I spent some wonderful summers in Richmond, VA as an intern. I learned a great deal, featured in the local newspaper and news station. It was truly an amazing experience. #SteeleThankful for it. I wanted to master the art of reading 19th Century manuscript before I departed my final summer in Virginia. It wasn’t until I came across primary documents with black borders that I became more intrigued. My good southern friends would refer to it as, “mourning” stationary/letter.
What is a mourning letter you ask? A mourning letter in the 19th Century was stationary paper with black borders. For example, the border would symbolize if the person writing the letter has experienced the loss of a loved one. The width of the border depended on the sender’s state of grief and/or the timeline of the passing. Basically the current emotional state of the sender. The letter (featured photo) that was written by Mrs. Jefferson Davis (First Lady of the Confederacy) addressed in August of 1899 shows the presence of the black border.
From research I was reminded of the death of the President’s daughter, Varina “Winnie” Davis in 1898. In true super sleuth, Archivist mode we are able to piece the story together of how Mrs. Davis was dealing with the grief internally from the width of the borders on her letters, and of course the letter itself.
(Sidenote: Have you thought about why its customary to wear black to funerals?) There was documentation of a woman who wore black for years after her husband died. Proof that she grieved for over five years! Interesting, right?
After during research in the archives and losing my father in 2013, I found myself ironically wearing a lot of black clothing. Well, I still do, for other reasons. Lol. It didn’t hit me until my last year of school that I was not allowing myself to grieve. Similar to the people that were writing with the black borders in the 19th century, and wearing black garments, I had to realize that the void of losing a loved one will always be present. I must allow the borders of my own stationary paper to become narrow. People have to go in order for us to grow. I must continue to grow in strength. Mind, body, and soul.