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FEATHERS Issue 1, Fall 2016

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Sarah Rose Nordgren American Women Writers, 19 th C. Dr. Lisa Hogeland Fall 2016

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And the old-wives sit with their caps so white, And their pretty beaks so red, And swing on the billows, and scream with delight, For the Burgomaster’s dead! - Celia Thaxter, “The Burgomaster Gull”

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a c

b

Coaching and Country Toilettes

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a. In our bedrooms, we strap each other into bone corsets, cinching them tighter until our ribs bend down like feather barbs. Our inner organs are forced to make a choice. b. To keep our steps short and mincing, we bind our knees together with hidden strips of cotton under creamy petticoats. c. “Natural� is the form. Vertical and flowing, our silhouettes. Our gowns of pearl-gray faille fan behind us in swishing trains, bordered with velvet trimming and bright, crimson cord. The waists are laced behind and cut away at the sides, necks bound with black, satin ribbons. Sleeves are close to just below our elbows, where they spread wide open in large, ruffled arcs.

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Letter from the Editors Dear Readers,

For centuries, this dual meaning of “nature” has been played out in our

The

meanings

of

Woman

and

expectations of women’s behavior and

Nature share an overlapping matrix.

social

Woman as territory, as virginal, animal,

closeness to nature makes her wild,

needing

as

corporeal, beastly and irrational, needing

mercurial, earthy, creaturely. “What a

of protection, confinement, and a firm

lovely creature!” Soft and flighty. Small

hand. Her body is both an object of desire

enough to hold in one’s hand. Both begin

and an unpredictable mess. It shifts and

as a blankness upon which meaning is

changes yearly (in pregnancy), or monthly

inscribed. Says Artemidorus, “In dreams,

with the moon. It is a leaky sac of fluids:

a writing tablet signifies a woman, since

seeping milk and blood. It is sex and filth.

it receives the imprint of all kinds of

On the other hand, woman’s proximity to

letters.” Foucault calls the body the

“natural laws” endows her with the

“inscribed surface of events.”

responsibility

to

be

tamed.

Woman

roles. On

the

of

one

being

hand, her

man’s

moral

compass, a paragon of purity and virtue Men, in contrast, stand in for

unsullied

by

the

complications

and

culture, for reason. It is they who must do

politics of culture. And so, even more than

the taming, both of women and the land.

the “earth angel,” she is “angel beast.”

They make things orderly, bring them right.

In this issue, we investigate the bird hat debate at the turn of the 20th Feminist scholar Stacey Alaimo

century wherein a group of middle and

articulates how “the dual meanings of

upper class white women protested the

nature converge at the site of woman,

use of feathers in millinery fashions due

fixing

to the decimation of bird populations. By

her

arguments.” contradictory

in

a

vortex

of

This

vortex

hides

“the

presenting textual artifacts and creating

the

term

others, we reveal the debate as a site of

meanings

of

circular

‘nature,’ which is subordinate to Man, and

conflict

between

yet contains Man’s Truths.”

imperatives

of

19th

simultaneous C.

womanhood,

showing how women’s bodily inscription

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as, on the one hand, creaturely, birdlike,

everglades,

fashionable

and mimetic of nature clashed with their

women, perhaps unwittingly, found they’d

inscription as ethically pure and maternal

transgressed

protectors and nurturers.

appropriate womanhood, which doesn’t

the

upper

boundaries

class of

allow for outwardly directed violence. The

Problem

in

other

words:

Women are identified with birds and

We believe the reader will find in

expected to behave and appear like birds,

these pages that, like the still-persistent

thus the wearing of feathers and birds on

fur industry, the wearing of bird hats

hats became a way in which avian

demonstrated an instance of hyperliteral

qualities and “nature” were inscribed onto

bodily inscription wherein the extreme

the female body as symbols of natural

feminine becomes “monstrous.”

beauty

as

well

as

status.

