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The Consequences of Marrying a Farmer/Schoolma’am: 1870

Dodd, Francis; Afternoon in the Parlour; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/afternoon-in-the-parlour-83774

THE CONSEQUENCES

He and she were driving out together. He was dark, short, and stout—in fact, some people called him fat—a sure way of enraging her. His redeeming points were—a pair of keen black eyes, a certain manly, sensible way he had with him, and a reliable look. She was small and slender, looking as if the wind might blow her away some fine March morning, with “two eyes so soft and brown,” and having, natural—not crimped—chestnut hair, falling in little rings and sprays around a white face, delicate, but full of life and spirit.

Every body in Knipsic Farms said it was perfectly absurd. At the last sewing society there was but one opinion. It was an unusually full meeting, the engagement having but just come out. They were working on a bed quilt for the home missionary in Bariboo. Quilting is the most social work imaginable; it so brings every one together, and over “herring-bone” and “shell” stitch the coldest hearts thaw out. Mrs. Daniel Dodge was there, Lance Lambert’s aunt; and as no one knew exactly how she stood on the all-absorbing question of the day, a little preliminary beating around the bush was necessary. Aunt Polly Griggs boldly opened the campaign like the veteran she was.

“So Lance is really engaged at last,” said she. “He’s flirted round so long I didn’t know’s he’d ever settle down and git married.”

“Oh, you know there’s always something irresistibly fascinating about schoolma’ams,” suggested sarcastic Miss Craps, who had not found the same fate true of dress-makers in her own experience.

“Well, if I am his aunt—“ said Mrs. Dodge.

Every one listened with, as Virgil puts it, “erected ears,” when Mrs. Dodge said, “if I am his aunt.” They felt it a promising beginning. When people mean to abuse their relatives they generally begin by proclaiming the rights of kindred not to spare a story for relation’s sake.

“If I am his aunt,” said Mrs. Dodge, “I must say I think he’s driven his pigs to rather a poor market. What he can fancy in that little, pale-faced schoolma’am is more than I can see. Her high-flown village airs, I suppose. A pretty farmer’s wife she’ll make!”

“Well, that’s jest what I was a-sayin’ to Miss Stowell before you cum in,” said Aunt Polly. “Says I, Miss Stowell, you mark my words, Lance Lambert’ll rue the day he ever let his eyes run away with his good sense. Lance is a fore-handed, well-to-do young man, and he ought to have a real smart, go-ahead wife— some good, stout, capable girl, brought up on a farm, with plain, sensible notions, like your Lesta or Phemie, for instance. Says Miss Stowell, says she, that ain’t for me to say, of course; but one thing I will say, my girls can turn their hand to any thing from making bread to fodderin’ and milkin’ the cows. Says she, a farmer that marries a village girl—and a schoolma’am at that—is a fool. They don’t know nothin’ about work, and are above it, and full of all kinds of extravagant notions, enough to send a man to the poor-house!”

“How does his mother feel about it?” queried Mrs. Jedediah Jones.

“Oh, she don’t say much. It isn’t her way, you know. Besides, it’s no use to oppose Lance when his mind is once made up. He’s dreadful set.”

“Well, I’m afraid he’ll be sorry,” with an accent on the afraid that made it sound singularly like hope.

“Will they live at home with the old folks?”

“No; Lance has bought the Jackson farm over at the Corners. He says there’s no house big enough for two families.”

“The Jackson farm! I shouldn’t s’pose that would be quite grand enough to suit Laury’s idees.”

“They’re goin’ to fix the house up some, I believe. The barns are good, and it’s nice land for tobacco.”

Out in the other room, where the girls were concocting calico dresses for the missionary’s children, the subject raged with even greater virulence, as might have been expected, considering that Lance had been a general favorite, and in the days of his freedom had roamed from flower to flower, after the usual butterfly fashion of young bachelors. They pitied him; they pitied her. They wondered at him; they wondered at her. Poverty and sickness, ruin and disaster, were the mildest of their predictions for this unfortunate couple.

Equal consternation prevailed in Knipsic village, where it was rumored that Laura Bridges was deliberately determined to marry a farmer. No engagement had created such a commotion since the next to the last new minister had married Sue Syllabub. Every body dressed up and called on every one else to talk it over.

“Is the child crazy?” asked Mrs. General Sampson of Mrs. Judge Jewett, in her most impressive manner. “To throw herself away on a farmer! It is true the Bridges are not wealthy, but they are one of our oldest families; and Laura, with her connections, her fine education, her agreeable, lady- like manners and pretty face, might have married into the very first circles. George Ledell was extremely attentive to her last year, before she went off teaching that miserable district-school, and became infatuated with this coarse farmer”—pronounced co-os fahmah.

Then Mrs. Judge Jewett took up the refrain: “She will have no society whatever. She will be obliged to work like a galley-slave—farmers’ wives always do. Think of Laura making butter and cheese, apple-sauce, soft soap, sausages, mopping, eating with hired men, living on salt pork!” And Mrs. Jewett shuddered at the dreadful picture imagination thus presented of a farmer’s life.

“Oh, it’s truly dreadful!” said Mrs. General Sampson.

“She can’t endure it,” said Mrs. Jewett.

“She’ll break down under it,” said Mrs. Sampson.

“She won’t live long,” said Mrs. Jewett.

Meantime, the victims, “unconscious of their doom,” were jogging along in a state of perfect happiness and infatuation. They were driving over to the Jackson farm to inspect their future home. It was a cloudy, bleak March day, the roads muddy, the grass not yet turned green. People who met on the street added, “A disagreeable day!” to their “Good-afternoon!” But Lance and Laura found it an uncommonly nice day. I think they labored under a dim impression that roses were blooming and bobolinks warbling all along the road. The summer of youth and love in their hearts cast its glamour on all the world outside.

The old Jackson farm-house certainly needed to be looked at through a glamour, if ever house did. It was a story and a half house, the paint worn off, no blinds, the fence, poor at best, now dilapidated, a solitary scraggy lilac representing the shrubbery.

There is always something slightly pathetic in these same scraggy lilacs and flowering almonds, one so often sees struggling for life in the otherwise dreary waste of a farmer’s front yard. Some woman once had heart to try and redeem with such touch of the beautiful as came within her power the desolate barrenness of her surroundings.

Poor Mrs. Jackson set out that lilac when she was young and hopeful, and still expected something of life; before Jackson’s harsh, narrow skinflintedness took all the heart out of her, and made her the broken-spirited drudge, who worked on like a tread-mill horse till one day she dropped into her grave, and there, let us hope, found rest. Then Jackson, finding a housekeeper expensive, sold out, and went to live with his son out West, where he could get twenty per cent, for his money on first mortgage—as much of heaven as his meagre soul was capable of appreciating.

And now another young couple were coming here to try that difficult experiment we call Life—the experiment against whose success there are so many odds—the experiment so many of us would gladly try over again, with the dear-bought experience that comes of failure. Would Lance degenerate into a mere money-making machine, a “keep-what-you-get-and-get-what-you-can” sort of man, like Jackson? Would the light, and hope, and love fade out of Laura’s eyes in the years to come, leaving her another Mrs. Jackson? Certainly, the associations of the new home were not calculated to inspire very cheerful ideas of a farmer’s life.

Fortunately, Laura was one of those happy people who look out on life through rose-colored spectacles. So she immediately fell to seeing the bright side of the Jackson house. If secretly rather dismayed at the forlorn aspect of things, yet the native energy of her character rose up strong within her to meet the emergency. Old Debbie, Mrs. Bridges’s washer-woman, used to say, “Laury’s all grit. Folks say it don’t take but a small skin to hold a deal of spunk, and that’s true of Laury, any how.” She possessed a latent resolution, a power of endurance hardly to be expected from her frail, delicate appearance.

“This doesn’t look like a very suitable place for you, Laura,” said Lance, as he swung her lightly down to terra firma in his strong hands.

“An original conundrum strikes me, Lance. Why are you and I unlike Alexander the Great? Because he sighed for other worlds to conquer, and we don’t need to. This will furnish scope for all our energies at present. It does look dilapidated enough. However, I am thankful it stands upon a hill. I like to ‘view the landscape o’er.'”

