Monday, February 24, 2014

The End of Prince Albert Suits among Tennessee Missionaries

[For many years the Prince Albert suit was the uniform of the LDS missionary. It was worn by men of the older generation and carried with it a veneer of respect. It was natural for LDS missionaries to adopt this style as their own. But as time passed it grew further and further out of place. Here is a clue as to when the Prince Albert suit fell out of use.
The following was sent by President Ben E. Rich, who was President of the short lived Middle States Mission, of which Tennessee was a part. It was published in the Deseret Evening News February 14th 1903. I have clear references to Prince Albert suits in 1898 and earlier, so the end was somewhere between those two dates; I'm guessing closer to 1902. -BAllen]

Information for Elders
Those Called to Labor in the Middle 
States Mission Interested

Elder Ben E. Rich, writing from Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 9 asks for space for the following: We generally assign the large majority of our Elders to country districts upon their arrival, because a better opportunity exists there for them to hold meetings; converse upon the principles of the gospel, and become more proficient in expressing their thoughts in public. None of our Elders so laboring are wearing Prince Albert suits, and when an occasional brother comes to the missionary field he feels somewhat out of sorts when he finds himself dressed so different from his companions. We have made this change on account of the many recommendations, and I might say urgent requests of so many of our brethren, who find it inconvenient to use the Prince Albert suits. I think it only an act of justice to give publicity to the above for the benefit of those who are continually leaving home for an extended stay in the missionary field, and who are usually very much cramped for means with which to defray the expense of their missions.


Ardis said...

This is a time when the Southern/Middle States Missions are ahead of the curve -- elders in the British Mission continue to wear their Prince Albert coats and top hats for a few years longer, even though they're just as out of place and draw just as much ridicule as they must have done in Tennessee. I haven't found anything near as clear-cut as to time, though -- kudos for finding and posting this.

Catholic clergy, and Mennonites, and perhaps others came to these crossroads and time stood still -- they continued to wear what had once been common dress but instead became fossilized in their traditions and their dress became to mark them more and more as different. We can thank our lucky stars -- or whoever/whatever you prefer -- for men like Ben E. Rich who recognized that styles had changed and that there was no reason to maintain them as though they were religious principles.

Left Field said...

My great-grandfather was a missionary in eastern Tennessee about 1901-1902. I'll have to check his journal and see if he says anything about that.

Bruce said...

I'm glad we have not been fossilized in the way some have, though I'm sure there are others who believe we are nonetheless a little rigid. But recent changes in missionary dress proves we are still willing ro evolve.

Bruce said...

I'd be interested in your great grandfathers journal. Who was he? Perhaps I have something on him already that would add to what you have.

Left Field said...


I made a comment over at Keepapitchinin that may be of interest. I browsed through the journal and found a few references to a coat and a vest. This is the entry for May 19, 1902:

"Monday, ate dinner to Bro Harmon's. Got Sister Harmon to cut my coattail off two inches, I don't like it so long. Afternoon went in bathing."

I'm not entirely sure what to make of that, but perhaps it reflects shorter coats being more in style.

And here:

"June 12, 1902
It is now nearly three o'clock. We are sitting in the shade by a stream. We passed through the city of Savereville this forenoon. I've been taking bottom out of my coat while resting here and sewing the lining back down. Did a good job. haha What will you give me to come and do your sewing for you, my Dear's?

We traveled till after dark. Refused 8 times, came to the home of C. J. Cheney, a friend to the Elders. A widow woman with three sons, she got supper for us. We walked 21 miles during the day."

Traveling without purse or scrip on foot 15-20 miles a day in Tennessee in June doesn't sound to me like it would be fun times with a Prince Albert suit.

Here's another entry:

"Oct 28, 1902
I have been half soleing my shoes and blacking my Derby hat. Sister Madaris has been cuting the legs of my new pants off. Now fixing my vest. We will hold another meeting over to Bro. Brown's tonight. We held meeting, I spoke on Persecution of the Saints and a Knowlege of God and that our course of life should please Him. I went back home with Bro. Madaris."

There may be more, but that's all I found by skimming through the text.

Bruce said...

Excellent! Thanks for sharing.

One of the reasons I love journals (among many others) is the spelling. Savereville is a phonetic spelling of how Tennesseans pronounce Sevierville, even today.

Left Field said...

I just read through the journal, and tried to follow along as well as I could with a map. One of my favorites was "Mars Town," which I took to be "Morristown."

Not much more in the sartorial area. There is a reference to someone putting braid on his coat and him replacing buttons. A few days later, another mention of having his pants shortened.

They dedicated three counties for the preaching of the gospel (Unicoi, Hawkins, and one other--I didn't read back to see where they were). They stayed with a church member in Madisonville for several days until they came back one day to find a note stuck in the door: "To the Mormon Elders greeting: We the Committee think you have stayed on old man Harmon long enough and that you had just as well leave this community at once and stay away----Committee."

I never could quite figure out how mail was able to catch up with them. They'd walk around for days staying wherever they could, and every post office they came to seemed to have mail waiting for them.

Bruce said...

Yes! Mars Town. Love it.

Although it doesn't appear so from journals and letters, the missionaries planned their travels months in advance, at least when it came to mail. When they left an area they would leave notice with the local post office to send their mail on to the next one. Their loved ones might only know to send mail to Shady Grove. At Shady grove were instructions to temporarily send mail on to Baird's Mill. Keeping track of where you were going to be to get your mail was part of the job. I have read missionaries journals describing a poor reception in one town, but they still made a point of getting the post office to check for mail before they left and presumably to leave instructions on where to forward future mail.

Actually, that would make a very interesting subject for a blog post. Mmmmmmm.

Left Field said...

I've spent a little time reading some of your other posts that may relate to my great grandfather's journal. The Sister Harmon that trimmed his jacket, and the Old Man Harmon where he stayed when the "committee" asked the Elders to leave were undoubtedly the same Samuel and Polly Harmon that you mention as later living in Cades Cove.

Upon more careful reading, it turns out that the Harmons probably didn't live in Madisonville. The missionaries passed through Madisonville, and a few days later were with the Harmons, but he doesn't say they were still in Madisonville. The Harmons are mentioned repeatedly in the journal, but I can't find anywhere he says exactly where they live. He does refer to Polly Harmon, but doesn't give her husband's first name.

It's kind of fun making these connections. Also, I've run across a mission photo of my g-grandfather and another group photo of missionaries. (Also a journal entry mentioning posing for a photographer.) As far as I can tell, all the Elders are wearing a double-breasted jacket of mid-thigh length. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a Prince Albert.

Bruce said...

When I saw the name Harmon, I wondered.

I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure the Prince Albert suit was usually knee length, double breasted and fitted around the waist. But their was a lot of variation especially when some were home made from who knows what pattern.

Derrick Harmon said...

Left Field said . . .

I would love to read your great-grandfather's journal, as Samuel and Polly were my great-grandparents.

Derrick Harmon