Between high infant mortality rates, periodic plagues, and military conflicts for an expanding Western empires, death was an everyday occurrence during the Victorian Period. As a result, an entire social structure developed around the idea of death and how to react in the public and private spheres. In this second in a series of posts about Victorian Mourning Culture, the idea of socially acceptable mourning practices for men is explored.
Mourning culture was divided along gender lines. While mourning for women was a public display – one of the few ways to express emotion that was socially acceptable– for men, mourning was a private affair. Males worked and lived in a more visible sphere then women; they were expected to hide their emotions from the larger world, grieving privately at home.
Males did have some outward expression of mourning, but it was largely muted. Unlike women, who normally wore bright colors, men’s dress was subdued; black, brown, and grey suits were the cultural norm. Because of this, men did not have different mourning color clothing as women did. Instead, they simply wore a black armband and added a black band to their hats to indicate that they were in mourning.
The black wool armbands (H 21915.001-002) seen in the photograph are an example of the type of mourning attire that would have been worn by males. This set of armbands was sent to the parents of Irvin Danford by the Noble County Chapter of the American Red Cross after Danford was killed during World War I in 1919, after the Victorian Age. Some aspects of the Victorian mourning culture re-emerged as a result of the massive number of deaths that occurred during World War I, including symbols of grief, like these armbands. There was even a revival in séances, as grieving families attempted to find closure with the loss of their loved ones who were often buried overseas where families were unable to visit the graveside.
Another way males participated in mourning was through the use of black-bordered stationary and calling cards. This allowed males to indicate their mourning status to visitors and correspondents. Additionally, this prevented those grieving from having to repeatedly answer questions regarding the loss of their loved one. One such example is Miss Maggie Hazlet’s calling card (H 50796). While this black-bordered calling card is for a female, males would have the same border added to their cards and stationary.
Victorian men mourned the same length of time as their female counterparts; it was simply more private, with very few outward expressions of their grief. Check back soon to learn how Victorian female mourning expression differentiated from male mourning.
Caitlin Smith, History Collections Intern
Old Sturbridge Inc. “Historical Background on Mourning Rituals in Early 19th Century New England.” Old Sturbridge Village (2003). http://resources.osv.org/school/lesson_plans/ShowLessons.php?PageID=R&Lesso nID=37&DocID=2043&UnitID=.
Taylor, Lou. Mourning Dress: A Costume and Social History. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
Zielke, Melissa. “Forget-Me-Nots: Victorian Women, Mourning, and the Construction of a Feminine Historical Memory.” Material History Review 58 (2003): 52-66.