You probably think of the Victorian era as a time when everyone – especially women – strived to be as prim and proper as possible. But the ladies who wrote to the 19th-century magazine Tit-Bits were, let’s just say, pretty savage – especially when it came to men. These members of the so-called fairer sex gave refreshingly frank, surprisingly witty and occasionally heartbreaking answers to the question “Why am I a spinster?” And even now, their responses are bound to strike a chord.
20. My stitching will get me further
Miss Maude M. Kilbride could work wonders with a needle and thread – but with men? Not so much. She poetically explained, “Smoking caps I’ve embroidered by dozens, pretty slippers I’ve worked by the score, for both nice-looking curates and cousins, and each one of my embroidery wore.”
Yet while, as Kilbride claimed, these crafts were accepted “with much pleasure” by potential suitors, the guys never returned the favor – or, you know, wanted to marry her. Instead, she wrote, she had become “a derelict cargo of treasure on the shore of the nuptial sea.” No wonder she stuck to stitching.
19. I just wanted to win this contest
The women who submitted their stories to Tit-Bits were, on the whole, very much single. Londoner Lilian Harris claimed, by contrast, that she had found her “beau ideal.” But according to the 21-year-old, she still found herself alone – and for a hilarious reason.
Harris admitted – seemingly as a joke – that it was the magazine’s very contest that had convinced her to part from her perfect boyfriend. The single lady wrote, “Then why am I a spinster? ’Tis Tit-Bits to blame. I long to gain the ‘Spinsters Prize’ and so be known to fame.” She at least got her name in the magazine, so mission almost accomplished.
18. I can’t be tamed
Let’s face it: not everyone is cut out for marriage. Some would rather spend their lives on their own, making their own decisions without anyone else’s input. And even in the Victorian era, Sarah Kennerly considered herself to be one such free spirit. She explained her choices to Tit-Bits using a wild horse metaphor.
Kennerly wrote, “Like the wild mustang of the prairie that roams unfettered, tossing his head in utter disdain at the approach of the lasso which, if once round his neck, proclaims him captive, so I find it more delightful to tread on the verge of freedom and captivity than to allow the snarer to cast around me the matrimonial lasso.” In other words, she simply couldn’t be tamed.
17. His kisses weren’t great
Miss E. J. L. Simpson seemed to have tried to find a partner. She certainly appeared to have smooched a few of them, anyway. But, as she recalled it, no one’s lips had made her feel those butterflies they tell you about. And she wrote to Tit-Bits, “Did ever a suitor propose to press on my lips a lover-like kiss I scornfully turned up my nose.”
Still, in retrospect, Simpson did admit that she may have been a bit harsh on her suitors of days gone by. She wrote, “I wished Mr. Right ‘to come up to the scratch,’ and happy and careless I stayed.” In the end, those decisions had left her riding solo. She concluded, “But left I am now without any mate, a cappy and hairless old maid!”
16. She’d rather have cake, honestly
We think quite a few modern-day ladies will relate to Miss Emmaline Lawrence’s reason for staying single. She didn’t waste her time writing poetry about it, either. Instead, she put it plainly, writing, “Because men, like three-cornered tarts, are deceitful.” And the savagery only continued.
Yes, Lawrence had much more to say. Further comparing men to bad pastries, she wrote, “They are very pleasing to the eye, but on closer acquaintanceship prove hollow and stale – consisting chiefly of puff, with a minimum of sweetness and an unconquerable propensity to disagree with one.”
15. Not my kind of buzz
So many married couples have described the electricity they felt when meeting their spouses for the first time. “Sparks flew,” they’ll say. But not everyone seeks out the feeling, nor did have they ever wanted it in the past. Just look at what Miss Laura Bax had to say in her note to Tit-Bits.
Spinster Bax said that she chose to be alone “because matrimony is like an electric battery: when you once join hands, you can’t let go, however much it hurts.” Not only that, but she compared getting hitched to “a toboggan slide.” Why? Well, according to her, “You must go to the bitter end – however much it bumps.” With such unpleasant metaphors in Bax’s mind, it’s no wonder she passed on finding a groom.
14. He couldn’t afford me
Sometimes, Victorian women had to be practical about their partners, as not every man had the right job to support a wife. And Miss E. Jones revealed that money had everything to do with her life as a spinster. She explained, “John, whom I loved, was supplanted in his office by a girl who is doing the same amount of work he did for half the salary he received.”
So, with John out of work – and unable to make the cash he could before – Miss Jones came to a tough conclusion. Simply put, her beau “could not earn sufficient to keep a home.” And when he ended up traveling abroad in search of more money, his beloved had then been left alone and single – or, in other words, a spinster.
