Tag Archives: philanthropy

The Point-Lace Handkerchief: 1871

A reporter, who witnessed the re-opening of a great dry goods establishment in Chicago, which had been burned out on the 8th  of October—mentions that he saw a point-lace handkerchief sold to a lady for $59. This little commercial transaction has been much and severely commented on, and we are told that it is even a disgusting incident. We can’t see it, the exceeding sinfulness of the conduct of the lady who bought the handkerchief. All depends upon circumstances, whether she was right or wrong in investing so liberally in a “wiper.” If the money she gave for the handkerchief was honestly hers, she committed no sin whatever in exchanging it for point-lace, unless we are prepared to say that all expenditure save for the absolute necessaries of life is sinful. Is it more sinful to give $59 for a handkerchief than it is to give $10,000 for a horse? Yet there are men who spend thousands, yearly, on horses—and whose rings are many, and rich. Is it a greater offence to lay out money for lace than it is to lay it out in keeping a yacht? A veteran smoker, who consumes many cigars, and those of the best brands, expends every month more for tobacco than the Chicago lady expended once for a handkerchief—and her handkerchief may last for years, and even decades—perhaps for generations, and become the property of her granddaughter—whereas the man’s cigars must vanish in fumo, or they are worthless. In some old European families they have lace that was made and bought, and originally worn, hundreds of years ago. Lace, if it be really rich is an investment that endures, keeping its worth for ages, and growing more valuable as it gains in time. Cigars burn up, horses die, and yachts are lost, but lace lasts. Who knows but that the fair Chicagoan is a prudent, sensible woman, who was only making a sound investment of some of her floating capital? But, we are told, she should have given the $59 to relieve some suffers by the great fire. How do you know that she had not given liberally in aid of the sufferers in her city? It is going rather far to assume that she had given nothing for that purpose. If it be said that she should have given all she had to the sufferers, the obvious answer is, that she was no more bound to do so than were the men who gave something to relieve the persons who were burned out, but who did not give all their possessions. They have many articles in their possession quite as superfluous as her lace handkerchief, and yet they do not think of parting with those articles, because many persons want food or clothing, or both. Why should she not have her luxuries as well as they? It is not fair to censure her while extravagant men are allowed to pass uncensored.

Boston [MA] Traveller 16 December 1871: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Lace, although enduring enough to be heritable by another generation, is still more ephemeral than the poor and the suffering, who are always with us. It would have taken more than the cost of a point-lace handkerchief to restore the losses of victims of the Great Chicago Fire, although a gentleman’s outlay for his yacht might have aided a significant number of the displaced.

Mrs Daffodil considers that the lady in the example above was quite thrifty compared to  these titled and royal personages who paid sinful prices for their lace-edged handkerchiefs.

It took seven years to make a handkerchief for which the Empress of Russia paid $5,000.

New York American 20 October 1898: p. 8

and

The late Marquess of Angelsey owned three dozen handkerchiefs for evening dress wear. They were of the purest white linen, with his crest worked in human hair in the corners. They were made in Switzerland at a cost of $6 apiece. The late Duc d’Albe, Spanish grandee and uncle to ex-Empress Eugenie, was in the habit of ordering twelve dozen handkerchiefs at a time, for which he paid $120 a dozen. But the most expensive handkerchief is in the possession of the Queen Mother of Italy. It took three women five years to make it, and it is valued at $30,000.

Cleveland [OH] Leader 27 November 1913: p. 8

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.

 

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone:” 1903

christmas dinner tableA

The Christmas Table

A Novel Christmas Banquet.

By Elizabeth L. Banks.

“Educated Women of Gentle Birth, Destitute and Alone”

So began the strange invitation to a strange Christmas banquet given a few years ago in New York by a well-known church and society woman.

I attended the banquet in my capacity as newspaper reporter, and I speak of it as “strange” because, indeed, it was the strangest as also the most touching banquet I ever attended.

