By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
When I was doing research for “Seduction” our most recent installment of our History They Didn’t Teach You in School series, I found the most delightful Elmira Telegram newspaper article from 1888. Now, it is no secret that late 19th century journalism is one of my strange passions; it’s brutal, hilarious, and descriptive in ways that reporting can’t be today. And this piece, entitled “Pointers for the Girls” is about as good as it gets.
1888 was a leap year. As the lore goes, during leap years, women could initiate a courtship or propose marriage to a man, which was the only reprieve from strictly held Victorian beliefs of courtship propriety. Typically, single women could not address men without introduction. And don’t even think about something like riding in a closed carriage with a man who wasn’t a relative!
As the Telegram staff wrote in the article, “For the first time in four years the dear, delightful darlings who have failed to hail the matrimonial chariot are privileged to drive a man into a corner and propose matrimony to him. In this year they are give the heaven-born privilege of the men and can make love to whom they wist, providing however, that man is willing to wist.” Elmira, it was reported, was “prolific in marriageable men” and the article highlighted the “choicest flowers in the matrimonial garden.”
The descriptions are hysterical and are clearly meant to be satirical. For example, alderman Morris Gladke was described as the “handsomest man in Elmira. Got curly hair and a little mustache. No flies on him. Been spoken of as a mayoral candidate. Devoted to his mother and would hate to leave her. Afraid of girls anyway… Been sick lately. Discreet lady nurse might get the inside track.”
Here are some of my other favorites:
Levi Little (Chief of Police): “ Good looking and six feet tall. Got a trotting horse and affectionate nature. Would probably accept a satisfactory offer. Isn’t afraid of the cars or good-looking girls… Can’t raise whiskers.”
George Cotton: “The dandy of them all. Dude. Wears tight pants, and is a politician. Thinks of running for mayor. Is a ladies’ man and a great hand for society… Got a good appetite, and likes pie.”
J.S. Root (Dentist): “Handsome young man… Strongest drink is buttermilk…Likes a joke and eats Frankforts.”