Centers of Refinement: Maintaining the Image of Rank and Class

When Frances Boyd married a West Point graduate, he was soon assigned to a post in the far West. Frances remained behind explaining that "I had lived in New York all my life, and considered it the only habitable place on the globe." (Boyd, p. 23) Many other young wives of Infantry and Cavalry officers thought that traveling west of the Mississippi River to set up housekeeping was "doleful . . . and so appalling" (Burt, p. 52) But they soon learned that military posts were "centres of refinement" where the role of the officers' wife included establishing a home and maintaining a social order that would be acceptable to any upper middle-class woman anywhere in the United States. (Corbusier, p. 154)

With few exceptions, officers' wives on the Great Plains in the late nineteenth century had a middle-class upbringing and a good education for the time. They knew how to dress well, decorate their many homes, graciously entertain visitors, and raise their children to be healthy, well-educated citizens. Some also took an interest in reform movements, literature, and progressive ideas on politics and religion. Most women contributed to the development of their husbands' career and his movement through the ranks. Officers' wives seemed to enjoy their role as protectors of middle-class standards. Perhaps because lack of access to material goods and fancy foodstuffs limited all military families equally, they did not worry about worn out clothing and simple meals.