View Full Version : courting/public behavior

03-25-2007, 03:53 PM

Just a few quick questions about courting and public behavior between single men and women. Most of the information I've found online seems to suggest that single men and women kind of ignored each other in public. I've been reading the journal of Lucy Breckinridge 1862-1864 and, from what I can tell, she had friendly relationships with young men her age. Was it "proper" for men and women to casually chat in public? Where there customs such as, the lady would have to make first acknowledgement or vice versa?

Along those same lines, how in the world does courtship work? In Lucy's journal, she only touches briefly on engagement (which she was apparently engaged twice) and never mentions courtship. Was "being engaged" not as formal as it is today?

Any help or source suggestions would be wonderful!

Pete K
03-26-2007, 10:49 AM
Do you want the short answer? Public dating/courting as we know it has its roots in the 1920's. Victorians would never do the things our youth do publicly. The long answer would fill a whole semster in a college history or sociology course.

03-26-2007, 11:25 AM
I guess I'm just looking for some type of answer that can better help me understand the relationship between men and woman during courtship. Obviously, the first person account of Lucy Breckinridge does not help as I only get her opinion on the man himself. She seems to meet young men quite often in the parlour of her home or social gatherings. That doesn't fit my mental image of courtship in the 1860s, which is becoming more or less two people that hardly know each other and can't be seen with each other in public.

So yeah, I'd rather have the long answer. But, I will settle for the short answer. Or at least, a point in the direction of a helpful source.


03-26-2007, 06:03 PM
You might try this. I found it in the local library online catalogue using the keywords "Courtship United States" for the subject.

Courtship United States History 19th Century : Searching the heart : women, men, and romantic love in nineteenth-century America / Karen Lystra.

03-26-2007, 06:30 PM
Do you want the short answer? Public dating/courting as we know it has its roots in the 1920's. Victorians would never do the things our youth do publicly. The long answer would fill a whole semster in a college history or sociology course.

I think it would be safe to say that the better classes of youth wouldn't engage in a lot of public romantic activities, but not everyone was of the better classes, or religious, or even moral.

Etiquette manuals are fun to read, but they're an ideal. Read a modern manual, and see how many folks you know subscribe to all the fine points. :) The citizens of the past may or may not have lived up to that ideal. It's very interesting to read letters between individuals, including married couples... some are far, far more explicit that we might expect, but reflect a wide range of human emotion and expression, between people both married and unmarried.

If you could give a better idea of the type of person you're trying to suss out, that would be helpful. Economic class, religious or moral background, family situation, region--it can all play in to how a man and woman might interact. There's just no one-size-fits-most answer, same as with most aspects of mid-century life, I'm finding. :)

Those more likely to hold to "less intimacy before marriage" (including kissing, unsupervised society, etc) might include:

* The deeply religious and moderately or publicly religious, devout, or "moral."
* Members of social classes in which virginity is prized as a marketable marriage component
* Personally modest or reserved people

Those more likely to indulge in "greater intimacy before marriage, up to and including bearing children out of wedlock" might include:

* lower working classes and below
* those unconcerned with societal norms
* the amoral or unchurched (which is different from being non-religious)

I've been transcribing family history information into a new program the past few days, and it was interesting to note the circumstances of one married couple's births. The husband had been born in May to parents married in late January. The wife had been born to a literate mother and illiterate father living at different addresses, with no record of the pair ever having been married, though they subsequently cohabited and raised her. Both sets of parents were "Victorians" (Scottish subjects of Victoria, actually, in the middle third of the 19th century). All parties were very working class in an industrial area of Glasgow--a steamship stoker (illiterate), a journeyman bricklayer, a textile-factory worker, and an at-home mom (new wife of bricklayer). Quite obviously, they didn't subscribe to etiquette manual ideals of courtship behavior. :) "Early" first babies and unmarried cohabitation happened in the US, too, just not in all groups of society.

03-26-2007, 07:54 PM
Thank you all for your help: I'm off to the library tomorrow to check out what I can find.

I'm studying the middle class; more the relationship of a dry good store owner's daughter and an armory worker, both from a large town in Virginia. This is what hubby and I portray during events. Both attend the same church, come from medium sized families, and he is several years older than me.

