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Mostly Terrible Advice for Daughters From Dads of Yore

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"Experts" of yesteryear weren't shy about advising women on how to be good mothers. But the same can't be said about advice for fathers. It appears there was little market for instructing men how to nurture, provide for, or discipline their children. Who would dare instruct a king on how to rule his own subjects?

But there are plenty of books where fathers advise their children. The advice directed from fathers to sons was rather dull and straightforward. (Stay clean. Don’t spend money. Read Horace in Latin.) But not so for their daughters. For the most part, when fathers of generations past wrote advice to their daughters, that advice was horrifying. Fathers filled pages with doom and shame, threats against their daughter’s very lives and sanity should the girls stray. 

Sick, Simpering and Stupid = Sexy!

John Gregory wrote A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters in 1821. Gregory found human women … gross. He really preferred the ones in paintings and poems. He advised his daughters to banish almost every natural human instinct and behavior they possessed, in an effort to reach true femininity. After telling them never to join in men’s conversation, but listen with placid detachment, he warned against intelligence.

“Be even cautious in displaying your good sense. It will be thought you assume superiority over the rest of the company. But if you happen to have any learning, keep it a profound secret, especially from the men, who generally look with a jealous and malignant eye on a woman of great parts and a cultivated understanding.”

Understand, darling? Boys don’t make passes at girls in Trigonometry classes.

Gregory approved of physical health and outdoor exercise for his daughters. But for God’s sake don’t tell anyone about it.

“Enjoy [your health] in grateful silence. We so naturally associate the idea of female softness and delicacy with a correspondent delicacy of constitution, that when a woman speaks of her great strength, her extraordinary appetite, her ability to bear excessive fatigue, we recoil at the description in a way she is little aware of.” 

We recoil! Healthy women disgust any decent man! 

Sex Turns Ladies into Crazies

Isaac Gomez, writing 100 years later in 1920, took a more gentle approach. He copied bits of great literature that he thought would help his daughter comport herself properly. He devoted five pages of poetry to the preservation of his daughter’s virginity, and the despair that would befall her if she misplaced it. One of his quoted poems, entitled “Maniac,” describes a woman gone insane from having sex before marriage. And does it with surprisingly few vowels.

See ! yon poor Maniac: shiv'ring in her cell,
With hair dishevell'd, and with bosom bare;
Once bless'd with innocence,
the hours roll'd on In glad succession.
Her cultur'd mind Was calm'and mild as summer ev'nings are,
Till in her soul convulsing passions strove,
And rais'd a dark and wild tornado there…           

And so on until she falls down the void of madness and death. Which we all agree, is pretty much what the tart deserved.

I will say, that in Gomez’s five pages of hymen-praise, I’ve never seen a woman referred to as a fruit so many times, or so colorfully. It was great when they were budding or blooming; but then they got “despoiled” or “pluckt,” becoming a “wreck of maidenhood.” Nobody wants a girl after someone else has pluckt her.

Gregory weighs in on this subject too, but his rules are stricter:

When a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the most powerful charm of her beauty. Why a woman should blush, when she is conscious of no crime? It is sufficient to answer, Nature has made you to blush when you are guilty of no fault, and has forced us to love you because you do so.

Hmm. I just made an oblique reference to flowers having stamens. This 44-year-old mother of six isn’t blushing. What a worthless, debauched hag. God, how I hate her. 

More and Better Stuff

Not all old-school dads were so conservative. As early as 1913, there were signs of fathers starting to believe their daughters were people. Charles Thwing wrote a whole volume to his daughter, just about her entrance to college. College! I mean, she still wasn’t a boy or anything, as he seems to be reminding her in this passage:

Your father may wish you had more and better stuff in you, but you are what you are, and education must educate that individual and that individuality which Nature out of all her material made you.

More and better stuff. Like a penis.

That’s why he had to send her to an all-girls college. He explains it with a great mincing of words, “There are, for some girls, so many [problems] so hard, that they are not able to see through them or think through them or even feel their way into or through them.”

But the bottom line being, boys will twitter-pate the downy softness of your woman-brain, and it’s already delicate enough, darling.   

"You Are Now Old Enough To Know Your Own Mind."

What a relief it was to stumble on to Henry Kett, writing to his daughter Emily in 1809. It was the oldest volume I read, but the most frank and progressive. Marriage was what a girl did with her future in 1809; that’s just the way it was. But Kett did not regard his daughter a helpless, perpetual child. He wanted her to take a hand in her own happiness. You can almost hear a modern father’s bark of “Use your damn brain!” through the spaces in his (very long run-on) sentences.