13. Okay, maybe this one’s my fault
Hindsight is 20/20, they say – and that was certainly the case with spinster Alice Maud Jeffrey. She wrote into Tit-Bits to claim that she had stayed single forever because, well, she may have been a smidge too picky. She explained, “I have procrastinated, vacillated and alternated. I have been fickle when I ought to have been faithful.”
Jeffrey continued, “I have been deaf when I ought to have heard, blind when I ought to have seen [and] giddy and gay when I ought to have been staid and circumspect.” And in her eighties, she had been left with regrets, it seemed. “It will leave me, for the white winter of life, a lonely spinster when I ought to have been a British matron,” she concluded. Ouch.
12. I let him out of my grasp
Miss W. Mosley chose to illustrate her struggles with men by comparing them to, well, her cat. She wrote, “A kitten caught a little mouse, and, being fond of play, she let it run about the house until it got away.” And watching her pet get “cross” with her loss made the author feel “pity” for the animal… At first, anyway.
Mosley’s mind then turned to her missteps with her own mouse – er, man. She wrote, “A fine young fellow courted me. I thought I held him fast, but, oh! I tampered with his love, and he escaped at last.” So, this lady’s savage reason for being single came down to her own behavior, not the man’s!
11. Nobody’s angel
Miss A. Wood Smith explained her desire to be single by cooking up a mock “wanted” ad – one written from the viewpoint of a man in search of a wife. This ideal mate would be able to “handle a broom, to brush down the cobwebs and sweep up the room.” She would also be expected to “make decent bread that a fellow can eat, not the horrible compound you often meet.”
If you’re not already scoffing, there’s more. The ad further described a woman who could cook, brew a proper cup of tea, clean, sew her husband’s britches, iron and make clothes. It concluded that she should be, hilariously, “a sort of angel and housewife combined.” Given those expectations of a Victorian woman, we don’t blame Wood for staying a spinster.
10. It’s America’s fault
Not every Tit-Bits contributor viciously took down men as a whole, though. Miss Jessie Davies, for example, had more of an issue with the dating scene in her hometown of Birmingham. She found that a massive number of her fellow singletons came from a country across the pond – and she was not impressed by them.
It’s unclear whether Davies had a problem with the selection of men or with the ladies she saw as competition. Either way, she certainly preferred to do things the British way. She explained her singledom simply, writing, “Because I am an English lady, and the Americans monopolize the market.”
9. I found a better job
Relationships take work – and no one knew that better than the ladies of the Victorian era. Not only was finding a husband a 19th-century woman’s main responsibility in life, but after marriage they also had to stand behind their man in every venture he took on. For those who couldn’t afford a team of servants, housework and childcare were ultimately foisted onto them, too.
Florence Watts took all of the above into consideration and clearly thought to herself, “I can do better.” Well, that’s what she wrote into Tit-Bits to say, anyway. And Watts justified her choices by saying, plainly, “I have other professions open to me in which the hours are shorter, the work more agreeable and the pay possibly better.” Makes sense.
8. A man with a title or bust
In her letter to Tit-Bits, Miss Annie Newton explained that, well, not just any suitor would do for her. For one thing, she worked as a cook, and she had a whole £14 saved up in the bank. Given that hoarded wealth, she needed someone higher up the social ladder than a mere policeman or soldier.
Basically, Newton was waiting for a man with a title to fall in love with her. She wrote, “I am waiting for an earl or duke to propose.” But her dream of land, riches and money had yet to come true. “That’s why I am a spinster,” she concluded. At least she didn’t relax her standards?
7. No one has enlisted me yet
One Victorian woman ended up inflicting a harsh self-burn when describing why she was still single. Before we get into this one, though, we need to talk about a group called the Rifle Volunteers. These organized civilian militias formed on the coasts of Wales, England and Scotland, ready to defend their country should invaders arrive on British shores.
But most of the smaller regiments of these volunteer fighters ended up disappearing, as military officials came to prefer larger battalions. And the plight of some of these soldiers resonated with spinster Annie Thompson. The reason she gave for being unmarried? “Because I am like the Rifle Volunteers: always ready but not yet wanted.”
6. I’d rather have a dog
Families of all means had pets during the Victorian era. Naturally, the richest clans dropped tons of cash on their furry companions, but even the less moneyed classes kept cats to get rid of pests and dogs to ensure their homes were safe. Birds were trendy during this time, too, as were rabbits and fish.
