Women in History:
Behavior for Women in Nineteenth Century America
I came across some interesting descriptions of feminine behavior in nineteenth century newspapers and magazines. There seemed to be a specific set of qualities associated with women that created an ideal that many people felt women should live up to.
On Female character: from The National Magazine, or, The Ladies' Emporium 1831: Women should behave with “. . . a propriety of deportment, tempered with a sweetness of disposition”
In 1834, a "Valedictory to the Pupils of a Female School" was published in The Southern Literary Messenger, a literary magazine published in Virginia. The address outlined how women were supposed to behave.
Qualities women were supposed to have included: Self-control, gentleness and benevolence of disposition, purity, rectitude of conduct, courtesy and politeness of manner. "Self-control allows us to command respect and gain esteem" Self-control was seen as the mark of a well-regulated mind. "Other qualities combined with a well-cultivated mind constitute the great charm of domestic and social life." The ladies were advised that any bad qualities must be restrained in public and not to cause annoyance or unhappiness at home or do anything to destroy the peace of the home. [Volume 1, Issue 4]
An article titled "The Behavior of Females in Company" from the Georgia Journal in 1836 claims southern women were supposed to have “modest reserve”, “retiring delicacy” and “avoid the public eye.” The article claims that “When a girl ceases to blush, she has lost a most powerful charm of beauty.” The article describes proper feminine behavior as modest and silent in company. It advises women to “have a sacred regard to truth” (don’t lie) and a “gentleness of spirit and manners.” Then it says: “We wish them to possess dignity without pride; affability without meanness; and simple elegance without affectation.”
Another newspaper article from The Huntress published in Washington, DC claimed:
“ . . . woman is a blessing. Her influence over our rough hewn sex is as mild as the moon upon the tide, and twice as powerful. The moral fragrance that surrounds her is as sweet as the odors that arise from a field of white clover; and her beauty makes her one of the most interesting living ornaments that wears either legs or wings; I don’t care whether you mention a bird of Paradise, a butterfly or a straddlebug.” – Dow Jr. [11/08/1845]
Another article appearing in The Huntress on the same day titled "A good toast given at the Horticulture Festival in Boston" described the ladies: “The love of plants of earth’s garden, who twice their affectionate tendrils round man’s nature, shielding him from noxious blasts, rejoicing with him in the full leafed summer of prosperity, and aligning to him with unaltered love through the dreary winter of ruin and decay.”
A few weeks later, another article on women appeared in The Huntress. "Woman – The sympathy of woman is one of the crowning excellence of her nature. . . . How brilliantly does this amiable quality shine in the hour of sorrow and death! Then indeed does woman seem like a guardian angel sent from a higher and loftier sphere, to cheer our moments of despondence and distress – to smooth our otherwise rugged passage to the tomb, and prepare the departing spirit for a happy exit from this world of woe. Who, then, will endeavor with impious hands to withdraw her from the position she was destined to occupy – mar the symmetry of her character, and to plunge her into the turbid waters of defamatory scandal!” [11/22/1845]
In 1847, an article called "The Female Heart" was printed in The Huntress.
“The female heart may be compared to a garden, which, when cultivated, [illegible] continued succession of fruits and flowers, to regale the soul and delight the eye; but when neglected, produces a crop of weeds, large and flourishing, because their growth is in proportion to the warmth and richness of the soul from which they spring. Then let this ground be faithfully cultivated: let the mind of the young female be stored with useful knowledge, and the influence of woman though undiminished in power, will be like the diamond of the desert sparking and pure, whether surrounded by the sands of desolation, forgotten and unknown, or pouring its refreshing stream through every avenue of the social and moral fabric.” [1/16/1847]
So basically women were supposed to be sweet and kind and good all the time and not let their tempers show. They were supposed to be moral and religious in order to help make their homes happy and peaceful. Of course not all women could or did behave according to the ideal. I thought you would enjoy reading about some of those who did not and how they claimed that they were upholding the ideal code of behavior. Look for future posts on specific women coming soon.