Here’s my original post introducing the 1905 Ladies’ Handbook of Home Treatment. Thanks for all your chapter requests! I offered you a glimpse of Chapter One: here’s the whole thing, for your edification, chortleification, and irritation.
The one thing that struck me while transcribing this did take me by surprise. It was not that things have changed dramatically. It was that so many things remain so essentially the same, despite what we generally feel to be the massive social transformations of the twentieth century in Australia. I spotted a good few current dating and relationship “rules” in this chapter.
I also delighted in the euphemisms.
The Founding of a Home.
SPRINGTIME! All nature is astir. The birds in the garden and in bush are seeking mates and building nests. Deep-seated instinct guides them in their tasks, instinct implanted by their Maker, without whose notice not one sparrow falls.
Youth is life’s springtime. New aspirations thrill the youthful mind. Strange emotions set the young heart throbbing and mayhap seeking for a mate. Youthful imagination plans a home and builds at least a castle in the air. All this is true to nature, and is right.
But man, unlike the birds, has been endowed with noble faculties of mind which should be exercised in all life’s choosings. And so in this, a most important choice; reason should guide and counsel should be sought. This is particularly true of the young woman who thinks of choosing her life-partner. She would do well to open wide her heart and lay her plans before a wise and sympathetic friend, either her own or another’s mother, who by experience has learned many of life’s hardest lessons.
“But”, says the maiden, “shall I not follow the promptings of my heart in the bestowal of my affections?” We would that it were as safe for young men and maidens to follow inclination in the choice of their companions as it is for the birds to follow instinct. This plan would solve many a knotty problem, and could be safely followed provided all were pure and sound. But although man was made upright in morals and mind as well as in body, he has perverted his ways and even his natural instincts. Impulse and inclination must therefore be guided by mature reason and sound judgement. How unwise, then, it is for a young woman to become attached to a man of unknown character and worth. Should she “fall in love” with such a man, the wisest course she can pursue is to fall out again with all possible haste.
In choosing a partner for life there are many things to be considered. The young woman should choose a man of high ideals, noble character, and purity of life; a man of sound constitution and good heredity. He should be of suitable age, of pleasing disposition, and her equal, though not her superior, in social position. But though a man possess all these and other virtues, if she love him not, she can have no assurance of happiness if wedded to him.
Nature has ordained that in matters of love man should be the pursuer, woman the pursued; man the wooer, woman the wooed. Although the maiden may, when asked, with gracious dignity bestow her affection upon her lover, she may not reveal her love unless it be sought. Man naturally prizes most that which is most difficult to win. The women, then, who seems most unattainable is likely to be the most earnestly sought.
Should a young woman count among her friends a man whom she not only admires but loves, she should conduct herself with such womanly reserve as to win first his respect. A man cannot respect the woman who places a low value upon herself, and without respect there can be no true love.
Among the happiest days in a woman’s life are the days of her wooing. If her heart is won by a man of sterling worth and unimpeachable character, there is a joyousness in her surrender. With assurance she entrusts herself to his love and care. The days of courtship afford excellent opportunity for intercourse of heart and mind, for an exchange of the inmost thoughts and feelings. Such intimate and mutual acquaintance makes for happiness in wedded life.
While every young girl should strive to fit herself for the duties of womanhood, a special responsibility rests upon the young woman who is a promised wife, and, if God wills it, a promised mother. She is shortly to join her lover in the making of a new home, in the founding of a family. Upon her will largely depend the happiness of her home and the character of their family life. It behoves the bride-to-be to undergo a rigid self-examination. She should, as it were, “take stock” of her various gifts and qualifications. Should she find her character lacking in any of the virtues which are necessary to the success of the wife and mother, she would do well to strive for their attainment. She should also seek with all diligence to cultivate the womanly graces which already adorn her character.
While the promised wife should be bright and joyous during the happy time of waiting, she should never lose sight of the responsibilities which will come to her with marriage. Many a bride has made a miserable failure of marriage because she was wholly unfitted to discharge its sacred duties. The sensible maiden will, like the wise virgin, fill her lamp with oil before the bridegroom cometh. She will store her mind with useful knowledge, and will train her fingers until they become deft in such housewifely arts as cookery, sewing, mending, and sick-nursing. It is only by giving due consideration to these important matters that the young woman may approach her marriage with a reasonable assurance of making it a joyous success.
The intended wife should also give due attention to her health for her own sake as well as for the sake of her husband and children-to-be. A little time spent daily in strenuous health culture will bring its own reward. Fresh air, sunshine, wholesome food, daily bathing, suitable exercise, and sufficient rest will impart to the prospective bride such exuberance of life and spirits as will tide her safely through the early months of married life into the joyous realm of motherhood. During the engagement days, young people are often inclined to keep late hours and to indulge in such irregularities of habit as result in loss of strength and vitality. The young couple who prize their future happiness will guard their health almost as sacredly as they guard their character.
There is one other matter which is usually considered to be of paramount importance to the engaged girl – the bridal trousseau. It is no doubt necessary that the bride-elect provide herself with suitable clothing and household linen, but that she should sacrifice her health and buoyancy of spirits in so doing is quite unnecessary. It were far better that the bride enter upon life with a plain and scanty outfit and blooming health than with an extensive and elaborate wardrobe and shattered nerves.
