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A Whisper to Women

I have collected #antique medical equipment and #books for quite some time; however, I haven't had opportunity to actually sit down and read any of them which has always sort of nagged at me. Tonight I picked up, A Whisper to Women, by Julia A Shelhamer, and could wait to share with you a few interesting finds. I can't quite remember where I found this little book, although I think it may have been in Carmel at an antique store, although maybe a Half Price Book Store in Castleton, but I purchased it for $3. Amazon seems to be selling later editions for a great deal more than that, so looks like I did well for myself. I think it was published in the late 1920s.

Chapter One: How to Acquire a Pleasing Personality

I have to admit, I was anticipating an antiquated, #oppressive devaluing of women and certainly there is quite a bit, so maybe that was a little to blame for my procrastination, but there is also a bit in which I find rather delightful within this little text. "I don't care what a man says; indeed, I never listen to his words. What I want to hear is the sound of his voice, its intonation, its pitch. You can conceal your real character for a time by your actions. But in your voice God has written your true character infallibly. It never has betrayed me." As expected, there is advice to practice this controlled pitch by responding to an angry husband without meeting the "wire-edge" of one's spirit and of course the direction not to lead the dinner conversation because your husband "will appreciate you more if you are quiet, for he is tired of talk and wants perfect solitude."

Interestingly, the author talks about "In this day of hustle, bustle and scurry, less attention is being paid to manners than every before. It is a case of 'get out of my way.' At the slightest provocation people lose their self-control and give utterance to some hasty remark." Much priority is given to being calm, polite, and gentle-spirited. The woman is to teach her children how to behave at the dinner table as "many marriages have been made miserable by spoiled children." They too need not talk at the dinner table. If one's husband comes home from work and is in a fault-finding mood, it would behoove us wives to thank him for his suggestions. "This is an interesting game and a hard one," but ultimately, it is for our better good. "Now after a few days of this self-control and smiling, to your amazement you will discover that there is a peculiar beauty about you that you did not know you possessed."

Chapter Two: How to Secure a Husband

The author does acknowledge that not all women are meant to marry. Some may not accomplish their purpose if they were to align with a partner, but if you do not have a higher calling and have not met your man, you should focus on correcting all your faults. One may be that you are too sensitive or jealous, but I love this little gem, "A girl should never marry a man, however, who before marriage gives her any cause for jealousy, for it will likely be worse after marriage. It will take more than religion to make you happy in a home where you have reason to be jealous. Better remain single." Amen! If you wonder if you can trust your man, well, you already know the answer. One should never have to ask and certainly shouldn't have to test it through investigation.

"Do not be too independent. It is the nature of man to protect a weak woman... This is why some business women do not succeed in marrying." Well, I guess my worry that I have no room in my home to squeeze in a man's belongings if I were to ever marry again is completely fruitless!

Chapter Three: The Kind of Women Men Admire

Guess what is most important!? Beauty. "Facial beauty is only skin deep. A beautiful form, a graceful figure, graceful movements, and a kind heart are the strongest charms in the perfection of female beauty." Interestingly, the author also adds, "While men admire beauty, yet they dislike anything false, hence artificial means to them seem like falsehoods which lead to dislike and distrust. Artificial beauty is but an imitation and a counterfeit, and fails to satisfy."

Men prefer a woman of reserve, modesty and purity; however, she must also be intelligent in spite of being deprived of an education. Men want a partner in their thoughts and ideals. "The girls they truly love though, do not smoke." And finally, all men, even bad men, want a good woman.

Chapter Four: When Natural Beauty is Lacking

One can make themself more attractive with an earnest and sincere desire to be a real Christian. As well, a woman who is distinctly feminine can overcome a homely face. "Anything that is bold, loud, or coarse in voice or manner is not appreciated by men." A woman who will do anything she is asked, sing, serve, pray, testify, and perform personal work, even when she knows she can't do it as well as others becomes more attractive. She must not give any attention to her homeliness however, pretending as if she is "unconscious of her misfortune," remaining cheerful and grateful. We are not responsible for our features, but we are for our character.

Chapter Five: How to Manage a Husband

"Real husbands do not need managing, but there are some homes where love and heaven do not rule and some homes where things would not go right if there were not a diplomat in the family in the person of a wife." Here is where the real alarm for me comes in this reading and remember, this was published in the late 1920s when the foreword within the book states, "This is in a peculiar sense a woman's age. Woman has come to her own in all departments of life." A woman, if denied money for a garment, should remain gentle and as meek as a lamb when her husband treats her with anger and threatens her with cruel disrespect, "which (often) being interpreted as choking or a beating." After he leaves the house, all he will remember is her sweet, patient face and in his guilt, he will purchase the garment she requested and present it as a peace offering. "Of course she hugs and kisses him and forgives it all - but it is just her way of managing her husband and he does not know it."

