Hat honor and Quaker women

November 29, 2010 § 7 Comments

I have been editing the section of my book on Quakers and Capitalism dealing with hat honor and plain speech and was reminded of some questions about Quaker history that perhaps my readers can answer.

In all the discussions I’ve read of hat honor, I have never read a discussion of the corresponding obligations encumbent upon women. Does anyone know anything about this?

We know that a man was obliged to doff his hat to someone of higher rank and presumably, one could tell someone’s social class by his dress, specifically, I think, the style of his hat. My first questions are, can anyone confirm that hat style signified social rank, and does anyone know more about which hat styles went with which rank? Finally, as regards men’s hat styles, was the distinctive style of the Quaker hat modeled on any of the hat styles prevalent at the time, so that it would have suggested a Friend’s rank, or was it specifically designed to avoid this kind of association?

And what about women? Did bonnet style also signify rank? Since they could not doff their bonnets, were women obliged to curtsy before people of senior rank? Traditionally, I believe, women also curtsied to men and even boys as people of senior rank, at least when they were of the same rank or higher. Were women obliged to curtsy even to men of lower rank? Did female Quakers refuse to curtsy to men, or to anyone, regardless of rank?

Does anyone know of any first-hand accounts of female “hat honor,” however it was expressed, or of the forms that the inevitable social outrage took?



§ 7 Responses to Hat honor and Quaker women

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  • […] been romanticised in Hollywood films, as 'simple God fearing folk' wearing plain dress and hats. Hat honor and Quaker women | Through the Flaming Sword You have had more exposure to Quakers than myself. I've only ever met two white Quaker women in […]

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  • Steven–

    I do not know thy source for hats being particular signs of class or rank, unless it was from sumptuary laws that had, by the time of the Quakers, ceased to be law in England. Good information on hat honor are available in Thomas Clarkson’s A Portraiture of Quakerism has a section on Quaker Forms of Address (http://www.worldspirituality.org/quaker-address.html). Amelia Gummere’s The Quaker: A Study in Costume (googlebooks has it) has extensive material and images on hats of Quaker men, their origins and their evolving styles.

    I don’t know that any Quaker women were arrested for not curtsying, as men were for failing to observe hat honor. Though my understanding is that people of both sexes were arrested for “thee-ing” and “thou-ing” the wrong people. Women were not expected to take off their headcoverings ever. Bonnets were not worn by Quaker women until the 1800s. Again, see Gummere for information on the evolution of Quaker plain dress.

    More interesting to me is the problem with tithing in England that continued at least until Clarkson discusses it around 1807(?).

    I hope this has been somewhat helpful.

    • ernie says:

      I can add a little to this from family history. My family has been with the Friends (or more often read out of meeting) since the very early days. The Hat which we think of as a Quaker Hat was according to my Grandfather simply a farmers hat, and he replaced it with a simple men’s hat later in his life. The one’s we think off are felt, but he had both straw and felt hats.

      However, the hat was almost never taken off. Not to anyone, not for any invocation or public prayer, and certianly not during a pledge of allegince sort of event.
      Unless one happened to be hot.

      The notable exception was when President Hoover attended meeting in Washington and the group did take off their hats supposedly, but this may be legend as much as fact, and may have been a sign of disrespect – such as the custom of refering to a partiuclarly self important person as “Sir” rather than “Friend”

      The Bonnet style came much later, and is also a farmer innovation – but was not as common amongst the southern friends as the more well known Penn. and Midwestern branchs. I do have some old bonnets in the attic, but I would take issue with the question of whether women always covered their hair. I have pictures back to the mid 1800’s of family members and only one has a bonnet. Instead most had loose or simple tightly done hair if married. This may be a local anomoly tied to intermarriage with the native population which was common in my particular family.

      I did have a great great grandmother who wore hats but she was active in the women’s rights movement, however, straw hats (not in the male style) were also common among women.

      The rule seems to have been as much as to wear what was practical as opposed to what was fashionable. Thus snaps and hooks instead of buttons.

      You might take a look at some of the early Quaker History in the US. If I may engage in nepotism Stephen Week’s History of the Friends in NC is available at most good librarys. He was actually adopted. Another source of information would be the professor at U.T. Chatanooga whose name escapes this old mind at the minute, but he should not be hard to find as he is both in meeting and on faculty and did several works on Fox.

      As a side note, I wrote a song in my youth called “Don’t make of me your flaming sword” — I do hope you have better luck with your endevor than I did with mine — since I have never finished it !

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