“By cutting away those forlorn hemlocks we shall get a view of the river and mountains beyond, picturesque enough to satisfy even you. It’s very pleasant here in summer, little as you would think it now.”

Inside, the house was more dreary still. The papers locked all the more dingy and faded from having been originally of gaudy and flaunting designs and colors. Ochre-yellow being a durable color, not often requiring renewal, every room but the parlor was painted that hue. The ceilings resembled the works of the old masters in that they were very cracked and smoky. Straw, papers, an old hat or two, a broken rush-bottomed chair, littered the floors. The March wind howled round the house, rattling the windows, and wailing down the chimneys, as if it were Mrs. Jackson’s ghost uttering warnings of doleful presage to her successor.

After inspecting the whole premises, and discussing their capabilities—after Lance had shown Laura how he intended to put a sink in the kitchen, with pumps to bring hard and soft water directly into it, instead of her lugging the former by the pailful from the well in the yard, and catching the latter in tubs or however she could, as Mrs. Jackson had been obliged to do, Jackson never having time to “fuss about women’s nonsense”—after Laura had confidentially assured Lance he was “the best old fellow in the world,” and Lance had reciprocated in kind, only more so, they returned to the front room, where, seated in state on an old dry goods box, they proceeded to engage in the pleasing occupation of erecting air-castles.

Let not the youthful reader sneer at this hero and heroine of mine as prosy, tiresome, uninteresting, because their talk turned on pumps, furnaces, and similar unromantic topics. They, too, had been through the era of hopes, despair, moonlight, ecstasy, rhapsodies. Now there was a charm better than romance in the words “our house,” “we will do thus and so;” it signified so much to them of the future, when they were never to be separated, the happy home they were to share. Besides, hath not Solomon said there is a time for all things—a time for moonlight, and a time for bread and butter, a time for raptures, and a time for furnaces?

This was how they came to talk of furnaces: Lance said, ” How mouldy and musty this room smells! I wonder if Jackson kept his cheese here? What’s that verse you quote about

“‘You may break, you may shatter the vase If you will.

But the scent of the roses—'”

“Barbarian!” broke in Laura; “to deliberately desecrate Moore by such an application! Probably this was the best parlor, and the sun was never permitted to fairly shine into it more than once a year. New paper, paint, and whitewash, and plenty of air and sun for a while, will remedy it, I suspect; But that reminds me. Do you suppose Knipsic would be able to bear it, if we should have a furnace? It makes a house so much pleasanter and more usable.”

“It certainly is a great innovation. No one in Knipsic Farms has one. The idea of a farmer’s selling his wood and buying coal will probably be a great shock to the public; but, after all, I don’t know whose concern it is but ours.”

“Aunt Polly Griggs—” mischievously suggested Laura.

“Aunt Polly Griggs may ‘hang her harp on a willow-tree,’ so far as we are concerned. I’m glad you haven’t the idea, Laura, most women seem to have, that one’s house is altogether too good to be used, by the family, and must be kept most of the time in solemn state and gloom.”

“I believe,” said Laura, “in furnishing a house pleasantly and comfortably, but not expensively — nothing merely for show. Then take all the comfort you can out of it. I expect to do wonders with that six hundred dollars Aunt Dunlap left me, to say nothing about that two hundred I’ve laid up—profits of ‘teaching the young idea,’ etc.”

“How delightful it is to marry an Heiress!” observed Lance.

“Mercenary young man! Thou shalt be twigged by the ear for that speech!” said Laura, suiting the action to the word, and being repaid by a sound kissing, which it only needed the slightest provocation in the world to tempt Lance to inflict, as Laura ought to have known—in fact, I fear, did know.

Then Laura said there was something on her mind, and Lance was anxious to officiate as father confessor.

“It’s a fancy of mine, a secret desire, that I’m afraid to tell you. I know you will think it is really extravagant, far worse than the furnace. You will begin to repent of your bargain, I fear, and think there is some truth in every one’s forebodings about my ‘high notions,’ village airs, etc.;” for people always find out, sooner or later, what “they say” about them, and Lance and Laura were no exceptions.

“Nonsense, Laura. What is it—a roc’s egg?”

“Almost as foolish, for us, I fear. A bow-window, if you must know. I always did like bow-windows, they are so cheerful and sunny; and filled with plants in the winter, they give a room a perfectly summer-like look. Then one takes off the stiff angularity of a room, and gives it individuality. Here’s a proposition in the Rule of Three for you, ‘founded on fact,’ as story-writers say: As a spice of romance and imagination to a woman’s character, so is a bow-window to a square room.”

“Ah, Laura, you have such an artful way of putting things! I foresee I shall be ‘managed,’ and never know it. However, we’ll contrive the bow-window somehow, if possible,” said the indulgent Lance, who—being in that delightfully acquiescent state of mind often manifested in mankind before marriage, when the wish of the beloved object is law—if Laura had suggested a three-story cupola as a desirable addition to their modest mansion, would undoubtedly have seen at once the extreme feasibility and necessity of the thing.

Spring and summer passed away. Lance haunted carpenters like an avenging spirit, became an object of terror to painters and tinners, worked hard on the farm daytimes, took Laura out driving in the pleasant summer evenings. Laura took a trip to New York, and made a few modest purchases at Stewart’s. Not much for herself; she saw no special reason why she should dress more or differently after marriage than before. Besides, she was carefully husbanding Aunt Dunlap’s six hundred with a view to furniture. She felt an honest pride in doing something to help toward providing the mutual home, in being a little of a helpmeet to start with, at least, even if she were to prove the miserable failure in the end every one predicted. Long webs of cotton cloth grew into sheets, pillow-cases, curtains, what not, under her busy needle, flying in and out through the long summer days. Also, she found time to practice various culinary arts in the kitchen. A bit of the summer was put away for winter use, in shape of canned berries, peaches, etc. Her bread and pies were really quite wonderful, so Lance thought.

Early in October they were married, and moved into their new home, now hardly to be recognized in its daintiness of fresh paint, pretty papers, new furniture. It was far from being a fashionable or imposing residence; nothing Gothic, or Italian, or Elizabethan about it, unless indeed we except Laura’s one extravagance—the little bow-window; but it had an eminently cozy, homelike air. The moment you stepped inside, you received a comfortable, cheerful impression, as if here were a place where people were in the habit of enjoying themselves. Entering a little square hall—on one side was the dining-room; on the other, the parlor; back of the parlor, the bedroom. The furnace imparting a summer temperature, the doors of these adjoining rooms all stood open, giving good air, and a deal of roominess for so small a house. The parlor paper was a green and gilt flower on a light drab ground; the carpet, an ingrain, small checks, green the predominant color. Through the bow-window the sun shone brightly in over Laura’s plants, making a summer within, even if the ground were white with snow outside and the mercury down among the zeros. Each side of the bow window, on little brackets, Parian busts, Eve and Psyche, wedding presents, looked out from English ivy that twined around them, and then met over the hanging basket in the middle of the window. On the walls hung two or three good engravings and photographs, over them clusters of bright autumn leaves—souvenirs of the wedding tour. A set of hanging bookshelves, bearing the united libraries of Lance and Laura, presented an odd combination of poetry and works on Agriculture and “The Horse.” Then there was a lounge which was a lounge—not a rack contrived to exasperate the human frame to the utmost by its knobbiness—an easy-chair, a camp-chair, a shaker rocking-chair, one or two cane-seated chairs, a centre-table with the big lamp, books, papers, Laura’s work-basket.

This was the family sitting-room. Looking in of an evening, you would have seen Lance one side of the table in the big easy-chair, reading his paper, or chatting with Laura, sitting opposite in her shaker rocker with her sewing. One great advantage in marrying a farmer is, that you have him at home with you evenings, provided you make yourself tolerably agreeable to him. Laura, even if she were married, still thought it worthwhile to fashionably arrange her hair, wear the bright bow, the dainty collar, the little et ceteras that really add so much to a woman’s attractions. Lance had too much respect for Laura and himself too to sit down for the evening in his old frock, tumbled hair, overalls tucked into coarse boots, savoring strongly of the barn-yard. He brushed his hair, donned an old coat and slippers, and so, with a little trouble, gained vastly in comfort and his wife’s affections.