However,

because the hats necessitated the violent genocide

of

nesting

wading

birds

from

birds,

especially

the

American

Sincerely, The Editors

h —Why is woman inferior to man? —Because she is closer to nature. or —Because nature made her so.

h

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Birds and Bonnets By

the

late

historians

Femininity,” uses women’s fashions from

estimate that five million birds were

this period as an illustration of how the

being

cultural conceptions of the body and

slaughtered

1800s, annually

for

the

American millinery trade. Around fifty

beauty

norms

become

a

system

of

North American species alone were being

practical rules that regulate the body’s

killed for their feathers, and wading birds

physicality, adapting and molding it into

like the snowy egret and great egret were

what Foucault called the “useful body”:

close to extinction. Bird hats were all the

The nineteenth century hourglass

rage. Fashionable women couldn’t seem to

figure, emphasizing breasts and

get their fill of feathers, wings, and even

hips against a wasp waist, was an

whole taxidermied birds affixed to their

intelligible

bonnets. In the early days of American

representing

conservation movements when outdoor

sexualized ideal of femininity. The

activities like hunting and fishing were

sharp cultural contrast between

being touted as wholesome, masculine

the female and the male form,

pursuits and bird watching was growing

made possible by the use of corsets

in popularity, the bird hat phenomenon

and bustles, reflected, in symbolic

was an odd accompaniment to a larger

terms, the dualistic division of

trend of “natural fashions” for women. To

social and economic life into clearly

highlight

skirts

defined male and female spheres.

became less full and more flowing, busts

At the same time, to achieve the

became

specified

the

“natural

more

lengthened

prominent

to

achieve

form,” and an

necks overall

symbolic

form,

a

look,

domestic,

a

particular

feminine praxis was required—

silhouette of softly curved verticality. The

straightlacing,

May 19, 1879 issue of Harper’s Bazar

reduced mobility—rendering the

commented,

female

“If

dresses

are

simple,

body

minimal unfit

to

eating, perform

bonnets in revenge appertain more than

activities outside its designated

ever to the domain of the fancy.”

sphere.

Susan Bordo, in her essay “The Body

and

the

Reproduction

of

So, while the fashion of the time called for adherence to the “natural form,” the

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conception of “natural” that held to

the city to organize a mass boycott of bird

acceptable norms was one that required

hats. Later, Hall remembered their initial

an extreme amount of body modification,

meetings, explaining, “We marked the

regulation, and discipline. Appearing and

ladies of fashion who would be likely to

behaving “naturally” required a lot of

wear aigrettes on their hats or in their

work.

bar…We sent out circulars asking the *

*

*

women to join a society for the protection of birds, especially the egret. Some women

In

1896,

Boston

socialite

and

amateur naturalist Harriett Hemenway read

an

about

But it was more than “some” who

extermination of birds in Florida for the

joined. Hemenway and Hall’s boycott

hat trade and decided to take action.

attracted

Hemenway and her husband, Augustus, a

participate. Later that year they formed

philanthropist and heir to a shipping

the

fortune, were socially well connected and

which, over the next few years, lead to a

lived in a fine section of Boston’s Back

network of local societies across the

Bay.

already

nation dedicated to bird conservation. In

familiar with political controversy – she

1901, leaders from the individual societies

once invited Booker T. Washington to stay

met in New York City and formed a

at her house when none of the Boston

federation, the National Committee of

Hotels would house him on a visit, and

Audubon Societies of America. William

was known for embarking on birding

Dutcher was elected its president. Despite

expeditions

unthinkable:

the fact that women led the movement

white sneakers. The well-known story

and made of the vast majority of its

goes that she invited her cousin, Minna B.

activists, as the movement grew, men

Hall, to tea, and the two ladies went

were frequently called in as leaders and

through the social register, the Boston

speakers to give the movement legitimacy

Blue Book, and set about contacting all of

and expose its members to scientific

the most influential, fashionable ladies in

knowledge. [

Hemenway

wearing

the

the

the feathers would not join.”

brutal

Mrs.

article

joined and some who preferred to wear

was

at

least

Massachusetts

900

women

Audubon

to

Society

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Vanity 10


h “Humanitarians and reformers may labor to save the birds, but these labor in vain and will so long as fashion says to womankind wear wings, and mirrors tell the fact, fatal to birds, that feathers are becoming.” – Norfolk Virginian, Sept. 29, 1897 “At Cape Cod, 40,000 terns have been killed in one season by a single agent of the hat trade.” – Good Housekeeping, winter 1886-87 “It is a woman’s duty to make herself look as well as she can.” – Harper’s Bazar, March 1902.

h

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[ Poem: Feathers by Sarah Rose Nordgren

A bird is worth the beauty of her feathers. Spoonbills, snowy egrets, herons, red, white, or brown, what matters is their smoothness, feathers laid close against the body or fanned in ruffles around the thighs. When plucking them you learn how many layers create the shape you recognize. Their bodies underneath aren’t proud at all, just frail and raw and somehow chastened.

are hollow. When blown into they whistle, making soft and brittle flutes. They are easiest to shoot when nesting. In the breeding season when the birds display their most attractive plumes, a decent hunter gathers thousands. The more there are, the easier the sport. The less there are, the more the price per ounce goes up. Thrown together inside a canvas bag, their limp necks intertwine in fleshy braids attached to breasts in piles like loaves of bread.

