Katie’s Victorian Era, American-style

Katie’s Victorian Era, American-style

In Katie and Isaac Bowen’s letters spanning twelve years, I was surprised at how political, circumspect, and polite everyone was. Katie had a sharp tongue at times and could be really opinionated in letters to her husband and mother, but otherwise there was a pervasive Victorian sensibility, American-style. Isaac was almost always a gentleman in the surviving letters that we have, but he was responding to women or Katie’s brothers. There certainly was more guy talk sitting around the campfire, smoking cigars and drinking “cracker toddy” with fellow officers. And in his letters to Katie from the front, the Mexican War, he was very critical of Mexicans in general, who were the enemy, although he changed his mind after he was “in-country” for a few years.

Per this article, Victorian values dominated American social life for much of the 19th century. The notion of separate spheres of life for men and women was commonplace. The male sphere included wage work and politics, while the female sphere involved child-rearing and domestic work. https://www.ushistory.org/us/39d.asp

In her first letter to Isaac Bowen, dated January 1, 1846, Katie makes the comment below about her much-older brother, Shepard Cary. This is our first hint that Katie Bowen is educated and interested in politics. This is not a surprise because Shepard Cary was very political and a U.S. Representative from Maine for many years.

“Shepard gets papers about once in two months and from them infers that war is upon us. So what does he do but sit down and write Collins, his brother-in-law, to have all things in readiness to pack the women off to Massachusetts at the first appearance of hostilities. Is it not funny that he should for a moment suppose that our New Englander “Brother Jonathan” will allow that Englishman “John Bull” to tread these our shores of proud freedom? Oh no, not yet will we leave our home on the frontiers, and I would suggest to little Miss Victoria if she wishes to keep her own kingdom to let the Yankees alone, else they will do something desperate.” (Page 2)

Per Wikipedia: Brother Jonathan was the personification of New England. He was also used as an emblem of the U.S. in general, and can be an allegory of capitalism. The epithet “Brother Jonathan” was originally one for the U.S. and not just New England. Brother Jonathan soon became a stock fictional character, developed as a good-natured parody of all New England during the early American Republic. He was widely popularized by the weekly newspaper Brother Jonathan and the humor magazine Yankee Notions. Brother Jonathan was usually depicted in editorial cartoons and patriotic posters outside New England as a long-winded New Englander who dressed in striped trousers, somber black coat, and stove-pipe hat. Inside New England, Brother Jonathan was depicted as an enterprising and active businessman who blithely boasted of Yankee conquests for the Universal Yankee Nation. After 1865, the garb of Brother Jonathan was emulated by Uncle Sam, a common personification of the continental government of the U.S.

Per Wikipedia, John Bull was a satirical character and a national personification of the United Kingdom in general and England in particular, especially in political cartoons and similar graphic works. He is usually depicted as a stout, middle-aged, country-dwelling, jolly and matter-of-fact man.