From their windows the light of a happy home streamed cheerfully out over the snow, a benediction to the passer-by. People were fond of dropping in there for an evening, it was “so pleasant,” they said. Many a farmer’s boy and girl, after an evening at Lance’s, went home thinking farming wasn’t so bad, after all, and they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow old enough to leave for the city, if it could be as pleasant at home. For fashion in Knipsic Farms had ordained an entirely different order of things from that prevailing at Lance’s. The parlor of every respectable farmer must contain a very hard and slippery hair-cloth sofa, six chairs, and a huge rocking-chair possessing the same qualities in even greater degree; other furniture to correspond, arranged at stiff angles around the walls. This sacred apartment, as well as the whole main part of the house, was kept cold, dark, shut up, suggestive to the bold invader who dared penetrate their dreary shades only of funerals. The family lived mostly in the kitchen, sustained, probably, by the proud consciousness of possessing a best parlor and hair-cloth furniture. Passing by at night, you would think the house uninhabited, did not a ray of light from way back in the L reassure you. Did company come unexpectedly, so great a parade was made of building fires, opening rooms, getting out the best things, that the unfortunate guest felt he should never dare come again. So Lance and Laura were unconsciously doing missionary work in demonstrating that a farmer’s home need not necessarily be destitution of any desirable comfort or refinement. That we may see how the public stood affected, we will lift the curtain on Aunt Polly Griggs’s “east room,” on an occasion of more than usual solemnity. Ten years of meetings, funerals, sewing societies, tea-drinkings, having in a measure destroyed the primitive lustre of Aunt Polly’s best black alpaca, it was being turned and modernized, Miss Scraps having been summoned to aid on this important occasion. To them, thus momentously engaged, entered Mrs. Stowell, dropping in on her way to the village to do a little “trading,” ostensibly out of pure affection for Aunt Polly, but really to crib a sleeve pattern gratis out of Miss Scraps. This little preliminary settled, Mrs. Stowell said:

“As I came down by the Lamberts, there sat Laura at her front window, as large as life, prinked up as much as I should be if I was going to tea at the minister’s. You don’t suppose they’ve got company, do you?”

“La, no,” replied Aunt Polly; “she sets there every afternoon, fadin’ her best carpet all out. I never heerd any thing to equal it.”

“Nothing’s too good for some folks, you know,” observed Miss Scraps, with a spiteful snap of her scissors.

“I shouldn’t think Lance would allow it,” suggested Mrs. Stowell. “That wa’n’t old Miss Lambert’s way of doing.”

“Allow it! My, he thinks she’s just right, and every thing she says law and gospel!”

“Well, they do say she makes a tip-top housekeeper, better than folks thought for before they were married. Mrs. Jedediah Jones told me she gets fifty-five cents a pound for all her butter, in Boston.”

“Fifty-five cents!” almost shrieked Aunt Polly, who only had fifty for hers.

“Yes; fifty-five cents. You see she fixes it all up in some sort of fancy balls. She’s a regular manager, I tell you.”

So it will be seen Laura was gradually rising in popular esteem. It was a fact that the same system, culture, judgment, patience, that had made her a successful teacher, also made her a good housekeeper. Instead of doing every thing at the hardest, driving it through by main strength, she put some mind into her work, planned, had method and order, made her brains save her hands.

But some skeptical reader may possibly suggest that the life of a farmer’s wife does not consist entirely of sitting in ivy-wreathed parlors with bright bows on; that there are certain disagreeable actualities of churnings, bakings, washings, pig-killings, hired men, not to be ignored. It is true it was not all sunshine. Few lives are. Keats says:

“Where’s the eye, however blue,
Doth not weary?”

So it may be presumed Laura did not escape her share of the discipline Life has for every station. Sometimes she was dreadfully tired, and consequently a little blue. Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, a day when she did not feel very well, and the children were cross, and every thing went wrong—such days as will come occasionally in every household—she was tempted perhaps to look back half-regretfully to the peaceful days of girlhood. But Lance was so good, so considerate. If Laura was a trifle cross, he discreetly said nothing, which course soon brought her to a very becoming state of humility and penitence. He did not look upon women’s work as nothing, because different from his. He felt it as right that Laura should have help in the house as he on the farm, even if in the end he owned less bank stock and government bonds as a result. he actually thought more of his wife than of money. So if Laura were pecuniarily less profitable to him than big strapping Phemie Stowell would have been, and if Laura sometimes had her trials and vexations, yet they never regretted yielding to the secret attraction of the strong love that drew them toward each other—a love that bound them only the more closely to each other as the years went on, and the experiences they brought were enjoyed and endured together.

Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 4, 1870

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Best Parlour was a recognised institution. When its hermetically-sealed door was opened, the visitor was treated to a chill scent of horse-hair upholstery, camphor balls–and death–for the room was the place where the dead were laid out in their last sleep. The shades and curtains were kept drawn so that the best carpet would not become “faded all out.” The walls were adorned with such treasures as steel-cut engravings of the grimmer Biblical episodes and framed coffin-plates.

If bow-windows are an extravagance, we should all be labeled spendthrifts…

Mrs Daffodil has written previously on the over-worked farmer’s wife, also, sadly, a recognised institution. While it is pleasant to know that Lance and Laura did not regret their troth-plighting, Mrs Daffodil could have done with less of the apropos quotations; no husband, coming in from the farm-yard, whether willing to brush his hair or not, wishes to be met with some Shakespearean injunction to wipe his feet: “Nay, but make haste; the better foot before.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

A Parlour-maid Goes to War: 1918

A munitions worker, also sometimes popularly called a “Munitionette.”

A WOMAN OF FURNACELAND: A STORY AND ITS SEQUEL  

She had felt the strain; she was not well. To a woman unaccustomed to standing on her feet for twelve hours on end, the work had been terrific.  

She had been a parlour-maid in a good situation, with plenty of room and fresh air, where she had cleaned silver, answered the door-bell, waited at table, carried trays, turned out her pantry, gone to the door, had her regular outings, and was perfectly certain to get an hour or two for sewing or reading every afternoon; where she had never got out of her bed before half-past six and was generally back in it before ten; where she had been well fed and well paid, warmly housed and generously considered.  

Tom had joined the colours at the first roll of the drum. She would not have “walked out” with him had he not done so, and truth to tell, he was mighty keen and patriotic.  Quickly trained, hard trained, strenuously trained, he was ready amongst the first batch of the New Army who went to the front, ten or eleven months after the outbreak of war. During these ten months she had kept her situation, had knitted him socks and mufflers, had seen him when on leave, and had encouraged him to do well at the guns.  Then came the final parting. He was to sail from Southampton for “somewhere in France.” Before the momentous day, he received a final few days’ leave.  

“Tom,” she said, “you are off to do your bit, God bless you, and you will be constantly in my thoughts and my prayers;  but I do not suppose we shall meet again for many months — perhaps longer — and I am going to spring a mine upon you, not a German mine, old chap, but a truly British one.  While you are at the front firing shells, I am going into a munition factory to make shells. The job will not be as well paid as domestic service, it will not be as comfortable as domestic service; it will be much harder work, but it will be my bit, and every time you fire your gun you can remember I am helping to make the shells.” 

“Well done, my girl, it is splendid of you, but can you stand it?“ 

“I will stand it,” she replied with that determination which one knows to be the British characteristic, even when it means getting up at five o’clock every winter morning and not returning home for fourteen hours at a spell. 

« « « « «  

It was an awful night. The wind howled. Sleet blew in great blasts. Tom’s letters had been frequent from “somewhere in France,” interspersed with those quaint postcards every soldier and every home knows so well.  He had been through those awful days at Loos, when his battery had pulled out into the open and the only shelter was under the limbers. His leading horse’s driver had been killed before him, and without even waiting for the word of command he had scrambled along to that horse’s back and taken the dead man’s place. He had done his bit with a vengeance. The work of the 15th Division at Loos will never be forgotten; but very little news had travelled home, so the encouragement and inspiration that the girl might have had on that score had been sadly lacking.  

