Useful and Appropriate: Cockades and Bazaars

Have you ever donated money to a fund that helps our soldiers and received a "Support Our Troops" ribbon to wear? Or maybe you've participated in a raffle for a donated item, knowing the raffle money was going veterans.

The idea of buying donated items at bazaars to support the troops is not new. Hundreds of these fairs were held across America during the Civil War. The simplest affairs were basic booths of items to buy. But many bazaars combined these booths with entertainment and education as well. They became great social events where participants might go to socialized, have their fortune told, hear concerts, skate on a summertime ice rink (how up-to-date and exciting!), and more.

And yes, they could buy a cockade as well!

This photo is a booth from one of the largest of these bazaars, the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair in 1864.

This fascinating website gives you an interactive page to see photos and read newspaper accounts of the various displays in the fair. There were vendors for everything from books to candy to furniture to art, florals, and jewelry.

The fair lasted two weeks and proceeds - over $550,000! - benefited wounded soldiers and people displaced by the war.

Useful and Appropriate

There is a fun section in Little Women that tells a fictitious story of one of these fairs. May, one of the girls in the Little Women family, has some gentleman friends who want to support her booth by buying her items. This humorous paragraph pictures the fellows' predicament as they blew their money on feminine frills - and then had no idea what to do with them!

"The Empty Purse" by James Collinson
"To May's great delight, Mr. Laurence not only bought the vases, but pervaded the hall with one under each arm. The other gentlemen speculated with equal rashness in all sorts of frail trifles, and wandered helplessly about afterward, burdened with wax flowers, painted fans, filigree portfolios, and other useful and appropriate purchases."

This painting called "The Empty Purse" or "At the Bazaar" is set a little earlier in the 1850s, but it shows us some of the many items that would have been available. A doll, some pictures, a floral arrangement, embroidered slippers waiting to be "made up," suspenders and a hat are just a few of the "novelties" the poor lady can't purchase because she apparently spent all her money!

...And Cockades!

You may be wondering what all this has to do with cockades. Well, the answer is that two of my favorite original cockades were items that were sold at just such a bazaar!

The Relic Room in Columbia, SC has a number of items related to the Grand Bazaar held at the State House in 1865. Here's a fascinating young lady's diary entry about it:

"Jan. 18th. - Well, our great bazaar opened last night, and such a jam! I was at the State house helping to arrange the tables until four o'clock so I was thoroughly tired. There are seven booths in the House (of Representatives) South Carolina, at the Speaker's desk, is the largest, and on either side are Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri. In the Senate are North Carolina, at the Desk, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. The tables or booths are tastefully draped with damask and lace curtains, and elaborately decorated with evergreens. To go in there one would scarce believe it was war times. The tables are loaded with fancy articles - brought through the blockade, or manufactured by the ladies. Everything to eat can be had if one can pay the price - cakes, jellies, creams, candies - every kind of sweets abound. A small slice of cake is two dollars - a spoonful of Charlotte Russe five dollars, and other things in proportion. Some beautiful imported wax dolls, not more than twelve inches high, raffled for five hundred dollars, and one very large doll I heard was to raffle for two thousand. "Why" as Uncle John says, "one could buy a live negro baby for that." How can people afford to buy toys at such a time as this! However I suppose speculators can. A small sized cake at the Tennessee table sold for seventy-five dollars."

Sherman was on the march at that point, and the diary notes that rumor said he intended to attend the Grand Bazaar himself! (No word on whether he offered to buy anything.)

In the absence of the modern government assistance we are used to, the ladies of the 1860s stepped up to provide wartime relief themselves. These fairs and bazaars were amazing monuments to the organizational powers of women - as well as to their ability to create "useful and appropriate" items for sale!

No comments:

Post a Comment