Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Summer Fans - 19C African American women & the Courting Language of the Fan

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These ladies, carrying their rather elegant fans, remind me of my childhood.  When I was young, before air conditioning became widely popular, churches, funeral homes, court rooms, & other public meeting places offered inexpensive cardboard hand fans to visitors each summer. Often these colorful fans had the name of the church or the funeral home on the back, usually accompanied by a verse from the Bible. These flat cardboard fans were about as big as a hat with a wooden handle attached.

And, of course, these fans found their way home. During the summer months, folks would sit on their porches talking & fanning away. Similar hand fans also popped up at summer fairs, parades, reunions, & weddings. But air conditioning eventually did mark the decline of hand fans. Window air conditioners in homes grew in popularity during the 1940s & 1950s. More than 1 million units were sold in 1953 alone. By the 1970s, central air-conditioning had been developed.

Even as the general popularity of fans dwindled, the simple church fan remained a staple in many churches across the nation. Our church up here in the rolling farmlands near the Mason Dixon line still does not have air conditioning.  Increasingly, in the African American communities in cities & towns, churches became the economic engines of their neighborhoods as well as the centers of worship.  Church fans supplied by politicians, loan companies, & even McDonald's found their way into the pews. During a recent presidential election, the slogan "Take your souls to the polls" was plastered on church fans across the country. In 2010, the Census Bureau successfully recruitied census workers by placing fans in local churches. For pennies a fan, potential employers & advertisers could dream of turning the faithful into standing, swaying billboards.


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

During the Victorian era when nearly every lady carried a fan, fans developed a language of their own.

1 The fan placed near the heart: “You have won my love”
2 A closed fan touching the right eye: “When may I be allowed to see you?”
3 The number of sticks shown answered the question: “At what hour?”


>Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

4 Threatening movements with a fan closed: “Do not be so imprudent”
5 Half-opened fan pressed to the lips: “You may kiss me”
6 Hands clasped together holding an open fan: “Forgive me”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

7 Covering the left ear with an open fan: “Do not betray our secret”
8 Hiding the eyes behind an open fan: “I love you”
9 Shutting a fully opened fan slowly: “I promise to marry you”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

10 Drawing the fan across the eyes: “I am sorry”
11 Touching the finger to the tip of the fan: “I wish to speak with you”
12 Letting the fan rest on the right cheek: “Yes”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

13 Letting the fan rest on the left cheek: “No”
14 Opening and closing the fan several times: “You are cruel”
15 Dropping the fan: “We will be friends”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

16 Fanning slowly: “I am married”
17 Fanning quickly: “I am engaged”
18 Putting the fan handle to the lips: “Kiss me”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

19 Opening a fan wide: “Wait for me”
20 Placing the fan behind the head: “Do not forget me”
21 Placing the fan behind the head with finger extended: “Goodbye”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

22 Fan in right hand in front of face: “Follow me”
23 Fan in left hand in front of face: “I am desirous of your acquaintance”
24 Fan held over left ear: “I wish to get rid of you”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

25 Drawing the fan across the forehead: “You have changed”
26 Twirling the fan in the left hand: “We are being watched”
27 Twirling the fan I the right hand: “I love another”


Alvan S. Harper (1847-1911) Tallahassee c 1884 State Library and Archives of Florida

28 Carrying the open fan in the right hand: “You are too willing”
29 Carrying the open fan in the left hand: “Come and talk to me”
30 Drawing the fan through the hand: “I hate you!”
31 Drawing the fan across the cheek: “I love you!”
32 Presenting the fan shut: “Do you love me?”


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