In the Old Days, Most US Catholic Women Wore Hats

Scroll down for photographic proof.

St. Joseph’s, Ravenna, NE, early 1900′s. A pretty small picture.

1919 outdoor Mass during the Spanish influenza epidemic, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mill Valley, CA. Hats. (And face masks.)

St. Jarlath, Oakland, CA. Overhead picture of Mass in 1954 and church steps picture of female parishioners in 1921.

St. Adalbert’s, South Bend, IN, 1927. Hats.

1929 front porch Mass, Reynoldston, NY. Hats.

Overhead shot of a Mass in Massachusetts, 1930. Hats as far as the eye can see.

1942 Catholic Mass, Chicago IL. Kerchiefs and scarves. Looks like it was cold. A 1940′s Mass at St. Martha’s, Sarasota, FL. Hats.

Nuptial Mass at St. John the Evangelist’s, Cambridge, MA. Pre-1956, but date unknown.

Woman in knit tam receiving Communion at the rail. Date unknown.

Church steps picture from St. Joseph’s, Sturgeon Bay WI. Women in hats.

“The Holy Communion”: Currier and Ives print. Shows French or Irish immigrants and a communion cloth. Women wearing cloaks. Another print, also called “The Holy Communion.” Looks like a nuptial Mass. Woman wearing bonnet.

I keep grinding away at this. Yes. And I will keep on, until people realize the historical facts. In Italian, Portuguese, and Hispanic ethnic parishes (and Filipino, Japanese, and Korean ones, since they were heavily influenced by Hispanic missionaries), sure the ladies wore lace veils and even real mantillas. But in most of the US, pre-Vatican II Catholic women wore a wondrous variety of Sunday hats, sometimes augmented by kerchiefs, shawls, hairbows, and the like. Lace chapel veils (what most people mean by “mantilla”) didn’t become widely popular until the beehive hairdo.

If you like ‘em and wear ‘em, that’s fine. If you think every Catholic woman should dress like a 1961 Jackie Kennedy reenactment society, you’re weirding me out. They are one little shard of Catholic tradition, not the Law and the Prophets.

What occurs to me is that, since people see so many fewer sisters and nuns in habits, they are unconsciously transferring some of their feeling for nuns over to lace chapel veils. The current weird iconic-ness of Amish women may be part of this also. (We’ve got tons of Mennonites and related churches living close to this neck of the woods; and they’re just normal people, not icons. Seeing them on romance novel covers not written for them is like somebody publicizing love-muffin Moravian Brethren or something.)

Bonus link: Treatise on the Catholic Mass showing Elizabethan women at Mass wearing “French hoods,” those little coif things. It’s a big church, so more than one Mass is going on at the same time.

Illustrations of Penal times Masses in Ireland held in secret. Women in shawls and kerchiefs.

UPDATE: I know it’s traditional to get testy during Lent on the Internet, folks, and I know we’re all sad and grumpy about the Pope’s resignation. But tone it down a tad. There’s nothing wrong with the whole veil thing per se. It’s the oversimplification and the misinformation I don’t like.

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23 Comments

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23 responses to “In the Old Days, Most US Catholic Women Wore Hats

  1. Bookworm

    Just popped over from a link at Conversion Diary. Thank you for this. The use of the term “veiling” is so weird to me, but it’s very popular among the young convert/revert set. Yes, our mothers wore hats, as did we, or “doilies” , or a Kleenex in a pinch, but outside of the solidly Latino parishes, there wasn’t really much of a tradition of “veiling” (which sounds more properly Muslim than Catholic) in full length lace “chapel veils” (a term I never heard until relatively recently). It’s irritating to be chided by people half my age, and who’ve been Catholic for less than a tenth of my age, for not returning to a tradition that never existed in the first place. Silly chits.