That night Tom was constantly in her thoughts. It was her week of night duty. She had made a railway Journey, to arrive at the factory wet, cold and dejected, and before her lay a twelve-hours shift. Warm food in the Y.W.C.A. Canteen at midnight cheered her. She washed her hands in warm water (which means a great deal to workers, many, thousands of whom had to wash in cold and exist all the first cruel winters without a canteen at all), and through the factory mud and slush she waded back to her workshop, picturing the mud of Flanders and Tom.   

What a scene!  

A veritable beehive of workers. Eight thousand women answered the call of the drum in that district alone. Neat khaki caps and neat khaki overalls made them both trim and smart and a veritable little soldier-women’s army.  

The glass domes of the Birmingham “shop” had been blackened overhead so that Zeppelins should no longer find their whereabouts. The great furnaces below were roaring flames. The machinery was drumming and banging and screeching. The noises were deafening; it was impossible to hear a neighbour speak. Everything was carried on by signs.  

We have all seen men at the forge of a country village putting their black horseshoes into the fire with iron tongs and pulling them out red hot. That was what this woman was doing, but her horseshoe was a part of a shell, and it must be remembered that it takes 150 operators to finish the parts of one fuse, and 21 operators to machine a 4.7 shell. In addition there are other workers who gauge, who assemble, paint and varnish them, and yet others who fill them with explosives. Yes! one hundred and fifty operators to prepare the parts of one fuse and twenty-one people to machine a single shell.

Pause and think then: the brains, the skill, the machinery, the efforts put in motion to make; that little shell before it leaves the hands of the workers and reaches those of the gunner at the front, where hundreds of shells, now that the women have made them, may be fired in a single day from one single gun to which a dozen or so were handed out before and at Loos. And this is war, a half-century planned war, undertaken by the enemy for might against right, a deadly cruel war.

 The chorus of machinery in that shed never ceases, it is incessant, it appears eternal and the amount of human effort is prodigious. Such is the exigency of war. A woman — one of hundreds — presses a lever with her foot, and instantly a big hammer falls with a heavy thud. At a single blow it fashions the-red hot metal on the anvil, and with a shriek it is snatched up again in the twinkling of an eye. The operator picks the still hot metal off the anvil with a tongs and drops it into an iron box with many others, while her mate— a young girl— pulls another piece from the furnace and places it in the die. The machine does the heavy work and yet the strain of that pressure of the foot is bad for the delicate mechanism of woman-kind. There is every class in that shed. There are well-educated ladies— enthusiasts; there are parlour-maids, like this girl— who are patriots; there are the usual factory hands, who have come from soda-water-manufactories, jam, biscuit, cocoa, toy or cheap jewellery factories, who are all doing their bit.  

As the morning draws on in that thundering noise, that roar of machines almost as deafening as the roar of the guns, the drumming lathes work on; but the want of sleep, the fatigue of work, the need of food begin to tell, and our little parlour-maid is feeling weary, well-nigh prone to drop; so she makes herself a cup of tea, that everlasting and ever- joyful cup of tea, which the men enjoy even more than the women — and she thinks of Tom.  

Renewed strength comes with the thought, and she works on.  She looks at the lathe-belts as they go round and round, and feels that every turn furthers her job, and every day brings more succour to the front and the war nearer to its end. But, still she grows weary again. The hours are long. The night shift seems unceasing, the only possible rest from her factory is on Sunday, when she is almost too worn out to leave her bed. As for an evening out, or a cinema show, such a recreation has long left her horizon, such a thing as an hour’s sewing or an hour’s reading in a cosy parlour has ceased to be.  

Two things keep her going, the thought of Tom, with a certain feeling that she is helping him, and the canteen at last provided by the Y.W.O.A. with its chairs and comforts. Had it not been for that canteen her health would have given out long before, for with all the will in the world the women Munition Workers’ hours in 1916 were too incessant for them to stand the strain.  

“What?” 

Through the din no one heard.  

“What did you say? “ 

“Zepps!“ 

Every one knew they would be thrust into darkness. Every one knew they must stop work. Every one knew they were prisoners amidst the worst of dangers — explosives on every side of them, inventive devils of cruelty above them — prisoners in a great arsenal. The chorus of machinery ceases. Belts are released and those palpitating iron and steel machines that grind the daily soul of the workers, slowly and dreamingly cease to toil. In a few minutes all is still.  

Oh, the tension of it. The anxiety, the expectancy, yet not a woman falters. The hours wear on. It grows colder. The action of the right leg on the lever has ceased. Both arms are at rest. The cold seems to penetrate their very soul; but the women say nothing. They know their men face the guns day and night. Big guns, little guns, every kind of hell fire. They know a shell or a rifle-bullet may end a man’s life any minute. They know these men at the front never shirk, why should they? The only people who shirk are the slackers at home, the “down tools,” the wasters, the scum. No soldier shirks his duty, no woman worker turns chicken-hearted. Both are out to do their bit to consolidate and hold a great nation together and build up a great people under the greatest Democracy in the world, known as the British Empire and King George. Numbed, chilled, but not nervous, she sits on a backless stool and thinks of the first months of toil without any seat, without warm water to wash those dirty, swollen, sore hands, without a food canteen, and with only paper-bag lunches of sandwiches and buns; and she remembers the new canteens outside, where a fourpenny or sixpenny dinner can be “bought out of her pay of 3d. per hour, and there is a warm fire and a cheery welcome.  

The clock strikes midnight, one, two, three. The Zepps have gone home again; but she can’t go home, she must still pull in and pull out of the re-kindled furnace her bits of red-hot metal. All she minds is the three hours’ loss in making shells for Tom.  

Was it telepathy?  Was it second sight? What was it that made her pause, as a cold shudder ran down her spine a couple of hours later and seemed to numb her senses? The night was still dull and cold and drear. Her face was deadly pale; the red glow from the furnace fire but accentuated the fact. She was just tired and nervy perhaps. And Tom’s cheery face pictured itself before her in the flames, as she worked on.  

* * * *  

An official envelope “On His Majesty’s Service” told the tale — “Killed in Action,” was all it said.  

Tom was dead.  

And she?  She turned sick and faint when the news came. She almost gave in; but no. There were others, there were other mothers, other sweethearts, and other wives, and for them she would work harder even than before. Work till the war ended.

God Bless her, the Heroine of Furnaceland. These are the women who will never falter until real victory by the Allies puts an end to war for ever.  

Surely if such a soldier-woman’s labour ends in death, she deserves as honourable a military funeral as any fighting-man in the field.  

Women and Soldiers, Mrs. Alec-Tweedie, F.R.G.S., 1918

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil would not dare trivialise the work of such a woman by calling her a “Munitionette,” and wishes that the women workers had received better from Britain than the post-war governmental admonishment to go home, be good wives and mothers, and let the men have their jobs back. The author of the piece, Mrs. Alec-Tweedie was Ethel Brilliana Harley Tweedie, a travel writer and advocate for women’s rights. One of her sons was killed in the First World War; her second son was also in the military and died in a military aircraft accident while serving with the RAF.

This post was originally published in 2014.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Dress Doctor: An Ingenious Lady’s Profession: 1894

The Little Seamstress, John Faed, (c) Dumfries and Galloway Council (Kirkcudbright); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This is certainly the day of utilizing one’s talent, whatever it may be. A woman who lives in another city found herself, after 20 years of happy sheltered married life, a widow with two daughters, 16 and 18, to make a home for, and an income so small as to be scarcely worth mentioning. The elder daughter was delicate, and the younger had two years of her college course to complete. To meet the crisis and tide over an interval which would give one child health and the other education confronted the mother. For a time she saw no way to pursue. Then a clear-headed friend came to her one day for a talk over affairs.

“No, Isabel,” she began, “I know your liabilities, what are your assets? I mean beside your little income. What can you do absolutely well?”