Oddly similar to the spines of feathers, bird bones

[

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Are Women the Enemies of Birds? In the debate about bird hats,

patches

of

three

thousand

women had not only to defend their

Brazilian

positions against one another, but also to

long ago I saw a woman in a cable

defend themselves against the indignance

car wearing a hat with the heads

of men who were disgusted by women’s

of, by actual count, twenty-one

vanity that led them to fuel such mass

Quails. Do you think they were

violence against bird populations. Many

taken from those slaughtered for

male conservationists, bird enthusiasts,

the

and scientists weighed in on the issue,

human resemblance, living near

and

perplexity

the seacoast of South Carolina,

regarding women’s ignorance and their

supplied, for a New York milliner,

need for bird fashions. In his article

three thousand Roseate Terns; so

examining the causes of bird extinction, a

that locality, once resoundant with

man named LeGrand T. Meyer, writing in

happy

1889 for The Ornithologists’ and Oologists’

graceful “Sea Swallow,” is silent…

generally

expressed

Hummingbirds!”

market?

Impossible.

parental

cries

of

Not

One

this

Semi-Annual, singled women’s fashions

From his interjection of the question mark

out as a major threat to bird populations.

after the word “ladies” down to the

His tone in discussing the female wearers

comment that the “happy parental cries”

of bird fashions is as unfortunate as it is

of the terns have been silenced, it’s

typical:

apparent that it is not just the lives of

Those ladies (?) that from their ill-

birds that are at stake here for Mr.

conceived vanity yearly sign the

Meyer,

death warrants of millions of birds

appropriate womanhood. A woman who

simply because they possess an

wears dead bird parts on her person may

attractive plumage [is a major

no longer fit into the category of “lady”

“artificial

which, presumably, doesn’t allow

cause”

of

bird

but

also

the

parameters

of

for

extinction]. Recently, an item in an

violence towards other creatures. Rather,

exchange

Gemini

Meyer depicts the women in his anecdotes

appeared in the reception room

as monstrous; his focus on the numbers of

with

birds that one woman could wear at a

a

read dress

“Lady

decorated

with

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time serves to emphasize the scale of the

Woolf is responding here, of course,

problem, but it also depicts the individual

to the hypocritical charge that women are

women as grotesque, or out of proportion.

brutal and careless about the torture and

Monsters of vanity and death. Her moral

death of birds, while men, by contrast, are

deformity here is gendered, and set in

trying to protect them. In response, she

opposition to the “happy parental cries” of

paints a picture of the brutal torture of

the birds themselves, who are portrayed

birds in South America where one has

in their “natural” state of familial bliss

“red holes in its head where there should

before being silenced by the vain whims of

be eyes” while “another bird, tied to a

the brutal women.

stake, writhes incessantly, for red ants

Three decades later and across the

devour it.” She goes on to point out that

Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Woolf became

many hands and systems are required to

enraged

judgmental

operate before women ever come in

editorial published in the July 10, 1920

contact with bird plumes, writing that

issue of Wayfarer that was speaking out

“the fact is that before ‘the child-bearing

against the failure of Britain’s Plumage

women

Bill to pass in the House of Commons.

parenthood’

After remarking that the comments in

devised, done and paid for…. But these

Wayfarer make her want to march right

hands – are they the hands of men or

out and purchase an egret feather of her

women?... We may fairly suppose then

own in protest, despite her “vow taken in

that the birds are killed by men, starved

childhood

religiously

by men, and tortured by men – not

wearing

vicariously, but with their own hands.” In

feathers, she quotes the offending passage

addition, she notes that the reason the

from the editorial which asks, derisively,

Plumage Bill had continually failed to

“What does one expect? [The birds] have

pass

to be shot in parenthood for childbearing

Committee of sixty-seven members (only

women to flaunt the symbols of it, and, as

one of whom was not a man) was unable,

Mr. Hudson says, one bird shot for its

on five separate occasions, to get the

plumage means ten other deadly wounds

required quorum of twenty members to

and the starvation of the young. But what

attend the vote. Her scathing analysis

do women care? Look at Regent Street

therefore points out not only men’s direct

this morning!”

violence and brutality toward the birds (in

observed”

by

a

and to

similarly

hitherto refrain

from

can

was

flaunt certain

the acts

because

symbols have

the

to

of be

Standing

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contrast to the violence-by-proxy of which

somehow, as a given, while women’s

women are guilty) but also their extreme

consumption of the feathers is not only

apathy at the legislative level.

