Tag Archives: widows

The Society of American Widows: 1916

1916 widow


Omaha, Neb., March 30. The widows of the nation are organizing!

Led by Mrs. Bessie C. Turpin of Omaha, widows have founded a union to prepare for the avalanche of widows that will sweep down upon this country at the end of the European war and to better the lot of all widows in this man-made world.

“All classes in the world except widows are organized,” says Mrs. Turpin, “and there are no persons more in need of the help that comes through co-operation.

“Most widows are mothers, and when these women are suddenly thrown upon the world to support themselves and children they find almost insurmountable obstacles. We are organizing to help them solve these problems.

The Society of American Widows is no joke. It has a real program, and Mrs. Turpin has taken up the work so seriously she has lost her job as bookkeeper at the Booth fisheries.

But she has not allowed a little thing like that to block her campaign to organize the millions of widows throughout the country.

Here are some of the things the widows’ society plans to do:

Obtain from merchants a 10 per cent discount on all purchases.

Establish a sewing department, employment bureau, reading, rest and lunch rooms and a day nursery in the business districts in all large cities.

Build profit-sharing apartment houses, including gymnasium, music and assembly rooms, to be occupied by widows and their families at low rentals.

Publish a monthly magazine to deal with the widows’ problems and arouse interest in the movement in every city.

Mrs. Turpin has been able to go on with the work of organizing widows by the generosity of wealthy persons. She has been presented a checking account equivalent to two months of the salary she received keeping books for the fish company.

Any widow in any town or city who wants to start a local branch of the widows’ organization can have full information by writing Mrs. Turpin at 2415 Dewey Ave., Omaha, Neb.

“There are more than 2,000 widows in this city alone, and most of them are mothers,” says Mrs. Turpin. “It is therefore safe to say millions of children in America will also be helped by our society.

“We will try to win co-operation of business men. Already the outlook in Nebraska and Iowa is bright.

“I have found that widows number among the lowest percentage of persons receiving aid. We will not offer charity to widows. If we find one destitute we will help her on her promise to pay when she can.

“We aim to place all widows in an independent position so they may face the world without fear for the future, and, if necessary, take care of their children as well, as if there were a good husband at their side to fight their battles for them.”

The Day Book [Chicago, IL] 31 March 1916: p. 15

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has not been able to find that the American widows’ union ever gained much of a foothold, even though the intrepid Mrs Turpin was sadly correct about the avalanche of widows at the end of the Great War. Yet perhaps there was a different outlook in the States, for in 1919, English widows were said to be in high demand.


Single Girls Abandoned in England for Women Who Have Plenty of Experience

London, Friday, Aug. 15. Traditionally attractive, the widow is becoming even more popular with “marriageable” men in Britain.

“Why did I marry a widow? Well, just imagine you were buying a horse; you’d buy one that had been broken in. In any case you’d have more sense that to put a fresh young thing straight into harness and expect it to carry you and your dog cart into town without a mishap,” quoth one sturdy swain who possessed the heavenly gift of logic and had reached the stage of fat-and-forty, when Comfort so often cuts out Cupid.

“The same with a woman. Take my advice, marry a widow; you’ll find she is well trained for domestic life. The worst is over. She has no illusions about men.”
This growing popularity of the widow is creating quite a stir among “bachelor girls.” They prefer the name to that of spinsters. Their protest is to the effect that widows have had their share and they ought to stand aside and let others have a chance. [See a previous post on this subject.] But widows are in great demand….

The widow holds strange power. Many girls say if they wore widow’s weeds and a ring they would have proposals in no time.

“More widders is married than single wimmen,” said the immortal Sam Weller. He’s right—in England. Seattle [WA] Daily Times 15 August 1919: p. 14

Several chapters about widows, along with a myriad of other items on the oddities of Victorian mourning will be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, which is now available as a paperback and in a Kindle edition. The book is a look at the popular manifestations and ephemera of Victorian death culture. In addition to mourning novelties, burial alive, strange funerals, ghost stories, bizarre deaths and petrified corpses may be taken as read.

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 Plucky Little Widow: 1884

widow in long veil


A span of ponies attached to an emigrant wagon, containing a woman and three children and various household goods, halted on Grand River avenue yesterday to have a blacksmith set a shoe for one of the horses. As the woman seemed to be alone, or at least had no man in sight, the smith asked:

“Old man sick?”

“No, sir; I buried him up the country a year ago.”

“Then you are a widow?”

“I reckon I am, and my name is Briggs.”

“Which way are you jogging?”

“Going southwest—may be into Indiana.”

“Got sick of Michigan?” continued the smith as he pared away at the hoof.

“Well, the State is good enough,” she slowly answered. “Some mighty fine land, good schools and tolerable weather, but I had to get out of where I was. I lost a pound a week right along for the last three weeks.”


“Humph! I’d like to see the ague upset us! No, sir! My husband wasn’t cold before I had an offer of marriage! It wasn’t a month before I had three of ’em. Why, it wasn’t six months before their tracks were as thick around my house as cat trails on the snow!”

“Had your pick, eh?”

“Pick! I could have married anybody from my hired man up to a chap who owned a section of land and four saw-mills. They came singly and in droves. They came by day and by night.”

“And you—you—?”

“Say, you!” she exclaimed as she drew herself up, “do I look like an idiot?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, when I fling my three children at the head of a second husband and give up the $800 in cash in my pocket you can call me an idiot. No, sir! I repelled ’em.”

“And they got?”

“They had to. Susan, hand me that second husband repeller. It’s in the back end of the wagon.”

