Bride, Correspondence, Marriage

Advice from a Father to his Only Daughter (1834)

Bridal robe of white satin with Honiton lace; chemisette (short, sleeveless bodice) of rich needlework; veil of Honiton Lace fastened with white roses.
Bridal dress of white brocaded silk; chemisette of lighter silk; wreath of orange buds and white roses confines a simple tulle veil.
(August 1850) Fashion plate from the leading 19th century fashion magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book.
The following was published in the Southern Literary Messenger Vol. 1,  No. 4 in December of 1834.  

[The following letter, written by a distinguished President of the oldest College in Virginia, has been already or rather formerly before the public;—but no apology is necessary for transferring it to the columns of the “ Messenger.” Its elegant style and still move excellent sentiments, will always command admiration,—and we doubt whether we could render a more essential service to society than to republish it annually, in order that every young married lady (at least within the range of our subscription) should receive the benefit of its precepts, Certain we are, that more wholesome advice conveyed in more agreeable language, we have seldom seen contained in the same space. It is of itself a volume of instruction, and we do most cheerfully recommend it to the softer sex, whether married or single; for the married may profit by it even after years of conjugal tranquility—and the single may at least expect to profit. It is more especially applicable, however, to her who has just sworn her vows on the altar of hymen—whose life of bliss and peace, or misery and discord, may depend upon the first six or twelve months of “prudent, amiable, uniform conduct.” Let it not be understood, however, that we are believers in the doctrine, that the pleasures of the matrimonial voyage are wholly dependant upon the conduct of the lady. She is but the second in command, and still greater responsibilities rest upon him who stands at the helm and guides the frail bark of human happiness We should indeed be thankful if some of our highly gifted and experienced friends would prepare a counterpart to this valuable letter of advice, designed more particularly for the edification of such of us lords of creation as have either contracted or are likely to contract the nuptial bond, As to the old bachelors they are an incorrigible race, upon whom such advice would be wasted, and therefore they need not trouble themselves to read it.]

Advice from a Father to his Only Daughter.


My dear Daughter, —You have just entered into that state which is replete with happiness or misery. The issue depends upon that prudent, amiable, uniform conduct, which wisdom and virtue so strongly recommend, on the one hand, or on that imprudence which a want of reflection or passion may prompt, on the other.

You are allied to a man of honor, of talents, and of an open, generous disposition, You have, therefore, in your power, all the essential ingredients of domestic happiness; it cannot be marred, if you now reflect upon that system of conduct which you ought invariably to pursue—if you now see clearly, the path from which you will resolve never to deviate. Our conduct is often the result of whim or caprice, often such as will give us many a pang, unless we see beforehand, what is always the most praiseworthy, and the most essential to happiness.

The first maxim which you should impress deeply upon your mind, is, never to attempt to control your husband by opposition, by displeasure, or any other mark of anger. A man of sense, of prudence, of warm feelings, cannot, and will not, bear an opposition of any kind, which is attended with an angry look or expression. The current of his affections is suddenly stopped ; his attachment is weakened; he begins to feel a mortification the most pungent; he is belittled even in his own eyes; and be assured, the wife who once excites those sentiments in the breast of a husband, will never regain the high ground which she might and ought to have retained. When he marries her, if he be a good man, he expects from her smiles, not frowns; he expects to find in her one who is not to control him—not to take from him the freedom of acting as his own judgment shall direct, but one who will place such confidence in him, as to believe that his prudence is his best guide. Little things, what in reality are mere trifles in themselves, often produce bickerings, and even quarrels. Never permit them to be a subject of dispute; yield them with pleasure, with a smile of affection, Be assured that one difference outweighs them all a thousand, or ten thousand times. A difference with your husband ought to be considered as the greatest calamity—as one that is to be most studiously guarded against; it isa demon which must never be permitted to enter a habitation where all should be peace, unimpaired confidence, and heartfelt affection. Besides, what can a woman gain by her opposition or her differences? Nothing. But she loses every thing; she loses her husband’s respect for her virtues, she loses his love, and with that, all prospect of future happiness, She creates her own misery, and then utters idle and silly complaints, but utters them in vain. The love of a husband can be retained only by the high opinion which he entertains of his wife’s goodness of heart, of her amiable disposition, of the sweetness of her temper, of her prudence, and of her devotion to him. Let nothing upon any occasion, ever lessen that opinion, On the contrary, it should augment every day: he should have much more reason to admire her for those excellent qualities, which will cast a lustre over a virtuous woman, when her personal attractions are no more.

