Bending the Rules: Nasty Women?

“A gentlewoman will be as courteous to a stranger as she will be towards her servants, parents or children. She will observe all the details politeness demands. She must be amiable; pleasing, attractive, friendly and lovable. A proper lady will be a well-mannered and thoughtful of others. She must always be ready with a pleasing smile or kind word. She must be generous and wise, which demands a never-ending education”.

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, women were the organizers and refiners of elegant society where worthy men strive to impress. According to Victorian society, manners were the most valuable asset a woman could possess and the only thing appropriate for public display. Numerous books of etiquette defined the standards of acceptable behavior. Authors stressed that young ladies surround themselves with the best of society. In this way, ladies could ensure social success. However, the turn-of-the-century increased opportunities for women to expand or reject social norms.


Tom King: The Most Elusive Horse Thief in the Territories

Flora Quick was born in 1875, to an affluent Kansas farmer and rancher. Quick left school at the age of 15 after a year of formal etiquette training, preferring a more adventurous life. Flora Mundis ventured to Guthrie in 1892, settling in the Cottonwood Flats with her new husband. They lived extravagantly until her substantial inheritance played out. Flora found a new source of income as the owner of a “boarding house” located on the corner of Fourth and Grant. She was eventually forced to abandon this occupation, under a cloud of foggy circumstances and wild rumors. Flora traveled the Territories, occasionally donning men’s clothes and assuming the alias, Tom King. She was connected with numerous outlaws and criminal activities, including horse theft, train robbery, and prostitution. Relying on her feminine charms, Flora escaped from jail on at least three occasions. Among many contradictory accounts of her death, the most common report states that she and her lover argued after a failed holdup in Arizona. Enraged, her accomplice shot her four times and then killed himself.

Edmonia Lewis (1844?-1907)

Edmonia Lewis, first black woman to gain recognition as a sculptress and the only black artist to exhibit in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition of 1876.

She was born in 1844(?) in New York. She lived with aunts in the area around Niagara selling Native American goods and crafts to tourists. She attended a few different schools but often failed classes after her teachers described her as being “too wild”. In 1859 she had a opportunity to attend Oberlin college, one of the few that was open to women and to all ethnicity's. Here she was introduced to art and sculpture. She studied in Rome with the guidance of prominent artists and gained recognition for her work. She was commissioned by Ulysses S Grant in 1877 to complete a portrait of him. She did many pieces on commission for the Roman Catholic Church, including altarpieces. Her artwork can be seen today at the top art museums in the world.


A lady must never display a petty nature or show indifference.

You must never yawn while in public or keep time with the music by tapping your foot.

Don’t ever be caught humming or whistling.

A lady never lounges by leaning against a wall or putting her feet up.

No sniffling.

No Spitting.

No hawking.

No scratching your head.

No gulping or picking your teeth.

Never blow your nose when others might hear.

Avoid all coarseness and undue familiarity in addressing others.

Never attack the character of others in their absence.

Nellie Bly (1864–1922)

Elizabeth Jane Cochran was born in Pennsylvania and attended Indiana Normal School but was forced to quit early for lack of funds. After reading an editorial in the local newspaper disparaging the working woman, Elizabeth wrote a scathing letter in response. The editors were so impressed that they hired her, giving her the pen name, Nellie Bly.

She published stories on topics such as the difficulties of poor working girls and encouraged reform of the state’s divorce laws. After working as a foreign correspondent in Mexico, she moved to New York City. In an effort to work for the New York World, she feigned madness to get herself checked into an asylum. Upon her release, ten days later, she published a story relating the horrors of undergoing treatment including cruel beatings, ice cold baths, and forced feeding of rancid food. Her story received such attention that the asylum quickly instituted reforms.

Nellie Bly helped popularize a new style of reporting, investigative journalism. She made international headlines in 1888–1889 when she traveled around the world in seventy-two days, almost entirely unaccompanied. After her retirement from journalism, she took over as president of her deceased husband’s million dollar manufacturing company.