The girl hunted around and fished up a hickory club four feet long, and the woman held it out for inspection and said:

“There’s hairs of six different colors sticking in the splinters, and these blood-stains are the pure quill. You can judge whether they sat there and made love, or tore down the front fence in their hurry to reach the woods.”

”By George!” whispered the smith after a long inspection. “Well, I guess you don’t want to marry.”

“K’rect, sir. If you have any old widowers in this town, or if you know any one between here and Indiana who wants a headache that will last all winter without any letting up, just put ’em up to begin to ask me if my heart don’t yearn for love and my soul rattle around for some one to call me darling!”

Sawed-off Sketches: Humorous and Pathetic. Comprising Army Stories, Camp Incidents, Domestic Sketches, American Fables, New Arithmetic, Etc., Etc., Etc. C.B. Lewis (“M. Quad”) 1884

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the humourist “M. Quad” before, in an amusing discussion of “fiends for a funeral.”  A Haunted Ohio blog story on a phantom attacker gives a decent biography and sketch of his character.

In the literature of the period, so rife with “Merry Widows” in indecent haste to remarry, Mrs Briggs is a startling exception. A 1904 joke voices a common sentiment: “It’s a poor variety of widow’s weeds that won’t bear orange blossoms.”

While married women’s property acts were in place in many parts of the United States, in practice it was all too easy for a husband to appropriate his wife’s assets. Mrs Daffodil has been told of an American Civil War widow who expressed her reasons for not considering remarriage thusly: “I won’t give up my pension. Not for any man.” Mrs Daffodil applauds the plucky little widow Briggs’s sentiments—she was a merry widow in a very different sense—and that lady’s practical method for literally beating suitors off with a stick.

A Mourning Envelope and Paper Discuss a New Widow’s Grief: 1880

Black-bordered mourning stationery.

Black-bordered mourning stationery.


“Dear me,” said the Paper, “I feel awfully queer—so stiff round the edges. What is this black band for?”

“Hush!” said the Envelope; “don’t you know? Her husband is dead.”

“Well?” said the Paper.

“Well,” said the Envelope, “how stupid you are. The black is mourning for him, that’s all.”

“Good gracious!” said the Paper; “does she do it like this? Do you suppose it comforts her to see a black edge on her stationery? How very funny!”

“It’s the proper thing to do, at any rate,” said the Envelope, sharply. “You haven’t seen the world, evidently.”

“But it is not my idea of grief,” persisted the Paper. “If I were sad I would go away from everybody and keep quiet.”

“You are very simple-minded,” said the Envelope. “Who would see you if you mourned like that? I knew a widow once who was very angry because she found a card with a wider black edge than her own. She said she had told Tiffany to send the widest that was made, and here was one wider. She almost cried, and measured the edges to make sure. That was grief, now.”

“Was it, indeed?” said the Paper. “Well, times have changed, I suppose. Once when a woman lost her husband her eyes were so full of tears that she could not see how to measure black edges. This is the age of reason, I am told. All feeling is treated as weakness and soothed away by ignatia.”

“Oh, people feel, I suppose,” said the Envelope, a little ashamed; “but, really, there are so many things expected of one now when one’s friends pass away, that there isn’t as much time for grief. Just look at our poor lady to-day. At nine the undertaker came upon a matter most painful. It was—well, the mountings on the casket. She was going to have hysterics, but couldn’t, because he was waiting for her decision. Then the florist came to know about the decorations for the house. Then Madam Lameau with boxes upon boxes of dresses, wraps, bonnets, etc., and although our lady did sigh when she saw the deep black—tears spoil crepe, you know, and madam quickly diverted her mind by showing Lizette how to drape the long veil becomingly. Then came the jeweler with the latest design in jet, and her diamonds have to be reset now, you know, in black claws. After this the mourning stationery was sent with the crest in black, and all sorts of cards and letters had to be written. Then the servants’ new mourning liveries and carriage-hangings were selected. When dinner was served, our lady was so exhausted by all this that she felt faint, and ate a really good dinner to sustain life. Now I should like to know what time she has had for grief, poor thing!”

“Don’t say no time for grief!” said the Paper, rustling with indignation; “say no soul for it, and you will be nearer the truth. When a woman can choose bonnets and jewelry, her husband lying dead in the house, there is not much sadness in her heart. I see that she needs the black-edged paper to express herself. She might as well give up all this miserable farce and enjoy herself at once. Let her give a ball instead of a funeral, and show her diamonds in their new claws.”

“Oh, dear me, do hush!” said the Envelope.  “A ball in crepe and jet jewelry; you are not even decent; you don’t seem to understand things at all.”

“I don’t, that’s true,” said the Paper, “and I hope I never will; when women have got to mourning by sending out black edges and wearing the latest thing in jet, I give them up. I never shall understand.”

“Emotional people always make difficulties for themselves,” said the Envelope, coldly. “I accept things as they are, and adapt myself—Hush! she is coming, and crying, too, I declare, after all.”

“Well, really, Lizette,” said a voice broken with sobs, “you are very thoughtless. How should I remember, in my distracted state, to say twelve-buttoned gloves? and here they are only six-buttoned; it is too bad. But every one takes advantage of me now. I am alone—forlorn—desolate,” and the sobs redoubled.

“Poor thing,” said the Envelope.

“What hopeless grief” said the Paper. “I pity her.”

Arthur’s Home Magazine, Volume 48, 1880

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Such surprisingly scathing social commentary from stationery! Mrs Daffodil trusts that the Hall stationery will keep its opinions to itself, but one had no notion that stationery could be so censorious.