If you were to be betrayed into a matrimonial engagement by a gay admirer, who is indebted to his dancing-master, his tailor, and his coach-maker for his attractions, and were to be induced by a few flattering speeches, and his stylish appearance, to listen to his proposals, you could not have extreme youth, nor perfect ignorance of the world, to plead your excuse—you are now old enough to know your own mind ….You have had the advantage of being introduced into genteel company, and have daily opportunities of exercising your judgment upon the behaviour and characters of gentlemen.

That means, I raised you to know a dumbass when you see one. No excuses. 

"If You Marry A..."

Kett gets even more explicit in his marital advice to Emily, using terms that probably weren’t politically correct even in his day (a time when the slave trade thrived and people threw their poop into the streets).

1. "If you marry a fool, under the delusion that you will be able to manage him, you may be the victim of your own schemes; for fools are obstinate, and your supposed idiot may put those fetters upon you, which you intended for him." (Idiots bring you down to their level.)

2. "If you marry a rake, from the flattering supposition that you shall be able to effect his reformation, you may bitterly repent of having miscalculated the power of your attractions, and may die of jealousy and despair." (You think your love will change him? Good luck with that, sunshine.)

3. "If you marry a merely rich man, you may indeed gain splendid furniture and gaudy equipages, but you may find too late that a house at the west end of the town, and a box at the opera are no cures for disappointment." (Diamonds don’t ask you how your mammogram went).

4. "If you throw yourself away upon a pauper, he may add ingratitude to ambition; he may disgrace both you and your family; his vulgarity may shock, and his insolence may terrify you." (A lazy bum at rest tends to stay at rest. Except when getting drunk and embarrassing you at barbeques).

5. "If you marry a rich old man, the world will say that you act from mercenary motives, and are only thinking of a large jointure, and the handsome figure you will soon make in widow's weeds." (You're pulling an Anna Nicole Smith.)

6. "If you marry an invalid you must make up your mind to pass many hours in a sick room, and to perform the offices of a nurse." (Love can’t heal all wounds; don’t be a martyr.)

Harsh. But so familiar to what our fathers have said to us in the privacy of our homes in the most unguarded moments. Don’t let that temporary flush of infatuation blind you and bind you. Make smart choices.

To Be the Best Stupid Virgin

It’s very important to remember, when reading these outdated offerings of wisdom, that these fathers weren’t lunatics or tyrants. They just wanted a good life for their daughters. The best life. They lived in a society where silent, stupid, sickly virgins were the most highly valued, and well, they wanted their daughters to be valuable.

These pages of advice, however disturbing to our minds, were meant to impart the tools necessary to navigate their world smoothly and successfully. Back then, that entailed behaving in such a way as to have the finest pick of husbands and friends. Today it may mean teaching her to question authority, making sure she can do basic self-defense, and change her own tires. But whatever the century, whatever the method, good dads have always done the same thing. Encourage, protect, and try to teach their children to choose happiness.

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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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7 Famous People Researchers Want to Exhume
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This week, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali is being exhumed from his grave in Figueres, northeastern Spain, where he has lain beneath the stage of a museum since his death in 1989. Researchers hope to collect DNA from his skeleton in order to settle a paternity suit brought by a tarot card reader named Pilar Abel, who claims that her mother had an affair with the artist while working as a maid in the seaside town where the Dalis vacationed. If the claim is substantiated, Abel may inherit a portion of the $325 million estate that Dali, who was thought to be childless, bequeathed to the Spanish state upon his death.

The grave opening may seem like a fittingly surreal turn of events, but advances in DNA research and other scientific techniques have recently led to a rise in exhumations. In the past few years (not to mention months), serial killer H. H. Holmes, poet Pablo Neruda, astronomer Tycho Brahe, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, among many others, have all been dug up either to prove that the right man went to his grave—or to verify how he got there. Still, there are a number of other bodies that scientists, historians, and other types of researchers want to exhume to answer questions about their lives and deaths. Read on for a sampling of such cases.

