Tag: Women

The Vulnerable Victorian Governess

The Governess by Richard Redgrave, 1844.

A governess occupied a unique position in a Victorian household. She was neither servant, nor family member. She existed in a sort of in-between world which often left her feeling isolated and alone. To combat this, the young governess was advised to cultivate a tolerance for solitude. Author Susan Ridout addresses this in her somewhat depressing nineteenth century book of advice, Letters to a Young Governess on the Principles of Education and Other Subjects Connected with Her Duties (1840):[…]Continue Reading

The Spinster’s Numeration Table: A Guide for Nineteenth Century Men

An Encounter at the Spinning Wheel by George Goodwin Kilburne , n.d.

Recently, while researching, I came across a “Spinster’s Numeration Table” printed in the 1837 edition of the New Monthly Magazine. This table lists out the various ages of an unmarried woman and corresponds them to certain characteristics. It is meant to be humorous, but—as with all humor of this sort—there is a grain of historical truth to be gleaned from the descriptions. The table gives us insight into how spinsters were viewed and at what age unmarried women were deemed to be past their prime.[…]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

A Scientific Justification for Spinsters: Old Maids and Cats in the Victorian Era

‘Old maids and cats have long been proverbially associated together, and rightly or wrongly these creatures have been looked upon with a certain degree of suspicion and aversion by a large proportion of the human race.’
Dundee Courier, 5 October 1880.

Portrait of a Lady with a White Cat by Anonymous Artist, 19th Century.
Portrait of a Lady with a White Cat by Anonymous Artist, 19th Century.

Spinsters have long been associated with cats.  This was especially true in the Victorian era when the stereotype of the old maid and her feline dependents was so pervasive that an 1880 edition of the Dundee Courier not only declared that “the old maid would not be typical of her class without the cat,” but that “one cannot exist without the other.”  Like cats (who were generally viewed as being sly and self-serving), old maids faced their fair share of societal persecution.  Doomed to live in a state of “single blessedness,” they were often seen as being eccentric or as having been soured by their “blighted hopes.”  […]Continue Reading

On Bluestockings and Beauty: 19th Century Advice for Educated Women

“Blue-stocking or not, every woman ought to make the best of herself inside and out.  To be healthy, handsome, and cheerful, is no disadvantage even in a learned professor.”
The Art of Beauty, 1883.

Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.(Brooklyn Museum)
Portrait of a Woman by Henry Inman, 1825.
(Brooklyn Museum)

Unlike the clever, witty bluestockings that populated the fashionable salons of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Victorian bluestocking was considered to be, as one 1876 publication puts it, “a stiff, stilted, queer literary woman of a dubious age.”  This unfortunate stereotype was so firmly entrenched that it even made its way into an 1883 edition of the Popular Encyclopedia, wherein a bluestocking is defined as a “pedantic female” who has sacrificed the “excellencies of her sex” to education and learning.[…]Continue Reading