This is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available at Amazon and other online retailers, and for Kindle. 

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 Widow’s Hair Turned White: 1910

Women suffer things that men never have to. Fashionable femininity endures miseries in ways that its poorer sisters don’t have to. Wealth itself brings certain sorrows to the women who possess it. I met a widow just out of mourning garb and arrayed in gay colors. I hadn’t seen her since her bereavement. She had regained her old-time buoyancy and was having a good time at a dinner dance. Yet I observed gray hair in her coiffure that had not been there before and fancied that her voice had a note of grief.

“The loss of your husband has been a sad blow to you, my dear,” I said to be polite, although I knew well enough that he had been utterly uncongenial.

“I don’t feel that way about it,” she frankly replied; “he didn’t care for me, nor I for him. After using $20,000 out of his $250,000 for his mausoleum I felt free of further obligation and set out to have a good time with his fortune.” I was puzzled by the gray hair that had come on her head so quickly and asked her to explain it.

“It is the result of a shock,” she said. “You have read of persons whose hair, under intense terror or acute grief, turned all white in a single night? Well, only about one of my hairs in a thousand whitened, and it took a month for me to get as slightly gray as you see me, yet the bleaching was done by a mental shock. When the time approached for me to shuck the blacks in gowns and the blues in demeanor I planned a special toilet for the April Horse Show at Atlantic City. I sent to a famous Paris designer for drawings in water colors and samples of fabrics and adjuncts. I wanted to distinguish my ‘coming out’ as a widow with just the richest not only, but the best fitting and most becoming gown at the fair. The artist had my photograph, too, with all the particulars of complexion, hair and form from which to ‘create’ a triumphant toilet. The cost didn’t matter. It was enormous though, and included a whopping bill for cablegrams to close up the negotiations. One of my special stipulations was that the design should not only be original, but kept absolutely exclusive to me. The artist was bound to never duplicate or even imitate it.

“Well, my dear Clara Belle, the gown came all right. It was a dream of beauty—just odd enough to be unusual yet not gaudy; and after the final adjustments had been made by a skilled fitter here I was proud of myself as I looked into a mirror. I took it to Atlantic City in my motor car, instead of sending it by express with the rest of my wardrobe, so that it couldn’t go astray or get delayed. The opening day arrived warm and fair. The display of toilets in the boxes was fine for a lot of dressy women had come from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; and there was a big crowd of ordinary spectators, for an excursion train from the Quaker City had brought 1,000 sightseers.

“I posed a while at the front of my box and rivaled the horse exhibits as an object of interest. I mentally pinned a first prize ribbon on my breast and was exceedingly proud. Here and there among the swell Philadelphia women, whoever, I thought that I detected scrutiny that looked critical and sometimes two would whisper about me. What did it mean? After several competitions in the ring were over I went with my escort for a promenade on the lawn among the commoner folks—from the well-to-do to the barely-get there.

“Suddenly I got an awful shock. Along came a woman in a gown that, in everything except quality of material, was a counterpart of mine. The whole design was identical. I tottered and would have fallen if my companion hadn’t caught me. When the daze passed the woman was gone. Hadn’t she been a hallucination? I had begun to think so when another gown like mine came into view. The colors in this one were different, but it repeated the original otherwise. Within an hour I saw no less than five copies, and one in quite cheap stuff was worn by a girl as common as the goods.

“That fiend of a Parisian ‘artist’ had foisted on me as an ‘original and exclusive creation’ a design that he—or some one else—had made for an American manufacturer of gowns to be put on the market ready-made, and some big department store in Philadelphia had got a run on them. I went to my hotel in a state of nervous prostration, was no more than half conscious on my auto trip home and within a week these silver threads were among the gold of my hair.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 15 May 1910: p. C8

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The occasion of a widow coming “out of mourning” was treated as tantamount to a debut by some widows, such as this lady. Like the debutante ritual, it showed that they were “back on the market,” to use an indelicate phrase. As an aside, 1910 was the year of “Black Ascot,” although this lady, being an American, would not have gone into mourning for the King.

Etiquette demanded that widows wear black–dull and crape-trimmed for the first year; shinier fabrics, white trim, jet jewellery, and a shorter veil for the second. After the two years, half-mourning: white, gray, heliotrope, and mauve could be worn as the widow emerged from her cocoon of black crape. These rules were not invariably followed to the letter, but the newspapers reported on the mourning fashions of prominent women and were often scathing in their criticisms. For example:


A rather remarkable case is that of the recently bereaved Mrs. Marshal Field, of Chicago, who undertook to serve two masters by having her mourning gown cut décolleté. To the lay mind unacquainted with the awesome rites of fashion, the custom of rushing to the modiste when death is in the house smacks somewhat of flummery and frivolity. At the high tide of sorrow, the very crux of despair, gores, ruffles and tucks, sleeves and collars, would seem matters quite irrelevant; but this custom obtains in society and must be respected unless one is an out-and-out iconoclast and reckless heretic. The various stages of grief are furthermore shown to the world by a judicious handling of whites and grays, but it has been ordained always to be high-necked and long-sleeved grief.

