Tea, Men & Romance

Let’s talk about Men!

A friend of mine had a tea party a while back and the husband of one of the guests came early to pick her up. And he was invited in and promptly the ladies started serving him tea and gave him some cookies and cakes, and put a napkin on his lap. He was chatting and had a great time and then left with his wife.

If I told that same story a hundred or a hundred & fifty years ago people would be outraged. Women would have said how low have we come?… Women never serve men at any public or social function, men serve women.

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras – that is, from 1837 right through to 1910, (the end of the Edwardian era), the idea of men sort of sitting around at any party or social gathering and not constantly serving women would be unthinkable. A man’s character and social class was measured by his gallant treatment of women. Men were frequently invited to ladies afternoon teas and here’s why: Here’s a quote from an 1897 etiquette book for men.

Manners for Men – by Mrs. Humphry 1897
Gentlemen are in great request at 5 o’clock tea. Their duties are rather onerous if there are but one or two men and the usual crowd of ladies. They have to carry teacups about; hand sugar, cream and cakes or muffins, and keep up all the time a stream of small talk, as amusing as they can make it. They must rise every time a lady enters or leaves the room, opening the door for her exit if no one else is nearer to do it, and, if the hostess requests them, they must see the lady downstairs to her carriage or cab. With regards to the viands, a man helps himself, but not until he has seen that all the ladies in his vicinity have everything they could possibly want.

At any kind of social function, men always served women. For example at a dinner party, after the dinner was over, the ladies would rise to leave the dining room. The men sitting closest to the door would rise with the women, open the door for them, and remain standing at the door until all the women had left to go to the drawing room. Now, the servants would usually serve tea in the drawing room after dinner, and again, just as in afternoon teas, it would be the men’s job to take the empty tea cups from the women.

At a ball a woman would give her trusted man, like her brother or father, her gloves, fan, evening purse, and flowers to hold when she wanted to dance. Today, men would feel this was unmasculine, but Victorian and Edwardian men were honoured to be a woman’s most humble servant. 

Interestingly, the Victorian and Edwardian eras were extremely patriarchial. Women couldn’t vote until 1918 and 1920 in the U.S. A married woman could not own property. Married women were not allowed to make a will. A woman could not enter into a business contract without her husbands approval. A married woman who worked outside the home was not allowed to keep her earnings; her wages became the husband’s property. In short, a husband had the right to everything that was his wife’s, but she had no right to anything that was his.

Single women or “spinsters and old maids”, as they were called at the time, actually did have the right to own their earnings, widowed woman could also inherit property. In general, however unmarried women were looked down on, and had difficulty making ends meet unless they came from a wealthy family.

Here we have an extremely patriarchial society in which men are taught that real masculinity lies in worshipping and serving women. The truth was that Victorian and Edwardian men really did adore women, and they felt that having a patriarchial society would protect them. 

Men were so delicate and refined during the Victorian era that they would walk backwards when retreating from a room so as not to turn their backs on the ladies who remained. Men were required to bow slightly and lift their hats if they met a woman they knew on the street. Men were never allowed to push their attentions upon women unless the lady gave an invitation of some sort – through a card or mutual acquaintance.

Men always stood up when a lady entered or left the room. If a man was smoking when a woman walked by he would have to remove the cigar from his mouth. When dancing with a woman, men always wore gloves so that his sweat would not touch her hand or dress. 

Men who didn’t respect women were actually more frightened of other men…Rudeness, especially to a lady, was the kiss of death in Victorian society. A rude man would get “the big chill” from other men. He would be ostracized from social activities; from the sacred men’s clubs and other men might even refuse to do business with him.

Interestingly, in an 1891 issue of the Ladies Home Journal magazine, women were asked to predict what life would be like for women in the year 2000. They said they were happy that our sisters in the future will probably have freedom, rights and independence, however they said we also fear for our sisters of the future. Victorian women predicted that feminism and women’s independence by the year 2000 might lead to a sexual revolution. They predicted that if women were promiscuous without marriage or any promise of solid commitment, men would no longer respect them and chivalrous behaviour would be unfamiliar to us. A very interesting prediction!

Dedicated to Orli Kohn…