Why do young women fall for older men?

You don’t hear much about May-December romances these days. But history is full couples made of young women with older men, especially in centuries when so many women died in childbirth.

That was the case in the family of Anna Osborn. Her father was twice a widower, and his third wife (Annie’s stepmother) was 13 years younger than he. Each wife bore him several children, bringing the total number of Osborn offspring to eleven.

Varying Explanations for Women’s Choices

According to an article in The Guardian, women are genetically programmed to recognize a man with genes strong enough to be attractive and display wealth at an advanced age. According to this theory, evolution favors a strong older man over a younger one.

Or is it more than that? Perhaps it is because older men have more sophisticated tastes, seem more sure of themselves, and are looking for serious relationships, as this more recent article suggests.

In the chapters of The Truth About Daniel concerning  Annie Osborn’s courtship, she evades the clumsy pursuits of Richie, a man her age. Richie doesn’t know enough to douse his cigar in a lady’s presence and still appears boyishly lanky. He dances badly, works for his father, and has done nothing heroic. How can he measure up to Daniel Read Anthony with his war-hardened physique, strong profile, and willingness to save people in a burning building?

When Annie learns that Daniel has also committed himself to the same risky undertaking as she, she falls in love with a man twenty years older her senior. She senses Daniel’s value to society in contrast to Richie’s lightweight existence.

Neither can Richie match Daniel’s experience as a mayor and postmaster. He lacks Daniel’s acquaintance with influential people, notably his sister Susan B. Anthony and her cohort—people that Annie has only read about before.

Unlike Richie and Annie, who have lived their entire lives on an island, Daniel has traveled halfway across the continent. Perhaps the best thing of all is that he’s willing and able to take Annie there.

Happily Ever After

No novice at the game of courtship, Daniel keeps his wealth to himself until after he is engaged to Annie. As mayor, he may have known too many women who wanted to marry a man for his money. Fortunately, Annie reacts with pleasant surprise, showing that not all young women are looking for sugar daddies.

 

 

Was Emily Dickinson as miserable as film suggests?

The film  A Quiet Passion did not serve up the Emily Dickinson I know.  Having read some biographies of Dickinson as well as her poetry, I have to say that the movie seemed pretty one-sided in portraying her life as one of angst and frustration. Continue reading

The Anthonys’ Quaker Roots

 

Quaker Meeting House, Adams. Photo by Jeanne Gehret

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting “All for Suffrage: Susan B. Anthony’s Kin” at Susan’s birthplace museum in Adams, MA, near the border of New York State.

After my presentation, my friend and I received a private tour by Adams Historical Society president Eugene Michalenko of the East Hoosuk Quaker Meetinghouse not far from Susan’s home. That is where Susan’s Aunt Hannah Hoxie (her father’s sister) sat on the “high seat” sharing spiritual insights during meetings. Hannah was regarded by the congregation as a gifted speaker in an era when women outside of Quakerism rarely spoke in public.

The high seat turned out to be on the top row of pews facing the congregation, nearest the center. Hannah’s central position connotes some importance. Measuring about 45×45 feet, the building features separate doors for men and women, who held their own meetings and kept separate records.

Once inside, a movable partial wall divides the two sides, with women and children sitting on the side with a huge open fireplace. (How kind those Quaker gentlemen were!) The dividing wall was removed during worship; thus, Hannah could be seen (and heard) by both men and women.

The Meetinghouse website includes more photos and describes many tenets of Quaker beliefs, including their opposition to war. Annually Daniel Anthony, Susan’s father, greeted the taxman by telling him that he refused to support a government that wages war and if he must extract the tax, he should riffle through Anthony’s wallet and take it himself.

Later, Susan’s brother D.R. Anthony ran afoul of Quaker pacificism when he killed a rival publisher in a streetfight in Leavenworth. By that time, the Anthonys belonged to the Rochester, NY Meeting, and a delegation wrote to D.R. questioning his adherence to the beliefs of his ancestors. Read more about that conflict in my book The Truth About Daniel, published in January.

Opera and Ventriloquists

New York City residents wanting to escape the heat in the 19th century flocked to the attractions of Saratoga Springs, NY.  Both D. R. Anthony and his sister Susan gave public lectures there1. Why was the resort such a famous destination? Continue reading

Gallop Across the Dance Floor, Anyone?

 

 

This is a wonderful video of a 19th century dance. Read more about it below.

I first learned about a dance called the gallopade (or “gallop”) at a concert given by pianist Jacqueline Schwab, whose piano music was featured on Ken Burns’ documentary of the Civil War. Intrigued to see how it was done, I tracked down this video.

The gallopade, a very energetic dance, takes place at a ball in The Truth About Daniel. In this contemporary video, you can hear the laughter that naturally arises from this kind of happy exertion. Notice also that most of the dancers are young! When preparing to dance the gallop, Daniel Anthony, who is 40, searches the room for a young and fit partner.

Notice women dancing with women—this was often done when there were not enough men, which could certainly have been the case on Annie’s island during the Civil War, when many young men were serving on battlefields. In fact, just before a dance recital, Annie asks her best friend to save her a dance so she will not have to partner with a predatory man named Richie.

In this contemporary video, the style of gowns is appropriate to the mid-19th century when Daniel and Annie fell in love. You can see the outline of hoops beneath many of the full skirts, which bob along as the women move energetically across the floor.

Despite the fact that these dancers learned the nine movements of this dance that same day, they make it look effortless, don’t they?

Three-Way Courting Chair–Really?

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

Book Excerpt

While we’re awaiting shipment of the first copies of The Truth About Daniel, here’s an excerpt from chapter 4 where Daniel and his sister Susan B. Anthony discuss his difficulties with courtship:

Continue reading