For a certain part of that Christmas Day I was on duty for my newspaper, and it was my task to report the doings at various charity Christmas feasts which were that day given to the city’s poor.

Altogether merry and jolly I found the partakers of the newsboys’ dinner, when I peeped upon them at the beginning of my round. It fairly did my heart good to see them in their hundreds gathered about immense tables, whereon were turkey and cranberry sauce, and escalloped oysters, and plum puddings, and mince pies and celery, and everything else the Christmas appetite could fancy. I watched them scramble into their seats, grab the turkey-legs with their two hands, bite off the meat, use their knives instead of forks, and their fingers sometimes in place of either.

“Why, say,” said one of the grinning youngsters to me, “w’at ye doin’ at our dinner? You ain’t no newsboy!”

“No,” I answered; “but I’m what might be called a ‘newswoman,’ because I’m going to write all about your Christmas dinner for to-morrow’s paper.”

“Hurrah! Hurrah!” came the chorus from the boys. “Say, fellers, ain’t it fine? This yere lady’s goin’ to write about our dinner for her paper. Say, miss, just put my name in as one o’ the guests, will ye? I’m Billy Snyder. An’ there’s me brother, an’ Sam Jones, too—don’t forget ’em, will ye? Say, just take the names of all of us, an’ print ’em, and when I calls out to-morrer’s paper I’ll shout: ‘Yere’s yer mornin’ paper—all about the newsboys’ dinner—buy a paper, mister, and read all the names of us fellers what was there!'”

It was “merry Christmas” with those newsboys, sure enough. Some good people were giving them a free dinner, and they were enjoying it as only boys of their ilk could enjoy such a feast. There was but one cloud upon their happiness—the fact, which I tried to impart to them as gently as possible, that I could not put their names in the paper because of lack of space. But I got a good report of their merriment, and out again into the white Christmas weather I went, then on a cable car to the “up-town” or fashionable part of New York.

“To Educated Women Of Gentle Birth, Destitute And Alone.—You are invited

by Mrs. __ to a Christmas Dinner here in her house to-day at two o’clock.”

In the drawing-room window of one of the brown-stone houses was the sign, the magnet that had drawn me from the newsboys’ dinner on the east side to another Christmas dinner on the west side. A few days before Christmas the invitation had been published in the various New York newspapers: and then, on Christmas Day, lest any of the wished-for guests might not have read the papers, there shone from the window of the brown-stone mansion the light to guide them thither.

At the door of the drawing-room stood the hostess, receiving her guests.

“A merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was her greeting to each one that passed her. She extended her hand, and several times, as guest after guest passed into the beautiful room beyond, I noticed a pained, half-bewildered look on the face of the hostess, and once or twice her eyes were bright with tears.

No servant stood near to announce the guests, since all were nameless for the day. Some, the hostess recognised as friends of former years; some, I, too, knew as grand dames of a time not long gone by; but to each and all only the cheery greeting, “Merry Christmas! I am pleased to see you,” was given, and, finally, when a hundred of New York’s gentlewomen — “destitute and alone”—had passed through the hospitable portal, the doors of the dining-room were thrown open, and the guests took their places at the tables.

The table linen was of the finest damask, the silver shone resplendent, the china was beautiful and costly, the glasses thin and dainty, and the table decorations were such as only taste and wealth could provide. In front of each cover was a tiny cut-glass vase of flowers.

Around the tables there were gathered sweet-faced women with white hair: women with tired, careworn faces and dark hair; and there were some young girls whose beauty shone out in spite of the melancholy of their eyes. All were well dressed—that is, there was nothing cheap or loud or gaudy about the apparel of the guests—but many of the hats and dresses were a bit old-fashioned, and none of the clothes were absolutely new.

A handsome woman of about forty was wearing a black satin dress: satin which, when purchased, must have cost five or six dollars a yard. Her hat, old and behind the times as it was, showed that it had originally been bought of a certain milliner who is known to supply only the richest of New York’s women with headgear. Her boots were of the finest kid, and had been mended in a neat, though amateurish, way by the wearer. One knew instinctively that her feet were encased in silk hose, doubtless much darned.

