I know I’ve talked about the duties of servants, maids, odd beauty secrets and old West etiquette in Petticoats and Pistols before, but let’s face it, it never gets old. Especially since much of the advice given back then was so outlandish it bears looking at (and laughing at) again now and then. I have an extensive research library and have collected some fun “field-guides” on these subjects ranging from the late 1700’s to the early 1900s.
It’s interesting to note that not all of them were written by women. Did you know there was a Mr. Walsh who wrote a manual of domestic economy in 1856? The book was then updated in 1873. He wrote extensively about household management.
One tip I found from his book was this advice for women whose clothes have caught fire. Usually from standing too close to a fireplace, something a lady should never do. According to Mr. Walsh you should first:
1. Call for help by ringing the bell. A servant should come. (If one doesn’t than you better start praying your socks off. My thought, not Mr. Walsh’s.)
2. Rip off the clothes that are aflame and pour water on the clothing. The servant should have water in your room for this reason.
3. If this doesn’t stop the flames sit down on the floor in an upright position.
4. Roll oneself in a rug. Every room should have a rug in case of flaming females.
5. Stop wearing fine muslin.
Easy for Mr. Walsh to say, and where are the instructions for flaming males? That’s what I want to know. Maybe men never caught fire. And why would they when there was an etiquette rule that dictated gentlemen should never put their backs to the fire while conversing with others. And if one does put their back to a fire, it was considered extremely impolite to warm one’s derriere by raising the coat flaps at an angle of 45°, while the rest of the company in the room was freezing.
The queen of these tomes on cooking and domesticity was, of course, Isabella Beeton. Mrs. Beeton lived from 1836 to 1865. She was the original domestic goddess and published her famous Book of Household Management in 1861. It sold 60,000 copies in the first year, and 2 million copies by 1868. What’s interesting is that her commentary on servants, household management, and cooking are still used as primary sources today. Unfortunately, Mrs. Beeton died in 1865 from an infection during childbirth. Her husband, Samuel Beeton who was also her publisher, kept up the idea that she lived on, since her name was a large source of income. Spinoffs and abridged versions of her book were published to keep up the image that a matronly Mrs. Beaton was still alive and well. To my knowledge, she didn’t include anything about flaming skirts in her her book.
I have a maid, Betsy, who works for Mayor Vander and his wife Mercy. Characters from my town of Independence which is featured in my holiday mail order bride series. She’s the kind of servant that would throw a bucket of water on you if your skirts caught fire or roll you up in a rug herself. Mayor Vander wouldn’t care if he conversed with his back to the fireplace or not. That’s the thing about manners and some of the other things the experts of the day wrote about. Out West folks didn’t pay as much attention to such things. Unless of course they were from back east and brought their manners and etiquette with them.
Have you ever read or seen a book on manners, etiquette, or household tips from the 1800s? They’re hilarious to read! I’ll pick a random person from the comments below to receive a free e-book copy of Love in Independence which introduces the town and its quirky characters along with Betsy the maid.
Book Blurb: They say love covers a multitude of sins, and for matchmakers Mercy, Martha, and Maude, it’s a good thing! Fearing the town’s new pastor is lonely, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and order him a mail order bride! Imagine his surprise when he finds out? Only he doesn’t! Mercy, Martha, and Maude see to that!
Winnie Longfellow has spent years caring for her sick mother, and now that she’s passed, has nowhere to go but her Aunt Eugina’s. But her aunt has other things on her mind, other problems to deal with, and so Winnie accepts a proposal from a pastor out west looking for a mail order bride. Little did she know, he was looking for so much more, anything more! He had no idea he’d sent for one! Now Winnie finds herself at the mercy of three madcap matrons, determined that love will find a way. Despite multiple misunderstandings, a horrid bully/gossip, and a woman she’s sure her intended will marry instead of her, Winnie discovers some things about herself, and finds that love really does find its way …