Colonial Fashions Paper Dolls

Making Colonial Furniture

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

"bad president" for her to keep house alone. A maid had, indeed, a hard time to live in colonial days, did she persevere in her singular choice of remaining single. Perhaps the colonists "proverb'd with the grandsire phrase," that women dying maids lead apes in hell. Maidens "withering on the virgin thorn," in single blessedness, were hard to find. One Mistress Poole lived unmarried to great old age, and helped to found the town of Taunton under most discouraging rebuffs; and in the Plymouth church record of March 19, 1667, is a record of a death which reads thus:—

"Mary Carpenter sister of Mrs. Alice Bradford wife of Governor Bradford being newly entered into the 91st year of her age. She was a godly old maid never married."

The state of old maidism was reached at a very early age in those early days; Higginson wrote of an "ancient maid" of twenty-five years. John Dunton in his "Life and Errors" wrote eulogistically of one such ideal "Virgin" who attracted his special attention.

"It is true an old (or superanuated) Maid in Boston is thought such a curse, as nothing can exceed it (and looked on as a dismal spectacle) yet she by her good nature, gravity, and strict virtue convinces all (so much as the fleering Beaus) that it is not her necessity but her choice that keeps her a Virgin. She is now about thirty years (the age which they call a Thornback) yet she never disguises herself, and talks as little as she thinks, of Love. She never reads any Plays or Romances, goes to no Balls or Dancing-match (as they do who go to such Fairs) to meet with Chapmen. Her looks, her speech, her whole behavior are so very chaste, that but once (at Govenor's Island, where we went to be merry at roasting a hog) going to kiss her, I thought she would have blushed to death.
"Our Damsel knowing this, her conversation is generally amongst the women (as there is least danger from that sex) so that I found it no easy matter to enjoy her company, for most of her time (save what was taken up in needle work and learning French &c.) was spent in Religious Worship. She knew time was a dressing-room for Eternity, and therefore reserves most of her hours for better uses than those of the Comb, the Toilet and the Glass.
"And as I am sure this is most agreeable to the Virgin modesty, which should make Marriage an act rather of their obedience than their choice. And they that think their Friends too slowpaced in the matter give certain proof that lust is their sole motive. But as the Damsel I have been describing would neither anticipate nor contradict the will of her Parents, so do I assure you she is against Forcing her own, by marrying where she cannot love; and that is the reason she is still a Virgin."

Hence it may be seen that though there was not in Boston the "glorious phalanx of old maids" of Theodore Parker's description, yet the Boston old maid was lovely even in colonial days, though she did bear the odious name of thornback.

These pages are © Laurel O'Donnell, 2005, all rights reserved
Copying these pages without written permission for the purpose of republishing
in print or electronic format is strictly forbidden
This page was last updated on 12 Sep 2005