Now, for any individual to change this order is a matter of fearful import; and the spectacle of Mrs. Marshall Field, at the end of a scant three weeks, breaking out all at once into bare neck and arms is a thing at once scandalous and deplorable. This still blooming widow, perhaps set upon her sorrowful and afflicted head a dull jet tiara; furthermore, perhaps about her drooping neck, sported some black pearls, which are de riguer, if you are fortunate enough to own them, at certain stages of melancholy. So perhaps she also wore black glace kids instead of dull suede. From such a spectacle one avert the eye; before such ill-considered vanity decorum goes into convulsions. That concrete grief should so far forget itself as to appear in a décolleté gown, albeit a very black gown, is a thing which makes the whole world stand aghast.

We live in parlous times, that is true, but never before has this been more openly shown than in this sad case of tearful innovation.

Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 16 February 1906: p. 2

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 more about Victorian practices in The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, which will be published in September of this year.

Marriages made on the Other Side: 1868 and 1902

"Miss June"

“Miss June”

Two tales of marriages made, if not in heaven, then somewhere on the Other Side.

A Strange Dream and a Wedding

One of the happiest men that ever journeyed a hundred miles from Michigan took the Toledo express on Saturday at Fremont, bound for Toledo and his home in Michigan. He told a strange story of which the following is the substance:

Some weeks since, while at home in Michigan, he retired to rest after a hard day’s work, and falling asleep dreamed a dream. He appeared to have taken a long journey from “home,” where he had been located for ten years, and had scarcely lost sight of, and where he had lived “a happy old bach,” and never thought of matrimony.

In that dream a vision appeared unto him. He arrived at a place in Ohio which was called Fremont. It appeared that soon after his arrival in that place, he formed the acquaintance of a young lady, and that, after a sort but happy courtship, he married her and returned to his home in Michigan, where he became wealthy, lived happily, and raised a numerous family of children, and in time trotted his grandchildren upon his knee. He then awoke; it was broad daylight, and his mother was at his door calling him down to breakfast.

At the breakfast table he related his dream to the old lady, and she was deeply impressed with it. He told her it was his intention to at once seek out the beautiful creature of whom he had creamed, and the old lady, believing there was a special providence in it, and being also a firm believer in dreams, advised him by all means to go and find her if he could, and if he couldn’t find her to bring back an Ohio girl any way, “for you know,” said she, “the Ohio girls are right smart.” So John packed up his little wardrobe, and took the first train out for Ohio, and lost no time in reaching Fremont.

When he arrived at the place he was surprised to discover that the sign at the depot, containing the name of the place—was an exact duplicate of the one he had seen in his dream and that the depot buildings and the general appearance of the city corresponded exactly with his vision. He put up at the Kepler House and began his search. For two or three days he was unsuccessful, but finally, just before he was on the point of returning home he came face to face with a maiden at the post office.

“’Tis she,” said he, all to himself, and then he walked up manfully and told her his story; his dream, and of his place in Michigan, and frankly asked her to share his lot with him.

She said something about its being sudden; she would rather wait a few days before giving an answer; but he was determined to have there and then, and she finally said she was all his own. He accompanied her to her home, and that evening he told her fond parents all about it. And they pronounced it good. The day following they were married and at once commenced their journey Michiganward.

The man was a fine looking fellow, and so happy that he could scarcely contain himself. He protested roundly that it was the woman he saw in his dram that he had met and married, ad that all, from first to last, had been exactly as he pictured in his dream. The lady was a pleasing appearing, comely looking lady, a few years younger than the man, and seemed to be brim full of fun and to enjoy the novelty of the thing fully as much as her husband. Take them all in all, they were well matched and were doubtless made for each other. He said only one thing was lacking to make his happiness complete, and that was the fulfillment of the latter part of his dream. [Cleveland Leader.]

Belmont Chronicle [St. Clairsville, OH] 14 May 1868: p. 4





That marriages are made in Heaven is firmly believed by John Wilgus, a prominent merchant and farmer living at Proctorville, a little town in the Ohio valley, below Parkersburg, W. Va., and that belief is shared by his new wife. Both are spiritualists and they were married after an acquaintance of less than a week, because they were told to do so by visitors from the spirit world. R. Wilgus lost his wife several weeks ago and about the same time Mrs. Lizzie Griffin lost her husband.

Before his death Griffin told his wife that he would communicate with her after his death and tell her his wishes. Through a medium he has been doing so. About two weeks ago the message came through a medium from the departed Griffin to his widow that he wanted her to marry John Wilgus. Mrs. Griffin was not aware of the existence of any John Wilgus, but made up her mind that she would follow her husband’s advice if she ever met a man of the name of Wilgus.

About the same time that Mrs. Griffin’s advice came from her departed husband, word came through another medium to Wilgus that his wife wanted him to marry Mrs. Lizzie Griffin. He did not know Mrs. Griffin or even know of her existence, but he started out to find her in accordance with the wishes of his deceased wife. They met. John told his story and she told hers. Both were impressed with the messages from the dead. In spite of the fact that they had never met before, they became engaged at their first meeting and were married within three weeks.

Each, says the New York World, is impressed with the belief that the marriage was ordained on high and that perfect happiness must be the result of their following the spiritual guidance of those who had gone before them.

Washington [DC] Bee 13 December 1902: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One can become somewhat cynical after reading too many Spiritualist journals. When spirits arranged marriages, they were usually between a wealthy, elderly gentleman and an attractive young “spirit bride,” who appeared out of the medium’s cabinet robed in virginal white and faded away after no more than a pressure of the hand and a chaste kiss for consummation. The spirit’s trousseau and expenses incidental to the wedding were, of course, heavy, but easily extracted from the besotted groom.

Another story of a girl who wedded a ghost may be found here. The story also appears in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past by Chris Woodyard.