    • Jael

      Bookworm, everything you said is so right. Yes, this reinvention of something that never existed is totally weird to me. It sort of drives me crazy! What I don’t understand is, why is the FSSP into this fad? I visited a couple of their parishes, and every single woman (save me with no hat, and one woman with a small hat) was wearing a chapel veil. Visually it looked like a cult (I said that on Fr. Z’s blog and was nearly stoned). What I remember on Sundays from the 50′s is a wide variety of hats. Lots of hats. All different styles and colors. With brims, or without. Women simply did not wear chapel veils on Sundays. I never heard the word “veiling” till I read it on Fr. Z’s blog. Hey, let’s do it right and bring on sharia law! Silly chits, indeed. And what’s with these youngish convert priests pushing chapel veils? Where are they getting this idea?

  2. Bookworm

    Well, that’s the generation that needs a ribbon or trophy for everything, or, as my grandmother used to say, they’re the generation that thinks it “s#@ts gold”.The “chapel veil” is merely the little ribbon or trophy they award themselves for being oh-so-holy. That post and the majority of the follow-up commentary usually send me off to play with the Episcopalians for a few weeks. The “oh, you’re so beautiful and holy!” nonsense alone is proof that this whole “veiling” thing is of Satan, not of God. It will be gloves next. Why don’t these silly girls just go all full out Little House on the Prairie. Oh wait…that would sort of quash the “look at meeeee!” What I Wore On Sunday blog…

    Ugh. Seriously. Can. Not. Stand. this sort of holier-than-thou showy “piety”. And from someone who, on the one hand, can’t stop bragging about her husband’s bajillion Ivy League advanced degrees, but takes money from other people to hire a maid and go to the theatre on the other. Why can’t her husband get a real job with all those degrees, and why are they piling on the student loans if they can’t afford their healthcare bills? Why is she buying fancy-shmancy, showy “chapel infinity veils” if she’s taking charity from other people to supposedly pay off her oh-my-God-I’m-at-death’s-door medical bills?

    Yes, I’m being mean. But the whole, weird, creepy traddy vibe over there is everything Christ came to put an end to, and it’s just one more example of the smoke of Satan entering the Catholic Church.

  3. Jael

    Bookworm,

    Thank you for the good summary of the zeitgeist of the veil generation. It helps to know I’m not the only one who feels really disturbed about it all.

    I get annoyed, but I don’t go to the Episcopalians. I just go to a different parish for a while. Please don’t endanger your soul because of silly chits :-)

    It’s too bad…I prefer the EF Mass, but the weird vibes there push too many of my buttons. I prefer a well-done NO with sung propers to an EF Mass where I get the evil eye if I try to sing the Sanctus with the choir…or where people try to shove potentially lice-ridden loaner veils on me. (Nobody has tried that in person, but just a basket of them with a sign in the narthex sends me up a wall).

    OK, I need to get some work done today. Let us take a deep breath :-)

  4. G

    Here is another take: I love hats. I wear one to mass every week. The brim keeps the horrid, horrid glare of the too-bright-lights out of my eyes. (I still haven’t figured out why modern churches need to have so light.) Bookworm and Jael might presume it’s an act of pseudo piety on my part. Others in the parish have made comments to that effect, but nope, I just like hats AND I like not spending the remainder of the weekend with a light-induced migraine. I’ve attended Tridentine mass twice in my life. The first time was at a well-known shrine church. I was one of only a handful of women without a veil or hat, but many in attendance were Hispanic — non-English speaking tourists who had a translator. At the other local Latin mass, the older women wore hats or not; the younger women wore veils or hats. When I am without some sort of head covering, nobody gives me the evil eye or makes snide comments that I should cover my head. But when I do cover my head (for reasons that are nobody’s business to know), women in the parish inform me that I shouldn’t, or make comments to others loudly enough for me to hear. Who’s holier-than-thou now?

    Can’t we all just get along. Can’t we refrain from judging those who sin differently than ourselves? Pride is a sin, whether one is proud of what one does or of what one does not.

