Our Grandparents Espoused Some Curious Requirements For Their Ideal Mates

How does your better half stack up to these Victorian-era stipulations?
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At the height of the Victorian Era, when our rose-colored memories beguile us with the belief that everyone glided through life with absolute propriety, Cincinnatians were a decidedly randy bunch. Tales of moral misdeeds bleed from the city’s newspapers. And yet, the papers are full of instruction on how to itemize the virtues of the perfect spouse. Here is a selection, extracted from Cincinnati newspapers published between 1890 and 1920.

Advice on choosing the ideal spouse chewed up many column inches in the newspapers of yore with, ironically, most of the counsel offered during divorce trials.

Woman Measuring A Man From Cincinnati Post 3 June 1907 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

The Ideal Husband

“Every married man knows that an ideal husband has to be nine-tenths mollycoddle.” [1912]

“He is temperate, moral, intellectual, truthful, forgiving, Christian; loves home, makes an honest, comfortable living, gives his wife a personal allowance, and never asks her how she spends it; never scolds nor contradicts nor laughs at her; remembers she has nerves, that she loves pretty things, and thinks that she is the dearest, loveliest little woman on earth – such is the ideal husband, whose advent we may expect with the millennium.” [1894]

“The ideal husband is the one who devotes his life to his wife, who makes her the first consideration in all his thoughts and acts, who understands that she is the aim of everything which he undertakes, and that he should use all the resources that Nature has placed in his mind and Fortune has put in his hands in order that she may be happy and remain long beautiful.” [1903]

“He must be generous, broad-minded, sympathetic, the gallant, fascinating lover of courting days. He does not try to be a master; he makes home happy by cheerful good humor; he realizes that perfect love cannot exist where either wishes to rule. As I was saying, this is the ideal, and ideals are better as such than in the flesh.” [1912]

“He is neat, plainly dressed and rather common looking. He has sober habits with honesty and good will shining out of a clear, frank face. His business occupies half his time; the rest he spends with his wife and children. He is fond of his home and is curious how it is run.” [1907]

“The ideal husband is the one who lets his wife alone, who does not interfere with her household duties or any of her little womanly fads, who is not always paying her compliments or besieging her with advice, and who is not always by her side or behind her back, who seldom addresses her reproaches, and never reminds her of what he has done to deserve her gratitude, who is not fussy, fidgety or a bore of a model of propriety and virtue.” [1903]

“The ideal husband is the man who pleases his own wife. The ideal husband may not be ideal in all things, but if he pleases his wife he’s an ideal husband – his wife’s ideal. The ideal husband is always a sweetheart to his wife. The ideal husband is a good fellow. He doesn’t forget his bachelor friends and occasionally spends an evening with them – with his wife’s approval. The ideal husband is not an angel. He knows the whir of wings makes his wife nervous. If a man’s an ideal husband, give credit for his perfection to his wife.” [1914]

“A husband should not be handsome. First of all he is never very beautiful, since he is a man. But he might be worse; he might think he is beautiful, and then heaven help his wife.” [1903]

“A model husband should give his wife as much money for her own use as he spends himself for tobacco and drinks.” [1908]

A newish tool, the public opinion survey, revealed America’s preferences for the ideal husband and wife at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties. The results, as indicated in this chart published by the Cincinnati Post, leaned toward the white bread.

Ideal Spouses Chart From Cincinnati Post 13 December 1920 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

The Ideal Wife

“My ideal wife is a true woman, with a loving disposition, one who can cook you a good dinner, mend and make, and nurse her husband and children when ill. One who doesn’t worry over trifles, or meet troubles half way. One who will not be wanting money for a new bonnet every time the fashion changes, and yet will keep herself neat and nice after she is married, just as she did before. One who will live within her husband’s income, and save for a rainy day. One who will meet you with a smile and a kiss when you return tired from work. Such a wife I shall call a treasure if I am lucky enough to get her.” [1895]

“Her household balance sheet is an inextricable tangle which would defy the most experienced auditor. Her collection of hats is fearful and wonderful. Her wardrobe is overflowing with unnecessaries and she is always ready for anything in the nature of outdoor sports. The orderly, careful management of the household is quite beyond her, and she does not know what it is to look upon the serious side of things. We are asked to believe that she makes up for all these shortcomings by an all-pervading scent of violets and a sunny nature that will not be depressed.” [1914]

“Without being beautiful, she is really nice, pleasant and happy. My equal in vigor, health and mind. Not a ‘new woman,’ but a thorough domestic helpmate. Her voice is melodious; her affection and faith unbounded. She can discuss the news of the day equally well with the last new bonnet.” [1895]

“A Cincinnati court discovered the ideal wife in a woman who washed, ironed, cooked, mended, and made clothing for her husband and seven children. As proof of what appreciation and ideal wife receives, this one is now suing for alimony. Moral: Don’t be an ideal wife.” [1916]

“An ideal wife is one who will believe all the darn lies her husband tells her.” [1918]

“A glorified housekeeper with the capabilities of a head nurse. She is not to experience any of the beautiful qualities associated with wifehood beyond what is of a strictly utilitarian nature. Hygiene and food are her two great desiderata. The wit, beauty, seductiveness, the alluring elusiveness, the uncertainties of temper, and the irritating and fascinating surprises arising therefrom are denied her. She is supposed to be a combination of the doctor and a keeper of the household stores.” [1914]

“Pleasingly plump, with light brown hair, blue eyes and good teeth. She must have a sense of humor and be willing to laugh at all my jokes, no matter how punk they are.” [1920]

“No woman, unless she be a good cook, can qualify as an ideal wife. She must be self-reliant; she must not ‘nag’ and find fault; she must be content, but not without ambition; she must be womanly; she must continue to be a sweetheart and she must keep the house as tidy for the reception of her husband as she did for her lover.” [1914]

“I hate these baby-doll vamps. She must have a knowledge of psychology and a will of her own but not too strong, to talk sense when necessary. And she must know how to wear tailored suits.” [1920]

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