View Full Version : Mourning

10-10-2006, 03:57 PM
Would anyone be so kind as to inform me of the gamut of mourning customs for our period? I'm not speaking so much of the clothing issues and changes, but more of how the mourner would have spent the mourning period. What would they do or not do? Would they do any specific things to honor and perpetuate the memory of the dead? Or was that not allowed? Any and all information on this subject would be so appreciated.
Sincere thanks,
Jan Rader

10-10-2006, 06:41 PM
This is an awfully broad topic and I don't think you are going to get someone to go through the gamut in a reply. Have you checked libraries? Have you used the search function here? It's right up there on top and it is a handy tool commonly overlooked my folks new to the forum. You will probably find some previous posts on this subject. A basic online search might give you some help too.

It's best to do the homework and then come here with specific questions and not a broad subject that you hope will just be given to you - you'll get more of a response that way.

10-10-2006, 07:02 PM
Well, there are several answers to this question. First of all, there is the "prescribed" or "ideal" and then there is what people did according to their circumstances.

As I recall, when you are immediately mourning the death of a close family member, you aren't supposed to be leaving the house for anything but church, and you spend a lot of time shut in a darkened room. I'm sure this was modified if you were the mother of small children, or the sole housekeeper in charge of a medium sized family, or the only responsible person on your farm or plantation and had to make sure that things kept being done (meals, work, planting, harvesting, etc.).

Some of the acts of remembrance -- writing to other loved ones who remember the dealy departed on the anniversaries of that person's birth and death dates.

Cutting and keeping a lock of hair -- in a book, in a locket, made into hair jewelry or a hair wreath.

Distributing that person's clothing, jewelry and personal posessions to others who would treasure them and use them as keepsakes.

Writing remembrances of that person into letters and sending them to those who weren't present when they died. Telling and retelling the story of the death, the last words, the funeral, the number of cards and visits that the family received. Discussing how full the church was.

Tending the grave, superintending the cutting of the stone, choosing appropriate Bible verses or poetry to be inscribed on the stone.

Cancelling previously made engagements for a certain period after the death. I was reading "One Evening While Alone" and one of the diarists mentions that there were two speakers chosen at the time of South Carolina's secession to speak at a meeting in Missisippi (a day or two after they got the word). One of the speakers got word that his uncle had died the day before he was due to speak and so had to bow out of delivering his speech.

Noticing resemblances to the departed person in the actions or looks of their siblings or their children.

Sometimes arranging a little sort of shrine in a corner of a common room or in the corner of one's bedroom if the one lost was a child or a spouse. Could include the picture of the person, their Bible or prayer book, sometimes with their favorite verses marked, favorite poetry, embroidered or sketched pictures of the person.

Kissing a picture or locket of the person.

If you had money for this, molds of the person's hands or even face after death, in plaster or other materials.

Writing poetry about the person, their death, what they meant to you, etc.

Naming children after the person who died.

My great grandmother shortly after giving birth to her 13th child in 17 years, of Bright's disease (kidney failure). Her children gathered on her grave to decorate it, tend it and then have a picnic on it every Decoration Day for the next 40 odd years.

Queen Victoria was a major role model for much of this -- for forty odd years after Albert died, she had a new set of clothing laid out for him every day, had hot water brought in for him to shave with, talked to him, consulted with him on important decisions, wore black always (except on very important occassions), etc.

Know I've forgotten some of them, but that's a start,
Karin Timour
Period Knitting -- Socks, Sleeping Hats, Balaclavas
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
Email: Ktimour@aol.com

10-11-2006, 11:13 AM
You've got me interested too!
Try some of these links:

Try Googling "victorian mourning customs"

I did not see anything that addressed the question in a search of the archives on this site. There are a couple of references on 2 other CW message boards - you have to be a member to see the Citizens of the Civil War one, but not the AC one. Moderators - any issues with posting a copy of a post from another site as long as the source and/or author is cited?


Joanna Jones

10-11-2006, 11:30 AM
As a mod for the Citizens list I do not see a problem, so long as the post is cited, and of course the original sources.

10-11-2006, 12:38 PM
Copying a post is a problem (you'd need specific permission from those who wrote the posts)--but linking to the post is fine (I'm a mod for both Citizens CW and AC). Some areas of the AC are protected--while a visitor should be able to read the posts, they won't be able to respond or ask additional questions without registering.

