Friday, March 18, 2011

How to Hound a Man

Flowers on the table. It was my first brown bag lecture with flowers on the tablecloth-covered tables. Was this how they did things in the South?

On this glorious spring day, I had walked the mile and a half to the Museum of the Confederacy for curator Catherine Wright's lecture "Women and the Confederate Cause," specifically during the gung-ho first year of the war.

Like me, a good portion of the audience had brought their lunches ( a quick stop at the Papa Ningo's cart on the way had provided a most un-Southern curried chicken lunch), but the museum provided sodas, water and cookies to augment what we'd brought and provide a snack for those who arrived empty-handed.

The funniest moment was also the most unsanitary. An older man picked up a soda and seeking ice, somehow overlooked the ice bucket, instead reaching his hand into one of the pitchers of iced water and pulling out several handfuls of ice for his cup. Fortunately, there was another pitcher of water for those seeking refreshment untouched by human hands.

Wright's talk was interesting and informative, not just because it's Women's History Month, but because I find the history of women more compelling than that of men. As I've said before, I like my history with breasts.

The vintage magazine illustrations she showed greatly enhanced the presentation. There was an image of rooftops in Charleston during the bombardment of Fort Sumter and at first glance, it could have been a picture of Fourth of July picnickers watching fireworks, except that they were all on the tops of their houses.

Oh, yes, and watching gunfire and the end of life as they knew it.

Another published in the North and labeled "Southern Women Hounding their Men to Rebellion" improbably showed that it wasn't the men who wanted to go support the cause, it was their wives, mothers and fiancees all but pushing them out the door to war.

The museum's extensive collection provided images of Secession cockades (ribbon bursts worn on hats as a show of support for the cause) and handmade presentation flags made by loving women for the men to carry in battle and remind them of the people back home they were fighting for.

Wright spoke of the 3,000 seamstresses in RVA who made uniforms for the Confederate Clothing Bureau at home from pre-cut pieces, earning $1-$1.50 per garment (and no doubt paid in worthless Confederate money).

One of the outcomes of the war often overlooked is how the loss of thousands of men took its toll on the future of marriageable women. In a society predicated on women's role being that of wife and mother, it's hard to fulfill that destiny without a husband and men were in short supply after the war.

Thus it was that nursing and teaching became viable long-term careers for single women who had no chance of marriage.

I suppose it meant that the poor things had no one to hound, either. What a tragic loss for Southern womankind.

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