"The Ideal Widow"
By: Michelle Lane
In 1881, on completion of his book, "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government", Jefferson Davis dedicated it to "The Women of the Confederacy" and their "enduring grief, love and reverence for our sacred dead."
20 years earlier, in 1861, the death of Prince Albert had already brought "grief" as a lifestyle to the fore-front of society. The Queen Victoria had given widowhood new meaning and importance, shaping the idea of the "the virtuous widow".
Reconstruction Picture of Queen Victoria's and Prince Albert's Wedding
For the 19th century woman, social position would always be tied to the loss of her spouse until the time she remarried. Society's expectations about the "right behavior"
during mourning extended to loss of any loved one. Changes in demeanor, lifestyle, dress, and jewelry were thought to protect the wearer's feelings - a cue to recognize that this person was (and was expected to be!) in mourning.
Queen Victoria in Mourning
Entire books were written advising proper etiquette, what public occasions were permitted, how and when veils should worn, etc. Though some like The Queen chose to display their mourning for life, most transitioned out of mourning after an "acceptable time".
"The ideal widow wore black, mourned for at least 2 and a half years, resigned herself to God's will, focused on her children, modeled herself after older widows, followed her husband's wishes, and devoted herself to his memory."
~ "Civil War Widows", Angela Elder
The Civil War created an unprecedented number of widows, many married for just a short amount of time. 200,000 women became widows between 1861 and 1865.
Union widows received the honor and respect of the nation at the conclusion of the war - their husbands had sacrificed their lives to the winning cause (history is written by the victor). Confederate widows not only faced the loss of their loved ones - but also the economic hardships of being the "traitor".
Richmond, VA - 1865