Madame C.J. Walker (1867–1919)

“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” — C.J. Walker

Madame Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire, spent most of her early life working in cotton fields of the south or traveling to wherever she could find work. In 1906, after a year working as a saleswoman for a cosmetic company she started her own “hair-growing” business. She created a remedy for her own hair loss and was encouraged by friends to start selling the product commercially. Walker later developed a shampoo and ointment containing sulfur to cure a common scalp disease.

She traveled the country selling her products, hiring salesladies to continue the business while she moved to a different location. Walker built one of the largest black-owned manufacturing companies in the world, developing an international network of over 15,000 Madame Walker agents and beauty schools in three states. She traveled the country supporting her employees, becoming a well-known activist in African-American political and social causes.

“I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.” — C.J. Walker

When Traveling:

A lady will always dress plainly: always wear neutral tints and never any jewelry.

Never leave home without your straw-covered bottle of brandy and another of camphor in your carpet bag.

Do not continually pester either your companion or the conductor with constant questions.

If you are traveling without an escort, speak to the conductor before you start, requesting that he attend to you.

While on the train or boat you should choose to sit next to another lady or an elderly gentleman.

When staying at a hotel:

A lady should ask the proprietor to escort her to her table at meals when she is traveling alone, this saves her the embarrassment of having to cross the entire room alone.

Always dress in a modest manner and never bare your arms or neck.

Never sit at a piano uninvited.

Lady-like deportment is always modest and quiet. Do not attract attention to yourself as in any bold manner.

Susanna Medora Salter (1860–1961)

Salter and her family moved to Oklahoma in 1893 when her husband claimed land in the Cherokee Outlet. She lived to be 101 years old.

In 1887, Susanna Salter became the first female mayor elected in the United States. Originally from Ohio, her family moved to Kansas when Susanna was very young. Salter obtained some college education but never completed her courses. She married and moved to Argonia where she participated in the local Women’s Temperance Christian Union (WTCU).

The WTCU sought to take advantage of the 1883 Kansas law granting suffrage to women. In 1887, the local WTCU chapter presented a bill of acceptable candidates for the new voters. A group of men mocked the idea of women participating in politics by creating a ballot with one of the WTCU members as the mayoral candidate. Mrs. Salter received 2/3 of the vote and served as mayor for a year. She declined to seek reelection.

Her otherwise uneventful term in office received national attention from critics and advocates. At the end of her service she graciously received one dollar in compensation.


Keep appointments, do not arrive late.

Answers letters promptly.

Never misrepresent goods or allow employees to do so.

Do not display curiosity in business matters that do not concern you.

Be polite to all employees.

The polite businessman receives the best clientele and a lady is expected to uphold polite business decorum as well as her genteel fashion.

Never ask the price of the articles you observe.

Never give officious advice.

Avoid contradictions and interruption.

Dorothy Campbell (1883–1945)

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dorothy began playing golf with her family before she was two years old. At twenty-one, she won her first title, the Scottish Ladies Championship in 1905. After gaining some recognition within the sport, she was invited to participate in both the British and American amateur contests. Campbell was the first golfer to win both in the same year. Campbell is recognized by the World Golf Hall of Fame as the first woman to dominate international golf.

Scottish Ladies Championship — 1905, 1906, 1908

U.S. Women’s Amateur — 1909, 1910, 1924

British Ladies Amateur — 1909, 1911

Canadian Women’s Amateur — 1910, 1911, 1912

North and South Women’s Amateur — 1918, 1920, 1921

U.S. Women’s Senior Championship — 1938


To be beautiful, strict attention must be paid to one’s diet.

Eat only wholesome, well-cooked food and partake in regular exercise.

Bathe daily.

To care for your eyes, a lady should avoid sudden changes from darkness to brilliant light.

Avoid the use of stimulants and drugs which affect the nervous system.

Avoid reading when lying down or when mentally and physically exhausted.

