. Let us fervently pray that from all households where White Ribbon women dwell there may come such examples of healthful, tasteful dress as shall help to set up that truer standard for lack of which the masses are worshiping the golden calf of Fashion, senseless in art and pagan in morality.
Happily, there is a steady progress toward better things. Science is the great renovator and women are now students of its sacred revelations. Three fourths of the teachers and graduates from our public schools are of the so-called weaker sex. If only the fittest have here survived, there is a prophecy that they shall yet become the stronger, in mind at least. Nearly one-half the children in these schools are now under instruction about the laws of health. They are learning that any ligature imposed upon the body anywhere, and most of all upon the yielding cartilages of the waist, means displacement and inflammation. But when that inflammation and displacement relate to the vital organs therein located, a ligature means physical pain and ruin to the one who wears the compress and to her children. When these causes have been thus universally taught for a generation, the present compressed waist will disappear and the flowing outlines of Greek art will come, and come to stay. Already women are awakening to the facts of their physical well-being. In a club in Chicago led by "ladies of society" just home from their summer's outing by seaside, mountain and forest, and having freshly in mind the gymnastic suits in which they had walked and climbed, a rising vote was lately taken, and unanimously carried, on the motion that they would not wear trailing skirts, no matter what the dressmakers might say. In a recent number of The New York Graphic Mrs. Jenness-Miller's rational costumes for women are depicted with most appreciative commentary. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' book, "What to Wear," is being newly read and its noble philosophy of this great subject pondered.
9housekeeper is about to present the subject to a group of sympathizing friends among leaders of society. The White Ribbon women as a class dress with notable simplicity. The invisible vestments of all women who have even a gleam of good sense, have, within ten years, made marked progress toward compliance with nature's laws. The Flint waist, instead of corsets; the combination suits of flannel and cotton; the long hose fastened from the waist, with leggins and arctics for cold weather, are all invaluable ameliorations of our lot. Common sense shoes are now for sale at all reputable shops and comfortable cloaks have become "fashionable." The most precious part of the system is still the most unprotected, and foolish bonnets put a premium upon the American woman's pet disease — neuralgia. Many ladies wear gymnastic suits when about their work at home and on vacation, which redeems a goodly fraction of their time from the evil days of bondage to long skirts.
It is a legitimate part of our temperance and social purity work to take away the reproach that justly falls upon women in these days for their ignorant and sinful disregard of nature's laws regarding their own health, and their thoughtless addition to the temptations of men by their manner of dress. The theater and the house whose pleasures take hold on death must cease to crack the whip of fashion over the head of virtuous womanhood. We must assert our own independent dignity. Our duty in the case is immediate, and may well be all-engrossing when we consider manhood's point of view in addition to our own. The following ingenuous letter which I recently received from a young man at the East, is commended to the candid reflection of all women, especially those who, like its author, are in the morning of life:
DEAR LADY: — It may seem presumptuous for an unknown and ignorant laddie like me to address you, but I have applied to several others for help and found none. I take the Witness, Pioneer and Laws of Life, and have seen some of your protests against that great crime so many women commit, viz: lacing. In this community we have a lodge of Good Templars which has held weekly meetings for eighteen years, and girls who are members of the order and take part in the exercises stand on a platform, and with blood filled with impurities from imperfect circulation and faces covered with pimples caused by lacing, urge the boys not to poison their blood with alcohol, and ridicule the red nose of
10the toper. We have also a Society of Christian Endeavor, and young women with breath and usefulness shortened one-half by corsets, attend the prayer-meetings of the society and say they are trying to serve the Lord, and pray that they may be enabled to do His will in all things. The boys of this place are a strong, healthy, tough and wiry set; but oh, the girls! Pale, pinched faces, and languid steps; forms created in God's own image cruelly deformed and distorted into hideous monstrosities to make men shudder and angels weep; unfit for wives because incapable of becoming the mothers of healthy children. What young man of sense wants to marry a dressmaker's lay-figure, or a bundle of aches and pains wrapped up in fancy dry goods? One of my friends — a fine young man with no poison habits — did marry one of them. Five short years have passed away and where is his family? Two little graves in the village cemetery and a wife who is a physical wreck, may tell the story. Now can you not write a leaflet that will bring to bear upon this subject physiology, theology and common sense and which can be scattered broadcast among the young women of the country, especially those of the W.C.T.U.? Think of this. It is the Master's work. He bids me write to you. Yours truly,
The young man from Vermont is right. Criticisms upon the habits of our brothers come with poor grace from those whose own sins against God's laws written in their members fill as many graveyards as do the tobacco and alcohol habits. For myself, I saw this early in my temperance apostleship and discarded corsets and high heeled shoes — two pets of my benighted youth, — adopted a more hygienic way of living in nearly all regards, and am slowly moving onward toward a better understanding of Christianity applied to the toilet, the table and all the daily conduct of life. In this quest, beloved comrades of the White Ribbon Army, let us rest assured that we shall surely have the considerate judgment of all good men and the gracious favor of Almighty God.