“I’ve a general knowledge of many things,” was Isabel’s discouraged reply, “but the only thing I can do absolutely well,” and her laugh was mirthless, “is to make over old clothes. You know I’ve always had a great aptitude at that for the girls and myself.”

“To be sure you have, and I believe you can do that now,” came the prompt answer to astonish Isabel.

Further talks followed, and in the end the friend persuaded her companion that something could be done with this talent. The beginning that spring was small and merely among her circle of wealthy friends. She did not actually make over the old clothes, but spent a morning or a day with the family seamstress, carefully inspecting accumulated materials and suggesting designs and combinations which permitted the continued use of dresses and fabrics. She charged by the day, and her rate was not low, but she saved it often a dozen times over to her patrons. The autumn saw her clientele increased, and now, after three years, she is busy nine months of the year at good prices.

Before other women embark in the same occupation it must be understood that this woman has little short of genius for her unique calling. It is positive pleasure to see her at her practice, for she jocosely styles herself doctor of robes, and certainly her skill and deftness are closely allied to the surgeon who fits and restores humanity’s broken bones and misplaced anatomy.

She is shown a fine Paris dress bodice of black satin, whose sleeves have vanished, and of whose skirt is left a single straight breadth. She looks them over critically.

“Have you any velvet or figured heavy silk or silk and wool cloth or any handsome black novelty material?” she asked.

A piece of frise velvet is found which will do for full sleeve tops with some other cuffs and leave two or three straight pieces. Then the odds and ends trimming box is looked over, and a few detached ornaments and some black lace are found. The waist is fitted, the long postilion back carefully opened and pressed and left to hang. The pieces of the frise velvet are set on for skirt fronts and hip pieces joined by jars of the black satin skirt breadth. The jet ornaments are put on the waist and at critical points on the hip skirts. Puffs of lace laid over white silk and a collar to match are made and the end is a costume jacket of imported elegance that looks as if it might have cost $150 and did cost not a penny beyond the seamstress’ time and the designer’s suggestion, as the black silk lining in this case was produced from a discarded coat.

If something extra is needed, she can tell to the shade, quality and fraction of measurement what it must be. And her customers are no longer confined to the wealthy. Persons in moderate circumstances realize that their need of her is quite as great. Did space permit, the recital of her many triumphs in evolving a Worth gown from the family ragbag would be most interesting. Her work is carried on quietly, her patrons advertising her, from one to another and her excellent social position, which has undoubtedly much aided her, has never been in the least impaired. New York Times.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 21 August 1894: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only applaud the lady’s ingenuity in dress-doctoring and her willingness to accept the advice of her sensible friend. But we really are intensely interested to hear the details of that “Worth gown from the ragbag…”

Remodeling gowns was done by all classes of society.

“Those who are still deep in the fascinating whirl of society engagements do not need to trouble themselves much on this subject [the remodeling of one’s wardrobe.] They usually employ a dressmaker, as they do their household help, by the year, and she assumes the duty of remodeling and making over what she deems worth the labor; but there are many who at best can but afford to employ a clever seamstress to do this kind of work. There are others, again, who must do the greater part of it themselves, or see many dresses laid aside before they have done full service. There is hardly a gown, whether designed for parlor, bedroom, or ball room, but will bear making over once. The clever dressmaker can take out a breadth here, put a panel there, place a Spanish flounce where skirt front has been soiled, or set in a pleating somewhere else. Slashings can be cut, or covered, vests inserted or removed, etc. etc., till any half worn or half soiled gown may be restored to almost its pristine freshness. Even ball costumes can, by skilled hands, be so reconstructed and remodeled as to last and look well after three alterations, and prove satisfactory to any ordinary society goer, unless she be one of those who consider a wholly new costume sent over by Mons. Worth indispensable to her comfort at every evening out.”

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 January 1889: p. 10

One reason that remodeling was so popular was that ready-made clothing was not always of good quality or plentiful, while there was a surplus of seamstresses and dressmakers. In 1892, these were just a few of the many ladies advertising their talents as dressmakers in The New York Herald. Note the range of fees:

*A dressmaker and ladies’ tailor, “an artist in cutting, fitting, designing; just returned from Paris; late with Worth, Rhodnot, Mrs. Connolly; carriage and tea gown creations; garments made from $12 up…$3.50 per day or at home.”

*Experienced dressmaker in wealthy society family to remodel evening street dresses; superior judgment, good style $2.50 per day.

*Seamstress, First Class, Hand or Machine…will furnish W.W. sewing machine free of charge $1 day.

*Seamstress, Understanding Dressmaking, to go out by the day $1.25 $6 per week.

See the “dressmaking” and “domestic arrangements” tabs for further adventures in make-do and mend, albeit not always of couture quality.

[This post was originally published in 2014.]

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Enjoyment of the News: 1910

The cat had been put out, the children were in bed, and Lysander John Appleton, worn out with the terrors of another day, was prepared to spend an evening in peace.

“Dear, dear, dear,” said Mrs. Lysander John, looking up from her paper. “Isn’t it horrible?”

“What?” snorted her husband.

“Seventy-five people killed by a flood in Italy! Just think of the poor little orphans’.”

(Silence for two minutes.) “Oh, my, how can the Lord permit such terrible things. A man shot his wife and five of her sisters in Laurel, Del., last night. The rooms looked like a slaughter house when he got through. I am glad he killed himself and saved the people the expense of trying such a brute. His poor, poor wife! What she must have endured living with a man of that disposition.”

(The clock ticks about ten times.) “Oh listen to this. Oh, Lysander John, my heart aches so I can scarcely read it. Oh, my, oh my, this life is a troubled vale! Just think, five people killed in a train wreck in Georgia. The sorrow that goes into their homes to-night reaches my heart.”

Silence while Mrs. Appleton wiped the tears from her eyes, and turned the page. Then a scream, “A bride and groom killed on their wedding trip! The poor dears. Just think of the happiness with which they started out, and now the journey ends in two coffins. Maybe they will be buried In one coffin. I think that would be so sweet.”

(Silence for two minutes that was finally broken by violent sobbing.) “A girl of sixteen poisoned her own sister in Massillon, Ohio. It is too horrible to be true. Oh, Lysander John, how grateful we should be that none of our children ever did a thing like that! The poor, Poor, POOR mother!”

Mrs. Lysander John reached blindly for her apron to wipe away her tears, her handkerchief having been soaked in previous enjoyment of the news, and then she turned tearful eyes toward Lysander John, only to find his chair vacant. Upstairs there was a sound of heavy shoes being kicked off viciously to the floor.

“The men,” said Mrs. Lysander John to herself, picking up her newspaper and preparing to read some more, “are SO Unfeeling.”

The Atchison [KS] Weekly Globe 31 March 1910: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Indeed. The press in the nineteenth century, particularly in the United States, was avid for a sensation. “If it bleeds, it leads,” about sums it up. Mrs Daffodil has previously examined some of the blood-thirsty themes of the press in this post: “Poison! Arson! Death His Bride!”

It was traditionally the role of the pater familias to read the newspaper to the family gathered round the fireside, eliding or pruning judiciously, when the gore or the body count was deemed harmful to the sensibilities of his listeners. Mrs Daffodil wonders at the patience of Mr Appleton at having his newspaper snatched away by a woman so lacking in womanly delicacy. She suspects that, one day, particularly when Mr Appleton longs to read of the outcome of some sporting contest, he will snap and there will be yet another horrid murder for the unfeeling public to slaver over in the morning edition.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Jewel Thieves in the Big Stores: 1895

JEWELRY THIEVES.

SCHEMES EMPLOYED FOR BEATING THE BIG STORES.

Women Are as Bad as Men, Though They Don’t Put Up Such Large Jobs– The Diamond Customer Who Rode In a Private Carriage and Was an Elegant Man.