A spinster named Miss Sparrow clearly considered this fact when she decided whether or not to find a beau. And in the end, she decided to stick with her four-legged friends. She claimed, “I do not care to enlarge my menagerie of pets, and I find the animal man less docile than a dog, less affectionate than a cat and less amusing than a monkey.” Burn!
5. Your faces aren’t good enough
William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew introduces audiences to Katherina. And as you may remember from English class, she’s a bit stubborn and hesitant to fall in love. Ultimately, though, Katherina ends up enamored with a man named Petruchio, who takes the time and effort to soften her – albeit in ways that would not be okay in 2021.
And a spinster named Miss Lizzie Moore knew the story so well that she used it to explain the harsh reason she chose to stay solo. She wrote, “My reason for being a spinster is answered in a quotation from The Taming of the Shrew: ‘Of all the men alive I never yet beheld that special face which I could fancy more than any other.’”
4. I only need one 9-to-5
We’ve already touched on the fact that Victorian women had to do a lot of housework. Some of the single ladies were employed in other roles until they walked down the aisle, though, and spinster Sophia Drew told Tit-Bits that she ultimately preferred to stick with what she knew. Yep, at the end of the day, she only needed one job.
Drew wrote, “As there are so many more women than men, we cannot all hope to marry, but please do not think I am dissatisfied. I am only now a dairymaid. If married, I should be a wife, mother, nurse, housekeeper, chambermaid, seamstress, laundress, dairymaid and scrub generally.” We get her point.
3. My cat won’t cheat on me
Miss Annie Custance had plenty of good reasons for being single, and some of them revolved around her pet cat. She explained, “Although he may wander and leave me at night, I can always depend he won’t come home tight. So I’ll stick to my cat as long as he seem content with the milk – I’ll take the cream.”
Mind you, Custance took a few more opportunities to drag actual human men. She claimed that members of the opposite sex were “so selfish” and “[came] home very late only to snub” their ladies. And the spinster ended her message with a zinger. She concluded, “Good men are scarce, but fools there are plenty. That’s why I’m single at seven-and-twenty.” Boom.
2. Not just anyone will do
You should have realized by now that not all spinsters have sad tales of loss and regret. Many ladies – even from decades and eras past – simply decided to be alone because they couldn’t find anyone worthy of them. Yes, a great woman deserves a equally great man, and nothing less will do.
That was the energy brought to Tit-Bits magazine by spinster S.A. Roberts. She compared herself to “a piece of rare china” to try and make plain her reasons for being alone. Roberts added, “I am breakable and mendable but difficult to match.” In other words, she was simply one of a kind – too good for any basic man.
1. No time for liars
Like many of the women who wrote into Tit-Bits magazine, Miss Gore chose to explain her singledom in the form of a poem. She started by suggesting to readers, “Write on the sands when the tide is low, seek the same spot when the waters flow; whisper a name when the tempest’s heard, pause for echo to catch the word.”
Miss Gore’s poem then came to a savage conclusion. She went on, “If what you write on the sand should last, if echo is heard in the tempest’s blast; you may then believe island not ‘til then, there is truth in the vows of men.” In other words, this self-titled “spinster through unfaithfulness” did not have any time for dishonesty – and we totally respect that.
But even decades on, gender roles hadn’t changed much. During the 1950s, for example, women largely stayed home and kept house while men went out and earned a living. Mind you, this didn’t mean the ladies weren’t picky when it came to securing spouses. And some of the qualities ’50s women desired in their husbands may come as a big surprise considering the era.
When it came to finding the ideal husband, for women of the 1950s height was key. The perfect suitor had to be tall, with the optimum measurement seemingly being a nice, round 6 feet. Back in 1957 the average woman was 5 feet, 2 inches tall, meaning girls dreamed of having a man tower over them.
While many women today may dream of being swept off their feet by a tall, dark and handsome stranger, ladies in the 1950s had different tastes. For them, the ideal man would have had sparkling blue eyes. And according to some studies, there may be scientific evidence to suggest that people are generally more attracted to light eyes than dark ones.
Another highly prized attribute for women of the 1950s was athleticism. Being sporty in general was considered a big plus, and it didn’t really matter what a man’s specific preferred activity may be. However, that being said, according to a 1956 Life article basketball, baseball and football were the most popular sports girls had in mind for their future husbands.
While the perfect housewife was expected to work around her husband’s needs, women didn’t seek out domineering men. With that in mind, ladies would avoid a man who would crack the whip, so to speak. Instead, they wanted a more equal partnership, which was perhaps a sign that gender roles were already changing.
