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Wikimedia Commons/Ebay/Bryan Dugan

Mostly Terrible Advice for Daughters From Dads of Yore

Wikimedia Commons/Ebay/Bryan Dugan
Wikimedia Commons/Ebay/Bryan Dugan

"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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How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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