Harmon’s Histories: Columnist ‘Glitter’ advised 1890s Missoula women not to marry

Jim Harmon

And now, a bit of New Year’s advice from “Glitter.”

“I wish to say something to the members of my sex who are unmarried. It is this: Don’t get married – that is, if you have an ambition, a purpose in life.”

“Glitter’s” column appeared in the Missoula Weekly Gazette newspaper in the early 1890s.

Was the columnist a man or woman? For that matter, was “Glitter” truly a columnist, or perhaps the editor of the paper having a bit of fun? We don’t know.

For purposes of this article, though, we’ll assign “Glitter” the mantle of a woman and (given the headline) we’ll also assume the writer was having a bit of fun, adapting the theme of Leo Tolstoy’s controversial novella, the Kreutzer Sonata, into a local advice column.

Tolstoy’s work was published in 1889, the local newspaper column just two years later, at the beginning of 1892. The questions raised – of love, marriage, sexual abstinence, equal rights – remain as topical today, as then.

“If your only desire is to settle down, have a home of your own, and a husband thrown in … this article is not addressed to you. Marry the first good-looking fellow who asks you, and be happy. We are done with you.”

Glitter had no time for the “darner of socks,” the woman “content to be somebody’s darling and nothing more,” the woman willing to bask solely in her “husband’s greatness,” hoping it might envelope her.

No – Glitter wanted to reach “the girls who have ambition, who feel a desire to excel in something whether it be music or civil engineering.”

For those girls, she exhorted, “there must be no marrying … at least until you have tried for yourselves and seen what is in the big world and how much of it is for you. And to do this is not hard. It is simply a matter of concentration, and need not necessitate giving up the smallest pleasure.

“Dance, flirt, walk, talk, ride, skate – do everything in fact to enjoy yourself, only at the same time keep always trying to perfect yourself and whatever you think you have talent for. Perhaps not only one, but two or three things. If so, all the better.”

But again, she reminded, “never lose sight of the goal (and) don’t get married.

“If you do there’s an end of it all. When you allow your interests and aims in life to be coupled with those of some fascinating piece of masculinity then the mischief is done, so beware of handsome eyes and lovely mustaches.”

There would be plenty of time for all that later, she said, and “there will be even more and better (men and opportunities) … if you wait a while.”

For now, she advised, make use of these “lords of creation … in your efforts towards gaining name and fame.”

Take advantage of “their susceptibility, their vanity – and it is vast – their tender-hardheartedness, their little weaknesses, make them stepping stones to greatness, levers to push yourself forward, battering rams to break down the barriers which they themselves have raised in your path.

“Show them, show everyone, that you have a determination and they will respect you for it and help you, and be the first to applaud you when your battle is won.

“Not one atom of womanly sweetness or virtue need be lost. Nay, you will gain a thousand-fold more in the contact with the world. Be somebody! Don’t be commonplace!”

Of course, following this advice would require the young ladies of the 1890s to be brave.

“Don’t be afraid of what people may say about you. Look the world square in the face and with fearless hand and undaunted heart wrest your laurels from it.

“Fear the world and it will censure you, or worse still, treat you with coldness and indifference; face it boldly, despise its power, and with what slavishness it will fawn upon you, with what eagerness will its tributes be laid at your feet.”

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at harmonshistories@gmail.com.