1888 – Happily Married Couples Respond to Article Calling Marriage a ‘Failure’

In tandem with yesterday’s post 1888 – Letters Show Women Who Create Happy Marriages Pick Well & Are Mature, where I presented letters from couples who were in “Miserable” marriages, today I wanted to focus on the letters from the “Happily Married” couples.

These letters were in response to a woman named Mona Caird, who wrote an article for the Westminister Review in 1888, calling marriage, “a failure… servitude to a man… the primary instituion by which women continued to be held in bondage… and for which their freedom has to be sacrificed.”  The article was so provocative that it produced no less than 27,000 letters from women in response to it.

While many agreed that marriage was indeed, a failure, most of their responses could be identified as having either not picked (or been pushed to pick) men of good character who didn’t have the AAA characteristics (Alcohol, Abuse, or Affairs), or that they simply were not mature enough to create a good life with the good man that they picked.  Many of the miserable married women’s attitudes displayed victim mentalities, selfishness, lack of conviction in how they should respond in unfavorable circumstances, and admittance that they were embittering their own children.

So what did the Happily Married group have to say about marriage being declared “a Failure?”

“Will you allow a married woman of twenty years’ experience to say a few words?… Marriage was instituted, I humbly conceive, in the interest of the weaker portion of humanity, viz. women and children, and it works more to their advantage than otherwise.  Men could probably content themselves very well – and many do – with a system of free, i.e., temporary marriage.…   The woman, I suppose, was intended to be subject.  “He shall rule over thee,” was part of the curse pronounced on the first human sinner, Eve…. I write from a feminine standpoint only; and while admitting that marriage is often very disappointing, it cannot be considered a total failure so long as it carries on the race legitimately and surrounds the woman with the dignity – almost sanctity – of true wifehood and honourable motherhood.  -FAITH AND HOPE

If you are sensible, intelligent, and diplomatic women, and do not expect too much of your husbands, you may be happy wives as a rule….  Use your own judgement in the treatment of the particular specimen of the genus homo on whom you bestow your affections.  Above all, recollect that there must always be something on both sides to put up with, so bear and forbear; and if you get a decent fellow, he will love, respect, and appreciate you for it.  If you find that your husband is at all inclined to go astray, give him a latchkey; he will soon tire of a liberty which is not disputed.  Don’t sit up for him.  Go to your rest contentedly, and meet him with a sweet, unsuspecting smile, and no embarrassing quesitons on his return in the small hours of the morning….  Under these circumstances your husbands will find no sport at all, and I warrants, will return home nightly at regular and respectable hours less than a month after.  It rests with yourselves to a great extent whether your marriage turn out failures or not.”  -EMILY COFFIN

On the eve of my marriage I made three mental vows.  They were – never to aggravate him, never to have a secret from him, nor by any selfish or thoughtless act of mine to lead him one step towards bankruptcy.  Fifteen years aftewards I told him of those vows, and alhtough I have been a widow for ten years, I should blot this paper with my tears if I attempted to put it in writing the love and tenderness of his reply…. ”  -A BELIEVER IN THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE

“Will you give a workman’s wife a chance to say a few words on the marriage question?…  Now, I am a married woman of forty years’ wedlock standing; therefore what I say is entitled to consideration.  My verdict is “Marriage is not a failure,” and I will show you why I think so.

At fifteen, when I was an apprentice girl, I fell in love with my – well, my old man.  He was an apprentice boy, four years older.  We were very happy – happy as the finest swells that ever wooed, though neither of us consulted our parents as to our choice, and we enjoyed courting on the quiet, and we longed for the day when we could get married.  As soon as he was out of his time we fixed the day; and one morning we both of us took the day off and marched away to church with a shopmate a-piece for witnesses and wedding train, and were united by a good-natured person, who seemed to relish the job of making so young and good-looking couple man and wife.  My dowry was the love I had to give.  His means were just what he could win week by week as a journeyman.  With no bank account, and with but the slenderest sort of “establishment” we set up in matrimony, and we were as happy as was possible.  Within a year my first boy was born.  He has had eight brothers and sisters, and seven of them live in manhood and womanhood….. Why are we made men and women?  Clearly to be partners one to the other, and to fulfill the divine mandate “Increase and multiply.”  We are not put on this earth by God merely to amuse ourselves, but to do a work.  Woman’s work is to be a mother, and form her children’s minds and educate their hearts.  But in acquitting herself of these duties she finds wondrous joys if she be a true woman.  What greater prize can there be in life than to find, when the hair has grown white and the step is losing its spring, that the children one has borne return her love and care a hundredfold and that every day the interest on the outlay grows apace?  I don’t know of any; and I would not exchange the love of my sons and daughters, and the fireside quiet that is mine at near sixty, for the wealth of all the Rothschilds….


