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Music weaved its way through the coming-of-age stories of young women in the antebellum South. Daughters-at-home devoted [End Page 232] hefty amounts of time to musical instruction, and provided gentle entertainment for family and friends. They danced to music at balls, sang in church, attended concerts and performances, and a brave few even ventured into the world of composition. Candace Bailey's book, Music and the Southern Belle, however, is the first study to situate music within southern women's culture. Using sheet music (to determine what was played), diaries, and correspondence (to provide the context in which young women performed), and novels and magazines (to examine how society regarded musical performance) from the antebellum period through the Civil War, Bailey argues that the way in which music enabled southern belles to be useful changed substantially between 1835 and 1865.
Bailey's study, in large part, concentrates on the musical pursuits and accomplishments of young women in the antebellum South. Proficiency in music, she contends, signified a woman's suitability for marriage and motherhood, confirmed her family's status and gentility, and provided her with the opportunity to "exalt and adorn" daily life, both as a parlour performer and as a teacher to her younger siblings (p. 24). In the antebellum South, more people taught music than any other subject, and parents placed a premium on instruction in piano and singing. Despite all this vigorous training, Bailey notes that young women only used their skills to furnish family and friends with sweet parlour performances that were governed by propriety, not professionalism. Some young women, however, developed more sophisticated musical repertoires, exposing tensions between the female culture of resignation and the adolescent culture of resistance. Along with the indecorous exhibition of musical talent, composition was also branded a public activity; it was not taught at schools or encouraged by parents, and most of the seventy works produced by southern women in the antebellum period were published anonymously.
The Civil War changed all that, as southern women abandoned their polkas and sentimental songs in favour of musical support for the Confederacy. The desire to be useful, and to contribute to the [End Page 233] cause in a meaningful ways, Bailey asserts, transformed young ladies into patriots. Many moved from the parlour to the stage, contributing their skills to fundraising performances. Others penned and published wartime compositions under their own names, a practice that, Bailey notes, cannot be fully attributed to patriotic fervour but rather to a desire to break free of the antebellum strictures governing both southern femininity and musical expression. These women had become useful to the Confederacy, she writes, "but they had crossed a line that would eventually contribute to significant shifts of their self-perception and their role in southern society" (p.181).
Candace Bailey's study is a welcome and highly accessible addition to the current historiography on southern women. She presents a fascinating glimpse into the musical education of antebellum daughters-at-home, revealing the previously unexplored tensions that existed between social expectations and private resistance. Further, her snapshot on women's musical contribution to the cause highlights the pivotal role that young southern ladies played in the creation of Confederate nationalism. Music filled the parlours of southern homes and the minds and hearts of its daughters. Bailey has demonstrated the ways in which young women used it as a tool to fashion a new place for themselves in the Civil War South.
Giselle Roberts is an honorary research associate in American History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of The Confederate Belle (2003) and the editor of The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson (2004), and A New Southern Woman: The Correspondence of Eliza Lucy Irion Neilson, 1871-1883 (University of South Carolina Press, forthcoming).