    • Bookworm

      Except I wouldn’t think twice about a woman who wears hats. I’d just think it was her personal style. It’s this “veiling” nonsense being touted as a traditional practice. As this blog post points out, wearing a hat is far more “traditional” here in the US. When a modern young woman purchases an article of clothing she wouldn’t be caught dead in anywhere else, wraps it about her head, takes pictures of herself in it and then writes a long, dull piece on herself and her inner ponderings and some vague “call” and then marches up the aisle of her Church wearing it, I know what that is, and it has NOTHING to do with humility. Add to that troubling commentary following that post, and I think there’s something very dark and disturbed going on. Evil always makes itself attractive, alluring. Evil strives to make the person feel good about themselves, feel “special” or “more than”. Evil isn’t the innocent kid in jeans and a t-shirt at Mass, it’s an insidious, poisonous seeping of false teachings into the Body of Christ, all dressed up to look like something good and holy. Maybe I’m the biggest bitch in the world, but if anyone shows up at my Church wearing that ridiculous Disney-fied version of what some ninny supposed “Catholic womanhood” to be all about, I’m keying their big shiny SUV in the parking lot. This entire thing strikes me as an upper middle class, spoiled, suburban faux Catholicism cooked up on the internet by a bunch of bored, not-very-bright SAHMs.

      • Jael

        Bookworm…I just figured out how this reply thing works.

        Yes! What you said about false teachings…that is what inspired my idea of calling it the Veil Heresy.

        Wow…I will take your comment about keying an SUV as hyperbole to express your feelings.

        When I’m around the Veilistas in person, I ignore their hunks of lace and stay at peace. As the scriptures say, don’t get involved in foolish controversies. But when I get a chance to say something online, I say it. Somebody needs to throw a little common sense into the pot.

      • Gigi

        OMG, you rock so hard, Bookworm, I can’t even believe it…

    • Jael

      G…see my reply below. I didn’t know how to do the reply thing properly till just a minute ago. Thanks…

  5. Jael

    G: I have no idea why you would say I might think wearing a hat is an act of pseudo piety. I said nothing that should cause anyone to draw that conclusion about me. The discussion here is about one small aspect of head coverings in Church. We are talking about the silliness of people who pretend that chapel veils were common before Vatican II. They were not, as this blog post proves.

    (My guess is you are a bit wounded from rude comments at your parish, and I sympathize with you).

    I’m going to bump this discussion up a notch. Some of the crazy things these young girls say about why they wear head coverings is starting to border on heresy. I think I’m going to start calling it the Veil Heresy. Just look at what people say on blogs like Fr. Z or this female with the infinity veil. It’s not even Catholic. (Please, folks, take this comment with a grain of salt. I know I’m not a theologian. I’m just sick of all this silliness).

    That said, I like hats and wish I could wear one to Mass. But I will not do so, because I do not wish to encourage the Veil Heresy. These chits seem to consider hats as second class veils. (Confession…I do wear a hat sometimes when I’m having a bad hair day…but never at an FSSP parish for the reason just stated).

    When I’m in a certain mood, I wear my tara cape and put the hood up after communion so I’m not stared at by all the gogglers in the communion line. I love it. But I also wonder if I’m encouraging the VH. Sigh…

    G, I’m glad hats with brims help you. I think people should wear what they want and mind their own business.

  6. UPDATE: I know it’s traditional to get testy during Lent on the Internet, folks, and I know we’re all sad and grumpy about the Pope’s resignation. But please tone it down a tad. There’s nothing wrong with the whole veil thing per se. It’s the oversimplification of a complex custom, and the misinformation, that I don’t like. Let’s not make it worse by leaning too far the opposite way.

    • Jael

      It is the misinformation I am objecting to. Many of the reasons given for wearing veils are theologically incorrect. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call them heretical. My posts were based on reason. Please don’t insult me by saying they were based on Lenten testiness (whatever that is), or on being sad and grumpy about the Pope’s abdication, because I’m not. I’m having a great day, and my mind is working just fine, thank you very much.