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–all of June has been devoted to wedding fads and finery.

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.


“All the Batchelors are Blindly Captivated by Widows”: 1734

The first lieutenant governor of New York, as a young bachelor of 1730

The first lieutenant governor of New York, as a young bachelor of 1730

Charleston, March 2. On the 23d last past in the morning, one Martin Dunn,belonging to his Majesty’s Ship the Alborough, happened to be with Benjamin Story in his Periauger in the Northern Branch of Store’s River, and striking at an Alligator, fell over board and down to the Ground immediately: No doubt but the Alligator made a good breakfast on him.

We have by the last Advice from Purrysburgh [South Carolina] an account of the noble Effects the Climate of that Colony has produced: There is six Couples embarked thence for Savannah in Georgia, to be join’d in the holy State of Matrimony, and half a dozen pair more preparing themselves for the same.

To His Excellency Governor Johnson, The humble Petition of all the Maids whose Names are under-written.

WHEREAS we the humble Petitioners are at present in a very melancholly Disposition of Mind, considering how all the Batchelors are blindly captivated by Widows , and our more youthful Charms thereby neglected, the Consequence of this our Request is, that your Excellency will for the future order, that no Widow shall presume to marry any young Man till the Maids are provided for, or else to pay each of them a Fine for Satisfaction, for invading our Liberties, and likewise a Fine to be laid on all such Batchelors as shall be married to Widows . The great Disadvantage it is to us Maids is, that the Widows by their forward Carriages do snap up the young Men, and have the Vanity to think their Merits beyond ours, which is a great Imposition upon us, who ought to have the Preference. This is humbly recommended to your Excellency’s Consideration, and hope you will prevent any further Insults. And we poor Maids as in duty bound will ever pray. P.S. I— being the oldest Maid, and therefore most concerned, do think it proper to be the Messenger to your Excellency, in behalf of my Fellow Subscribers.

(Was signed by sixteen Maids, and delivered to the Governor Yesterday at the Feast.)

The Pennsylvania Gazette 28 March 1734

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil thinks it clever of the author to have begun this account of rapacious widows snapping up eligible men with an alligator breakfasting on an unfortunate gentleman. Because Mrs Daffodil is Relentlessly Informative, she will mention that a Periauger is a shallow draft sailing vessel, also known as a pirogue.

The Governor was Robert Johnson, the British colonial Governor of the Province of South Carolina, also known as “the Good Governor,” as he was much-beloved. He was a kindly administrator (except to pirates), but one is uncertain whether the petition was ever granted. One hopes so, for the sake of that oldest Maid.

Saturday Snippets: 10 August 2013: A chimney-sweep panic, mourning playing cards, a Woman in Black spectre, canine furniture, telephone girl hair fashions


Lately, while two men were employed in the interior of a family vault, a strange figure, black from head to foot, glided into the sepulchral mansion; the man whose eye first caught the spectre became instantly petrified with horror, his speech forsook him, and it was only by a vigorous effort that he could job the elbow of his fellow, and point to the object of alarm. Like the shock from the electric spark, the terror was communicated by the touch, but the symptoms were not so strong in the second as the first subject; taking courage, he addressed the ghost in a faltering accent, and said, “in the name of God, what is your errand to this world?”

“I have no errand: I was going past, and thought I would just look in.”

These grateful sounds instantly dispelled the illusion, and the workmen recognized in him the well-known voice of a neighboring chimney sweeper. Steubenville [OH] Herald 18 July 1817: p. 4 

The newest thing in mourning is that girls whom death bereaves of their accepted lovers may wear mourning. It consists, however, of no more than a black ribbon, where it loosely fastens her pretty gown in front, or it may appear in any part of the toilet. Another dainty fancy of these almost-not-quite widows it to dye their hair black. At all events, it was done in one case—that of a comment-courting actress. She had for several years bleached her hair to a light yellow, but on the death of her affianced husband she turned her hair to jet by means of dye, and in the same way blackened her eyebrows. Ah, well, if women were not peculiar, their mere beauty might become insipid to their adorers. Whimsicality makes them piquant. I saw two girls seated together and they wore such pretty dresses! One had an open album, and was gazing in sentimental grief at a photograph of her lately-deceased cousin.“Oh, I loved Jim very dearly,” she said, “and I mourn him as for a brother.” “Why don’t you put on mourning for him?” the other asked.“Because,” and she turned her tear-dimmed eyes on her friend, “my eyes are a light gray, and black would surely spoil their effect. Jim had exquisite taste in colors, and he would not, I’m sure wish me to wear anything unbecoming to my eyes.” St. Paul [MN] Daily Globe 22 January 1888: p. 12


Lock Haven Bug-a-Boo Met Its Match in a Plucky Girl

Special to The Inquirer.

Lock Haven, Pa., Oct. 3 For two weeks or more hundreds of men and boys, armed with revolvers, guns, dirks, and clubs, have been watching nightly for the human Will-o’-the-Wisp, called the Woman in Black, which has been bobbing up in dark places to frighten women and girls, and the police force has been augmented by several specials with the hope of catching the “spectre.” But it remained for a demure miss of sixteen to put the ogre to flight, and all she used was a hat pin.

When the “Woman in Black” stepped from a dark place last night and confronted a trio of girls, this miss stood her ground, and when she seized her hat pin the “Woman in Black,” who is believed to be a man, fled in the other direction. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 4 October 1899: p. 6

 An infantry private in a Delaware regiment has been “devilled” into quitting his company and wants redress, but cannot find a method. An indictment for militia’s mischief might lie. The Mt. Sterling [KY] Advocate 31 March 1891: p. 7 


Also They Must Quit Chewing Gum and Enunciate More Distinctly.

