History of the Victorian Valentine

 

No other moment so captures the very essence of an era as the Victorian Valentine!  These lovingly crafted tokens of L*O*V*E hide within their paper lace, scraps, hearts, cupids and flowers fascinating clues to that glorious gilded age in which the Valentine was totally transformed from mere paper to an elaborate Art Form!  We love our collection of frilly, fancy cards, and in this guide will outline a brief history of Valentine’s Day, Valentines and the different "types" of Valentines so amazingly popular in the Victorian Era.

History of Valentine’s Day

The history of Valentine’s Day is part fact, part legend.  The holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman feast of Lupercallia, a fertilitycelebration commemorated on February 15th. The Catholic Church recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day c. 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day.

As there were three Christian saints by that name, historians are not quite sure which one was to be honored by this, all three were astonishingly martyred on Feb. 14.  Most scholars believe the St. Valentine of the holiday was a priest who was disfavored by the Roman emperor Claudius II around 270. There are several romantic Myths surrounding him, but most likely he was put to death for refusing to renounce his faith in God.  In the 14th century, Chaucer first linked Valentine’s Day with Love…in 1381, he composed a poem to celebrate the engagement of England’s Richard II and Ann of Bohemia.

Tradition of Valentine’s Cards

Written Valentines began to appear after 1400, these were mostly written love letters (the oldest Valentine in existence was made in the 1400’s and is in the British Museum) Decorated writing papers became very popular right before the turn of the century, by 1800 decorated papers appeared with Valentine’s Day themes. When nineteenth century technology advanced and printing became more sophisticated, the Victorian Valentine business really boomed!

The London stationary firm of Joseph Addenbrooke became a major contributor in the "evolution" of the commercial Valentine, during the 1830’s he discovered how he could create paper to imitate lace.  Soon lace paper or "doilies" became all the rage as English stationers competed fiercely to make elaborate doilies that looked like real lace!

Over the next thirty years, Valentine cards were made in great numbers and variety.While the most dominant theme for Valentines would always be LOVE, comic and sometimes even insulting Valentines were also well~loved!


This is one where the message is not encouraging to the suitor!

 

The period between 1840 and 1860 is considered to be "the Golden Age of Valentines" by collectors.  During this time the printing technology of chromolithoraphy was perfected, producing astonishingly beautiful printed designs known as "chromos." 

These were produced in such a wide range of exquisite colors, were relatively inexpensive, and they soon became part of the mass culture, the Victorians used them to embellish practically everything!  The most popular were large sheets of "scrap" used to fill large Scrapbooks, a most compelling hobby for both young children as well as young women.

During this period the art of making Love’s Own Messages became quite the rage! Using Paper Lace, Scraps, Silk Ribbons, Fringe, Feathers, Tinsel, Glitter and other regalia, the Victorians could make original dainty creations that won admiration from all the fair ladies to whom they were presented!

Mesh and lace-paper were layered over colored Silk to show them to a fabulous effect, portions of the cards were moveable, revealing hidden messages of affection and love. Pictorial "pop-up" Valentines were a popular later. Some of these were quite simple, using paper springs to create a 3-dimensional effect, but others could give a real sense of depth when opened.

A Sweet Valentine with "pop~up" center Cherubs, Dresdens and real leaves.

 

Both the "home" as well as the commercial making of Valentines flourished, Valentines were among the few tokens that could be exchanged between men and women, and much was read between the lines of these missives.  Depending on the elaborateness of the cards, a young lady could measure the true affection of her suitors!

The Valentine Comes To America

In 1847, Esther Howland, of  Worcester, Mass., received a typical commercial English Valentine.  She loved it, and convinced her father, who was a stationer, to order a large supply of materials from England for her.  She made a small assortment of Valentines, which her brother (a traveling salesman) showed to his clients. He returned with 5,000 orders, and Esther set up shop, hired a few friends, and started the first assembly line Valentine Card making business!  Her Valentines were so elaborate, each was sold in a box, for $5.00 – $10.00, which was quite a lot of money those days!

An example of Esther’s Valentines

 

By the end of the nineteeth century, improvements in color-printing made commercially~made Valentines preferable over home-made ones, and the cards were sent not only to one special Valentine, but to a wide circle of friends and relations.  Marcus Ward in England, and Louis Prang here in the United States competed fiercely with their beautiful Valentines.  Prang began to trim his cards with lush Silk Fringe, and soon this replaced the paper lace borders on the most highly prized Valentines.