appalling but unsexing. Driving this point

Woolf also creates a reversal of the

home, Woolf writes: “The Plumage Bill is

editorial’s allegations of monstrous anti-

for all practical purposes dead. But what

motherhood that women must kill parent

do men care? Look wherever you like this

birds in order to “flaunt the symbols” of

morning!

parenthood artificially. Do not, she asks,

Wayfarer putting it like that. ‘They have

scores of men make their livings and earn

to be shot for child-begetting men to

profits through violent acts so that they

flaunt the symbols of it… But what do

can beget and raise their own children?

men care? Look at Regent Street this

Somehow,

plume

morning!’ Such an outburst about a

industry as well as their role in other

fishing-rod would be deemed sentimental

animal-killing industries and pastimes is

in the extreme. Yet I suppose that salmon

being either ignored altogether or taken,

have their feelings.” [

men’s

role

in

the

Still,

one

cannot

imagine

A Killing Hat

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Timeline of Progressive Legislation for Women and Birds at the Turn of the 20th Century ♦ 1869 Suffrage in Wyoming The

territory

of

Wyoming

is

the

first

to

grant

unrestricted suffrage to women. ♦ 1886 Suffrage Amendment A women’s suffrage amendment is defeated in the Senate. ♦ 1900 Lacey Act Prohibits game taken illegally from one state to be shipped or transported across state lines contrary to the laws of the state from which it was taken. While effective today, the act wasn’t sufficient to stop the interstate trade of birds when it was first instituted, mostly because of the huge profits gained from the transport of birds coupled with the dearth of officers to enforce the law. ♦ 1913 Weeks-McLean Act Prohibits

commercial

market

hunting

and

illegal

shipment of migratory birds between states, proclaiming that: “All wild geese, wild swans, brant, wild ducks, snipe, plover, woodcock, rail, wild pigeons, and all other migratory game and insectivorous birds which in their northern and southern migrations pass through or do not remain permanently the entire year within the borders of any State or Territory, shall hereafter be deemed to be

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within the custody and protection of the Government of the United States, and shall not be destroyed or taken contrary to regulations hereinafter provided therefor.” The law rested on weak constitutional grounds, and was therefore later replaced with the Migratory Bird Act. ♦ 1915 State by State Suffrage Western states and territories have been individually granting women the right to vote over the past few years. By this point, women in Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, California,

Arizona,

Kansas,

Alaska,

Nevada,

and

Montana have unrestricted voting rights. ♦ 1918 Wilson Supports Women’s Suffrage The nineteenth amendment passes in the House but is defeated in the Senate. President Wilson addresses the Senate in support of the amendment. ♦ 1918 Migratory Bird Act This Act effectively ends the bird trade by protecting migratory birds in addition to all of their “parts,” including their feathers, eggs, and nests. Writing for the majority, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that protecting migratory birds was in the “national interest.” ♦ 1920 Women get the Vote The nineteenth amendment to the Constitution is finally ratified, reading “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

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Winter Hats and Bonnets 20


a. Our bonnets give us power and height. The brim of this brown felt hat is turned up in the back. The trimming consists of velvet ribbon, ostrich feathers, a changeable bird, and heath. b. This gray bonnet is bound with black velvet and edged with steel galloon. The trimming consists of surah ribbon, pink roses, and gray, dismembered wings. c. The inside of this bonnet is trimmed with loops of velvet and cream colored gros grain. A hummingbird’s body nestles against the ribbon, its long beak pointing like a needle towards the top of the wearer’s head. d. Nature is rank and decomposing, so we fasten our heads with worm-eaten leaves, moss, faded field flowers, and twigs. A rodent cowers at the tip of the brim. Above it, a glass-eyed owl is frozen with wings outstretched. e. This black surah bonnet forms a halo of black Chantilly lace and fallen leaves. A mother’s arms reach stiffly from the back. f.

The white crown of this blue bonnet is trimmed with satin of a darker shade. Bows of similar satin, plumes, and flowers circle the brim in a kind of forest wreath. Below the chin, ribbons of surah trimmed with black lace tie together to help the wearer balance it all, and to keep her still.

