It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Christina Cole to my blog today. She's talking about two of our favorite things, being a lady and the old west. I think you'll enjoy her perspective as much as I did.
Feel free to visit Christina's blog, Christina Cole Romance to learn more about her books.
How to Be a Lady – Old West Style
By Christina Cole
When we think of “the Old West”, most of us probably think first of cowboys, those handsome, rugged men who rode the range, who roped, wranged, and wrestled their way into history…and into our hearts.
But, what about the ladies?
Truthfully, being a woman has never been easy. Consider all the expectations and demands placed upon us. We work hard. We put meals on the table, we raise children, we hold down full-time jobs…and then some.
I love this little quote from Ann Richards:
‘After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.’
Yes, that’s the way it’s always been for a woman. As for “being a lady”, that involves an entire new set of rules and restrictions. Today’s woman, of course, has “Come a long way, baby”, but for females living in the old west, standards were strict.
I think, in a curious way, one of the reasons I enjoy writing historical romance is because of the restrictions and limitations placed upon women. In my own life, I’ve always been taught to question authority, to break the rules, if necessary, and to stand up for what I believe. I like writing about women — like Kat Phillips in Not the Marrying Kind — who don’t fit the traditional mold, women whose willingness to bend, or break, the rules can sometimes lead them into trouble. Of course, in time, it can also lead to love and happiness.
But, I digress.
What was required of an American “lady” in the late 1800s? She was to dress modestly, to be clean and tidy at all times, to care for her home and family, and above all, to comport herself properly and mind her demeanor at all times.
Here are a few rules on how a proper lady was supposed to behave in public:
Be still. A woman was expected to be quiet and reserved. Noise was believed to derange mental faculties and incapacitate the mind, making clear thought difficult. A loud, boisterous woman was unbearable.
Watch your words! Ladies were instructed to speak properly and to avoid any use of “slang” – which might carry hidden messages that an innocent young woman would not even realize she was sending.
Keep your thoughts to yourself. Even as the virtue of honesty was touted, women were expected to bite their tongues and keep many of their thoughts to themselves. A good woman was not supposed to “speak her mind”. Frankness was not a character trait to be admired in a female.
Never boast! Women were advised to avoid speaking foreign words because it implied that others were less intelligent. Nor was a woman supposed to correct another’s mispronunciation or a factual inaccuracy. Of course, boasting about wealth, family, or position was considered “silly” and tiresome.
Give and accept apologies when needed. A true lady would always accept an apology with grace. Of course, she would also quickly offer an apology for any wrong she committed.
Listen carefully. Along with being still and keeping her own thoughts to herself, a good woman was always willing to listen to others — whether she wanted to or not. To do otherwise would make her appear indifferent. True politeness decreed that she should listen patiently and respond with kindness.
Guard your laughter. For a woman to laugh at her own wit or cleverness would be gauche, indeed. She also needed to be very careful to laugh at only the proper times. Interrupting a funny story with premature laughter would spoil the moment, and, of course, no woman would ever laugh, or even smile, at humor that was off-color, offensive, or inappropriate in any way.
Never gossip! Women who gossiped were considered unreliable and untrustworthy at best. At worst, a gossip would be viewed as malicious, uncultivated, and empty-headed. A true lady would never talk behind a person’s back nor share unfounded rumors with others.
Don’t give other women the “once-over”. This was a sweeping glance that took in another woman’s appearance and, in an instant, judged that woman to be lacking. It was proof that a woman had an unkind heart and a vulgar, uncharitable soul.
Treat your enemies with kindness. A lady would treat everyone with kindness, of course, and this dictate extended even to those whom she considered “enemies”. In fact, a woman was expected to treat enemies with even greater consideration and respect than she might show to a good friend. Doing so would allow her to feel noble and strong. Of course, she was required to keep those feelings to herself and not boast about her kindness.
And last, but not least, is this counsel:
Kiss sparingly! A kiss was meant to be a sign of pure, eternal love, not a token of affection to be shared casually. Even among couples who planned to marry, kissing was to be indulged in very infrequently. There was always the chance that an engagement might be broken, and too much kissing might lead to a broken heart. Promiscuous kissing — heaven forbid! — was a shameful act. No true lady would ever engage in such sinful behavior. Besides, kissing was dangerous to a woman’s health. It could spread contagious disease.
I never tire of reading about the past, about the lives of women and the roles they played in bringing “civilization” into places where it had not existed before.
Whenever you read the history of a new settlement, you’ll find the men arriving first, creating a rough, lawless, uncivilized land. But then, they would bring in the ladies, and the land would change. Women brought love, the values of home and family, the need for law and order. Women brought education, schools, religion, churches. Women brought the need for shops and stores, pharmacies, fabrics. Women truly changed the world.
Of course, I suspect that many women “played by the rules” in public, yet freely broke a few of them in private. Like that rule about speaking her mind. Or the rule about watching her words. And especially that one about kissing.
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Christina’s latest historical romance, Not the Marrying Kind, is now available from Secret Cravings Publishing and other online booksellers. To read excerpts and learn more about the story, the characters, and “The Sunset Series”, please visit Riding into Sunset - Stepping Back in Time.