In line with new ideas about the modern man, women wanted to find a husband who was willing to help out around the house. In the 1950s, however, females were expected to take the lion’s share of household chores. As a result, even a little cooperation from the man of the house would probably go a long way.
Has a steady job
When women married 60 years ago, most of them gave up employment in order to fulfill the role of a housewife. With that in mind, many girls dreamed of bagging a husband with a reliable profession. After all, the whole family would rely on the man’s income to survive, so being able to provide for them was considered very important.
While raising a family on one income may seem like a stretch in this day and age, women didn’t expect men to keep a tight hold of their wallets. In fact, stinginess was considered an very unattractive attribute in a husband. Consequently, the perfect man of the 1950s would have been generous with his cash.
The 1950s are widely considered to be the Golden Age of Hollywood. So it’s little wonder that women took inspiration from the movies when it came to picturing their perfect man. One popular crush of the era was William Holden. Filmmaker Billy Wilder once said of the actor, “He was a genuine star. Every woman was in love with him.”
For women of the 1950s, a husband who could stand on their own two feet was highly sought after. While she was most likely expected to cook and for him, a girl valued a man with independence. Perhaps if the man of the house could think for himself it was one less thing for the woman to think about.
23 years of age
In 1956 Life magazine published the findings of a survey it had asked the National Field Service to complete. In it, they asked young females about their desired qualities in a spouse. And when the results came in, it seemed that 23 was deemed the ideal age of a potential suitor.
Men who were bossy were seemingly a big turn off for women 60 years ago. While popular TV shows of the day may have dictated that “Father Knows Best,” women didn’t like being told what to do by their husbands. With that in mind, maybe wives of the 1950s weren’t as subservient as small-screen stereotypes of the time would have us believe.
Values their opinion
While women valued men who were independent, they still wanted to have their say on important household decisions. As a result, girls wanted to marry a man who would value their opinion, or at least consult them before reaching an outcome. That way, married couples could figure things out together.
Another celebrity heartthrob of the era was Rock Hudson, and many women considered him to be perfect husband material. Handsome Hudson starred in a number of popular movies including Giant and All That Heaven Allows. But at the time his dedicated female following were unaware of the fact that he was actually gay.
Handy at repairs
While the home may have been considered a woman’s domain in the 1950s, wives nonetheless wanted their husbands to be of some use around the house. In particular, a man should be good at repairing things. Being adept at making stuff was also considered a plus, with woodworking cited as the respondents’ preferred hobby for their hubbies in the Life poll.
According to the 1956 Life article, “A basic occupation of virtually every woman is choosing a man to marry.” And in what was perhaps a sign of changing gender roles in the ’50s, girls didn’t want their husbands to treat them as if they were simply another possession. With that in mind, controlling men weren’t deemed to be attractive.
According to a survey carried out by dating site Elite Singles, reading is considered an attractive attribute. And that’s something women in the ’50s already knew. They desired a partner who was well-read. However, they didn’t want their men to get so lost in a book that they refused to help out.
By the late 1950s Elvis Presley had risen out of poverty to become one of the world’s biggest superstars. What’s more, his iconic good looks made him one of the era’s most enduring sex symbols. With that in mind, it’s little wonder that many women dreamed of becoming Presley’s wife.
The perfect date night during the 1950s almost certainly involved dancing. Women of the day loved the pastime, in fact, and they expected their husbands to be willing partners. But according to the Life poll, two-thirds of women were willing to put up with a man with no rhythm. As the article stated, “All she requires is that he try”
Indeed, women of the 1950s wanted their husbands to be sociable in general. Men who were unwilling to spend time with friends and family were considered a turn-off. However, conflicting marriage advice from the decade – as quoted by the Daily Mail advised wives to “make the evening his” and never resort to “complaining if he does not take you out.”
One of the more unusual attributes outlined in the Life article required men to be involved in civic matters. It was unclear what this meant exactly, but it perhaps suggested that women liked their men to take an interest in politics or helping out in the community. In general, then, it seems that husbands should have been model citizens.
Another public figure who women felt would make the ideal husband was Marlon Brando. Thanks in part to his roles in films including Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and The Wild One, the actor had somewhat of a bad boy image. And it seems the ladies couldn’t resist his rebellious charm.
Arrogance was considered a major turn-off for women in the ’50s. Instead, they wanted their future husband to have an air of modesty. And it seems that not much has changed in 60 years. Indeed, according to a Facebook post by True Love Dates, many women still find cockiness an unattractive characteristic in men today.