“I really could not eat any dinner today,” she said, as she tried to smile up at her hostess. “Just a cup of coffee— that is all. You see, my head…”

But it was not her head. It was her stomach! As I looked at her I knew the woman was starving; that she had got past the ravenously hungry stage. Two days before, perhaps, she might have felt hungry, but now she felt only faint and weak, and craved for her Christmas dinner nothing but a cup of coffee. Some years before, she had been giving charity dinners herself, and called in the children of the poor and fed them in her own palatial home. Her hats and dresses were then of the latest style and make, bought in London and Paris, where she had been accustomed to go every year.

At a table there sat society belles of a quarter of a century ago. There was one woman who had owned her hundreds of slaves before the war between North and South; there was the daughter of an honoured judge; the wife of an absconding defaulter; the widow of a clergyman who bad once preached to one of the wealthiest of eastern congregations; there were some women and girls who were trying hard to earn a living by office work, as dressmakers, as milliners, but who, because they were gentlewomen who had never been trained to pounce upon the “almighty dollar” and catch it as it came near, were failures, and must needs be pushed to the wall by the other working women of New York—the less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.

When the dinner was over and some of the guests were leaving, a woman I had known in another city a few years previously, and whose entertainments I had many times written up for the society columns of the paper on which I had then held a position, recognised me and turned aside to speak to me.

“You here! You here!” she whispered in an agitated voice. “Surely you cannot be going to write up this as a brilliant social function, with the names of the guests and the description of the gowns we are wearing! Promise me one thing for the sake of the days when I used to help you to fill your society page: you will not put my name in among the names of the guests at this dinner.”

“I am not putting any names in,” I answered. “Indeed, I am to write very little about it, except to say that a dinner to gentlewomen was given this year, and that I hope every Christmas to follow may see another such dinner.”

She pressed my hand, and went out silently. I left the house and continued my reportorial round. How happy were the faces at all the other “charity dinners “! How the idea of being “written up” appealed to the newsboys, and the bootblacks, and the cripples, and the inhabitants of the slums! Truly, it was “merry Christmas,” indeed, at all the other places. There were snipes and cheers, and a gulping down of good things. Only in the brown-stone mansion where a rich gentlewoman presided at a table where were gathered these other gentlewomen, “destitute and alone,” did I find sadness on every face. Yet, of all the Christmas charities, I doubt not that this was the one most needed and most deserved and appreciated by those to whom the invitations were sent out.

As I have said, it all happened a few years ago in New York, and all my Christmases since then have been spent in London. Here also I have, Christmas after Christmas, gone about to report upon the feasts spread for the poor. I have heard the smacking of the newsboys’ lips over the huge bites of prime Christmas roast beef; I have heard the watercress and flower girls counting aloud the plums in the slices of plum-pudding which lay upon their plates; I have seen “the poor” of the East End heartily enjoying their Christmas goose with apple sauce, and I have seen the little children of the mission chapels laughing gleefully as they played with their Christmas toys—all these things have I seen provided by London’s rich and well-to-do for London’s poor.

But not yet have I known of a feast provided for London’s women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone,” of whom there are many hundreds more than there are in New York.

There are many of them who live in the topmost, backmost, cheapest little rooms of apartment houses in the most select of West End neighbourhoods, in order, as they will say with a mirthless smile, to “have a good address.” For they do not like anyone to know they are poor, these gentlewomen who are “destitute and alone.” They are supposed by their landladies to “go out for their meals.” Biscuits and watercress, with sometimes a bit of cold ham or beef, bought ready cooked, or an egg, surreptitiously boiled over a little spirit stove, form the bulk of their none too frequent meals. Their clothes look often out-of-date, but their skirts do not look drabbled or dirty, for when they are in their little rooms they mend and brush and patch and darn, re-trim their hats with the same old flowers and ostrich-tips, and the same old ribbons, turned and pressed.