Chicago, Dec. 18. Puffs, rats, curls and also transformations—whatever they are—will be shorn from the heads of the thousands of telephone girls under a new rule just promulgated. They are also forbidden to chew gum during business hours.

The branch managers had reported that the operators spent too much time replacing loosened wisps of tresses when their fingers should have been busy with the plugs.

Here is the way the operators were instructed not to talk over the telephone:

“Numberpleeze.” “Phone’s takenout.” No fault is found with their enunciation of “Drop a nickel, please.” Fort Wayne [IN] Journal Gazette 19 December, 1909: p. 49 

Boston Mourning Cards.

The other day a very dainty young woman in black, with mourning veil so draped as to set off her shapely head and neck to advantage, entered a large stationery store on Washington Street, and said sweetly to a clerk behind the counter:

“Do you have all kinds of mourning cards?” “Yes’m; we have the cards, and can get them engraved for you.” “Oh, I don’t want the kind they get engraved—I want playing cards, you know.”

“Mourning playing cards!”

“Why, yes; don’t you think they would be real nice and tasty?”

The clerk was obliged to confess that the trade hadn’t yet reached the point of supplying playing cards with mourning borders for bereaved lovers of whist and poker, and the lady left the store disappointed. Boston Record Fresno [CA] Republican Weekly 11 March, 1887: p. 2


It is told of Charles Lamb, that one afternoon, returning from a dinner-party, having taken a seat in a crowded omnibus, a stout gentleman subsequently looked in, and politely asked, “All full inside?”

“I don’t know how it may be with the other passengers,” answered Lamb, “but that last piece of oyster-pie did the business for me.” Cyclopædia of Literary and Scientific Anecdote, edited by William Keddie, 1859 

Footstool May be Used as Dog Kennel

Paris, Jan. 2. The Parisienne’s love of canine pets has led to the invention of a pretty little piece of furniture. This is a small footstool of gilt wood, upholstered in material in keeping with the hangings of the apartment. The stool is hollowed and padded inside and is furnished with a small door in one side, and serves for a comfortable nook for a small dog. Parisian hostesses can thus keep pets with them when receiving friends. St. Louis [MO] Republic 3 January 1904: p. 12 

English Sparrows at A Dollar Apiece

Delaware, N.J. The residents of this section have been investing heavily in French canary birds, and now have as fine a lot of English sparrows on hand as they could wish for.

A couple of men came through here at few days ago and sold the birds at $1 apiece. They promised to return in ten days and refund the money if the birds were not satisfactory.

They left explicit directions not to give the birds a bath under a week, for fear they would take cold. When the bath was given, the coloring matter washed off, and a fine lot of sparrows was the result. New York World. Cleveland [OH] Leader 18 October 1903: p. 24

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The story of the Woman in Black “bug-a-boo” put to flight by a plucky girl reminds Mrs Daffodil of the “Woman in Black” panics so often found in the American papers and occasionally in those of the better-regulated British press. These panics were the result of sightings or visions of ghastly females in widow’s weeds, gliding around in the dark. They were often described as unnaturally tall (leading to a suspicion that they were really men) and had the ability to disappear inexplicably. There were a great many of them terrifying the populace in Pennsylvania in the 1880s through the 1910s.  Those scientists who study social movements would probably say that the apparitions were some visual manifestation of  financial crashes and coal-mining disasters. If one asked the inhabitants of Pennsylvania who had experienced these panics, they would delicately suggest that such scientists were talking through their hats and that everyone knew that the black-clad  creatures were actually modern banshees.

There is a chapter on the Women in Black in the upcoming book, The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past.

You will find the two-part post about a Woman in Black panic in Massillon, Ohio here and here.

The Ghost of a Perfect Husband: 1841

Victorian widow at the grave

A widow swoons on the grave of  the best of husbands. 1846



WE often see young men in the gaiety of youth, resolve against marrying while they enjoy health and spirits; and we as often see, that some unforeseen accident disconcerts all their fine resolutions.
So it was with Julius de Mersaint. Young, rich, handsome, possessing all the advantages of life, he was positively determined, that as long as he was able to enjoy them, he would remain a bachelor. It would be time enough to think of marriage, when he was tired of amusement. In consequence of this resolution, he had courageously resisted the numerous attacks that had been made on him. The kind attentions of the mammas who had marriageable daughters; the pretty airs of the young ladies themselves, had all been met with equal indifference. But at last he met with a widow, and matters took a different turn.

A widow is a two-edged sword; the most adroit master of fence can hardly escape a wound in such an encounter. Julius thought he might trifle with the lady, and found himself in love before he was aware. He had engaged himself too far to retreat; but he found it no difficult matter to reconcile himself to his fate. “After all,” thought he, “what can I do better than to marry a woman who is young, pretty, rich, amiable, and irreproachable in her character? It is every way, an excellent match!” So the project of celibacy was given to the winds, and the lady suffered herself to be persuaded to renounce the state of widowhood.

Soon after the wedding, a friend of Julius arrived from a journey, and came to see the bridegroom. “I am glad to see you,” said the latter; “of course, you come to congratulate me.” “Not at all,” said Frederic, “you know how sincere I am. I should have advised you not to marry; but since the step cannot be recalled, I shall content myself with saying it was a very imprudent one.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Julius; “you cannot have heard any thing against my wife.” “Oh no! by no means. During her first husband’s life, she lived chiefly in the country, and was but little seen in Paris. Since she has been a widow, and returned to society, she has not given the least occasion for slander. I am happy to do her that justice. In fact, I know no fault that can be found with her except her having been a widow. It is that fact my friend, that constitutes your imprudence.”