“All through December we employ detectives,” said the manager of one of the largest jewelry stores in Broadway. “One of these detectives stands by the door. There is always something about his dress and general demeanor which tells his calling, so the professional shoplifters give us a wide berth. Amateurs there are who try to get away with goods, but usually they are easily scared and replace the missing articles at once when they are made aware that their movements have been watched. When a piece of jewelry is missed under circumstances which indicate that it has been stolen, a detective saunters up to the customer suspected and pretends to search for the missing ring or chain or bracelet, whatever it may be. ‘It was here a moment ago, madam,’ he says. ‘It must have caught in your dress or in the lace on your sleeve. Please look and see.’ Then he moves away, and, as a rule, the woman produces the piece of jewelry, expressing surprise that it should have been found about her. Occasionally, however, the suspected person denies all knowledge as to the whereabouts of the lost article. In this case, if the facts warrant it, a bill for the full value of the jewel is  presented to her, and the choice of paying the bill or producing the stolon goods is offered.

“Lots of small things are stolen in the holiday season,” continued the manager. “These are hatpins and other little trinkets, worth a dollar or two, sometimes only 50 cents They are too insignificant for us to bother about. Were we to raise an alarm or say much about such petty thefts it would probably cause us to lose the sale of goods worth hundreds of dollars. ‘I had such a fright at such and such a store the other day,’ one woman would say to another. ‘They accused such a nice looking lady of stealing, and I believe she was perfectly innocent,’ and neither of those women would come into the store again. When the detective sees these hatpin and scarfpin lunatics, he intimates to them in a quiet way that the house does not want their custom, and they take the hint and depart. No attempt is ever made to recover the small articles.”

“The sharpers who play for big stakes resort to all sorts of ingenious devices to get possession of the goods.” said the manager of another large business house. One evening a gentleman of fine appearance entered the store. He had driven up in a private carriage, with a coachman in livery. He looked at diamond necklaces and earrings, examined them closely, called for a magnifying glass to look at the stones and was very particular as to his selection. Finally he picked out the particular diamonds he wanted and ordered them sent to his hotel, where he would give a check for them. He was an elegant looking man of fine address and bearing, but the fact that he gave us no references, made so few inquiries about the stones he bought and so quickly made a selection in a matter that most men would take a day or two to deliberate about made me suspicious. I determined to take those diamonds myself to the hotel. The gentleman received me in a sumptuously furnished apartment, and his manner was courtesy itself as he asked me to be seated

“’My wife is in the next room,’ he said, ‘I want to give her a little surprise Excuse me while I take the diamonds into her. I’ll only keep you waiting a few minutes.’

“‘My instructions are that the diamonds are not to go out of my hands until they are paid for,’ I replied.

“‘Oh! Very well, then,’ he said carelessly. ‘I’ll put them in that drawer there, lock the drawer and give you the key while I go into the other room for the check.’

“‘I cannot let the diamonds go out of my hands,’ I replied again. He looked somewhat disconcerted at this, and then his manner changed abruptly, and all his suavity deserted him.

“‘I’ll lock them In that drawer and give you the key, whether you like it or not,’ he said angrily. ‘I am accustomed to having my own way.’

I had a loaded pistol with me, and in a second I had it leveled at him, warning him that any more talk like that or any attempt to touch the diamonds would fix him so that he wouldn’t ever see his wife again.

“‘You’ve got a thief in room No. so and so,’ I said to the hotel clerk a few minutes later, and I related what had occurred. He was slow to believe me, because the man had given them a big draft on a Denver house, and they had let him have $600 or $700 on it. I went with him up to the room, and even in that brief time the rascal had disappeared. It turned out that he had no wife with him at all. I examined the bureau in which he was so anxious that I should deposit the diamonds and found that he had made a hole in the wall against which the bureau stood and a corresponding hole in the back of the drawer. As the bureau was placed against the wall which separated the two rooms he occupied, it would have been easy for him to get the diamonds into the other room while I held the key to the drawer in my hand. The full value of the diamonds he had selected was nearly $8,000.”

“We were unwittingly the participators in a peculiar transaction just a few weeks ago,” the manager continued. “A man selected jewelry to the amount of $150 and gave us a certificate of deposit on a certain bank in payment. The money was in reality deposited in that bank, but the man who bought the jewelry had forged some one else’s name on the certificate. His method of procedure was unique. He advertised for a young man to do his collecting. He informed the young fellow who answered the advertisement that he must deposit $150 in the bank as security, and give him the certificate of deposit. ‘You won’t lose the money,’ he told the young man. ‘It will be right there in the bank for you unless you do something crooked. I only require this of you to protect myself.’ He then forged the young fellow’s name, got the jewelry with that certificate.

AND THEN SKIPPED.”

“Women who have things sent C.O.D. and then try to outwit the messenger are among the swindlers we have to look out for,” the superintendent of another jewelry house told the reporter. “Women travel all about and are constantly meeting other women on cars and steamboats to whom they take a fancy and with whom they strike up an acquaintance and exchange  cards. For convenience we will say that Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones met in this way. Mrs. Jones has a handsome home. Mrs. Jones arranges to call on Mrs. Brown at a stated hour on a certain day. Mrs. Jones selects some particularly choice piece of jewelry at our store, something with rubies or diamonds in it (rubies, you know are worth just what you choose to ask for them now, they are so scarce.) She tells us to send the package C.O.D. to Mrs. Brown’s address, on such and such a street. She orders it sent within an hour or so; and she will have a check made out.

“Mrs. Brown being well known, it seems likely that her guests would buy such things. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones sit chatting in the parlor. Mrs. Jones is notified that a boy wishes to see her, and the boy is invited into another apartment where the business may be transacted. Mrs. Jones takes the package, asks the boy to wait a moment while she goes into the next room for the money, check, or whatever it is, closes the door of the parlor where the boy sits, and quietly walks out of the street door. The boy, becoming impatient, asks for the lady. Mrs. Brown discovers that her new friend is nowhere to be found. She tells the boy that Mrs. Jones does not live there, but was only calling. The boy in consternation goes back to the store, and Mrs. Jones goes on her way rejoicing and looking out for the next richly dressed, amiable woman she may meet who seems likely to possess a handsome home in a high-priced neighborhood, and who will invite her to call.”

Not long ago, a well-dressed, rather distinguished looking woman of middle age selected some diamonds at a store on Broadway. She had about three pieces of jewelry laid aside, worth in all about $1,500.

“I wish you to send these C.O.D. when I notify you,” she said. “My husband is a very peculiar man. If he happens to be in the right frame of mind he’ll give me anything I ask for, but if he isn’t in a good humor I can do nothing with him. I will notify you just when to send these things and you must send them immediately.”

She said she was the wife of a physician in New York, a man noted for his skillful treatment of insanity and kindred maladies. The firm was tolerably well acquainted with this physician, and when the lady gave notice a clerk was sent up

WITH THE THREE PARCELS.

“Have each parcel settled for first before you hand out the next,” the clerk was instructed; and it was well that this warning was given. When the young man reached the house the lady greeted him kindly, and without asking to look at the diamonds herself went into the next room for her husband. The clerk recognized the doctor at once, having often seen him in the store.

“How do you feel?” asked the doctor.

“Oh, pretty well. I’ve brought up the diamonds,” said the young man, and he handed out the smallest package for the doctor’s inspection.

Instead of opening it, the doctor placed it on the table and invited the young man to come into the next room. The wife had not again appeared, and, thinking the doctor was about to make out the check the clerk followed him into an adjoining apartment. Instead of proceeding to business, the doctor asked the young man again how he was, saying that he didn’t look very well.

“I’m much obliged, doctor, for your interest,” said the clerk, “but I’m in a great hurry to get back to the store, and I wish you would make out the check and see if these other diamonds suit you.

“Take your time, take things easy,” said the doctor. “I’ll fix that all right presently. Don’t you ever have any pains in your head about here?” and the physician began to feel about the young man’s temples and seemed to have forgotten altogether about the errand that brought him there.

“I never felt better in my life, doctor,” declared the clerk, “and you really ought not to fool away my time this way. I’ve got to get back to the store. Are you going to take the diamonds or not?”
“Never mind about the diamonds,” said the doctor, soothingly; “they’ll be all right. Do you have any pain or dullness in the back of your head?”

“No,” said the young man impatiently, thinking that the doctor must be a little unbalanced in his mind. “I never have any pain anywhere. Are you going to buy the diamonds or not? I can’t stay here any longer,” and he rose to leave the room.

