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13 Tips for Landing a Wife (in the 19th Century)

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The advice books written around the turn of the 20th century to teach women to make men happy are plentiful. Advice books in the same vein for men are rare.

But in 1883, a Methodist minister named George W. Hudson wrote one such "advice for men" book—The Marriage Guide for Young Men: A Manual of Courtship and Marriage. It was self-published, perhaps due to perceived lack of interest in marriage manuals for men. Or maybe because traditional publishers couldn’t handle all the hard-core truth the Reverend was going to throw down.

1. DO: Make sure your intended has a lusciously bulbous head. It’s key to sexual endowment.

Oh, bless the Reverend. He wasn’t a crackpot. In the mid-19th century, phrenology was a respectable pseudo-science practiced by many physicians.

Whenever you see a woman with a good, full, round back head, combined with a good front, you may be sure that she is capable of giving a good degree of energy and pluck to her children; and better still, that full back head denotes that she is well sexed, capable of loving husband and children devotedly, and capable of giving her children a good sexual endowment.

"Whenever you find such a woman," Hudson advised, "even though she may be somewhat in the rough, you can afford to take her for the sake of your children."

2. DON'T: Marry into a family of hucksters who will try to evade arrest at your speaking engagements.

A year before the good Reverend Hudson published this book, he was hosting a revival in Maine. At some point during this session, the story goes, the Reverend returned to his cabin to find his brother-in-law, John A. Gardener, holed up on the run from the law. Some shady land deals in Minnesota had gone sour, and Gardener had fled to the most respectable family member he had.

The cabin was directly raided and his wife’s brother taken to prison. All of which was no doubt very exciting for the hundreds who had turned out to hear the famous moral leader speak. This account was found in newspapers of the day, but is not directly mentioned in Hudson’s book. Directly:

 If they are of such character as to shame you, it will be very unpleasant for you. You might move away from them, and have no intercourse with them. You might get so far away from them that the people about you would not know anything of the family into which you had married.

Not that that’s going to help you once the heat is closing in on them. They’ll still find you. And your wife will likely refuse to be sensible about tossing the blaggart into the gutter.

 But it is not likely that your wife would consent thus to give up her people. In that case they would be a constant grievance, and would undoubtedly lead to unpleasant relations between you. 

3. DO: Look for a girl who can haul things. Large hands can be an acceptable fault. Brains … ehh.

You need a woman of charm and intelligence, big bosom and sturdy head-girth. She should also be able to pull a plow should the occasion call for it:

Choose for your wife a woman with full bust and good round limbs, as well as a good, large, well-proportioned head—one who can run and walk and lift a good load. ... What if her waist be a little large, and her hands too? This is a good fault in a woman who is to become a mother.

"Brain is a good thing," Hudson concludes, "but without body it is a useless engine."

4. DON'T: Marry a cranky lady.

Chatty? Opinionated? Sarcastic? Red light, young man. She’s death and the devil wrapped up into a corset and crinoline. "Beware of a young woman of perverse disposition," Hudson writes:

[S]hun as you would shun death the woman who never agrees with anybody, and who never has a good word for anybody. ... True, you cannot always tell by appearances, for Satan often "appears as an angel of light"; but with a little care you can usually determine pretty accurately.

5. DO: Remember that sex is the most disgusting freakish thing that has ever happened to her.

Reverend Hudson was comfortably ensconced in Victoriana when he wrote this book. It was a time when women’s natural sexual appetites were not easily understood or acknowledged. The idea of a woman happily entering her marriage bed just wasn’t even on the table. So the next best thing (since sexually pleasing her was a myth propagated by whores and charlatans) was to patiently understand her revulsion.

She may seem slow to accord to you the privileges of married life, but defer to her will; do nothing rashly. It will be quite a shock to feminine modesty when she, a pure-minded maiden, shall be called upon to lie down in the same bed with a man. It will seem repulsive at first, because she will feel that that lying down robs her of her feminine prerogative, and puts her person in the power of another.

6. DON'T: Punt her.

It is a fact that woman is largely in your power. She was given to be yours. The idea prevails unfortunately, that woman's virtue is man's lawful prey—that he has a perfect right to make woman the football of his lust whenever he can. 

Football of his lust. Try as I might I cannot form a mental picture that does that sentence justice. Maybe he’s talking about soccer? Would it make more sense if it were soccer?

7. DO: Stay married and pretend to be happy.   

Divorce is almost always a trauma; in the 19th century, it was a public ordeal of shame and misery. You had to prove grounds in court, which the whole neighborhood could turn out to hear. Your wife would be all but a fallen woman. So the Reverend counseled restraint:

Command your affections steadfastly to their lawful object; you can if you will, no matter how unfortunate your married life may prove. Better that you do so, and live in a perfect purgatory, than that you incur the awful disgrace and ruin resulting from the desertion of your wife.

Maybe restraint isn’t the right word. Bloody, whip-torn martyrdom. Yes, that’s better.

 Be a martyr for your own sake, if nothing else; let the world know just as little about your wretchedness as possible; put on, in society, a cheerful exterior, though domestic unhappiness should be feeding upon your very vitals. Better that, than a home broken up, and two, or perhaps a half-dozen lives blighted forever.

