AS EMILY POST noted, "love at first sight and marriage in a week is within the boundaries of possibility," but more often than not, young ladies and gentlemen took the time to get to know each other a bit before they became linked together for life.
THE SINCERITY OF MAN'S NATURE
According to the rules of etiquette, a wise gentleman caller of the 1890s such as John Kendrick arrived in formal clothes and sat stiffly in the front parlor until the object of his affection made her appearance. He kept his hat in his hands and his hands to himself! He was both sincere in his intentions and worthy of her attentions. If the gentleman wasn't wise, he and his lady friend could become the topic of unwanted gossip. In 1891, Mattie Wulfjen wrote to her sister Eula about the recent courtship and marriage scandals in Greeley, Colorado:
Lilly H-----r was married last week to Mr. P-----n, a worthless good-for-nothing fellow. Her family knew nothing of it, until the ceremony had been performed. Carrie told me that they had no idea she was engaged, but they opposed the fellow from the first. They are heart-broken.
Tracy M-----h had to be married to a girl in Estes Park. He tried to get out of it, but they forced him to take her.
Poor Minnie, she has got it bad. A-----n gave her every reason on earth to make her think he was in love with her, and even went so far as to tell her he intended to give her an elegant diamond ring … Ask John if he thinks him sincere; Minnie has made up her mind to take him if he proposes.
As Mattie noted, it was hard for young ladies to know if their callers were serious or just being flirtatious. “Oh,” she wrote, “if girls could only read the sincerity of man’s natures! But alas! We have to remain in oblivion!”
With no computers and few telephones, communication between belles and beaux had to take place either in person or by letter. Just as was the case with personal calls, very strict rules governed correspondence. Because letters were physical items that could be read by anyone other than the intended, discretion was key. The author could not be too intimate, too emotional or too casual, and every statement had to be couched in a good deal of very wordy prose. As one author noted:
Remember that whatever you write is written evidence either of your good sense or your folly, your industry or carelessness, your self-control or impatience. What you have once put in the letterbox, may cost you lasting regret, or be equally important to your whole future welfare. And, for such grave reasons, think before you write, and think while you are writing.
Because of the intimate nature of correspondence, it was essential, if a relationship ended or if either party married someone else, that all letters be returned to their author. In 1921, upon severing both their engagement and their relationship, Diana Cumming requested one of her beaux (initials H.L.W.) to return all her correspondence: "I hate to ask you this - tho' after all, why should I? - so - will you please send me my letters? I'll return yours when I get home, if you want them."
The young man returned promptly returned dozens of Diana's letters - but not all of them. In 1927, upon his own marriage, he sent the following lighthearted note along with a 1921 letter from Diana in which she demanded that, if he loved her, he needed to "prove it - by actions, not by words": "Dear Diana - As executor of the estate of H.L.W., bachelor, I am returning the last remaining evidence. Said guy died a cheerful death and expects to live happily forever after."
DATING & DANCING
By the time John and Eula’s children, Manville and Rosa-Maye Kendrick, began dating in the 1910s and 1920s, the “flock system” had come into play. As Emily Post described it, this type of dating allowed men and women to come to know each other in a more natural setting than that experienced by previous generations:
A flock of young girls and a flock of young men form a little group of their own – everywhere they are together. In the country they visit the same houses … they play golf in foursomes, and tennis in mixed doubles. In winter at balls they sit at the same table for supper, they have little dances at their own homes, where scarcely any but themselves are invited; they play bridge, they have tea together, but whatever they do, they stay in the pack.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, nearly every wedding was followed by a dance in which the bride danced the first dance with her husband, the second with her father, and the rest with her male guests. Therefore, it was important that the bride and groom know how to dance. In fact, in the general scheme of things, it was important for everyone to know how to dance, because dancing was one of the most important social activities of the time. A girl’s social well-being was sometimes attached to her ability to dance. Physical appearance, financial status and intelligence need not matter, said Emily Post, if a girl could master the most important steps to success – those executed on the dance floor:
The girl who is beautiful and dances well is, of course, the ideal ballroom belle. But, all things being more or less equal, the girl who dances best has the most partners. Let a daughter of Venus or the heiress of Midas dance badly, and she might better stay at home. Also, conversational cleverness is of no account in a ballroom; some of the greatest belles ever known have been as stupid as sheep.
Instead of attending public dance classes, most people learned to dance as children by partnering with older relatives at informal home dances such as those held at Trail End, out at the OW Ranch, and in small houses all over town. Brothers danced with sisters, nieces with uncles and cousins with cousins. Once the waltz, fox trot, schottische and two-step were mastered, young men and women were ready for any type of event at which dancing was featured – even a “small dance” at the White House, such as those attended by Manville and Diana Kendrick.
Manville Kendrick (center) and friends, 1917 (Hoff Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009
Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site