Why long hair was a burden to Civil War era women (1862)

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Short hair for ladies?

A letter to Louis A Godey, publisher of Godey’s Lady’s Book

I know, Mr Godey, to an absolute certainty, from both reason and experience, that short hair would be a great comfort and convenience, and a real blessing to woman-kind everywhere. Any intelligent lady or gentleman must admit that it is a great tax upon us to have so much hair to be done up and arranged every day, and sometimes oftener, for a common lifetime — amounting to many thousand times — just to suit a foolish fashion, and because our mothers and grandmothers did before us.

Men have not submitted, and will not submit to this inconvenience, yet women have to. Long hair, to the sick and afflicted women everywhere over the world, is absolutely a burden, and to all others it is a great and useless inconvenience.

And where is the ‘glory’ of ‘all its fair length,’ so much talked about, when done up in a knot on the back of the bead? It is nonsense to talk of its length as its chief element of beauty when that quality is forever concealed from human gaze, as it is in the done-up style, which makes it to all intents and purposes even shorter than the men’s.

Where, then, is its beauty? Are these knots of hair on the back of our heads so very handsome? — this round, knotted, imprisoned mass which gives no a conception of anything else except the length of a lady’s hair?

Must we sacrifice the health of the hair, its freedom, its flowing nature, the comfort of the wearer, the natural shape of the head, and all things else, for the sake of the length of the hair, which, after all, we do not get to see in the done-up style; not even as much as in the flowing short style.

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Let me briefly show in contrast the points of difference between short hair and done-up hair.

godeys-1862-women-dressesWhen the hair is cut to a convenient length in the neck we have the freedom of the hair, its health, the comfort of the wearer, its downward flowing nature, which poets so much admire, and which is the natural condition of the hair, and we have the natural shape of the head, always beautiful; the undergrowth of hair behind, at the junction of the head and neck, is all concealed; besides, the hair, when cut evenly around in the neck, forms a most beautiful silken border, and the color of the hair in contrast with the whiteness of the neck forms one of the most brilliant, beautiful, and angelic contrasts in the world. Then we have a greater show of the length of the hair.

Now, contrast all these points of beauty with the entire lack of the same in done-up hair, and then let any one decide which style is the most beautiful. And how grandly flowing hair for women corresponds with, and how symbolical of her own gentle, flowing nature!

Now, Mr Godey, I submit the points I have made in favor of the convenience, comfort, and beauty of short hair for woman — which are but a few things that can be said in its favor — whether the blessings that would flow from it would not justify considerable effort on our part to change public sentiment in its favor?

I have every reason to believe, from those whom I have talked with, that there are thousands in our land who would adopt short hair at once were they not over-awed by adverse public opinion. But they think, like thousands of others, that they might almost as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.

Mr Godey, I know you have the interest and welfare of woman-kind at heart, and now will you aid me a little with your advice, counsel, and instructions in my efforts to change public sentiment in favor of the benefits, comforts, and blessings that short hair would give to woman-kind everywhere?

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Please answer soon, if it suits your convenience and pleasure, and instruct me how I can best deal with this subject to insure success.

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