Dating Tips circa 1881

The ever-helpful Post offers advice to hopeful young suitors of the Victorian era.

Victorian-era woman peeling peaches on her porch
(Guernsey Moore, © SEPS)

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—“How to Go Courting,” from the September 10, 1881, issue of the Post

Any bachelor wishing to keep “steady company” with a lady must direct his attention to the parents. He should begin by deferentially asking “pa” his opinions on business and politics. If properly respectful, he would be invited into the house to meet “ma.”

Then he should remark to ma that he knew her by her likeness to her sister, Miss Susan Jane (the would-be girlfriend); and when ma explained that she was not Susan Jane’s sister but her maternal parent, he should refuse to believe it until the family had all protested that it was so. Then would he have been asked to “stay to tea,” and his proper way would have been to take very little notice of Sarah Jane and converse continually with ma.

Repeating this course of conduct during several calls, each made with some such motive as to bring ma some flower seed or tickets to the agricultural fair, our young man would soon find that the “old folks” were regarding him with favor, and some Sunday afternoon pa would be mysteriously absent, and ma obliged to call on a sick friend, and Susan Jane and he would have the front parlor to themselves, and matters afterward would go on swimmingly.

A portion of the 1881 editorial "How to Go a Courting"
Click to read the complete article, “How to Go Courting,” from the September 10, 1881, issue of the Post.

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  1. It’s obvious that this young man, Adroniram Bobbs, isn’t a bit refined as a gentleman caller, much less a potential beau. No courting can begin until he learns the errors of his ways in regards to ingratiating himself to each family member in making a good impression. He is not beyond redemption.

    The advice given here is generally good. Get to know Pa and Ma. Engage them in conversation, be charming, but don’t over do it. No rushing into the parlor or any other room of the young woman’s parent’s home. You’re a guest. When the time comes for a carriage ride to a lovely restaurant, Mr. Bobbs best make the evening mostly about Miss Sarah Jane.

    A date for the the mid-19th century (re-imagined in the early 21st), should still apply to 1881 despite the telephone and whatever other interfering nuisances were new on the scene after the 1850s. Mr. Bobbs could learn a thing or two from Fanny Fern’s wisdom (search bar) and my comments from several years ago. If everyone in this small town is looking, then I say put on a show for them.


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