I think part of the problem is I'm running across a lot more of the ideal than the actual. I must admit, I was surprised to read what the "less intimate" qualified as--sounds more immoral than what my father wanted me to do when I was dating! :p

03-27-2007, 10:47 AM
I don't think I worded it well--I meant, intimacies defined as kissing, unsupervised society, etc, would NOT be included in the more conservative relationship model. :)

(Me, I waited to date until I was 350 miles away at college, just to save my Dad the grey hairs.)

While the information is harder to find, I'd also look for working-class information. The daughter of a merchant and an armory worker aren't usually in the same economic class, particularly if the merchant doesn't work his own store anymore, but plays a "supervisory" role. Now, if it was daughter of a merchant and *owner* of the armory, they're getting to the same class, and likely an upper-working class level at that. I'm finding more and more that what we want to classify as "middle class" for mid century is really working class (as are most of us today!), but that there are various economic strata inside the working class.

03-27-2007, 02:22 PM
Courtesy of the clip file, and the research of Mrs. Elizabeth Bowling of St. Louis and the old CW Re-enactors' List Server:

From Inquire Within for Anything You Want to Know, or Over Three Thousand Seven Hundred Facts Worth Knowing (New York: **** and Fitzgerald, 1856), pp. 352-360:

2865. THE ETIQUETTE OF COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE.--No subject in this work is more important, and certainly none will be studied with as much attention, as that of the present section. Love is the universal passion, courtship is the most interesting avocation of human life, and marriage one of the great ends of existence. As our wives are not purchased as in China, nor stolen as in some parts of Africa, nor in general negotiated for by parents, as in some countries in Europe, but wooed and won by polite attentions, the manner in which a gentleman should behave towards ladies is a matter of the greatest importance. Charms, filters, and talismans, are used no longer--the only proper talismans are worth and accomplishments. (See 1211.)

2866. HOW TO WIN THE FAVOR OF LADIES.--To win the favor of ladies, dress and manner must never be neglected. Women look more to sense than to beauty, and a man shows his sense, or his want of it, in every action of his life. When a young man first finds himself in the company of the other sex, he is seldom free from a degree of bashfulness, which makes him more awkward than he would otherwise appear, and he very often errs from real ignorance of what he should say or do. Though a proper feeling of respect and kindness, and a desire to be obliging and agreeable, will always be recognized and appreciated, there are certain forms very convenient to be understood.

2867. HOW TO ADDRESS A LADY.--We address a married lady, or widow, as Madam, or by name, as Missis or Mistress Jones. In answering a question, we contract the Madam to ma'am--as "yes, ma'am, no, ma'am, very fine day, ma'am.

2868. A single lady, of a certain age, may also be addressed as Madam.

2869. A young lady, if the eldest of the family, unmarried, is entitled to the sirname , as Miss Smith, while her younger sisters are called Miss Mary, Miss Julia, &c. The term "Miss," used by itself, is very inelegant.

2870. It is expected that gentlemen will, upon every proper occasion, offer civilities to ladies of their acquaintance, and especially to those for whom they have a particular attachment.

2871. A gentleman meeting a lady at an evening party, is struck with her appearance. Ascertaining that she is not engaged, which he may do from some acquaintance, he takes some opportunity of saying,

"Miss Ellen, will you honor me, by accepting my escort home, to-night?" or,

"Miss Ellen, shall I have the pleasure of seeing you home?" or,

"Miss Ellen, make me happy by selecting me for your cavalier;" or,

"Miss Ellen, shall I have the pleasure of protecting you?"

The last, of course, as the others, may be half in fun, for these little matters do not require much seriousness. The lady replies, if engaged,

"Excuse me, sir, I am already provided for;" or, pleasantly,

"How unfortunate! If you had been five minutes earlier, I might have availed myself of your services;" or, if disengaged,

"Thank you, sir, I shall be obliged for your attention;" or,

"With pleasure, sir, if my company will pay you for your trouble;" or, any other pleasant way of saying that she accepts, and is grateful for the attention proffered to her.

2872. The preliminaries settled, which should be as early as possible, his attention should be public. He should assist her in putting on her cloak and shawl, and offer his arm before leaving the room.

2874. There is no reason why the passion of love should be wrapped up in mystery. It would prevent much and complicated misery in the world, if all young persons understood it.

2875. According to the usages of society, it is the custom for the man to propose marriage, and for the female to refuse or accept the offer, as she may think fit. There ought to be a perfect freedom of the will in both parties.