In her room the poor lady has no Christmas fire—but who suspects that? She has neither roast goose nor roast beef of Old England for dinner. She will eat a biscuit and some cheese—that is, unless this year some London woman follows the example of the New York woman, and gives a novel Christmas dinner.

But would she go if she were invited? Would scores of others like her become guests at a party where the hostess took them by the hand and wished them “A merry Christmas.” inquiring not their names, stipulating only that they should be women of gentle birth, “destitute and alone “?

I am not sure: I cannot know; but I believe there would be many guests at such a Christmas feast in London. The hostess must be herself a woman of gentle birth and tact and diplomacy, She must not, on the day of the feast, call in her friends to help her receive her guests. It were better she should receive alone. She must not give over the entertainment of her guests to her servants. Though she should advertise her intention of receiving in the newspapers, she should see that no representatives of the press are there to report upon the identity of her guests. Indeed, if there were any possible way of keeping the address where the dinner is to be given out of the papers, it would be preferable.

The door of the hospitable house where the feast was to be given could not, of course, be left open during the two or three hours when the dinner was in progress. Both the wintry weather and the danger of the entrance of thieves would forbid that. The knocker would be used by the guests, the door opened by a servant, and the guests conducted to the drawing-room where the hostess awaited them. That is all. It requires a careful thinking out, management, and delicate handling.

The Quiver 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While the thought was kindly meant, the luncheon for those of education and gentle birth (did the hostess require a certificate?) sounds infinitely depressing, not unlike those dreary economies practised by the destitute. One wonders if those in attendance felt worse afterwards, having been given a brief glimpse of their former lives, like the visions of the Little Match Girl as she lit matches in the snow.

Mrs Daffodil fears that, though laudable is the aim of giving impoverished gentlewomen a holiday treat, there is an unpleasant suggestion that the formerly rich cannot bear poverty as easily as can those born to it.  Mrs Daffodil finds offensive the notion that the daughters of the rich cannot compete with the “less refined and less dainty, but the stronger and better trained.”  If training to “pounce” is needed, then perhaps the kind hostesses would consider subscribing the money spent on an afternoon’s entertainment to fund instruction in useful and remunerative trades.

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 Umbrella Girl and the Quaker: 1820s

An 1820s umbrella

The Umbrella Girl

‘A Young girl, the only daughter of a poor widow, removed from the country to Philadelphia to earn her living by covering umbrellas. She was very handsome; with glossy black hair, large beaming eyes, and ‘lips like wet coral.’ She was just at that susceptible age when youth is ripening into womanhood, when the soul begins to be pervaded by ‘that restless principle, which impels poor humans to seek perfection in union.’

‘At a hotel near the store for which she worked, an English traveller, called Lord Henry Stuart, had taken lodgings. He was a strikingly handsome man, and of princely carriage. As this distinguished stranger passed to and from his hotel, he encountered the umbrella girl, and was attracted by her uncommon beauty. He easily traced her to the store, where he soon after went to purchase an umbrella. This was followed up by presents of flowers, chats by the way-side, and invitations to walk or ride; all of which were gratefully accepted by the unsuspecting rustic; for she was as ignorant of the dangers of a city as were the squirrels of her native fields. He was merely playing a game for temporary excitement. She, with a head full of romance, and a heart melting under the influence of love, was unconsciously endangering the happiness of her whole life.

‘Lord Henry invited her to visit the public gardens on the Fourth of July. In the simplicity of her heart, she believed all his flattering professions, and considered herself his bride elect; she therefore accepted the invitation with innocent frankness. But she had no dress fit to appear in on such a public occasion, with a gentleman of high rank, whom she verily supposed to be her destined husband. While these thoughts revolved in her mind, her eye was unfortunately attracted by a beautiful piece of silk, belonging to her employer. Could she not take it, without being seen, and pay for it secretly when she had earned money enough? The temptation conquered her in a moment of weakness. She concealed the silk, and conveyed it to her lodgings. It was the first thing she had ever stolen, and her remorse was painful. She would have carried it back, but she dreaded discovery. She was not sure that her repentance would be met in a spirit of forgiveness.

