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Civil War Remembered @ MLA

Civil War buffs routinely collect bullet shells and casings. At the Modern Language Association (MLA) conclave of English professors that took place in Seattle this month, a panel on poetry from the War Between the States featured a handout of a Union song parody housed at Baylor University which lampoons Confederacy president Jefferson Davis.

It goes, in part, like this:

Oh! Jeffy D! You “flow’r of chivalree,” Oh royal Jeffy D!

Your Emprie’s but a tin-clad skirt, oh, charming Jeffy D!

This Davis, he was always full of bluster and brag,

He swore on all our Northern walls he’s plant his rebel rag,

But when to battle he did go, he said, “I’m not so green,

To dodge the bullets, I will wear my tin-clad crinoline.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica [1] tells us that “crinoline,  originally, a petticoat [2] made of horsehair fabric [3], a popular fashion [4] in the late 1840s that took its name from the French word crin (“horsehair”). In 1856 horsehair and whalebone were replaced by a light frame of metal spring hoops; these were used to create volume underneath the hoop skirts [5] favoured by fashionable women. The wide, bell-shaped crinoline was much lighter than the previous fashion of multiple petticoats and recalled an earlier but similar device known as the farthingale [6], in which hoops were sewn into a petticoat [2].

“In the late 1850s and early 1860s, the spring hoop crinoline became so popular that it was worn by ladies’ maids and factory girls as well as by the rich. Originating as a dome shape in the 1850s, the crinoline was altered to a pyramid in the 1860s, and about 1865 it became almost flat in front. Smaller “walking” skirts were devised, and by 1868 the smaller crinolette was hooped only at the back and served as a bustle [7]. The crinoline was generally out of fashion by 1878.”

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia [8].

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org [9]