Blunders in Behaviors Corrected

With the "social season" about to begin, and borrowing the title of an 1858 manual for "unfortunates who have been reared at remote distances from the centers of civilization", we hope to offer some information from period etiquette books and dance instruction manuals that might offer helpful information for your impression.
With many books being sold on this subject from the early 1800s on, you could learn standards of decorum for a bargain 12 1/2 cents.
Gentlemen's behavior, as recommended in 1863, required noting that "loud conversation, profanity, stamping the feet, writing on the wall, smoking tobacco or spitting on the floor" were forbidden. The latter was especially stressed as spitting tobacco juice on the floor was nauseous to ladies and spoiled their dresses. Further, a gentleman should "never dance without gloves. This is an imperative rule. It is best to carry two pair, as in the contact with dark dresses or in handling refreshments you may soil the pair you wear on entering the room, and thus will be under the necessity of offering your hand covered by a soiled glove, to some fair partner. You can slip unperceived from the room, change the soiled for a fresh pair, and then avoid the mortification."
(The Gentleman's Book, Hartley, c. 1860) A gentleman intending to dance should remove his sword.

Ladies were admonished to use only light fabrics in ball gowns and combinations of black & scarlet, black & violet or white could be worn in mourning for balls...those in deep mourning and dark clothing were urged to stay at home and not depress the mood of the occasion.

The use of stays was also heavily debated from the 1840's on, the practice of tightening them at full exhalation described as "causing blood to the face, neck and arms" causing the ladies to "present the appearance of a washerwoman actively engaged over a tub of hot suds."
Dances, themselves, were subject to proper structure. "Valises" had become an alternative to group dances in the late eighteenth century and were accepted as "appropriate" by the time of the War.
The German Cotillion came in in the 1840's and lasted through the end of the century.. A "sophisticated" version of the square dance, it had specific figures that were "called" by a leader with names such as "The Fan", "The Rope" and "The Kangaroo." All dancers were urged to participate in each figure "however stupid or unadvisable."...the last mentioned figure being described as .."intended to create a hearty laugh at the expense of one gentleman at a time."


In 1863, Mrs. Livermore, of the NW Sanitary Commission out of Chicago, visited Wisconsin & Iowa in the early summer. Of an urban privileged background, she initially looked at women doing field work with ‘aversion’. Stopping to talk one day when her carriage broke down she approached them: "And so you are helping gather the harvest!"....
"Yes, ma’am, the men have all gone to the war so that my man can’t hire help at any price and I told my girls we must turn and give him a lift with the harvesting."
"You’re not German? You are surely one of my own countrywomen - American?"
"Yes, ma’am, we moved here from Cattaragus Co., New York State, and we’ve done very well since we came....It came very hard on us to let the boys go, but we felt we’d no right to hinder ‘em. The country needed ‘em more’n we." ...
"I tell mother," said Annie, standing erect with flashing eyes, "that as long as the country can’t get along without grain, nor the army fight without food, we’re serving the country just as much here in the harvest field as our boys are on the battlefield- ‘....

Further conversation disclosed the fact that amid double labor in the house and field, these women found time for the manufacture of hospital supplies and had helped fill box after box with shirts and drawers, dried apples and pickles, currant wine and blackberry jam, to be forwarded to the poor fellows languishing in far-off Southern hospitals. My eyes were unsealed. The women in the harvest field were invested with a new and heroic interest and each hard-handed, brown, toiling woman was a heroine."

