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Unidentified Photographer

"Your men had better not provoke the President, for he might hurt 'em" Mrs. Jeff Davis

Date 1865
Dimensions Image (Paper): 3 1/2 x 2 3/16 in. (8.9 x 5.6 cm)
Mount: 3 7/8 x 2 7/16 in. (9.8 x 6.2 cm)
Print medium Photo-Albumen silver-Carte-de-visite

Northerners were extremely angry about the secession of Southern states, the deadly war, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (and Davis’ supposed role in it), but these reasons do not fully explain the popularity of images of Jefferson Davis in a dress. Historian Nina Silber has argued that middle- and upper-class Northerners believed Southerners had inverted proper gender codes of behavior. Plantation-owning, slave-holding, aristocratic Southern men—the chivalry—were seen as idle and intemperate, while Southern women were viewed as strong, spiteful, and overly supportive of the Confederacy, a so-called government in petticoats. Northerners defined masculinity by hard work and restraint. That the Confederate leader should try to escape in women’s clothing rather than face his captors “like a man” affirmed their prejudices.
Many of the caricatures further emasculate Davis and invert traditional gender roles by making him dependent on his wife for protection from the cavalry: “Don’t provoke the President or he may hurt some of you.” Some of the more suggestive images show the Northern cavalry using their swords to lift up Davis’ skirts to reveal his boots and spurs. According to Silber, these images were used to “establish ideas of Northern control over a weakened and submissive South.” For many Northerners, the end of the Civil War marked a victory for their abolitionist morals as well as their ideas about gender, especially masculinity.

Credit line

Gift of Charles Schwartz, 2012

Feedback Accession No. 2012.18.34