2876. When a young man admires a lady, and thinks her society necessary to his happiness, it is proper, before committing himself, or inducing the object of his admiration to do so, to apply to her parents or guardians for permission to address her; this is a becoming mark of respect, and the circumstances must be very peculiar which would justify a deviation from this course.

2877. Everything secret and unacknowledged is to be avoided, as the reputation of a clandestine intercourse is always more or less injurious through life. The romance evaporates, but the memory of indescretion survives.

2878. Young men frequently amuse themselves by playing with the feelings of young women. They visit them often, they walk with them, they pay them divers attentions, and after giving them an idea that they are attached to them, they either leave them, or, what is worse, never come to an explanation of their sentiments. This is to act the character of a dangler, a character truly dastardly and infamous.

2879. HOW TO COMMENCE A COURTSHIP.*--A gentleman having met a lady at social parties, danced with her at balls, accompanied her to and from church, may desire to become more intimately acquainted. In short, you wish to commence a formal courtship. This is a case for palpitations, but forget not that "faint heart never won fair lady." What will you do? Why, taking some good opportunity, say,

"Miss Wilson, since I became acquainted with you, I have been every day more pleased with your society, and I hope you will allow me to enjoy more of it--if you are not otherwise engaged, will you permit me to visit you on Sunday evening?"

The lady will blush, no doubt--she may tremble a little, but if your proposition is acceptable to her, she may say,

"I am grateful for your good opinion, and shall be happy to see you."

Or if her friends have not been consulted, as they usually are before matters proceed so far, she may say:

"I am sensible of your kindness, sir; but I cannot consent to a private interview, without consulting my family."

Or she may refuse altogether, and in such a case, should do so with every regard to the feelings of the gentleman, and, if engaged, should say frankly:

"I shall be happy to see you at all times as a friend, but I am not at liberty to grant a private interview."

*See the "Laws of Love" published by **** & Fitzgerald. Price 25 cents.

2880. As, in all these affairs, the lady is the respondent, there is little necessity for any directions in regard to her conduct, as a "Yes" ever so softly whispered, is a sufficient affirmative, and as her kindness of heart will induce her to soften as much as possible her, "No."

To tell a lady who has granted the preliminary favors, that you love her better than life, and to ask her to name the happy day, are matters of nerve, rather than form, and require no teaching. (See No. 320.)

2882. A gentleman is struck with the appearance of a lady, and is desirous of her acquaintance, but there are no means within his reach of obtaining an introduction, and he has no friends who are acquainted with herself or her family. In this dilemma there is no alternative but a letter.

2883. There is, besides, a delicacy, a timidity, a nervousness in love, which makes men desire some mode of communication rather than the speech, which, in such cases, too often fails them. In short, there are reasons enough for writing--but when the enamored youth has set about penning a letter to the object of his passions, how difficult does he find it! How many efforts does he make before he succeeds in writing one to suit him!

2884. It may be doubted whether as many reams of paper have ever been used in writing letters upon all other subjects, as have been consumed upon epistles of love; and there is probably no man living who has not at sometime written, or desired to write, some missive which might explain his passions to the amiable being of whom he was enamored, and it has been the same, so far as can be judged, in all the generations of the world.

2885. Affairs of the heart--the delicate and interesting preliminaries of marriage, are oftener settled by the pen than in any other manner.

2886. To write the words legibly, to spell them correctly, to point them properly, to begin every sentence and every proper name with a capital letter, every one is supposed to learn at school.

2887. To give examples of letters would be useless and absurd, as each particular case must necessarily require a widely different epistle, and the judgment and feelings of the party writing must be left to control both the style and substance of the letter.

2888. For a love letter, good paper is indispensable. When it can be procured, that of costly quality, gold-edged, perfumed, or ornamented in the French style, may be properly used. The letter should be carefully enveloped, and nicely sealed with a fancy wafer--not a common one, of course, where any other can be had; or what is better, plain or fancy sealing-wax. As all persons are more or less governed by first impressions and externals, the whole affair should be as neat and elegant as possible.

03-27-2007, 02:26 PM
And to close in on the quarry, once decided...

2889. POPPING THE QUESTION.--There is nothing more appalling to a modest and sensitive young man than asking the girl he loves to marry him; and there are few who do not find their moral courage tasked to the utmost. Many a man who would lead a forlorn hope, mount a breach, and "seek the bubble reputation e'en in the cannon' mouth," trembles at the idea of asking a woman the question which is to decide his fate. Ladies may congratulate themselves that nature and custom have made them the responding party.

