Mourning in the Victorian Era and Glenview

Within the Ebony Library of our historic home, Glenview, amongst the shelves beneath the portrait of Mr. John Bond Trevor, lies a selection of items well known to Victorians. Jewelry made of jet stone, accessories accented with human hair, photographs of beloved family members after they have died, and other trinkets of mourning were hugely popular in the Victorian era (1837–1901). During a time when infant mortality was high and doctors were unable to prevent the spread of disease, the act of mourning became a frequent and public affair—one that also spread to Glenview.

On June 2, 1892, Mrs. Emily Norwood Trevor hosted the wedding reception of her older daughter, Mary Trevor, in the Parlor. In a sad twist of fate, Mary Trevor Winthrop’s funeral was also held in the Parlor less than ten years later. She died at Glenview in 1900, following a brief illness. As tragic as this was, the strict set of rules and traditions set forth for mourning would have given Emily’s loved ones some sense of comfort. The mirrors and portraits were shrouded to keep her spirit from being trapped in the house, mourning cards were given out in her memory, and loved ones mourned for up to two years.

Mourning dress was an important Victorian tradition and included varying rules depending on age and gender. Men only had to wear black bands on their sleeves to represent mourning for a short time. If their wife died, they were expected to wear all black but were allowed to return to work and could remarry at their discretion, ending their mourning. Women, however, especially close relatives to the deceased such as a widow, would be expected to dress in mourning for two years. These years were broken down into three stages.The first stage of mourning, known as full mourning, lasted a year and one day. It was represented with dull black clothing; the only ornamentation allowed would have been jet jewelry. The most recognizable accessory of this stage was a weeping veil of black crepe that was worn over the woman’s face. Women in full mourning were not allowed to join societal events and were expected to stay home and only leave to go to church. The second stage, known as second mourning, continued for nine months. This stage allowed for minor ornamentation, such as fabric trim and additional non-jet mourning jewelry. The veil was lifted and worn back over the head. Many older widows stayed at this stage for the rest of their lives, popularized by Queen Victoria, who mourned her husband until her own death in 1901.The final stage, known as half mourning, was a period between three to six months that was represented by the donning of more elaborate trim fabric. Women gradually eased back into wearing normal jewelry and color, and white accents, purple, mauve, grey, and even dark red were popular.

Mementos of loved ones were made, worn, and displayed as a way to remember the deceased after life went back to normal. Locks of hair from loved ones were woven into intricate designs and made into all sorts of accessories and artworks. Similarly, photographs of loved ones were taken after their death. During the Victorian era, photography was expensive and many families’ only opportunity for a family portrait was after a beloved child had passed. Etchings, lithographs, and embroideries were also popular forms of artwork that were used to remember those who had died. On July 22, 1922, Mrs. Trevor also passed away in Glenview. Her funeral was hosted in the Parlor just like her daughter’s had 22 years before. She is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery with Mr. Trevor, who died in 1890.

-Victoria McKenna-Ratjen, Curatorial Assistant


A selection of the Museum’s collection of mourning items is on view through November 17. Guided tours of Glenview are offered Wednesday–Friday at 1pm. Glenview is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 12–5pm, with guided tours at 1 & 3pm. Plan your visit here.


Left: Currier & Ives. Memorial lithograph #153, 1848. Lithograph. Gift of Stanley B. Burns, M.D., 1991 (91.12.1). Memorial lithograph listing children’s deaths.

Right: Currier & Ives. Memorial lithograph dedicated to James Edwards Kendall 10/26/1846, 1845. Lithograph. Gift of Stanley B. Burns, M.D., 1991 (91.12.4). Originally included a lock of hair; poem for the hair is inscribed.