Has your husband staid out longer than you expected? When he returns, receive him as the partner of your heart. Has he disappointed you in something you expected, whether of ornament, or furniture, or of any conveniency? his apology with cheerfulness. Never evince discontent; receive Does he, when you are housekeeper, invite company without informing you of it, or bring home with him a friend?) Whatever may be your repast, however scanty it may be, however impossible it may be to add to it, receive them with a pleasing countenance, adorn your table with cheerfulness, give to your husband and to your company a hearty welcome ; it will more than compensate for every other deficiency ; it will evince love for your husband, good sense in yourself, and that politeness of manners, which acts as the most powerful charm! It will give to the plainest fare a zest superior to all that luxury can boast. Never be discontented on any occasion of this nature.

In the next place, as your husband’s success in his profession will depend upon his popularity, and as the manners of a wife have no little influence in extending or lessening the respect and esteem of others for her husband, you should take care to be affable and polite to the poorest as well as to the richest. A reserved haughtiness is a sure indication of a weak mind and an unfeeling heart.

With respect to your servants, teach them to respect and love you, while you expect from them a reasonable discharge of their respective duties. Never tease yourself, or them, by scolding; it has no other effect than to render them discontented and impertinent. Admonish them with a calm firmness.

Cultivate your mind by the perusal of those books which instruct while they amuse. Do not devote much of your time to novels; there are a few which may be useful in improving and in giving a higher tone to our moral sensibility; but they tend to vitiate the taste, and to produce a disrelish for substantial intellectual food. Most plays are of the same cast; they are not friendly to the delicacy which is one of the ornaments of the female character. History, Geography, Poetry, Moral Essays, Biography, Travels, Sermons, and other well written religious productions, will not fail to enlarge your understanding, to render you a more agreeable companion, and to exalt your virtue. A woman devoid of rational ideas of religion, has no security for her virtue; it is sacrificed to her passions, whose voice, not that of God, is her only governing principle. Besides, in those hours of calamity to which families must be exposed, where will she find support, if it be not in her just reflections upon that all ruling Providence which governs the Universe, whether animate or inanimate.

Mutual politeness between the most intimate friends, is essential to that harmony, which should never be once broken or interrupted. How important then is it between man and wife!—The more warm the attachment, the less will either party bear to be slighted, or treated with the smallest degree of rudeness or inattention. This politeness, then, if it be not in itself a virtue, is at least the means of giving to real goodness a new lustre; it is the means of preventing discontent, and even quarrels; it is the oil of intercourse, it removes asperities, and gives to everything a smooth, an even, and a pleasing movement.

I will only add, that matrimonial happiness does not depend upon wealth; no, it is not to be found in wealth ; but in minds properly tempered and united to our respective situations. Competency is necessary; all beyond that point, is ideal. that I would not advise your husband to augment his Do not suppose, however, property by all honest and commendable means. I would wish to see him actively engaged in such a pursuit, because engagement, a sedulous employment, in obtaining some laudable end, is essential to happiness. In the attainment of a fortune, by honorable means, and particularly by professional exertion, a man derives particular satisfaction, in self applause, as well as from the increasing estimation in which he is held by those around him.

In the management of your domestic concerns, let prudence and wise economy prevail. Let neatness, order and judgment be seen in all your different departUnite liberality with a just frugality; always reserve something for the hand of charity ; and never let your door be closed to the voice of suffering humanity. Your servants, in particular, will have the strongest claim upon your charity ;—let them be well fed, well clothed, nursed in sickness, and never let them be unjustly treated. [1]

[1] Unknown, “Advice from a Father to his Only Daughter,” Southern Literary Messenger Vol. 1, No. 4, (December 1834). 187-188.

Note: Author Anne Firor Scott suggests the author of this letter was Adam P. Emple, D.D., who was President of William and Mary College from 1827-1835. In doing research on Empie, he had four daughters that lived to adulthood that married. William and Mary is the oldest college in Virginia, so we will never know the real author.

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