When possible, the engagement period should be sufficiently long to permit of deliberate preparations for marriage. The young woman who is obliged to make hasty preparations for her marriage is likely to approach her bridal day in a state of feverish unrest instead of that serenity of mind so conducive to peace and happiness.
The wedding day dawns, and in the sight of God and man the lovers plight their troth. With their hands and hearts united, they take upon their lips the solemn vow which makes them one while life shall last. The marriage ceremony over, it is but right that the wedded pair shall take leave of their friends and withdraw for a little time to some retired place where they may with quiet enjoyment begin their united life. If this retired place be their new home-nest, which has been the object of such loving thought and devotion, it is all the better for the young husband and wife. There is a peculiar sweetness in beginning wedded life in one’s own home, provided it be sacred from the intrusion of even servants or friends. The honeymoon may be spoiled by being converted into a veritable round of receptions, dinner-parties, and other social functions.
It is equally undesirable that the early days of married life be marred by the annoyances and vicissitudes of travelling. Many a bride has been exhausted by and extended tour when she might have preserved her health had she passed the early weeks of wedded life in a quiet, secluded spot. In many cases it would be better if the wedding journey could be postponed until the young husband and wife reach the state of mutual understanding and serene enjoyment of married life. The honeymoon should, if possible, be guarded from the intrusion of business cares or other causes of anxiety. It should be set sacredly apart for the enjoyment of intimate companionship, the communion of good books, and the practice of the simple life in God’s great out-of-doors.
“God’s Great Out-of-Doors”
Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, history, Life, relationships
Reminds me of The Rules! You’re right, there are so many things that haven’t changed.
This advice should be framed eternal though regarding the elaborate weddings people feel obliged to parade through these days – it’s not the preparation of the trousseau anymore, it’s preparing for the wedding itself.
On the other hand, I see what you mean about the convoluted euphemisms:
“irregularities of habit” wink wink nudge nudge
Oh, dear, initially, I thought ‘lamp’ was a euphemism and that ‘oil’ was the 1905 KY jelly. I had better “cultivate (some) womanly graces” !
I just came across your blog. I like it.
You’re absolutely on the money; the only difference I can see between the advice here and what’s generally dispensed to women now is that the sentence:
“She will store her mind with useful knowledge, and will train her fingers until they become deft in such housewifely arts as cookery, sewing, mending, and sick-nursing.”
would probably be changed to:
“She will store her mind with useful knowledge, and will train her fingers until they become deft in such housewifely arts as cookery, teabagging, multi-tasking, and sick-nursing.”
I’m always mystified as to why so many women don’t seem to understand that publications like Cosmo and Marie Claire are just new versions of the Victorian Ladies Home Journal. Oh, wait, that would be because of the patriarchal propaganda scheme that leads women to think that we’re now liberated and the Cosmo is helping us to make informed choices and have fun!
The one thing that kind of surprised me about this was that they were already using the “a man cannot respect the woman who places a low value upon herself” line. I thought this was a more recent development. I’ll have to think about this one and what it really means in both contexts. Well, I think we all know what it means here (herself = her hymen), but I’m going to have to think about what it implies in the modern context. I think it probably has to do with grooming.
Hi Crystal, and welcome to Hoyden About Town!
I think that the “a man cannot respect the woman who places a low value upon herself” line still applies sexually in the Western world, in some contexts at least. The trope of “If she had sex with you on the first date, she’s not the kind of woman you marry” is alive and well.
And you’re spot on that it’s also applied in the sense of “looking after herself”, “not letting herself go”, and so on.
Har. You ‘n’ me both, Martha!
Random thought: what struck me about this is the whole “what every woman wants and needs is a husband who will take care of everything”. But I found it interesting for something other than the obvious reason: at around the same time, the pollies actually knew the reality of many Australian women’s lives – ie useless hubby (didn’t earn anything, drunk all the time, leaving the woman to both take care of the house AND earn a living to keep her and him and the kids) or one that had walked out, again, leaving her to … Oh, and there was an implicit recognition that domestic violence happened (and was bad), too.
What is interesting is that it actually appeared to be a driving force behind giving women the vote in 1902. Well, if you read the parliamentary debates on the Commonwealth Franchise Bill, that’s what it seems, anyway. It certainly was a hot topic. I was really quite amazed to see it so explicitly discussed. There was a social awareness in the parliament then (at least with respect to that issue) that I think is often lacking today…
It’s funny, actually, because they sort of pay lip service to the argument that was often put up against women’s franchise, which was “well all those pretty little things have husbands and fathers to take care of their interests and those noble men have a duty to vote in a way that will take care of their womenfolk” – the debates often have this tone (sometimes explicit) of “well, that’d be nice if it was universal, but it’s not”, and sometimes you get a sense of an undertone of “we really don’t believe this ever happens”!
I’m not saying the pollies were any less misogynist than the rest of society – oh, and there’s quite a bit of classism in the debates, too – but it is a very interesting read (or maybe skim read). If you want to take a look, any law library will definitely stock Hansard all the way back, plus any State library (and the National library, if you’re in Canberra), I would think, and I’d imagine any parliamentary library would, too (whether or not you can access the material there would be another matter). Unfortunately, they haven’t yet got anything before about 1995 on line. Hopefully they will do so one day.