Solid Advice on Living Alone from a 1936 Guide for Single Women

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More Americans are living alone now than ever before. Between the 1920 and 2013, the share of single adults in the U.S. rose from 5 percent to 27 percent. Living alone, especially as a woman, has become much more normal since the 20th century, but back in the 1930s, single ladies seemed to be remaking society. “New York has witnessed, during the past 36 years the mustering of an entirely new kind of army,” the journalist Frank Crowninshield wrote in 1936, “a host composed of a quarter million capable and courageous young women, who are not only successfully facing, and solving, their economic problems, but managing all the while to remain preternaturally patient, personable, and polite about it.”

That’s from his introduction to Live Alone and Like It, a chipper self-help guide designed for “the extra woman” (which we spotted over on Vox) by Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis. If anything, in the intervening decades, Hillis's advice has become even more applicable to a wide swath of the population, and not just women. Here are nine pieces of advice on living the single life that still ring true today:

1. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

“You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself. You may think that you must do that anyway, but husbands and families modify the need considerably,” Hillis explains. But singles have the opportunity (and burden) of doing exactly what they want, without considering someone else.

“When you live alone, practically nobody arranges practically anything for you.” She hammers this point home again later in the book: “Never, never, never let yourself feel that anybody ought to do anything for you.” Go out and buy that toolbox and step ladder now. You'll need it.

2. BAN FOMO.

Hillis may have lived before the age of social media, but that doesn’t mean she was a stranger to Fear of Missing Out. She recommends suppressing those feelings, and remembering that everyone else is out living their lives, too. “Another good rule for any liver-alone is not to feel hurt when Mary Jones doesn’t ask you to her dinner-party, or when Cousin Joe fails to drop in to see you,” she writes. “It probably wasn’t convenient for either of them … everybody, these days, is busy—or thinks she (or he) is.” Still a true observation in the 21st century.

3. CULTIVATE A WIDE SOCIAL CIRCLE.

But while you may let go any resentment over not getting invited to one party, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to get yourself invited to another one. “As we have already suggested, one of the great secrets of living alone successfully is not to live alone too constantly,” Hillis quips. “A reasonably large circle of friends and enemies whom you can see when you want to, and will often see when you don’t want to, is an important asset.”

4. HOST PARTIES ...

In the ‘30s, social mores dictated that if you got invited out, you needed to return the invitation, or people would stop hosting you. While we no longer practice precise tit-for-tat party hosting, it’s true that the easiest way to get yourself to a party is to throw one. Hillis, as always, was all about being proactive: “In your own solitary mélange, parties won’t happen unless you plan them, and there won’t be many guests unless you invite them. Moreover, you won’t be a guest yourself unless you are also a hostess,” she writes.

5. ... EVEN IF YOUR PLACE ISN'T IMPRESSIVE.

Don’t think “My place is so small!” is a good excuse for never volunteering to host a game night, potluck, or dance party. “You can still feel like a grande dame if you entertain a lady living in a single bedroom with no kitchen whatsover,” she claimed—especially with canned goods! “In fact, with ingenuity and the things that now come out of cans, you can give her a Park Avenue dinner.” Just think of what Majorie Hillis could have done with Seamless.

6. GET A HOBBY.

If you want a more active social life, go out and get a hobby. “The first rule is to have several passionate interests,” Hillis declares. “Be a Communist, a stamp collector, or a Ladies’ Aid worker if you must, but for heaven’s sake, be something.”

There are, however, hobbies that might make you more popular than others, and a stamp collector is not one of them. “The hobbies your friends will appreciate most are astrology, numerology, palmistry, reading handwriting, and fortune-telling by cards (or anything else),” she writes. “In practicing any of these, you have to give your exclusive attention to the other person, which invariably fascinates him.”

7. MAKE YOUR BED LUXURIOUS.

Hillis was a big fan of the “treat yourself” lifestyle, encouraging women to buy fashionable clothes (even if no one was home to see), fresh flowers, and stylish furniture, even if most of it came from the thrift store. And she was a really, really big fan of getting all dolled up and going straight back to bed.

“It is probably true that most people have more fun in bed than anywhere else, and we are not being vulgar,” she says in the opening of one chapter. She instructed women staying in for the night to “look upon the evening as a party. Even if you’ve never liked staying in bed—we’ve heard that there are people like this—persuade yourself that it’s fun and keep at it till it actually is. Plan what you’re going to do in advance, and have all the requisites at hand—a good book, or some new magazines, or the things you need for writing letters.” But she didn’t think of it as an excuse to hang around in pajamas—unless they were really nice pajamas: “And make yourself very, very comfortable, as well as as handsome as you know how.”

