Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Advice

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From Men, Women, and Emotions, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1893. 

“A wise and tactful woman… will keep her intellect subservient to her grace and charms when in the presence of men” (81).

In my office space, I keep an antique, first edition copy of Wilcox’s Men, Women, and Emotions mainly for my amusement. Every now and then, I’ll leaf through the pages to see what gems of late 19th Century advice I can mine. Like Dorothy Parker’s famous maxim, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” advice has long been on hand for those young women so unfortunate to possess intelligence.

My father used to tell the story of a first date he had with a girl at a bowling alley. A skilled bowler, he took pride in his skill. This was the 1950s, and he drove the iconic ’57 Chevy convertible–cherry red. In short, she beat his score and he never asked her out again. He’d joke about this, but as his daughter the tale told me something about men, even as a kid.

Like Jane Eyre, I didn’t really place much stock in physical attributes; we all fall prey to the ravages of time. The prettiest women to me were like Jane Goodall, who embraced their intelligence, accepted aging with grace, and pursued their dreams, regardless of the social sacrifices they might have to make. I was more concerned about getting an education than I was attracting a partner.

Sorry to say, Wilcox’s “advice” never held sway with me. I’m sure I’d have been a disappointment to her. But her manual does provide me with relief, every now and then—gratitude for not having to fight for the right to vote or go to college or even have my name in print.

It’s important to remember and thank those wrongly criticized, intellectual & talented women who dared to let their bright minds “glare” like “electric lights”! I can’t imagine how many people tried to snuff that light out.

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