Backtracking: The Early Years: Local women reacted to ‘bachelor list’ in 1896

FileThis advertisement appeared in the Feb. 8 edition of the Sidney Record.

Valentine’s weekend. Love is in the air for some. In the 21st century, if there were a local promotion for eligible bachelors for ladies, the reaction would more than likely be mixed.

Times haven’t changed much since 1896 about matching the two sides up, or reactions. If you missed last weekend’s entry, the Sidney Record of Feb. 8 published a lengthy account with names of eligible local bachelors. It was a leap year, which at the time supposedly meant that women could propose marriage to men.

For example, “The girl who gathers in H.C.M. Nearing will get an engagement ring with a diamond big as a walnut. She can just make up her mind that her dresses will come direct from Paris and her champagne served on ice.”

Or, “Johnny Baumaster wants a lively partner to shave off his matrimonial bump. He has $15,000 in U.S. bonds in a leather bag for his frau, rain or shine, a keg of lager, five pounds of liver wurst, and a castle on the Rhine.”

What might the reaction be to something like these in 2021? Here’s how it played out 125 years ago, as feedback was published in the Record of Feb. 15.

“Several ‘twigs of celibacy’ in the shape of unmarried ladies in Sidney carefully scanned last week’s list of bachelors in the Record. The prevailing sentiment among them is that as a whole they were a very desirable lot, but no matter what privileges leap year may grant to our unmarried ladies, the up-to-date girl, under no circumstances, will ever make a proposal of marriage.

“The Sidney girl of the nineteenth century period is free, independent and self-reliant. She is not like her sisters of earlier days who were kept cooped in a band box and could only talk to a man through an interpreter and considered it a crime to be seen in public without a chaperone. The up-to-date girl is quite modest in her ways but less reserved. She is not afraid to take a swim in the surf with the same partner who pleads for the privilege of a waltz, she rides a bicycle with ease and grace and it is not necessary for some elderly lady to ride by her side as a chaperone; she is not out of place presiding at a public meeting; she can swing the dumb bells or perform the trapeze act without any shock to her modesty.

“Your up-to-date girl of the period is still modest but bright, fearless and independent. But the new woman draws the line on matrimonial proposals. These must come from the sterner sex. She decides that proposals for marriage must come from recruits in the noble army of bachelors, widowers and other martyrs.”

Women wrote letters to the editor about the bachelor list. One came from Lillian DeClaire of Oneonta.

“I’m opposed to all bachelors anyhow, they are as tricky as a circus donkey and don’t mean half they say. These ‘lords of creation’ want combing down. Do they think because it is leap year we are going to wear out our shins while suing for their hand in marriage? I’ll bury my face under a foot of powder and join the Salvation Army before I’d go out canvassing for a matrimonial partner.”

Flossie Flint of Unadilla had similar sentiments.

“Since I read your list of bachelors I have gone into deep mourning. It just makes me sad to think of how much usefulness is going to waste in your village. But when it comes to us girls proposing in leap year, why it’s simply not to be thought of for a minute. I’ll wear crepe five yards long on my hat for the rest of my days, and put on nothing but black finger tip gloves, before I propose to the best looking and richest bachelor in the universe.”

Agatha Franklin of Sidney took it a step further.

“I send, herewith enclosed a photo of the Sidney dude I gave the mitten to today. Feb. 12 is Lincoln’s holiday so I got the idea it would be a good time to ‘emancipate’ him.”

As the Record concluded, “Some of these missives will make very interesting reading for our bachelors, who should never refuse good advice on this important subject.”

On Wednesday: 25 years of jumping into a frozen local lake.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Wednesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com

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