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White Feather tradition

Started by Bluehawk , Aug 28 2010 08:31 AM

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#1 Bluehawk

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 08:31 AM

The early 20th century British tradition of using the white feather as a symbol of cowardice grew into a "White Feather Brigade" of women who handed feathers out, often erroneously to men in civilian clothes. The practice spilled over into military ranks somewhat as well, and then eventually faded from practice.

My question is to anyone who might know whether the White Feather was used in America as it was used in Britain, either during WWI or another point in history?

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#2 Sabrejet

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 08:49 AM

I saw a Western once and the chief was wearing a war bonnet made entirely of white feathers. Does that count?! Seriously though...good question. A late collector friend of mine once had a white feather in a frame. It was part of a WW2 grouping. The feather in question had been presented to the airman by members of a native American tribe as a token of their esteem. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details. Sadly my collector friend passed away last year so I can't ask him.

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#3 Sabrejet

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 09:31 AM

I should have mentioned that it was a white eagle's feather...very appropriate as a gift to an American flyer with its obvious symbolism. As I recall, the stem of the feather was wrapped with fine coloured threads and there was some trailing beadwork. I do recall the citation indicated that it was a high honour to receive such a token...I'm sorry I can't remember more. I suppose it does indicate that a white feather presented in the United States didn't necessarily have the same connotation as in the United Kingdom, where, as Bluehawk has stated, it was a symbol of cowardice in time of war. Seems a somehow "barbaric" practice now, but that's how it was back then in the pre PC world.


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Edited by Sabrejet, 28 August 2010 - 09:37 AM.


#4 Championhilz

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 10:46 AM

This is from the Boston Journal, February 6, 1917:

http://i209.photobucket.com/albums/bb316/championhilz/WhiteFeather.jpg

#5 Bluehawk

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 05:52 PM

Thank you for your observations.

- I do "know" a little about one WWII white feather situation involving a GI, Army I believe, who had that for a name - and it was all under honorable terms.

- That Harvard incident is the only period WWI American white feather reference I've yet seen.

- There is this white feather western: http://www.answers.c...ather-1955-film

- There was this British film "The Four Feathers": http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240510/

- There was the famous floating white feather in the last scene of Forrest Gump

- There was this issue of Foyle's War: http://www.amazon.co...n/dp/B0000897AP

- Wikipedia claims that in the USA the white feather was a symbol of "extraordinary bravery and excellence in combat marksmanship"(?): http://en.wikipedia....i/White_feather

- And then this reference to USMC Carlos Hathcock (aka Long Trang du Kich): http://en.wikipedia....Carlos_Hathcock
"(May 20, 1942 February 23, 1999) was a United States Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant sniper with a service record of 93 confirmed kills. Hathcock's record and the extraordinary details of the missions he undertook made him a legend in the Marine Corps. His fame as a sniper and his dedication to long distance shooting led him to become a major developer of the United States Marine Corps Sniper training program. He was honored by having a rifle named after him: a variant of the M21 dubbed the Springfield Armory M25 White Feather."

#6 Championhilz

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 07:08 PM

Here's another mention of the white feather from the Twin Falls News, October 9, 1919:

http://i209.photobucket.com/albums/bb316/championhilz/TwinFallsNews10-9-1919.jpg

#7 Championhilz

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 07:14 PM

This is an even older mention of the white feather from the New Orleans Times Picayune, August 6, 1865:


http://i209.photobucket.com/albums/bb316/championhilz/TimesPicayune8-6-1865.jpg

#8 Bluehawk

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 09:02 AM

This is an even older mention of the white feather from the New Orleans Times Picayune, August 6, 1865:

Fascinating... in my mind's eye I've kept thinking (since long ago seeing that FOUR FEATHERS film) that surely this is an archaic tradition of some sort, stemming from a long ago era of "gentleman's" warfare in some sense. It would, for some reason, make sense to have the practice being around in the Civil War time.

Thanks so much for going to all the trouble of sharing.

#9 TheGrayGhost

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Posted 30 August 2010 - 02:14 PM

I have never heard of this tradition, but it is very interesting to hear how prolific it was 100 years ago. I guess I could see such a tradition today being non-PC.

The reference to Chicken Fights makes a lot of sense as to the origin of such a tradition.

Thanks for sharing.


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