Domestic Economy in the Confederacy

From an 1886 Atlantic Monthly article by David Dodge

            Much less than four years had sufficed to reduce the unreplenished wardrobes to nothing. Besides the effect of constant use, inroads had been made into them for every sort of purpose. Not to speak of the silk dresses, which amid the enthusiasm of the earlier, brighter days of the war had been converted into battle-flags, woolen dresses and shawls had, later on, been made into shirts for the soldiers, as the carpets had been made into blankets, and the linen and curtains into lint and bandages for the wounded. Homespun or calico at ten dollars a yard was the only alternative for dress goods. In order that in point of dress all might be on the same footing, large societies of ladies bound themselves to wear nothing but the product of their own looms. These societies also had in view the discovery and dissemination of the best methods of dyeing and weaving, as well as the endless minutia of this strange, perplexing economy. For besides the difficulties of cards, wheel, and loom, a host of obstacles had yet to be surmounted. Sightly and permanent dyes had to be concocted from the roots, herbs, and barks of the country. Then perhaps vexatious thread, and implements in the way of scissors, needles, etc., the handiwork of a smith who had never till now attempted anything more delicate than plough-points or grubbing-hoes, had to be contended with. As a last resort, buttons were made of persimmon seed, through which holes were pierced for eyes. In many cases a mourning dress went the rounds of the neighborhood, as death entered one door after another. The æsthetic faculty, then, proven to be ineradicable in womankind, was confined mainly to the selection and grouping of dyes for cotton cloth, and to elaborate hats and bonnets, made at infinite pains from shucks or straw, garnished with mysterious bits of finery reclaimed from no one knew where. However, the rag-bag proved a magical repository of boundless possibilities, whence the conjuring hand drew always just what was needed.


Dodge, David; “Domestic Economy in the Confederacy,” The Atlantic Monthly,  Volume 58, Issue 346; pp. 229-243; August 1886; Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co.

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