In ever increasing numbers, beginning in the decades before Statehood, families streamed into the Old Northwest - into Wisconsin. While women and children were equally instrumental in settling the new lands, they did not vote nor were counted in places of power. They were not in the casualty lists nor generally lauded in glorious terms. They did, however, contribute to victory in this conflict and, even more than in the oft mentioned Second World War, changed the potential of their lives.
There were about 367,000 women in the state at the beginning of the war, about 17,500 of which were employed (apx. 4.4%). Occupations, roughly broken down, show about 12,500 as servants/housekeepers, 2800 in some sort of sewing/millenary occupation, 1650 teachers, 400 laundresses and under 200 nurses. Those that had anything to do with manufacturing (773) had about 100 in the lumber/furniture manufacture areas and the rest in the clothing grouping. By 1870 there were apx. 509,000 women with 25,000 employed (apx. 4.9%). Their occupations modified to about 16,000 in service, 3300 in sewing, 3000 in teaching, 1400 farmers, under 300 laundresses and less than 100 nurses. The big change was 3967 in commercial/industrial pursuits. Manufacturing saw them in substantial numbers in men’s clothing, lumber, woolen/carpet manufacture. There were now over 500 in lumber and furniture manufacturer and more in diverse areas such as paper mills, cheese factories and book binderies as well as being represented in occupations such as peddlers, steamboat employees, bookkeepers, grocers, selling/trading agricultural implements and clerking in stores - previously men’s domains. (figures culled from 1860/70 census).
These changes came about both by choice and adversity. Women who wished to work had broader opportunities due to the scarcity of male labor. As will be noted, sewing was one of the mainstays of female employment. While tailoring had been a particularly male enclave, general sewing and dressmaking had been fairly well left to women and Elias Howe’s patent of a home sewing machine in 1849, along with the variations that followed, made it possible to be self- and family- supporting beyond impoverished status. To make a man’s shirt by hand required approximately 14 hours 20 minutes while manufacture by machine took around 1 hour 16 minutes. Women with these machines could use their opportunity to contract with the state to provide garments and complete their contract in a time period that would allow enough profit to support their family. There are stories of women going to great lengths to get a machine, in one case living only on bread and molasses for months to try and pay for one.
The opportunity to make one’s way when one’s husband was injured, ill or deceased arose from efforts of the Aid societies that had been set up to help the soldier’s wives and widows and the families who were suffering due to their loss or, in some cases, simply having no monies due to the troops not being paid for months. The monies collected thorough contributions and raised at fairs kept many families together and one of the organizers, Mrs. Colt, went to Washington and approached the Quartermaster General for a share of the contracts for army clothing to be made available to soldiers families. She secured material for 12,000 garments and this allowed the families to work with the industrial aid department rather than having to rely on charity, starve or lose their homes. This branch of the aid structure arranged for wives to apply for this work and widows and families with many children received preference and 475 women were put to work. From the state Quartermaster-General, they further received the opportunity to contract for 1094 pairs of army trousers. The ladies of the aid societies who were able to work as volunteers cut the fabrics to be contracted out and had a team of ‘inspectors’ to make sure the work that was turned in was done well. The Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien RR gave them free transportation from Milwaukee to Madison for the weekly transfer.
While one often hears of the privations of Southerners, it is seldom noted that those of moderate to little income suffered hard times in the North - especially in rural and frontier areas and especially during the first years of the war. If coffee was available it was often roasted with dandelion root or completely bypassed for a beverage made of parched corn or rye; luxuries left the table. For the soldiers family, along with what he could save and send back from his $13 per month, his wife was allowed $5. per month by the state along with $2. per child. When volunteers were not paid for 6 months at a time, the state allowance, if a dependant knew how to claim it, was all that was available. Families were turned out of their houses for tax arrears and in some counties, women were required to declare themselves paupers before any assistance was available. Mortgages were foreclosed and if families were lucky a friend would let them build a shanty against their house or barn to keep out of the weather.


When Lincoln’s first call for volunteers went out in April of 1861, The Women’s Central Association of Relief was formed in New York. It was the first step towards the organization of the United States Sanitary Commission, one of several large aid organizations established in the North. The government, from Lincoln on down, initially felt it was the "fifth wheel to the coach," but let them proceed in organizing a Commission that eventually did what the government could not - fill in serving the provision of needful materials when bureaucracy broke down but always as a supplement to what official channels did. The Sanitary Commission sent medical inspectors to the army to advise on conditions and solutions to promote good health, established soup depots, put trained nurses into hospitals, developed hospital cars for trains to make transport of the wounded as comfortable and effective as possible.
Another section of the Commission dealt with relief, setting up 12 branch depots in large cities to gather supplies. It set up lodges for sick soldiers and advisory agencies to help with legal matters - claims, back-pay, pensions - and it printed a hospital directory. Through its battlefield relief section it supplied thousands of dollars of sanitary supplies to those in the field.
The administrative positions of this organization were held by men of note but most of the work was done by women volunteers.
The Chicago branch became the channel through which supplies from Wisconsin flowed. The response to providing comforts to the troops was overwhelming but sometimes misdirected as what seemed to be a good idea (havelocks, for instance) were actually close to useless. As what was necessary became clear, contributions became more meaningful. Requests for specifically required materials, such as hospital wear, slippers, linen batting, bandages, etc. were sent out from headquarters and passed along to member chapters where "socials" to provided the goods were held.
As the war progressed, the organization began to take on a more formal structure which allowed for divisions that could address specific areas of need. By 1863, a local organization would have a president, 5 vice presidents, a secretary and treasurer as well as a committee of cutting and another on packing. The president would preside at meetings and take on the duties of purchasing agent in consultation with the other officers. She would be responsible for preparing the plan for the coming month. The vice-presidents were responsible for filling in for the President, if necessary, recruiting and consulting on special areas of interest and efficiency. The secretary-treasurer kept the books and kept up any necessary correspondence. The cutters cut the materials for sewing according to approved patterns and were responsible for having sufficient work ready for the work meetings and the packers were responsible for inventorying all outgoing materials, making arrangements for destinations and making sure of correct labeling.
The weekly meetings could find lint being scraped (one method of preparation was to lay a plate bottom upward on a table or in the lap and scrape linen pieces with a case-knife to break down the fibers to provide fluffy absorbent material for medical use - and easier method was to ravel the thread) or bandages being sewn and rolled, ready for use. The society also provided quilts and blankets, many with cheerful messages and the name of the maker sewn in for the edification of the recipient. An illustration of the sentiments is as follows:

For the gay and happy soldier
We’re contented as a dove,
But the man who will not enlist
Never can gain our love.

