Bachelors shed stigma — not so, ‘old maids’

“Early in the 19th century there had been talk in North Carolina of penalizing unmarried men by imposing special taxes on them. Like spinsters, they were not fulfilling the universal obligation to procreate.

“But by the Jacksonian era there was nothing scandalous or wholly pathetic about the aging bachelor as such. At least he could afford condescension about women in the same position as he. T. W. Peyre, a Carolinian bachelor, remarked about a landlady’s daughter who was ‘a maid…. approximating the antique, but of what degree I know not, whether a voluntary old maid, or an involuntary, or an old mad by accident, an explicable old maid or a literary old maid.’ ”

– From “Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South” by Bertram Wyatt-Brown (2007)


A Southerner views ‘old maids’ and women’s rights

” ‘I suppose you have already heard of the woman’s rights convention a few weeks ago in Worcester, [Mass.]’ Benjamin Sherwood Hedrick of North Carolina told his fiancee, Ellen Thompson. ‘I used to think all that was said about such things was mere talk. But there are a number of persons now in Cambridge who were at that the other day.

” ‘The members and delegates are mostly of that peculiar class, called sometimes for distinction “old maids.” These individuals abound more at the North than at the South. What is the reason I cannot tell.’ ”

– FromConjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860″ by Michael O’Brien (2004)