An example of a card with Scraps and Paper Lace

Types of Valentines

There are so many different types of Valentines, each is charming in their own way.  A few different Valentines Collectors look for are:

    • Acrostic valentines – have verses in which the first lines spell out
      the loved one’s name

    • Cutout valentines – made by folding the paper several times and then
      cutting out a lacelike design with small, sharp, pointed scissors

    • Pinprick Valentines – made by pricking tiny holes in the paper with a
      pin or needle, creating the look of lace

    • Rebus Valentines – verses in which tiny pictures take the place of
      some of the words. (an eye would take the place of the word I)

    • Puzzle Purse Valentines – a folded puzzle to read and refold.
      Among their many folds were verses that had to be read in a
      certain order

    • Fraktur Valentines – had ornamental lettering in the style of
      illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages

    • Love Knot Valentines – were made of ribbon or drawn on paper made of loops, sometimes in the shape of hearts. On the loops were written messages to be read by turning the knot around and around.

To hold a frilly, lacey Victorian Valentine is to be connected with a more Romantic Era.  The Victorians lived in that golden age, when their Victorian Homes were full of lavish decorations, every holiday was celebrated to the fullest, and Home and Family was adored above all else!

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The Reason for the Season

 

Where would Christmas be without the reason for our celebration? The Victorians promoted church going, charity giving, and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. The true Christmas story as recorded in the Bible was their most important reading of the season.  

  And it came to pass in those day there went out a decree from Ceasar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: (because he was of the house and lineage of David)

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manager; because there was no room for them at the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  

                              My Gift

  What can I give Him

  Poor as I am?

  If I were a shepherd,

  I would give Him a lamb,

  If I were a Wise Man,

  I would do my part-   But what can I give Him,

  Give my heart.

   

Christmas Bells                                                                                    The time draws near the birth of Christ:

  The moon is hid, the night is still;

  The Christmas bells from hill to hill

  Answer each other in the mist.  

  Four voices of four hamlets round,

  From far and near, on mead and moor, 

  Swell out and fail, as if a door

                                                                                                            Were shut between me and the sound;

Each voice four changes on the wind,

That now dilate, and now decrease;

Peace and good will, good will and peace;

Peace and good will, to all mankind

 

Hang Up The Baby’s Stocking

  Hang up the baby’s stocking

  Be sure you don’t forget!

The dear little dimpled darling,

  She never saw Christmas yet!

  But I’ve told her all about it,

  And she opened her big blue eyes;

  And I’m sure she understood it-

  She looked so funny and wise.

Dear, what a tiny stocking!

  It doesn’t take much to hold

Such little pink toe’s as baby’s

Away from the frost and the cold

But then, for the baby’s Christmas,

It will never do at all.

Why! Santa wouldn’t be looking

For anything half so small.  

I know what I will do for the baby.

I’ve thought of the very best plan.

I’ll borrow a stocking of Grandma’s,

The longest that ever I can

And you’ll hang it by mine, dear mother,

Right here in the corner so!

And leave a letter to Santa,

And fasten it in the toe.  

Write-this is the baby’s stocking,

That hangs in the corner here.

You never have seen her, Santa,

For she only came this year

But she’s just the blessed’st baby.

And now before you go,

Just cram her stocking with goodies,

From the top clean down to the toe!

 

From Little Women

"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I’m glad you began at once, and hope

you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far

away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children

are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire.

There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy comes to tell me

they are suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast

as a Christmas present?"

  

 

May we all find the gift of charity, giving and celebration of the Christ Child!

Christmas Blessings to one and all of my dear Spaces friends…may your hearts be filled with joy and peace!

Victorian Christmas Carols

 