With that in mind, men with good manners were also appreciated by women of the 1950s. A rude husband was a big no-no. And it seems that dating was the perfect opportunity for males to prove their good etiquette, as it was considered proper for a man to ask his crush out, collect her at her door and ultimately foot the bill.
James Dean was yet another celebrity whom women found themselves daydreaming about in the 1950s. During his short-lived career, Dean acquired sex symbol status thanks to his cool demeanor. But, sadly, he wouldn’t see the decade out. He died aged 24 in an automobile accident in 1955.
Despite the pressures men had bear in providing for their families in the ’50s, girls still didn’t want their husbands to take life too seriously. Instead, they dreamed of sharing life with a jolly man. And in general, the decade offered people lots of things to smile about. For example, average incomes were on the rise and a new generation of household appliances were making life easier than ever before.
While women were expected to let their husbands take the lead in family business as head of the house, they didn’t want to share their life with tyrants. Consequently, being controlling was cited as a negative attribute by the girls who took part in the Life poll. Instead, wives expected a certain level of freedom.
It will probably come as no surprise to find that women of the 1950s expected their husbands to be honest. Being truthful is still considered an important component of a successful relationship today, of course. As a result, honesty remains high on the list of attributes people look for in their future spouse.
While he wouldn’t become president until 1961, during the 1950s John F. Kennedy made a name for himself as a handsome young senator. And while he was careful to show himself as a devoted family man, he also had a reputation as a womanizer. Nevertheless, ladies loved him, probably on account of his dashing good looks and undeniable charisma.
In the 1950s women wanted husbands who knew how to have a good time. And while plenty of difficult social issues were being tackled during the era, in general fun was easy to come by. For example, televisions were just beginning to take off and many families entertained themselves by crowding around their favorite shows.
While women were expected to look after matters in the home, having a man who could attend to the garden was definitely seen as a plus. Back then, one of the fashions was to fill your yard with quirky ornaments. So it may also have been beneficial for a man to have a good taste in gnomes.
The ideal husband should have a good education, according to the women who took part in the Life poll. Being learned was a highly-prized asset, so much so that some females enrolled in college simply to find the perfect man. As a result, some girls jokingly claimed they were “seeking an M.R.S. degree.”
Having a touch of the green-eyed monster wasn’t something that women of the time wanted from their potential husbands. Jealousy was considered an unattractive attribute by the women polled for the Life magazine article. Clearly, they wanted a man who was sure enough in himself not to have feelings of envy.
Another political figure women believed was good husband material in the 1950s was Dwight Eisenhower. The 34th President of the United States took office at the start of 1953 and would remain in power for the rest of the decade. A former Army general, he was responsible for the successful invasions in North Africa and Normandy during World War Two. And as president, he helped to bring peace to Korea.
In many ways, dating as we know it today was invented in the 1950s. And women of the day didn’t want the evenings out to stop when they finally found their perfect men. As a result, they hoped their husbands would take them out on the town, if not dancing then at least to dinner or the movies.
In keeping with their desire for an honest man, women of the 1950s didn’t want their husbands to be secretive. They much preferred full disclosure in their marriage, with their man laying it all out on the table. So while she was often left at home, she clearly expected her husband to fill her in with all the significant happenings of his day.
Women wanted their husbands to be chatty as well. Being talkative was cited as a plus in the Life poll. In fact, two-thirds of the girls who took part in the survey said that they would prefer a talker to a listener, but they themselves didn’t promise to be a good listener either.
While his reputation may have waned since, back in the ’50s Richard Nixon was considered a catch. Nixon would become president in 1969, but for much of the 1950s, he served under Dwight Eisenhower. And it appears that both men had quite a female following at the time.
Another asset on women’s checklists was someone with a cheerful disposition. A moody man simply wouldn’t do for many of the ladies quizzed by Life. So while the saying goes “happy wife, happy life,” it seems that a merry husband is just as essential to household harmony.
Future wives of the 1950s hoped for a husband who was clever. So intelligence was seen as a definite plus in a partner. However, the same cannot be said for the men of today. According to research by the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland, males aren’t attracted to bright women, unless they happen to be beautiful as well.
According to the Life survey respondents, the man who most resembled the ideal husband of the 1950s was Perry Como. However, the entertainer was seemingly far from perfect. An extract from the article read, “Como was chosen in spite of the fact that he does not fit all of the requirements nor all of the personal characteristics girls rate high. He is five feet nine-and-a-half inches tall instead of six feet. His eyes are brown instead of blue and he is not 23. He almost never washes dishes.”