Queen Victoria reigned over the British Empire, the largest and most diverse empire the world has ever known, from 1837-1901, and gave her name to the age. Among other things the Victorian Age has become known for its sexual prudery. In many things, including social customs, the United States mirrored what was happening across the sea in Britain. Women were allotted a subsidiary role, with patience and self-sacrifice the prime feminine virtues. Motherhood was idealized, alongside virginal innocence. The ideal of purity in sexual behavior became sacrosanct, at least in public.
No one better exemplifies the popular notion of the buttoned up old maid Victorian American prude than purity crusader Carry Nation. Carry Nation is best remembered for crusading against alcohol, but she was also enthusiastically against tobacco, politicians, and sex. She lectured young couples on the evils of buggy riding, she stopped women on the street to warn them against the dangers of seduction, and she wrote a newspaper column whose main theme was the evil of self abuse. After two disastrous marriages, in which her husbands resented her overzealous Christianity and she resented their overzealous embraces, Carry Nation concluded that men were, “…nicotine soaked, beer-besmeared, whiskey-greased, red-eyed devils” and “two-legged animated whiskey flasks.”
People like Carry Nation have given us a view of Victorian America. We think we know the Victorians, but do we? The same passions, strengths and weaknesses that exist now, existed then, but people organized themselves very differently. Read more in: Love, Sex and Marriage in Victorian America
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