Tips for a happy marriage: Advice for newlyweds, from the 1900s

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Old-fashioned rules for a happy marriage (1913)
Here are two vintage articles from the turn of the century with advice for young married couples about some of the ways to make their years together happy ones.

Love, sense & patience: The 3 most important things for a happy marriage (1901)

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox – The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) May 26, 1901

Happiness in married life is to be gained just as enduring happiness in any other phase of existence on earth is to be found — by the use of the old-fashioned virtues of unselfishness, consideration for others, politeness and kindness, all based on love and capped by common sense.

Like the old recipe for cooking the hare, which begins, “First catch your hare,” a happy marriage for a woman begins with “First select a MAN.” Not an ideal made seraph — not an ossified brain, not a mere animal, but a MAN, capable of loving and appreciating a woman’s love.

Wedding couple 1904

Of course, he will be more or less selfish. That is the way parents rear their sons to be. It is your task to bear with this selfishness at first until you can tactfully teach him how beautiful is thoughtfulness for others, and in a very sweet but very dignified way show him that you expect the same treatment you give.

In the meantime, you must recollect that you are a faulty woman — and probably spoiled by your parents if you are an American woman — and you must not assume a superior air over your husband when you find out his faults, merely because they are unlike your own.

Whenever he does or says anything which annoys or pains you, say to yourself: “I must avoid ever saying or doing that in my treatment of him.”

Then someday, when he tells you of a fault you possess, put your arm about his shoulder and say: “Let us enter into a Mutual Improvement Society. I want to be everything you admire — you want to be everything I admire. I will try and do my part and you must do yours.

“We are business associates for life, in God’s Great Syndicate of Love — let us work together for a perfectly happy marriage.”

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If your husband has whims — harmless whims. such as wanting his meals at certain hours promptly, or wanting you to be ready on time when you are going out, make every effort to gratify him.

Be willing to sacrifice yourself to scone extent to do this; but if you do as he wishes eight times without any word of approval from him and fail twice, and he is irritable in consequence, remind him gently of his lack of reasonableness, and tell him that you need encouragement for your good deeds as well as reproofs for your shortcomings.

Vintage couple - Turn of the century

Then persist in your efforts to please him. Believe in your husband, and expect him to be everything your heart desires. Say to yourself every day that he loves you, that he is good, loyal, kind, worthy and successful.

Praise him and pet him, sympathize with his business life, his aims, pleasures and occupations. Be his friend and comrade as well as his sweet-heart and home keeper.

Remember that a woman makes the atmosphere of the home. I have seen a cheerful optimistic woman, who saw a humorous side to every trouble in life, utterly transform a gleamy and fretful natured man into a jolly and good-humored being.

If a man is certain he will find cheer, peace, mirthfulness, order, sympathy and love at home he is certain to set his sail for that port with the same anticipation with which the mariner seeks his own harbor after a stormy voyage.

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Of course, we must make allowances for the occasional lawless and drunken mariner who sends his ship on the rocks and the worthless husband who does not appreciate life’s best gifts. There are men whom no woman on God’s earth could keep loyal or honest; but they are exceptions.

Tie clean, neat and coquettish in your dress at home and in the privacy of your rooms with your husband. Never let him see you in soiled or careless garments — and let him realize (tactfully) that you expect the same refinements from him.

1903 Oh, you're so sweet, and those beautiful eyes

Nothing is commonplace in the daily associations of life to two people who love each other if they do not allow themselves to fall into vulgarities. Mystery, romance and charm can hang forever about the wife, as well as about the mistress, if the wife so chooses.

The husband can always, at every approach, be the Prince Charming to anchor the enchanted Princess with his first kiss if he is skilled enough in love’s arts and refined enough to wish to keep the interesting role. And in all love’s ways, man is much given to following woman’s lead.

If you have no independent income of your own have an understanding in your honeymoon with regard to money matters. Ask for an allowance to be set apart for your use, in order that no humiliating and indelicate discussions need ever occur between you on this subject. Then study to be economical and thrifty — and wise in your use of your allowance.

Love, sense and patience. Those are the three important elements necessary to happiness in marriage.

Antique turn of the century photo of a young couple


Rules for wedded couples who would be happy (1913)

by Nixola Greely-Smith – The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) January 26, 1913

Perhaps more well-meaning persons are tinkering away at the marriage problem today than at any other period in the history of civilization. All the more serious writers of the day make it the theme of discussion and philosophy. The bread and butter romance has been relegated to the nursery, where it belongs.

There is a whole school of social philosophers, among whom H G Wells is foremost, who believe that happiness in marriage is to be established by the public endowment of motherhood.