8. DON'T: Marry a Woman of “Degenerate Stock.”

Nowadays the word “eugenics” has all sorts of discomforting connotations. In Hudson’s day—well, it was still a pretty ugly subject. But without good medical care or reliable aid to the needy, maybe a person could believe that declaring a woman with asthma a selfish monster to marry and become a mother was logical? I mean, I get pretty mad when the printer keeps mindlessly pumping out copies even though it’s mostly out of ink. It must have felt like that.

Why should men with good mental endowment, good physique, good lungs and sound in every part, marry poor, sickly, weak-minded, consumptive, scrofulous women, and bring into the world families of children doomed either to sink into premature graves or drag out a sickly, whining existence? 

9. DO: Let the sick marry each other and keep their creepiness contained.

"It is hard to say to the diseased and infirm that they ought not to marry," Hudson mused. "But what right have they to bring into the world a poor, weak offspring to drag out a miserable existence, or die prematurely?"

How about this, then? Freaks can marry, but only other freaks. Their offspring will surely die young and then everyone wins:

At least you have no right, if endowed by nature with health and vigor, to squander it by marrying one incapable of bequeathing it to your children. If the diseased must marry, let them intermarry, and thus shut up those fearful maladies, now preying upon our race, within the narrowest possible limits.

10. DON'T: Marry someone just because she's “nice.”

"Keep an eye to the natural qualifications of your wife," Hudson counseled. The Reverend didn’t think women were interchangeable, but he did believe compatibility was important, as well as charm and abilities. “Goodness” was an empty word:

These have a strong bearing upon your welfare. You do not want any woman simply because she is good. Many good people have very little force of character, very little ability.

Because, after all, "Sometimes 'goodness' is only another name for imbecility."

11. DO: Make sure she can cook before you propose.

"You want, first of all, a woman who knows how to manage a household," Hudson wrote. "This is almost indispensable to your personal comfort and happiness." Considering the era, that wasn’t too much to ask for, was it? Besides, a young wife could certainly learn what she hadn’t yet experienced. Right? Not so fast, Hudson warns:

You will find many who say they can learn: you may be inclined to try one of them. But suppose she should not learn! It is running considerable risk. Think of that fearful period of learning, during which your stomach must be made the receptacle for all sorts of messes, and your home remain in a chaotic state! You may die of dyspepsia, or go mad before she succeeds.

Don’t sacrifice your stomach and sanity on the altar of her ignorance. Just because a girl has never run a household doesn’t mean she shouldn’t know how to run a household.

12. DON'T: Marry an Old Lady.

A man should never marry a woman who is his senior. You will have no inclination, I trust, to do anything of the kind.

13. DO: Keep at it till you’ve broken her into the Harness of Passion.

Sometimes it’s something as simple as a word choice that really let us peek into other people’s minds. Their unsavory, creepy minds:

Beside being the universal aggressor, he (man) is obliged, in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases in every thousand, to break her into the harness of passion, by dint of both stratagem and perseverance. When thus broken in, she often pays him in his own coin.

In fairness, between these lines of baffling advice, Reverend Hudson included many more lines that were sound. He did counsel kindness, respect, and fortitude along with phrenology, eugenics, and sex-harnessing.

Picking and living with a wife in a world of restrictive formality was a difficult chore, fraught with deception and confusion. Every time you met the girl you like, until about a month after your wedding, you would see only her Sunday-best self. Anything less would make her a slattern by the era’s standards. Reverend Hudson knew how tricky women could be, even the virtuous ones. He intended that his plain spoken words, however unsettling to modern ears, would help a young man find a wife worth harnessing.

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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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History
13 Incredible Facts About Frederick Douglass
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock
Photo Illustration: Mental Floss. Douglass: Glasshouse Images, Alamy. Backgrounds: iStock

The list of Frederick Douglass's accomplishments is astonishing—respected orator, famous writer, abolitionist, civil rights leader, presidential consultant—even without considering that he was a former slave with no formal education. In honor of his birth 200 years ago, here are 13 incredible facts about the life of Frederick Douglass.

1. HE BARTERED BREAD FOR KNOWLEDGE.

Because Douglass was a slave, he wasn't allowed to learn to read or write. A wife of a Baltimore slave owner did teach him the alphabet when he was around 12, but she stopped after her husband interfered. Young Douglass took matters into his own hands, cleverly fitting in a reading lesson whenever he was on the street running errands for his owner. As he detailed in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he'd carry a book with him while out and about and trade small pieces of bread to the white kids in his neighborhood, asking them to help him learn to read the book in exchange.

2. HE CREDITED A SCHOOLBOOK FOR SHAPING HIS VIEWS ON HUMAN RIGHTS.

Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Engraving of Frederick Douglass, circa the 1850s.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

During his youth, Douglass obtained a copy of The Columbian Orator, a collection of essays, dialogues, and speeches on a range of subjects, including slavery. Published in 1797, the Orator was required reading for most schoolchildren in the 1800s and featured 84 selections from authors like Cicero and Milton. Abraham Lincoln was also influenced by the collection when he was first starting in politics.