2890. In a matter which men have always found so terrible, yet which, in one way or other, they have always contrived in some awkward way to accomplish, t is not easy to give instructions suited to every emergency.

2891. A man naturally conforms to the disposition of the woman he admires. If she be serious, he will approach the awful subject with due solemnity--if gay and lively, he will make it an excellent joke--if softly sentimental, he must woo her in a strain of high-wrought romance--if severely practical, he relies upon straight-forward common sense.

2892. There is one maxim of universal application--Never lose an opportunity. What can a woman think of a lover who neglects one? Women cannot make direct advances, but they use infinite tact in giving men occasions to make them. In every case, it is fair to presume that when a woman gives a man an opportunity, she expects him to improve it; and though he may tremble, and feel his pulses throbbing and tingling through every limp; though his heart is filling up his throat, and his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth, yet the awful question must be asked--the fearful task accomplished.

2893. In the country, the lover is taking a romantic walk by moonlight, with the lady of his love--talks of the beauty of the scenery, the harmony of nature, and exclaims, "Ah! Julia, how happy would existence prove, if I always had such a companion!"

She sighs, and leans more fondly on the arm that tremblingly supports her.

"My dearest Julia, be mine forever!"

This is a settler, and the answer, ever so inaudible, "makes or undoes him quite."

2894. "Take pity on a forlorn bachelor," says another, in a manner either in jest or earnest," "marry me at once, and put me out of my misery.'

"With all my heart, whenever you are ready," replies the laughing fair. A joke carried thus far is easily made earnest.

2895. A point is often carried by taking a thing for granted. A gentleman paying particular attention to a lady, says,
"Well, Mary, when is the happy day?" "What day, pray?" she asks, with a conscious blush.

"Why, everybody knows that we are going to get married, and it might as well be one time as another; so when shall it be?"

Cornered in this fashion, there is no retreat.

2896. "Jane, I love you! Will you marry me?" would be somewhat abrupt, and a simple, frankly given, "Yes!" would be short and sweet, for an answer.

"Ellen, one word from you would make me the happiest man in the universe!"

"I should be cruel not to speak it, then, unless it is a very hard one."

"It is a word of three letters, and answers the question, Will you have me?"

The lady of course says Yes, unless she happens to prefer a word of only two letters, and answers No.

And so this interesting and terrible process in practice, simple as it is in theory, is varied in a hundred ways, according to circumstances and the various dispositions.

2897. One timid gentleman asks, "Have you any objection to change your name?" And follows this up with another, which clenches its significance, "How would mine suit you?"

Another asks, "Will you tell me what I most wish to know?"

"Yes, if I can."

"The happy day when we shall be married?"

2898. Another says, "My Eliza, we must do what the world evidently expects we shall."

"The world is very impertinent."

"I know it--but it can't be helped. When shall I tell the parson to be ready?"

2899. As a general rule, a gentleman never need be refused. Every woman except a heartless coquette, finds the means of discouraging a man whom she does not intend to have, before the matter comes to the point of a declaration.

03-27-2007, 05:25 PM
What a great source! Thank you so much! This will really be a great help!:D

03-28-2007, 02:29 PM
These directions will work for the fellers, but you gals are on your own now... ;-)

Delia Godric
03-30-2007, 10:38 AM
Anyone in the western New York area may be interested in this program:

Sunday, April 29th, 3 PM (rescheduled from February): Becky Glass, SUNY Geneseo Sociology Professor, presents "Courtship Through the Ages". In celebration of Valentine's Day, we take a sentimental (or not) journey through the centuries -- from the emergence of "courtly love" between Medieval knights and ladies, through colonial youthful independence, to Victorian customs (less strait-laced than you might think!), and on to the impact of the automobile -- to learn how potential mates find each other.

The info should be up on the site www.livingstoncountyhistoricalsociety.org but the site is down now.

Anna Worden

03-30-2007, 11:47 AM
These directions will work for the fellers, but you gals are on your own now... ;-)

Gals don't need no stink'n book to tell 'em how to court a man or behave with one in public - comes nat'ral.

04-02-2007, 11:21 AM
MEMPHIS DAILY APPEAL [MEMPHIS, TN], January 27, 1861, p. 2, c. 5

Fashionable Women--A Financial View of Matrimony.

