Imperial Standard-Bearers: Nineteenth-Century Army Officers' Wives in British India and the American West
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The comparative experiences of the nineteenth-century British and American Army officer's wives add a central dimension to studies of empire. Sharing their husbands' sense of duty and mission, these women transferred, adopted, and adapted national values and customs, to fashion a new imperial sociability, influencing the course of empire by cutting across and restructuring gender, class, and racial borders. Stationed at isolated stations in British India and the American West, many officers' wives experienced homesickness and disorientation. They reimagined military architecture and connected into the military esprit de corps, to sketch a blueprint of female identity and purpose. On the physical journeys to join their husbands, and post arrival, the feminization of formal and informal military practices produced a new social reality and facilitated the development of an empowered sisterhood that sustained imperialist ambitions. This appropriation of symbols, processes, and rankings facilitated roles as social functionaries and ceremonial performers. Additionally, in utilizing dress, and home decor, military spouses drafted and projected an imperial identity that reflected, yet transformed upper and middle-class gender models. An examination of the social processes of calling and domestic rituals confirms the formation of a distinct and influential imperial female identity. The duty of protecting the social gateway to the imperial community, rested with a hostess?s ability to discriminate ? and convincingly reject parvenus. In focusing on the domestic site it becomes clear that the mistress-servant relationship both formulated and reproduced imperial ideologies. Within the home, the most intimate of inter-racial, inter-ethnic, and inter-class contact zones, the physiological trait of a white skin, and the exhibition of national artifacts signaled identity, status, and authority. Military spouses, then, generated social power as arbiters, promoters, and police officers of an imperial class, reaffirming internal confidence within the Anglo communities, and legitimizing external representations of the power and prestige of empire.
new military history
esprit de corps
McInnis, Verity (2012). Imperial Standard-Bearers: Nineteenth-Century Army Officers' Wives in British India and the American West. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from