“Clothing For Girls,” by G.M.J. (from The Mothers’ Journal and Family Visitant, 1853; pp. 148-150)
In our variable climate, exposed as we are to sudden and extreme changes of weather, our children should be protected, by warm and comfortable clothing. It should be made to cover the entire body; and not merely, by placing a number of folds about the waist, in such a manner as to represent a spread eagle already soaring away; while the neck and limbs are left without covering, because a state of nudity has become pleasing to modern taste; thus subjecting the little sufferer to colds, coughs, asthmas, rheumatisms, and croups, and many times to premature death. It is painful to see mothers, (who tenderly love their daughters,) by this wicked practice bring the deepest sorrow upon their own heads, notwithstanding all their efforts to shield a guilty conscience under the cloak of Providence.
I knew a charming little girl in an eastern state, who was the only child of her mother, and she was a widow. Her husband, and son, had long since found a grave in the deep blue sea. No gratification whatever was withheld from this last, this idolized child. She was a child of song. The tones of her sweet voice penetrated even the bluntest sensibilities. The mother’s heart vibrated to the tender tones of her darling child, and she rejoiced that the time was so near when others beside herself, would appreciate alike her talents and her beauty. It was a cold bleak night in February, when our village was all astir with the excitement of preparation for a singing school concert. Our little girl was to take a prominent part in the exercises, and she must be attired in a manner, becoming her position and talents. She was disrobed of the coarser for the lighter material. Her warmer garments were exchanged for the gossamer wings; that if possible, she might be taken for some etherial [sic] being. Though the winds were rude, and the night dark and cold, and all the elements of nature seemed clashing in furious combat, the mother permitted her little daughter to leave her warm fire-side, and go forth to test the texture of her skin against the coldest northern blast. She reached the hall shivering with cold, but she soon rallied, and entered into the exercises of the evening with the ardor and enthusiasm of
childhood. Her delighted mother gazed, and listened in breathless admiration. Her costume was a la Paris. None so short or light as hers. Her arms and ancles [sic] so exquisitely rounded, her neck of such an alabaster whiteness, her shoulders of the finest Grecian mould, and all so gracefully exposed. All seemed spell bound, at the charm of such original and heaven tuned melody, as she unconsciously poured forth her warbling strains. But her notes (we fain would hope) were tuned for angel bands, and as if already inspired, the key note echoed its last farewell to all below. She returned home wearied and excited. The chilly winds seemed to whet their swords anew for their defenceless victim. They pierced her tender and unprotected frame, and all torn and lacerated, by their merciless darts, she arrived home and threw herself upon her bed. But rest was not there. Her frame was quivering with the still biting effects of the keen atmosphere. Sweet little songster! The bright glimmerings of a life so precious are going out. Fever ensues, her brain is reeling, she sings, she laughs, she raves, she entreats her mother to cover her from the piercing cold. The physician hastens to her bed-side, but all is lost! no hope! a few hours of suffering that would rend the hardest heart, and all of that life so dear, so much needed to cheer and support the declining years of this heart-broken mother, has gone out. And think ye not that mother brought anguish of spirit to her own heart?
The custom of aping what is foreign instead of adhering to our conviction of what is practicable and fitting, and adapted to our climate and circumstances, often brings us into a distressing and ludicrous condition. The fashions of Paris, and of the stage, illy become the practical daughters, on the mountains and in the valleys, on the hills and in the dales, of New England’s rock and ice bound coast. Among the villages that skirt our western lakes and rivers, and dot our broad prairies, or of the Green, and White mountains, where old Boreas whistles and pipes, bellows and raves, as he is striving to rival nature in artificial mountains of snow. Some mornings after his merriest antics, may be seen a hundred little girls, on their way to school, dressed more like little actresses from a London or Paris stage, than the daughters of our Pilgrim mothers, who clad themselves in their own home-spun linen and wool, and were hale and vigorous both in body and mind.
O! shade of Martha Washington! What would she think to see
the physical training of our children?--to meet a group of these skirtless little gypsies, tripping through drifts of snow, and buffetting the piercing winds! How she would have toiled at the loom and wheel, to have prevented the soldiers of the Revolution from such a pantless misfortune.
And the loss of delicacy likewise who can estimate! that modesty which was the glory of our American mothers! and which we should cherish with an American pride! It is not indeed, fitting that we should thus barter away, what we have so long cherished, for the sake of aping the shameless fashions of the present day, or abuse and unsex our daughters by transporting the vices, and unnatural customs of other countries. Let our clothing be such as health and comfort require, and let us seek, rather, that adorning of the mind which is so justly and admirably portrayed by the pen of Inspiration.
Shelburn Falls, Mass.