Do not depend on your own judgment in selecting spectacles.

Never read in bed or when lying on the sofa.

Do not work more than two hours without resting for at least five minutes.

Victoria C. Woodhull (1838–1927)

“A woman’s ability to earn money is better protection against the tyranny and brutality of men than her ability to vote.” Woodhull

Born in Ohio, Victoria spent most of her youth traveling in her family’s medicine show. She married at 15 but secured a divorce eleven years later claiming her husband abandoned her and their children. Soon after, Victoria adopted the radical ideals of the Free Love Movement and supported female sexual empowerment.

In 1866, Woodhull, with her new husband moved to New York to be near her sister, Tennessee Claflin. They were often heard vehemently stating their radical opinions; supporting sex without spouses, legal prostitution, and pleasure without procreation. While performing a séance, they met Cornelius Vanderbilt, who later provided financial backing for the sisters to open a banking and brokerage firm. With great success in business, they began publishing a newspaper, Upward & Onward, which proved to be a voice for the most radical political views of the era.

“Yes, I am a free lover! I have an unalienable, constitutional, and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please! And with the right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere.”

In 1870, Victoria utilized the newspaper to announce her candidacy for the office of the President of the United States and was officially nominated in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party. Woodhull’s speeches were seen as brazen and improper for their intensity, passion and bold radical statements. Her political views and lifestyle attracted negative attention. Fleeing death threats and public scorn, she moved to England where she lived the rest of her life with her third husband.


Do not, for the sake of a privilege and a blessing, leave him to spend his evenings alone.

Be on your guard and reject every overture that may lead to undesirable intimacy.

No lover will assume a domineering attitude over his future wife.

A lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection whilst engaged, and a gentleman will never tempt his future bride to behave as such.

A lady who would accept a gentleman at first sight can hardly possess the discretion needed to make her a good wife.

A lady should never allow marked attention from a man whom she is not attracted to or does not perceive that she will possess a fondness for him in the future.

A lady’s choice is only negative; she may love but she may not declare her love: she must wait.

If he attempts to kiss her on the lips she should turn her head slightly so that the kiss falls harmlessly on her cheek instead. If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist.

One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY.

Murray Hall (?-1901)

The New York Times reported on the death of a well-known Tammany Hall political organizer just after the new year of 1901. The attending physicians and coroner confirmed that Mr. Hall’s death was a result of untreated breast cancer and upon further examination confirmed that Mr. Hall was, in fact, a woman. In his twenty years of public service Mr. Hall frequented the late night clubs, joining the carousing, to be known as “man about town”. He worked to secure political posts for his friends, campaigned vigorously for certain causes and voted at every opportunity. He lived with his second wife and adopted daughter. Those well-acquainted with him were shocked to learn the truth of his gender, reporting that they never questioned his “robust masculinity”. Some sources suggest that his real name was Mary Anderson, a Scottish immigrant who donned her brother’s clothes after his death left her orphaned.


Never use profane words, slang or impolite language. It shows vulgarity and ill breeding and speaks poorly of you, your mother and those who befriend you.

Do not swear, drink, or play cards.

Do not lose your temper in society.

Mary Cassat (1844–1926)

Mary Cassat struggled to maintain high-society decorum while striving for success and recognition in the non-traditional art world. Born into a wealthy Pennsylvania family, she applied to art school at the age of 15 despite her family’s concerns regarding art students’ inappropriate behavior. Impatient with the school’s policies regarding the training of female students, she moved to Paris in 1866, with her mother and sister acting as chaperones.

Women could not apply to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, so Cassat studied with the masters independently. She found work at the Louvre as a copyist — someone who paints copies of the art to sell. Here, she expanded her network of artist colleagues since other artistic venues were closed to a gentlewoman. She repeatedly submitted works for display in the official Beaux-Arts exhibition, referred to as the Salon, with minimal success. She refused to censor her disparaging views of how the Salon treated female artists. However, throughout her career she exhibited next to the great impressionists including Thomas Eakins, Edgar Degas and Eduard Manet outside of the Beaux-Arts Salon.

