Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Abraham Lincoln's 1861 Inaugural Ball

Fashions worn at Lincoln's first inaugural ball 1861

Here's a little more information about Abraham Lincoln's first Inaugural Ball. The temporary building which was created for the occasion was big enough to hold 3,000 people. It was expected to be torn down after the ball, but it was still standing a month later when it was used to hold soldiers. The hall was decorated with muslin, presumably thin fabric used as bunting. I had speculated that there wouldn't be much dancing in the crush of an inaugural ball, but this article implies that dancing was high on the list of priorities.

INAUGURATION DAY.; A Brief Resume of its Happenings 
and a Briefer Account of the Highly Successful Inauguration Ball.
The Inauguration Ball was a success, and not only a success, but a complete success. It was a victory achieved by a few hard-working and reliable Republicans over caste, prejudice and scoffings on one side, and fear, forebodings and disinclination on the other. A large hall, capable of accommodating say three thousand people, was erected especially for the purpose, connecting conveniently with the City Hall, whose Committee-rooms and Council-chambers were of great service for dressing-apartments and sundry other domestic purposes. The hall, which was shaped like a parallelogram, was beautifully decorated with red and white muslin, while around the walls were a number of shields, bearing the arms of the United States. A ball is a ball, and but little can be said of one that is not equally true of another, save the mentioning of the personnel thereof, and a description of toilettes, elegant and rare, for the delight of the ladies.

At 5 o'clock in the morning, after a hard day's work and an evening of telegraphing, I do not propose at any extended length to enter upon the details of the affair; but as the chief interest of the occasion centered upon Mr. and Mrs. LINCOLN, and a few of their friends, I will give a short account of them and their appearance.

The hall was well filled by 11 o'clock with dancers impatient for the signal to commence "the mazy," but as Mr. LINCOLN had not yet arrived, it was not considered etiquette to begin A little while longer and the youngsters impatient for the past-time, started the band and at it they went. Soon, however, it was noised about that the party had arrived. Dancing was for a moment suspended, and all eyes turned in the direction of the door. Presently the President appeared, leaning on the arms of Vice-President HAMLIN and Senator ANTHONY, of Rhode Island. His entrance was, of course, the signal for applause, and the band struck up "Hail Columbia." Behind the President came a couple, the sight of whom was singular and yet eminently gratifying; singular, because so wholly unexpected, and gratifying, because it was an indication of the beginning of an era of good feeling.

The parties were Mrs. LINCOLN and Senator DOUGLAS. Mrs. LINCOLN appeared remarkably well; she wore a very tasteful and becoming head-dress, and a low-necked lavender silk, (I think,) of exquisite shade, perfect fit, and evident richness. Her lace was point, her jewelry was the simple diamond, and her attire such as commended itself to the good taste, the sense of propriety and the love of the beautiful of every person in the room. It was a general remark that LINCOLN was an infinitely better-looking man than he was represented, and that Mrs. LINCOLN was evidently a lady of refinement, of tact and of taste.

Of the ladies who were with her, Miss EDWARDS, of Springfield, was the most noticeable. She dressed with great elegance and equal simplicity. -- what the name of the material is, I do not pretend to say or know. It was very thin, gauzy and white, looked as if it would burn very easily, and had a long row of beautiful bouquets down the front of it. That's not a very technical description of a lady's ball-dress, but it may answer every purpose just as well.

Mrs. BAKER was also dressed very elegantly. She wore a white silk, in which were embroidered flowers of exquisite color. She wore a head-dress to match, and looked well.

Mrs. SERGWICK and Miss BEAN, of New-York; Miss WILLIAMS and Miss CAMERON, of Pennsylvania; Miss CHASE, of Ohio; Miss DIXON, of Connecticut, and Miss BLAIR, of Maryland, were also "bright, particular stars." There were many others there deserving of notice, but time forbids.

They danced, talked, flirted, chatted, supped most bounteously, had a splendid time, and all that sort of thing, affording a series of items unrivaled for sketches, but as the cars are soon to go, I must close by stating that this Inauguration Ball is considered to have been one of the pleasantest and most enjoyable of any ever given in this good City of Washington. (The New York Times, March 6, 1861.) 

Here is the dance card for the evening, from the Library of Congress. It looks like rather a lot of dancing, doesn't it? There is a march at the beginning of the evening, then a pattern of 7 repetitions, each consisting of a quadrille, a lancers and some combination of turning dances, with another quadrille and a waltz and galop at the end. We can't be sure how long it took to dance through the program but, according to the correspondent, they began around 11 pm and were still dancing at 3 am.

Dance Card from Lincoln's first inaugural ball 1861

1 comment:

  1. Hi, very interesting ! the card give a good view about the dances during a CW ball , the page 3 seems to be like a "carnet de bal" (engagements list) a thing unusual in USA at this time , right ?
    thanks again, mes hommages madame , Patrick Ailliot, CW reenactor (including 19th century dances !) France .