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The Story of Freya’s Cloak Here is a story inherited from the icy northern climes of Scandinavia. One day, the god Thor awoke to discover that his magical hammer, Mjollnir, had been stolen. Thor needed Mjollnir to defend Asgard from the attacks of the giants, so in a rage he searched for the precious hammer but was unable to find it. Thor and Loki therefore sought out the goddess Freya. Freya possessed a cloak made of hundreds of falcon feathers which could transform the wearer into a falcon, and she agreed to let the two borrow it to help with their search for the hammer. Loki donned the cloak and in his new guise as a falcon flew to Jotunheim, the land of the giants. His suspicions were confirmed when he confronted Thrym, the chief of the giants, and Thrym admitted to having stolen the hammer and buried it eight miles beneath the ground. The chief then told Loki that he would only return the hammer on the condition that Freya was brought to him as his bride. Loki flew back to Asgard and told his news to the council of gods. They were all furious, especially Freya. The council decided that Thor should go to Jotunheim disguised as Freya in order to retrieve his hammer

and take vengeance on Thrym. Thor at first refused, objecting that dressing as a woman would be humiliating and unmanly, but he eventually acquiesced with Loki’s prodding. The gods spared no detail in the assembly of Thor’s bridal dress. When he was fully bedecked in wedding finery, Loki agreed to accompany him as his maid-servant, and the two gods made their way to Jotunheim in Thor’s goat-drawn chariot. Thrym welcomed them happily, thinking he had won Freya. At dinner, their cover was almost blown when Thor consumed a whole ox, eight salmon, several barrels of mead, and a variety of other foods. Thrym became suspicious of his bride’s unladylike appetite, but Loki calmed him with the excuse that Freya had been so lovesick for him that she hadn’t eaten in days prior to the banquet. The wedding ceremony soon commenced, and as was the tradition, the hammer was brought forth to sanctify the union. As soon as Mjollnir was lain in Thor’s lap, he grabbed it, killed Thrym and all of the other wedding guests, and rode with Loki back to Asgard. Upon his return, he immediately changed back into his own clothes. [

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Loki flying in Freya’s Feather Cloak

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Harper’s Bazar and ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents’ Women’s magazines of the period

the Innocents” in 1875 – two decades

serve as a rare window into the formation

before Hemenway and Hall organized

and articulation of current ideas about

their boycott – Harper’s Bazar seems to

femininity

have actually introduced the problem to

and

perspective

womanhood

of

women

from

the

themselves.

Harper’s Bazar, a fashion magazine that

the public. Thatcher’s

article

was

actually

appealed to middle-to-upper class women,

published anonymously, but a later article

is an important example of how these

on the topic by her then husband, T.W.

magazines – far from lagging behind –

Higginson, attributed the early piece to

were often at the very center of women’s

her. Her article is notable because of its

evolving

the

early publication as well as the fact that it

specific issue of plumed bonnets, Harper’s

contains many of the points that would

Bazar, which was first published in 1867

become the most common and persuasive

as a way for American women to learn

arguments in the campaign against bird

about new fashions as early as European

fashions. In her 2002 thesis “A Woman’s

women did and which was subtitled “A

Nature: Attitudes and Identities of the

Repository of Fashion, Pleasure, and

Bird Hat Debate at the Turn of the 20th

Instruction,” serves as a case in point for

Century,” Amelia Birdsall points out that

two

much scholarship seems to have missed

self-definitions.

reasons.

Firstly,

illustrations

the

magazine’s

advertisements

Thatcher’s

millinery

in

attributes the first published protest

juxtaposition with the literature sections

against the industry to a piece by J.A.

that included commentary and objections

Allen in 1876. However, not only did

to those same fashions left the magazine

Thatcher’s work appear a year earlier

squarely on the fence regarding bird hats.

than Allen’s, but it was also written by a

In

woman and published in a woman’s

featuring

this

and

Around

plumed

way,

influenced

its

it

embodied reader’s

and

also

developing

fashion

article

magazine

and

that

frequently

depicted

and

ambivalence and awareness of the topic.

promoted the very styles that Thatcher

Secondly, with the publication of Miss

was arguing against.

Mary Thatcher’s article “The Slaughter of

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Thatcher begins her discussion

daughters.” In a seeming contradiction of

with a tone of wonderment and sadness in

her own point, however, Thatcher not only

seeing so many “ghosts of birds” being

defends birds against the brutality of

paraded through the streets on ladies’

Fashion, but then also criticizes some

hats, lamenting the plight of these “little

women’s use of feathers on aesthetic

captives deprived of life and light and

grounds when she asks “If a woman must

song.” She goes on in this sentimental

wear a bird, why does she not show a

vein, writing “The outspread wings have

little taste in her selection, and choose one

lost their magic power, and the little feet,

whose

instead of clasping some swaying bough,

somewhat with her own? Why do meek

have been hopelessly entangled in meshes

little maidens overshadow themselves

of velvet and lace.” In her appeal to

with ‘winged flames’ from tropical wilds,

readers, Thatcher simultaneously invokes

and stalwart matrons affect the dainty

the

humming-birds?”

