Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Protest Within Convention. Victorian Marriage. Mary H. Seymour, and Her Harry

Re-presented here is a story by Mary H. Peterson, from the March 1865 Peterson's Ladies National Magazine. What was Victorian marriage like, for the unhappy. Mary H. Seymour opens eyes to what she sees. "Ten Years Married" reads the title, in Peterson's Ladies National Magazine, Vol XLVII, Philadelphia, March 1865, No.8 at p.187. This is a rare look behind the fashion, the conventions, to the repression of it all, for some.

We re-type the story here, because the original does not scan well. Scroll down. Have times changed. For some, no.

Peterson's Ladies National Magazine, March 1865

This story is from a section of a bound volume that has been long broken and separated out.

The Story. See there a short story, by a Mary H. Seymour, less than three columns long, amid the carriage dresses, the whimsies, the patterns for a tobacco bag to make for him, piano pieces to try, recipes, and lots more stories. This was a magazine that promoted women writers, more - apparently - than Godey's Lady's Book, also published at the time - both spanning some 50-60 years, Godey's beginning in the 1830's, Peterson's in the 1840's, and both to 1898.

Mary, we salute, some paragraphing added here to make it more readable:


"Are you going to the Lecture, Henry?" I asked, as I saw my husband, one evening, putting on his overcoat, after tea.

"Yes," was the reply.

"I wish you would take me, " I answered.

"Really, Mary, I think home is the proper place for a mother."

"But one of my sisters would look after the children. I do so want to hear this great lecturer."

"To tell the truth, I have but one ticket," was the reply, as he went out of the door," and I don't think I can afford to buy another."

My husband and I had been married for several years. Before the marriage he had been unusually attentive, even for a lover; and if another gentleman spoke to me, he was jealous. When there was a lecture or concert anywhere, he was only too glad to attend me. But now "Parties are a bore," he says, "he can't think why women wish to go to them."

Then he was all affection. Now he acts as if it would lower his dignity to show his love to me or my children; and and if I offer him a kiss, or a caress, he is almost certain to refuse me.

I cannot complain that he neglects his more obvious duties. He gives me plenty of money for dress, lives well, and is even talking of buying a new house. But he seems to think that a wife has no business with anything but housekeeping, and never needs change of scene, or other recreation. "What's the use of a woman," he says, "going about? Home is the place for her."

It may be so, but after a hard day's work, I often feel as if a walk in the fresh air, or a visit to a neighbor's, would be a real blessing. I said to him, the other evening, when he was going out again,"Won't you stay at home, Harry, to oblige me? Just this once. I am so lonely."

"Lonely!" was his answer. "How can you be lonely with the children?"

"But they are abed. And, recollect, I see nobody, day in and day out. Can't you do it -- to please me -- for this once?" I could hardly speak; it was as much as I could do to keep the tears from coming: his conduct seemed so cruel.

"The fact is, " he replied,"I'm dead beat with working all day, and must go out to get brightened up a little. You women never make allowances for a man." And he went out quite crossly.

Never make allowances! If the husband is worried with business, and I do not doubt it, is not a wife worried with housekeeping? Are servants, and children, and sickness, no trouble? And is a woman differently constituted from a man, so that the recreation, which she considers indispensable for himself, is of no service to the other?

"How your complexion has gone," said my husband to me, the other day."It seems to me that, in this climate, a woman is old at thirty."

Again the tears came into my eyes. Harry did not mean to be unkind. He was only thoughtless; but why had I lost my complexion? Can a woman live forever, in rooms heated by hot air, never going out except on some errand, and then hurrying home as soon as the errand is done, without losing her complexion? Is it the climate, or her mode of life, that makes her old before her time? It was on my tongue to say these things: but I refrained: I have learned that "silence is golden."

"How I wish I had something to read," I said yesterday. "I think, if I had a new book now and then, the evenings, when you are out, Harry, would not be so long."

"Books cost too much money, in times like these," answered my husband. "I should think [188] your sewing would amuse you enough. To get bread for his family, and lay by a little for a rainy day, is as much as a prudent man can do, now-a-days." And, as he spoke, he lit his segar, and went out.

Will men ever understand women? Will they ever see their own selfishness in its true light? These thoughts rose to my mind, as I reflected, with a sigh, that a tithe of the money, which Harry spent on segars, would buy me all the new books I wished.