On the first Chirstmas Eve, nearly two thousand years ago, the hills around Bethlehem echoed with song. Sleepy shepherds learned of Jesus’ birth from angels singing praises to God and journeyed, amazed, to visit the infant in the manger. As they walked back to their flocks the shepherds, too, sang songs of rejoicing.
The Victorians loved music so it is no surprise that they revived the old medieval carols and also composed new ones, both secular and religious. The Victorians, with their interest in parlor singing began to use cheerful, easily sung music in their Christmas celebrations. Musicians began collecting old nativity carols as well as writing new ones to be sung at Christmas. Two notable collections were "A Good Christmas Box" in 1847 and "Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern" in 1871. During Christmas services, strains of "O Holy Night" and the Messiah filled the churches.
Many Victorians had a piano or organ in the parlor at home, and on Christmas Day, after the feasting and other festivities, the family gathered around for the singing of Christmas carols. "Silent Night", "O Christmas Tree", and "I Heard the Bells were favorite selections for the program.
The tradition of caroling from door to door grew out of the waits, an ancient English custom of traveling from house to house and singing in exchange for food. Outdoor carol singing became very popular in both England and America during the late 1800s and early 1900s. "Here We Come a-Wassailing" describes the tradition of the waits.
When the Victorians wrote new words to old carols and new songs about Christmas, carols began to reflect a religious theme and began to be used in church services. References to making music abound in Christmas carols asking that pipes, drums, bells and voices be raised in celebration and worship.
Some of our favorite Christmas carols were either written or revised during the Victorian era. The list includes "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Good Christian Men Rejoice", "Silent Night", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", "Away in a Manger", "We Three Kings" and "Jingle Bells." We owe the Victorians a debt of gratitude for their contribution to the music that’s such an important part of our Christmas celebration today.

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

The background music you are hearing as you read this is an arrangement of Silent Night from Joseph Mohr’s manuscript (ca.  1820) in the Carolino Augusteum Museum. It is based on the  melody and guitar chords he wrote down which is the earliest  known version of the song. It was written into midi format by Bill Egan.
What was the young priest to do? A Christmas Eve Service was to begin very soon but there was no organ. The Salzach River which flowed near the village church of Oberndorf, Austria had caused chronic moisture to rust the pipe organ. What would Christmas Eve be without music?
Father Josef Mohr had recently come to the tiny villge of Oberndorf, Austria. On the evening of December 23 he had attended a church play. After the play, he had climbed up on the mountain that overlooked the town and he was impressed with the beauty of the quiet and darkness. When he arrived home, he sat down and penned a new song, "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" he wrote. "Silent Night, holy night." The nighttime peacefulness of Oberndorf was fresh in his mind, and he began to picture Bethlehem bathed in a moonglow:

"All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin Mother and child

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace."

The words were flowing now. He began to visualize the shepherds quaking, shaken from the quietness of their vigil by the glories streaming from heaven.

"Son of God, love’s pure light,

Radiant beams from Thy Holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth."

The next morning he brought the poem to his organist, Franz Gruber. He asked him to put a tune to the song he had written. Something simple so he could accompy on the guitar. Gruber set about the task quickly and in a few hours he was done, just in time to rehearse with the choir before the service. Father Mohr sang tenor, Gruber sang bass, and the service had music with the new song. "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!"
A master organ builder eventually came to Oberndorf to repair the rusted organ, and there learned of the carol. He copied the song and it made its way around Austria as he worked on organs of neighboring villages. From him, two families of traveling folk singers learned of the song and sang it in concerts all over Europe. In 1834 the Strasser family performed it for the King of Prussia who ordered it sung every Christmas Eve by his cathedral choir. The Rainer family singers brought it to America in 1839.
This site Silent Night Web has translations in almost any launguage, notation, history, and much more!

 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Tragedy struck the home of American’s most popular poet. On July 9, 1861, Henry Wadsworth Longellow’s wife, Fanny, was near an open window sealing the locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax. It was never known whether a spark from a match or the sealing wax was the cause, but suddenly her dress caught fire and engulfed her with flames. Her husband, sleeping in the next room, was awaked by her screams. He desperately tried to put out the fire and save his wife. He was severely burned on his face and hands.
She, tragically burned, slipped into a coma the next day and died. His grievous burns would not even allow him to attend her funeral. He seemed to lock the anguish within his soul. Because he continued to work at his craft, only his family knew of his personal suffering. They could see it in his eyes and observe his long periods of silence. His white beard, so identified with him, was one of the results of his tragedy-the burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible.
Although a legend in his own time, he still needed the peace that God gives to His children. On Christmas Day, three years following the horrible accident-at age 57-he sat down to capture, if possible, the joys of the season. He began:

"I heard the bells on Christmas day.

Their old familiar carol play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men"

As he came to the third stanza he was stopped by the condition of his beloved country. The Civil War was in full swing. The Battle of Gettysburg was not long past. Days looked dark, and he probably asked himself the question, "How can I write about ‘peace on earth, good will to men’ in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?" But he kept on writing-and what did he write?

"And in despair I bowed my head:

‘There is no peace on earth’, I said,

‘For hate is strong, and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!"

It seems as if could have been writing these words for us today! Wadsworth then turned his thoughts to God, the only One who can give true and perfect peace, and continued writing:

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men."