birds’

beauty

as

well

as

their

appearance

will

This

harmonize

apparent

emotions, characterizing them as delicate

contradiction reveals the rocky rhetorical

creatures with a love of freedom and with

territory that Thatcher is treading here,

feelings of their own. And what is the

as intermixed in her condemnation of

cause

cruel

Fashion as being abhorrent and counter

singing

to nature, she still desires – as a lesser

mannequins?

option, perhaps – that the rules of

Thatcher puts it plainly, “A bird on a

Fashion still attempt to imitate or follow

woman’s hat to-day has but one meaning,

“natural” aesthetics. Let us have Nature

and that is vanity.” Alongside personal

over Fashion, she argues, or instead let us

vanity, Thatcher cites Fashion (which she

have Fashions that please us aesthetically

capitalizes) as a potent force influencing

as Nature does. At the least, let women

women and working against the force of

wear birds that look like themselves.

of

this

transformation creatures

unnatural of

into

and

beautiful,

lifeless

Nature: “Fashion delights to set all the

Amidst her strong objections to the

laws of nature at defiance, but she never

bird hats, Thatcher still preserves her

showed more plainly her ignorance of the

faith in women’s gentleness and goodness,

fitness of things than when she took the

believing that women could be released

birds

and

from Fashion’s thrall through education

perched their lifeless bodies upon the

and awareness of the pain and harm

heads of our mothers and sisters and

they’re causing to innocent creatures.

from

their

native

haunts

25


Surely, then, they would be horrified and

doesn’t shrink from implicating men as

immediately cease wearing the plumed

well as women in the problem of bird

bonnets: “That the fashion of using birds

genocide. She mentions farmer’s mass

for ornament is a cruel one probably never

killings of bird “pests” that turned out

entered the minds of most women…. Yet

later to be integral to the natural balance

these very women have tender hearts, and

of animals and insects, and also criticizes

would shrink from inflicting needless pain

scientists

on any creatures had not love of ‘style’

animals with impunity for specimens

blinded

Thatcher

rather than killing only what is needed

maintains women’s ultimate empathy and

for their work. She also questions why it’s

moral purity despite the cruelty of the

necessary for nonscientists to be collectors

fashions, attributing their violence to the

when they might just as well display art

outside forces of Fashion that cloud their

and sculpture instead of real animals

eyes and judgment. In that sense, the

carcasses. Over

mutilated birds and the misguided women

forms a thorough and thoughtful first

are both caught in similar predicaments:

volley in the debate, urging her readers to

They are both gentle, fragile creatures

take the lives of birds more seriously and

who are easily abused and manipulated

treat

by the powerful forces of Fashion that

continued emphasis on the moral grounds

deform the laws of Nature. To remedy the

of her argument, Thatcher declares boldly

problem,

the

that “The widespread belief that birds and

“apostles of dress reform” to take up the

animals were created only for the use and

issue and educate women so that the

amusement of man is a doctrine unworthy

fashions will change.

of Christendom.” [

their

eyes.”

Thatcher

Thus

calls

upon

who

them

kill

birds

and

all, Thatcher’s

more

preciously.

In

other

essay

her

Like Woolf and others would in the coming decades of debate, Thatcher also

26


[ Poem: A Caged Bird by Sarah Orne Jewett High at the window in her cage The old canary flits and sings, Nor sees across the curtain pass The shadow of a swallow’s wings.

She begs me now for that chief joy The round great world is made to grow,— Her wisp of greenness. Hear her chide, Because my answering thought is slow!

A poor deceit and copy, this, Of larger lives that mark their span, Unreckoning of wider worlds Or gifts that Heaven keeps for man. She gathers piteous bits and shreds, This solitary, mateless thing, To patient build again the nest So rudely scattered spring by spring; And sings her brief, unlisted songs, Her dreams of bird life wild and free, Yet never beats her prison bars At sound of song from bush or tree. But in my busiest hours I pause, Held by a sense of urgent speech, Bewildered by that spark-like soul, Able my very soul to reach. She will be heard; she chirps me loud, When I forget those gravest cares, Her small provision to supply, Clear water or her seedsman’s wares.