  7. I wrote the item below in the comments section for the most recent head-coverings entry on Fr. Z’s blog. I grew up in the pre-Vatican II church myself, and I can assure readers that no one except nuns “veiled”–except for the occasional Latina lady in a mantilla. Hats or, more informally, scarves were the norm. “Veiling,” as I argue below, is entirely new phenomenon embarked upon by traditionalist women in the wake of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes and carried on by young women who have no memory of the old days. Some women even “veil” when praying privately at home–a practice that would have surprised their pious great-grandmothers. Before Vatican II there was no precept that you were supposed to cover every strand of hair, or even most of your hair when in church. The “veiling” thing–along with the unkind looks that women who don’t “veil” receive–is one reason why I hesitate to attend the Old Mass, even though I much prefer that Mass liturgically. At any rate, here’s what I wrote for Fr. Z:

    “I grew up in the pre-Vatican II church. Veils were not traditional, except in Spanish-speaking countries. Hats were traditional. They had been so since the 17th century, when a hat (or bonnet), not a veil, became the common out-of-doors head covering for Western women except in traditionally rural areas. The only 20th-century alternative was the silk scarf, usually folded into a triangle and tied under the chin. The school uniform for girls in my parish included a blue cotton beanie with a white tassel on top that matched our blue cotton jumpers and was worn whenever we were in church. Girls with pony tails folded their beanie in half and perched in on their head with the help of bobby pins. If you forgot your beanie, the nuns would hand out kleenexes for your head. As fashions changed, large and small hats went in and out of style. When “My Fair Lady” became a Broadway hit in 1956, huge decorated hats suddenly replaced the simpler and more modestly sized hats of 1955. A couple of years later smaller hats came back.

    “It was de rigeur for women never in general to venture outside their homes bareheaded, but as time went on the rule relaxed. By the early 1960s church, luncheons, teas, and a few other ceremonial events were the only occasions on which wearing a hat was definitely required. When beehives and other teased hairstyles became the fashion during that era, a wide headband with a bow on top counted as a “hat” in Catholic churches, as did Jackie Kennedy’s reduced-size pillbox. It was around then that the lace mantilla and the doily-size lace “chapel veil” came into vogue for church–because women simply weren’t wearing hats on any other occasion as the ’60s progressed. They simply stopped buying hats, except as sunwear or winter wear. If you look at the photos of Sharon Tate’s Catholic funeral in 1969, you will see hordes of female mourners attired in minidresses and mantillas. Around the same time the rules seemed to relax, whether spontaneously or not I can’t remember, and it was suddenly fine for a woman to go to Mass bareheaded.

    “In short, the ‘tradition’ of women veiling themselves for Mass dates only from the 1960s. I have no idea where the idea of black vs. white veils came from–perhaps from Hispanic culture. My theory is that the Catholic veiling ‘tradition’ that many of Fr. Z’s other readers have invoke actually dates from about the late ’60s, when many tradition-minded Catholics who were horrified at the various ghastly liturgical practices that crept into churches after Vatican II began to consciously define themselves as different and somewhat separate. Some affiliated themselves with the SSPX, while others started attending rogue Latin Masses in out-of-the-way chapels, and still others tried to keep older practices, such as receiving Communion on the tongue, alive in their Novus Ordo parishes. The mantilla–the last vestige of the female head-covering during the last days of the pre-Vatican II church–lingered on for the women who tried to preserve in their own liturgical lives their own personal memories of the pre-Vatican church. When the traditional Latin Mass came back under indult in 1984, those women in their mantillas became the backbone of the female attendees. They have been so ever since, which is why younger Catholic traditionalist women, who have never known the hat for non-recreational wear, have the idea that they are supposed to ‘veil’ themselves in church, completely hide their hair, or whatever. They have lost 400 years of actual Western tradition.

    “That said, I’m all for bringing back the mandatory female head-covering, although I love hats, and I’d vote for hats, not veils. I must say that I don’t cover my own head in church, except when it’s cold outdoors and I keep my beret on. That’s because I don’t want to be a complete weirdo in my parish, where I’m already lobbying for more Latin and older music in contrast to my fellow-parishioners who want a “contemporary choir” at every Mass. I already stand out because I wear a skirt and heels to Mass every Sunday–which in my parish is regarded as being stuck-up. It’s that kind of parish–sigh.”
    – See more at: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/02/a-womans-report-on-wearing-a-veil-in-church-for-the-first-time-fr-z-poll/#sthash.bIS2yWh2.dpuf

  8. inara

    I truly do not understand all the venom directed at women who choose to follow St. Paul’s command in scripture to cover our heads. How can this be considered heretical when it’s straight from the New Testament & backed up by the church Fathers & canon law?

