Victorian newspapers often vexed about the confirmed bachelor – that strange kind of male who refused to marry a woman. Was he a hedonist? Too distracted? Incapable of performing in bed? Or on the contrary, wanting to sow his seed as far and wide as possible? Or, heaven forbid, was he more interested in men than women?
Oh, how the Victorians tried to shame the confirmed bachelor into marriage – as contemporary newspapers reveal!
The growing community of confirmed bachelors worries Omaha
In 1889, the Omaha Daily World Herald newspaper worried that men in the city seemed to be losing interest in women. The “army of bachelors” was steadily increasing, and nobody knew why. The paper decided to look at some of these very eligible men who were not short of money and security and could give a woman everything she wanted in life. A doting husband, a lovely house, the perfect family. Yet they refused to oblige. What was going on?
The paper decided to list some of these gorgeous guys and their bulging bank account details – which somehow were public knowledge. Take handsome Henry Sharp, for example, a man with an “apollo-like” figure who was a firm favourite with the women. He had enough money to pay for a sumptuous wedding. Arthur Drake dines at the Omaha Club and is a banker but was determined to stay a bachelor. Or Wes Gregory, a journalist, whose failure to marry could only be explained by the hours he worked on a morning newspaper. “He has a chance to reform now if he will grasp the opportunity”.
These bachelors must be womanhaters, misogynists, the editorial thundered. Why were they failing to give a woman everything she wants when they have good looks and heaps of money?
“David Mahoney is not exactly a womanhater. He is a species of the tribe. He attends strictly to business at the South Omaha agent of the Union Pacific and draws a salary large enough to comfortably support a wife if he would only take one unto himself. As yet he has made no move in that direction, but there is some hope of a change of heart in his case.”
Across this full-page article in a broadsheet newspaper, there must be about a hundred men named and shamed plus their financial circumstances publicised to the whole readership. Down to the exact amount in their current account. Banks clearly weren’t that fussed about client confidentiality – especially if the customer hadn’t married. One must wonder what these men thought about being targeted in this way.
The Confirmed Bachelor comes in all shapes and sizes
In 1874, The St Louis Republican warned female readers of what it called the “male flirt” who could be found in dry goods stores or working as a clerk with his hair parted down the middle – evidently a bad sign.
Or he could be one of those men “who wear red neckties and parade Fourth Street, one hand cased in a lavender glove, the other carrying the same, while on the bare little finger gleams a diamond cluster or seal ring, all of which elegance is purchase on four or five hundred (dollars) a year”. Um…I think we know what kind of confirmed bachelor that is! Lavender, by the way, was an unspoken colour code for homosexual.
Those men who were still confirmed bachelors in middle age were revelling in their freedom from domestic and family burdens, the newspaper claimed. They didn’t have to worry about taking the kids to the seaside with buckets, wooden spades, and nursery maids. Instead, the confirmed bachelor would tell his friends he was planning a “delightful tour” in the Tyrol or an expedition up the river Nile in Egypt.
But, the newspaper believed, there was tragedy in their backstory. An unrequited love in their youth must have led them to reject marriage. The confirmed bachelor gets to fifty and love is never going to happen. Instead, his nephews and nieces release that “their celibate uncle has a good deal of money to leave and will watch his health with the most anxious solicitude”. Though he will very likely confound their expectations.
In all the reports I’ve ploughed through for this blog post in Victorian newspapers, there is this recurring notion that the confirmed bachelor is a selfish, loveless individual who thinks he’s having the best life, lost in his own hedonism, but really his soul is lacking for want of a wife. The idea of live and let live when it came to the bachelor – was out of the question. These men, while still young, had to be dragooned into marriage and respectability.
The Confirmed Bachelor must be taxed!
In February 1867, the United States was emerging from the horror of five years of civil war between the Union and Confederates. Thousands of families had lost their main breadwinner and faced destitution. The state of Virginia had supported the pro-slavery Confederacy and its legislature decided that army widows should be financially supported by men who had resolved not to marry a woman: confirmed bachelors.
Members of the Virginia House of Delegates agreed that “many widows have been made, and many unmarried women have been left dependent and without a protector”. As it was the “duty of the stronger sex to guard, defend, and protect the weaker”, men who had not married should be specifically taxed with the money raised used to help these women.
In other words, bachelors were fair game for the tax system to help fund women who now found themselves without a man in their life.