What can my life seem like to her? A dull, unpunctual service mine; Stupid before her eager call, Her flitting steps, her insight fine. To open wide thy prison door, Poor friend, would give thee to thy foes; And yet a plaintive note I hear, As if to tell how slowly goes The time of thy long prisoning. Bird! does some promise keep thee sane? Will there be better days for thee? Will thy soul too know life again? Ah, none of us have more than this: If one true friend green leaves can reach From out some fairer, wider place, And understand our wistful speech!

[ 27


The nightingale

28


The Story of Philomela and Procne We believe our readers may be

woman to deliver it to Procne on her

interested in this story taken from Greek

behalf. Procne, understanding the story

mythology. Philomela and her sister,

on the tapestry, asked the old woman to

Procne, were the daughters of Pandion,

take her to Philomela so that she could

king of Athens. When Procne married

rescue her.

Tereus and went with him to live in

When

the

two

sisters

were

Thrace where he was king, the two sisters

reunited, they planned their revenge

missed each other badly. After five years,

against Tereus. Procne killed their son

Procne asked her husband if her sister

Itys and served him to Tereus for dinner.

could come and stay with them in Thrace

As

so that they could be together again.

Philomela appeared and threw Itys’ head

Tereus agreed.

on the table in front of him. Realizing

Tereus

was

finishing

his

meal,

However, when Philomela arrived,

what the women had done, Tereus chased

Tereus found her to be so beautiful that

after the women in order to kill them.

he raped her and then cut out her tongue

However, the sisters wished to become

so that she could not tell what had

birds so that they could escape, and the

happened to her. He hid Philomela away

gods transformed them – as well as

and told Procne that her sister was dead.

Tereus – before they were caught. Tereus

As she was unable to speak,

became a hawk. Procne was transformed

Philomela wove an intricate tapestry

into a nightingale, and Philomela was

depicting the crime and enlisted an old

transformed into a swallow. [

29


Bird Hats as Female Ailment or The Monster Problem Drawing

on

Michel

Foucault’s

varying

rules

governing

the

analyses of power-knowledge and power-

historical construction of gender.

knowledge-pleasure systems that produce

Working within this framework,

“docile and capable” bodies, Susan Bordo

we see that whether we look at

argues in her essay “The Body and the

hysteria, agoraphobia, or anorexia,

Reproduction of Femininity” that women

we find the body of the sufferer

are especially prone to inscription as

deeply

docile bodies that are constantly lacking

ideological

or in need of improvement, but which can

femininity

also embody protest against controlling

period in question.

forces.

In

of

an

construction

of

emblematic

of

the

In light of the above passage, it is easy to

maladies such as hysteria, agoraphobia,

find parallels with the issue of plumed

and anorexia, Bordo writes “It is as

millinery, or more specifically with the

though these bodies are speaking to us of

women who continued to wear bird hats

the pathology and violence that lurks just

even after the information about bird

around the corner, waiting at the horizon

cruelty was available. Women were asked

of ‘normal’ femininity.” She argues that

to be fragile, to be beautiful, birdlike, and

these types of gendered pathologies are

to embody Nature in their behaviors and

the

appearance.

of

analysis

with

“female”

result

her

inscribed

“hyperliteral”

bodily

They

were

to

be

inscription, wherein the affected women

simultaneously passive, nurturing, and

embody an extreme version of cultural

awe-inspiring as the natural world itself,

expectations:

or, in Stacey Alaimo’s words, “corporeal,

Loss of mobility, loss of voice,

passive matter.” It is no surprise then

inability to leave the home, feeding

that women, for generations, chose to

others

oneself,

clothe and bedeck themselves in the

taking up space, and whittling

“corporeal, passive matter” of feathers,

down the space one’s body takes

fur, leaves, and the dead bodies of birds

up—all have symbolic meaning, all

and small mammals, thus making literal

while

starving

have political meaning under the

30


the

imperatives

of

their

cultural

inscription.

that need. In the process, a new realm of meanings is discovered, a

However, the bird hat wearing

range of values and possibilities

women ran into trouble when they found

that

that, in this case, the extreme feminine of

traditionally coded as “male” and

bird-embodiment actually brought them

rarely made available to women:

into

an ethic and aesthetic of self-

conflict

with

prevailing

gender

Western

has

norms. In the process of emphasizing

mastery

their creaturely and avian qualities by

expertise, and power over others

donning real feathers and birds, the

through the example of superior

women

will and control. The experience is

also,

unwittingly,

became

and

culture

self-transcendence,

participants in unacceptable forms of

intoxicating, habit-forming…

violence. In short, these women found

In this sense, the women who wore bird

themselves inadvertently transgressing

hats can be seen as embodying an

gender norms in their effort to conform to

unconscious

them.

