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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

February 11, 2005

Death calls at Farm House

This spring, death descends on the Farm House Museum in a new exhibit on common Victorian rituals and traditions that followed the death of a loved one.

The exhibit, which runs through October, includes objects typically seen in Victorian homes during a period of mourning. Objects include a child's casket, women's mourning apparel, hairwork jewelry (made from the deceased's hair), death notices and cards.

Victorians practiced elaborate mourning rituals that affected many aspects of their lives, including clothing, home decor and communication.

Women were expected to follow social customs, such as mourning their husbands for one year and one day (it was considered unseemly to cease bereavement on the first anniversary of the death).

During mourning, widows wore solid black dresses, often made of crepe. They also refrained from accepting social invitations and much of their correspondence was done on black-edged stationary. Even their calling cards were black- edged to let people know their status and why they could not go out on social calls.

The deceased's house also was decorated for mourning. Black crepe covered the mirrors, and the clocks were stopped at the time of the loved one's death.

black mourning dress

Mourning dress on loan from the textiles and clothing department. Contributed photo.