Category: American History

The Truth About Reformed Rakes: Victorian Views on Marrying a Scoundrel

The Kiss by Carolus Duran, 1868.

If you’ve ever read a historical romance novel, you’ll likely be familiar with the oft-quoted belief that “reformed rakes make the best husbands.” This matrimonial maxim did not, however, originate in the world of Regency and Victorian fiction. In fact, when it came to marriage, many a nineteenth century lady firmly believed that a reformed rake was superior to other men. Not only was a rake more sexually experienced and (presumably) a better lover, but—after having sown his wild oats—a rake was believed to be more attentive to his business and more indulgent toward his wife.[…]Continue Reading

A Brief History of Victorian Veils...for Babies

The New Arrival by Jules Trayer, 1862.

When taking a baby out of the house, many Victorian mothers first covered the baby’s face with a veil. These veils were believed to protect infants’ faces from extremes of weather, as well as from harmful pollutants which might mar their delicate skin or injure their eyes. By the 1870s and 1880s, baby veils had become so ubiquitous that sewing books, ladies’ magazines, and even etiquette manuals often included knitting or crochet patterns for them. […]Continue Reading

The Jersey Pug's Funeral; and Other Dog Funerals of the Late Victorian Era

“If this sort of thing keeps growing, it won’t be long before we shall hear of dog undertakers, and perhaps marble cutters who devote their time and talent to the construction of monuments to pet dogs. There is no calculating the extent to which infectious folly will go.”

The Saint Paul Globe, 25 November 1888.

Sous le Berceau by Eva Gonzalès, 1879-1880.

Of all the animals buried and mourned in the Victorian era, it was dogs who received the lion’s share of the funerary honors. The Hyde Park Dog Cemetery opened in London in 1881 and the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery in New York—the oldest pet cemetery in the United States—opened in 1896. One might think that this indicated a normalization of dog burial and mourning. However, as late as 1901, there were still those who railed against the idea of funerals for dogs, calling the practice ridiculous and absurd. One French bishop even went so far as to formally denounce the dog funeral fad in a religious publication, decrying “the lack of decent feeling on the part of modern society women.” 1[…]Continue Reading

The Etiquette of the Victorian Golf Course: Twelve Tips for a Co-Ed Game

Illustration of a Woman Playing Golf by Ellen Clapsaddle, 1902.
(Sally Fox Collection, Harvard Library)

During the Victorian era, golf was a hugely popular sport. Both men and women played for pleasure and for competition. Much of this play was done in the company of those of the same sex. However, by the end of the century, it was becoming more common for men and women—especially husbands and wives—to golf together. As a result, many magazines and journals of the day offered advice to men on how to conduct themselves on the golf course when in the presence of a lady. They also offered advice to women on what they must and must not do in order to be accepted as ‘a popular member of the club.’[…]Continue Reading

The Scent of Violets: Perfume, Cosmetics, and Crime in the Late Victorian Era

“The fondness for violets increases with time, and many women of fashion will tolerate no other fragrance.”
American Soap Journal and Manufacturing Chemist, 1895.

The Nosegay Of Violets by William Worcester Churchill, 1905.

In 1893, a woman by the name of Margaret Gainer was arrested, charged, and ultimately sentenced to thirty days imprisonment for stealing a bottle of violet perfume from a hairdresser’s shop. The hairdresser had seen her take the bottle and slip it into her pocket, but when he gave her the choice of putting the bottle back or facing the consequences, Miss Gainer steadfastly refused to relinquish the violet perfume. Her motivation for the theft—and her subsequent unwillingness to part with her ill-gotten gains—is not entirely clear; however, I suspect it had more than a little to do with the late Victorian violet fad.[…]Continue Reading