patriarchal forces that would make them

protest

against

the

Bordo addresses the complexity of

“corporeal, passive matter” through their

hyperliteral bodily inscription in her

inadvertent violence and control over the

discussion

as

birds. While embodying the weak and

“embodied protest—unconscious, inchoate,

delicate creatures to which they aspired,

and counterproductive protest without an

they simultaneously took on the position

effective language, voice, or politics, but

of patriarchal power by murdering and

protest nonetheless.” She utilizes Susie

abusing those same creatures. As a result,

Orbach’s example of dieting as a way that

identifying the women’s “crime” becomes

women have been able to use the feminine

a difficult, unstable task, as it slips

expectations of smallness, deprivation,

between the categories of self-violence

and want in order to also achieve “male”

(which is traditionally more acceptable for

privileges like bodily autonomy and self-

women)

control:

coded male).

of

female

disorders

and

other-violence

(which

is

The young woman discovers what

This is, I believe, why some women

it feels like to crave and want and

– but especially men – depicted the bird

need and yet, though the exercise

hat wearing women as monstrous, part-

of her own will, to triumph over

woman,

part-animal

beasts.

Written

31


critiques by men (in the vein of those by

become not just uncaring but deformed

LeGrand T. Meyer and the Wayfarer

and bloodthirsty. Borrowing a term from

journalist

Sandra

that

Woolf

objected

to

so

Harding, which

she uses to

strongly), as well as the satirical cartoons

describe individuals who simultaneously

and poems of the period, question not only

embody contradictory identities, we can

the women’s femininity, but their very

identify these women’s untenable social

humanity. Absent their feminine morality

position under the heading of the Monster

of gentleness, virtue, and sweetness, they

Problem. [

A Bird of Prey

32


[ Poem: Go, Lovely Bird (Anonymous) Go, lovely bird, Speed from my lady warily. For she hath heard That finches dainty decking be, And her sweet charms mean death to thee! For at the sight Of ruffled breast and stiffened limb Her eyes grow bright. A wreath of death will bravely trim The circlet of my lady’s brim.

[

33


This pereline consists of a gauze foundation, which is covered row upon row with black, Spanish lace. It is both cape and collar, our regal honor to be held in one place. The neck is edged with a jet border and leaves that encircle the ruche in choking vines. The body breathes inside of it, giving off scent and heat. The chest heaves. Elbows bound to the sides like wings. Proceeding from the border at the neck, and falling over the rows of lace, are long and short jet sprays that terminate in ruffled fringe that hides the breast in front and bladelike scapulae behind. On top, a Manila Longchamps hat is fastened with real roses and remnants of birds.

34


Lace and Jet Pereline 35


Resources

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Harding, Sandra. “Reinventing Ourselves as Other: More New Agents of History and Knowledge.” American Feminist Thought at Century's End: A Reader. Ed. Linda S. Kauffman. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993. Print. Jewett, Sarah Orne. “A Caged Bird.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. McCoy, Dan. “Thor the Transvestite.” Norse Mythology for Smart People. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016. Ovid. The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993. Print. Souder, William. “How Two Women Ended the Deadly Feather Trade.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. Thaxter, Celia. “The Burgomaster Gull.” Birdwatching with American Women: A Selection of Nature Writings. Ed. Deborah Strom. New York: Norton, 1986. 19-22. Print. “The Slaughter of the Innocents.” Harper's Bazaar (1867-1912), vol. 8, no. 21, 1875, pp. 338. ProQuest. Web. 6 Nov. 2016. The Steam Roller. Digital image. “The Campaign for Suffrage.” Boundless US History. Boundless, 20 Nov. 2016. Web. 25 Nov. 2016. Wallace, Emily Roberson. “Freya's Falcon Cloak.” The Aviary: Birds in Nature, History, Literature, and Folklore. The Aviary, 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 26 Nov. 2016. Weeks, Linton. “Hats Off To Women Who Saved The Birds.” NPR. NPR, 15 July 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2016. Welker, Robert Henry. Birds and Men: American Birds in Science, Art, Literature, and Conservation, 1800-1900. Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1955. Print. "Woman Suffrage Timeline 1840-1920." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Woolf, Virginia. “The Plumage Bill.” Woman's Leader 23 July 1920: n. pag. Rpt. in Ms. Vol. 3. Arlington: Liberty Media for Women, 1992. 76-77. Ser. 1. ProQuest. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

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Feathers, Copyright Sarah Rose Nordgren, 2016

38


Feathers