3. HE TAUGHT OTHER SLAVES TO READ.

While he was hired out to a farmer named William Freeland, a teenaged Douglass taught fellow slaves to read the New Testament—but a mob of locals soon broke up the classes. Undeterred, Douglas began the classes again, sometimes teaching as many as 40 people.

4. HIS FIRST WIFE HELPED HIM ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY.

Portrait of Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass's first wife.
First published in Rosetta Douglass Sprague's book My Mother As I Recall Her, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Anna Murray was an independent laundress in Baltimore and met Douglass at some point in the mid-1830s. Together they hatched a plan, and one night in 1838, Douglass took a northbound train clothed in a sailor's uniform procured by Anna, with money from her savings in his pocket alongside papers from a sailor friend. About 24 hours later, he arrived in Manhattan a free man. Anna soon joined him, and they married on September 15, 1838.

5. HE CALLED OUT HIS FORMER OWNER.

In an 1848 open letter in the newspaper he owned and published, The North Star, Douglass wrote passionately about the evils of slavery to his former owner, Thomas Auld, saying "I am your fellow man, but not your slave." He also inquired after his family members who were still enslaved a decade after his escape.

6. HE TOOK HIS NAME FROM A POEM.

He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, Douglass used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Douglass, then using the surname "Johnson," felt there were too many other Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. He asked his host (ironically named Nathan Johnson) to suggest a new name, and Mr. Johnson came up with Douglas, a character in Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake.

7. HE'S CALLED THE 19TH CENTURY'S MOST PHOTOGRAPHED AMERICAN.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are 160 separate portraits of Douglass, more than Abraham Lincoln or Walt Whitman, two other heroes of the 19th century. Douglass wrote extensively on the subject during the Civil War, calling photography a "democratic art" that could finally represent black people as humans rather than "things." He gave his portraits away at talks and lectures, hoping his image could change the common perceptions of black men.

8. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE THE 4TH OF JULY.

Douglass was well-known as a powerful orator, and his July 5, 1852 speech to a group of hundreds of abolitionists in Rochester, New York, is considered a masterwork. Entitled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," the speech ridiculed the audience for inviting a former slave to speak at a celebration of the country who enslaved him. "This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine," he famously said to those in attendance. "Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?" Douglass refused to celebrate the holiday until all slaves were emancipated and laws like the Compromise of 1850, which required citizens (including northerners) to return runaway slaves to their owners, were negated.

9. HE RECRUITED BLACK SOLDIERS FOR THE CIVIL WAR.

The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
The Union attack on Fort Wagner, Charleston, during the American Civil War. The fort was under attack from July 18 to September 7, 1863, by soldiers including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Army.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Douglass was a famous abolitionist by the time the war began in 1861. He actively petitioned President Lincoln to allow black troops in the Union army, writing in his newspaper: "Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves." After Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass worked tirelessly to enlist black soldiers, and two of his sons would join the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, famous for its contributions in the brutal battle of Fort Wagner.

10. HE SERVED UNDER FIVE PRESIDENTS.

Later in life, Douglass became more of a statesman, serving in highly appointed federal positions, including U.S. Marshal for D.C., Recorder of Deeds for D.C., and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti. Rutherford B. Hayes was the first to appoint Douglass to a position in 1877, and Presidents Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison each sought his counsel in various positions as well.

11. HE WAS NOMINATED FOR VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

As part of the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872, Douglass was nominated as a VP candidate, with Victoria Woodhull as the Presidential candidate. (Woodhull was the first-ever female presidential candidate, which is why Hillary Clinton was called "the first female presidential candidate from a major party" during the 2016 election.) However, the nomination was made without his consent, and Douglass never acknowledged it (and Woodhull's candidacy itself is controversial because she wouldn't have been old enough to be president on Inauguration Day). Also, though he was never a presidential candidate, he did receive one vote at each of two nomination conventions.

12. HIS SECOND MARRIAGE STIRRED UP CONTROVERSY.

Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.
Frederick Douglass with Helen Pitts Douglass (seated, right) and her sister Eva Pitts (standing, center), circa the 1880s.

Two years after his first wife, Anna, died of a stroke in 1882, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist who was 20 years younger than him. Even though she was the daughter of an abolitionist, Pitts's family (which had ancestral ties directly to the Mayflower) disapproved and disowned her—showing just how taboo interracial marriage was at the time. The black community also questioned why their most prominent spokesperson chose to marry a white woman, regardless of her politics. But despite the public's and their families' reaction, the Douglasses had a happy marriage and were together until his death in 1895 of a heart attack.

13. AFTER EARLY SUCCESS, HIS NARRATIVE WENT OUT OF PRINT.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, his seminal autobiography, was heralded a success when it came out in 1845, with some estimating that 5000 copies sold in the first few months; the book was also popular in Ireland and Britain. But post-Civil War, as the country moved toward reconciliation and slave narratives fell out favor, the book went out of print. The first modern publication appeared in 1960—during another important era for the fight for civil rights. It is now available for free online.

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