Category: American History

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

The Etiquette of the Victorian Ballroom: Twenty Tips for Single Gentlemen

“Remember that a ball-room is a school of politeness, and therefore let your whole conduct be influenced by that strict regard to Etiquette such a place requires.”
Etiquette for Gentleman; or the Principles of True Politeness, 1852.

At the Ball by Albert Edelfelt, 1884.

Not every man who attended a ball during the nineteenth century did so with a lady on his arm. Some attendees were young, single gentlemen. For them, a ball was the perfect place to practice their dancing, polish their conversation skills, and meet eligible young ladies.  It was also a place which required gentlemen to obey strict rules of etiquette.  These rules are far too numerous to cover in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twenty tips from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ballroom etiquette for single gentlemen.  I present them to you below.[…]Continue Reading

Twelve Victorian Era Tips on the Etiquette of Ladylike Letter Writing

“The palm of good letter-writing has been universally awarded to the fair sex.”
Etiquette of Good Society, 1893.

Yes or No? by Charles West Cope, 1872.
(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

For Victorian ladies, there was much more to letter writing than simply dashing off a note. There were rules for proper correspondence, encompassing everything from acceptable shades of paper and ink to penmanship, wax seals, and conditions under which a woman must write in the third person. I can’t tackle all of these rules in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twelve quotes from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ladylike letter writing. I present them to you below.[…]Continue Reading

Easter Bonnets of the Late 19th Century

“The Easter bonnet has long been recognized as woman’s particular weakness.”
The Illustrated American, 1886.

Spring Bonnets, Der Bazar, 1882.
(Met Museum)

In the nineteenth century, Easter Sunday was an occasion for ladies of all classes to don their most fashionable bonnets.  Some of these bonnets were specially bought for the holiday.  Others were old bonnets made up with new trimmings.  In either circumstance, Easter bonnets were as essential to celebrating Easter as were eggs and bunnies.  An 1889 edition of the Ladies Home Journal even went so far as to declare that it was “an accepted fact that every woman who can buy or make a dainty bonnet for Easter-day must wear it.”[…]Continue Reading

A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police on a High Speed Bicycle Chase

Bicycle Detail, Poster of the Société Parisienne, 1895.

In September of 1896, British newspapers reported the remarkable use of a bicycle in a New Jersey murder case.  The case involved two men who had both emigrated to America from London in the early 1890s.  One of these men was a farmer named Mr. Haggett who settled down with his family on a farm near Somerville.  The other man was a fellow named Mr. Clossen who Haggett employed as a farm laborer.  Sometime in 1896, Haggett caught Clossen stealing.  In consequence, he not only fired him from his job, but also refused to pay him the thirty dollars in wages that Clossen believed he was owed.[…]Continue Reading