And, as mentioned before, the topic is so tremendously vast, there's no way to cover it on a forum. Hit the local library--there are some great books on mid-century death and funeral practices. One I really enjoyed was "Buried Alive" by Jan Bondesan.

10-11-2006, 06:19 PM
Moderators - any issues with posting a copy of a post from another site as long as the source and/or author is cited?

Posting a link with a very brief summary would not be a problem for any site. However, copying verbatim from sites that use the number of hits to generate revenues (not really an issue with the two sites you mentioned, but potential problem with others), is a clear copyright violation as per the discussion that we had just recently buried in the Perryville Registration thread in the Military Discussion forum. A good starting point for the discussion would be here http://www.cwreenactors.com/forum/showthread.php?p=12244#poststop

10-11-2006, 10:24 PM
Mods - thank you for the clarification on postings. Joanna Jones

Carolann Schmitt
10-23-2006, 10:05 AM
There are a number of books that discuss mourning customs and practices during the mid-19th century. Some address the topic specifically; others include it in discussions of etiquette. Some of these sources are:

Arthur, T.S. Advice to Young Men. Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 1855.
Civil War Era Etiquette. Mendocino, CA: R.L. Shep, 1988.
Bland, Olivia. The Royal Way of Death. London: Constable & Co. Ltd., 1995.
Brookes, Timothy. “Jacob Shenkel’s Gettysburg Diary” in Incidents of the War, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Fall, 1987).
Burns, Stanley B. Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America. Twelvetrees Press, 1990.
Campbell, Edward D.C. Jr. and Kym S. Rice. A Woman’s War: Southern Women, Civil War and the Confederate Legacy. Richmond and Charlottesville, VA: The Museum of the Confederacy and the University Press of Virginia, 1996.
Cunnington, Phillis B. and Catherine Lucas. Costume For Births, Marriages And Deaths. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1972.
Habenstein, Robeert W. and William M. Lamers. The History of American Funeral Directing. Milwaukee: National Funeral Directors Association, 1985.
Hemphill, C. Dallet. Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Iserson, Kenneth V. What Happens to Dead Bodies. Tucson, AZ: Galen, Press. Ltd. 1994.
Johns, Gregory C. "Émbalmers of the Dead”. Camp Chase Gazette. Marietta, OH: Camp Chase Publishing Co.
Johnson, Edward C. “Civil War Embalming” in Funeral Director’s Review (June, July and August, 1965).
Keister, Douglas. Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity. NY: Facts on File, 1997.
Larkin, Jack. The Reshaping of Everyday Life 1790-1840. NY: Harper and Row, 1988.
Levitt, Sarah. Victorians Unbuttoned. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1986.
Loughridge, Patricia R. and Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr. Women in Mourning. Richmond, VA: The Museum of the Confederacy, 1984.
Majka, Holly. Life in the Midst of Death: A Victorian Manual for Mourning. North Canton, OH: Golden Cord Clothiers, 1996.
McClellan, Elisabeth. History of American Costume 1607-1870. NY: Tudor Publishing Co., 1937.
McDaniel, Colleen. The Christian Home in Victorian America 1840-1900. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Mehaffey, Karen Rae. The After-Life: Mourning Rituals and the Mid-Victorians. Pipestone, MN: Laser Writers Publishing, 1993.
Morley, John. Death, Heaven, and the Victorians. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971.
Murphy, Edwin. After the Funeral. NY: Barnes and Noble, 1995.
Penny, Nicholas. Mourning. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1981.
Pike, Martha V. and Janice Gray Armstrong, eds. A Time to Mourn: Expressions of Grief in Nineteenth Century America. Stony Brook, NY: The Museums at Stony Brook, 1980.
Sutherland, Daniel E. The Expansion of Everyday Life 1860-1876. NY: Harper and Row, 1989.
Taylor, Lou. Mourning Dress: A Costume And Social History. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
Willis, Henry P. Etiquette and The Usages of Society. New York: **** & Fitzgerald, 1860.

It's important to keep in mind that many of those sources speak generally about the subject or focus on what should be done. Reading period diaries and letters shows that mourning practices vary with socio-economic status, geographic location, religious beliefs and personal preferences. Depending on the circumstances and the individuals, mourning practices may have been common or may not have been observed at all.