‘On the eventful Fourth of July, she came out in her new dress. Lord Henry complimented her upon her elegant appearance, but she was not happy. On their way to the gardens, he talked to her in a manner which she did not comprehend. Perceiving this, he spoke more explicitly. The guileless young creature stopped, looked in his face with mournful reproach, and burst into tears. The nobleman took her hand kindly, and said: ‘My dear, are you an innocent girl?’

”I am, I am,’ she replied, with convulsive sobs. ‘Oh! what have I ever done, or said, that you should ask me such a question?’

‘The evident sincerity of her words stirred the deep fountains of his better nature. ‘If you are innocent,’ said he, ‘God forbid that I should make you otherwise. But you accepted my invitations and presents so readily, that I supposed you understood me.

‘What could I understand,’ said she, ‘ except that you intended to make me your wife?’

‘Though reared amid the proudest distinctions of rank, he felt no inclination to smile. He blushed and was silent. The heartless conventionalities of the world stood rebuked in the presence of affectionate simplicity. He conveyed her to her humble home, and bade her farewell, with a thankful consciousness that he had done no irretrievable injury to her future prospects. The remembrance of her would soon be to him as the recollection of last year’s butterflies.

With her, the wound was deep. In the solitude of her chamber she wept in bitterness of heart over her ruined air-castles. And that dress, which she had stolen to make an appearance befitting his bride! Oh I what if she should be discovered? And would not the heart of her poor widowed mother break, if she should ever know that her child was a thief?

‘Alas! her wretched forebodings proved too true. The silk was traced to her; she was arrested on her way to the store and dragged to prison. There she refused all nourishment, and wept incessantly. On the fourth day, the keeper called upon Isaac T. Hopper, and informed him that there was a young girl in prison, who appeared to be utterly friendless, and determined to die by starvation. The kind-hearted Friend immediately went to her assistance. He found her lying on the floor of her cell, with her face buried in her hands, sobbing as if her heart would break. He tried to comfort her, but could obtain no answer.

‘Leave us alone,’ said he to the keeper. ‘Perhaps she will speak to me, if there is no one to hear.’ When they were alone together, he put back the hair from her temples, laid his hand kindly on her beautiful head, and said in soothing tones: ‘My child, consider me as thy father. Tell me all thou hast done. If thou hast taken this silk, let me know all about it. I will do for thee as I would for my own daughter; and I doubt not that I can help thee out of this difficulty.’

‘After a long time spent in affectionate entreaty, she leaned her young head on his friendly shoulder, and sobbed out: ‘Oh! I wish I was dead. What will my poor mother say when she knows of my disgrace?’

”Perhaps we can manage that she never shall know it,’ replied he. Alluring her by this hope, he gradually obtained from her the whole story of her acquaintance with the nobleman. He bade her be comforted, and take nourishment; for he would see that the silk was paid for, and the prosecution withdrawn.

‘He went immediately to her employer, and told him the story. ‘This is her first offence,’ said he. ‘The girl is young, and she is the only child of a poor widow. Give her a chance to retrieve this one false step, and she may be restored to society, a useful and honored woman. I will see that thou art paid for the silk.’ The man readily agreed to withdraw the prosecution, and said he would have dealt otherwise by the girl, it he had known all the circumstances. ‘Thou shouldst have inquired into the merits of the case,’ replied Friend Hopper.  ‘By this kind of thoughtlessness many a young creature is driven into the downward path, who might easily have been saved.’

