Category: American History

Victorian Advice on DIY Christmas Decorations

Hanging the Mistletoe by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1860.
(Private Collection)

For many Victorians, homemade Christmas decorations were far preferable to those bought in a store. Why spend good money on glittery trinkets when you could make something much more meaningful yourself? An article in the 1887 edition of Household Words advocates for doing just that, declaring:[…]Continue Reading

Flattering by Gaslight: Fashion Advice for Nineteenth Century Ladies

The Ball by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, 1885.

The gas-lit ballrooms of the mid- to late nineteenth century weren’t as flattering to some colors as they were to others. For example, the 1897 edition of Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms warns that pale shades of yellow became “muddy in appearance by gaslight,” while shades of rose simply disappeared. Similarly, most shades of purple, as well as darker shades of blues and greens, were known to “lose their brilliance in artificial light.”[…]Continue Reading

A Cure for the Common Victorian Cold

“The abrupt violation of the decencies of social existence is one of the most annoying consequences of coughing and sneezing.” -Western Journal of Medicine and Surgery, 1844.

The Invalid by William Powell Frith, 1890.

The cold that’s going around this season is intense. As of today, I’ve had it for two weeks. Between the coughing, congestion, and laryngitis, it’s been difficult to function. One wonders how our nineteenth century forbears managed in similar circumstances. Did they take to their beds and slowly succumb? Or were there plasters and potions to help them through it? In fact, Victorians had a multitude of (sometimes questionable) medicinals at their disposal.[…]Continue Reading

A Grave but Cordial Thank You: 19th Century Advice on Thanking Gentlemen Strangers

Der Beobachter, 1880.
(Met Museum)

Victorians had plenty of advice on how and when a lady should offer a word of gratitude, especially when that gratitude was in response to a service rendered by a gentleman stranger. Some believed that it wasn’t fashionable for ladies to thank strange gentlemen for small courtesies—e.g., holding doors for them or giving up their seats on a crowded public conveyance. To do so was considered unpolished and countrified. Better that ladies say nothing and accept such little services as their due.[…]Continue Reading

Tea and Sympathy: A Prescription for Nineteenth Century Invalids

A Convalescent by James Tissot, 1876.
(Sheffield City Art Galleries)

A cup of tea is the cure for any ill. And, in times of shock, the more sugar the better. This maxim was as true in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as it is today. There was no illness, personal loss, or otherwise calamitous event to which tea could not be applied with sympathy—and vigor.[…]Continue Reading

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