“Tell me,” said the physician, “what store you are talking about? Have you any credentials to prove whom you are working for?”

THE YOUNG MAN,

Completely bewildered, took letters out of his pockets to prove his identity, and then remembered the package of jewelry on the table in the other room.
“The diamonds you wife ordered!” he gasped.

“My wife!” exclaimed the physician in amazement. “I am not a married man. Where is your mother?” the doctor continued, as they returned to the parlor.

“My mother is in Philadelphia,” replied the clerk. “Do you know my mother?”

“My God!” exclaimed the older man, “we’ve both been fooled. I thought that woman was your mother. She came here yesterday and told me she had a son who was fast getting insane; that one of his hallucinations was that he was selling diamonds. She seemed greatly distressed and begged that I should do all that I could for you. She said that no one would take you to be demented at first glance.

The woman had made off with the package on the table, and but for the clerk’s precautions would have got the whole $1,500 worth of jewelry.

One evening when the detective, who stood near the door of a store, had gone to dinner, a young man, not more than 23 or 24 years old, entered a jewelry store and asked for diamond rings. He seemed to admire them greatly, and as he picked them up one by one he slipped them on his finger. He had seven valuable rings on when, like a flash, he bolted for the door. He nearly knocked down a customer who was just coming in and jolted against several people who ere all too much astonished to stop him. Two of the clerks ran after him. It was holiday time, the streets were crowded, and he did not get very far before he was captured. There was not a single ring on his finger, but after searching in his pockets the policeman thought to turn his umbrella upside down and out rolled the rings.

“Ain’t they beauties?” the thief remarked as they fell on the pavement. A plea of insanity was urged for this wholesale robber and so many warm friends came to plead for him that the firm did not prosecute him. Another night a young man selected a handsome ring in the same store. Just as he had picked it out the door was suddenly thrown open, and someone screamed as if the building was on fire. The ruse was successful. In the moment that the clerk who was waiting on the young man locked away toward the door the customer bolted and was never seen again, the crowd that had collected favoring his escape with his valuable prize.

The Enquirer [Cincinnati OH] 26 January 1895: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is always intrigued by the ruses adopted by thieves and confidence-tricksters.

She will add one more trick to the choice selection above.

Paris jewelers have been duped by thieves who kept watch on the windows of the chief stores and made paste gems to imitate those displayed. Then on a given day members of the gang visited the different stores, made small purchases, looked at the jewelry displayed in the windows, but declined to buy on account of the high price. The jewelry they looked at, however, went with them and the jeweler calmly restored the substituted bogus gems to his window, all unconscious of the deception.

The Macon [MS] Beacon 16 August 1890: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Smart Uniforms for Domestic Service: 1919

An engaging figure is the little parlor maid in her trim frock, demure collar and dainty cap and apron.

SMART UNIFORMS

for Domestic Service

The well trained maid who commands good wages expects to wear a uniform; there is no question about a cap, or a certain kind of collar or gown. She will wear what her new mistress requires in the way of service clothes and, of course, she expects her new mistress to pay for the same. A house maid or a waitress used to be expected to come to a new place equipped with at least one decent black frock “for afternoons,” and a certain number of fresh white aprons as well as gingham kitchen or “working aprons.” Now, however, all aprons are “found” by the employer, even the checked gingham kitchen aprons: and a new house maid may not even possess the one decent black gown. Unless it is provided for her, she is likely to wait on the dinner table in a V necked Georgette blouse and hobble skirt, or a garnet cashmere frock trimmed with red bugles. Fortunately these service clothes do not cost a great deal of money if one’s ideas are simple and not too individual. A plain, correctly cut black afternoon dress of sateen may be had for about three dollars; one of cotton mohair will cost five dollars or over. Such a dress, for the maid of all work’s afternoon hours, will have a straight, slightly gathered skirt and a buttoned-in-front bodice with long sleeves. The bodice may have a neck band for the attachment of linen collars, or it may be cut out slightly at the throat for wear with a turned down lawn collar. Smart looking parlor maids and waitresses in fashionable houses wear turned down collars opening in a cool, shallow V very often, and the style is more becoming and artistic than the stiff collar coming high at the throat–and vastly more comfortable for the maid! Sleeves, however, are always long and rather close-fitting. Never, on any account. will the waitress or parlor maid be permitted bare forearms–except during those morning hours of strenuous housework when a print frock is worn. Even then, the sleeves will be long, with a buttoned cuff so that the turned-back sleeves may be rolled down instantly and neatly buttoned if there is a call to the front door.

Aprons come singly or in sets, with cuffs and collar to match. The smaller the apron, the more coquettish the uniform; and all aprons for housemaids, parlor maids and waitresses are now rather small. The huge white apron covering the skirt is quite extinct for household domestics, except for the nurse who wears it occasionally in the nursery. A conventional type of apron for the maid-of-all-work in the afternoon, or for the parlor maid and waitress, is pictured. Strips of embroidery that form shoulder straps give a dainty trimming touch and a bit of the embroidery crosses the little bib of the apron. Collar and cuffs are of hemstitched linen or of cotton lawn made crisp and stiff with boiled starch. The linen accessories are much the best however; they are more easily and quickly laundered without starch and they have a glistening, spic-span look when adjusted. They also wear much better, under the frequent launderings necessary, than cheaper cotton lawn sets. The maid in the picture wears a very neat frock of black alpaca, and surely no maid could object to such a becoming cap of frilled net with black bows! It is never wise to insist upon a cap until you have “sounded” the new maid’s sentiments on this point. Good maids are hard to get these days and the cap question may arouse an antagonism that will make the first week hard for employer and domestic. Usually it is best to approach the cap question diplomatically. Provide the prettiest little cap you can find and let Abagail try it on in her own sanctum and note the becoming effect before any words are spoken.

Footwear is a more important question than that of caps anyway. One has seen many a maid prinked out in ribbon-trimmed cap and coquettish apron–with run-over, bulging shoes or shabby slippers. The maid should not be allowed to “wear out her old street boots around the house;” a constant practice with Abagails of the inefficient type. Service shoes should be insisted upon by the mistress–neat, low-heeled, quiet-soled boots or slippers of soft leather, and in perfect condition. Black slippers with white stockings are worn now with black frocks and white aprons by maids in many exclusive homes. Where expense is no object the maids are dressed in fetching uniforms of special type, the gowns of some unusual shade, like pearl gray, wine color, coffee brown or gray-blue. Aprons, cuffs and collar are of fine handkerchief linen, daintily scalloped, and the aprons are diminutive affairs with crisp ties. For special occasions there are aprons and collar sets of starched white net, scalloped or hemstitched. The maid in the picture has a skirt exactly the right length: short enough to be out of the way and permit quick stepping about, yet not short enough to suggest coquetry.

The Burlington [VT] Free Press 5 July 1919: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The question of the servant’s cap–regarded as the badge of servitude–was a fraught one, as we see from this British court case:

SHOULD MAIDS WEAR CAPS?

A Question Now Exercising Social Circles In .England.

From the Now York Sun.

In the dearth of stirring public topics which has followed the adjournment of Parliament, London newspapers are earnestly discussing the question whether maid servants ought to wear caps. As might, have been expected, the Tory and Liberal Unionist organs maintain the affirmative with energy, white, with one exception, the representatives of Radical opinion seem inclined to favor the revolt against what they term a badge of servitude. The controversy is not without interest to some American households in which cap wearing is Imposed upon female servants with Anglomaniac rigor.

The incident which gave rise to the agitation of this question was the following: One Mary Chappell was engaged by a Mr. Kennedy in the capacity of house or parlor maid at a stipend of $4 a week. At the end of nine days the damsel, in her own words, “emphatically refused” to wear a cap and was summarily dismissed. She sued Mr. Kennedy in a County Court for her wages and he pleaded that she had broken her contract by disobeying lawful orders. The Judge overruled the plea and held that, in the absence of any express stipulation with regard to wearing a cap, the order was not lawful and judgment must accordingly be given for the plaintiff with costs. Commenting on this decision the London Standard, giving voice to the convictions and feelings of aristocratic employers, denounces the housemaid litigant as a snob.