‘The kind-hearted man next proceeded to the hotel, and with Quaker simplicity of speech, inquired for Henry Stuart. The servant said his lordship had not yet risen. ‘Tell him my business is of importance,’ said Friend Hopper. The servant soon returned and conducted him to the chamber. The nobleman appeared surprised that a stranger, in the plain Quaker costume, should thus intrude upon his luxurious privacy. When he heard his errand, he blushed deeply, and frankly admitted the truth of the girl’s statement. His benevolent visitor took the opportunity to ‘bear a testimony’ against the selfishness and sin of profligacy. He did it in such a kind and fatherly manner, that the young man’s heart was touched. He excused himself, by saying that he would not have tampered with the girl, if he had known her to be virtuous. ‘I have done many wrong things,’ said he, ‘but, thank God, no betrayal of confiding innocence weighs on my conscience. I have always esteemed it the basest act of which man is capable.’ The imprisonment of the poor girl, and the forlorn situation in which she had been found, distressed him greatly. When Friend Hopper represented that the silk had been stolen for his sake, that the girl had thereby lost profitable employment, and was obliged to return to her distant home, to avoid the danger of exposure, he took out a fifty-dollar note, and offered it to pay her expenses.

‘Nay,’ said Isaac. ‘Thou art a very rich man, I presume. I see in thy hand a large roll of such notes. She is the daughter of a poor widow, and thou hast been the means of doing her great injury. Give me another.’

‘Lord Henry handed him another fifty-dollar note, and smiled as he said: ‘You understand your business well. But you have acted nobly, and I reverence you for it. If you ever visit England, come to see me. I will give you a cordial welcome, and treat you like a nobleman.’

‘Farewell, friend,’ replied the Quaker. ‘Though much to blame in this affair, thou too hast behaved nobly. Mayst thou be blessed in domestic life, and trifle no more with the feelings of poor girls; not even with those whom others have betrayed and deserted.’

‘When the girl was arrested, she had sufficient presence of mind to assume a false name, and by that means her true name had been kept out of the newspapers. ‘I did this,’ said she, ‘ for my poor mother’s sake.’ With the money given by Lord Stuart, the silk was paid for, and she was sent home to her mother well provided with clothing. Her name and place of residence forever remained a secret in the breast of her benefactor.

‘Years after these events transpired, a lady called at Friend Hopper’s house, and asked to see him. When he entered the room, he found a handsomely-dressed young matron, with a blooming boy of five or six years old. She rose quickly to meet him, and her voice choked as she said: ‘Friend Hopper, do you know me?’ He replied that he did not. She fixed her tearful eyes earnestly upon him, and said: ‘You once helped me when in great distress.’ But the good missionary of humanity had helped too many in distress, to be able to recollect her without more precise information. With a tremulous voice she bade her son go into the next room for a few minutes; then dropping on her knees, she hid her face in his lap, and sobbed out: ‘I am the girl who stole the silk. Oh! Where should I now be, if it had not been for you!’

‘When her emotion was somewhat calmed, she told him that she had married a respectable man, a senator of his native State. Being on a visit in Friend Hopper’s vicinity, she had again and again passed his dwelling, looking wistfully at the windows to catch a sight of him; but when she attempted to enter, her courage failed.

‘But I must return home to-morrow,’ said she, ‘and I could not go away without once more seeing and thanking him who saved me from ruin.’ She recalled her little boy, and said to him: ‘Look at that gentleman, and remember him well; for he was the best friend your mother ever had.’ With an earnest invitation to visit her happy home, and a fervent ‘God bless you!’ she bade her benefactor farewell.’

Isaac T. Hopper, L. Maria Child, 1853

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

Isaac Hopper [1771-1852] was a Quaker, philanthropist, abolitionist, and worker for prison reform. His 1853 biography, which has a link above, is full of amusing and affecting incidents and anecdotes of his cleverness in outwitting slavecatchers and corrupt officials.

Other versions of this story add the information that Lord Henry Stuart’s “visit to this country is doubtless well remembered by many, for it made a great sensation at the time. He was a peer of the realm, descended from the royal line, and was, moreover, a strikingly handsome man, of right princely carriage. He was subsequently a member of the British Parliament and is now dead.” 

 

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.