“Can I, um, like, Marry Your Daughter?”

the utmost careQ Dear Miss Abigail:

What are the various older traditions (Victorian Era, for instance) for how to go about proposing? In particular, how and when to ask the bride-to-be’s father for her hand?


A Dear Traditionalist:

Ah, the 1880s. A time of proper manners and traditions. Who could ask for anything more? I was certain I’d find some thoughts on the moment of engagement for you in J. A . Ruth’s etiquette book titled Decorum, and I was correct. So good luck with your proposal, and extra good luck with Papa! We’re all rooting for you.

1880: Proposal of Marriage

The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told. The heart and the head ~ the best and truest partners ~ suggest the most proper fashion. Station, power, talent, wealth, complexion; all have much to do with the matter; they must all be taken into consideration in a formal request for a lady’s hand. If the communication be made by letter, the utmost care should be taken that the proposal be clearly, simply, and honestly stated. Every allusion to the lady should be made with marked respect. Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions.

Asking Papa. When a gentleman is accepted by the lady of his choice, the next thing in order is to go at once to her parents for their approval. In presenting his suit to them he should remember that it is not from the sentimental but the practical side that they will regard the affair. Therefore, after describing the state of his affections in as calm a manner as possible, and perhaps hinting that their daughter is not indifferent to him, let him at once frankly, without waiting to be questioned, give an account of his pecuniary resources and his general prospects in life, in order that the parents may judge whether he can properly provide for a wife and possible family. A pertinent anecdote was recently going the rounds of the newspapers. A father asked a young man who had applied to him for his daughter’s hand how much property he had. ‘None,’ he replied, but he was ‘chock full of days’ work.’ The anecdote concluded by saying that he got the girl. And we believe all sensible fathers would sooner bestow their daughters upon industrious, energetic young men who are not afraid of days’ work than upon idle loungers with a fortune at their command.

Source: Ruth, John A. Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society. New York: Union Publishing House, 1880.
~ pp. 185-89 ~