Vintage Crimson

Adventures in Restoring Antebellum Houses in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Month: July, 2013

When Playboy Came to Town…Looking for a Southern Belle

The Southern Belle is a peculiar stereotype, based on daughters of the affluent plantation owners in the Antebellum South.  Chaste, yet flirtatious, the belle was “laced-up” tightly both literally and figuratively.  The Belles were as iconic an image of the times as columned mansions in which they lived.

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After the Civil War, the economic system that supported the Southern Belle was shattered, but image survived.  Young Southern women were still expected to play the coquette.  Think of Scarlett O’Hara entertaining the Tarleton twins in the opening scene of Gone With the Wind.  Again, the mansion is part of the total image; inseparable from the Belle.

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In the Fall of 1982, Playboy Magazine came to Tuscaloosa.  They were searching for a genuine Southern Belle to represent the University of Alabama in the first “Girls of the SEC” issue.  In addition, they were looking for the ideal spot to pose the chosen girl.  They found a lovely young woman and and, more importantly, a beautiful old house.  Even in the late twentieth century, the girl and the mansion are intertwined in the eyes of the South.  Look closely at the woodwork behind the girl (perhaps harder for some of you than others) and it is plain that this is the second floor balcony of my old house.  My neighbors remember the day of the shoot well.  This is, I suppose, a modern twist on the Belle.  The house, of course, remains the same.

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Southern Ladies

Jennie Baker Caples (Feb 13, 1895 – Oct 17, 1994)

Married to Fred Caples (Oct 7, 1861 – Oct 20, 1934)

Burial – Tuscaloosa Memorial Park

I have recently been privileged to hear from several friends who lived in  my old house while they were students at the University of Alabama in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I have really enjoyed all the memories they have shared.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s my old house was owned by Mrs. Jennie Baker Caples.   She is the ‘Caples’ portion of the house’s official name, the Foster-Murfee-Caples House.  Mrs. Caples and her sister, Sarah, are depicted with their nephew, Dave Sherman, in the photo below.   My thanks to Dave for providing this wonderful photograph.  They are standing on the front lawn of my old house.  Dave is wearing his ‘Million-Dollar Band’ uniform.

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By all accounts, Mrs. Caples was a real Southern Lady.  Southern Ladies were once more common in Alabama than they are today.  The real Southern Lady was a woman of strength and character, not the simpering belles depicted in most books and movies.  Think Ellen O’Hara rather than Scarlett.  Southern Ladies settled a frontier, built a civilization, endured a Civil War, suffered defeat and survived a painful reconstruction.  They lived through a great depression, two World Wars and the Civil Rights Movement.  They marched through history in pearls, high heels and tasteful cosmetics.  They were pillars of their communities, churches, and families.  And, through it all they remained genteel.

Genteel: a. well-bred or refined; polite; elegant; stylish: b. having an aristocratic quality or flavor.

To be a Southern Lady was to embrace all that life has to offer, the good and the bad, with style.

I wonder if my generation still embodies the qualities of the true Southern Ladies.  Few of us wear heels to the Piggly Wiggly, but I hope that (underneath our yoga pants) our spirits still burn as brightly as those of our mothers and grandmothers.  Do you agree?  I would love to learn what ya’ll think constitutes a true Southern Lady in 2013.

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