Do you know why women were expected to ride side saddle in the old days?
Read on and I’ll tell you. March is women’s history month, which is a perfect time for a writer of western historical romance. The feminine mystique makes an interesting topic anytime, as does the history of women’s accomplishments. Since lists are boring, let’s talk about a few of the women who have done some fascinating things in spite of being tied down by society’s strict views.
Let’s look at the wild and somewhat daring Calamity Jane, who never settled for the norm. One can imagine she probably was what was often called a “tomboy” all of her life. But as she grew into a woman, she embraced everything she was told well behaved women were forbidden to do. She cussed (cursed) up a storm, drank most men under the table and could outshoot many of them. You don’t think these are accomplishments? Consider that she grew up when women were slaves to men in most situations.
I’ve always thought the reason men designers kept women dressed in such restrictive garments in those long ago days was to make sure none of them could break free of their expected behavior. Could you jog in a marathon wearing Victorian garb? Nor could you play basketball, go for a swim or any of the sports women enjoy today. Even riding a horse was restricted to a side saddle to keep all those blooming skirts under control. Even when they did wear pants, as shown in this photo, they bloomed. Keep reading the answer is coming.
Calamity saw right away that she would have to wear britches if she were going to do the things she wanted to do. I was reading something in We Pointed Them North by E.C. Abbott, otherwise known as Teddy Blue. He objected to movies showing women wearing pants in the days he was a cowpuncher, late 1800s to early 1900s. Said you’d never see a woman dressed that way in the western days of the past. Not entirely true, but ….
Here it is, the answer you’ve been waiting for. I’ve been told that the reason women were not supposed to ride astride a horse was that doing so tended to arouse them sexually. And God forbid if a woman felt aroused. That was something reserved for men only.
I guess Calamity was probably one sexy dish in that case. Another brave and wild woman, and one closer to home for me, was Belle Starr. She lived much of her life in Ft. Smith, the rest of it over in Indian Territory. Her daughter Pearl owned a home in Winslow, Arkansas, where I’ve lived for 42 years.
Some of the photos of Belle show her in dresses and riding sidesaddle, but that didn’t stop her from liking her men. After several affairs, she finally fell for Sam Starr, a handsome Cherokee who was also an outlaw. Some stories say she had other affairs while with Sam, but who knows about that? It’s a common failing of upper society to make up stories to downgrade even more those they see as already beneath them.
History is a dicey thing in that it’s difficult to dig up all the facts. As stories are told and retold, exaggeration comes into play. Not only that, everyone sees something with different eyes and so their telling disagrees with someone else’s. Only some things can be proven for sure.
Next week, more about women who misbehaved and became famous.
Now a bit about the book I’m working on because the heroine is patterned after Calamity Jane who spent some time in Hays City, Kansas with Wild Bill Hickok. My heroine lives in Victoria and she is the star of the third book in THE VICTORIANS. Her name is Tyra Duncan and if you’ve read the first two books, WILDA’S OUTLAW and ROWENA’S HELLION, (Check out their pages here on Word Press) you know she’s quite spunky and not at all like her two cousins. From the time Tyra stepped off the train in Victoria she embraced the ways of the west. And she is not one who behaves. Readers will like her. Some have already mentioned her in their reviews saying they can’t wait to read her story. Well, it’s coming soon.
Check out this marvelous site showing the garb of Victorian women including trousers.