Idealization of Women

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Godey's Magazine, begun in 1830 by Louis A. Godey, was by far the most popular women's periodical of its day. Achieving a circulation of 150,000 before the war, it was anxiously awaited by its many fans, who read and re-read the sentimental stories and poems, studied and copied the fashions, and even cut out and framed the engravings. The key to its success was the section of fashion plates, which were hand-colored by more than 100 women employed by Godey. Sentiment was abundant, and politics were excluded, but much on the education of women appeared. This particular image is from Vol. LII., from January to June, 1856. Courtesy of Indiana University via HathiTrust. 

In 1913, some white Southerners still sought the restoration of antebellum culture of honor, particularly what they had lost during the Reconstruction era. They clung to ideals of womanhood that glorified virtue and purity. A model Southern lady was virtuous, modest, and pious. She was happy to maintain a home, raise children, care for the sick, sew, tend a garden, and be a dutiful wife. Male investment in this ideal was so pronounced that preserving the characteristics of Southern “belles” was considered a means of preserving Southern honor.

Women far outnumbered men in Georgia after the Civil War, and many were forced out of economic necessity to labor alongside men as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, or as mill and factory laborers. Their position as laborers contradicted the deep-seated ideals of white Southern womanhood that remained in the collective mindset, and thus, the ideal of Southern womanhood faced challenges.

Any perceived challenge to Southern honor regarding girls and women could result in violence from mobs or organized groups. The Ku Klux Klan’s oath even included the phrase “to be of special protection to female friends, widows, and their households,” conflating their resistance to economic and political change in the South with the sexuality of white women.