You're going to enter into the matrimonial state, are you, Mr. Brown? And you think you're coming into possession of an angel?
Yes, but angels cost money. Did it ever occur to you what an expensive article your fashionable young wife was likely to prove? Bless your unsophisticated soul! you've no more idea of it than you have of the price of onions, or the market value of a wash-tub. You'll find out on day, however--to your grief.
Two or three stout Irish girls to wait on her--a French maid to arrange her hair--fifty dollar silks and camel's hair shawls to make her female friends envious, and half a dozen bonnets per annum--white kid gloves and silver card-case--otto of roses and bouquet-holders--why, you deluded young man, she'll throw money out with her ringed and lily-white fingers faster, by the bushel, than you can shovel it with a spade! You don't believe it? Let us make a rough estimate, then, of what she will cost in full promenade costume:
Bonnet (a lovely thing, the "sweetest" white chip, and such a bargain) fifteen dollars. India shawl (of course you won't be such a brute as to expect your wife to wear common cashmere or broche, just like the butcher's better half), only seventy-five, the cheapest thing in New York! Dress, an eleven-flounced silk, forty-five dollars, including the trimmings and the poorly paid labor of the hollow-cheeked dressmaker. Valenciennes collars and sleeves, at twenty-five; cunning little-heeled gaiter boots, three; gloves, one; etruscan bracelet, fifty (you expect your wife to dress like other women, don't you? and everybody has etruscan bracelets); brooch and earrings in Italian cameo, thirty; enameled watch and chain, seventy-five; card cases, twenty; a "duck" of a chantilly veil, ten; embroidered handkerchief, eight; lace parasol, lined with lavender silk, ten; crinoline, three; and other "belongings," lace-edged and sumptuously decorated, about ten, as near as a body can venture to guess.
Now all this is an exceedingly moderate assessment. There are probably as many who exceed it as fall short of it. How much do you suppose it amounts to, my good Mr. Brown? Well, your angel, in the simple matter of plumage for this one occasion, cost you not far from four hundred dollars. Yes, you may open your eyes and twirl your moustaches in that incredulous sort of way. Do you suppose we don't know all about it? Yes, and when the bills come in, you will remember our words of warning. You're doing a remarkably foolish thing when you marry one of these camellia-japonica divinities, white-handed, helpless, and knowing just about as much of real life, everyday life, as a canary-bird might be expected to understand. If we were a man, we should as soon think of marrying a frail house-plant as one of these delicate sprigs of the ornamental.
Give us the apple-blossom type of women--sunny, cheerful and useful--something equal to every emergency, from washing-day to a Fifth avenue soiree--something that understands the handling of a broom, and knows what the kitchen poker is made for, and can calculate to a nicety the exact amount of mince meat requisite in a model pie, beside liking a bit of fun as well as the next woman, and possessing a pretty weakness for lively books and spicy newspapers. That's the article for our money.
A wife would select gingham instead of silk when she went shopping, and freshen up her old bonnet with a bunch of satin violets and a new ribbon, instead of paying an extravagant price for the latest Paris fooleries--not because she hadn't a woman's natural penchant for such fine and showy things, but because she wanted to save money, because her little head was full of schemes some day to contribute something toward releasing her husband from the bondage drudgery of desk or counter. do you suppose the value of such a wife can be counted in gold pieces? Let your satin-robed doll sweep contemptuously past her on Broadway, Mr. Brown; time will prove which is the best instrument.
Only, before you purchase the useless jeweled toy, think twice about it. Ask yourself soberly and reasonably, "What is the price?" and "can I afford it?" or it may be the dearest bargain you ever made in your life.--Life Illustrated.


04-02-2007, 11:31 AM
Dear bizzilizzit,

"....and other "belongings," lace-edged and sumptuously decorated, about ten....."

Could this mean underwear?

04-02-2007, 11:57 AM
Dear bizzilizzit,

"....and other "belongings," lace-edged and sumptuously decorated, about ten....."

Could this mean underwear?

Yes, "belongings" would mean her unmentionables.

04-02-2007, 01:04 PM
Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you. I'll add that one to the list.

04-02-2007, 02:23 PM
Dear Elizabeth,

Thank you. I'll add that one to the list.

What list would that be?

04-02-2007, 02:32 PM
Dear Elizabeth,

That would be period Euphamisms for underwear. Underpinnings, body linen, unmentionables, nether garments, etc.

Just part of the "hobby."