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Marriage Advice From The 1800s: 12 Insane ‘Tips’ All Women Were Expected To Follow

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

When her daughter came to her with fears about her wedding night, Queen Victoria is infamously quoted as telling the young bride to simply, “Lie back and think of England.”

Whether that is a totally accurate account is hard to verify, but it definitely speaks to the male-dominated mindset of the Victorian Era. Women were treated like children for pretty much their entire lives and were expected to never cause a fuss. That opinion obviously extended to married couples, too, where the husband was deemed in control of both their lives, making all of the decisions — even when it came to his wife’s own body.

It’s certainly shocking to see just how drastically things have changed since then, with marriages now focusing on a true partnership between the pair.

Well, marriages that are really built to last, anyway.

Take a look to see how different things were back in the late 1800s and be sure to let us know in the comments if we missed anything.

And don’t forget to SHARE the outdated tips and trends with your friends!

[H/T: Good Housekeeping, All Day, Mimi Matthews, The Week]

1. Keep Your Rank Or Lose Your Friends

1. Keep Your Rank Or Lose Your Friends

Elizabeth Lanfear, who wrote Letters to Young Ladies on Their Entrance into the World back in 1824, describes the importance of maintaining social class while choosing a spouse back in the day: “She who weds with one of an inferior rank in life has no right to expect that her friends will associate with her husband, or treat him with that respect which she may think his due.”

2. Say Yes To The First Offer

2. Say Yes To The First Offer

Unless a woman takes the offer she gets, Lanfear warns, she might end up poor, alone, and the butt of everyone’s jokes:

“Instead of that attention and consolation which her forlorn situation demands, the finger of scorn is…ever ready to be pointed at the antiquated virgin.”

3. Give Him Warning If You Want Any Rights

3. Give Him Warning If You Want Any Rights

In his 1918 guidebook, Womanhood and Marriage, Bernarr Macfadden puts the responsibility on women to let their future husbands know if they’d like to retain the rights of their own body, a shockingly new concept for the era, saying that, “It has been for so long a time an accepted idea that the husband’s right over the wife’s body was inherent, it is advisable for any young woman who takes the other point of view to make her attitude thoroughly understood by her future husband before she definitely takes upon herself the obligations of the marriage state.”

4. Don't Complain If He's Not Great

4. Don't Complain If He's Not Great

It was the luck of the draw, but Lanfear recommended a “fake it til you make it” approach to hopefully hone your hubby into a better spouse:

“By preserving a dignified reserve in conduct, a forbearing silence on the subject of her wrongs…fulfilling as usual the daily routine of Christian and domestic duties, calm and unruffled — she will, at all events, strengthen her own virtues and elevate her own character. By such conduct she will also secure the respect and esteem of all around her, and possibly in time regain the heart of her husband.”

5. Let Him Win Every Argument

5. Let Him Win Every Argument

Ladies were considered wise to take the vow to “obey” their husband very seriously back then, as Lanfear says, “A sensible woman, to preserve the peace and secure the affections of her husband, will often sacrifice her own inclinations to his.”

6. Never Wear Makeup

6. Never Wear Makeup

Therese Oneill, author of Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, explains how only women of a certain reputation would be seen in makeup and that “nothing would humiliate a man more than for his wife to appear of easy virtue.”

7. Always Look Good — But Not Too Good

7. Always Look Good — But Not Too Good

Oneill also notes that the emphasis on a plain aesthetic wasn’t just to make sure a wife appeared chaste, but also looking out for his funds by being “not too fashionable so that she strained her husband’s pocketbook or appeared to be putting on airs.”

8. Plan Meals With The Bedroom In Mind

8. Plan Meals With The Bedroom In Mind

Dr. James Ashton gave a lecture in 1861 emphasizing the importance of eating on schedule saying, “The proper time for sexual indulgence is an important consideration, inasmuch as carelessness in this respect may tend to dyspepsia, indigestion, and other affections of the stomach. Persons who are predisposed to such diseases should never have sexual intercourse just before eating, nor very soon after a full meal.”

9. Find The Right Position

9. Find The Right Position

Dr. Ashton also believed a woman’s life could be in danger if they weren’t properly situated between the sheets:

“Any unnatural performance of this act is apt to impair the health of the female, and many women have been seriously injured and rendered miserable for life by the beastliness of their husbands in this respect.”

10. Don't Make Love Under The Influence

10. Don't Make Love Under The Influence

While this is probably solid advice in general, Oneill adds that it was all about baby making with folks believing that “‘idiocy and numerous nervous maladies were transferred to the child” if conceived while intoxicated.

11. See A Doctor If You Feel Too Frisky

11. See A Doctor If You Feel Too Frisky

Also known as “hysteria,” the so-called affliction descended on women who were apparently too lustful to be satisfied by their husbands, and as Walter Gallichan explains in Sex Knowledge for Men, they should seek treatment from their doctor:

“Every intelligent physician knows that conjugal life is the salvation of many women. Every specialist in the nervous and psychic disorders of women is aware that a healthy vita sexualis is the remedy for many troubles of the brain.”

12. Let Him Step Out All He Wants

12. Let Him Step Out All He Wants

Men with wandering eyes and other appendages, however, were perfectly free to roam.

As Oneill says, it was considered “in a man’s nature to go searching for a new version of the girl you used to be before you bore him seven children and made the comforts of his home the envy of the neighborhood.”

Did we miss any ridiculous tips for marriage from way back in the day? Let us know below and be sure to SHARE with your friends!