Beginning in 1836, many young ladies turned to a popular advice manual, A Young Lady’s Friend, which told them how to dress and to behave after they finished their schooling.
A proper young lady was as constrained by expectations as she was by her corset. She couldn’t laugh in the street, allow gossip in her house or shop in more than one or two stores. She had to avoid temptations and danger, from young men to steamboat accidents. Her responsibilities included teaching her younger siblings and nursing sick patients – sometimes by applying leeches.
1836 Advice Manual
A Young Lady’s Friend was written by Eliza Farrar, born Eliza Ware Rotch in 1791 in Dunkirk, France. Her father, a Nantucket Quaker, wanted to establish a tax-free whaling port in Europe. Her family fled the country during the Reign of Terror and moved to an estate in Wales, where Eliza received an excellent education.
Her father lost his fortune in 1819, and she went to the thriving whaling port of New Bedford to live with her grandparents. She met and married John Farrar, a Harvard mathematics professor 12 years older than she.
Farrar solved the problem with the popular advice manual on dress and deportment. Here are seven pieces of advice for young ladies.
How To Apply a Leech
[W]hen they come to us from the apothecary, they are perfectly clean though slippery to the touch. Their ornamental stripes should recommend them even to the eye, and their valuable services to our feelings.
To make them take hold in the very spot required, you have only to take a piece of blotting-paper and cut small holes in it where you wish them to bit; lay this over the place, and put the leeches on the paper. Not liking the surface of the paper, they readily take hold of the skin, where it appears through the holes, and much trouble is thus saved. When they are filled, they will let go their hold, and you have only to put them on a deep plate, and sprinkle a little salt on their heads, and they will clear themselves of blood; then wash them in water with the chill off, and put them away in clean cold water.
How To Behave in a Steamboat Accident
The various kinds of danger, to which one is subject, in steam-boat accidents, makes it difficult to say beforehand what course is best; but there is one general rule which may be given, and that is, never to join in a rush to any one part of the boat. By keeping aloof and retaining your self-possession, you will be ready to take advantage of whatever may occur; whereas, by following the crowd, you are liable to be infected by their panic and to be hurried into some imprudent step.
How To Stop a Visitor from Gossiping
When you receive your young friends at your own house, you should consider yourself responsible for the direction which the conversation takes; and, if it is becoming uncharitable or unprofitable, you should feel bound to give it a safer and better impulse.
The introduction of a beautiful annual, or portfolio of prints and drawings, will often answer the purpose; and the fashion of strewing centre tables with books of fine engravings has a moral use which makes it very valuable. I have seen the breath of scandal stopped, and an unpleasant topic changed, by the timely opening of one of these volumes. It must, of course, be done with expertness, and you must have something to say about the book, that will command the attention of the person who you wish to divert from her own topic, or it will be only a rude interruption, and will not answer the desired end. When courteously and cleverly done, it is a lawful use of your office as hostess.
How To Walk Down a Street
The habit of running through the streets in childhood, and lounging through them as school-girls, laughing and talking aloud as you go, is unfavorable to good manners in after life; but, when you become young ladies, your deportment in the street should be more guarded and reserved. You should converse in low tones, and never laugh audibly; you should not stare at people, nor turn round to look after them when passed; you must leave off your juvenile tricks of eating as you walk along, going without gloves, swinging your bag, untying your bonnet, running to overtake a person, or beckoning to a friend.
These things may seem very harmless in themselves, but they all serve to give an impression of character; and, as persons, who see you only in the streets, must judge of you by what occurs there, it is desirable that all your actions, movements, and looks should indicate modesty and refinement.
What To Do With Old Letters
The letters of a regular correspondent should be endorsed and filed, as regularly by young ladies as by merchants; this facilitates your reference to any one of them, prevents their being lost, or mislaid, or exposed to curious eyes, saves your table from being strewed, and your letter-case from being crowded with them.
The letters of past years should either be destroyed, or carefully locked up, with directions on the box, that in case of your death they are to be returned, unread, to the writers, or, if that cannot be done, that they should be burnt, unread. This disposal of letters after death is often the only important part of a young girl’s last will, and yet this is rarely provided for. It is best to be always so prepared, by making the necessary arrangements whilst in health.
The letters of very young persons rarely have any interest beyond the period in which they are written…the wisest plan is, to agree with your correspondent, to make each a bon-fire of the other’s letters when they shall be more than a year old.
How To Dump a Man
Men have various ways of cherishing and declaring their attachment; those who indicate the bias of their feelings in many intelligible ways, before they make a direct offer, can generally be spared the pain of a refusal. If you do not mean to accept a gentleman who is paying you very marked attentions, you should avoid receiving them whenever you can; you should not allow him to escort you; you should show your displeasure when joked about him; and, if sounded by a mutual friend, let your want of reciprocal feelings be very apparent. You may, however, be taken entirely by surprise, because there are men who are so secret in these matters, that they do not let even the object of their affections suspect their preference, until they suddenly declare themselves lovers and suitors. In such a case as that, you will need all your presence of mind, or the hesitation produced by surprise may give rise to false hopes.
If you have any doubt upon the matter, you may fairly ask time to consider of it, on the grounds of your never having thought of the gentleman in the light of a lover before; but if you are resolved against the suit, endeavour to make your answer so decided, as to finish the affair at once. Inexperienced girls sometimes feel so much the pain they are inflicting, that they use phrases which feed a lover’s hopes; but this is mistaken tenderness; your answer should be as decided, as it is courteous.
How To Go Shopping
…[N]ever go shopping with girls of your own age; never look round a store to see what there is to tempt you to useless expenditure; but, when you have ascertained, at home, that you really need some articles of dress, make up your mind as to the material and the cost, and then go, either alone or with an experienced friend, to a well-known store, and make the purchase. If you afterwards see something that you like better, it will not trouble you, if you have learned not to attach much importance to the subject, and would rather wear something less becoming, than spend your time in searching all the stores for the prettiest pattern.
Always remember that a store is a public place; that you are speaking before, and often to, strangers, and, therefore, there should be a certain degree of reserve, in all you do and say; never carry on any conversation with your companions, on topics that have nothing to do with your shopping, and do not speak or laugh aloud, but despatch your business in a quiet and polite manner, equally removed from haughtiness and familiarity. Sometimes, in pressing you to buy their goods, young shopkeepers will become too talkative and familiar; silence and seriousness are the best checks to this; and it should always be met by self-possession.
1836 Advice Manual on Cultivated Manners
Eliza Farrar preached the gospel of good manners as protection against insulting behavior. “If you have good manners, you will very rarely meet with impertinence or rudeness,” she wrote.
She blames the victim of impertinence for lacking the proper frosty stare.
When ladies complain of being frequently annoyed in any such way, it is a sure sign that their own deportment is lacking. Self-possession and self-reliance are the result of a well-disciplined mind and cultivated manners; and a person possessed of them, will always be equal to the occasion; their looks alone are sufficient to repress insolence.
Not Just an 1836 Advice Manual
Eliza Farrar wrote more than advice manuals. She also wrote children’s books and a biography of her mother. Most active between 1830 and 1837, she published six books during that period.
When her husband’s health suddenly declined and he could no longer teach, she found herself in need of money. So she wrote her memoirs, Recollections of Seventy Years.
Eliza Farrar died in Springfield, Mass., in 1870. She had donated her late husband’s collection of books to the Lincoln Public Library. Her own papers rest at the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
This story about the 1836 advice manual was updated in 2022.