She Wanted to Be a Widow: 1889

She Made a Pretty Widow, c. 1890

Perhaps the queerest of tales is that of a young lady who had just attained her majority, and with it the unrestricted control of 100,000 dollars. This young lady’s sole desire was to become a widow. Weeds are so becoming. What is so interesting as a young bewitching widow, with a handsome fortune? Accordingly, to obtain the desirable result, she engaged the services of the real estate agent who managed her property to procure an accommodating moribund husband. The agent set to work, and, with the aid of a friendly physician (every apothecary and sawbones is a physician here), a suitable subject was found in the person of a destitute printer, who was supposed to be dying of whisky and consumption.

After a little inducement the dying man consented, knowing that he was on the verge of the grave, the prospect of being decently buried overcoming any repugnance he might have felt at such an unnatural wooing, and by his orders the fair would-be widow was asked to name the day. Thereupon the next day there was presented at the bed of the bridegroom the bride and a widowed friend, the dying man’s mother, the real estate agent, the doctor, and a Justice of the Peace. The blushing bride having satisfied herself that the man she was about to take for better or worse “would soon be where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” shyly consented to be united according to the Statute in such cases made and provided by the accommodating Justice, and without bestowing another look on her newly-acquired husband, the fair bride left the room, having left sufficient coin of the Republic to pay the present living expenses and the future funeral charges, which she fondly hoped would be at early date.

Time passed, however, and still the bride remained a wife, and not a widow, and days merged into weeks and weeks into months, and the lady was reminded of the existence of a husband by the frequent demands on her purse. At last, her patience being exhausted, she determined to visit her husband to ask him why he persisted in living, and when he intended to be ready to be measured for his coffin. With that intent she proceeded to take the train for ‘Frisco, her residence being Oakland, and just as she was stepping into the carriage, someone stepped in front of her with outstretched arms, and said, “Frankie, my darling, I have found you at last.” Frankie (the lady) took a good look at the speaker; it was her husband. She was too cool to faint that, of course, goes without saving, but her voice, husky with emotion, trembled as she said, “What, not dead yet”

“No,” replied her husband, “I have quite recovered. They told me they did not know your address.”

You can imagine the fair one’s feelings. After a stormy interview and a refusal by the husband of a substantial sum to permit a divorce, a compromise was affected, whereby the lady was to furnish so much a month to the husband for his needs, —meaning whisky, of course—and after two or three months of unlimited quantities of the aforesaid needs, death claimed the victim who had so nearly escaped him. And the fair widow furnished with unbecoming cheerfulness the necessary funds to inter her dear departed and now, the object of her life being attained, she is turning the heads of all young eligible men with her ravishing widow’s weeds. But enough of this. I know your readers will say I have been romancing, but I can assure them that the lady is now residing in Oakland, and has taken no steps whatever to contradict the story on the contrary, she is quite proud of her exploit. Funny taste, is it not?

Waikato Times, 14 September 1889: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is rare to find a young woman (particularly one in possession of such a large fortune) who knows her own mind so well. Not for her the siren-song of young and handsome. It is not entirely dissimilar to those young persons, poor in worldly goods, but bountifully equipped with feminine charms, who calculatingly marry elderly millionaires, although in those cases, the young persons crave the money rather than the weeds.  One must admire the young lady’s coolness, if not her kindly heart.

The bewitching widow was something of a cliché in popular mortuary literature:

We could hardly conceive how it was possible the head could think of the fashion of a bonnet if the heart were breaking, We for a long time supposed that the matter lay entirely with the milliner, but we were undeceived once by having to carry a mourning bonnet back, intended for a young and pretty widow, because it was not becoming, and another, as the funeral did not occur for two days thereafter, was forthwith made that suited to a charm. The Spirit Messenger, R.P. Ambler, Editor, 14 June 1851: p 361

and

It is in questionable taste for a young and pretty widow to wear her mourning after she has become reconciled to the death of her first husband and is quite willing to marry a second. A widow still wearing her weeds, and at the same time carrying on an animated flirtation with some new admirer, is a sight to make the gods weep…To angle for a second husband with the weeds worn for the first, because they are becoming, is a thing that should be forbidden by law. Social Customs, Florence Howe Hall, (Boston: Dana Estes & Co., 1911)

For more on mourning customs and bewitching widows, see The Victorian Book of the Dead, as well as this story, “The Widow’s Baby,” and “The Mourner a la mode,” a satirical poem about a fashionable widow.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Widowed Mrs Lawrence Has the Most Heavenly Time: 1914

I wish I could be a widow. I can’t think of anything more fascinating or independent. Jack, who was seeing me home from saying goodby to Mrs. Lawrence, who was going to Europe, evidently didn’t think I showed a true womanly spirit in expressing such a desire.

Mrs. Lawrence has been a widow for a year, and has the most heavenly time. She never has to think about a chaperon, though she looks and acts as though she needed one; has handsome young men proposing all over her house: in fact. she had to send for a policeman to remove one the other day, because he became so insistent and threatened to shoot her. She has a million dollars, and does just as she likes from morning until night.

You never hear much about poor widows somehow. They generally lose interest in life, not being able to afford the most becoming mourning, and go around with swollen noses and children.

But Kitty Lawrence doesn’t do anything like that. She has an apartment in Paris and the most adorable little black Pomeranian named after her husband. She says, in spite of her grief, she thought of everything at the time Joseph died, and ordered the dog immediately and gave away her Boston bull. She says she’s always going to wear mourning for Joseph. Even if she remarried she will always dress in black, as it’s the most becoming color she can put on.

When Kitty married Joseph I felt sure he would not live long. He was awfully old and unsteady, and it was perfectly absurd for her to insist on his taking her for long horseback rides and walking trips. I told her it was the worst thing possible for his health and that Dr. Billings had said so when he was with me one day and she had gone tearing by on horseback with Joseph after her. A little while after that Kitty had a race course built on the place, also a large gymnasium. Six months after that Joseph died, and Kitty, after a fearful row with his relatives over the tombstone, went to Paris in order to get the proper mourning.

She even spent some time in Russia getting black furs. and now is going to London to get a set of black pearls. Joseph’s sisters said something about it being extravagant, but she told them it was Joseph’s money, and she considered it proper that as much as possible should be spent on his memory.

The eldest sister, who has never married and is always asking you to contribute to her Sunshine Society and diet kitchens, suggested that she go abroad with Kitty and help select the pearls, but Kitty said she wouldn’t dream of taking her away from her home and her charities and boring her with her poor little fads and fancies.

She was going to take Mr. Norton, Joseph’s secretary. She said she felt sorry for the poor young man, he had worked so hard. settling up the estate, he was quite worn out. She said common decency suggested he should have a holiday.

It was quite touching to see the anxiety she showed for fear she had overworked poor Norton. He’s about six feet two and built like a Samson, and it was very attractive to see how careful he was of her welfare, too.

She looked perfectly lovely in a little new black bonnet and white polo coat. We said goodby and told her not to overwork Mr. Norton selecting pearls. She said she’d try not to, as the trip was for his health, and she was also going to find him a rich wife.

If I were a widow I believe I’d stay one for a while.

The Herald [New Orleans LA] 26 February 1914: p. 5

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.