On the definition of personal space

Godey’s Lady’s Book, July 1876:

DODGING UMBRELLAS AND PARASOLS.—This is an art in a large city. A lady carries either, regardless of the hats or eyes of gentlemen. She never lifts it, but lets it work its own way, and you see many hats knocked off and rolling in the rain. Just notice it on Chestnut Street on a rainy day.

Reading one: Women are inconsiderate. They are slaves to fashion, unaware (or uncaring) of the way their actions impact others.

Reading two: Umbrellas and parasols are a material means to negotiate social space, to enforce separation between individuals (particularly individuals of different genders) without the need for an actual confrontation. Passive aggression is a tool used to reproduce social norms and provide a buffer (spatial and social) between the umbrella-wielder and the more privileged sex.

Reading three: Weather changes public social interactions. The complaints about assaults on hats end with a rainy day. Were parasols simply less ubiquitous than umbrellas, or perhaps less expansive? Or did rain have an impact upon traffic patterns, causing pedestrians to cluster more closely together, either moving in a pack or attempting to pass individuals (perhaps especially concerned about the fate of their skirts) who moved at a more leisurely pace?

Reading four: The assault on hats was actually an assault on masculinity and normative behavior. A man did not go out in public without his hat during this period. To have it knocked off would have been a social affront, but also a physical annoyance. No one wants to wear a hat that has just fallen into a puddle, but a man would have no other option than to put it back on.

Reading five: Umbrellas and parasols did not merely preserve a woman’s personal space, they protected her investment (or her male relatives’). Skirts were big (1876 was the trailing end of the First Bustle period) and movement required practice. The female footprint was thus much larger than the male. The use of devices wielded at eye level served as a reminder of that fact, offering skirts some additional protection from muddy shoes.

Advice for the ladies

Godey’s Lady’s Book, June 1876:

Every now and then the public is startled by the exposure of some domestic or social villainy based on a secret marriage…Of course, a man who wishes to keep his marriage a secret is always actuated by selfish, and usually by base, motives…No woman who values her domestic happiness should ever listen to the suggestions of such a man in favor of secret marriage.

Affectations are never in good taste, but may help avert infanticide

From Godey’s Lady Book, December 1876, on the subject of pet names for women (for which Canadian Governor-General Lord Dufferin expressed distaste):

On the whole, it must be admitted that the use of pet names on public occasions is an affectation, and affectations are never in good taste. When they proceed, not, as is usually the case, from love of admiration, but from a desire to win and to display affection, they may be excused, but they certainly cannot be commended.

But the editors’ condemnation of pet names for women is tempered by their acknowledgment that affection for women (even if tastelessly expressed) is a sign of advancement; the practice of infanticide in China and India is held up in contrast to Christian enlightenment. I confess that I am torn between my reflexive desire to mock silly Victorians and their distasteful views on matters of gender, race, religion, empire, etc. (though I can get behind the “infanticide is bad” sentiment), and an almost grudging desire to give the editors kudos for making a stab at using language to analyze social trends.