Saturday, August 22, 2015

Off to the Fair - 1827 New England fair +discrimination against women

Across the United States, it is fair time, an old tradition. 

John Archibald Woodside, Sr (American painter, 1781-1852) A Pennsylvania Country Fair 1824. This painting is of a similar fair in Pennsylvania showing no women in attendance.

A traveler through the United States in 1827, noted that:

"On the 17th of October, I the village of Brighton, within a mile or two of Boston, where the great annual cattle show of the State of Massachusetts is held. This Fair, as it may be called, was established some years ago by the people of Boston, while the farmers of the State, from far and near, sent their cattle, fruit, home manufactures, newly invented agricultural implements, and any thing else they wished to show off, to this grand exhibition.

"In process of a very short time, however, the country folks became jealous of Brighton; and each county or town got up its own little independent cattle show,—like colonies deserting the parent firm, and setting up shop for themselves! But there was still enough left of the original Show to interest a stranger. Besides a ploughing match with 20 teams of oxen, there were various trials of strength, hy cattle drawing loaded carts up a steep hill.


"The numerous pens where the bullocks and sheep were enclosed, afforded also a high treat, from the variety of the breeds, and the high condition, of the animals exposed. And lastly, we were shown the rooms in which the specimens of domestic manufactures were displayed: most of these goods, which appeared excellent in quality, gave indication of native industry, well worthy of encouragement.

"In spite of all these objects of interest, I felt ill at ease, and though the expression be a strong one, it is not too strong, when I say that I was struck to the heart, with what seemed to me the cruel spectacle of such a numerous assemblage of people, on such a fine sunny day, in as pretty a little valley as ever was seen, close to a romantic village, and within four miles of a great and populous city like Boston, and yet amidst all this crowd there were no women!

"Literally and truly, amongst several thousand persons, I counted, during the whole day, only nine females ! I wandered round and round the grassy knolls, in search of some signs of life and merriment,—some of those joyous bursts of mirth which I had been wont to hear in other lands on similar occasions.

"But my eye could discover nothing to rest upon but groups of idle men, smoking segars, and gaping about, with their hands in their pockets, or looking listlessly at the penned up cattle, or following one another in quiet, orderly crowds, up the hill, after the loaded carts I spoke of, glad, apparently, of the smallest excitement to carry them out of themselves.

"But not a woman was to be seen. Neither were there any groups of lads and lasses romping on the grass;—no parties of noisy youths playing at football for the amusement of the village maidens ;—no scampering and screaming of the children amongst the trees ; for, alas ! the little things appeared nearly as solemn and soberly disposed as their elders.

"But in all the numerous booths placed over the ground, parties were hard at work with the whisky or gin bottle. In some, companies of ten or a dozen people might be seen working away at hot joints and meat pies—all very ordinary sights, I grant, at a fair in any country; but the peculiarity which struck me was the absence of talking, or laughing, or any hilarity of look or gesture.

"I never beheld any thing in my whole life, though I have been at many funerals, nearly so ponderous or so melancholy as this gloomy, lumbering, weary sort of merry-making. I felt my spirits crushed down, and as it were humiliated, when, suddenly, the sound of a fiddle struck my ear, literally the very first notes of music I had heard, out of a drawing-room, in the whole country. Of course I ran instantly to the spot, and what was there ?—four men dancing a reel!

"I spoke to several gentlemen on the field about this strange, and to European eyes, most unwonted separation of the sexes. But I got little else than ridicule for my "pains. Some of my friends smiled, some laughed, and one gentleman in reply to my expressions of surprise that females should be excluded from a scene every way innocent and suitable to them, exclaimed, " Ah, sir, this question of yours only adds another example of the impossibility of making any stranger understand our manners."

"This may or may not be true; but a stranger has eyes and can see; and long before this holiday, I had been struck in every part of the country through which I had passed, with this strong line of demarcation between the sexes. At Stockbridge, it is true, a considerable number of women were present at the oration; but they were carefully placed on one side of the church, and during the whole day there was no more intercourse between them and the men, than if they had belonged to different races.

"At this cattle show at Brighton, however, the exclusion was still more complete, for not even one female entered the church, though an agricultural discourse was there delivered, which the most delicate-minded person on earth might have listened to with pleasure and advantage.

"These, and a great number of other circumstances—some minute, some important, but all tending the same way, and varied in every possible shape, and conspicuous in all parts of the country—naturally claimed my attention irresistibly as something very unusual, and well deserving of a stranger's notice. I lost no fair opportunity, therefore, of conversing with intelligent persons on the subject, being naturally anxious to reach some explanation of so remarkable a distinction between America and any other Christian country I was acquainted with.

"The result of all my observations and enquiries is, that the women do not enjoy that station in society which has been allotted to them elsewhere; and consequently much of that important and habitual influence which, from the peculiarity of their nature, they alone can exercise over society in more fortunately arranged communities, seems to be lost.

"In touching upon so delicate a subject, it is right to state at once, and in the most explicit terms, that I never had, for one instant, the least reason to suppose that there was any wish on the part of the men to depress the other sex, or indeed any distinct knowledge of the fact.

"On the contrary, I conscientiously believe that there exists universally among the men a sincere and strong desire, not only to raise women up, but to maintain them on the fairest level with themselves. But I conceive that the political and moral circumstances now in full action in America, are too strong to be counterbalanced even by these laudable endeavours."

Source: Basil Hall. Travels in North America, in the years 1827 and 1828, Volume 2.