Sentimental Hairwork

Hairwork album page Hairwork album, close up

In Nov. 1929, Mary Sherman Greene donated this “hair album” to the Steinheim Museum at Alfred University. As described on her website, Joyce Tice says “During the 1850s to 1870s a custom developed to make a small decorative wreath from the hair of a friend or relative. It was considered a good keepsake of love and friendship and was similar in nature to the much older custom of putting a lock of hair in a locket.”

The Victorian Gothic site notes: “As Helen Sheumaker describes in Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America, hairwork in its myriad forms had not only established itself as longstanding tradition by the latter half of the 19th century, but had become an active fashion. Husbands went to work wearing watch fobs fashioned of their wives hair. Locks from the dearly departed were mounted into rings and brooches. Ladies filled their autograph books with snippets from their friends. At a time of rising commercialism, sentimental hairwork became a way both to signal one’s sincerity and, paradoxically, to stay in style.”

This booklet seems to have belonged to a young woman (probably Irena) from the Ennis family in Richmond, RI. It dates from the late 1840s – early 1950s. One page has numerous hair clippings from her siblings. Black ribbons signify the person had died, as was the case with two of her younger brothers: John Ennis, less than a year old, and Appleton Ennis, age 4. The hair and ribbon for their sister Sarah, age 7, is missing. The following poem is an ode to her…
On the death of my Sister
Our circle is broken we miss from our number,
That youth we were wont in our converts to meet,
Now low in the grave does she silently slumber,
And the heart once so cheerful now ceases to beat,
Our Sister has parted from earthly enjoyment,
She has fled from a world full of sorrow and care,
She is gone and forever = no more will she cheer us,
Her smiles and rejoicings are now at an end,
And yet methinks I see her now
With death cold sweat upon her brow
The fever flush the palid hue
That speaks the depth of nature due
She fell asleep in the arms of death
On the 28 of July, aged 7 years and 14 days. [1849]

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