HAMILTON, ALABAMA – Southern culture defined could easily be in the lovely, graceful form of a southern belle. The term, ‘southern belle,’ contrary to some opposition, is not a derogatory term, but a lasting term of enduring respect and honor.
Southern belles have their origin in the storied ‘plantation days’ in the south when this area was a hot bed for production of cotton, corn, and other needed agricultural staples. Imagine, coming into view, a huge and expansive three-story mansion with tall marble columns in the front. In an almost-obscure setting, there she sits in her porch swing, the lady of the house, the original southern belle dressed in her daytime wardrobe of hooped skirt, shawl and layers of crenelin to accent her fashionable attire.
Early southern belles didn’t follow fashion. They were the fashion of that day and time. Southern belles were more than a beautiful, charming woman with perfect manners. A belle worth her name was the one responsible for the day-to-day operations of the main house while her husband, probably a land or cotton baron, was out for the day making necessary arrangements for the next cotton shipment to be sent down the majestic Mississippi River to a market near New Orleans.
Southern belles were not considered chosen “items,” such as the precious porcelain dolls that sometimes lined her parlor. She was smart, articulate, and very choosy on how things were to be handled in her home. From the cut of fine fabrics in the curtains in her living room to the smallest detail in her kitchen, the southern belle of the 1800’s knew how to relegate authority and tasks with the ease of a hummingbird enjoying a rose bloom.
Movie classics such as, “Gone With The Wind,” can easily distort the true image of a southern belle leaving the viewer with an air of confusion as to the true definition of “southern belle.” To most movie producers, southern belles were cast only for cosmetic purposes. To look at in the movie scenes. And talk the southern slang, “come he-ah,” and “you all,” that was pretty much the total picture of a southern belle.
Upon closer inspection, southern belles were taught at toddler age, how to walk, talk and behave in public with charm, grace and that quiet southern dignity that made her a southern belle. To the mentors of these young ladies, it was their way or no way. The mentors were strict. But fair as they molded their daughters, granddaughters and nieces into the fair and disarming creations known as southern belles.
And the daughters, granddaughters of early southern belles used their mentor’s wisdom by becoming leaders of industry, professors, lawyers, writers and accomplished stateswomen in and out of the south. Many of the first colleges for women were formed by descendants of the first southern belles.
Beautiful? Yes. Charming? Of course. Graceful in pubic. Wise in dealings. This, and other respected talents, helped to make the southern belle one of our most-enduring southern icons.