Dear Beatrice: “Rogues and Mountebanks”

In 1898 Marie Manning, a columnist for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, began writing “Dear Beatrice Fairfax,” the world’s first column offering advice to the lovelorn. The Fort Worth Telegram and its successor, the Star-Telegram, ran the syndicated column from 1903 to 1922. Through the years the column went through changes of title and format but retained the level-headed perspective that would later be carried on by “Dear Abby” and “Ask Ann Landers.”

The letters written by advice seekers and the replies given by Beatrice Fairfax reveal social conventions, fashions, and other aspects of everyday life in the early twentieth century.

For example, on December 13, 1914, Beatrice reminds readers of the dangers of flirting when “Steady Reader” expresses his frustration because he has not been introduced to a certain young lady he rides a streetcar with. Beatrice warns women about “villains” and “rogues and mountebanks” and cautions women never to let a man speak to them without an introduction by a “sponsor.” A man will only lose respect for a girl who would let a stranger speak to her.

In 1915 flirting wasn’t just unwise in Fort Worth–it was against the law. City ordinance No. 486 made “flirting” or “mashing” a misdemeanor.

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4 Responses to Dear Beatrice: “Rogues and Mountebanks”

  1. Janis Smith Shaffer says:

    Oh my what would Miss Beatrice think of Facebook?

    • hometown says:

      Janis, anytime I want a chuckle (or a shudder), I just try to imagine what someone who lived a century-plus ago (your great-grandfather J. P. Nicks, Marie Manning, Steady Reader, et al.) would think of our world today.

  2. Suzie Diver says:

    If I remember correctly, flirting was actually an offense with a fine in Fort Worth. I think it was in the 1915 code. The amount of the fine was about the same as for showing movies on Sunday.

    • hometown says:

      That’s great! I see that the downtown library has the 1915 book. I’ll try to find that ordinance. It’s not in the 1873-1884 book. It will make a great addition to that post. Thanks.

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