According to this view, the bearing of children is a service to the state and should be recognized and recompensed as such. So long as the mother has to depend upon the generosity of the individual man for that maintenance which society should supply collectively for her and her children, so long will strife invade the family circle.

Among the advocates of the endowment of motherhood in the United States, none is more widely known that Mr Henry Neil, who has been called the father of the mothers’ pension system, which is already a law in the state of Illinois.

MORE: 19 important marriage tips for the ladies – most of which would just not fly today (1838)

Old-fashioned rules for a happy marriage 1913 (2)

As to the question of mothers’ pensions

Mr Neil, who is now among us seeking new world’s to convert to the idea of mothers’ pensions, contributes the following letter to this discussion.

I don’t mind saying that the endowment of motherhood seems to me the most plausible of all the schemes which have been devised so far for improving the quality of the race:

Certainly, the economic independence of women is not the answer to the cry for better and more children. For the working mother means children improperly fed or carelessly reared. Yet, so long as the rewards of motherhood are so uncertain and so precarious, more and more women will remain celibate or childless.

Enter at this point the sentimentalist, who exclaims: “Motherhood is its own reward. A real mother asks for no other!”

Maybe not for herself. But how about her children? The more intelligent she is the more truly and tenderly maternal her spirit, the greater the guarantees she will demand for the present welfare and future security of her children. But many persons are a long way from believing this.

Old-fashioned rules for a happy marriage 1913 (1)

Happiness aided by finding the right mother-in-law

“If you want to be happy in marriage, pick your mother-in-law first.”

This contribution to the lore in courtship was made the other day by Rev E E McKay of Chicago in a Sunday night talk to young men. “Mothers,” the western pastor observed, “are living pictures in the albums of the years, announcing just what time will do for their daughters.

“Find me a mother whose house has no order — the rolling pin in the music rack, the satin sofa pillow in the coal box; who never combs her hair until she ‘goes out,’ and who looks like a fright until somebody comes — if the text is true, the daughter will keep house in the same manner.

“Find me a mother who will turn her baby over to a nurse and let a silken poodle lead her to a downtown club, who will go to sleep at night with a dime novel under her pillow and a 15 cent head on top of it — I say nothing but the grace of God can keep the daughter from doing just the same thing as the mother.

Out for a drive in the car 1913

Find one who can play on the stove and piano, too

“But show me a mother who is kind of heart, decisive of will, Christian in character, a good housekeeper, whose daily orders are that ‘dirt, debt and the devil’ cannot enter her home, who can play as elegantly on the cook stove as she can on the piano — in short, a mother given to industry, self-sacrifice and concentration — and the reproduction of such a mother is easily seen in the daughter.

Maybe Rev Mr McKay is right — maybe the force of mother’s noble example will be sufficient to overcome certain traits of personal indulgence and shiftlessness which daughter must have inherited from father.

Scientifically, biologically, a young man anxious to know the worst of his future wife should study not mother-in-law, but father-in-law. For it is written by Gallon’s law of heredity that the daughter shall inherit the genius and the weakness of the father.

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Of course, if YOU don’t believe in heredity and are willing to trust to gentle maternal precepts to overcome a transmitted tendency to throw newspapers on the floor or to burn holes in the centerpiece, study your future mother-in-law. Otherwise, keep your weather eye on father and learn a little something about grandparents of all varieties.

In my opinion, any self-respecting young woman in love would think twice before entrusting her fate to a young hero whose ghoulish glance from her to her mother would proclaim the thought, “unto this likeness must she come at last.”

No intelligent person overlooks hereditary possibilities altogether, but how is it possible to bank on mother’s saintly qualities or father’s goodly piety when the strange phenomenon of atavism may take the offspring back to a rollicking, unregenerate great-grandfather and skip their virtues entirely?

Old-fashioned rules for a happy marriage (1913)

Cupid ought to be blind, and it’s well he is

The ancients did not portray Cupid as the blind god for nothing. He ought to be blind. What would the Greeks think of our modern bespectacled little Johnny-Boston-Beans of a love deity?

If we are going to make him wear glasses, and feel his pulse and take his temperature every little while, why not get his thumb imprint while we are about it and put him in the rogues’ gallery? Maybe, after all, he belongs there.

Still, if we are in love, let’s be in love, and if we are scientific and eugenic and all that sort of thing, let’s do that well, too.

So, young man, if you want to get a biologic hint of what your adored one will become in a few years, take father out and buy him a few glasses of sarsaparilla or any other beverage that will live up to its reputation as an incentive to truth.

Mother-in-law, on the contrary, should be put under the microscope by the young woman in doubt about the wearing qualities of her fiance.

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