It was an era of stiff morals and painful fashions. Whole animals went extinct for the sake of hats. We remember this strange time fondly in classic murder mysteries and steampunk adventures. Yes, today’s article is about the Victorian era.
The era was named for Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901, marking the name of the era that we are discussing today. She had nine kids in her career and hated being pregnant, but it just kept happening. There is evidence that her husband, Albert, used her pregnancies to gain more and more political power.
Masturbation was considered medicine.
Of course masturbation in one’s own home was still considered gross and taboo in Victorian times, especially for women. However, doctors used to stimulate women’s sexual organs to treat a condition they called “hysteria,” which today we know as “being horny.” It got to be such a frequent thing that these doctors started to suffer hand cramps, so the vibrator was invented to do the job for them.
Addictive substances were sold over the counter.
Yes, you could go down to your drug store and buy products containing cocaine, opium, and other substances that are strictly controlled or even illegal today. Opium was actually used to quiet colicky infants, as well as treating digestive problems among adults. Cocaine was used to treat anything from coughs and colds to toothaches, among other things. And if the cocaine didn’t work on that tooth pain, there was always laudanum to fill in the blanks.
Makeup was dangerous.
Female cosmetics often contained substances such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. These deadly chemicals were said to give the woman a peaked appearance, which apparently was attractive in that period. So were dilated pupils, which women accomplished by putting substances like the toxic belladonna into their eyes. Too much of this poison could lead to blindness and death, but it never stopped them.
The pollution in London was out of this world.
This was especially true in the 1850s, when the city became overpopulated. The result was a taxed sewage system, which lead to massive outbreaks of typhoid and cholera. Streets contained manure, rotting food, and human waste, which brought both flies and disease. The Thames was so polluted that it once created a phenomenon known as the Great Stink that forced people to keep their windows closed for fear of falling ill. This didn’t even cover the air pollution from massive amounts of burning coal, which led to lung diseases and early death in the London populace.
People were big into crime dramas and murder mysteries.
This was, after all, the era where Sherlock Holmes was born. At one time there were over 6,000 crime fiction titles in print. This didn’t even cover the stories released in serial form in magazines. People were fascinated with murder in those days.
Photographs took forever.
If you’ve always wondered why no one ever smiles in old time photographs and people are usually seen sitting or leaning against something, this is why. A big deal was made when a new photography process came out that boasted that a photograph only took fifteen minutes to create. That’s right, subjects only had to sit for a whole fifteen minutes to have their picture shot! Many cameras took much longer.
Little boys wore dresses.
That’s right, male infants and toddlers wore dresses along with the girls. Mothers said it made it easier to change diapers before potty training. Also, the dresses gave the boys room to grow without mothers constantly having to alter their pants. School-aged boys were “breached,” a rite of passage in which they changed from dresses to pants. It was considered a symbol of maturity.
Corsets were a serious health problem.
This style involved tight garments that pulled a woman’s waist into a restrictive wasp shape. This dangerous custom caused breathing difficulties and frequent fainting, but that only scratches the surface of the troubles women experienced from their corsets. Many suffered from digestive problems because the corsets pinched internal organs. Back muscles atrophied and rib cages were permanently deformed. It was quite the fashion statement!
Hat pins were a form of defense.
More women were walking alone and unescorted in this time period, especially starting in the 1880s. At the same time, their hats and hairstyles were growing bigger and heavier, leading to a need for the hat pin to keep everything in place. These pins were thick, sharp, and anywhere from five to twelve inches long. In that era there were men called mashers who were rude, pushy, and tried to take advantage of supposedly defenseless women in the streets. They soon learned the painful truth when a foot long hat pin pierced their arm.
It's a fascinating time, but I wouldn’t want to live in the Victorian era for anything. Women were treated like crap, everyone walked around with sticks up their butts, and everything was out to kill you. To be honest, we have our problems today, some of them serious and even terrifying, but I’d rather live now than any other time.
The Conversation- www.theconversation.com
Victorian Web- www.victorianweb.com
The Wellcome Collection- www.wellcomecollection.org
Museum of London- www.museumoflondon.org.uk
Lehigh University- www.lehigh.edu
Futura Photo- www.futuraphoto.com
History of Yesterday- www.historyofyesterday.com
Royal College of Surgeons of England- www.reseng.ac.uk
Atlas Obscura- www.atlasobscura.com
Tales from my Great Grandma Emma.