Women’s Patriotic Association for Diminishing the Use of Imported Luxuries

This is one I was initially going to include in the Resources series. But, with some recent discussions, I would like people to be aware of this movement. It became fairly well known about since I am seeing it in rural papers (which I’ll share) as well as papers in England and Australia (I’ll have to refind that to transcribe.)

The Women’s Patriotic Association for Diminishing the Use of Imported Luxuries (New York, 1864)

https://archive.org/stream/womenspatriotica00wome#page/n5/mode/2up

This book opens with an address from May of 1864. It also contains several letters.

There is something more we can do for our country! We wish to make, we can make, no stronger appeal that this to those who have been working for our sick and wounded soldiers for the past three years, who are working for them now, who means to work for them until the war is over. We ask you to consider seriously the subject now presented; let it commend itself to your reason; for, if once convinced of the importance of the measure, we cannot doubt but that you will show yourself as ready to help our country by not doing, as you have hitherto helped it by doing.

… The most effectual way of doing this, we are told, is to diminish our use of foreign luxuries, although a general economy is all superfluities will do much towards it. At present our imports – or the articles purchased by us from foreign countries – are very much greater in value than our exports – or the articles we produce at home and sell abroad. It is estimated that when the accounts for the year are made up, on the 30th day of this coming June, we shall find that the country has been sending abroad seventy or seventy-five millions of dollars in gold to pay the balance of trade against it. And what have we bought with this money, so much needed at home just now, and which might be dispensed with? Silks, satins, velvets, laces, jewelry, ribbons, trimmings, carpets, mirrors, and other imported luxuries – every woman knows what they are without running through the whole list – things that are not necessary, which would benefit our country should we do without them altogether, but which, if wanted, can, with but few exceptions, be obtained of our own manufacture.

 

As with the Temperance movement this also has a pledge:

Form of Pledge We, the undersigned, during the continuance of this war of rebellion, pledge ourselves to refrain from the purchase of Imported Articles of Luxury, for which those of Home Manufacture or Production can be substituted.

 

Edited later to add:

I’ve been reading The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution by Marla Miller. When I reached this passage, I instantly thought of this post. 

After the war ended, women remained conscious of the political impllications of the astorial choices. In November of 1786, more  than one hundred women in Hartford, responding to the postwar economic depression adn the tension swelling to the nrth as Massachusetts coped with Shay’s Rebellion, expressed their patriotic zeal by forming an “Economic Association.” “Taking into serious consideration the unhappy situation of their county, and being fully sensible that our calamities are in great measure occasioned by the luxury and extravagance of individuals,” the founders expressed the hope that “those Ladies that used the to excel in dress… will endeavor to set the ebst examples, by laying aside their richest silks and superfluous decorations, and as far as possible, distinguish themselves by their perfect indifference to those ornaments and superfluities which in happier times might become them.” The resolutions reflected the signers’ sense of themselves as participants in an internationaly network of clothing makers and consumers. They observed that “the English and French fashions, which require manufacture of an infinate variety of gewgaws and frippery,  may be highly beneficial and even necassary in the countries where those articles are madel as they funish employment and subsistence for poor people.” But, thought sympathetic these individuals, they also recognized larger and more sinister interests at work; “foreign nations,” they stated, were anxious to “introduce their fashions into this country, as they thus make a market for their useless manufactures, and enrich themselves at our expense…. Our implicit submission to the fashions of other countries is hightly derogatory to teh reputation of Americans, as it renders uss dependent on the interest, or caprise, of foreigeners, both for taste and manners; it prevents the exercise of our own ingenuity, and makes us the slaves of milliners and mantaumakers in London or Paris. For the next seven months, the women said, they would refrain from purchasing “gauze, ribbons, flowers, feathers, lace and other trimmins from frippery, designed merely as ornaments.” They would reduce new purchases for weddings and mourning, eliminate purchases of new materials for routine visiting, and buy domestic rather than imported goods whenever possible. In sum, they vowed to dress simply, to limit occasions that called for fashionable excces, and to “use [their] influence to diffuse and attention to industry and frugality, and to render these virtues reputable and permanent.” 

The Hardford Association’s success is impossible to gauge – perhaps this was the year that one of the Trumbull girls famously wore the same, plain muslin dress all season long, to great local acclaim for her simplicity – and bravery. Whether the signers abstained from the unneccassary purchases in unknown, but their awareness of the political and economic impact of ephemeral style is striking.     

This also brings to mind Mrs. Philadelphia’s words in my January post.

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Published in: on February 17, 2014 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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