One Widow’s Folly: 1909

Parisian mourning chapeau, 1909

ONE WIDOW’S FOLLY.

She Squandered on Extravagant Dress What Little Money She Had, But She Knew Her Business.

The West Side woman was smiling with so much amusement that her companion insisted on knowing.

“It’s the story of a little woman I know. She was first mentioned to me as an object of charity, as her husband drank and they had three children. I gave her clothing and helped her in every way I could, and so did a number of other persons. A few months ago her husband died, and to the surprise of all concerned he left a life insurance of $1000. it was the only creditable thing he had ever been known to do. I could not help feeling that conditions would be better for the widow than they had been for the wife. I asked my husband if he did not think she could open a small shop of some kind in her neighborhood and thus make the money support her and her children. He said she certainly could if she had any gimp, and that we would do anything we could to help her that direction. I spoke to a number of her neighbors and friends about it, and all thought the idea was excellent. I also spoke to the widow in regard to it. and she seemed pleased, but she didn’t do anything about it. Several times I referred to it and said my husband and I would help her to get started; and her friends also talked with her as to what would be the best kind of business for the neighborhood etc, but she-just smiled pleasantly and didn’t make a move to open a shop. Of course, we couldn’t take her money by force and put it into business for her; so we simply had to wait to see what she would do. She had never been one of the active sort.

“To our distress, she began to squander the money right and left on mourning clothes for herself. I was perfectly shocked at such extravagance and implored my husband to interfere, but he said we couldn’t do a thing.

“‘It docs seem.’ I said to him, ‘as if somebody of intelligence ought to save such a woman from her own folly and lack of judgment. That money will soon be gone, and then she and her children will again be objects of charity.’  

“He told me I’d better drop the matter and not worry myself about it, and I made up my mind that If she should come to grief I really could not again undertake to help her.

“She didn’t come to grief. She looked so swell in her new mourning clothes that a big, lumbering greenhorn of a fellow fell in love with her and has married her and her three children. He is some sort of a mechanic and makes a great deal more money than she could make in any kind of a shop she would be likely to run, and my husband grins every few minutes about what he calls her ‘business judgment.’ 

The Boston [MA] Globe 1 August 1909: p. 53

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

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.

The Merry Widow at the Resort: 1920

 

frock for lighter mourning swiss 1922

Some Ways of a Widow.

Did you see her last week—the Merry Widow? She was here in all the crowds, walking up and down the corridors of the hotels, sitting in all the cafes, at the street corners buying roses—all in black, deep black from head to foot.

With a crepe veil to her heels, a widow’s ruche, a widow’s bonnet, a dress so short that it looked like a little girl’s high-heeled slippers, silk stockings and an entrancing display of white neck and well rounded arms, seen quite clearly and most becomingly through the shadowy thinness of her gossamer frock!

Blonde she was, and tall, and rosy was she and pink and white, and, oh, so fetching, so alluring, so intriguing!

No! she wasn’t some one just made up for the part; she was a widow, a real widow. Her husband had been dead three great, long months, and she was out here looking for a substitute.

She was quite frank about it, they tell me.

Every time she heard of a nice, comfortable, middle-aged man, she inquired anxiously, “Is he married?”

Every time she passed in her drives and perambulations a handsome house, surrounded with fine, ample ground, she said quite naively, “I wonder who lives there. Now, if I could find somebody who would give me a house like that ”

And she likes the town immensely. Oh, immensely. There were so many good looking men here—prosperous, don’t you know, and well groomed! They looked as if they knew how to take care of a wife.

Oh, she was quite respectable—member of the church, and all that kind of thing—and yet b-r-r-r! it makes me shiver to think of her.

I wonder if there are many like her in the world? Absolutely cold­-blooded, calculating, going out to look for a husband as if they were looking for a cook or a gardener? So much for so much!

Yellow hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, a taste in dress, a soft voice, nice white hands and a cooing way of talking. For Sale in the Open Market! Who’ll buy? Who’ll buy?

How long will it be before the Merry Widow finds a husband, do you think?

She won’t take just anybody—she’s very particular.

What She Demands.

He must have plenty of money, oh, plenty! And know how to spend it. She wants a limousine, of course, and a touring car, and she’d like a roadster—one that she can drive herself. And she must have a town house, or, anyhow, a town apartment, and something in the country. Any simple little thing will do, so that there are enough bathrooms, and not too far from the country club.