As so we have the marvelous Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". A musician, J. Baptiste Calkin, wrote the musical setting that has helped make this carol a favorite.

by Lindsay Terry

 

O Christmas Tree


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

How lovely are your branches.

In summer sun and winter snow,

A dress of green you always show.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

How lovely are your branches.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

With happiness we greet you

When decked with candles once a year,

You fill our hearts with yultide cheer.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,

With happiness we greet you

-Traditional German Carol

Victorian Christmas Cards – Father Christmas

 

Penny Post – The "Penny Post" was first introduced in Britain in 1840 by Rowland Hill. The idea was simple, a penny stamp paid for the postage of a letter or card to anywhere in Britain. This simple idea paved the way for the sending of the first Christmas cards. Sir Henry Cole tested the water in 1843 by printing a thousand cards for sale in his art shop in London at one shilling each. The popularity of sending cards was helped along when in 1870 a halfpenny postage rate was introduced as a result of the efficiencies brought about by those new fangled railways.  

 

Father Christmas / Santa Claus – Normally associated with the bringer of the above gifts, is Father Christmas or Santa Claus. The two are in fact two entirely separate stories. Father Christmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival, normally dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. The stories of St. Nicholas (Sinter Klaas in Holland) came via Dutch settlers to America in the 17th Century. From the 1870’s Sinter Klass became known in Britain as Santa Claus and with him came his unique gift and toy distribution system – reindeer and sleigh.

 

Here are a few of the Victorian Santa cards.

 

 

 

My favorite is the last one here of the children on the locomotive with Santa at the wheel…looks like fun! 

Victorian Christmas Cards

 

The very first Christmas card was printed in December 1843, at the request of Sir Henry Cole, who was also the instigator of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and founder and first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Indeed, he was responsible for the whole idea of sending Christmas cards through the post when he decided to surprise his friends with a novel and colorful card at Christmas time instead of the usual Christmas letter. It was designed as a way to offer seasonal greetings without having to write out hundreds of personal messages.
The artist J.C.Horsley was commissioned to produce the card which is now among the most sought after by collectors. The card illustrated a wealthy family enjoying a Christmas feast as they all toast the festive season by sipping wine and it was all set within a woody, rustic border hung with ivy, grapes and vine leaves (holly did not appear on Christmas cards until 1848).
The custom of sending holiday greeting soon caught on tremendously in the nineteenth century since people had become more mobile. Victoria herself sent thousands of cards at Christmas.
By the middle years of the Victorian Era, cards were varied in size, shape and material.  Many were designed (or improved) by the sender as was the case in 1891 when Maud Tomlinson, soon to be married and Maud Berkeley, "spent all afternoon cutting an old lace frock into bits, with which to adorn Christmas cards." Designs ranged from charming little vignettes by artists such as Kate Greenaway to the lithographs of the Arts and Crafts movement and on to cards both crudely drawn and crude in content that could be purchased for as little as a half-penny. Sentiments on the cards included simple seasons greetings, religious thoughts, unabashedly sentimental verse, and bad jokes seemingly totally unrelated to the season.
Many cards were extremely elaborate with gilded, embossed, shaped, pop-up and pierced forms. Victorian cards sported fancy silk fringe, lace, satin, sachets, tinsel, feathers, fold-outs, pop-outs, and pull tabs for animation. Like Victorian valentines, Christmas cards featured cherubs, flowers, animals, and images of spring. Biblical figures were also common images on holiday cards. Small children were sentimentalized on Victorian Christmas cards, with children of the poor and orphans as well, being extensively portrayed. Indeed, a large number of such cards were published at the time; it was the era of sailor suits and pretty bonnets in particular. Children were always portrayed as pretty, with round faces, wide eyes, and red Cupid’s-bow lips. Novelty cards were a big hit in Victorian times, especially those that played a trick or worked mechanically. Very few of these early Victorian Christmas cards illustrate the religious meaning of the festival, and they rarely show landscapes blanketed in snow or warmly clad skaters on ponds or even reindeers pulling Father Christmas’s sleigh over the countryside which are all so common today on our cards.
The Victorians illustrated nature in all its form on their cards since they were passionately fond of the countryside, and so they gloried in colorful cards which depicted delightful pictures of spring and summer in particular. Very early Christmas cards hence have attractive birds on them together with their nests and eggs. Flowers of the countryside were also immensely popular as illustrations, and flying butterflies amongst stalks of wheat and even insects landing on ripening blackberries were included by the early artists of Christmas cards. All these images were a reminder to everyone that bleak Winter would soon give way to sunny days once again since nature was but resting at Christmas time.
Louis Prang, who came to the United States from Germany in 1850, was the man who brought the American Christmas card into its own. In 1874, Prang decided to print a selection of Christmas cards for export to England. The response was so positive that the following year he printed enough to sell in the home market as well. The early cards from L.Prang & Co. were small, usually measuring two and half by four inches, and they were printed on one side only. Many had flower motifs; some of the most striking ones had brightly colored bouquets or flowering plants on a black background.
In 1880, Louis Prang began a yearly design competition that offered $1,000 for first prize. His competition attracted some of the most talented artists. As the artists began to offer striking original designs, Prang enlarged his cards, often to seven by ten inches. One side was devoted to the design itself, and the other side carried the sentiment and a short biography of the artist. Always excellent in color quality and finish, Prang’s cards cost up to a dollar each.