    As to veils not being “traditional” in the US ~ that is certainly true, especially in the last century. I think what people are referring to is the custom, worldwide, for the 1900 years before that! Local fashions, especially those in contradiction to established church tradition, do not override it.

    Do I think veils are the only acceptable method of obeying Paul’s instructions? No ~ I wear simple hats, lace veils, shawls or scarves ~ as long as it “covers my head” (to me, the “doilies”, wide headbands, pillbox hats or fascinator-style headgear don’t seem to meet this requirement). I don’t think there is anything wrong with the current attraction to lace veils, I see it as another way of trying to recapture some of the beauty that was lost in the iconoclasm of the recent generations.

    • Jael

      Inara, for starters, just letting you know I do not direct “venom” at anyone, and am rather shocked when it comes from either side when speaking of this question. I choose to use my reason when dealing with this situation, and wish other women would do the same.

      That said, the idea women must cover their heads at Mass is NOT backed up by canon law. Look at the top of Fr. Z’s post. Didn’t you read it before you posted there? He says, “According to the Church’s present law, women are not obliged to cover their heads in church.”

      You also might take a look at what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said about this…that covering women’s heads was a discipline based on customs of the time, not a permanent moral obligation:
      “But it must be noted that these ordinances…inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.”
      (CDF, Inter Insigniores; Declaration of the Question of Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, 1976, n.4).

      You say “local fashions do not override it.” You are wrong. Read the above statement.

      You say, “To me, the doilies…don’t seem to me to meet the requirement.” Countless priests and sisters across the U.S. knew that chapel caps (“doilies”) met the requirement when covering one’s head was actually canon law, so pardon me if I ignore what you think does or does not “seem” to meet the requirement. Who are you? A priest? A nun? A bishop?

      Also, Inara, please read Charlotte’s article again, above. You are also incorrect about “…for the 1900 years before that!”

      Do you know better than the CDF and Fr. Z? Better than the teaching sisters at my Catholic school in 1958? You are spouting untruths and wondering why women get upset. We care about truth and hate legalism, that is why we get upset.

      • Jael

        Inara, I neglected to answer your question about heresy.

        I did NOT say that covering one’s head is heretical. I said that many of the REASONS women give for covering their heads border on the heretical. Since you like head coverings, please try to put on your thinking cap and read and think more carefully!

        Here is one example of bad theology I heard at church recently:

        “Women should cover their heads at Mass because they are the Bride of Christ.”

        No…the CHURCH is the Bride of Christ. The Church contains men. If the above reason were true, then men should also wear chapel veils and Easter bonnets.

        There are many other silly and incorrect statements about head coverings in comboxes all over the internet, and they border on heresy. I have neither the time nor the stomach to go find them and debunk them here.

        I’m glad you care about being respectful at Mass. But please don’t spoil it with untruths and legalism.

  9. Bookworm

    Canon Law decrees that covering one’s head is neither required or even expected. No one is claiming covering one’s head is “heretical”. However, this notion that “veiling” is a Catholic tradition, once required but now no longer so, IS heretical because the choice of a veil is just that — a fashion choice. There never was a Catholic “veiling” requirement. Ever. Covering one’s head? Yes. “Veiling”? No.

    The problem I’m having with this latest round of “veiling” nonsense is that it’s being promoted by too many women (and men, which is even more troubling) as something that makes you holier, better, more than, etc., than your fellow Catholics. Also, these bogus “calls to veil” are just so trite. Why isn’t God calling any of these online Catholics to, um, get offline and quietly, silently, with no praise and glory involved, no combox gushing, no retweets, FB likes, etc., go do something that doesn’t involve gazing at themselves in the mirror and/or taking pictures of themselves and posting them online so their fans can tell them how beeeeyoooootiful they are? No, He only ever calls them to do pushy, showy, self-promotional things that draw attention to themselves, their blogs and their etsy shops. Hmmm.

    Anyway, God has put it on my heart that I’m to go sit on the deck of my favorite waterside bar and soak up all the sun and beer I can get over the next few hours….maybe I’ll make up some theology about that somewhere around my third round and claim it as Official Church Teaching.