“Really, Frederic, I thought you had more sense. You are rather too sentimental.” “No, it is not as a matter of sentiment that I object to it. Did you know the late Mr. Doligny?” “No, I did not.” “Then you do not know who you have married.” “I know I have married a charming woman, only twenty-five years old, who is perfectly amiable, and whom, notwithstanding your odd notions, I am sure you will be delighted with; though she has had the misfortune of being a wife during four years.” “I admire the light manner in which you treat so serious an affair; you marry a woman who has come to years of discretion, without considering in the least what sort of an education she has received from her first master, or caring what responsibilities this reign of four years entails upon you.”

“Indeed, I am not afraid of the past.” “Then you know something about Mr. Doligny; you have heard what was his character, his temper, his habits.” “No, I have seen nobody who knew much about him; but there hangs his portrait in that handsome frame, look at it.” “Why, I must acknowledge that the dear deceased was not very handsome. In that point you have a decided advantage over him. Still, that may not be sufficient. There are some men who can make their wives forget their ugliness; and that very face that quiets your alarms, is perhaps exactly what ought to excite them. You do not know what a degree of complaisance, what attention, what sacrifices, the original of that portrait may have considered himself obliged to use; and depend upon it, no less will be expected from you, notwithstanding your good looks.”

“Well, I intend to be a good husband. I shall endeavour to make my wife happy; what more can be expected?” “I do not know what may be expected. But why is that portrait still there? When the reign is concluded, and the interregnum past; when the people have cried, the king is dead, long live the king, it is the usual custom to transfer the emblem of defunct royalty, either to the lumber room or the garret.” “What! a painting like that! done by one of the first masters. We preserve it as a work of art, without reference to the original, who is dead and out of the way.” “I hope you may find that he is.” “Why you do not believe in ghosts?” “I believe ghosts sometimes come when they are called, and I believe the apparition of a first husband is very apt to be in the way of the imprudent man who has ventured to take his place.”

The next day, the two friends took a ride together. On their return, Frederic requested Julius to go with him into a cemetery, saying with a solemn air, “The living ought to take lessons from the dead.” They walked through several rows of tombstones, with cypresses drooping over them, till Frederic stopped and pointed out an inscription to his friend. “Here rests John Joseph Aristides Doligny; the best of men, and the model of husbands. His inconsolable widow has raised this monument to his memory.” “That inconsolable,” observed Derville, “is an honour to you, for you have triumphed over an eternal sorrow. But the lesson to which I would call your attention, is comprised in the first line. ‘The best of men, and the model of husbands.’ Mark what I tell you, this epitaph will be repeated to you, and this funeral eulogium held up to you as a rule of conduct, from which you may not depart without exposing yourself to witness regrets, which will not be very flattering to you; and to see your wife become once more an inconsolable widow. You smile, you do not believe me?” “How can I? am I not the happiest of husbands.” “Certainly, at this period of your marriage; you may expect to enjoy your honey moon as every body else does; only in the case of a widow, this moon is sometimes curtailed of its fair proportions, and only lasts two or three weeks.” “Really, Frederic, if you were not such an old friend, I should quarrel with you.” “I should not be surprised if you did.”

Julius went home and dined alone with his wife. As he looked on her sweet face, and listened to her agreeable conversation, he thought of the ridiculous fears of his friend. “Poor Frederic,” said he to himself, “he certainly means kindly, but he is strangely mistaken?” His wife interrupted his meditations, by asking if he had not been riding out that morning. “Yes my dear, I took a ride while you were with your mother.” “And I believe you had a friend with, you.” “Yes, Frederic Derville, a charming young man.” “Charming! oh I do not doubt that. But I have heard of the gentleman; and between you and I, that intimacy is one which I think is no longer very suitable for you.” “Not suitable ? why?” “Why, do not you think that a single man has sometimes acquaintances, whom it is as well to give up when he marries?” “Certainly; but Frederic – ” “He is a singular man, and besides he has met with some adventures. He has been talked of, and his attentions have injured the characters of some ladies.” “That is to say, some ladies who had no characters to lose, have been very willing to allow his attentions; but I assure you that Frederic is a man of honour, and incapable – ” “Oh! I dare say, but I can only judge from what I hear. Mr. Frederic Derville would be an improper acquaintance for me, and you surely would not keep up any acquaintance with a person who could not be admitted into my society.” “But, my love, when you become acquainted with Frederic, you will become convinced of your prejudices.” “I shall not become acquainted with him, I assure you.” “Is it possible, Amelia? an old friend of your husband’s?” “If you choose still to consider him as such, I cannot certainly prevent it; but at least, I trust you will refrain from introducing to my acquaintance a person whose character I cannot approve.”

“I hope we are not going to quarrel so soon.” “I certainly do not wish to do so, but I must confess I did not expect so much opposition to a very reasonable request. But I have been deceived by the past.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, that when Mr. Doligny married me, he made no difficulty in giving up any of his old companions; and that the moment I had expressed my disapprobation of any person, he broke with him immediately.” Julius could not answer. The name of Doligny had proved that Frederic was not altogether mistaken: and the honey-moon, had as yet completed but half its course. The cloud, however, soon passed away from the face of the fair planet.