 

Each Christmas as it passes

Some change to us doth bring

Yet to our friends the closer,

As Time creeps on, we cling.

Victorian Christmas Card Greeting

The red card is Copyright 1878 by L. Prang & Co. Boston U.SA.
The telephone card is Copyright 1877 by L. Prang and Co.

Both of these cards are Copyrighted 1878 by L. Prang & Co. Boston

The card to the right was the Fourth Prize Card for 1882.

Victorian Christmas Traditions

 

As many of you know by visiting my space, the Victorian era is my favorite.  Even though the times were hard, they also held many beautiful traditions that provide beautiful collectibles for us today.  In particular, I collect Victorian trade cards, Christmas cards and advertisements.  The graphics in this era were unique and beautiful.  Here is a little sample of the history and a traditional Victorian Christmas.

The history of Victorian Christmas tradition states that Victorian Christmas started in 1837 with reign of Queen Victoria. With the usherance of Industrial revolution in the Victorian era, the very face of Christmas in England changed forever. Different traditions and customs were introduced like sending of Christmas cards and singing of Christmas carols. Victorian Christmas tradition thereby shaped the future of Christmas celebrations of the world by incorporating many fascinating customs and rituals which are still practiced today.

Traditional Victorian Christmas began with the Advent wreath symbolizing faith, joy, love and peace, usually observed on the first Sunday of Advent, when a candle is lit as a symbol of the light glorifying Christ’s birth on this earth. Also the custom of "Boxing Day” which originated during the Victorian era normally observed on December 26, when all the churches open their alms boxes and distribute the money to the poor. Though with the passage of time, this day is symbolized, as the day of exchanging gifts and presents among one’s family and friends. During the Victorian rule in England, it was customary to place lighted candles in windows during the 12 days of Christmas celebration as a gesture of welcoming weary travelers who are in search of food and shelter.

Traditional Victorian Christmas celebrations remained uncompleted with mouth watering dishes like ‘Sweetbread Pates’, ‘Roast Turkey’, ‘Parisian Salad’ and fancy Christmas cakes. Traditional Victorian Christmas decorations were characterized by decoration of Christmas trees by fruits, nuts and ribbons first introduced by Prince Albert in 1840. Also the legendary figure of Santa Claus became a common sight during Victorian Christmas celebrations. It’s during this time, that people allover England popularized the custom of decorating their houses with dresdens, pine cones and candy canes. Thus Victorian Christmas tradition represented the very multi faced culture of the then Victorian era.

Tomorrow I will start a blog series with images of Victorian Christmas cards…hope you will come and take a peek.

Hope everyone is having a beautiful day.


Christmas Greeting Card, Late 19th C
A two-sided holiday greeting card is decorated with white silk fringe. Front says: "Happy may your Christmas be".  Back says: "May Christmas Peace keep Winter from thy heart".

A Woman’s Place in C19th Victorian History

 

A Woman’s Place is in The Home

The Victorian era seems like another world to us. Yet the late Victorians were very familiar with many of the things we use everyday. The one thing that was different was the place of women in society. There were of course perceptive women of independent original thought, but for the huge majority life was easier if they accepted that a woman’s place was in the home. To lump all women of the Victorian era as one body would be wrong. The era spanned 64 years and changes in attitudes were gradually shifting as the century closed.

Whether or not you agree with the facts today, the attitude of men toward women in the Victorian age was highlighted by Tennyson who wrote of women staying by the hearth with their needles whilst men wielded their swords.