Lucille Mulhall (1885–1940)

By the age of ten, Lucille worked as a cow hand on her father’s ranch. At age fifteen, she entertained Theodore Roosevelt at the Mulhall Ranch with her riding and roping abilities. Later that year she won her first rodeo, competing against men several years older, by roping a 1000 pound steer in the fastest time. Spectators questioned whether she was a man dressed in women’s clothing as part of the show. She continued to gain recognition on the rodeo circuit and competed at state fairs until her father formed the Mulhall Wild West Show in 1904. The show traveled the United States and Europe for over a decade. At just twenty years old she drew international attention as a real “cowgirl” and one of the first female rodeo champions. Lucille left the show to appear in vaudeville shows before retiring to the Mulhall Ranch in 1927.


When riding, gentlemen must always assist a lady to sit side-saddle upon her horse.

It is considered vulgar to drive your horse too fast in the presence of a lady.

Boating is an exercise encouraged for ladies but only on private waters, never in public.

Sturdy boots, a hat, flannel shirt and a shorter skirt worn without a corset is appropriate dress for exercise.

Women should partake in their exercise before noon and should never be without a chaperone.

Be free from tattling.

Women should fit themselves for the best company; until you are welcomed into the best society circles then you must not go, for consorting with ill-bred will damage your prospects and potential success.

Never wear flashy clothing and dress appropriate to your income.

Emma Goldman (1869–1940)

Born in Russia, Emma Goldman joined her older sister in the United States at the age of 16, where she worked in a textile factory. In 1889, she attended a speech given by well-known anarchist, Johann Most. Through Most, Goldman was introduced to the anarchist movement and its leaders. She devoted her time to the movement by giving speeches, writing, editing and publishing editorials and essays on the subject.

At age 24, Emma Goldman appeared at Union Square to speak. Journalists critically reported her fist-pumping passionate speech shouted in English, Russian, and Yiddish in order to appeal to the crowd and confuse authorities. Goldman was arrested and charged with inciting a riot for encouraging unemployed workers to demand work and food or to take it for themselves.

Emma Goldman’s mugshot

While in prison, the popular journalist Nellie Bly interviewed Goldman, introducing the mainstream audience to her radical ideas. Goldman continued her activist lifestyle supporting women’s suffrage and reproductive rights. Deported in 1919 under the Espionage and Sedition Act, she was proclaimed a danger for not supporting the United States’ war effort. She lived in Russia for a time but continued to travel and support the anarchist movement internationally until her death in 1940.

Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906)

Anthony was born in Massachusetts in 1820 to a Quaker, egalitarian and activist family. In an effort to pay off her family’s debts, she began teaching at age 19. Disillusioned after discovering that her male counterparts were paid four times as much, she started speaking out for equal compensation rights. She quit teaching ten years later and returned home near Rochester, New York, where she devoted herself to the temperance and gender equality movements.

Anthony canvassed the nation, lecturing and campaigning for women’s right to vote, giving 75–100 speeches a year. She promoted the abolition of slavery, women’s right to their own property and earnings, and women’s labor organizations. She founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association with her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1869. In 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting. She was put on trial for refusing to pay her fine and was not allowed to testify on her own behalf. She authored the Susan B. Anthony Amendment which would later become the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote in 1919.


Engage in no social or charitable events without previously consulting your husband and obtaining his full concurrence.

No possession is as precious as knowledge and manners.

Unmarried ladies should never accept presents from a gentleman of which they are not related.

We must train our young people to behave properly as we expect them to behave as adults.

We should subdue our gloomy moods before we enter society.

Always express your own opinions with modesty and without warmth so it is less likely to offend others.

It is considered vulgar to use strong expressions.

Never boast of birth, money or of friends.

It is not polite to smoke in the presence of ladies.

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