A little time, and this unpleasant scene was forgotten, and the bridegroom again revelled in his visions of perfect happiness, when one day his wife said to him, “My dear, winter is drawing near; have you thought of our box at the opera, and the Italian theatre?” “What box, my love?” “You know how fond I am of music.” “I know that you sing like an angel.” “Then surely, the angel must have at least once a week, a box at the opera, and the Italian theatre.” “Why, I am not quite sure that our fortune will allow of such an indulgence.” “Mr. Doligny had precisely the same income as you; and in his time, I had a box every Monday at the opera, and every Saturday at the Italian theatre.” There was the phantom of the first husband coming a second time, to disturb the comfort of poor Julius; he could not resolve to appear less generous than his predecessor, so he consented to hire both boxes. In another respect he was obliged to imitate Mr. Doligny; he saw Frederic but seldom and almost by stealth. “I do not ask you to come to our house,” said he, “I can offer you so little pleasure. We live very much alone, we see no company, – you would find us very dull.” “Don’t trouble yourself to apologize,” said his friend with a smile, “it is not you, but Mr. Doligny, who refuses to welcome me.”

M. de Mersaint was not only one of the prettiest women in Paris, but one of the best drest. The expense in that particular, was enormous. Her husband observed one day with a manner that was but half agreeable, “You appear frequently in new dresses.” “Is that a compliment, or a reproof,” asked the lady. The poor husband made no reply, and the lady continued. “Mr. Doligny always liked to see me outshine the best dressed women in company; he never thought his idol could be too much adorned.” Presently, the bills came in, and very long bills they were. That of the milliner in particular, presented a frightful amount. Julius could not refrain from expressing some surprise. “What,” cried he, “such a sum for nothing but flowers, feathers, and ribbons.” “Do you think it much?” “What do you think yourself?” “Really, I never had occasion to think about it. Mr. Doligny never made any remarks about such details. The bills were presented, and he paid them, and I heard no more about it.”

The visits of the apparition were becoming more frequent. At first, he only appeared at intervals, but he ended by taking complete possession of the house. He was always present; was brought in on every occasion, consulted in every debate, and there was no appeal from his decisions. He ruled his successor with a rod of iron. At last, he thought fit to introduce another inmate into the family, in the person of a young officer of hussars, a cousin of the lady. “I hope,” said Madame de Mersaint, “that you will treat my cousin Edward as Mr. Doligny used to do. He always considered our house as his home when he had leave of absence.” The tyranny of the ghost was really becoming insupportable; the only consolation Julius had, was to complain in secret to his friend Frederic.

“Ah!” said he to him, “you were quite right. Mr. Doligny does persecute me strangely; his epitaph is a most unreasonable rule of conduct; and I am almost worn out with the difficulty of keeping up to it.” “You would not be the first who has sunk under such a task. I have known many unlucky fellows, who like you, had thoughtlessly married widows, without knowing any thing of their past lives. Some died under the trial; the others only lived to repent; and I have heard more than one express the wish that the admirable customs of India, respecting widows, had been the fashion in France.” Sometimes Julius would make an attempt at rebellion. Then Madame de Mersaint with tears in her eyes, would turn towards the portrait, and exclaim, “Oh! my Aristides, you would not thus have afflicted me! you loved me, and made me happy!” How was it possible to resist that!

However, one evening Julius met at a ball, an old gentleman who had known Madame de Mersaint during her first marriage. “I rejoice,” said he, “to see Madame de Mersaint so happily married; she really deserved some compensation, for all she suffered with her first husband.” “Suffered, my dear sir, why he was a model for all husbands! so says his epitaph, and so his widow says. I try to replace him worthily, but I assure you it is a difficult matter: he was so good a husband as to spoil her for any other.” “My dear sir, it is all very proper for you and her to talk so, but I happened to know Mr. Doligny very well; I spent a great deal of time with them at their country house.” “A beautiful place, was it not?” “You have never been there?” “Never.” “So I perceive.” The curtain was drawn; a new world was opening to the astonished husband. He went on from one discovery to another, and found them well worth making.

Soon after, he informed his wife that he was called from home by business; he refused to answer her inquiries on the subject. “Business which I must not know! Mr. Doligny never had any secrets for me.” Julius went; and on his return, found his wife in rather an ill humour; at last she consented to make peace on one condition. “What is it?” “Take me to the waters of Baden, Mr. Doligny used often to go there with me.” “When you did not pass the summer at your delightful country house.” “Oh! if I had a country house I should like it quite as well to go there.”

“Well, I have got one for you. I wanted to give you a surprise. Make your preparations, and we will set off” “Is it far from here?” “You shall see.” The surprise of Madame de Mersaint may be imagined when she found herself driving up to her former country house. The husband certainly could never have found it out from her description. “My love,” said he, as he handed her from the carriage, “I have bought this place to please you; you know I wish to procure you all the pleasures and indulgences which Mr. Doligny delighted to lavish upon you. And I shall now find it easy to follow his example; as I find his conduct traced by your own hand in this paper.” “My own hand!” cried his wife alarmed. “Yes, my love, your own hand. I received the precious document from your lawyer, with whom I have had a conference; read it yourself.” It was a petition for a separation founded on various acts of ill-treatment, and cruelty, which this model of husbands had exercised towards his disconsolate widow; his death had prevented the affair from coming before the public. Madame de Mersaint cast down her eyes, and the phantom disappeared for ever. They returned to Paris. Julius opened his house to Frederic, who observed, “You have discovered the secret: apparitions are only to be feared in the dark.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1841