    • Jael

      Bookworm, I enjoy you when you are ironical :-) What a great way to imply what I have thought but have been hesitant to say. When women talk about their call from God to “veil,” I wonder how much spiritual delusion is going on.

      For you challenged readers out there, I said I WONDER.

  10. Jael

    Suburbanbanshee…thank you for letting us have this discussion on your blog. I think it is needed. I appreciate you very much for letting people say things you might not necessarily agree with. (And for not deleting me :-) This discussion may bear some good fruit because it is not being censored to be slanted toward one viewpoint. Kudos.

  11. Western women stopped wearing veils to church long before the year 1900. At the end of the Middle Ages, actually. And during the later Middle Ages, it was more like elaborate headdresses than veils.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wearing a veil to church, if that’s what you want to do. Any head-covering is fine by me as long as it doesn’t say “Go Redskins” or have a pile of bananas on it. Many African women wear gorgeous turbans. It’s the notion that veils were a part of Catholic tradition before Vatican II. They weren’t. They’re a post-Vatican II tradition. Coupled with that is a mystique of “veiling” among female conservative Catholics that is also completely un-traditional. Then, on top of that are the sour looks you get if you don’t wear a veil at an old Latin Mass. Why functioning as a free-lance sartorial enforcement brigade is an integral part of Latin Mass attendance is beyond me. Aren’t you supposed to be praying?

    • Jael

      Charlotte Allen: Yes! It’s the legalism that is so dangerous here. “Free-lance sartorial enforcement bridgade.” Well said. I once had a veil-pushing woman infesting my email with articles and strong exhortations, and wouldn’t stop when asked many times. Can this high-handed behavior please stop? On both sides. I don’t like to hear of women being pounced on for wearing something on their heads, either. To wear what you want on your head and keep your mouth shut would be true modesty.

  12. Lee James

    Hi. I’m a bit late to comment on this but wanted to add my views. I’m a Christian man (not a Catholic) but this is a subject I feel very strongly about. I came here after searching for any reference to Christian women covering their heads.

    I am just so surprised that it is so rare for Christian women to wear veils, even though God himself tells us it is the righteous and proper thing to do. The same goes for women with short hair. It is surely a clear and sad sign that the majority of church-goers do not truly love the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore do not live their lives according to his holy scripture.

    Now there are a lot of comments here about tradition throughout the ages. That has nothing to do with righteousness! God’s righteousness is not about culture. If it were, should we say that homosexuality has now become a good thing in God’s eyes? No, the traditions of men are meaningless. The Truth comes by the testimony of the Word of God, and from the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the Holy Scriptures, having been invited to live inside us. This is the New Covenant, not following a set of rules but being made righteous by God himself.

    I also want to mention the nature of the head covering. A lot of women wear hats in church, but the style of most of these hats are NOT of the Holy Spirit and it seems as though most women are wearing them for the wrong reason. Many of these hats protrude upwards or stick out, as though to elevate the woman or to make her appear grander. That is the complete opposite of the veil: the veil is a spiritual mark under God, not with the intention of hiding the woman, but to show complete submission under God and also to her husband. The Holy Spirit testifies that a woman with a covering on her head is in submission under Jesus, her head.

    It doesn’t have to be a full veil, but rather just a small scarf or band to simply declare that she is under God, not the master but the property. These marks are much more commonly worn by little girls whose hearts have not yet given way to the fullness of sin. But as sin enters a young girl, marks of submission are cast off, giving way to marks of pride, rebellion and disrespect. So in a sense women should be like little girls in their spirit and in their dress.

    On the subject of fashion, it also makes me very sad to see people wearing expensive-looking gold crosses. It is not so much the expense (since there is no price too high to pay for our Lord Jesus) but rather the spirit behind it of pride and love of wealth. Worshipped idols come in many forms, they might be large shiny cars, medium-sized electronics, or small shiny jewellery. Our Lord is a jealous God and cannot stand rivals. So if your heart is fixed on any possession, throw it all away, and pick up the Bible and start again on the right foundation, and glorious blessings awaits you! :)

    Let all of us, men and women, dress with modesty, humility, respect, and in a way that shows our love for others. God bless you all :)

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