The man must have position, either in business life or in the clubs. She couldn’t stand it to be married to a “nobody.” But, outside of these little things, she’s very broad-minded. Education, refinement, character, principle, reputation, brains, kindness, honesty, courage—what do all these things amount to anyhow? They won’t even pay for new tires on the new car.

Love, fidelity, faith, trust, deep respect, true devotion—they talk about those in the best sellers. The Merry Widow isn’t in the least interested—not in such minor matters.

And yet—I haven’t a doubt that some one will fall in love with her and marry her before the year is out.

And not one of his friends will apply for a letter of guardianship or try to send him to the home for the feeble minded, on the day the engagement is announced.

I’m glad I saw the Merry Widow and heard her talk, and watched her sweet little manoeuvres. I thought her type was as extinct as the dodo.

And here she is, alive and busy, just as she was when grandmother wore a hoop skirt and did her hair in ringlets and thought no delicate-minded woman should ever listen to a proposal of marriage without sinking into a swoon.

We don’t change so awfully fast, after all, do we?

South Bend [IN] News-Times 6 September 1920: p. 5

The Mourner A-la-Mode: A Satirical Poem: 1871

mourning walking toilettes The Milliner and Dressmaker, Goubaud

THE MOURNER A-LA-MODE.

By John G. Saxe

I saw her last night at a party

(The elegant party at Mead’s),

And looking remarkably hearty

For a widow so young in her weeds;

 

Yet I know she was suffering sorrow

Too deep for the tongue to express.

Or why had she chosen to borrow

So much from the language of dress?

 

Her shawl was as sable as night;

And her gloves were as dark as her shawl;

And her jewels that flashed in the light,

Were black as a funeral pall;

 

Her robe had the hue of the rest

(How nicely it fitted her shape!)

And the grief that was heaving her breast,

Boiled over in billows of crape.

 

What tears of vicarious woe,

That else might have sullied her face,

Were kindly permitted to flow

In ripples of ebony lace!

 

While even her fan, in its play,

Had quite a lugubrious scope,

And seemed to be waving away,

The ghost of the angel of Hope!

 

Yet rich as the robes of a queen

Was the sombre apparel she wore;

I’m certain I never had seen

Such a sumptuous sorrow before;

 

And I couldn’t help thinking the beauty,

In mourning the loved and the lost,

Was doing her conjugal duty

Altogether regardless of cost!

 

One surely would say a devotion

Performed at so vast an expense,

Betray’d an excess of emotion

That was really something immense;

 

And yet as I viewed, at my leisure,

Those tokens of tender regard,

I thought:—It is scarce without measure

The sorrow that goes by the yard.

 

Ah! grief is a curious passion,

And yours—I am sorely afraid—

The very next phase of the fashion

Will find it beginning to fade.

 

Though dark are the shadows of grief,

The morning will follow the night,

Half-tints will betoken relief,

Till joy shall be symbol’d in white!

 

Ah, well! It were idle to quarrel

With Fashion, or aught she may do;

And so I conclude with a moral

And metaphor—warranted new.

 

When measles come handsomely out,

The patient is safest, they say;

And the sorrow is mildest, no doubt,

That works in a similar way!

The Spiritual Magazine 1 August 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Widows were often, alas, fair game for the Victorian press. Many marriages were not love-matches and many women were widowed quite young. In addition, there might be economic incentive to remarry. These circumstances led to the cliche of the “merry widow,” a woman who delighted in mourning finery and thought of nothing except bagging another husband. Tragically, the author, John G. Saxe [1816-1887] poet, wit, and satirist, knew too much about mourning. Only three years after this light-hearted poem was published, he began to suffer a series of losses: his youngest daughter Laura died of consumption aged 17 in 1874. His daughter Sarah died in 1879; his mother in 1880; another daughter, Harriet, his eldest son, John, and John’s wife also died of the disease in quick succession in 1881. In 1880, his wife collapsed with an apoplexy and died, worn out from nursing her sick children and husband. Saxe himself suffered head injuries in a train accident in 1875, sank into a reclusive melancholy and died in 1887.

Mead’s is “Paul Mead’s” a chop house in Brooklyn popular with lawyers and sporting men. The last stanza refers to the belief that if the rash of measles was somehow supressed or turned inward, it would go ill with the patient.

You may read more about mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available. A recent post satirizing the fashionable widow was this one.

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.