In Civil War times, there were no air conditioners and no electric fans. The women wore layers of petticoats and corsets. It was also customary for gentlemen to pick up items that a lady dropped. If a woman dropped her handkerchief or fan, a gentleman would pick it up and hand it back to her. Spies took advantage of this custom by using fans to pass messages. A lady could write a message on a piece of paper and conceal it in her fan. Then she would drop it in front of the man to whom she needed to deliver the message.