Don’t be ALL wife or a Gloomy Gus, Dorothy Dix Advised


You think the contemporary generation gets truckloads of advice? Before social media, women of my grandmother’s era had advice coming at them from all sides — family, busybodies and the newspaper. The Yakima Daily Republic was among hundreds of papers that printed syndicated columns by Dorothy Dix, the forerunner of “Dear Abby,” beginning in 1923. Under the Dix pseudonym, Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer also published How to Win and Hold a Husband in 1939.

Here are a few choice bits, excerpted from two columns, that might have caught my grandmother’s eye in the 1930s. And please, keep those orgies of woe to yourself:

“Every time a woman talks over her grievances against her husband they grow in size and become more unforgiveable. Every time she poses as a domestic martyr she presses the crown of thorns a little deeper into her forehead.


Silence is the mother of forgetfulness, and memory dulls the pain of the heartaches of which we never speak. And what dignity and strength they have who bear their burdens alone without shunting them onto other shoulders.


Naturally those who get a kick out of shutting their souls up in the dark places and refusing to come out into the light, have a perfect right to take their pleasure as they find it. Let them salt themselves down in brine if they so desire. Let them weep and lament and beat upon their breasts as much as they please, but in common fairness to the balance of us, let them conduct their orgies of woe in private.


Let them be segregated from the balance of us just as they would if they had any other communicable disease. For depression is as catching as the measles and none of us is immune to it. …


Let’s stop it. Let’s quit being trouble-lenders. Let’s make a rock-bottom resolve not to pass on another hard-luck story or talk about our own private worries, and my word for it, you will see things begin to brighten and the Gloomy Gusses taking cover.”


Being a successful wife was a matter for strategy. Dix imagined a wise mother giving her soon-to-be-married daughter this advice:

“Now being a good wife and one who gives satisfaction and keeps her husband blessing the day he married her is the most chancy job on earth, but the secret of turning the trick is moderation.

…(H)ere are a few signposts that I want to erect along the pathway of matrimony that will enable you to keep to the middle of the road, which is safe and easy-going, and will prevent you from falling into the ditch on either side.


Don’t love your husband too much. Or, at any rate, don’t let him find out if you do. Don’t let him get the idea that you will go on worshiping him, no matter how he neglects you or treats you. Make him feel that he has to be on his tiptoes all the time to hold your affections. No man values the thing that he doesn’t have to take care of and that he knows he couldn’t lose if he tried.


Don’t be stingy about burning incense before him, but on the other hand, demand a few punk sticks for yourself, and be careful never to climb down off the pedestal on which he placed you before marriage.


Don’t overdo the wife business. Don’t always be asserting your ownership, and for Heaven’s sake, have too good taste to parade your authority in public. How a wife manages her husband is her own secret affair that she should never reveal to anyone.


But don’t make a doormat of yourself for your husband to walk on or he will kick you around if you do after the manner in which we all treat doormats. Don’t let him enslave you, for he will have no respect for you if you do. Don’t be one of the women who are ALL wife, because, if you are, your husband will get fed up on you and turn from you to some woman who is a Lady Love, and whom he has to try to please and who is a more peppy companion than one who will put up with anything he does and think it all right.


Don’t ask too much of your husband. Don’t expect him to give up all of his old friends and acquaintances and amusements for you and to have no interest outside of you.


But don’t ask too little of your husband, either. A woman can sacrifice herself to her husband until he comes to the place where he takes it for granted that she enjoys being a martyr and has no natural human desires.


Be a pal. Be your husband’s best girl friend. Enter into all of his interests and amusements. Encourage him to talk about his hopes and plans and ambitions. For every man has to have some woman confidante to whom he can tell the things that he would be ashamed to tell any other man.


But don’t tag him. Don’t be one of those wives whose husbands can never shake them. Don’t make your husband drag you along when he goes off on fishing or hunting trips.


Be thrifty. Save your husband’s money and help him get a start in the world, for opportunity knocks only on the doors of the young men who have a little something laid up in the bank.


But don’t pinch the pennies so hard that you grow old and ugly before your time by working too hard to save the price of a servant. Don’t be so saving that you cut out the beauty shop and pretty clothes altogether and go about looking like a frump, for, if you do, by the time you get on Easy Street your husband will pass you up for a doll who looks like a daily hint from Paris.


And finally, my dear, be amiable and pleasant and agreeable and easy to live with, but don’t be a Pollyanna who keeps on smiling sweetly at a grouch and a tightwad and a philanderer and a wife-baiter. Demand decent treatment and let your husband know that you will quit if you don’t get it.

(Bravo for Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, who wrote under the pseudonym Dorothy Dix, and reportedly became the most widely read woman writer of the first half of the twentieth century. When she died in 1951, she left an estate of $2.5 million.)

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