Hal Roth - October 2007

Things Girls Should Know


Hal Roth

    Throughout time there has never been a shortage of advice for young ladies to consider. In 1906, the following article appeared on page 1 of a Delmarva newspaper.

    Girls should know that the home kitchen, with mother for teacher and a living, willing daughter for pupil, is the best cooking school on earth. That “the most excellent thing in woman” – a low voice – can be acquired only by home practice. That true beauty of the face is possible only where there is beauty of soul manifested in a beautiful, sincere, earnest, helpful self. And, finally, that one of the most beautiful things on earth is a pure, modest, true, young girl – one who is her father’s pride, her mother’s comfort, her brother’s inspiration and her sister’s ideal – which we should try to be.

    And here is more advice to young ladies, published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A man wrote the first column in 1880.

    We often read articles giving advice to girls, telling them that they must learn to make themselves useful in every possible way, to learn to cook, etc., that they may be able to superintend a house when they have one of their own, but never a word of what kind of a husband to choose. It would be a very difficult task, I admit, since a girl seldom, if ever, has a chance to choose for herself. It is left with the man to choose, and the girl to accept the proposal of marriage or not as she pleases.
     Girls are mostly never governed by their own judgment, but are rather influenced by their fancy without consulting their reason or asking themselves if a union with such or such a person will be likely to be a happy one to both parties. If he is fine looking and wears an air of self importance, and has a reputation of having money, no matter how obtained, she is convinced at once that he is just the one to make her supremely happy, and she immediately sets about weaving for him the garb of perfection, and she flatters him, and they are both much pleased with the delicious morsel.
     Girls, you leave school with a good many romantic ideas in your heads, and model your hero after some character in an over-drawn novel, but if you will reflect for a moment, you will know that such perfect men never appear upon the human stage, but are all born heirs to human frailties, and find it easier and much more natural to indulge in vices than to be ruled by discretion, and adhere to the right and just.
     It is natural and right that a girl should wish to make a home of her own, to find a stronger mind than hers to be guided by, and a wiser person to look up to and respect. It was so ordained that man should love, cherish and protect woman, and that woman should love and trust a man.
     A girl, in her blindness, looks upon marriage as the acme of earthly happiness, without thinking whether the object of her affection has congenial tastes and habits with her own, or giving heed to the all-important subject of equality. If she would consider this and be governed by reason, there would be many less ill-assorted marriages, and there would be less neglected wives, who are left to battle with a heartless world and to die of broken hearts.
     Another thing would be all-important with me, were I a girl. I should, first of all, wish to know of his antecedents, then of his boyhood: if he was a dutiful and respectful son and a kind and loving brother. Then, what is his present mode of life? Does he drink wine or whiskey? Does he frequent the saloons and gambling houses? And last, but not least, what are his morals?
     If he was tender of his mother and affectionate toward his sisters, if he is a good, sober, industrious and moral young man with good business tact and a refined education, he will make a splendid husband. Never mind his plain face if the expression is honest and intelligent. He will make you much more happy than the handsome dandy with waxed moustache, whose hands are white and soft, and who looks upon himself as one to be looked up to and be admired, and who argues that woman has her sphere and that man is granted more license than a woman. Such a man will very likely leave you to pine in secret, while he plays an “innocent game of cards,” playing “only for the drinks and cigars.”

    Girls, don’t cheapen yourselves by allowing yourselves to be everybody’s plaything. It is all right for you to have a “fellow” and go here and there with him, but don’t be every fellow’s girl, just because he asks you to be, and then imagine that you will not cheapen yourselves in the eyes of everybody, especially the young men.
     It is a laudable ambition for a girl to have a “fellow,” and she is entitled to the best if she is the right kind of a girl. But it makes no difference how really good she is, she loses the respect of everybody when she gets so “boy struck” that she cannot walk down the street without stopping to gab with every lobster she happens to meet. When she permits such familiarity and cultivates it, she loses her dignity, and that is one of the rudiments of being a lady.
     The average young man has no genuine respect for the girl who is familiar with all the boys of her acquaintance, and she is the last girl in the world he would think of marrying. It is really a disgusting sight to see an otherwise sensible girl gadding up and down the streets, gabbing with every wart she meets, loafing around the stores and shops and sponging treats from all who have the price and the disposition to “loosen.” [Sic] That girl is marked for the bargain counter, and when she marries, it is invariably the last or only chance. Married life can be happy only when husband and wife have the most implicit confidence in each other, and no man can have confidence in the cheap, gadding, gossiping, giddy girl, the one who imagines the boys are all eager for her company, when in reality they only use her for a plaything with which to pass the time.
     Don’t cheapen yourselves, girls, but pick out some really good young man, some fellow with an ambition beyond cigarette smoking, booze, fighting or gambling, and tie to him. If he does not suit you, get some other fellow until you get the right one––that is, if you must have a fellow––but don’t fool around with a half dozen of them at once and think for a minute that any of them really respects you. He does not. He is just four-flushing. An honest girl is the most beautiful object in all creation, even if she is as homely as a mud fence, but a cheap girl––oh, get the ax!

    There are all sorts of pleasant girls in this world with winning ways and charming manners, but the girl of girls is the one who accommodates herself to her surroundings. As a matter of course a girl should be bright and agreeable when she has a beautiful home, every wish granted, luxuries galore and no reason to be for a minute ill tempered or out of sorts. If, however, chance or misfortune throws her out of that comfortable nest, among surroundings that are not congenial, where economy must be her watchword and hard work her principle, then if you find her smiling and light hearted, having once known what it was to have been at the top of the ladder, then, indeed, is she one worthy of all the praise you can give her.
     The woman who puts up with the discomforts of travel, of moving, and of the numerous vicissitudes that are bound to come into all lives without whining, finding fault or repining, is the one that is bound to make some man a good wife. A person cannot visit and find in another’s home the numerous little ways of doing things that they are used to in their own; they cannot travel and be as comfortable as in the shadow of their own roof tree; they cannot go on year in and year out with no annoyances; and the disposition that can meet the various changes with a smiling face is worth more to its possessor than money, which can take wings and fly away, for it brings comfort both to them and those about them at all times and in all places.

