I have noticed that female plain dressers wear a head covering. What is the significance of this leading?

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For me, it's a signal. I originally didn't intend it that way. I began wearing Plain Dress because I have a psychiatric condition called "self-neglect"; we act as if our bodies are on autopilot, and fail to take even the most basic care of them.

For some reason, although I am a classic self-neglecter, I cannot let anyone see "a Quaker" dirty, unfed, ill-dressed, etc. So as long as I wore Plain dress, it forced me to care for myself.

But then something odd happened. Total strangers began approaching me, asking me for help and expecting to get it. Not begging; I suppose I must look as poor as I am, so I've never been importuned in that way. These people were troubled- in some cases in agony - of spirit. Because of my cap they expect me to listen, to sympathize, to at least try to understand. Many have been people who, for whatever reason, don't or can't trust mainstream religious councilors. Many have been people of color, who believed they were looking at a white woman. (I'm mixed race -  but if I'm anyplace more than ten miles from an Indian reservation, I'm assumed to be white.) They didn't care. They only cared that I was Quaker. To them, that cap said "If you are in trouble, if you are in pain, if you can't keep silent one more second, talk to me. I am Quaker. I will help."

I have reason to believe that cap has saved lives. I'll never go back.

The covering, and plain dress in general, signifies different things to different people.  Bertha Cooper of Columbiana OH, Cyrus Cooper's first wife, adopted the covering after hearing a voice with her "spiritual ear," asking "wilt thou wear a badge for Me?"  This speaks to the identity function of the covering.

I (First, please) Corinthians 11 interprets the covering as authorizing a woman "to pray or to prophesy."  A woman could pray in private, but where would she prophesy?  Usually in the assemblies of the Lord's people, I would think.  Spiritual gifts are given, above all, for the edification of the body of believers. This seems to fly in the face of the admonition for women to keep silent in the churches (I Cor.14:34) and, to me, would seem to qualify that dictum.

In my youth Mennonites called the covering the "prayer covering."  More recently, conservative Mennonites call it the "headship covering."   I have "tackled" the bishop of the church we have attended for several years about this matter.  He doesn't even want to talk about prayer and prophecy, only headship.  That spares him from having to wrestle with where prophecy is expected to take place, and allows him to assert a very strong anti-feminist position.

As for me, I believe that the Christian man should be the head of his family, but not the dictator!   (In all fairness, I should state that the bishop would agree with this.) My wife and I addressed this matter for years and, somehow or other, worked out a modus vivendi we could both live with!  She did have long hair, but only wore the covering to corporate worship.

Curiously, Lucretia Mott was a renowned champion of liberal Quakerism and a strong proponent of feminism during the latter half of the 19th Century, but she always wore plain garb and a covering.  I would love to investigate her writing, mainly letters and sermons, to see how she put all of this together!

The origin of all this was in the fact that Corinth was a seaport city, full of hookers. If you saw an woman out in public with nothing on her head but loose hair, people would normally assume that this was her job description. Paul was anxious about the impression it created if anyone in 'his' church dressed that way; hence his cant about it in that first scolding letter. (The passage about "love" in there is quite lovely; however, in the usage of the day it meant something more akin to 'group solidarity': ie, ~"Let's drop the silly rivalries and try to get along here." He was not intending to write 'Theology', but rather -- advice appropriate to a particular church at the time.)

1 Corinthians says to cover your head when praying and prophesying. Catholics used to require covering during Mass but not otherwise. The practice of covering all day that exists in Plain communities involves adding in a separate admonishment to pray always (in 1 Thessalonians 5). Though a rather bizarre (in my mind) explanation I saw from an ex-Amish woman was that since women have to wear it when praying, if you're not wearing it and in the middle of the day need to send up a little prayer, God won't hear it, which... hmmm...

I go with the "authority to prophesy" interpretation of 1 Corinth 11, but also...

As a student of historical clothing (and actually Honour is one of those as well), the historical practice has major practicality points going for it. I think practicality is a huge part of simplicity. Function over form, right? Spending a half hour on your hair every morning might be pretty (form), but is it practical (function)?

Harken back to the days when hair only got washed if you carried a few gallons of water from the stream or went swimming and there were no blow dryers. How do you keep it clean with all the particulate matter in the air (whether that's road dust then or vehicular pollution now? or pollen, or whatever)? Cover it. How do you stretch a few days longer after it starts getting greasy (which, incidentally, happens further and further apart, the more you do that stretching)? Cover it.

Well, daily washing still isn't recommended for hair, even if it's common today.

My hair routine? I washed it Wednesday last week. I'll probably wash it next week. In the meanwhile, I've combed it twice, and one of those was only because I needed to check for ticks after going camping. I can put my hair in a bun, cover it, go about my day, put the cover on the shelf as I sleep with the bun still in my hair, wake up, and put the cover right back on. I might need to redo the bun if the last wash was less than 3-4 days ago, since freshly washed hair is drattedly slippery. 

---

And it has also had an effect, as Honour notes, on my interactions with people. Mine have been a little different than hers though. I am frequently asked about my religion. Usually they think I'm some flavor of Anabaptist, but I have had people correctly peg me as Quaker. One woman stopped me asking if I was a Quaker and saying she's heard about our worship and wants to try it out, and asking where our meetinghouse is and what time to be there. She's planning on coming to an event we're having tomorrow. I met a Christadelphian on a sidewalk who was surprised to hear there are Quakers in this city and then even more surprised to hear I was aware Christadelphians existed! (They're a peace church too)

It would seem odd to only give the requirement "when praying and prophesying" if the goal is not to be seen a as a practitioner of the oldest profession when going about your day.

Forrest Curo said:

The origin of all this was in the fact that Corinth was a seaport city, full of hookers. If you saw an woman out in public with nothing on her head but loose hair, people would normally assume that this was her job description. Paul was anxious about the impression it created if anyone in 'his' church dressed that way; hence his cant about it in that first scolding letter. (The passage about "love" in there is quite lovely; however, in the usage of the day it meant something more akin to 'group solidarity': ie, ~"Let's drop the silly rivalries and try to get along here." He was not intending to write 'Theology', but rather -- advice appropriate to a particular church at the time.)

I was wondering about that also; I suspect that the custom of the time had been for women to 'let their hair down' when praying & prophesying(?) I don't think women (or any laypersons) had any public part in pagan celebrations except for the worship of those disreputable "foreign" deities the authorities so disapproved of...

Women had important parts in the vast majority of Pagan celebrations/rituals, though their part was often very weird by our standards. Some of these ceremonies and rituals required special dress; some required partial or total undress. Some were sex-segregated; some the whole point was to have the sexes mix, and mix it up (whether by sexual activity or by murder depended on the day and the deity).

I suspect an important cause of the admonition to cover women's hair came from the fact that, in those pre-shampoo times, uncovered hair was usually "cleaned" by rubbing (relatively expensive) oil into it, and then combing it back out with a comb wrapped in cloth, which quickly became so foul it had to be discarded. Thus three forms of conspicuous waste: the oil, the cloth, and the time. Since the Christians were supposed to share their wealth, if the women didn't all cover their hair, the unveiled were costing the community serious money.

Depends. Roman historians (men of the snooty class) tended to disapprove of women's 'cults' for being untraditional foreign imports, disorderly (letting their hair down? -- tearing an occasional male interloper to shreds?) and emotional...

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