Yet Harry does not mean to be unkind. He saw his mother treated as he treats me, and he thinks I have no right to complain. Perhaps I have not. But, oh! how much happier I would be if things were different.

Are women only machines to sew, darn, sweep, dust, bake bread, take care of children and keep house? Have they no need of recreation? No higher nature that is starved by a life like mine.
There is no contention between Harry and me. But his love now is, or seems, a very different thing from what it seemed before marriage. Is my fate the fate of all? Is every wife like me when TEN YEARS MARRIED?


Peterson's Magazine - "two dollars a-year, invariably in advance."

Here is the 1860 cover. Arbitrarily chosen. All alike.

An outlet for creativity, but also part of the domestication propaganda problem. Some managed to rise above and write. See :// Some fashions now are even available online for costumers, see ://


No mention. Barely. Clearly not a topic for female heads. Godey's editorial policy was to ignore the Civil War, and remain for the woman at home as an "oasis," see :// Even the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is ignored except for a small black-framed square announcing it, and the grief. Peterson's (the fragments and smaller volumes we have) makes no mention of war issues, but in both, from the resources we have here*, there are only a few poems to a distant husband about the birth of a child, or a story about a soldier's orphans.

Other titles in Petersons, for contrast, and to show other protests within the Victorian conventions: The convention: "Love's Young Dream, " story with this illustration.

Then see reality, barely concealed: "How Two Women Found Something to Do," and another story, "A Bold Stroke For A Wife."

Here is a galling title - "Married by Mistake."

Then, back to Convention, with "How Patty Went Skating," story with this illustration:

And this section from Godey's Lady's Book, 1865 full leather-bound volume, at p.280:


HEATHEN PROVERB -- "In Cochin china, as in all countries where civilization has made but little progress, the women are doomed to the most laborious occupations. A traveller in that country says the women may be seen standing to the knees, occupied in transplanting rice. They undertake the labor of tillage, and the various employments of agriculture -- while those who live in seaports besides, the superintendence of the various branches of commerce. They even assist in constructing and repairing the cottages -- they conduct the manufactures -- they ply the boats in the rivers, and in the harbors, and carry th articles of produce to market. But nothing can be a stronger proof of the degradation of the womanly character, and the unceasing labor to which they are doomed, than the proverbial expression in that country, that 'a woman has nine lives, and bears a great deal of killing.' "

CHRISTIAN SENTIMENT -- "An overworked woman is always a sad sight; sadder a great deal than an overworked man, because she is so much more fertile in capacities of suffering than a man. She has so many varieties of headache, sometimes as if Jael were driving the nail that killed Sisera into her temples, sometimes letting her work with half her brain, while the other half throbs as if it would to to pieces, sometimes tightening round the brows as if her cap bands were Luke's iron crown: and then her neuralgias, and her back aches, and her fits of depression, in which she thinks she is nothing, and less than nothing, and those paroxysms which men speak slightingly of as hysterical convulsions, that is all, only not commonly fatal ones, so many trials which belong to her fine and mobile structure, that she is always entitled to pity when she is placed in conditions which develop her nervous tendencies. --Dr. O. W. Holmes.

Oh, those nervous tendencies. So restricting! Such a natural limit!

Watch out, doc. Times are changing.

Thank you, Mary H. Seymour, and others like you (Hello, Cady Stanton) protesting.


US: Is this so? What were the Godey's real messages:

1. The Chinese women just got killed - but their nerves were fine, managing commerce? Don't get us wrong here - some of us luck out in marriage, see Frogs of a Summer's Day, but that does not dull us to others who did not.

2. The cycle of abuse here - this sounds like stage 1 of what in a later era (and even then) becomes physical abuse - first the isolation, the belittling, the powerlessness imposed, then the strike. See ://; ://

Coming soon, possibly: the next article about men's understanding of women and their capabilities: on the burden of thought, the despair of knowledge which she cannot keep in perspective (the worry about a geological measurement from a lecture, where a tiny shaving has reduced since the earth's crust was formed, etc.).

Then again, this gets too depressing. Aaah, to my couch....
* We have

  • Godey's bound volume for 1865; and
  • Peterson's paper volumes (no bound volume with the many paper ones inside), for February 1860 (partial), March 1865 (complete), March 1866 (no back cover), October 1867 (complete),

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