Acceptable alcoholic drinks for ladies during the Civil War?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
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I not sure most women drank straight corn whiskey during the Civil War era, so what would an average lady drink? Good wine was expensive so perhaps only well off women would have drank good wine. Beer was coming in to popularity at the time of the Civil War, so was beer considered an acceptable drink for ladies? Can I assume that wives of poorer farmers hit the cider barrel with some regularity? I understand women might indulge in sherry-cobblers. A refined lady would sip her sherry-cobbler through a "sucker". A "sucker" was the 1800s equivalent of a modern straw. Because paper straws were not yet around other materials were for sucker were used. According in a 1848 American dictionary: Sucker, a tube used for sucking sherry-cobblers. They are made of silver, glass. straw, or sticks of macaroni. Sticks of Macaroni?

I know that both rum and gin were drank by the time of the Civil War but do not know how widely available they were. I understand "Planter's Punch" was popular in some areas and "Planter's Punch" was usually made from rum and citrus juices. This sounds like a drink ladies might enjoy.
 
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Wisteria

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Joined
Jun 17, 2021
I joined the forum today because I saw this post that no one had commented upon.
Whether or not a woman partook of alcoholic refreshment, and what she drank if she did, depended a lot on her position in society. Let's say we're talking about a working class woman, someone like a farmer's or carpenter's wife, for example. She'd be more likely to enjoy a mug or glass of cider. I don't recall ever reading anything about women drinking beer, but I'm sure some did, particularily those of German heritage.
Women of slightly higher social standing, starting with wives of shopkeepers, doctors, etc., would be more likely to be temperance, however others may have enjoyed sips of sherry, claret, or sweet cordials. Some of these ladies even concocted their own cordial recipes and offered glasses to their close friends. Ladies who considered themselves as against alcohol, however, may have enjoyed the relaxing effects of alcoholic patent medicines without even realizing what was actually in those little brown bottles.
Now we come to punches, wines and champagnes. From what I know, they'd be more likely seen in upper middle class and upper class homes. Several 19th c American First Ladies are noted as having enjoyed their favorite liquor laden punches.
The idea of a woman getting just a little bit tipsy was unacceptable. One of the rumors spread about poor Mary Todd Lincoln was that she got drunk at an affair for the Russian ambassador on the presidential yacht, the River Queen. This never happened.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Welcome to the forum and thank you for your response. So if a lady was having " the vapors" it would not mean she had drank too much.
 

Fairfield

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Welcome, Wisteria!

The temperance movement was important up north--along with abolition and women's rights. I understand that women at the time consumed an inordinate amount of cough medicine which was just developing (but I don't think that this would count as an alcoholic beverage)
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I joined the forum today because I saw this post that no one had commented upon.
Whether or not a woman partook of alcoholic refreshment, and what she drank if she did, depended a lot on her position in society. Let's say we're talking about a working class woman, someone like a farmer's or carpenter's wife, for example. She'd be more likely to enjoy a mug or glass of cider. I don't recall ever reading anything about women drinking beer, but I'm sure some did, particularily those of German heritage.
Women of slightly higher social standing, starting with wives of shopkeepers, doctors, etc., would be more likely to be temperance, however others may have enjoyed sips of sherry, claret, or sweet cordials. Some of these ladies even concocted their own cordial recipes and offered glasses to their close friends. Ladies who considered themselves as against alcohol, however, may have enjoyed the relaxing effects of alcoholic patent medicines without even realizing what was actually in those little brown bottles.
Now we come to punches, wines and champagnes. From what I know, they'd be more likely seen in upper middle class and upper class homes. Several 19th c American First Ladies are noted as having enjoyed their favorite liquor laden punches.
The idea of a woman getting just a little bit tipsy was unacceptable. One of the rumors spread about poor Mary Todd Lincoln was that she got drunk at an affair for the Russian ambassador on the presidential yacht, the River Queen. This never happened.
Off the shelf medicines prior to 1913 also had a fair amount of opiates and the original Coke a Cola had cocaine. Off hand woman drank but generaly speaking kept it on the down low vs many men got drunk and stupid in public with little repercussions.
Leftyhunter
 

Wisteria

Cadet
Joined
Jun 17, 2021
Welcome to the forum and thank you for your response. So if a lady was having " the vapors" it would not mean she had drank too much.
Women who kept house, took care of the kids, tended the garden, etc, etc, had no time for the vapors. Women who had household help to do all those duties had nothing to do but sit and embroider, maybe tat or do Berlin work and visit each other, were the more likely class to suffer from the vapors. Sometimes it was just that they got overheated or their stays were too tight and they felt they were going to faint. Other times it was a good distraction. "Oh my, Fannie, Lucy's having the vapors! Get my smelling salts! Somebody help!" And now and again, it was just a hysterical reaction. You know, there just wasn't a lot of entertainment in those days, which may be why going to see hangings and such was a popular diversion. People were starved for entertainment of any kind. Lucy suffering from the vapors at the last party would provide a lot of speculation and something to talk about for weeks.
 

Fairfield

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
"The Vapors" could be a very genuine, physical ailment. It was a loose term that covered anxiety and depression (possible for ACW soldiers as well), bloating and digestion problems (possible for women of all types--including those with household duties). Overly tight stays were a real problem: have you ever seen the undergarments that women wore? I docent at a Victorian house--and shudder each time I look at those corsets. I've read that Martha Washington had a 16-inch waist--and that just isn't normal or healthy. Once, as a friend's maid of honor, I wore a "merry widow" (actually a milder form of torture) and I promise you, I daren't eat or laugh or, even, sneeze. It was very a very authentic misery. 😭
 

Mrs. V

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 5, 2017
"The Vapors" could be a very genuine, physical ailment. It was a loose term that covered anxiety and depression (possible for ACW soldiers as well), bloating and digestion problems (possible for women of all types--including those with household duties). Overly tight stays were a real problem: have you ever seen the undergarments that women wore? I docent at a Victorian house--and shudder each time I look at those corsets. I've read that Martha Washington had a 16-inch waist--and that just isn't normal or healthy. Once, as a friend's maid of honor, I wore a "merry widow" (actually a milder form of torture) and I promise you, I daren't eat or laugh or, even, sneeze. It was very a very authentic misery. 😭
I wear a corset when I do reenactments or living history, and I sing in one too! I don’t wear it too tight. And the corset helped to distribute the weight of your skirts over the hoop. As far as ”vapors” are concerned, I’ve often wondered if it was a headache…oh, and my Great Grandmother sold patent medicine out of the back of a wagon after she was widowed and before she remarried.
 

KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
I remember when I was a kid drinking for ladies was still slightly frowned upon. A nearby bar was men only. The typical couple in a lounge was alway a man & wife and pint of Guinness for the husband and a small glass for the wife.
 
Joined
Jun 7, 2021
In my southern upbringing, no woman, of any class, who wanted to be considered "decent" ever drank prior to the Roaring 20s, which changed everything. Not making a judgement here, just saying.
Re: corsets- Ladies who wore corsets "creaked." Whenever my grandmother or great-grandmother would bend over or sit down, there was a noticeable creaking noise as the stays in their corset would bend. My grandmother once explained to me that no part of a grown woman should ever "jiggle" if she was a decent woman. Of course the flappers of the 1920s rebelled in a big way against that! 😊
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Hello and welcome, Wisteria. I enjoyed reading your first post and appreciate your insights. Please join in often on any of the forums that interest you.
 
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