Nineteenth Century popular belief–wholly supported by Medical Doctors’ and scientists’ claims–genuinely believed that educating females in the same manner as males invited an entire host of disastrous results. Those terrifying results included everything from destruction to the woman’s reproductive system, mental breaks (yes, insanity!), and a long list of physical diseases. Because the vast majority believed these consequences to be true, women weren’t allowed to seek education in a male-dominated classroom. The battle over co-education continued long after the late 19th Century for these reasons. Not only was the woman’s mind and body at terrible risk, should she be educated like a male, but everyone knew a female mind couldn’t take in significant learning.
Nineteenth Century American women who desired an advanced education (and to work as a professional) fought an uphill battle. As late as the final decade (1890s) cultural beliefs demanded “good” women made home a bit of heaven on earth, toiled only as a help-meet to her husband, and found all the joy and satisfaction there she could possibly need. Historical sources underscore this dated belief system, and set the stage for the challenges faced by my character Dr. Isabella Pattison, DDS, in Isabella’s Calico Groom (within Calico Ball: Timeless Western Collection).
Though American Victorian women took to the safety bicycle in droves, newspaper and public notices of the day show that women on bicycles were not widely accepted. A public service announcement from The Woman’s Rescue League proclaimed that women on bicycles were immoral, vulgar, disease-ridden, and unwomanly. Such attitudes didn’t keep women from their bicycles, and with the advent of the new Safety Bicycle, women such as my character, Sophia Sorensen (Sophia’s Leap-Year Courtship), took to cycling and had no interest in forfeiting the exercise and transportation.
It’s no surprise in today’s environment that women (and men) can choose any color hair they desire, piercings and tattoos at will, and permanent makeup (tattooed eyeliner and lip-liner). I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn today’s plastic surgeons offer dimple surgery to create the desirable feature Mother Nature forgot to grant. What shocked me was the inventive Victorian who figured out how to artificially bring about dimples.
Though women wore their hair (for the most part) very long during the Victorian era, they still “styled” their hair with curls and bangs (false or real), twists, braids, updos of all kinds… Vintage newspaper articles illustrate women’s hair fashions of the late Victorian era.