8. THINK OF HOW MUCH EVERYONE ELSE SUCKS.

Living alone can be lonely and a little arduous (no one to split the bills with, no one else around to cook dinner for you occasionally) but there are always upsides, as Hillis well knew. “If all this sounds a little dreary, think of the things that you, all alone, don’t have to do,” she advises. “You don’t have to turn out your light when you want to read, because somebody else wants to sleep. You don’t have to have the light on when you want to sleep, because somebody else wants to read … From dusk until dawn, you can do exactly as you please, which, after all, is a pretty good allotment in this world where a lot of conforming is expected of everyone.”

9. EAT WELL.

“There is no denying that it is hard to make meals for one only seem worth the effort,” Hillis acknowledged, before chastising readers for scrimping on their dinner dates with themselves, writing that “solitary meals ... are a comfortably inconspicuous place to economize. But this is the wrong place, my children; you can’t be great strong girls without plenty of nourishment. And there is seldom the right sort of nourishment in a meal ‘out of the ice-box.’”

Considering that Hillis was living in the early days of home refrigerators (an estimated 48 percent of American families lived without a fridge in the ’30s), modern readers certainly don’t have any excuse for making tepid dinners for one.

The Other Gettysburg Address You Probably Haven't Heard Of

Image Composite: Edward Everett (Wikimedia Commons), Background (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Composite: Edward Everett (Wikimedia Commons), Background (Wikimedia Commons)

The greatest speech in American history had a tough act to follow.

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address at the dedication of a new National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As the president offered some brief remarks before a war-weary crowd of around 15,000 people, he modestly said, “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.”

Lincoln was only half right about that. Despite his humble prediction, the president's Gettysburg Address has shown remarkable staying power over the past 155 years. The unifying oration has been engraved onto monuments, memorized by countless schoolchildren, and painstakingly dissected by every Civil War historian under the sun. It has even achieved international fame: Across the Atlantic, language from the speech was woven into the current constitution of France.

But at that gathering in Gettysburg, President Lincoln wasn’t the primary speaker. His immortal words were merely the follow-up to another speech—one that was meticulously researched and, at least by some accounts, brilliantly delivered. It was a professional triumph for a scholar and statesman named Edward Everett who had been hailed as the finest orator in America. Yet history has all but forgotten it.

DISTINGUISHED IN ACADEMIA—AND POLITICS

Everett was born in Massachusetts on April 11, 1794, and he was exceptional even as a young man. The son of a minister, Everett was admitted to Harvard University at 13 and graduated at 17. After studying to be a minister himself, and briefly serving as one, Everett's alma mater offered him a spot on its faculty. The position allowed time abroad in Europe, and Everett spent some of those years studying at the University of Göttingen in modern Germany, where he became the first American to earn a Ph.D. (U.S. schools didn’t offer that type of degree at the time). When he returned from Europe, Everett took up his post at Harvard.

For many people, landing a spot on Harvard’s payroll would be the achievement of a lifetime. But after Everett started teaching in 1819, he quickly found himself longing for a career change. In 1825, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Elected as a conservative Whig, he served for a full decade before setting his sights on state politics. In 1835, Everett won the first of four one-year terms as the governor of Massachusetts. As governor, he revolutionized New England schools by spearheading the establishment of his state’s first board of education.

Like most politicians, Everett suffered his fair share of defeats. Due largely to his support of a controversial measure that limited alcohol sales, he was voted out of the governor’s mansion in 1839 (he lost by just one vote). But he soon got another shot at public service: In 1841, the John Tyler administration appointed Everett as the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, a job that enabled him to play a major role in settling a Maine-New Brunswick border dispute that had created a great deal of tension between the two countries.

Academia beckoned once again in 1846, when Everett—after some coaxing—agreed to become the president of Harvard. Following his resignation in 1849, President Millard Fillmore appointed him Secretary of State. Everett subsequently bolstered his political resume with a one-year tenure in the U.S. Senate, resigning in 1854 after failing health caused him to miss a vote on the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In the election of 1860, Everett found himself pitted against future president Abraham Lincoln. Without Everett's consent, the Constitutional Union Party—which favored ignoring the slavery issue to prevent a civil war—nominated him as its vice presidential candidate. The ex-Governor reluctantly accepted the nomination, believing that doing otherwise would cause too much damage to the ticket—but he flatly refused to campaign. Privately, he believed that the party had no chance, writing to a friend that June that his nomination was “of no great consequence; a mere ripple on the great wave of affairs.”

“A VOICE OF SUCH RICH TONES, SUCH PRECISE AND PERFECT UTTERANCE”

Something that was of great consequence, however, was Everett’s growing reputation as a first-rate public speaker. He'd taught Ralph Waldo Emerson at Harvard; in the budding philosopher’s words, Everett had “a voice of such rich tones, such precise and perfect utterance, that, although slightly nasal, it was the most mellow and beautiful, and correct of all the instruments of the time.” Everett's other celebrity fans included Thomas Jefferson, who praised a speech that Everett gave at Harvard on behalf of the visiting Marquis de Lafayette.