1. LEONARDO DA VINCI

An international team of art historians and scientists is interested in exhuming Leonardo da Vinci's body to perform a facial reconstruction on his skull, learn about his diet, and search for clues to his cause of death, which has never been conclusively established. They face several obstacles, however—not the least of which is that da Vinci's grave in France's Loire Valley is only his presumed resting place. The real deal was destroyed during the French Revolution, although a team of 19th century amateur archaeologists claimed to have recovered the famed polymath's remains and reinterred them in a nearby chapel. For now, experts at the J. Craig Venter Institute in California are working on a technique to extract DNA from some of da Vinci's paintings (he was known to smear pigment with his fingers as well as brushes), which they hope to compare with living relatives and the remains in the supposed grave.

2. MERIWETHER LEWIS

A portrait of Meriwether Lewis
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As one half of Lewis and Clark, Meriwether Lewis is one of America's most famous explorers, but his death belongs to a darker category—famous historical mysteries. Researchers aren't sure exactly what happened on the night of October 10, 1809, when Lewis stopped at a log cabin in Tennessee on his way to Washington, D.C. to settle some financial issues. By the next morning, Lewis was dead, a victim either of suicide (he was known to be suffering from depression, alcoholism, and possibly syphilis) or murder (the cabin was in an area rife with bandits; a corrupt army general may have been after his life). Beginning in the 1990s, descendants and scholars applied to the Department of the Interior for permission to exhume Lewis—his grave is located on National Park Service Land—but were eventually denied. Whatever secrets Lewis kept, he took them to his grave.

3. SHAKESPEARE

A black and white portrait of Shakespeare
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare made his thoughts on exhumation very clear—he placed a curse on his tombstone that reads: "Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To digg the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones." Of course, that hasn't stopped researchers wanting to try. After Richard III's exhumation, one South African academic called for a similar analysis on the Bard's bones, with hopes of finding new information on his diet, lifestyle, and alleged predilection for pot. And there may be another reason to open the grave: A 2016 study using ground-penetrating radar found that the skeleton inside appeared to be missing a skull.

4. JOHN WILKES BOOTH

A black and white photograph of John Wilkes Booth
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The events surrounding Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865 are some of the best-known in U.S. history, but the circumstances of his assassin's death are a little more murky. Though most historical accounts say that John Wilkes Booth was cornered and shot in a burning Virginia barn 12 days after Lincoln's murder, several researchers and some members of his family believe Booth lived out the rest of his life under an assumed name before dying in Oklahoma in 1903. (The corpse of the man who died in 1903—thought by most people to be a generally unremarkable drifter named David E. George—was then embalmed and displayed at fairgrounds.) Booth's corpse has already been exhumed from its grave at Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery and verified twice, but some would like another try. In 1994, two researchers and 22 members of Booth's family filed a petition to exhume the body once again, but a judge denied the request, finding little compelling evidence for the David E. George theory. Another plan, to compare DNA from Edwin Booth to samples of John Wilkes Booth's vertebrae held at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has also come to naught.

5. NAPOLEON

A portrait of Napoleon
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Napoleon has already been exhumed once: in 1840, when his body was moved from his burial-in-exile on St. Helena to his resting place in Paris's Les Invalides. But some researchers allege that that tomb in Paris is a sham—it's not home to the former emperor, but to his butler. The thinking goes that the British hid the real Napoleon's body in Westminster Abbey to cover up neglect or poisoning, offering a servant's corpse for internment at Les Invalides. France's Ministry of Defense was not amused by the theory, however, and rejected a 2002 application to exhume the body for testing.

6. HENRY VIII

A portrait of Henry VIII
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In his younger years, the Tudor monarch Henry VIII was known to be an attractive, accomplished king, but around age 40 he began to spiral into a midlife decline. Research by an American bioarchaeologist and anthropologist pair in 2010 suggested that the king's difficulties—including his wives' many miscarriages—may have been caused by an antigen in his blood as well as a related genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome, which is known to rear its head around age 40. Reports in the British press claimed the researchers wanted to exhume the king's remains for testing, although his burial at George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle means they will need to get the Queen’s permission for any excavation. For now, it's just a theory.

7. GALILEO

A portrait of Galileo
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The famed astronomer has had an uneasy afterlife. Although supporters hoped to give him an elaborate burial at the Basilica of Santa Croce, he spent about 100 years in a closet-sized room there beneath the bell tower. (He was moved to a more elaborate tomb in the basilica once the memory of his heresy conviction had faded.) More recently, British and Italian scientists have said they want to exhume his body for DNA tests that could contribute to an understanding of the problems he suffered with his eyesight—problems that may have led him to make some famous errors, like saying Saturn wasn't round. The Vatican will have to sign off on any exhumation, however, so it may be a while.

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