If rebels attack you, do run with the quilt
And safe to some fortress convey it;
For o’er the gaunt body of some old secesh
We did not intend to display it.

"Twas made for brave boys, who went from the West;
And swiftly the fair fingers flew,
While each stitch, as it went to its place in the quilt,
Was a smothered "God bless you, boys," too.

There were also comfort bags or ‘housewives’, often referred to as ‘hussys’, that would give a soldier a small case with needles, thread, buttons, yarn, a darning needle and a few pins. If a lady wished, she could make pockets for small extras - cayenne pepper, quinine or a package of medical supplies. One Wisconsin aid society received 500 letters of thanks for the 2300 bags it sent out. There were also knitted socks and mittens - including the famous Wisconsin mittens that had a separate forefinger so they could be used to shoot.
Initially, it was hoped and planned that the packages would go to your ‘own’ troops - as some soldiers sent back complaints that people above them kept all the good things they were being told were being sent and, in any case, the packages being sent to Chicago were repacked for sending to the front there, it became accepted that whatever the ladies were preparing, it would go to the place of most need - front, hospital or prison. As was expressed by a Mrs. Teale of Allen’s Grove, "In the light of war, I view every loyal soldier as my brother,"
Another area of aid work was the provision of fresh fruit and vegetables to the soldiers - scurvy had reared it’s head. An appeal went out in March, 1863, and particularity in Wisconsin and Iowa, where the drought the previous summer and a subsequent winter rot had not been as destructive as elsewhere, it was answered in wagon loads of materials from most every home, no matter how humble.
Overall, in the Northwest states, even considering the recent statehood and small population, Wisconsin’s contributions totaled second in volume with 8,896 packages sent (Illinois had 12,112) and $10,958.64 in funds raised.

Sanitary Commission Projects

To The Ladies of Racine
Under Clothing Wanted For the Sick and Wounded

By the following card from the Sanitary Commission at Washington it will be seen that there was at the commencement of this month a great deficiency in linen for the sick then in the hospitals. The disastrous results for the attack of Manassas Junction will fill all the hospitals to overflowing with brave men who have fallen in defending their country’s flag. Our own gallant 2nd Regiment was there on that deadly 23d and we know not how many of our own brothers and sons are wounded or have fallen. At this moment the wounded may be suffering for the want of clean linen. That want must be instantly supplied if it exists and provided for in advance it it does not. A letter is in circulation for the signatures of those who contributed to the 4th of July fund authorizing the committee of arrangements to use so much of the balance on hand for the purchase of the materials for making such articles as are needed by the sick and wounded in the hospitals. As soon as the materials are purchased, the ladies of Racine will meet and organize for the purpose of making the necessary garments. The ladies will find all necessary direction in Mr. Olmstead’s circular.


Sanitary Commission Washington D. C.
Treasury Building, July 3, 1861

The following articles which cannot be provided at present by government are immediately needed by the volunteers in hospital:

Cotton bed-shirts, one and a half yards long; two breadths of unbleached muslin, one yard wide; open at bottom; length of sleeve three-fourth yard; length of arm-hole twelve inches; length of collar twenty inches; length of slit in front one yard; fastened with four tapes.

Loose drawers, one and a quarter yards long with a breadth of one yard wide, muslin, in each leg a hem and drawing-string round the waist and bottom of each leg; length from waist to crotch on the back twenty-two inches; and in front eighteen inches with three buttons and three buttonholes.

Soft slippers of different sizes.

Towels and handkerchiefs.

Abdominal or body bandages; material, thick flannel; length, one and one-half to one and three-quarter yards to overlap in front; width ten to thirteen inches with narrow gores at the hips 3.5 inches and two inches wide at the bottom with three broad tapes on each attached upon or above the gores.

The articles, if conveyed free of charge to this office will be acknowledged and accounted for and used where the need of them is most pressing.

Direct to: Sanitary Commission, Treasury Building, Washington.
               Fred Law Olmstead, Resident Secretary

Wisconsin Mittens

Mittens for the Soldiers. - Our soldiers will stand as much in need of mittens as stockings this winter. A frost bitten finger will disable them for real service as much as a frostbitten foot. Now is the time, ladies, to knit mittens for the Volunteers, and have them ready against the time they are called for. The best mitten for the soldier is that which has one finger and a thumb, and the directions for knitting these is as follows. Cast twenty stitches on each needle, knit twenty-five rows of ribbing, and twenty rows plain. Then take up the twenty stitches that are upon one needle and knit sixteen rows backward and forward. This is for the beginning of the thumb. Then take these twenty stitches on three needles and knit round for sixteen rows, after which narrow gradually till thumb is finished.
Take up twenty stitches at the lower part of the thumb. There will be sixty stitches on the three needles. Knit twenty rows. Take the twenty stitches nearest the thumb, join them on three needles, and knit twenty-two rows. Then narrow gradually until the finger is finished. Take the remaining twenty stitches on three needles and knit twenty-two rows. Narrow gradually till finished.
Milwaukee Sentinel, Nov 15, 1861