Courtship in the nineteenth century was a carefully-controlled affair, especially among the upper classes like the sphere where Annie Osborn lived. Unmarried women were carefully chaperoned, as this three-way chair in St. Augustine’s Lightner Museum demonstrates.
Here is a wonderful excerpt from a book I bought in that museum gift store; this is from a chapter entitled “Professor Hill’s Guide to Love and Marriage.”
Any gentleman who may continuously give special, undivided attention to a certain lady is presumed to do so because he prefers her to others. It is reasonable to suppose that others will observe his action. It is also reasonable to be expected that the lady will herself appreciate the fact, and her feelings are likely to become engaged.
Should she allow an intimacy thus to ripen upon the part of the gentleman, and to continue, it is to be expected that he will be encouraged to hope for her hand; and hence it is the duty of both lady and gentleman, if neither intends marriage, to discourage an undue intimacy which may ripen into love, as it is in the highest degree dishonorable to trifle with the affections of another.”
p. 109, The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette, by Professor Thomas E. Hill.
Suppose a man from Kansas were to travel all the way to Martha’s Vineyard to visit a woman who had encouraged him, only to find that she did not trust him with her affections?
Photo by Jeanne Gehret