    Here is a part of a young girl’s life of which the large majority thinks very little. To amuse and entertain each other seems the chief end for which young men and women come together, and neither sex seems regardful of what may result from what they say or do, so long as the laugh is a merry one. The young girl feels that she is admired; the young man is gratified by evident satisfaction in her society.
     The setting one’s self up as a sort of reformer and making all the young men whom you know feel as if they were under a microscope that will disclose all their defects will not aid you or them. The right step to take first is to set up a noble standard for yourself, and then demonstrate its charm by your own attraction.
     One way in which a pleasant girl friend can help a man’s life is by the character of her conversation. What one wants to accomplish is to speak freely and pleasantly about things that are delightful to talk about, to avoid gossip and evil speaking of others, to use clean, pure English without slang, and to lead the conversation into impersonal channels.
     She should know enough of current events to speak understandingly about the things we all ought to know, and which all young men like to discuss––the things which stir the nation’s heart––the events which rouse the attention of the world––the books which excite public attention––the beautiful things of the earth which are about you––the good deeds of good men and good women who are helping the world along––to check any unkind tale-bearing or insinuation, or especially any criticism of girls you know. A man goes away refreshed from a visit which has made him think and talk of such things, and especially if he has had a sweet, bright young girl to talk to.
     The world our young men have to work in is a hard, rough place, and they have no time to think quietly over what lies outside of the confines of their day’s duty. To find that their girl companions have always some new, interesting thing, sincerely and simply good to talk about, is a great source of enjoyment and a big step upward.
     A young girl in whose society men feel that they are sure to receive some inspiration to improve themselves is surely “good for something,” which helps the progress of the world.

    I am sorry that needlework is so much out of fashion. It is a genteel employment and ought not to be neglected, especially by those who have many brothers and sisters, and those whose parents are not rich.
     Many girls, I am sorry to say, despise their needle and affect to think work an unfit occupation for genteel or intellectual beings. I grieve for and am angry with such misses. I can tell them that many highborn and noble ladies employ their fingers in making clothes for the poor and desolate widows and orphans of the country. One advantage of most female occupation is that the mind may be engaged, either in hearing or reflecting, when the fingers are employed in plain work or embroidery; and nothing is more pleasant than a party enlivened by alternate reading and music, where the greater number are not too fine or too genteel to be industrious.

    Consider just a few of the many advertisements for toiletries, household products and patent medicines that were directed to young women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“Well bred, soon wed”
Girls who use
Are quickly married.

    The Sapolio Company manufactured body soap and a variety of household cleaning products and continues to do so today. It is considered a pioneer of modern advertising and publicity for the depiction of fanciful scenes and clever poems and captions. Sapolio ads culled from old magazines are now collector’s items.

This is the maid of fair renown
Who scrubs the floors of Spotless Town.
To find a speck when she is through
Would take a pair of specks or two.
And her employment isn’t slow,
For she employs

    The Modern Beauty thrives on good food and sunshine, with plenty of exercise in the open air. Her form glows with health and her system needs the cleansing action of a laxative remedy, she uses the gentle and pleasant Syrup of Figs, made by the California Fig Syrup Co, only. [Califig® California Syrup of Figs is still manufactured by Merck Consumer Health of England.]

    The turn of the twentieth century brought many changes to young girls’ behavior and dress. As we approached the flapper era following World War I, the following tidbit of advice was offered to young Delmarva ladies.

    If girls wear short skirts, they are denounced for shameless immodesty. And if they have longer skirts, then they are denounced for their folly in swathing themselves in encumbering clothing. Whatever they do, they get it going and coming.
     There are many men who should keep their eyes on the girls less and on their work a good deal more.
     Nevertheless, from time to time certain styles and customs find vogue that are symptomatic of character. Such habits can hardly escape comment. Such a custom has been the funny fad affected by girls of college and school age, in many places, of wearing unbuckled overshoes. These flop in the breeze and make a pretty young girl coming down the street look like an awkward walrus.
     Such detail may seem too unimportant to attract notice, yet it is significant. It is thought to have been started in the free and easy life of college campuses, where the girls hurry from classrooms and chapel, and grab for their clothes in the quickest way. But when a girl goes out in the street in that way, the effect is such as if she went out with her dress unbuttoned. It gives an air of slackness and slovenliness.
     More likely, the girls practice this habit because they have conceived the notion that it is smart. If so, it indicates that they are swayed by fads of extreme silliness, which probably do not meet the approval of their parents.
     The girls of today are pelted with so much criticism that they get hardened to it. But they might as well realize that when they do go in for a silly custom, they throw a blight over their own attractiveness and make themselves seem less desirable to all intelligent people.

    A young girl once heard a bit of wisdom from the lips of a very aged woman––a woman who had rounded the full term of 90 years, and with eyes still bright and clear looked out upon the in-rolling waters of eternity. The girl was impressed by the emphasis with which the venerable dame said to her: “Never insist on having the last word.”
     The determination to have the final word leads to more quarrels and more bitterness of feeling at home than almost anything else in domestic life. The fact is that one may so control her tongue and her eyes that she may allow her opponent the pleasure of this coveted, concluding thrust and yet placidly retain her own opinion, and in the homely, colloquial parlance, where one finds strong willed people living together with the most pronounced diversity of characteristics, “do as she’s a mind to.”

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.