Chapter Six: How to Retain a Husband's Love

The author shares that men are trained to be so masculine that they bury their feelings, so women should assume they are as sensitive as they are. "A mistake wives sometimes make is to consider that husbands have no feelings and therefore any little suggestion is thrown at him ruthlessly, without any sense of delicacy or propriety." However, if a man who once talked to you while courting like, "Darling, will you please lift your little tootsie footsie?" but soon after marriage makes the same request as, "Lift your hoof," do not wish him dead. Continue to "be kind and win him over to Jesus by so doing. Never entertain a thought of leaving your husband except in a case where your life is in danger from his cruelty or disease."

Chapter Seven: Peach Blush Modesty

This chapter comes with a warning not to let men enter as it speaks of the harm of sharing one's body, like a harlot. "Women cease to have a grip upon men when she thus ceases to hold her dignity." It speaks of women who detest blushing and allow themselves to become masculine by taking long strides, having a swagger, smoking, crossing their legs, and cutting their hair like a man. If a man doesn't give you his seat on the bus, it's because you have become so masculine he can't respect you.

When men can see women's bare legs, covered only by chiffon hose or bloomers, or her skirt is too short or her neck too low, they turn their heads and crane their necks until the cords ache. These women lead men astray. "Man is weak and needs the help of woman to be good; but instead of getting her assistance, he is cursed and pushed down by her. She should protect and shield him from impure thoughts, but instead, she flings her charms unasked right before his eyes everywhere he goes; and throws temptation in his way as though determined to make him fall if she can. Much of this chapter speaks of women who flirt and stir men up so they have desires, and ultimately are forever ruined as there is no return.

Chapter Eight: That Other Man

This chapter speaks of the woman who chooses a man too quickly, and ultimately ends up with a displeasing man and then all the many ways she may be tempted. Satan may supply the sympathy she needs through another man who had no thought of sin and is being perfectly honorable, but this benign spirit and holy demeanor present such a pleasing contrast to the spirit of her unkind husband that if she is not on her guard, her heart will wander.

Chapter Nine: That Other Woman

Speaking to the wife, the author says, "It is the easiest thing in the world to justify self, bu the safest thing is to take all the blame upon one's self that is possible." Then she provides a significant list of potential ways the wife may have gone wrong to cause her man to stray. "Might I have been a better wife, would he have been a better husband?" and "We wish we could impress upon women the absolute necessity of keeping up their end of the work."

It is interesting to me to read the advice that if the husband strays, the wife should say nothing. Her "confidence in him will cut hi deeper than anything else" she can say. "Your kind, sweet, patient spirit will be a source of constant conviction to him." And to make all these even more unpalatable, if he does apologize, the wife should readily forgive. In fact, if more men were assured they would be "pardoned without any upbraiding word added," they would be more apt to apologize.

Among the advice lies stories of the author's friends and neighbors to reiterate the points she is teaching. It seems quite clear she is not only the Dear Abby of her time, but also the town gossip. One particular story tells of a woman who sought biblical counsel from her minister. Her husband was not saved so she was hungry for Christian fellowship. The awe and respect she had for her minister through his visits studying the Bible caught her in a snare, and she became his hopeless victim. All this time her husband was out of town, "and now an operation was necessary to cover the crime." Ultimately, it was the wife who provided her great support, knowing his ways and having been in this situation before. The woman spoke remarkably about the wife, and the author says, "At the present time the penitent woman hates as a demon her seducer, but worships as an angel that wife of his."

Chapter Ten: How I Escaped

This chapter offered the briefest, yet most beautifully written, tempestuous affair of mind much like Bridges of Madison County, yet without a single touch of indecency. I can't do it justice, but rest assured, this chapter is where the author's writing is most profound... although I am realizing this story is said to have been shared "from a neighbor." It may not be the author's words what-so-ever.

Chapter Eleven: The Jealous Wife

This chapter was honestly a bit intriguing with several prudent points. One that I found especially interesting was in reference to the husband's previous sweetheart. Essentially the author advises to pay her little mind and be kind to her if she is part of your social circle. If she takes every opportunity to draw your husband's attention, do not be so unwise as to pay any attention to it. If you take it seriously, and your husband was completely naive to it, then his interest may now become aroused and he may take her seriously too.

Chapter Twelve: How to Perpetuate the Honeymoon

The most important way to maintain the honeymoon phase, professes the author, is to be ready to apologize for any little thing that may cause offense. "There are two parties responsible for a felicitous honeymoon, the husband and the wife. If one fails, the other cannot make up the deficiency." The author outlines how each should contribute to this endeavor.