The American people grew well-acquainted with Everett’s oratory skills after he left the Senate. Once the war broke out, he started touring the northern states, making pro-Union speeches wherever he went. So when a Pennsylvania-led commission finished assembling a burial ground for the soldiers who’d fallen at Gettysburg, they naturally asked Edward Everett if he’d speak at the cemetery’s formal dedication in October 1863.

Everett received their official invite on September 23. His response was an enthusiastic yes, although he did request that the consecration date be pushed back to November 19 so he’d have time to research and gather his thoughts. The request was granted, and Everett got to work.

He began by going over every available account of the battle. From Union general George G. Meade’s staff, Everett received an official report on what had transpired. And when Robert E. Lee submitted his own account to the Richmond Inquirer, Everett went through it with a fine-toothed comb.

By November 11, Everett’s speech had begun to take shape. As a courtesy, he submitted an advance copy to another man who’d been asked to say a few words at Gettysburg: President Lincoln. The plan all along was for Everett to deliver a lengthy oration which would be followed by what one pamphlet described as “a few dedicatory remarks by the President of the United States.” Nobody expected the Commander-in-Chief to turn many heads with his brief comments. It was to be Everett’s show; Lincoln was an afterthought.

Everett traveled to Gettysburg on November 16, still constantly revising his notes. Since a large chunk of his speech would be dedicated to recounting the historic battle, he decided to familiarize himself with the terrain on which it was fought. Professor Michael Jacobs of Gettysburg College, an eyewitness to the battle, guided Everett through the hills and fields that surround the Pennsylvania town. Dead horses and soldiers still lay rotting where they’d fallen that summer. The whole town was polluted with their stench.

Lincoln arrived one night before he was to deliver his speech; both the president and Mr. Everett were given lodging at the home of event organizer David Wills. The next morning, the honored guests made their way towards the cemetery.

THE OTHER GETTYSBURG ADDRESS

The dedication began with some music, followed by a prayer that Reverend Thomas H. Stockton, a prominent anti-slavery cleric, delivered with trademark zeal. And then, Everett—his speech memorized in full—took the stage. Because the New Englander had weak kidneys, a tent had been placed behind the podium so that he might take a break and relieve himself during the speech if necessary.

“Standing beneath this serene sky,” he began, “overlooking these broad fields now reposing from the labors of the waning year, the mighty Alleghenies dimly towering before us, the graves of our brethren beneath our feet, it is with hesitation that I raise my poor voice to break the eloquent silence of God and nature.”

From there, Everett drew parallels between the cemetery’s consecration at Gettysburg and the reverence with which the ancient Athenians buried their fallen soldiers. His speech was loaded with historical references: As the address unfolded, Everett mentioned everything from the War of Roses to the fall of ancient Rome. He also quoted such great thinkers as Pericles and David Hume. He provided a detailed, point-by-point retelling of the battle at Gettysburg, denouncing the Confederacy, condemning the continued practice of slavery, and urging the north to strengthen its resolve. Still, Everett held firm to the belief that reconciliation between the two sides might still be possible. “There is no bitterness on the part of the masses,” he proclaimed. “The bonds that unite us as one people … are of perennial force and energy, while the causes of alienation are imaginary, factitious, and transient. The heart of the people, north and south, is for the Union.”

When Everett’s address came to a close, he had spoken more than 13,000 words over the course of two hours. B.B. French, a musician who’d penned a hymn for the occasion, later wrote, “Mr. Everett was listened to with breathless silence by all that immense crowd, and he had his audience in tears many times during his masterly effort.” The Philadelphia Age offered a more lukewarm review, stating “He gave us plenty of words, but no heart.” President Lincoln, however, loved the speech. In Everett’s diary, the orator remarks that when he stepped down, the president shook his hand “with great fervor and said, ‘I am more than gratified, I am grateful to you.’”

Those who remained in the audience were then treated to French’s hymn, as performed by the Baltimore Glee Club. And then, the president rose. Within three minutes, his speech of around 270 words (there’s some debate over its exact phrasing) was over and done with. According to one witness, “The extreme brevity of the address together with its abrupt close had so astonished the hearers that they stood transfixed. Had not Lincoln turned and moved towards his chair, the audience would very likely have remained voiceless for several moments more. Finally, there came applause.”

Everett knew a good speech when he heard one. One day after the consecration, he wrote to the president and asked for a copy of the little address. “I should be glad,” Everett wrote, “if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” James Speed, Attorney General from 1864 to 1866, would later recall that Lincoln treasured Everett’s kind words and said “he had never received a compliment he prized more highly.”

Lincoln was more than happy to offer up a copy of the speech—and to return the kind sentiments. “In our respective parts … you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one,” Lincoln told Everett. “I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.

“Of course,” he added, “I knew Mr. Everett would not fail.”

Guess the Famous Person Who Was Afraid of Being Buried Alive

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