Saturday, February 23, 2013

26. Ladies' Wreath: Mourning for Mother

Ladies' Wreath by
Becky Brown
Ladies' Wreath recalls the mourning wreath on
 the door, a symbol of a death in the family.

Jane Austen never married. She may have viewed marriage as a dangerous business. Three of her brothers' wives died after childbirth. Charles' wife Fanny died with her fourth baby. Both Francis and Edward lost their wives after the birth of their eleventh children.

In the Austen family and many others, women had babies until they died. The pattern was the same in America. Mary Todd Lincoln's mother died in 1826 after the birth of her seventh child. She was 32.  Methods of birth control were available, but "nice" women like the extended Austen family knew little beyond Jane's comment to her sister. "I would recommend to her and Mr. D[eedes], the simple regimen of separate rooms." Mrs. Deedes remained in the marital bed, eventually giving birth to 19 children but (amazingly enough) living long past menopause.

Queen Victoria survived nine pregnancies, luckier than her cousin
Crown Princess Charlotte who died in childbirth in
1818, making Victoria heir to the throne.
A century after the Austen wives died, women were still ignorant. Moral legislation insured they would remain ignorant.  America's Comstock Laws not only banned contraceptives, they also made it illegal to inform anyone as to their use. A physician warning a woman who had barely survived childbirth that a seventh or tenth child would kill her was legally forbidden to advise her about condoms, diaphragms or the rhythm cycle.
Margaret Sanger, using civil disobedience
 similar to the suffrage movement, broke
laws against disseminating obscene material
and in this publicity photo wore a gag.

Activists opened clinics, wrote advice books and went to jail for obscenity, gradually winning the rights to information and equipment.


Connecticut had some of the strongest and most enduring laws. Using any instrument or drug to prevent conception was illegal until 1965 (five years after the birth control pill became available.) In 1965 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Griswold vs. Connecticut that interfering with a married woman's right to practice contraception was an invasion of privacy. It wasn't until 1972 that the court extended that right to an unmarried woman.
Mourning for Mother

Ladies' Wreath by
Becky Brown

BlockBase #1131

Ladies Wreath was given the name about 1890 by the Ladies Art Company.

Cutting an 8" Finished Block
 A - Cut 12 squares 2-7/8".
     Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 24 triangles.
B - Cut 4 squares 2-1/2".
Nancy caught an error:
The B squares should be cut 2-1/2" NOT 1-1/2". Your HST should then measure 2-1/2". I verified the cutting instructions on BlockBase. Have fun! Nancy in MO

12" Instructions

Ladies' Wreath by
Georgann Eglinski
Ladies' Wreath by
Dustin Cecil


  1. Not only was there no available contraception, there was something called childbed fever that killed many mothers following a birth. Childbed fever no longer exists as a diagnosis, because it's a simple infection resulting from unsanitary practices or conditions during labor and delivery. If only the doctor had washed his hands! Like many of us, I have a greatgrandmother who gave birth to 14 and lived to be 90, but two others who died in childbirth leaving young ones behind. IMHO women's health issues were not studied or given any priority before medical schools had to admit qualified women in the 1970s.

  2. Please note: The B squares should be cut 2-1/2" NOT 1-1/2". Your HST should then measure 2-1/2". I verified the cutting instructions on BlockBase. Have fun! Nancy in MO

  3. Thanks for catching the typo, Nancy.
    And Suzanne---What about that eclampsia---we're all experts now after Downton Abbey.

    1. My mother's mother, Minnie Josephine Chase Winfrey, died of eclampsia in giving birth to her fifth girl (who also died) in OK in 1921. I watched that episode of Downton Abbey 3 times. My mother was 12 and she never spoke of it or her dear mother. Eclampsia is still a threat. Today they try to catch it very early and induce labor or perform a C section to save the mother, but often the premie is so young it doesn't make it or it suffers serious developmental disability. I don't think they know what causes it.

  4. Remember that any woman who would now have a C-section died in those days. No wonder you read in books of men choosing a woman with broad hips to marry in hopes of her surviving childbirth. One of my older aunts told a story of sitting beside my grandmother, both sewing for the expected baby. My aunt was so happy - it was her first and she took a long time to conceive - and my grandmother crying - her 13th - as she didn't know how to stop becoming pregnant. I'm so grateful for the women you are writing about.

  5. I just read this post and the comments and I'm shocked. That is a very rare thing to happen. I just didn't realise to what point women were kept ignorant! And it's not that long ago!