Wednesday, May 18, 2011

1824 On Chaperones for American Women

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James Fenimore Cooper, Notions of the Americans

1824 About the Custom of Chaperones for Women

Because American women are very reserved in conversation, "you will readily perceive that the free intercourse between the unmarried is at once deprived of half its danger.

"But the upper classes in this country are far from neglecting many necessary forms. As they have more to lose by matrimonial connections than others, common prudence teaches them the value of a proper caution.

"Thus a young lady never goes in public without the eye of some experienced matron to watch her movements. She cannot appear at a play, ball, etc. without a father, or a brother, at least it is thought far more delicate and proper that shc should have a female guardian.

She never rides nor walks - unless in the most public place, and then commonly with great reserve - attended by a single man, unless indeed under circustances of a peculiar nature. In short, she pursues that course which rigid delicacy would prescribe, without however betraying any marked distrust of the intentions of the other sex.

These customs are relaxed a little as you descend in the scale of society; but it is evidently more because the friends of a girl with ten or twenty thousand dollars, or of a family in middle life, have less jealousy of motive than those of one who is, rich, or otherwise of a particularly desirable connection."
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