For Valentine’s Day: Vintage Advice on Choosing a Spouse

1920s bride and groom

A vintage bride and groom.

I recently read a survey that suggests that the “ideal” marriage proposal would occur on a deserted beach on Valentine’s Day.  This scenario, while still contrived, is a refreshing change from the over-orchestrated flash mob Bollywood numbers, sporting event scoreboard, or hot air balloon ascent proposals that have had a brief, foolish vogue. Given that modern marriage is a triumph of hope over divorce statistics it would seem prudent to look to the past for some vintage advice on choosing a spouse before taking that walk on the deserted beach with your beloved.

HOW TO CHOOSE A HUSBAND.—Never marry a man until you have seen him eat. Let the candidate for your hand pass through the ordeal of eating soft boiled eggs. If he can do it and leave the table spread, the napkin and his shirt unspotted—take him. Try him next with a spare rib. If he accomplishes this feat without putting out one of his own eyes, or pitching the bones into your lap, name the wedding day at once; he will do to tie to. Vincennes [IN] Gazette 8 August 1855

WHAT DO YOUNG MEN MARRY?— Some young men marry dimples; some ears; some noses; the contest, however, generally lies between the eyes and the hair. The mouth, too, is occasionally married; the chin not so often. Poor partners, these, you will own. But young men do marry all these, and many other bits and scraps of a wife, instead of the true thing. Such as the marriage is, such is the after-life. He that would have a wife must marry a woman. If he can meet with one of equal social position, like education, similar disposition, kindred sympathies, and habits congenial to his own, let him marry. But let him beware of marrying a curl, or a neck, however swan-like, or a voice, however melodious. Young ladies do also make some queer matches, and unite themselves to whiskers. Godey’s Lady’s Book October 1870

A golfer suggests a novel way of weeding out marital prospects.

An experienced person—experienced both in golf and in matrimony—of my acquaintance gives this piece of advice to bachelors: “Never,” he says, “marry a woman until you have played a round of golf with her, or, better still, watched her unobserved during the varying fortunes of a competition. Place yourself inconspicuously by the side of some first class bunker on the ladies’ course and the disclosures will be invaluable to your future life. A woman will show you a good deal of her character during three minutes in a bad bunker. Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 7 August 1896: p. 6

“Do not marry a fop.”  Words we can all live by…

Do not marry a fop. There is in such a character nothing of true dignity; nothing that commands respect, or ensures even a decent standing in the community. There is a mark upon him, an affected elegance of manner, a studied particularity of dress and usually a singular inanity of mind…To unite your destiny with such a man, I hardly need say, would be to impress the seal of disgrace upon your character, and the seal of wretchedness upon your doom.

Do not marry a spend thrift. No, not if he have ever so extensive a fortune; for no degree of wealth can secure such a man from the degradation of poverty…

Do not marry a miser. Such a man may be rich, very rich, but you could expect from his riches little else than misery…

Do not marry a man whose age is greatly disproportioned to your own…I am constrained to say that such connections present, at least to my own eye, a violation of good taste, and seem contrary to the dictates of nature…There must needs be in many respects an entire lack of congeniality between them. He has the habits and feelings of age, she the vivacity and buoyancy of youth; and it were impossible that this wide difference should not sooner or later be painfully felt…

Do not marry a man of an irritable, violent, or overbearing temper. There is nothing with which domestic enjoyment is more intimately connected, than a naturally amiable and affectionate disposition; and the absence of this is sure to render a delicate and sensitive female, in no small degree, unhappy.

Do not marry a man who is deficient in understanding, or in mental acquisitions. I do not mean that you should look for an intellect of the highest order, or that you should consider yourself entitled to it; but I mean that a woman of decent intelligence can never be happy with a fool…

Do not marry a man of questionable morality. However correct may be his moral and religious opinions, if he be addicted to only a single species of vice, you have no security that he will not sink into the vortex of profligacy…The Daughter’s Own Book, anon., 1833

(I suppose one woman’s vortex of profligacy is another woman’s 50 Shades of Grey…)

Also watch out for those novel readers, for late-risers, and women wantonly wearing jewelry….

If a young farmer or mechanic marry a girl, who has been brought up only to ‘play music;’ to draw, to sing, to waste paper, pen and ink in writing long and half romantic letters, and to see shows, and plays, and read novels—if a young man do marry such an unfortunate young creature, let him bear the consequences with temper…

It is cold comfort for a hungry man, to tell him how delightfully his wife plays and sings. Lovers may live on very aerial diet, but husbands stand in need of something more solid; and young women may take my word for it, that a constantly clean table, well cooked victuals, a house in order, and a cheerful fire will do more towards preserving a husband’s heart, than all the ‘accomplishments’ taught in all the ‘establishments’ in the world without them….

