20th Century Etiquette and Advice for Women v. Nellie

1900s Motoring Hats and Veils

Nellie Sheridan was raised at a time when one’s character was one’s calling card.  A woman  of her era was considered to be a lady if she possessed  a spotless reputation and an agreeable disposition.  Of course, the way to achieve those were to subscribe to the cultural norms of the era which were quite stringent for a woman of Nellie’s social standing.

First of all, a woman never referred to another in public by one’s first name during Nellie’s time.    One would be referred to as ” Mr. So and So or Miss So and So.  A woman always wore gloves in public except when eating or when the situation deemed it necessary for a woman to be without gloves.

Women of Nellie’s time adhered to the standard that a woman’s name is only in the newspaper three times: when she is born, when she marries, and when she dies.   Lucky for us, Nellie was a rebel!  If she hadn’t been, much of what we know of her amusing personality would have been lost in time.

A lady did not make eye contact with strange men on the street as not to provide an invitation for conversation.  God forbid, an actual conversation about an interesting subject such as politics, art, or the news.  Lucky for us,  Nellie didn’t adhere to that standard either!  She ran for office,  contested the abilities of men who wanted her job, and spoke to all who entered her post office.  Per the Somerset Press,  everyone was interested in her wedding because she handed them their mail personally.

Furthermore,  Nellie didn’t simply have the aspiration to grow up and become Mrs. So and So.  We can infer from her photographs that she was a beautiful, cultured young woman who certainly could have had her pick of beaus swooning to court her.   She also preferred to retain her own identity as she had a fifteen year romance with one of the wealthiest gentlemen in Somerset, Thomas Wilson, a Harvard graduate, who would have probably married his sweetheart years before had her career and independence not been so very important to her.  Nellie was definitely a woman with her own set of ideas and lived according to no one’s standard but her own.  Atta girl, Nellie!

While  mocking pursuing the pages of the 1916 book, Handy Household and Recipes, by  Mattie Lee Wehrley, a fascinating and somewhat comical text by today’s standards, I came upon the following items  and immediately thought of Nellie since the book was composed by one of her contemporaries and for women of her day.   While it may seem sexist and politically incorrect, it does provide valuable insight into the prevailing attitudes of Nellie’s day.  Poor, poor Nellie!  In other words, woman, accept your fate quietly, subscribe to laborious, submissive domesticity!

The Most of Life

The women who get the most out of life are the busy women.  Not necessarily, those who set themselves regular tasks, not those who, from choice or necessity are wage earners, but the women whose days are full and whose interests are diversified.

The women who get the most out of life need not be clever, nor talented, nor beautiful.  They need not have money, or great charm, but they must possess the ability for taking things as they find them, for making shifts cheerfully, and for defying the “blues.”

Life Partnership

Yet, in even the most disinterested marriage, something more than love has to be considered. A young man, starting to make his way in the world, may not ask for wealth with the girl he loves, but he has a right to expect good health, good habits, and a sound knowledge of housekeeping in all of its phases. He is marrying not only the woman he loves, but a business partner from whom he should expect competency.  She is being loved for herself alone, but expertness should be a part of this self.  A young woman, in making her marriage, may not ask for money, but she should expect her husband to have good health and habits, certain work and some savings.  He, too, being loved for himself alone, but he should have too much self respect to offer a girl any less than a competent self.   To ask this much of a life partner is not sacrificing love to worldliness, it is merely showing due consideration to the next generation.

Image result for sarah bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt’s Ten Commandments

To the women who would keep young, and that is every woman, I give freely my ten commandments of youth:

  1. Have one chief absorbing interest in life.
  2. Have other interest, “little interests,” to keep you from being one sided.
  3. Decide what are the essentials of your life and concentrate upon them.
  4. Decide what are the nonessentials and disregard them.
  5. Be interested in everything that happens, for the moment, but do not let the interest get too deep.
  6. Eat what you like and when you like, but not as much as you like.
  7. Drink much water.
  8. Sleep whenever, wherever you are sleepy.
  9. Stop for a minute to rest many times a day. These little rests prolong life.
  10. Find your work. Regard it as pleasure not a penalty.

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