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Mourning Customs

In the mid-19th century, middle and upper-class Americans observed an elaborate set of rules that governed behavior following the death of a spouse or child. These mourning customs were seen as a way of showing proper respect for lost loved ones. In the Civil War period, etiquette books recommended mothers mourn a child for one year, and widows were suggested to mourn for at least two and a half years. Some widows, including England’s Queen Victoria, mourned their husbands’ deaths for the rest of their lives. Most Victorian women mourned in three stages. The deep or heavy mourning stage included plain, completely black clothing, jewelry, bonnets, and outerwear. Women would often wear a heavy black veil in public during this time. The full mourning stage was similar, but some adornment and some lighter shades were allowed. The final stage, half-mourning, permitted the bereaved to wear solid, dark colors other than black. Mary mourned Willie’s death from 1862 to 1863 by wearing black, heavily veiling herself, and suspending all White House social functions.