It is urged by some Tory organs that the defendant. In this notable case of Chappell vs. Kennedy should appeal from the judgment of the Magistrate and carry the matter, if necessary, through successive tribunals to the House of Lords.

Already, it seems, a groom, emulous of Mary Chappell’s notoriety, has firmly declined to shave off his moustache. [Grooms were traditionally clean-shaven.] The Standard in its pessimistic forecast looks forward to the time when even top boots, or a swallow-tailed coat, may be regarded as the livery of shame. Reasoning solemnly and even tearfully upon the subject, it assures servants that no sensible man objects to adopting the distinctive garb of his occupation. It points out that officers wear their uniform while they are about their work; so do barristers and professors and tutors In universities and the great public schools. To these alleged analogies, however, the maid servants turn a deaf ear.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 21 August 1891: p. 5

It was also axiomatic that servant girls would borrow their mistresses’ clothes. And who could blame them? No matter how smart the uniform or coquettish the cap, to attract the attention of the local policeman or greengrocer, one needed a more sophisticated wardrobe than that provided by one’s mistress or by her paltry wages.

Employment Agent: “Those are fine recommendations that gurl has, mum. Shall I send for her to come and talk with you?”

Mrs. Bronston. “Is she tall or short?’

“Rather tall, mum; but—”

“Is she fat or thin?”

“Rather stout, mum, a good strong—”

“Is she stouter than I am?”

“Oh, yes, mum, a good deal.”

“She won’t do. She’d split the seams of every dress I have.

The Times [Philadelphia PA] 9 August 1891: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

He Didn’t Like the Tea: 1897

French porcelain tea caddy The Philadelphia Museum of Art


DIDN’T LIKE THE TEA.

But His Scheme to Have It Better Was A Dismal Failure.

A certain suburban gentleman, who somewhat of a gourmet, discovered one day that his wife was giving him tea at 1s. 4d. to drink. Although he had never made any complaints about the quality of the tea, no sooner did he discover the price than he detected all sorts of shortcomings in the article supplied, and when he went down to business that morning he dropped into a tea store and bought a pound of orange pekoe at 3s. 6d. This he carried home in the night, and taking the opportunity of the kitchen being empty he hunted round till he found the tea caddy, which was nearly full. The contents of this he threw away and replaced it out of his own package. It had not been his intention to say anything about the substitution, but next morning he could not help referring to the improved quantity of the beverage

“This is something like tea this morning,” he said. “Don’t you notice the difference?”

“No, I don’t,” said his wife. “It tastes to me exactly like the tea we have been drinking for the last month, and so it should, for it is the same tea.” The husband laughed.

“That’s just like a woman,” he said. “You never know what is good and what isn’t unless we tell you. Now, I could have told you with my eyes shut that this tea is better than what we hove been drinking.”

“It is a pity you haven’t been drinking with your eyes shut all along,” retorted the lady. “Anyway it is the same tea.”

“Now I’ll just prove to you,” said her husband, “how defective a woman’s sense of taste is. Yesterday I bought a pound of 3s.6d. tea, threw out what was in the caddy and put mine in its place. And to think that you never noticed the difference!”

“Which cuddy did you empty?”

“One on the upper shelf of the pantry,” was the reply.

“I thought so,” said the lady quietly. “That was some special tea I keep for special occasions. The caddy with the cheap tea is in the cupboard in the kitchen, and this,” she added, with an exasperating smile, as she lifted the teapot, “was out of the selfsame caddy as it has been every morning. What a blessing it must be to you to possess such a cultivated taste! I have heard that tea tasters get very high salaries. Now, why don’t you”—

But he cut her remarks short by leaving the room.

The Bucks County Gazette [Bristol PA] 11 November 1897: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The gentleman who is convinced that he can cook better than his wife or other trained professional, was a familiar figure of fun in the 19th-century. Strangely, such gentlemen always get their comeuppance…

We have seen examples in Mr Greenleaf’s New Cook, How Mother Did It, and The Bullfrog Dinner.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Mrs Daffodil Takes a Holiday

end of the summer season mermaid and sea serpent

Mrs Daffodil is taking a brief holiday and will return next week.

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Mrs Daffodil Takes a Holiday

the mermaids fan 1900

While she cannot go to the sea-side for a paddle, Mrs Daffodil will be taking a brief holiday. She wishes all of her readers health, safety, and sunshine.

 

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Why the Bride Wobbled: 1904

wedding garters 1912

1912 wedding garters. “Something blue.” http://www.charlestonmuseum.org

WHY THE BRIDE WOBBLED

A New Wedding Fad Comes to Light in North Dakota.

It has been thought that the chief product of the Dakotas was divorces, but a gentleman who recently visited that section is responsible for the following. He says a new wedding fad has been unearthed, and this is how it came about:

At a wedding in Mankato the bride hobbled awfully, so that the audience, as she went down the pike to the altar, thought the poor thing was either scared, hip-shot or afflicted with soft corns, but she accidentally fainted, and then it was discovered that her legs were a mass of garters about forty on each leg–and as she was about to be taken for shop lifting, those in the secret had to tell that each one of her young lady friends had furnished her a garter to wear to her wedding to be taken off by the groom after the ceremony and given by the bride back to the owner, to be placed under the pillow of said owner, in place of the old time wedding cake which was likely to grow stale and draw rats and mice and throw the patients into fits, which a garter would not do, and could be perfumed with rose water and violet essence. You will dream of your next husband if you have a garter under your pillow that has been clawed off the under limbs of a bride, which is a fact and a custom that can’t be sneezed at. At any rate, if you do not see your future hubby in your dream it wont be the garter’s fault. But no bride should tackle over eighty garters, unless she has legs like a centipede.

The Streator [IL] Free Press 25 August 1904: p. 9

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: From this revealing little anecdote, we may deduce that the bride had quite an extensive circle of friends eager to dream of their “next” husband. Before the unhappily wed flocked to Reno, one could easily get a “Dakota Divorce,” described thus:

In 1866, the Dakota Territory legislature passed a divorce law that allowed an an applicant for divorce to begin action immediately upon arrival in the territory. The territorial code was amended in 1877 to require three months for residency for a divorce. U.S. citizenship was not required. While establishing the “residency” required for divorce, soon-to-be divorcees stayed in elegant hotels, attended the opera and symphony, and ate at fine restaurants. People seeking divorces often registered at a hotel for the required three months, left town, and returned several months later when their “residency” had been established. At that time the Northern Pacific train stopped in Fargo at noon for 10 minutes for lunch. So many people used that 10 minutes to check into a hotel, leave a bag, and return to the train that it came to be known as the “Ten Minute Divorce.”

The Divorce Capital of the West.

One has always heard that young ladies were at a premium “out West,” but perhaps these ladies had been through the “divorce mill” more than once and were still looking for that next husband. The bridegroom must have become quite impatient waiting for his new bride to return eighty garters to their owners. One would not have blamed him had he simply hurled the garters into the air and let the young ladies scramble for them.

Although touted as a novelty, the custom was not an entirely new one.

New Wedding Fad.

A Scotch custom as old as Walter Scott’s Novels, has been again made fashionable by the division of Princess Margaret’s garter among her bride-maids after the marriage ceremony a few weeks ago. The original notion was that the bride wore quite a number of pretty ribbons as well as the ordinary garter, and these were in due course distributed among the masculine friends of the bridegroom, while in Scotland the piper invariably had one to tie around his bagpipe. The conferring the of the gift brought good luck, and in olden times the bride was often used quite roughly in the effort to take away her garter.

The Daily Republican [Monongahela PA] 28 February 1893: p. 4

Garters for Brides.

The latest bride garter is of white elastic. Running over the surface of the elastic is a delicate tracery in blue in the pattern of a tiny flower. Here and there knots of very narrow white ribbon. Bordering the elastic is a ruffle of white lace of fine pattern. As elegant a little piece of lace as may be found can be placed upon the garter, for the bridal garter is to be put away as one of the mementoes of the day.

Lewiston [ID] Daily Teller 29 October 1897: p. 6

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.