James Walter Douglas was born in Virginia in November 1797. After completing his primary education Douglass moved to the village of Christiana, Delaware, where he obtained a position as a trainee clerk. The teenaged Douglass also became a pious and active member of the local church. The extent of his faith is evident in Douglass’s personal diary. In its pages he explains his reasons for not using a rope swing, popular with numerous other young men in Christiana:
“A very high and quite expensive swing was put up in the village by the young men [and has become] a great resort for the young people of the town. I was very much in doubt whether I ought to attend it, and at length determined that I ought not, for these reasons:
1. It takes time and we must account for our time.
2. It is setting an example of levity.
3. The Lord Jesus would not attend such a place.
4. Nor [would] his apostles.
5. Nor [would] our minister Mr Latta…
6. Please when carried to excess is criminal. Is this not excess?
7. What good can I get [from the swing]. Will I be more virtuous? Wiser? Better tempered? More full of grace? No, no I will not…”
In October 1816, Douglass had another moral dilemma when he visited New York. Out walking, he found himself continually drawn towards the printed handbills of the theatre, which threatened to “inflame [his] imagination”. But Douglass triumphantly reported being able to return to his lodgings without passing the theatre and looking inside. Perhaps unsurprisingly Douglass later entered the church. By 1823 he was preaching in North Carolina and in 1833 he married a woman from Virginia. He died prematurely in August 1837, just weeks before his 40th birthday.
Orson Squire Fowler was probably America’s most famous phrenologist, running a New York practice for six decades. He also published several books on a range of subjects – from education to matrimony. Dr Fowler even dabbled in his own form of feng shui, singing the praises of octagonal houses and their aesthetic, spiritual and practical advantages for the 19th century family. In one of his early books, Fowler warned that children must be protected from shows of intimacy within the home, however playful. He urged parents not to kiss, hug or stroke their children, or allow other relatives or visitors to do the same.
Likewise, Fowler cautioned parents against kissing, touching or using terms of affection in the presence of their children. To do so was to “fill their [children’s] heads with those impurities which fill their own”. Children exposed to “wanton intimacy”, writes Fowler, will later:
“…burst forth into inextinguishable flames of premature love, self-pollution or unbridled licentiousness.”
Fowler also warned of the risks to young women who read family newspapers, periodicals and, worst of all, the novel:
“Shame to every novel-reading woman! They cannot have pure minds and unsullied feelings. Cupid… and waking dreams of love are fast consuming their health and morals.”
In late 1894, a Michigan newspaper reported that a Massachusetts woman had ended her 43-year engagement – after discovering her fiance had been secretly drinking. According to the report, she had nurtured these suspicions for much of their betrothal:
Writing in his 1583 book The Anatomy of Abuses, the notorious Puritan moralist Philip Stubbes devotes an entire chapter to the “Horrible Vice of Pestiferous Dancing”. According to Stubbes, dancing is:
“…an introduction to whoredom, a preparative to wantonness, a provocation to uncleanness, and an entreaty to all kinds of lewdness… What clipping, what culling, what kissing and bussing, what smooching and flabbering of one another, what filthy groping and unclean handling is not practised everywhere in these dancings?”
Stubbes does offer a solution, however. Dancing is permissible but only if it takes place between:
“…men by themselves and women by themselves.”