Black Stockings by Marti Knight

Black Stockings
Revised June 22, 2011

Shortly after I joined the 2X2 list, I wrote about the special, Special Meeting. I think this Special Meeting would have been in the mid-1940s. My aunts, Olive and Edith Nelson, were already “in the work” ( Olive in Argentina, Edith in Georgia) when their younger sister, Alice Nelson, “went out to preach.” After leaving high school she had been working for a “worldly” family in town, helping with the children and in the home, earning a little money for her clothing and suitcase.

Then she was paired with an older companion and they were assigned to a field somewhere in Pennsylvania. This must have been a spring Special Meeting. It was held in the Wrights schoolhouse. It was the first time we would hear Aunt Alice preach since she had been in the work. She and her companion and the head worker in Pennsylvania ( Jim Beacom) and his companion ( Fenwick Adams? not sure–) were among the workers there.

My father, (Ralph Nelson) and mother (Mary Cook Nelson) and sister Sylvia, and my grandparents, Milford and Pearl Nelson and Alice’s brother, George, and sister Leah (still at home, on the farm) must have been looking forward to seeing and hearing Aunt Alice.

In this period of time, some of us had been changing to not-black stockings. The elder of the meeting, Joe Seyler, and his wife Maud (my mother’s sister) and their daughter Prudence (about my age) still “held with” “BLACK STOCKINGS.” A few of the older people in the meeting still did, but in most families, females were wearing brown, grey, gunmetal, a salt-and-pepper tweedy knit, or an orangey tan. Later tan became the color most seemed to prefer. None of these stockings were sheer. Lots were cotton, which got fuzzy and baggy with wear; some were cotton lisle, longer-staple and lighter-weight cotton which looked more genteel; and some were rayon, which was rather heavy and shiny.

At this Special Meeting there were representatives of the black-stocking loyalists and the lighter-stocking modernists. Chief among the black-stocking loyalists was Jim Beacom, a dramatic, kivver-to-kivver, scary-story, hell and damnation, long-winded preacher.

Among the females wearing non-black was fledgling worker, Alice Nelson. My recollection is that she was not permitted to speak from the platform that day. And when Beacom did, it was to deliver a pointed harangue about letting worldliness creep in, being a slave to vanity, women who did not dress in a way that becomes God’s people, those who were not willing to be a peculiar people, those who would not bear a little suffering and shame, those who wanted to be modern and to be accepted by worldly friends and had what he called “The Lit’ry Digest” and other worldly magazines in their homes. . .

Sitting on the platform, Aunt Alice tucked her feet back as far as possible under her mid-calf skirt, clasped her hands over her open Bible in her lap, and looked straight ahead, then finally down at the floor, and I saw some tears trickle from under her lashes. My mother was uncomfortable; my father was tense and his color got ruddier. But Grampa finally got up, as Beacom thundered on, and walked out of the room, out of the schoolhouse, and up the road to the farm (a quarter of a mile or so). Deeply offended and angered, he did not go to meetings for many years.

Joe and Maud Seyler “held with BLACK STOCKINGS” all their days. Prudence wore them until her parents died, then changed to a sensible taupe. Nelsons wore various kinds of hosiery, not the sheerest or lightest. Looking at old pictures and hearing family stories, I was aware that babies wore stockings in meetings, lest they kick up their little legs and expose skin. As a toddler, I wore “BLACK STOCKINGS” at home. These were held up by something called a “harness,” which was made of strips of elastic and was adjusted to one’s size by means of various buckles and sliders. Suspenders went over the shoulders, and long garters, one in front and one in back for each leg, gripped the tops of the stockings. The harness was necessary for little girls too young to have hips. Once they had hips, garter belts held up their stockings. If they had excess hips, they wore girdles or panty girdles with hosiery holders attached.

Before I went to school, “BLACK STOCKINGS” were no longer worn in my family. But I do remember my mother dyeing TAN hose BLACK, in a big dye kettle on the stove, when I was very little. I remember that it became very difficult to find long stockings in children’s sizes. We had to send away to Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward or Chicago Mail ( Aldens) for them. I remember that once when I was very little, I asked if the Amish, who wore “BLACK STOCKINGS,” were “saved,” and I was told that they were not, because “they don’t meet in the home and they have not been saved through the Lord’s true messengers.” In addition, they did not have workers who were “homeless” or who “went forth two by two.” The same was true of the Mennonites of our acquaintance. Although the women and girls had long hair and dressed very modestly, and the families’ lifestyle was blameless, they too “were not in fellowship with God’s True People” or were not “in the Lord’s Way.”

By Marti Knight
January 15, 2000