A Woman’s Qualities

The accepted reasoning was that the career for women was marriage.  To get ready for courtship and marriage a girl was groomed like a racehorse.  In addition to being able to sing, play an instrument and speak a little French or Italian, the qualities a young Victorian gentlewoman needed, were to be innocent, virtuous, biddable, dutiful and be ignorant of intellectual opinion.

Right – Taking tea wearing lavish Victorian gowns in 1854.  Fashion history images we see today are usually of beautifully gowned women, yet many working women as opposed to ladies such as these wore rags.

The dresses show typical excessive style elements such as V waists,  layering of trims, bell sleeves and engageantes. To balance the effect of the cage crinoline, sleeves were like large bells too and sometimes had open splits allowing for lavish decorative sleeve hemlines and detachable false undersleeves called engageantes.

Engageantes were often made from fine lace, linen, lawn, cambric or Broderie Anglaise and were easy to remove, launder and re-stitch into position.     

 Whether married or single all Victorian women were expected to be weak and helpless, a fragile delicate flower incapable of making decisions beyond selecting the menu and ensuring her many children were taught moral values.  A gentlewoman ensured that the home was a place of comfort for her husband and family from the stresses of Industrial Britain.

A woman’s prime use was to bear a large family and maintain a smooth family atmosphere where a man need not bother himself about domestic matters.  He assumed his house would run smoothly so he could get on with making money.

Mistresses for Men

Even in high places Victorian men kept mistresses, but they still expected their wives or mistresses to be faithful whatever their own misdemeanors.  If a women took a lover it was not made public. If it did become public knowledge she would be cut by society.  But men could amble along to one of their gentleman’s clubs and always find a warm welcome.

Married Woman’s Property Act 1887

It was a hypocritical period when relationships were quite artificial. Until late in the century in 1887 a married woman could own no property.  Then in 1887 the Married Woman’s Property Act gave women rights to own her own property.  Previously her property, frequently inherited from her family, belonged to her husband on marriage.  She became the chattel of the man.  During this era if a wife separated from her husband she had no rights of access to see her children.  A divorced woman had no chance of acceptance in society again.

Social Differences Between Classes of Women

A wealthy wife was supposed to spend her time reading, sewing, receiving guests, going visiting, letter writing, seeing to the servants and dressing for the part as her husband’s social representative.

For the very poor of Britain things were quite different.  Fifth hand clothes were usual. Servants ate the pickings left over in a rich household.  The average poor mill worker could only afford the very inferior stuff, for example rancid bacon, tired vegetables, green potatoes, tough old stringy meat, tainted bread, porridge, cheese, herrings or kippers.

By the end of the Queen Victoria’s reign there were great differences between members of society, but the most instantly apparent difference was through the garments worn.

The Victorian head of household dressed his women to show off family wealth.  As the 19th century progressed dress became more and more lavish until clothing dripped with lace and beading as the new century dawned.

A wealthy woman’s day was governed by etiquette rules that encumbered her with up to six wardrobe changes a day and the needs varied over three seasons a year.  A lady changed through a wide range of clothing as occasion dictated.

Fashion history and photographic records clearly illustrate there was morning and mourning dress, walking dress, town dress, visiting dress, receiving visitors dress, traveling dress, shooting dress, golf dress, seaside dress, races dress, concert dress, opera dress, dinner and ball dress.

Left – Fashion plate of wealthy women in an open  carriage which enabled them to display their clothes and elevated position in society.

Fashion plates were hugely successful in this era giving ladies supposed to women visual clues on how to dress for their new found status.

Yet change was happening everywhere.  Many women adopted the tailor made garment that showed their more serious concern to be recognized thinking beings with much to offer society beyond being a social asset for a husband.

By 1900 the railway, the typewriter, telephones, the post, the camera, the sewing machine, artificial rayon fibres and the bicycle became normal for many.  For some gas, water, electricity and even the motor car were already in use.  New inventions and how to use them led to new thinking and women of all classes felt the dynamic atmosphere of change as much as men.

Right -A Victorian woman using a Singer sewing machine C1850.

Reform was in the air as intellectual female thinkers began to state their case.  Many joined the Fabian Society, a group of non revolutionary thinking socialists.  Others sought reform for more practical dress, better education, the right to take up paid work if they wished and  better employment prospects if they were poorly paid women.  Most importantly brave women  campaigned for votes for women and birth control information even though many never lived to see the changes they fought for.

This concludes the series on Victorian Women

After this entry, I think I’ve changed my mind about living in the Victorian era…I just want the clothes!

 

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