“I had known my husband over three years before we were married, and saw a great deal of him; consequently we thought we understood each other’s disposition sufficiently to live happily together.  But we had not been man and wife many months before I found he was drifting away from me…. The advice from different friends was: “If he goes his way, you go yours.”  But I knew this was not the way to win him back; so, after bearing it pretty patiently for three years, I set about in my mind the best way to go to work…. I always met him at the door myself, as though nothing had happened, and paid the same little attentions I had always paid befor ewe were married, took great care to study what friends he liked, and made a rule to ask one or two cheerful ones to dinner two or three times a week.… So by degrees, I was enableed to wean him from bad companions, and now, for the past year or more, we have been as happy as possible….”  -MIDDLE CLASS WOMAN

“Before many years pass we hope to celebrate our golden wedding, please God, and we are not tired of one another yet.  But I made many mistakes…. I know how to manage my husband now, and have learned to double his pleasures, which are not many, by sharing in them….”  -WINNY JONES


There are so many distinctions between these happily married wives and the miserably married wives, that AAA men aside, reveal the overall conviction, passion, love, and maturity of the happily married women.

It is not that they were merely lucky, although maybe some luck played into some of their stories, but it’s obvious that even when they had maritial troubles, or mismatched personalities, the happily married wives showed patience and long-suffering sometimes for years so that they could come to a point where they were both on the same page together.

The happily married wives also showed characters of women who believed in “winning him over without a word, but in deed.”  Instead of complaining, nagging, allowing themselves to be miserable companions, ruining their life and their children’s lives with the, these happy wives focused on doing what was right, having a good pleasant attitude, supporting their husbands even when it was difficult, and committing to take responsibility for the marriage they desired.

Any thoughts on the differences or things that stuck out?  For me personally, the happily married wive’s tales touched me.  They had so much love, so much affection and conviction of their duty to their marriage, and to truly love their husbands, it was touching to see that even when friends would tell them to go their own way, they knew it was the wrong advice.

4 thoughts on “1888 – Happily Married Couples Respond to Article Calling Marriage a ‘Failure’

  1. Dragonfly, thanks for publishing these. Very much enjoyed reading the excerpts you selected, especially the one from a workman’s wife. Interesting how “duty” comes up again and again, either explicitly or as implied. We sang a hymn in Church on Sunday, a vey English hymn, that sang of a “joyful duty”. That phase is jarring I think to us pleasure seeking, moderns.That duty could ever be anything but drudgery, much less joyful! Yet I think that is at the heart of what these ladies are getting at, that even the difficult aspects of marriage are in fact a joyful duty. This concept I think is worth recovering, not only in marriage but in the rest of life as well.

  2. Thank you for the feedback, Dash. I’m glad to see someone else from the RP community conversing with BGR, too.

    Yes, duty is an honorable and joyful thing, if a woman is actively looking for ways to find and create joy in her life. I’ll have to try to look up that English hymn.

  3. I like what BGS is trying to create, and very much like his rawness and earnestness. He, like you and I, is treading down the “old path”. You and he are lucky that you found it when you are young, wish I had. But better late than never though.
    The hymn is called “Oh God Beyond All Praising” written in the 1990’s but sounds like it was written by one of the Wesley’s.
    Here is a link to a good performance for your listening pleasure.

  4. All of these are touching and interesting in their own way, but what stands out to me is their calm, measured and even sweet responses to what sounds like a pretty provocative and upsetting letter itself.

    It seems like these women have patience, kindness and self control that shows itself in many areas of their life, not just marriage, and it’s serving them well as wives.

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