Who is to tell whether a girl will make an industrious woman?…There are…certain rules, which, if attended to with care, will serve as pretty sure guides.
And, first, if you find the tongue lazy, you may be nearly certain that the hands and feet are not very industrious…The pronunciation of an industrious person is generally quick, and distinct; the voice, if not strong, firm at the least…
Another mark of industry is, a quick step, and a somewhat heavy tread, showing that the foot comes down with a hearty good will. If the body lean a little forward, and the eyes keep steadily in the same direction, while the feet are going, so much the better, for these discover earnestness to arrive at the intended point…8. Early Rising.
Early rising is another mark of industry…Where a living and a provision for children is to be sought by labor of some sort or other, late rising in the wife is certain ruin; and rarely will you find an early-rising wife, who had been a late-rising girl…
9. Frugality.
This means the contrary of extravagance. It does not mean stinginess; it does not mean pinching; but it means an abstaining from all unnecessary expenditure, and all unnecessary use of goods of any and of every sort. It is a quality of great importance, whether the rank in life be high or low…Some of the indications of extravagance in a lady are ear-rings, broaches, bracelets, buckles, necklaces, diamonds, (real or mock,) and nearly all the ornaments which women put upon their persons…To marry a girl of this disposition is really self-destruction. You never can have either property or peace…The Young Man’s Guide, William A. Alcott, 1839

And beware of rouged butterflies….

[The ideal wife] will possess a sound body and prefer roast beef to cake and candy. She will be able to bring up a family without being on the sick list one half of the time. She will be able to walk a dozen blocks without taking a car, and the color in her cheeks will come from good red blood and not from rouge…She will have some conception of housekeeping, being able to make a good cup of coffee and pie crust fit to eat. A hungry husband cannot feed on  fancy embroidery or get much nourishment from Beethoven’s sonatas. He has a stomach as well as a soul. If the husband is to provide for the outer woman, it is the wife’s duty to provide for the inner man….The true wife is a busy bee rather than a gaudy butterfly. Sermon by the Rev. John L. Scudder of First Congregational Church of Jersey City New York Times 16 October, 1899

Women Who Should Not Marry.

   The woman who would rather nurse a pug dog than a baby.

The woman who thinks she can get $5,000 worth of style out of a $1,000 salary.

The woman who wants to refurnish her house every spring.

The woman who buys for the mere pleasure of buying.

The woman who does not know how many pennies, halves, quarters, dimes and nickels there are in a dollar.

The woman who thinks men are angels and demi-gods.

The woman who would die rather than wear a bonnet two seasons.

The woman who thinks that the cook and the nurse can run the house.

The woman who reads cheap novels and dreams of being a duchess or a countess.

The woman who thinks it is cheaper to buy bread than to bake it.

The woman who marries in order to have somebody pay her bills.

The woman who expects a declaration of love three times a day.

The woman who anticipates a good, easy time all her life.

The woman who cares more for the style of her winter coat than she does for the health and comfort of her children.

The woman who stays at home only because she has no place to visit.

The woman who thinks embroidered centrepieces and doylies are more important than sheets, pillow-cases and blankets.

The woman who buys bric-a-brac for her parlor and borrows kitchen utensils from her neighbors.

Men Who Should Not Marry.

   On the masculine side it is the man who talks about supporting a wife when she is working fourteen hours a day, including Sunday.

The man who thinks it is all nonsense for a woman to want a ten-cent bunch of violets when she hasn’t seen a flower for five months.

A man who imagines a woman’s bonnet ought to cost about seventy-five cents.

A man who thinks his wife exists for the comfort and convenience of his mother and sisters.

The man who provides himself with a family and trusts in Providence to provide a home and something to eat.

The man who thinks all women are angels.

The man who thinks that no one but an angel is fit to be his wife.

The man who thinks a woman ought to be her own milliner, dressmaker, seamstress, cook, housemaid and nurse.

The man who cannot remember his wife’s birthday.

The man who thinks his wife is fixed for the season if she has a new gown.

The man who thinks a woman ought to give up a thousand-dollar salary and work in his kitchen for her board and a few clothes, and be glad of the chance.

The man who labors under the delusion that his wife’s money belongs to him.

The man who says, “Love me, love my dog.”

The man who thinks a parlor carpet ought to last fifteen years.

The man who has a $75 fishing tackle and cannot afford new curtains for the dining room.

The man who doesn’t know what on earth a woman wants with money when she has credit at a dry goods store.

The man who thinks a sick wife would feel a great deal better if she would get up and stir around.

The man who forgets his manners as soon as he steps across his own threshold.

The man who thinks he can keep house better than his wife does.

The man who loves to go home to grumble and growl.

The man who quotes the Apostle Paul on the “woman question” and who firmly believes that the mantle of the apostle has fallen upon him.

The man who looks upon his wife as a waste basket into which he dumps the “chips” collected during the day. –Philadelphia Inquirer. New Castle, PA News, December 30 1903

I wish you all a happy Valentine’s Day and happiness with your beloved, on or off that deserted beach.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes